No previous work of art has been simultaneously so completely introspective, so completely true to its medium, so perfectly shorn of illusionism and reference.

 

 

 

 

Yes You Are Roberta Breitmore

 

a post-mortem on Modernism

 

 

 

 

Lynn Hershman's I Am Not Roberta Breitmore is one of the most interesting pieces of the 1970's Women's-Identity-Performance art. Given how the work directly addresses the central issue of Modernist and Postmodernist art, one can easily argue that it is basically an intellectual piece - a carefully-argued disquisition about the problem of representation and illusionism versus direct honesty and the absence of pretense in art.

 

Perhaps Breitmore is the apex of Modernism, with its intriguing approach to eliminating the last shred of illusion and representation from art. Does it finally achieve the complete purging of representation and illusion; a goal that eluded even Modernist extremists like Jackson Pollock?[1] Or conversely, is Roberta Breitmore the nemesis of Modernism - a pluperfect illusion that pays homage to five hundred years of illusionism in art? I'll argue that the piece is a Postmodernist oxymoron; paradoxically being both Modernist and anti-Modernist at the same time, properly placing Hershman in the company of such masters of enigma as Marcel Duchamp and Werner Heisenberg.

 

In any case, to understand Hershman's positioning of I Am Not Roberta Breitmore one must consider the major issue of Modernist and Postmodernist art; the issue of representation and illusion. From the pre-Renaissance up until Impressionists began the Modernist movement in the Nineteenth Century, representation and illusionism were the hallmarks of Western high art.

 

Just over half a thousand years ago in pre-Renaissance Italy, Alberti wrote down for the first time in history, precise rules for the one-point-perspective transform. That is, in his 1436 book Della Pittura he set out the specific rules for geometrically transforming three-dimensional space into an accurate two-dimensional representation.    This was an artistic revolution, and plainly sparked the isomorphisms[2] of Renaissance art, which quickly followed.  After Alberti, any third-rate painter who could follow simple written rules was able to paint impressively-accurate two-dimensional illusions of the three-dimensional world. 

 

Actually, what Alberti wrote down were  the rules that Brunelleschi had developed a few years prior; rules for mathematical single-point perspective, with which Donatello[3] and Masaccio[4] had recently done their astonishingly realistic work. In art Alberti promulgated an age of exquisite illusionism; an age of artists painting windows onto imagined vistas, so precisely isomorphic as to deceive the viewers' vision. Artists were reported to brag that their painted images were spatially accurate enough to attract birds, who would come peck at breadcrumbs or berries in their paintings.

 

Medieval painting, before Brunelleschi's time, was suggestive of, or symbolic, of 3-D space, but it wasn't photographically correct; not even close. Figures tended to be stiff, flattened, and anatomically incorrect. Figures and objects far in the background were often the same size as foreground figures and objects, they were just raised up higher in the composition, to indicate their location in background space. The picture space was irrational: if you tried to measure various pictorial distances and compare them to each other the resulting ratios would be nonsensical.

 

In about 1428, using Brunelleschi's new method, Masaccio had stunned Florence with his painting of the Holy Trinity in the church of Santa Maria Novella. This fresco is credited with being the first ever painting with a measurably-correct interior space - the first truly isomorphic painting. It was arguably the world's first true Tromp l' Oeil. It wasn't just a symbolic painting, it looked as if a window had actually been opened up in the church wall, leading into the interior of another full-size, measurable, three-dimensional chapel.

 

Though Alberti's linear mathematical paradigm was applied first in the field of painting and drawing, much has been made of how this new linear methodology spread rapidly through science and then mechanics, spawning a new age of linear thinking and rationality; finally culminating in our modern scientific-industrial society. Though this theory is obviously a bit hyperbolic, one can hardly deny that isomorphism is the core of empirical science,[5] and that Alberti played a major part in introducing that concept to European culture.

