It will, I want to argue, be hard to describe Owen Kydd’s practice as appealing to the plurality of the medium against Art; on the contrary, it will be better understood as doing just the opposite, as redeploying the idea of the medium precisely on behalf of the idea of Art—and against a pluralism that is not only aesthetic but political.
I do not have this privilege because I have seen the works only on the small screen that, to many of us, is the whole world. These screens in our offices and homes are more isolating than even the whitest of white walls in the most pristine of white cubes. They are much more theater-like than even those small project spaces which resemble theaters—ones in which patrons are constantly walking in late and leaving early—which Kydd presumably meant to reject in favor of placing his works on gallery walls. An increasing number of artists with access to technology and a gallery have made a similar choice.
It has been a defining and enduring feature of photographic discourse up to now that automaticity and automatism have been available to us through photography. An important task for the history of photography will be not just to invoke photography’s automaticity, but to describe—for any photographic work or enterprise it takes up—the nature and importance of its automaticity in that instance or set of instances.
I am going to abstract, here, from the ideas of “automatic” and “automaticity,” and from “mechanism” and “mechanicity,” in order to focus on the following question: how should the idea of “automatism” be understood, and what theoretical resources can be used to illuminate it?
In these terms, the account of the making of this photograph is a description of the more or less necessary historical conditions from which it (and many others) arose. These conditions did not determine the image, rather they made the image possible, and they made it possible in terms very different from those that made other artifacts possible. Every artifact has arisen and arises from such a concrete set of possibilities, and all of these sets of possibilities have their own histories.
In the language of insurance, “inherent vice” is the natural tendency of an object to self-destruct for no apparent reason. The inherent vice of glass or marble objects, for instance, is that they can collapse at any moment; the material is structurally unstable. For photography, and particularly for color photography, the inherent vice of the photograph is that it inevitably tarnishes, no matter how hard we try to slow it down.
What I’ve been calling the work’s performance is nothing other than the causal account of its production, the kind of account you can give for any work of art. The difference is just that Chang has folded the process through which the work was produced into the experience of seeing it. This is a difference that matters.
Unemployment is both a problem and a solution. It’s a problem for the unemployed, who want work, a solution for employers who not only want workers but also want the cheapest ones they can get.
So one easy way to put it would be to say that for many people, photography perfectly embodied the theory and practice of the postmodern, whereas for some people, it created the possibility or felt necessity for a critique of postmodernism. Or, to put the point in terms of intentionality: for many people, the photograph embodies the critique of the intentional that we find in theorists as different as Barthes and Derrida, Crimp and Rancière; for others it embodies something like the opposite – the opportunity to re-imagine intentionality.