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Jaimey Hamilton
Strategies of Excess: An International Aesthetic of Assemblage?

Transmodernities/Translocalities: Panel Discussion

12:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. Polycentric sessions and screenings, San Francisco Art Institute, Lecture hall and classrooms
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I would like to propose a presentation that introduces the contemporary practice of assemblage as a globalized, shared visual culture that is a direct response to the material and discursive formation of contemporary capitalism after the enactment of the IMF and the World Bank. I will present some assemblage practices from the 1960s as they deal with the power of capitalism’s objects to effectively disseminate a global economic discourse. I am specifically interested in the ways that artists have appropriated mass-produced objects with a common set of “strategies of excess,” even as their art remains specific to their local aesthetic, subjective, cultural, and political economies. These strategies of excess are ways in which artists model their practices on capitalism’s boundless energy and proliferation of goods across national boundaries. Their works often, in uncanny ways, imitate capitalism’s methods of expansion, dispersion, and connection on a global scale yet still manage to formulate new kinds of social relationships that offer alternatives of global capitalism.

In the brief time I have to present material, I’d like to focus my discussion of this common strategy on four “geographic” nodes as they interrelate: New York, Paris, and Tokyo, and Brazil. I start in the heart of postwar capitalism with New York: Artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Lee Bontecou, Allan Kaprow, and Carolee Schneemann, use the trash of capitalism (coming from the belly of the beast itself) to reassemble objects that potential call for different uses. Coca-Cola Plan (1958) by Rauschenberg, for instance, models the way he “re-marketed” Coca-Cola bottles as junky DIY sculpture, including instructions for viewers to make their own. While Rauschenberg self-consciously played with hyper-marketing practices of New York, the Parisian Nouveaux Réalistes expressed a deep ambivalence about the effects of Coca-Colonization in France with their spectacularization of trash in pieces such as Arman’s Le Plein (1960) and Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York (1960). In Japan, the anxieties about Americanization, in the context of the Anpo crisis (1960), manifested in the performance pieces and objects of Akasegawa Genpei, Yoshimura Masunobu, and Nakanishi Natsuyuki, who were associated with the “Neo-Dada” movement in Japan as well as Hi Red Center (an avant-garde group loosely affiliated with Fluxus International and in direct conversation with internationally-exposed American artists such as Rauschenberg). Like the Nouveaux Réalistes, their combination of appropriated objects and absurdist actions play upon the power of spectacle culture. In the case of these Japanese artists though, their excessive performances focused more on the psychic effects of the integration of what Akasegawa calls the “flesh” of capitalism with the human body. This same concern with the “body” of capitalism is also evident in the work of the artists in Brazil associated with the Neo-Concretists. The best known of the group, Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, were both interested in adapting the powerful hold that capitalism’s objects have over us into transformative political action. Oiticica’s Parangolés (1965), for example, exploit burlap shipping material and methods of advertising to transform Brazil’s underclass into visible, moving agit-prop performers. With these examples, I will argue for the visual practice of assemblage as an open and changeable visual form intervening directly in the semiotic, material, and social flows of capitalist excess. This is what makes it both culturally specific and “globalized.”

Participant's Bio:
Jaimey Hamilton received her Ph.D. (2006) from Boston University in the field contemporary art, visual culture, and theory, and holds a B.A. in the History of Art and Visual Culture from University of California, Santa Cruz (1995). Her research concerns the intersection of contemporary subjectivity, commodity culture, mass media, and the visual arts in a global context. Her current book project, Strategies of Excess, is a history of postwar assemblage in relation to an increasingly Americanized contemporary consumer culture in the 50s and 60s. It reconstructs this particular moment in which international avant-garde practices (in the U.S., Europe, South America and Japan in particular) seem to be fascinated by, but also anxious about, the materialism of postwar capitalism. This book is part of her wider interest in appropriation as an artistic mode that is increasingly relevant in a world comprised of global flows of goods, people, and culture. She has published articles in In_Visible Culture and TinFish Press and has a forthcoming article in October. To view “The Way We Loop ‘Now’: Eddying in the Flows of Media,” In_Visible Culture, no.8 (2004) go to: http://www.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/Issue_8/hamilton.html.

She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on the following topics: survey of global art and visual culture since 1945, contemporary theory and criticism, representing identity in contemporary art, mixed media in contemporary art, installation art, and avant-garde film and video.