 

Half a millennium after Alberti, philosophers working from within the domain of rationality have finally pushed the system to its irrational edges with Einstein's Relativity, non-Euclidean geometry, and the Quantum Mechanics of Werner Heisenberg and others. Heisenberg won the Nobel prize in 1932 for using the tools of linear science to show that at the extreme, the system of linearity and causality breaks down. At the extreme, our raft of rationality floats in a quantum sea of chaos and chance. On the quantum level, linearity and one-to-one representation is nonsensical. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle showed that Plank's Constant marks a fundamental pale, beyond which our rationality cannot pass with its measuring sticks, counters, and continuous straight lines. Heisenberg found within the very core of rational Empiricism the seeds of its own negation.

 

So consider the Modernist movement in art as an analogue for Empiricism in the physical sciences. Certainly they both are highly rational systems that opened the door to unexpected episodes of irrationality and non-linearity. Consider that the transcendental step from rational Modernist thought to the fragmented uncertainties of PostModernism, is closely analogous to the way that Heisenberg followed the mandates of linearity to find his own transcendental conundrum, i.e. Quantum Mechanics, the PostModernism of the physical sciences.

 

From such a perspective, it is easy to argue that Lynn Hershman's I Am Not Roberta Breitmore, is an indicative, if not definitive episode, from the last gasp of Modernism. Consider that like physics, the evolution and development of Modernism in art might have followed a mostly-predetermined path, laid out by its primary suppositions and aims. Consider that Modernism has carried within its DNA a sort of map of its own development through several loosely predetermined stages, all leading to an inevitable discovery, at its very core, of a final contradiction of the primary assumptions.

 

While it might be argued that Modernism died the death of a thousand cuts, I think there are good reasons for paying special attention to identity-driven women's performance art in the 1970's, if not as a prime factor of, then at least as a good index into Modernism's unraveling. I think Roberta Breitmore, can be taken as an index into the moment of Modernism's self-negation; that this work is a marker of Modernism's having completed its long dissolution of illusion; and more than that, of its having reached the end of its definitive investigation into the true nature of artistic media per-se.

 

First there's the circumstantial evidence. Certainly the Modernist formalism of Minimalism and Post-Painterly Abstract art that preceded the women's identity work, and then the fragmentation and Interest-Group art that later followed it, do place the women's-identity genre at a proper point in time: right between the dominant influences of first Modernism, and then later Post-Modernism. That is, if there were an artistic nexus between these two contrary movements, a point where Modernism ended, it would need to at least be roughly contemporary with the identity-driven women's performance art of the 1970's. Clearly though, such coincidence does not make much of a case in itself. But consider how many interesting connections there seem to be between the fundamentals of Modernism and the essentials of feminist identity performances, particularly Roberta Breitmore. Are there convincing reasons why such work would somehow mark a completion of the tasks that Modernism had set itself to undertake; or if not this, would at least indicate a set of uncovered problems or obstacles that might explain Modernism's denouement?

 

With beginnings as early as Impressionism, the mainstay of Modernist art has been the shrinking away of desire for perfecting Alberti's illusionism, in favor of the artistic investigation of the actual means and methods of art itself. One of the most salient characteristics of Impressionism, in this regard, was the attention given to theories of seeing and color; and paint per se. And in the definitively Modernist music of John Cage, a century later, we note similar attention to hearing, listening, and sound per se.

 

Throughout the years, Modernism's main program has been a shifting of focus from the illusions that art can create to the actualities and means of the media; the tangible methods and materials by which the traditional illusions can be produced and presented. In this, Modernism has been introspective and specialized; often a study for an informed elite, and thus often misunderstood and scorned by outsiders and the general public. Clement Greenberg, exercising his mastery of the language in reflecting on this tendency, noted that in the Modern self-reflective tradition "the best painters are painters' painters; the best poets, poets' poets."

 

It is perhaps even a bit too neat that we can observe the simultaneous development in Impressionism of parallel concern per se for the pigment, the canvas, and the mediating artist. Recall the canvas-flattened impressions, executed in discreet and salient blots of pigment, depicting the artists and their fellows engaged in the work of making art. Without pushing the evidence too far, one can surely suggest, that even this early, Modernism had begun its long program to eliminate illusion from art in favor of a self-reflective concentration on means as ends; and as a part of this program to reduce the person of the artist itself to simply another means of production, amenable to a medium's self-investigation.

