No.13 Being David Joselit

(You don’t know how to ask a question or perhaps, I just don’t know how to answer.)

Mary Ellen Carroll

From 6 until 8 PM on Thursday, April 30, 2009, Mary Ellen Carroll was being David Joselit, Professor and Chair of the History of Art Department at Yale University. Joselit was the opening speaker for the conference/symposium “Our Literal Speed” in Chicago. This was the second venue of the three-part media pop opera or administrative gesamtkunstwerk. The Chicago conference was organized by Matthew Jesse Jackson, Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago; Andrew Perchuk, Contemporary Programs and Research, The Getty Research Institute; and Christopher P. Heuer, Assistant Professor in Art History, Princeton University, in consult with an international network of European and American colleagues.

On April 8, 2009, David Joselit presented “Time Batteries,” a talk that focused on duration and included the work of Mary Ellen Carroll at Light Industry in Brooklyn, New York. Six months prior to the talk, Joselit contacted Carroll about screening her film Alas, Poor Yorick! for this talk. The film is the culmination of a ten-year project in which Carroll burns the drawing of the entire text of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, a project two years in the making, in front of Edward Hopper’s home on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. There is a typographical error that the titling company made in the opening credits for Alas, Poor Yorick! The name Tristram Shandy was misspelled as Tristam Shandy.

Following the meeting with Joselit, Carroll wrote notes under the subject category of resemblance in her index system for making work. She made a note to add a new work to her doppelganger tapes and to add two new subject categories: embarrassment and humiliation. Being David Joselit would be a main work under the subject of resemblance, and a cross reference was made under the new subject headings. The notes for the work are as follows:

Be a noted contemporary art historian who is not a plodder of the canon, but who actually has an intellectual curiosity and is generative of cultural capital in this manner; whose age is under 50 and has written about or made a presentation on the work of Mary Ellen Carroll within the past year.

In 2008, Anthony Elms, Assistant Director, and Lorelei Stewart, Director of Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois at Chicago, started working on the exhibit portion with the organizers of “Our Literal Speed.” Elms contacted Carroll about potentially participating in the exhibition and the presentations. A circularity in their dialogue ensued, and a sense that the so-called disruption they were attempting to effect was being self-consciously overdetermined by the organizers. This was not only hypocritical but it would diffuse the intentions of the artist by the necessity of the organizers giving the artists permission to realize a work in this context. Carroll and Elms finally agreed to end the discussion—amicably so.

Early in 2009, Carroll wrote to David Joselit and requested that she would be Joselit and open ”Our Literal Speed” with the intentional execution of an actual work of art, No.13 Being David Joselit. Joselit agreed. No one else knew about this agreement except Jacqueline Terrassa, Assistant Director of Public Programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and Steve Incontro, Joselit’s partner.

Carroll proposed that Terrassa make additions to the Joselit text, entitled “Reenactment,” by writing into it. She was asked to cite Carroll’s doppelganger piece, Judi, Judi, Judi, at Cooper Union’s Great Hall for The Situational Drive: Complexities of Public Sphere Engagement, organized by Joshua Dector, and the article “How Unlike You” by George Pendle, which discussed this work in the January 2009 issue of Modern Painters. In the PowerPoint presentation for “Reenactment,” Joselit had two images from Modern Painters covers. Carroll also asked Terrassa to incorporate her own work, as well as historical evidence of how art education studies have affected the development and expansion of the museum as a mass merchandiser of culture and entertainment. Jacqueline Terrassa is married to Anthony Elms.

Two hours before the actual presentation, Carroll met with Seth McCormick, a lawyer and stand-up comedian with Second City in Chicago at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago to discuss his relationship to David Joselit and what his role would be on stage. Carroll explained that McCormick would resemble Presence (1976), the black sculpture on an overlooked Led Zeppelin album. He would be present, as in object relations theory or as in W. J. T. Mitchell’s investigation of image. Whatever role or image the audience members would project onto him—a bodyguard, the organizer Matthew Jesse Jackson, tech support, W. J. T. Mitchell, a stand-in, etc.—McCormick would be that presence.

Joselit sent Carroll the text for “Reenactment,” as well as the accompanying PowerPoint presentation. There was no discussion about details as to what would actually happen on April 30th. Joselit placed no conditions or limitations on Carroll.

Carroll then forwarded the “Reenactment” text to Terrassa and asked for her inclusions, as well as discretion about her involvement. The premise of Joselit’s text is how images generate other images as a “media echo chamber.” This process, in both art and politics, is analogous to the financial instrument of the derivative as a system of production, but also as a method of distribution, dissemination and value. No.13 Being David Joseilt functions as another example and evidences the premise of his argument and the development of the text.

In the spring of 2009, Carroll was introduced to Lynda Clemmons by Stephen Douglas. Douglas and Clemmons worked together at Enron, and Clemmons was one of the creators of the market and the system for the trading of weather derivatives. Carroll met with her to discuss derivatives as contracts and financial instruments in general, and to reconfirm the manner in which Joselit advisedly utilized the term “derivative” in his text. Carroll also wanted to know if the weather derivative, a controversial financial instrument, would in fact be an example of Joselit’s argument or if it would be too specific. Clemmons confirmed what Carroll thought: it should be a general discussion as a model without getting into specific types of derivatives that are traded.

Carroll rehearsed for weeks before the April 30th performance. She made the decision to include mistakes that the audience would not be expecting or anticipating and that would make them anxious or irritated. David Joselit was seated in the audience.

For example, when Carroll was rehearsing and would mispronounce a word or the order of words in a sentence, she would make a note to do the same in the performance. The reading also included disruptions with improvised material that would be on topic or not, but all of the material evidenced actual points that Joselit was making in his paper. She rehearsed the reading with intentional pauses, mispronunciations, loss of place, varied cadence, exclamations, familiarity, eye contact with the audience, gesturing, water drinking, demands for silence, etc.

