Humor and the Abject

View Original

And When They Drag The Lake, There's Nothing Left At All

Hi, I'm Sean.

This week marks the launch of Humor and the Abject, a new and admittedly simple website I'm putting together to cover what I hope you'll find to be complex--though often entertaining--topics. Primarily, this is a platform for continuing my writing about the space where contemporary art and comedy become imbricate, something I've been doing at Art in America, VICE, and through my project Social Malpractice Publishing for several years. While I'm looking forward to continuing to work with the periodicals and websites that have given me, and continue to give me, valuable opportunities, I'm feeling particularly energized to produce content more regularly and on my own terms.

Before moving on, I'd like to point out that in the previous paragraph I could have said "the liminal space where contemporary art and comedy become imbricate" but, bravely, I chose not to.

Technically, this is a blog, at least for now. Where it ends up down the line is something that I'm actually pleased to say I cannot speculate upon with any certainty. For the time being, I'll be publishing my thoughts about the increasingly blurred distinctions between the worlds of art and comedy. Partly, this will include formal reviews of exhibitions, projects, publications, and performances, as well as feature-length essays related to my own areas of interest and research. Additionally, I'll be posting conversations I've had with the people that I think are making some of the most exciting work right now. The initial response that I've received from the people I've approached to interview has been amazing, and there are several in the works currently that will be up soon. Tomorrow, a conversation with artist Andrea McGinty kicks off the interview posts, leading up to a book release she's got at Printed Matter on Thursday night. 

Humor and the Abject is a living document. Yes, like the fucking Constitution of the United fucking States of America. As such, I'll be amending it regularly, trying out new types of content and formatting. Maybe I'll change the design and color scheme, although the present aesthetic seems pretty hilarious to me. Maybe I'll add something that prohibits the federal government from forcing individuals to provide lodging to soldiers in their homes during peacetime without their consent. Who knows? This is Squarespace, fam, a wildly elegant and malleable platform that can turn on a dime, no precursory knowledge of HTML or CSS required.*

With this new project, I'm aiming to document, in real-time, what I see as a pivotal shift in not only the way that comedy is received by art audiences, but further how it's being understood, curated, and sometimes even jeopardized by art institutions. In a longer feature published by Art in America from June 2015, "Site-Specific Comedy," I wrestled with my feelings about this: 

No lie: it’s exciting to see hybrid artist-comedians getting attention. But many of us making the work are suspicious of curators and institutions purporting to bring us into the fold. Look at what happened to any number of bleeding-edge art practices: institutional critique, relational aesthetics, performance art. If art history can teach us anything, it’s that progressive forms of art that purport to challenge the authority of gallery and museum contexts are easily rendered caffeine-free caricatures of themselves once the sites of authority give them a platform.

The aforementioned essay is maybe a good starting point for anybody reading this who isn't familiar with my research and writing on these topics. To be clear, I'm not arguing that everything I'll produce here is going to be groundbreaking. And it must be said that my own writing owes a great deal to many highly influential people whose books I've read or whose classes I've taken. Some of them have been kind enough to meet me in-person for a beer and a conversation. Others have graciously joined as guests in classes that I've taught over the years, bestowing sage comedic wisdom on my students. While I don't fancy myself to be some go-to authority on the topics I'll cover, I'm covering them because I believe there to be a lack of real, critical dialogue about them. Friends of mine who are comedians, whose work is often infinitely more complex than most performance art, understandably feel that what they produce isn't thought about as deeply as it should be. And friends of mine who are artists working with comedy frequently tell me that critics, curators, and even other artists don't seem to be able to understand--let alone take--a joke. 

So here it is, Humor and the Abject, my attempt to analyze, broadcast and archive this sea change in real time. Thanks for joining me, and feel free to reach out with your thoughts any time you like:

Oh, and if you've made it this far, I'd like to direct your attention back to the title of this blog post. Yes, the first words ever published on this site were definitely lyrics by The Mars Volta. 

- Sean J Patrick Carney

*I'm going to constantly write unsolicited Squarespace native advertising into my posts until they notice and host this shit for free. Feel free to Tweet at them and advocate on my behalf. Thanks in advance for supporting the arts.