 

In any case, regardless of how far this notion had been carried by predecessors, Dada and Surrealism made it absolutely clear that concern with the person of the artist was necessary and fair game for Modernism's focus on the nature and details of artistic media. Dada's first step, in this regard, was surely the radical theory behind the readymades of Marcel Duchamp. The sine qua non of art, according to Duchamp is not some essence or quality residing in the final work, in the product itself; but rather an infinitely subtle[6] shifting of the intent of the artist. Duchamp might choose a snow-shovel off a hardware store shelf to clear his walk, like any other person in winter. Yet Duchamp might instead choose another show-shovel, with a slight shift of intent; and create by that act a great and lasting work of art.

 

The logic here is clear and simple. Confronting the snow-shovel in an exhibition space, the viewer is forced to consider the question: why is this object a work of art, unlike its companions remaining on the hardware store shelf. Duchamp states the question in a manner impossible to ignore. Whether or not viewers appreciate or agree with Duchamp, they are here forced to consider the proposition that the intent of the artist is the prime means of art production - yes or no. With the advent of the ready-made, Modernist art theory squarely accepted the propriety of art being addressed to the consideration of the artist as medium, as means of production.

 

It is intimated above that Modernism's investigation of the artist derives from its more inclusive project of eliminating illusion in favor of that which is real, manifest, and tangible. It is interesting, then, that Duchamp's definitive statement on the importance of artistic intent should be the obverse of an artwork which inherently precludes any notion of illusion. A show-shovel, even in a gallery is manifestly wood and steel, manufactured for the removal of snow from sidewalks. A snow-shovel is a snow-shovel, it neither depicts nor represents; the issue of illusion, at least in the normal sense[7], is completely precluded. If the program of Modernism is the elimination of illusion in favor of an investigation of art's essential means, then Duchamp's readymade is clearly a valiant attempt to create definitively Modernist art. In terms of these Modernist ideals, I think Roberta Breitmore betters the statement made here by the readymade.

 

In considering later performance oriented pieces about identity, we must also look to some of Duchamp's other innovations. In Man Ray's photograph of Duchamp with a star symbol incised into his haircut we find Modern art not only addressing the medium of artist's intent, but also considering that the physical medium, the locus of art; that the artistic product itself, might properly be the body of the artist. Duchamp offers an answer to the Modernist quest for purest essentials: the minima, without which any production or presentation of traditional art is difficult to imagine, are the intent and the body of the artist.

 

If the intent and the body of the artist are the sine qua non of artistic practice, then we have a fairly explicit Modernist recipe for identity-driven performance art. It should not be surprising then that Duchamp was an instigator of this type of work, with his Rrose Selavey project. Rrose was an alter-ego, Duchamp in drag, a celebrity artist. Rrose was the artist-signator of various artworks produced by Duchamp. She was a celebrity endorser, with her own perfume label: Eau de Voilette, the essence of the little veil. One is asked to consider here the veil of celebrity; what is it that sets off the anointed celebrity from pedestrian folk, the celebrated self from otherness? What are the little veils of alter-ego, of gender identity; what is the veil that sets off the distinct personage of each human from that of its kin? How is it that Duchamp, or another person, might pass through the veil and escape thereby the shackles of fixed identity; might construct from what media an alternate identity, might abandon normal self and become something other?

 

While it would be an interesting study to consider why performance art focusing on identity should seem to have entered a four decade period of general latency after Rrose Selavey, it is worth noting that Modernism's interest in self-reflection and identity remained a strong force in major art movements of the intervening years: Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Minimalism.

 

The Surrealists followed Duchamp's search for another self, the inner unknown self; the unconscious identity that can be made manifest by freeing the means of expression, the means of artistic production, from the rational and linear confines of ordinary selfhood. Surrealist prophets promulgated the faith that only the other self, only the un-conscious self is truly artistic and creative. Only the entranced, sans dominant self, can reach the Surrealist muse.

 

In Abstract Expressionism we find that the subject of art is still turned directly inward; and again is properly the outpouring of the artist's secret inner selfhood; a revealing of the inner record of the artist's personal history made manifest through unregulated expression. Where the automatic hand of the Surrealist was a means of giving expression to the inner self, the bodies of the Action Painters became even more, i.e. both the means and ends of art. The artistic product on canvas or paper was now reduced to a mere index of the all-important personal acting-out of the artist's pure and otherwise impalpable inner self.

