The Triumph of Romanticism, 2005

The Triumph of Romanticism

A sculptural meditation on the physical nature of books and printing in the contemporary electronic era, composed of fragments of printing plates, document box, pillow, table, flashlight, magnifying glass, and statement. The project description or statement, a part of the artwork itself, is intended to be displayed along with the other elements. It comments both on romanticism generally, and specifically on the very notion of “text” and the idea of “books” in our current digital era. It contains within it a story of the artist in his garret, creating the work as he “begins feverishly to cut the pages one by one…”

24″x36″x36″ at Maxwell Fine Art, Peekskill, New York


Project Description:

“The Triumph of Romanticism” consists of an archival quality lined leather bound document box, a rectangular Indian red silk display pillow of exactly the same dimensions as the box, a chrome and ceramic stand holding a silver flashlight and magnifying glass, a low square traditional oriental table on which all the elements reside, and 58 fragments of hydrophilic offset lithography plates originally used in the printing of an old literary survey book containing a chapter entitled “Triumph of Romanticism.”

The plates were discovered during demo of a 2000 square foot loft in Williamsburg Brooklyn that was being rehabbed. The plates had been used as a building material, forming the ceiling area around a large skylight.

The story seems hardly plausible, but it is entirely true. Picture if you will, the artist in his garret. There is no heat, not even a radiator. There is no electricity. Water is pouring in from around the edges of the skylight above. A shaft of cold winter light bathes the room. In a desperate attempt to discover the source and staunch the flood, and working from instinct rather than reason, the artist begins ripping away the ceiling around the skylight.

Suddenly a discovery is made, on the reverse side of the dingy white metal ceiling flashing is the text of a work. The very ceiling itself – is a book! In his ecstatic and frenzied state, the Sturm und Drang of the artists dreary existence is forgotten. Seizing a pair of tin snips, and drenched in the icy water pouring down around him, the artist begins feverishly to cut the pages one by one from the ceiling.

For the printed work, offset lithography long ago replaced typesetting as the favored method for making books. Today this method itself is being replaced by print-on-demand from ink jet printers, reading on line, and ebooks. Unlike letterpress, offset printing does not involve raised or etched surfaces. Rather, metal plates are chemically treated to retain water in areas that are to be blank space, and reject water but attract grease or oily ink in areas of text. The plates pass the ink to a rubber surface where it is temporarily offset in reverse, and then to the paper. The result not only involves very little wear and thus allows for large print runs, but it also coincidentally means that the shiny text on the surface of the plates is not reversed and thus perfectly legible, just as regular pages in a book.

“The Triumph of Romanticism” evokes both the 19th century love of archiving, and the impression of a lost antiquity displayed in a cabinet of curiosities. The book preserved as ancient or exotic artifact.

This depiction is reenforced by the changes in society relating to text. It is not uncommon for people these days to consider digital text (where the computer understands each character as individually editable) as “actual” text and printed pages as a kind of archaic picture or snapshot, and not the thing itself. The printed page as dumb object, both annoying and of little use. A kind of ghost or residue of the actual text.

Yet this stupid physical object text may soon be all we have left to preserve text with. A host of systems for Digital Rights Management or DRM are being trotted out by corporations attempting to put a strangle hold on the free flow of information caused by the invention of the internet. The argument they make is they are simply trying to protect the copyright so that people can receive just compensation, but the threat to our freedom to read, teach, and preserve books is so great that the American Library Association, in its Office for Information Technology Policy Brief “Digital Rights Management: A Guide for Librarians” outlines at least six key areas of concern where DRM could fundamentally harm the preservation of cultural knowledge for the future. This is because it involves encoding the digital information in such a way that even though you may be in possession of the digital book,the DRM controller decides what and how you can and can not read.

Yet writing is by nature an encoding, and thus always requires some device to decode it – whether a computer program, or simply vision, speech, and language. Cory Doctorow in his brilliant and impressive critique of DRM from the June 17, 2004, “Microsoft Research DRM talk” says “Paper books are the packaging that books come in.” Though he makes light of “how nice a book looks on your bookcase and how nice it smells” and seems almost dismissive of paper books as trash, this statement regarding books and packaging contains a vital notion. The book is the ideas encoded in the text, no matter what form the text is delivered in.

And so we finally circle back around to the book in the ceiling and the artwork made from it. In the electronic text age, here is the supposed “Triumph of Romanticism” – some loose fragments of metal left over from the dark ages of printing. Clearly there is no triumph. This does not constitute the effective preservation of 19th century literature, nor does it solve the problem of how to preserve books, in general, in the face of the overwhelming corporate and national control of media in the coming generation of the electronic age.

In the “The Triumph of Romanticism” the two forgotten art forms of books and found art come together in some kind of pale continued existence. The display, stuck in a maudlin reverence and elegiac longing for the past, strives mightily to achieve its goal, and fails. Yet what is this but a kind of reencoding and presentation of a lost set of ideals – the very essence of romanticism?

What Makes Today’s Home So, 2004

What Makes Today’s Home So Secure, So Appealing? is a 11″h x 17″d x 24″w Mixed media sculpture involving a light box, children’s toys, a working infra red video camera and 4″ monitor.


