"Just Married: A Meditation on Art, Politics, and the Subversion of Both"
An interview with the
artist, by Robin Peckham
RP: Where did the idea for this project come from?
RP: This course, an introduction to some theories and practices of radical media, has exposed us all to a broad variety of potential influences. The questions that linger in my mind, however, are still strikingly similar to the same vaguely-formed, broadly-articulated problem that led me to take the course to begin with: is there any way to reconcile radical politics with participation in contemporary art? Many answers to this question have been proposed, and many have been contradictory. The issue is obviously a complex one, and this course has certainly complicated my earnest and naive but tentative attempts at resolving it. Cultural producers and collectives like the Critical Art Ensemble tell us that we shouldn't call "it" art; others like Improv Everywhere tell us that we shouldn't call "it" politics. So what is "it"? Are there any activities that remain open to our ethical participation? This project explores this terrain, and very self-consciously mocks the fact that these questions even need be asked in the ways that they are.
RP: Could you describe the work?
RP: Materially, it's a piece of paper in a single folder in an otherwise empty drawer in a seemingly abandoned dorm room that looks suspiciously like a white cube. The paper is a voided request for a marriage license. I spent a long time at City Hall trying to convince the clerks to let me marry an individual with the same name and social security number. They told me to stop bothering them. They tried to take the form away, and only let me keep it after they voided it out on the top.
RP: So what are you getting at with that?
RP: There are a few themes at play here. To begin with, do you remember Nancy Armstrong's recent lecture, a queer theory-inspired update to her great 1980s women's studies text Desire and Domestic Fiction? She spoke some then (and a lot more in the original book) about [19th -century literary] marriage as the great naturalizer. Entirely socially-unacceptable things become perfectly okay when they're brought to closure in the form of a marriage. Interracial, inter-class, incestuous, licentious affairs are all legitimized if they end in marriage. So the permit to marry is obviously a very powerful tool for effecting social change, which is what I was trying to employ in this project. It's become passe to speak of the postmodern condition as fractured, schizophrenic, schizophrenogenic... but I'm thinking of my self as a split subject here. Marriage is fundamentally a narcissistic relationship of specularity. Freud might ask us: do we really think we can marry someone other than ourself? And of course, beyond just trying to visualize the condition of the postmodern subject, I'm also looking at gender roles. There's actually legal precedent stipulating that individuals with multiple personalities cannot marry themselves, but there's no precedent for polygendered individuals. The timing here for the project was difficult, because I had to catch half of myself on a feminine day and half on a masculine day. It's a long walk to Massachusetts, and who wants to have a marriage certificate that says Seekonk?
RP: Your project seems more specular, more self-referential than just that. Is there anything else?
RP: Perhaps I should explain some of the theoretical influences that made this project possible. The influences that made this project not artistic, not political, but still aesthetically viable and socially radical. To begin with, we have Michel de Certeau, and his text The Practice of Everyday Life. We will refer to the "General Introduction." I would claim the political inheritance of the "indigenous Indians" he discusses resisting their Spanish colonizers: "Submissive, and even consenting to their subjection, the Indians nevertheless often made of the rituals, representations, and laws imposed on them something quite different from what their conquerors had in mind; they subverted them not by rejecting or altering them, but by using them with respect to ends and references foreign to the system they had no choice but to accept." That is to say, they and I have both taken up the "other within the very colonization that outwardly assimilated them." This element of Certeau's text, a titan in the field of reception studies, makes the claim that a radical rewriting of a forced act or text is as valid a form of resistance as its outright rejection. Because I mentally approached my marriage differently than your average couple, I committed as much of an assault on the oppressive institution as I would have had I burned down all of the marriage licenses in the Vital Records Office of City Hall at 25 Dorrance St., Room 104. Outward apathy, inward radicalism--the new progressive politics. We could also examine Alexander Brener and Barbara Schurz's text "Anti-Technologies of Resistance," which introduces us to the concept of "auto-destructive art." Art should not be pleasurable, and should certainly not be art. Radical production is a "fart at a cocktail party," which is precisely what this project is. Successful art must reject that label, and ultimately must reject even that form. So is this project art, and is it political? I say yes, but my agent says no.
RP: Right. Well. Is there much precedent for this? Or do you have anything to leave us with?
RP: There's a brilliant non-political non-artist named Kristin Lucas who recently engaged in a similar but more more legally successful project. She petitioned a California judge to change her name from "Kristin Sue Lucas" to "Kristin Sue Lucas," as if she were refreshing herself like a webpage. The judge certainly lost some sleep over it, but she was eventually granted permission. Unfortunately, her project didn't involve the tax benefits mine would have.
Brener, Alexander, and Barbara Schurz. "Anti-Technologies of Resistance."
Certeau, Michel de. "General Introduction," in The Practice of Everyday Life.
Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction.
Lucas, Kristin. "Refresh: Intervention into California Supreme Court."