 

It is worth considering here the similarity between Duchamp's work and that of Heisenberg, who was coincidentally his close contemporary. Duchamp was clearly following the linear mandates of Modernism to eschew illusion, and to investigate the essentials of art production. Yet for all of Modernism's rationality, Dada seems to have exposed a negatory, irrational core, that went on to provide sustenance to Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. The Rationalism that was fostered by Alberti's exact mathematical transforms has logically led through Dada to new art practices, practices that paradoxically investigate the selfhood, and the unique person of the artist, through the means of uncontrolled and necessarily irrational expression of idiosyncratic inner impulse. At least as metaphor, the irrationality that Heisenberg's Quantum Mechanics found at the interior extreme of empirical physics has much in common with Duchamp's work in Modern art.

 

It is important to note however that even though these movements in late Modern art were approaching the black hole at the center of Modernist theory, they were still essentially Modernist in character. The mandate to self-investigate the medium remains strong. And from the star Duchamp inscribed on the head of the artist, to Pollock's defiant "I am nature" reply to Hans Hoffman, the artist was still firmly ensconced as a heroic figure. Modernism's optimism, its heroic individualism, still reigned supreme. The artist was the star of the show.

 

Another issue that needs to be considered in this regard is the role theatricality plays in late Modernist art. Obviously illusion is a central issue to theater, and many critics have noted how theatricality has spilled over into various disciplines of modern art. Certainly theatricality is a considerable factor in Hans Namuth's documentation of Pollock's gyrations; and in the importance of this documentation to the understanding of Pollock's art practice, as well as his relationship with his public. It might seem trivial to ask where Pollock and his art might land, if the rug of theatricality were somehow neatly pulled out from under him. However this question later becomes paramount in the Minimalist reaction to Abstract Expressionism. Forget the heroic artist, the celebrated producer of the work. Minimalism goes back for a look at the other side of Duchamp's readymade: set up the experimental conditions such that neither the hand of the artist, nor the artist's individual markings, nor any aspect of the artist's individuality is made manifest to distract the viewer from the purest experience of the work.

 

From a phenomenological position, Minimalism turns the question of art production onto the viewer, the ultimate producer of the experience. Subject and object are finally united. What is the condition of the audience, the viewers? How do they participate? Of what are they aware? Of what is their experience constructed? What is the viewer's gestalt experience of art?[8] Are the viewers in real circumstances, or are they suspending their disbelief? Is their experience theatrical in nature? Michael Fried[9] argues, in this context, that theatricality is profoundly anti-Modernist; thus that suspension of disbelief, from the illusionism of Alberti, to pre-Brecht theater, is the nemesis of the Modernist impulse. Surely it does seem to make a sort of sense that tolerating a suspension of disbelief immediately confounds a Greenbergian search for essential means, and ancillary true identity. I think this notion is critical to properly positioning I Am Not Roberta Breitmore.

 

It should be noted that we are here observing a slow-moving sea-change in the tide of Modernism, even while its prime directive is being obeyed with a vengeance. Surrealism reached for the basic means of art production, even back behind the conscious awareness of the artist. Abstract Expressionism strove to touch that same source, while attempting to scrape the last shreds of representation from the bone of art production. Minimalism, reaching a transcendental extreme, abandoned the artist and made a final search in the person of the viewer. Yet as has been noted, these movements, while continuing Modernism's investigation of means, have conducted their searches in places where Modernism's underpinning of linearity and rationality[10] could not go.

 

While some of Duchamp's more overt ideas for investigating identity seemed to remain on the back burner during these years, the slumbering Rrose Selavey would eventually be awakened by the feminist movement, which was primed for an art that could deal with issues of the construction of personal, and in particular, gender-role identities. It should not surprise us that an investigation of selfhood and identity necessarily involves serious consideration of otherness: that which defines self by being what self is not. Duchamp found that the way to raise issues about identity was by becoming what Duchamp was obviously not. In this regard it is interesting, and should not be too surprising, that one of the most productive bodies of work to address these issues was produced by a group of feminist artists who were starting from an acute awareness of their own otherness, of their own exclusion and marginalization.

