manuel arturo abreu, 1001 Interviews No. 12

manuel arturo abreu (b. 1991, Santo Domingo) is a poet and artist from the Bronx. They work in text, ephemeral sculpture, and photography. Find them at twigtech.tumblr.com.

INTERVIEWER

Any TRANS PLANET shows coming up?

ABREU

The third episode of the online reading series is in the works. I can’t say anymore than that right now unfortunately, but I’m very excited! TRANS PLANET got off to a rocky start in my opinion, so it’s been fun to move it in a direction that resonates more with me and includes more black and brown writers.

INTERVIEWER

You like to open mouths with laughter then stuff the realness in there?

ABREU

Sure I do. That’s a bit from Paul Mooney. Did I repeat it somewhere?

INTERVIEWER

On Queer Trans People of Color Talk, a show on KBOO, you did.

Who are some of your favorite poets and artists?

ABREU

Michael Asher, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Winslow Laroche, Rita Indiana Hernandez, Wanda Sykes, David Hammons, Betye Saar, Alberto Lescay, Adriana Ramic, Amirtha Kidambi, Sandra Cisneros, Hortense Spillers, Quisqueya Henriquez, Enerolisa Nuñez… I could list a lot more but I’ll stop there for now.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any readings coming up?

ABREU

I’m reading in support of Sara June Woods’ Careful Mountain release party on 8 Jul 2016.

INTERVIEWER

What is List of Consonants?

ABREU

My first book, available from Bottlecap Press. I wrote it by merging text I wrote from scratch with found text.

INTERVIEWER

What are you working on this week?

ABREU

I am mounting a show in Seattle soon so this week I have been thinking about what I will do. I’m not sure yet. There are 881 Google search results for “contemporary fart.”

INTERVIEWER

You’re from New York?

ABREU

No, I’m from the Bronx.

INTERVIEWER

What is ‘the Bronx’ ?

ABREU

You already know.

INTERVIEWER

What were you doing over that coffin?

ABREU

DJing for Reed Arts Week 2016. The mix is here.

image

photo credit: Forrest Wilson

INTERVIEWER

Do you like cereal? Do you have a favorite?

ABREU

I really like Honey Bunches of Oats Almond. When my parents could afford it, they’d get it for us as a treat.

INTERVIEWER

What is home school?

ABREU

home school is a free pop-up art school that I co-facilitate with my friend Victoria Anne Reis. 2016 is our first year of curriculum, funded by a Precipice Fund grant. Each semester features 5-7 artist talks and two classes, each with monthly sessions.

INTERVIEWER

What is snap?

ABREU

snap was a group show which home school curated for May First Thursday at Compliance Division. Documentation for the show can be seen here.

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INTERVIEWER

You just finished your course Contemporaneity: building a better white supremacy. Are you working on another series?

ABREU

I won’t be teaching any home school classes during the second semester, but teaching was fun so I am thinking of some alternative engagement methods like a facebook group, reading club, or something more low-key that I could facilitate for semester 2.

INTERVIEWER

What is contemporaneity?

ABREU

The “now.” Temporality as we experience it is not a priori but sociogenic (emerging from social conditions).

INTERVIEWER

Can you unpack the idea of ‘the contemporary as global imperial force embodied at all levels of western artistic agency: a value creation and management system parasitic on local and marginal practice’ ?

ABREU

No.

INTERVIEWER

But that’s the definition of contemporanaeity you use. A value creation and management system, as in what counts as art, what gets put into galleries and what gets press? Parasitic on local and marginal practice, as in the imperial force finds what’s new, what’s on trend out in the margins and exploits it, not only bringing it into the gallery but managing it to fit, or imbuing it, with the ideology of that imperial force?

ABREU

I am working with ideas from David Joselit regarding how the temporality of art is a form of creating divisions of labor for the purpose of aesthetic governance, both in terms of what can be included in an art context (whether a legacy institution or a new hip project space in a garage) and what is legible as art “as such” (whether it’s excluding something from that discursive field, or colonially naming a given practice as art). This division of labor is parasitic because the practices that nourish the system most are the ones that get treated as expendable. We find the roots of this in modernism, with its primitivist process of “elevating” black and brown practices (Picasso and African masks is the staple example). This is one example of why, despite its ostensible schisms from the modernist project, the contemporary still exists in continuity with modernism.

INTERVIEWER

What is art’s fetishization of poetry?

