Screen grab from the two-channel presentation of Tell Me Who I am/I Am What You Say (2018) Kim Schoen image courtesy the artist
The Hysteric's Discourse
Reception: January 25th 5 pm - 9:30 pm
1/25/18 - 5/11/18
Kim Schoen (b. 1969, Princeton) lives and works in Los Angeles and Berlin. She received an MFA from CalArts in 2005, and a Master of Philosophy from the photography department at The Royal College of Art in London in 2008. Her work in photography and video has shown at numerous institutions and galleries worldwide including the Los Angeles Museum of Art, LAXART, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, LM Projects, BAM, The South London Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery, MOT International, Museo de Arte Moderno y Contemporaneo, Archive Kabinett, Kunstverein Springhornhof, and Kleine Humboldt Galerie. She is represented in Los Angeles by Moskowitz Bayse.
Her work was recently included in LACMA’s collection and has been written about in Art Forum, The Los Angeles Times, Mousse, and Art in America. Schoen has lectured at Otis College of Art & Design, Goldsmiths, CCA, The Royal College of Art, and The School of Visual Arts. She has published her own writing on repetition and photography (“The Serial Attitude Redux”, “The Expansion of the Instant: Photography, Anxiety and Infinity”) in X-TRA Quarterly for Contemporary Art, and co-curated a symposium on the same subject entitled “Remembering Forward” at LAXART in Los Angeles. Her most recent photographic essay appeared in Issue VII of E.R.O.S. Press, London. Kim is also the co-founder of and co-editor of MATERIAL, a journal of writing by contemporary artists.
About the Exhibition
Schoen has long been interested in exposing the deep structures operating within the production of cultural artifacts and modes of consumer display. That interest continues through her latest body of work The Hysteric’s Discourse.
As Gérard Wajcman suggests, analysts have long written about hysteria, perhaps more than any other psychological symptom. And yet they’ve rarely, if ever, agreed upon its causes and/or solutions. “We'll give the name of hysteric to this object which cannot be mastered by knowledge and therefore remains outside of history, even outside its own. This disjunction (//) can be expressed in the following way: if hysteria is a set of statements about the hysteric, then the hysteric is what eludes those statements, escapes this knowledge.”
This incapacity to be defined through language is the special placeholder of the hysteric. The hysteric poses a question: “tell me who I am.” This question is by nature unanswerable: a ‘who’ by definition surpasses any one statement, and therefore triggers the excessive attempt to fulfill a demand that can never be met, as language possesses its own irreconcilable subject/object dichotomy (“All of what I am you cannot say”). Language is insufficient—infinitely demanding. While Freud took hysteria to be the nucleus of all neurotic disorders, Lacan has revealed the speaking subject as fundamentally hysterical.
But the condition of the hysteric—infinite demands prompting attempts to answer—is “the mystery which triggers the production of knowledge.” In this sense we can call this cycle productive. But at the same time it also casts doubt on the powers of the knowledge generated.
For Schoen, this paradox is akin to the impulse that prompts art-making. It is also an idea that tracks for her with an inherent hysteria embedded in the contemporary experience, which is exacerbated by its dominant mode of exchange: consumerism, where an array of endless choices are presented for analysis and identification. By definition, consumerism is 'the encouragement of consumption as economic policy,' which is to say that the more choices offered to the population (via text, image, object, utterances and demands) the more consumerism thrives. However for Schoen, these choices extend to taste, cultural identification and cultural production. This hysteria extends from navigating consumer cues on a daily basis, to cultural cues, to the act of art-making itself. In other words, from the position of enunciation theory, the members of any hyper-capitalist system are always in a constant state of enunciation.
The works included in The Hysteric's Discourse attempt to expose the mechanics of that enunciation through Schoen's use of reproducible mediums (photography and video) and subject matter that deals directly with the rhetorical nature of display and presentation. The centerpiece is the pairing of two videos which use titles that reference the hysteric’s demands: Tell Me Who I Am and I Am What You Say. The first video, Tell Me Who I Am, takes place in The Grosh Backdrop Warehouse, where two workers display a series of hand-painted backdrops typically used for theater. Schoen’s mode of filming does not diverge from the every day occurrence of such display, as the employees perform the same task of hanging for any customer of the company when they choose their backdrops for rental. As they are repetitively hung, each backdrop goes from a seemingly banal piece of fabric to an enchanting, architectural fantasy-world within seconds. As this happens the construction of fictions and the positioning of the viewer at the center of its proscenium becomes a rhetorical discourse of its own.
The second video, I Am What You Say, is a typographic exploration of the language of demand that ‘speaks’ the titles of the two works, in which the phrases are constantly re-arranged and re-designed in anagrammatic form (as if the artist is unable to select a final position of letters in order to avoid a final enunciation) and which produce a kind of nonsense. This video work is designed as a ‘matte’ to superimpose over the artwork mentioned above. The font choices featured reference a variety of influences from well-known artists who use type as a personal identifier (i.e, Ruscha, Weiner, Kruger, etc); each loads different suggestions with every attempt. Together with Tell Me Who I Am these two video works address the ways in which we not only construct and fictionalize for presentation all that is around us, but that those very same constructions have everything to do with who we present ourselves to be.
Schoen's photographs in the front room of the exhibition were shot as "location scouts"; sketches and notes for future filmic productions. These photographs manage to enter the realm of still life through framing and attention to detail. In either case they present a kind of excessive legibility, or an acute observation, of the obvious and the mundane. And yet at the same time, it is the very emptiness of each scenario that seems to raise yet even more questions about the nature of enunciation and utterance.
Similarly, the 3-channel video Now We Are Extinct presents even more fragments from a possible work. Here we see an actress in what appears to be a showroom (much like the ones inside the Pacific Design Center) as she seems to be rehearsing for a possible presentation of some kind. At first glance these fragments might seem to refer to the practice of Francis Alys’s ‘repetitions and rehearsals’; however, a closer look suggests that these works are deliberate constructions that seem to be failing before our eyes. The stuttering reveals through her inability to perform the construction of reality as a fabrication, via its mistaken attempts at enunciation and fissures in the flow of sense.
The final video work in the exhibition, Is It Opera or Is It Something Political? presents a stream of consciousness monologue that continually changes direction without rhyme or reason. This is a work that seems to be almost entirely about deciphering, association and communion. In this case, one might be inclined to think of the use of nonsense in Dada and the plasticity of language. But where Tzara et al. were deliberately rebelling against the ordered and reasoned, Schoen's work seems to be more aligned with the generative and the algorithmic. In other words, it mirrors the overflow of information and what may or may not be an aberration of the system itself. It allows everything and everyone to reveal their own rhetorical nature, which remains continually in flux, fragmentary and unfinished.