Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

Fluid Nature

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Los Angeles is a city that prefers to be pictured than encountered face to face. Its streets are a ceaseless Babel of disagreeing voices and signs, but, seen from any of the hills that overlook the expansive valley basin, its disparate neighbourhoods knit together into an intricate blanket, still and quiet. Particularly at night, this panorama confirms diverse L.A. archetypes: the technological Sublime, the suburban sprawl, or the majestic, multi-ethnic metropolis. Even the ocean, which laps the city’s southwest edge, is itself a picture – a dry backdrop that, with the aid of a setting sun and some silhouetted palm trees, instantly flattens into a postcard or a t-shirt. Few ever venture onto the water in order to look back at the land.

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Atrocity Exhibition

Contemporary art and cruelty from Renzo Martens in the Congo to Adel Abdessemed in the slaughterhouse

Renzo Martens, Episode III (2009)

In 1976, a New York-based group calling themselves Artists Meeting for Cultural Change distributed posters with the headline ‘ARTISTS UNITE!’. They were protesting against the selection of artists in an exhibition titled ‘Three Centuries of American Art’; ‘STOP RACISM & SEXISM’ the poster demanded. Why is it so hard to imagine artists galvanising themselves into equivalently forthright activism today? Not only have most contemporary artists lost faith in the potential of art to effect social or political change, a significant number are actually responding to our current moment by deliberately increasing the total sum of human misery. Cruelty, it seems, has become an artistic position. How exactly did this come about?

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