The improvised material and references would reflect personal relationships, interests and future research projects. Carroll also added new images and revised layouts to the PowerPoint presentation.

It was agreed between Carroll and Joselit that she would also take questions after the presentation of “Reenactment.” There was a myriad of ways for Carroll to handle the Q&A, as there would also be in the reactions the audience would have to Carroll being Joselit, and Joselit watching Carroll be Joselit.

The audience for the spectacle or non-spectacle is a considered element in all of Carroll’s work, but particularly in the doppelganger tapes. There was a question of how the audience, comprised of people like W. J. T. Mitchell, Anne Wagner, Julia Bryan-Wilson, Greg Bordowitz, Hal Foster, Jackson Pollock Bar, artists and students, would react to her being Joselit. Would they be patronizing and soft-pedal the questions or dialogue with the presumption that a conceptual artist would not have the same background or understanding to be able to answer the questions that they would actually ask of David Joselit and were asking David Joselit? Would they ask questions that would refer more to the performativity and her process? Would they be hostile, angry, feel duped, cheated that they were not getting David Joselit but a cover or reenactment? Most would not know Carroll by physical appearance, but would they be able to suspend disbelief as a member of the audience in order to actually hear what she was saying and as the authentic text by Joselit? Would they be willing to engage in the freedom that this suspension provides? Would the process reflect the fundamental philosophical question in all of Carroll’s work, what is a work of art?

Carroll made the decision that the responses would reflect the emotional atmosphere established by the person asking the question, and the answer she formulated would be mimetic in design. What this means is that the manner in which the question was being asked—the language chosen to ask the question, who was asking the question, and were they actually asking a question—would all be considered. If warranted, it was also possible to not answer the question and to simply ask for the next question.

Following the presentation, David Joselit sent a check for $750 made out to Mary Ellen Carroll—half of the amount of his honorarium. Carroll sold the endorsed check for $3,500 to a derivative trader and art collector who is active in politics in Houston.

The following is the question that Mary Ellen Carroll being David Joselit received from Anne Wagner, Professor and Class of 1936 Chair of Modern and Contemporary Art at University of California, Berkeley. Wagner asked the question in three different ways, and the initial framing was interpreted by Carroll and her emotional response system as a Category 6: slightly aggressive, exasperated with benign hostility. Carroll as Joselit responded in a manner that would possibly convey to the audience that she did not know how to answer, or that Wagner did not know how to ask the question.

Anne Wagner: Tell me what evidence you might site for your suggestion of the utter conflation between the artistic image and the political image?

Tell me what evidence you might site for your utter contention or equation between the artistic and the political image?

What would you take as evidence, how would you support your claim?

Mary Ellen Carroll’s response to Anne Wagner as Mary Ellen Carroll: I would like to begin with the dissection of your question and the specificity of the language you have chosen, and to treat that language as an image.

Mary Ellen Carroll’s response to Anne Wagner in reference to Joselit’s text:

Images multiply, which succinctly demonstrates the premise of “Reenactment” and provides the answer to your question(s). The point that I am making is that it establishes the parity between the artistic and the political, and this is in reference to Wittgenstein, as well as to W. J. T. Mitchell (who was sitting behind you in the audience next to Greg Bordowitz, who so generously made the public referent to W. J. T. Mitchell and to images). I use the word “image.” Let us begin there and ignore the specificity of the category of the artistic or the political, as the usage was not a conflation but a distinction of parallel systems that offer discrete qualities and quantities within each category. I would also refer to G.E.M. Anscombe’s work on intention and specifically, causality and self-consciousness, in terms of this process and the awareness of exchange mediums.

Joselit refers to the “media echo chamber” at the beginning of his text and my understanding of what he is actually referring to is the system by which an image, be it political or artistic, is distributed or disseminated and attains currency or value in the marketplace—be that the art world or the political arena through this process of reenactment. He makes the point that quantity is what matters and advisedly uses the analogy of the financial instrument—the derivative.

The derivative in general, and not a specific type of derivative, is the correct analogy to the image. There are of course different types of derivatives, as are there different types of images and their value, be it the actual monetization or the perceptual monetization. They are financial contracts. That process or translation is where the equivalency lies.

The current economic crisis is being partially attributed to derivatives and the lack of regulation of these contracts as reenactments, similar to reinsurance. There was a moment when I considered making this a text within the text (a media echo chamber), but it would have necessitated a further discussion and evidence of the decline of current economic systems and a discussion about advanced capitalism. I was uncertain that the audience for “Our Literal Speed” would be conversant in financial products or economics, and it would take some time to do this. They are difficult but not impossible concepts to explain. I also thought of ending “Reenactment” with your husband T.J. Clark’s work on currency after modernism, but I was uncertain if you would be in the audience for No.13 Being David Joselit, and the personal reference would lose its potency if you were not present. This was a small risk that I was unwilling to take. I also would not recognize you, unless you were pointed out to me.

The next reenactment of No.13 Being David Joselit will be realized as a Jackson Pollock Bar production, and it will end with the religious analogy that T.J. Clark makes at the end of Farewell To An Idea, “The myth will survive its historic defeat. The present is purgatory, not a permanent travesty of heaven.” It will be necessary to evidence the use of this image as both a place as well as a condition, something that will emphasize the poignancy of the final venue for “Our Literal Speed,” The Getty Center in Los Angeles, and create yet another image in the media echo chamber. No.13 Being David Joselit is the thirteenth doppelganger tape that Carroll has realized. The first, How to disappear, was realized throughout 1983 in Mati and Davao Oriental, Philippines.

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