Project Description:

Coming to my art studio in the Lower East Side a day after 9/11, I had to pass two different police road blocks. At the second one an officer stopped me. Ten minutes later someone else on duty let me pass. I was grateful, but chilled by the experience. Who was in charge? What rules were they following? The security was for my safety, yet was directed against me. I had a sudden gut impression. What if a totalitarian state seized control of this nation from the inside? The rhetoric would still all be pro America, but there would be no free nation left.

Tomorrow seems to have already arrived. Americans detained without due process. Wholesale spying on citizenry. Microsoft’s’ highly touted “Trusted Computing Platform” and “Digital Rights Management” software which assumes every computer owner is a hostile agent. Corporations seizing national assets. World War II Nazi recruitment posters being reused with altered text by the new US Department of Homeland Security. It is a time of heightened terror, and propaganda.

The work’s title references another artwork made in the 1950s, at a previous time of fear and extreme consumerism – Richard Hamilton’s famous work from the Independent Group’s show ‘This is Tomorrow’. The current work is less a reference to pop art and more to some of Hamilton’s methods and concerns. He was part of a group of artists and intellectuals who met to discuss cultural change, the influence of technology, current media and design, as well as the sociology of London’s working class. He collaged together bits of advertising detritus to make powerful visceral work about the culture of the time. He has an acute awareness of, as Michael Bracewell put it, “the usefulness of transgressive or absurd imagery” and a comprehension of the contradictions between our desires and the way we try to fulfill them.

This work also uses bits of consumer culture. The toy figures demonstrate an insane conflation of war and rescue and could never have existed pre-9/11. As though we were “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” (released in the US in 1956, the same year as the Whitechapel exhibit), the puny if musclebound toys fixate on the viewer with their “cannon” tripod, shoot the viewer, and capture her/him on video. They use power and control to preserve the homeland, and the domestic sphere – with its sinage trumpeting happiness, but completely encased in plastic packaging, a shiny highly protected, surface. An actual separation from our homes and lives and loves could happen, and for some it has already. The full extent of terror may just be getting started, and the most frightening possible outcome is a time when there is no longer a strong, free and democratic nation to oppose it. It is the manipulation of our collective fears which makes this false “security” seem so appallingly appealing.

Ornamental, 1999

A pair of objects made at invitation, to be auctioned as part of a benefit for Harvey Lichtenstein in celebration of his retirement from the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) after his 32-year reign as the institution’s executive director. In 1999 President Clinton awarded Mr. Lichtenstein the National Medal of Arts.

Made from old fashioned silicone furniture sliders, lingerie garters, shower curtain hooks, 50’s era holiday fetish images via internet download, picture hanger hardware.

Project Description:

Mr. Lichtenstein is famed for his consistent presentation of cutting edge work exploring difficult issues, including power, sex, and gender. His first season at BAM (1968-1969) included Alban Berg’s sensational and Lurid opera “Lulu,” in which the main character actively prostitutes herself and also included The Living Theater’s “Paradise Now,” involving audience participation, and a notorious scene in which actors recite a list of social taboos that include nudity, while themselves disrobing; which led to multiple arrests for indecent exposure, during the life of the work.

The pair of objects is designed to resemble earrings or Christmas ornaments and references fashion and costume fetishization, while at the same time evoking a sense of “wholesome” 1950s era nostalgia.

The work partly explores what it means for a powerful male from this era to retire. The figures suggest theater starlets, a tawdry version of the Radio City Rockettes Christmas show, and notions of the “casting couch”. In one reading, we see the oppressed woman presented in the attitude of trophy gift and rightfully deserved object for the male who has achieved a heightened social status, and who will now, in retirement, reap the rewards of a lifetime of oppressive power accrual. Though gendered, they also stand in for all people who must labor and “put out” for the powerful in order to survive.

At the same time a heightened sense of the humorous absurdity in codified gender and power roles, (the awareness of which might more typically be found within gay and transgender communities,) could read these as idillic souvenirs of a bygone era. A kind of tribute to an imaginary past where sex is idealized and the fictional roles of “Boy” or “Girl”,  “Dominant” or “Submissive”, “Object” or “Objectifier” can temporarily be inhabited and reveled in by anyone, no mater what their gender or orientation. A kind of bacchanalian celebration of richly deserved reward.

They are intended to suggest decoration and celebration, provocation and transgression, costume and theatrical spectacle, all in honor of the man who founded the Next Wave Festival, and showed us things that others were afraid to reveal.

Wearable Sculpture, 1999

An art runway show featuring a series of artist/designers which included dacron, string and foam outfits designed by Paul Clay, with agency models. Part of the event Culture Jam, Night Owls, New York City.


Project Description
While working a freelance day job for a professional drapery and rigging company, I ran across a material called Bonded Dacron made from polyethylene terephthalate, a thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family used in synthetic fibers.

Dacron is used in upholstery, and looks a little like the fake cotton ball snow used in miniature scenes at Christmas time, but has high tensile strength and resistance to stretching. It is very light weight, can be purchased in bulk in 30″ or greater width rolls, and is approximately one inch thick.

When I was invited to participate in this group exhibit/runway show, I thought Dacron and foam rubber might be interesting sculptural materials to work with. The bulky physical form was a good challenge when trying to create something that could be worn as fashion.

Credits for Fictive’s contribution:
Paul Clay (Designer)
Tsukuru Asada (Photographer)
Christie Dinham (New York Model Management)
Rodger Gary (New York Model Management)
Munyana ( Model)
Tiffany ( Model)
Ebon (Model)