 

The roots of the identity-driven performance art of the 70's clearly run deep through Modernism's long mandate to self-investigate. In fact, this work might be characterized as Modernism's last great effort at self-investigation. While there are other antecedents of women's identity performance in the 1970's, feminism and theater for example; I think it is important to note that the driving force of this work, the self-investigation, the study of the artist as means, is at least consonant with the main aims of Modernism.

 

It is possible to argue that the Women's Identity Art could be parsimoniously explained by only the simplest of Modernism's mandates: investigate the artist and other means of art production. One could argue that this work of deconstructing identity could have been predicted starting only from Greenberg's predicates of Modernism. Had the women's performance art not done the work it did, would it not have ultimately been necessary somehow for this same work to be done by other means? Certainly in physics the work of Heisenberg was a necessary step in a largely-predetermined progression. If Heisenberg had instead painted Surrealist canvases, his Uncertainty Principle would have soon been uncovered by some other searching physicist. The question here is not how far we can justifiably stretch our metaphor, but whether or not the progress and dissolution of Modernism is at least loosely predetermined by a set of internal conditions. This is, to cast the question as a conundrum, whether the progress of Modernism is due to a set of heroic individuals making undetermined advances by force of ingenuity[11], or whether it is rather due to an inscribed evolutionary unfolding of initial necessities. Were the great accomplishments of Modernist art made by heroes, or by faceless actors, swimming as they must with the tides?

 

The point to be made here is that most of the feminist identity work of the 1970's was, in terms of its determined self-investigation, distinctly Modern in conception. However, though most of this work had much that argued against its being located within the Modernist fold, Roberta Breitmore is a unique case, which to my thinking, highlights particularly interesting aspects of the wrapping up of the Modernist project.

 

Between 1972 and 1975 Hershman periodically constructed episodes of the fictional Roberta Breitmore's life. The work consisted of Hershman amassing a large quantity of evidence and experience attesting to Breitmore's existence. Breitmore, Hershman's made-up alter ego, had a personal history to share, and an identity narrative to tell when people she met would ask personal questions. She had particular favorites and preferences in wardrobe, makeup, and food. Roberta's life was constructed and filled with the very stuff that lives are filled with, applying for a bank account, receiving the checks in the mail, interviewing for jobs, advertising for a new roommate, having coffee with acquaintances. Details of the piece can be reviewed on Hershman's website.

 

Narrative and documentation were the only temporally stable parts of the piece. This in itself is not astounding; it had been done by artists from Duchamp to Smithson, as well as by a large number of other performance artists. However, never before had documentation indexing a work of art been so perfectly conflated with the documentation that indexes an actual individual life or personal identity. Breitmore's monthly bank statement and her rent payments served as narrative documentation for this work of artiface. Breitmore's coffee date with a friend was artistic narrative.

 

Hershman here has aimed both barrels directly at the documentary and narrative construction of personal identity. In a definitively Modernist mode, Hershman investigates personal identity through deconstructing it into its own necessary means: experiences, narratives, specified preferences and evidentiary documents. In this respect Roberta Breitmore is quite distinct from other works of identity-focused performance. One could almost argue that it is runaway Modernism: self-investigation of the artist as means of production, through the deconstruction of personal identity itself, into its own constituent media.

 

Consider the difference in this respect between Eleanor Antin's Eleanora Antinova and Roberta Breitmore. Antin's work, though addressing many of the same issues, was staged. She was propped up with broomsticks for a photo-shoot. Conversely, when Breitmore opened a checking account, her money was green, eight bits to the dollar. The viewer encountering Antin's King on a park bench is immersed in theatricality. Antin presented an anti-Modernist illusion of a king, with a paste-on beard and cardboard crown. On the other hand, when Breitmore executed a rental agreement the terms thereof were legally binding and regulated by California law. Where Hershman studies identity per se in a Modernist fusing of the means and ends of art, Antin's work derives more from the mainstream of illusionism and traditional theater.