ABREU

This question changes throughout the history of white western art, but if you mean in the current moment– poetry, which ‘transcribes the immaterial,’ is seen as a valueless object whose inclusion in the white cube of contemporary art is meant to gesture toward or even evoke a magical economy outside of the market.

INTERVIEWER

So as art tries to hide its increasing marketization to keep up appearances of authenticity.  How does poetry ‘allow the performance of exhaustion in relation to value, without changing value’s terms?’

ABREU

See above.

INTERVIEWER

Still need a little more help. Poetry transcribes the immaterial. It is valueless. The white cube makes a show of using poetry because it is valueless. So the white cube art looks like it’s hip with art going on in the margins. White cube art exhausts the debt it owes to the magical economy (making a show of making tribute to art going on in the margins, but not inviting or involving the artists making art in the margins) and gets away with this appropriation, at least to the eyes of the white audience, the white audience feels satisfied that the black artist was acknowledged (though was not invited or notified). Am I at all understanding what you’re saying?

ABREU

Largely, yes. The white cube’s debt is not to a magical economy that poetry articulates, but to the actual history of black and brown practice and its simultaneous exploitation and erasure in western white art history (including the contemporary). Poetry’s articulation of a magical economy offers itself up as a form of escape from value, to art. This is relevant because the white cube, from the project space to the museum, is “exhausted by value” across the board, except in the sense of giving up whatever resources it might have. Poetry not only allows for a performance of exhaustion toward value and circulation, but, as you say, it also allows for a false sense of inclusion of the marginal.

I am also interested in a point Eunsong Kim made during her home school talk about Duchamp’s fountain in the context of white supremacy. She argued that the incursion of poetry into art was a form of risk transfer, which resonates with what you’re saying regarding the structure of relations between the cube and the ‘margins.’

INTERVIEWER

What are some examples of ally theater?

ABREU

Tokenism. Savior complexes. Snowflake rhetoric (“I’m not like the other _____”). Tone policing. Performing for an audience. Conflating media consumption with solidarity. Thinking solidarity is enough.

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INTERVIEWER

On QTPOC Talk, a show on KBOO, you said that Calvin Trillin’s piece in the New Yorker, “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?” was “satirizing that position by embodying it.” Do you see white writers and artists doing that kind of thing a lot?

ABREU

I see it constantly.

INTERVIEWER

Is it a kind of ally theater?

ABREU

One of the most consistent forms.

INTERVIEWER

The Joselit idea, ‘that the art market creates “dividends” resulting from ratios of marginalized heritage to neocolonial debt,’

In terms of Building a Better White Supremacy,

What is the marginalized heritage?

What is the neocolonial debt?

ABREU

The idea comes from Joselit’s lecture “Heritage and debt” in which he argues that contemporary globality, as heir to, let’s say, ‘modernism’s promise,’ posits local and marginal practice as existing within a relation of debt to modernism. He argues, convincingly I feel, that this debt structure mirrors neocolonial debt structures, in which deregulation and austerity led to the offer of loans to ‘third world’ nations, with the resulting debt opening the door for local and non-local control (with the help of corrupt local officials and businesspeople).

The results of these debt structures are clear: the extraction of resources (whether natural resources in the case of material debt, or immaterial, stylistic, aesthetic and affective developments in the case of modernist debt), enclosure (of land, of genealogy, of provenance), and erasure. “Heritage” as a mitigating factor of this governance by debt is a euphemism for describing the local practices and aesthetics that modernism treated as primitive raw material.

As a general resource, the Wikipedia page for neocolonialism may be useful.

INTERVIEWER

So, as a staple of magicality, poetry forgives the debt of one group while it legitimates the pretend-marginality of a different group? Or is this the same group for which poetry in this context provides these two functions?

ABREU

It depends on the example. Both cases can occur. White artists are also placed into a relation of debt to modernism, though it is largely not neocolonial in nature. For example, white women are placed in an artistically marginal and indebted position in relation to modernism, but are ‘allowed’ to take on a steward or gatekeeper role (this materializes as unpaid administrative labor – the labor of keeping the white cube white, the ivory tower ivory, and the project space faux-marginal).

INTERVIEWER

Faux-marginal like the poete maudit?

ABREU

More like the flaneur than the maudit: walking around the street, among the rabble of the world online or offline, soaking it all in but remaining detached.

