by here.on February 11, 2015 original article
The concepts of appropriation and replication were on the lips of many presenters at the College Art Association (CAA) conference this year. In light of the buzz on this topic, I thought this article would be appropriate.
Repetition is displacement, repetition is difference; repetition is pushing the limits of resemblance and limitation — it has some other factors or dynamics. So it’s not like saying you repeat. For instance, Andy Warhol repeated, but he did not do repetition … But repetition has nothing to do with repeating. —Sturtevant
The multiplication of things under an absolutely identical concept has as its consequence the division of the concept into absolutely identical things. —Gilles Deleuze
The Museum of Modern Art’s current retrospective of Sturtevant’s work, Double Trouble, is a study in movement. Along with her many near-replications of other artists’ work (including takes on Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Félix Gonzalez-Torres, and Joseph Beuys) it features her more recent video works. These videos — “Finite Infinite” (2010), a corridor-long projection of a dog running; “Dillinger Running Series” (2000), in which Sturtevant-as-Beuys races along the wall to a pounding beat; and “Pacman” (2012), featuring footage of the eponymous game, with Pac-Man racing after and consuming dots and fruits — each introduce elements of a pervasive theme that relates to racing, consuming, and being consumed. Juxtaposed with her “copy” pieces, these videos shed light on her work: Sturtevant’s practice consumes pieces by other artists as she races ahead, making herself invisible behind the work of others in order to avoid being consumed in turn.
She is, of course, not actually invisible. She exists in the space between the original work and the copy. In this way, she stays ahead of the game. And it is in this space, this trace, that Sturtevant’s genius exists. In Of Grammatology, Derrida describes trace as the difference between two signs. For example, the meaning of woman will always have the shadow of man behind it. The space between is the trace. It is the “mark of the absence of a presence, an always-already absent present.”
In an interview with SUNY Purchase art history professors Bruce Hainley and Michael Lobel printed in the MoMA catalogue, Sturtevant says that she read Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition in its original in French in Ibiza with the assistance of a French-English dictionary. Years later, when the book was translated into English, Sturtevant reread the book, which, as one might imagine, was an entirely different text from the one she read in 1968 when it was first published. Deleuze’s central idea is that when, for example, Marcel Duchamp makes a copy of a urinal, the new copy is the event; it is no longer about the (so-called) original copy. This concept infers a sense of movement, the movement from so-called copy to copy, and it is in this movement of copying that Sturtevant’s artwork occurs.
Sturtevant’s work is often confused for an act of “appropriation” and consequently taken as a gesture of anger directed at the male artists whose work she “appropriates.” It is revealing to contrast this with the work of male artists deemed “appropriation artists,” like Richard Prince or even Andy Warhol, neither of whom has been construed as angry or even political. As a result, her work is often dismissed as an affront. One example is a review by Vincent Noce in the French newspaper Libération of Sturtevant’s 2010 exhibition, The Razzle Dazzle of Thinking, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Noce writes:
A pioneer of the “appropriationist” trend, the artist asserts facsimile as artistic process. She confuses replicating with copying, which are two distinct notions: a replica is realized by the artist him- or herself. In music or literature, such a debate would be unimaginable: a plagiarist who reproduced a score note for note, or a book word for word, and then affixed his or her name to it would be covered in shame. But in the visual arts, legitimacy is acquired through obscurity of discourse. What is fundamentally at stake is aesthetics. One must see these copies to realize just how ugly they are: crudely made, with mediocre materials, gloomy colors, all the life having run out of them. Parody is a gesture that might have had meaning in the 1960s. But just as spluttering does not make a story, posturing does not make art, and imposture even less.
To confine Sturtevant’s work to “appropriation” art is to miss the beauty and the genius of it. At MoMA we are helped by interviews in which she speaks frankly about her impulse and what drives her. Discussing Duchamp, Warhol, and Deleuze, she returns over and over to the theme of repetition. Repetition as the guiding force; appropriation as the means by which to make repetition. Compulsive repetition does several things. For one, it negates: when an image is repeated, the second iteration erases the first. In other words, the second replaces the first — the first is negated. Say the same word over and over and the word will eventually lose meaning. This is what Sturtevant means when she proclaims, in the introduction to the Double Trouble catalogue, “I wanted to make an artwork that could disappear.” The same can be said for the artist.
By repeatedly taking on the roles of other artists and making work that replicates their work, Sturtevant vanishes, in essence, into the background. But so do the artists she imitates, whose “originals” are consumed by her “copies.” In interviews, she has stated that she does not want biographical information included in relation to her work. Biographical information overshadows the work, she said, and then people wont look at the work. In order for her work to work, she needs to vanish.