“I see what I see immediately,” wrote Kathy Acker. “I don’t rethink it. My seeing is as rough and unformed as what I’m seeing. This is realism: the unification of my perceiving and what I perceive or a making of a mirror relation between my world and the world of the painting.”
“Realism for the Cause of Future Revolutions” was originally published in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation back in 1984. An experimental novelist, punk poet and postmodernist, among so many other things, Kathy Acker, in this article, deconstructed a string of works by Goya and Caravaggio through a “realist” lens—but not, let’s be clear, with any realism you will ever recognize.
Acker’s realism is hers and hers alone, the way my experience and your experience exist in separate, entirely isolated worlds. Her description of the figures in Goya’s Dos Viejos Comiendo Sopa, for instance—“A woman who looks like a skull is eating soup…the hands holding the spoon are big, ugly, and knotting”—intentionally plays with the ambiguity of interpretation, not only describing Goya’s work outside of its historical context, but satirically juxtaposing the theoretical ideals of realism with the limits of its human application.
“[Goya’s] Black Paintings are descriptions,” wrote Acker. “I have simply described some of them. They aren’t or don’t include judgments. I haven’t judged them. Are such descriptions communication? What is being communicated? What is being communicated by this ‘realism’?”
What we call language is the social contract by which we soften the parameters of meaning in order to communicate. Nothing in our verbal or visual catalog can totally encompass our individual relationship to words as they grow and change throughout the course of experience. It is a powerful mechanism but inherently imperfect, produced and reinterpreted through the inescapable human filter.
“[Language is] necessarily reactive. An isolated word has no meaning,” Acker wrote. “The artist has to consider how to make society want his work or accept his nonsense as language, communication.”
Continue reading » visions of a woman in motion
This is part of “Radical Storytelling,” originally submitted to the SAIC Collections on 14 Dec 2013.