Art & Culture

Unreliable Narrators

Paul McCarthy, Painter. Video, 1995.

I participated in a panel discussion at the National Galleries of Scotland just over a week ago, entitled: “Unreliable Narrators: Artists, Curators, Editors”. The other panelists were Colin Fraser, editor of Anon, a poetry journal that only accepts anonymous submissions, and Ryan Van Winkle, currently Reader in Residence at the Scottish Poetry Library. Daniel Herrmann, Curator of the Paolozzi Collection and Works on Paper at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art moderated.

Daniel Herrmann opened the panel by showing a clip from Paul McCarthy’s 1995 video, Painter, which is currently on view at the Dean Gallery. As the exhibition text states: “Painter is shown next to the Dean Gallery’s own ‘Paolozzi Studio’. This partial reconstruction is an educational stage-set, exhibiting the generous donation of Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005), and is one of our most popular and successful displays. By contrasting the Studio presentation with McCarthy’s critique, ‘Painter’ and The Studio casts a second glance at how museums present the making of art.”

We then discussed models of authorship and control. I presented the contemporary example of Bicycle Built for Two Thousand, a project by Aaron Koblin and Daniel Massey. Koblin and Massey collected over two thousand human voice samples that were then assembled into the song Daisy Bell, which has historical significance as this was the song performed in the first example of computer voice synthesis. The participants were recruited through the Amazon Mechanical Turk, had no idea what they were participating in, and were paid $0.06 for their contribution. The nature of the contributions made via the Mechanical Turk service, while only possible on this scale in our contemporary networked age, also somewhat mirrors a traditional studio model where apprentices create building blocks that are refined and completed by masters. McCarthy’s video challenges image of the painter as lonely genius. The new networked possibilities for art are not so far from old models of participation (not collaboration), but reveal them and remind us of their timeless utility, while also firing a volley at the “lonely genius” stereotype.

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