NYARTS Magazine

         Vol.6, No.6 (June 2001)



Joy Garnett’s Rocket Science

by Emil Memon


I can imagine Joy Garnett’s mood switching from ecstasy to horror and

back if she were listening to the recent speech of the new Secretary of

Defense Rumsfield. A strange affair that brought to mind a cross between

"Dr. Strangelove," "Star Trek," and "Starship Troopers," just to mention

a few. Looks like the military-industrial complex is taking cues from the art

world, by making a parallel merger with the entertainment industry. In his

speech, the Secretary of Defense announced forming a new department, run by

a four star general for war in space. Training space troopers with military

spaceships, developing new for space wars hardware like laser guns to knock

down enemy satellites etc. For an artist whose source material and inspiration

are the madness and inner workings of global military-industrial complex,

literally, the sky is the limit. How many artists are guaranteed trillions of

dollars many times over to develop and nurture their muse. Well, this

connection between art and military technology has an illustrious history,

especially in the Renaissance when Leonardo and Michelangelo were not just

passively recording, but actively developing technologies of mass destruction—

think of that as a "social sculpture." I wonder if this connection with art

history is the reason for Joy’s use of oil painting as the medium she presents

herself with. The choice of oil painting is interesting, especially after you

submerge yourself in her work and realize that it is comprised not only of

paintings, but the web listings in the index on the last page of her catalog.

When you follow those instructions you enter a very disturbing world

of war, conspiracy, institutions, sites for "soldier of fortune" types, official press

briefings of Nato officials during the Kosovo conflict, photos including mpegs

produced by smart bombs in Iraq, Kosovo, Serbia etc. You stumble onto the

propaganda war between Nato and Yugoslavia. Very fascinating are posted

(on the net) leaflet's dropped by Nato on their air raids over Yugoslavia and Kosovo,

messages to Serbian soldiers assuring them death if they don't stop following

their "fuhrer" Milosevic on his rampage of ethnic cleansing. On the other side,

the official sites of the Yugoslav army and government try by using the internet

to convince the world that they are just poor and innocent victims of Western

imperialistic aggression. There’s also a web site from an American soldier

posting his private photographs from the Persian Gulf war -- showing the need

of an individual to express and exorcise an experience such as war by making

it public. This is a telling example of the nature and power of new technology.

By exploring those issues, Joy is giving us the key to understand where her work

is coming from. They are providing her with images, and taking her, and us, on an

incredible ride that can be frightening to death. By doing this, she is successfully

fulfills one of the very important functions of art, and that is to educate. But

being didactical is not the only element of her work. In her artistic practice in

general she is also using other media, (very interesting is her ongoing online

piece The Bomb Project), but the show at Debs & Co. is oil paintings. The

aesthetic of the imagery she uses, like infrared night vision images of military

operations; images from video cameras mounted on smart bombs in their sterile

detached blues before the impact that probably stop the hearts of human beings;

the death of the Challenger crew in those pictures of spectacular pyrotechnics;

in-flight formations of stealth bombers, the ultimate machines of death. The

aesthetic of these images calls for actual use of the source material which comes

in the form of various types of prints, digital videos etc, but she is using oil

paintings. When you, as an artist, choose a particular medium you bring

along its whole history. Obviously oil painting has a long tradition of martial

images, but it also has a certain sensuality. This sensuality is the tricky part.

Here is where the obvious moralizing, pointing to the evils of military-

industrial complex is bumping into something that cuts into the heart of art

activity, and that is its ambiguity. When a horror that one image represents

gives way to the aesthetic pleasure, tactility, sensuality of the object, it can

go forward into the perverse or, if you want, sublime complicity -- into the

gray territory that art inhabits. It makes me think of Passolini, Visconti,

Pound, Wagner, Heidegger, Celine, Beuys, Kiefer, Mishima, Majakowsky, just

to mention few. When Beuys suggested that through art and by everybody

becoming an artist you can change politics and the social, the proposition of

art running politics can be even scarier than the already totally fucked up

situation we are in. Joy Garnett’s is an excellent show, because it brings up

all these issues that are complex and have different readings and faces -- but

           that is the nature of art itself.



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