INTERVIEWER

The posturing of marginality by privileged artists, the putting on airs of marginality, comes out of finding ‘new markets,’ as this privileged group sees them, currently outside their control?

ABREU

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INTERVIEWER

That is, artists in the mainstream see the popularity of artists and poets in the margins gain attention and so put on airs, or aesthetically copycat these poets in the margins, in order first marketize works of this marginal aesthetic and to further corner that market?

ABREU

That’s interesting. I would have guessed that putting on airs had more to do with class anxiety and a desire for concealment of machination than with finding new markets – but you make a good point about how self-presentation may allow one more access to ‘the margins’ or ‘emerging markets’ for someone whose perception is already so marketized that they see social activity as inherently the circulation of value.

INTERVIEWER

Is it enough then for the appropriative artist to make reparations and invite representatives of the communities (whose aesthetic the artist appropriated for an art project) into the discussion or presentation of the project?

ABREU

I mean, it’s never enough.

INTERVIEWER

In defining art’s two ways of fetishizing poetry, what do you mean by 1. ‘ad-copy-without-being-ad-copy, abject revelry’ 2. Jakobson: “organized violence committed on ordinary speech.”

ABREU

1. Ad copy without ad copy means that the included poetic language advertises the art ostensibly without seeming advertorial.

2. This is a standard definition of the avantgarde poetic impulse– ordinary language and poetic language are placed in a cage match to the death, so to speak. This entails the following sentence: the use of poetry in exhibition press releases constitutes a form of organized violence on ordinary speech. Do you agree?

INTERVIEWER

Say if poetic language beats ordinary language to death, and poetic language is used in the press release, that means the press release will not explain itself plainly? Is this the artist’s way of hiding what would be a dull explanation for a dull piece of art?

ABREU

I absolutely think that happens in certain cases. The purveying of white mediocrity is important for art because it allows a kind of value-laundering. The work is a placeholder, an excuse for white people to gather. I’m not sure I want to place the blame entirely on artists, since the press release’s format is itself only symptomatic of larger market configurations that artists are subjected to.

It’s false to assume that when press releases sound more natural they are explaining the work and themselves more plainly. They are still equally orchestrated. They are just not performing exhaustion toward value, which is what I focused on in the second home school class where I looked at poetry’s incursion into art.

INTERVIEWER

‘In the face of increased precarization, governance by debt, and the erotics of anxiety, artists find ways to continue embodying institutionality.’ Can you give some examples, real or hypothetical, of what you mean by artists embodying institutionality?

ABREU

I can!

INTERVIEWER

Will you?

ABREU

Isn’t that kind of rude?

JK. An example I feel antagonistic about might be Nathan Sharratt. An example I feel slightly positive ambivalence about might be Andrew Norman Wilson.

INTERVIEWER

How can poetry be an escape from value, an absolution of your relationship to power, if poetry itself enacts power against the powerless everyday?

ABREU

It’s  is not an escape or absolution from value, it’s just another aesthetic cottage industry with its own set of credentials / processes of legitimation. Its inclusion in art as a gesture toward escaping value is only due to art and poetry’s mutual ignorance of each other as they exist in the contemporary moment.

INTERVIEWER

What is cupcake fascist apoliteia?

ABREU

Cupcake fascism is cute fascism – for example, saying “can’t we all just get along?” in response to a statement like “white people have killed black and brown people with impunity for centuries.”

Apoliteia is a notion from “real fascist” thinkers relating to the retreat from the material political world. One moves away from the vulgarity and abjection of facticity into a ‘forest’ of interiority, recognizing that, as Julius Evola puts it, “ Apoliteia refers essentially to the inner attitude…. ideas, motives, and goals worthy of the pledge of one’s true being do not exist today….”

Cupcake facist apoliteia is the combination of these two ideas – a cute retreat from the all-consuming and ‘mundane’ reality of the political. New age might be an example.

INTERVIEWER

Is Portland a cupcake city?

ABREU

In the shadow of a cloven Brooklyn.

INTERVIEWER

Why poetry if you can do lecture?

ABREU

The form my inquiries and their results take is precarious.

INTERVIEWER

Precarious how?

ABREU

Precarious in the sense that form falls out of non-formal considerations. Rarely do I sit down and say “I will write a poem” or “I will make music” or “I will write theory.” Rather, as associative lines of flight build, form (and non-form) as emergent property surfaces as a container for aesthetic work.

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photo credit: Forrest Wilson

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