 

Similarly while Cindy Sherman's personal identity work addresses many of the same concerns that Hershman's does, Sherman's choice of medium is a combination of traditional representation and theater. Her "film stills" are pictures of an imagined theater: illusions of illusion, quite an interesting convolution in itself. Unlike Hershman, Sherman is clearly not concerned with abjuring illusion, or taking up the cause of Modernist purity.

 

So how has Hershman positioned I am not Roberta Breitmore with respect to the concerns of Modernism that we have been discussing? We might argue that, like Duchamp's snow-shovel, the only part of the piece that references illusion or representation is the title. Roberta Breitmore is the real thing: she eats, talks, lives and breaths, opens bank accounts and attends Weight-Watchers to lose a pound or two. Only the title informs the privileged[12] viewer, that there is another countermanding set of facts[13] that evidence Roberta Breitmore as somehow constructed in illusion. Yet does this fact of the title, or the countermanding evidence that Breitmore's reality is subordinate to Lynn Hershman's, somehow invalidate or lessen the experience of the landlord, the banker or Breitmore's fellow weight-watchers? Does it make their viewing experience illusory? Are the merchants who accepted Breitmore's checks and credit cards somehow lessened, or disillusioned? The answer is clearly no.

 

Alberti's long-lived program was that art should be a true isomorphism or representation of some external subject, something other. Modernism strengthened the emphasis on true by collapsing the isomorphism, by eliminating the representational pretense, the referential, the external, the otherness of the object. In one sense Modernism is sort of an artistic samadhi; elimination of duality through collapsing the difference between subject and object.

 

Modernism demands that art should be so true and non-representational as to remove all pretense and illusion; leaving the problem that the only bona-fide subject remaining is art itself; the means of the artist. Roberta Breitmore satisfies Modernism in spades. Hershman's subject is the life, the person, the experiences of the artist. Her medium, as well, is the life, the person, the experiences of the artist. Elements of the medium do not represent or refer; they stand only for themselves: constituent elements of the life, the person, and the experiences of the artist. Considering this about Roberta Breitmore, it is clear that all previous Modernist work fell somewhat short of completely fulfilling the mandates of Modernism. No previous work has been simultaneously so completely introspective, so completely true to its medium, so perfectly shorn of illusionism and reference.

 

Yet on the other hand, there is another approach to this work, suggested by the negatory in the title. Regardless of the validity of our evidence for the person of Roberta, regardless of the fact that she is constructed from the same material as Hershman, or to be specific - Everyman; in the final analysis Roberta Breitmore per se is clearly an illusion; she is not Lynn Hershman. Superior Albertian artists have long been touted for the impeccable reality of their illusions. Some of the best of these have reputedly pointed out their superiority by the fact that even birds have been fooled by the illusions; coming to peck at representations of bread crumbs. Judging Hershman by this standard, she clearly has outperformed them all. Not only did the birds surely not suspect Roberta Breitmore, but neither did the landlord, the pimp, or the Bank of America - and Breitmore[14] had the paperwork to prove it. Roberta Breitmore is pluperfect illusion. Has any artist since the time of Alberti created an isomorphism so perfect, with so many of the details indistinguishable from real life; so perfect that the viewer must be specifically informed that the work is not life itself? Roberta Breitmore is the nemesis of Modernism's program to eliminate illusion from art.

 

Even more than Duchamp, Hershman has scrupulously followed the rational mandates of Modernism, consequently producing a work that exposes a negatory void at Modernism's very core. Tracing a paradigm with analogues in both Quantum Mechanics and non-Euclidian geometry, at the very moment Hershman achieves an art work constructed only of completely non-referential media, she paradoxically achieves an unparalleled illusion.

 

Concurrently with collapsing Modernism's cherished distinction between illusionism and true self-study, Roberta Breitmore also mounts a challenge to Modernist claims about the nature of the heroic individual, the worthy and unique self that Modernism is sworn to plumb for great revelations and insights. Faithful to Modernist mandates, Hershman has methodically investigated personal identity; carefully deconstructing it layer, by layer, into its constituent parts. In doing this, we find that she has peeled an onion. When the media of selfhood are separated out and laid carefully aside, the prized core of deconstructed personal identity itself is revealed to be a void.

