Strangers / Étrangers

From the catalogue of the Studio Program 2000/2001: 2000-2001 P.S.1 National and International Studio Exhibition 04/26-6/9/01

Introduction by Paulo Herkenhoff, Adjunct Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

These artists represent a crossroad of cultures. They bring with them different perspectives of time that are still valid in spite of the process of globalization and late capitalism. Artists experience unexpected possibilities of being strangers in the articulation of plurality and the many layers of identity and subjectivity each one carries. But they also find reasons to discuss connections and echoes. They act within different levels of diversity of forms of discourse, with “grammatical” differences. (1) Edward Said has posited that “imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale.” (2)  Abdessemed points out, for instance, that he comes “from a society that is completely irrational, with an unconscious where the future is in the past, not in the present. And amongst the artists that I found here in P.S. 1, the future is precisely in the future, not in the present. One believes that coming to New York is the miracle. This has troubled me, how we are rational and believe in the miracle.” One of the artists should be quoted for the general conclusion of the account on Strangers/Étrangers: “I think you are in New York when you can’t leave. When you are addicted to it,” said Finnegan Sloyan. (3)

Ritsaert ten Cate.
“What the hell I’m going to do?” was Ritsaert ten Cate’s exclamation upon his arrival for the P.S.1 Studio Program. (4) His answer was: “To introduce myself in the most personal ways. I combined my personal identification, my internals, my professional life, my experience of twenty five years of theater.”
It is not a metaphor to affirm that Ritsaert ten Cate’s work celebrates life. The body of his work deals with pain and pleasure on a very private level. His discourse integrates the instincts of life and the instincts of death. Sometimes ten Cate will not hesitate to introduce meaningful biographical notes. He combines what he calls his “internals” in an assemblage that is mounted in the form of a Christmas tree. Such “internals” include the evidences of his own struggle for life, as a survivor of prostate cancer. In a world that is far beyond recognizing the kinship of mankind, “we know ourselves in our mortality,” writes Alphonso Lingis in The community of those who have nothing in common. (5) Ten Cate’s experience has led him to include some of the X-rays of his medical history as material in his work. It is an emblem of his strength that he feels he owes to others. He needs to be clear and direct as a political support to others who will have to fight the same cause of life.
Someone who is celebrating life is critical of the spectacle of death in society and the system of media communication around it. In Good Mourning, If It Is, Which I Doubt, a sentence taken from Winnie-the-Pooh, ten Cate combines a friend’s photograph of the thousands of flower bouquets sent to Lady Di’s funeral together with artificial flowers and kitsch Halloween prosthetics. Francis Bacon’s sensibility, manner of depicting flesh, is trivialized in these objects.
A magnifying glass helps the gaze to view the thousands of morbid flowers in the photo, a diagram for the eye of contemporary media, which seems to find no limit in war or in the invasion of the people’s private lives. The viewer is the paparazzi to pursue an image. The artist is interested in how certain news creates social emotion, shock, or a funerary economy; for example, Theodora Géricault’s painting, The Raft of Medusa, based on the news about cannibalism among the survivors of the French ship Médusa in the early nineteenth century. The corps morcellé, which was a subject of interest to Géricault, is also an issue of modern art. The excess of flowers, the sea of individual mourning messages for Lady Di, or the Halloween body parts tell how excess creates loss in the logic of capital. The body without organs - the strategy of capital - lies in full operation in the carnivalesque dismemberment. Via Bakhtin, in Good Mourning, If It Is, Which I Doubt, reveals itself as a Rabelaisian celebration of our times. (6)
Strangers/Étrangers featured God’s Letter Box, an assemblage by ten Cate. It is a triumph: two poles raised to sustain an eagle on top of a photograph of Queens from the window of his studio in P.S. 1. The poles sustain terrible news of conflicts, wars, genocides, and diasporas, problems of all sorts, indicative of contemporary social cannibalism. This is what Montaigne considered in his Essays as the European (we now read: Western) violent counterpart to the symbolic practices of cannibalism among some Natives of the Americas. The collage is a monument to a politically unipolar world, a culturally uniform world, to the unilateralism of a single hyper power. (7) Ten Cate’s irony, installed at the highest level of the Clocktower, closer to the sky and heavens, is the triumphant American eagle, a foreign product, a bibelot made in China, to represent the hyper power.

(1) See Paul Ricoeur, Introduction in Cultures and Time. Paris, The Unesco Press,     1976, pp. 13-33
(2) Op. cit. note 33 supra, p. 336
(3) Interview with the curator on March 19, 2001
(4) All references to Ritsaert ten Cate were annotated from the interview with him on     March 17, 2001
(5) Alphonso Lingis. The Community of Those Who Have Nothing In Common,     Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1994, p. 159
(6) See Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World. Hélène Iswolsky. Bloomington,     Indiana University Press, 1984, p. 202
(7) This sentence paraphrases Hubert Vedrine, the French foreign minister, in 1999, as     quoted by Safire, “On Language,” in The New York Times Magazine, June 10,     2001, p.40

New York (USA)


Paolo Herkenhoff. Catalogue 2000-2001, P.S.1 National and International Studio Exhibition