 

Who is Gustov Courbet; Rodin, Tristan Tzara, or Jackson Pollock? Who is Roberta Breitmore? Hershman specifically informs us that it is not her. For all the bankers' forms and cashed checks, for all the credit extended and money loaned, for all the pimp's high hopes and the landlord's profit, the person of Roberta Breitmore is absolutely no more than the sum of her parts, a simulacrum. To borrow from Odysseus, Noman[15] is Roberta Breitmore. Hershman reveals optimistic Modernism's hallowed self to be a hollow shell of support for evidentiary and preferential documentation. Selfhood is a constructed narrative, a list of experiences and interactions, chosen preferences and idiosyncrasies, an artifice, a work of art, and nothing more. Paradoxically, in the end, there is of course no denying it: Hershman is indeed Roberta Breitmore; we are all Roberta Breitmore.

 

Even more than Duchamp, Hershman has paralleled in art the work of Heisenberg in physics. Following the rational mandates of Modernism, she has revealed an unavoidable negation of Modernist assumptions at Modernism's very core. Can we say that Roberta Breitmore is a definitive moment in the ending of Modernism, or is she[16] merely an index into a pre-existing state? If we take to heart the piece itself we must conclude that individuals, whether artists or works, are not heroic episodes, are not self-sustaining fonts of individual power and inspiration. We must conclude instead that such narrative and documentary structures are merely transitory constructions of elements made available by times and circumstances. Roberta Breitmore is a mirror, constructed by an aging Modernism to restate the particular facts of its own pre-scripted dissolution.[17]

 

 



 

 

Bibliography

 

 

Albright, Thomas, Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, pp.202-3

 

Battcock, G., ed., Minimal Art, A Critical Anthology, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1968

 

Chimaera Monographie, Lynn Hershman, Herimoncourt, France: Centre International De Creation Video Montbeliard Belfort, 1992

 

Roth, Moira, ed., The Amazing Decade: Women & Performance Art in America, 1970 - 1980, Los Angeles: Astro Artz, 1983



[1] OK, there's room for disagreement here, but it was argued by important critics of Pollock's time that one could detect a certain spatial depth in the way Pollock's lighter dripped "foregrounds" seemed to float in front of his darker elements sadly barring him from the goal of completely defeating illusionism.

[2] Iso-morph (same body). An isomorphism or isomorphic mapping is an exact correct-ratios mapping of some shape or system into some other space. In geometry all 30-60-90 triangles, for example, are isomorphic to each other, because they all have the same identical shape. Photography, for example, isomorphically maps a section of three-dimensional space down into two dimensions. Newton, for example, was able to show an isomorphic mapping between a system of numerical functions and the moon's exact orbiting around the earth. Masaccio's Holy Trinity is credited as being the first truly isomorphic painting.

[3] The Feast of Herod, Sienna Cathedral, 1425

[4] The Holy Trinity, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, 1425

[5] The heart of empirical science is making a one-to-one model of some natural system. Often the model devolves to pure mathematics, but it always strives for Alberti's point-to-point (isomorphic) linear relationship with the object or system being studied or represented.

[6] "infra-mince" is the French term used by Duchamp - regarding Calculus' ability to multiply zero by infinity ("delta h" in English terminology)

[7] The title of the piece "In Advance of a Broken Arm" raises another kind of question about exactly what this work of art might be representing.

[8] Robert Morris, "Notes on Sculpture", Minimal Art, A Critical Anthology, G. Battcock, ed. (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1968, pp. 222-35 [1st published Artforum, 1966]

[9] Michael Fried , "Art and Objecthood", Minimal Art, A Critical Anthology, G. Battcock, ed. (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1968, pp. 116-47 [1st published Artforum, 1967]

[10] and in the case of Minimalism, objectivity, as well

[11] as Modernism, itself, would have it

[12] as opposed to the bank clerk, her landlord, the prospective roommates, etc. - if one should consider these observers of Roberta Breitmore to be viewers.

[13] Let us not forget though, that these superseding facts are composed of the self-same elements as the facts that they diminish.

[14] ... make that Hershman

[15] Following traditional shamanic allegory, Polyphemus, the single eye of selfhood, must be vanquished before the initiate, now selfless Noman, may proceed.

[16] it?

[17] disillusion?