Redrafting Scripted Identities through Visual Irony: An Economic Narrative of Art in Puerto Rico

By Rachel Ellis.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Hal Foster poses the question in “The Return of the Real,” “What is the place of criticism in a visual culture that is evermore administered—from an art world dominated by promotional players with scant need for criticism, to a media world of communication-and-entertainment corporations with no interest whatsoever” (Foster xv)? This question, although certain terms within it may be pressured so that one may deploy a number of responses to it, is, for me, largely an economic question. If I trace the question spatially, I notice the sentence moves from causing the critic to note her locus of enunciation, the site from which she produces knowledge, then position this within not only a particular “culture,” but on a cultural market, one that is funded, “dominated” by media reproductions uninterested in intellectual nuances, complications that emerge from the labor of the critic, and still consider its value. It is the tracing of this question alongside further interrogations and analyses of my trip to Puerto Rico at the end of this past August that installs a partial frame for this essay, just as it lifts and extends a chain of complicating images.

As I theorize this singular economic narrative between the U.S. and Puerto Rico that continues to unfold and complicate itself, some words written by Borges come to bear on Foster’s still relevant question of the position of criticism, particularly an excerpt of the poem “Mirrors” which intimates part of my argument: “Strange that the ordinary, worn-out ways/ of every day encompass the imagined/ and endless universe woven by reflections.” In these words the critic’s imagination, localized, everyday culture encircling the expanses of imagined universal implications, and the notion that within these everyday occurrences there exist objects that cause an ongoing concatenation of reflections, meet on the same plane, in the same syntactical structure. As evidence of this idea’s vocalization within this distinct economic narrative, that there is an infinite interface between culture and art objects in the artistic act of thought and production, the language of this essay develops itself and begins a questioning of the idea of cultural-national identity in Puerto Rico alongside considerations of globalization, arguing that these concepts are reshaped, transformed, and redefined daily by culture, by the productions of artists “acá and allá.” Reading closely the arguments made in three distinct contemporary pieces--a painting by Arnaldo Roche, who lives on the island, a sculpture by Rafael Ferrer, who has lived primarily off the island, and a particular work of graffiti on a San Juan highway wall--and placing these arguments within a larger oeuvre of their historical moment, the economy of the everyday enters profoundly, transforming a conversation of art objects into a look at, an analysis of the urgency of “the” aesthetic, while also prompting intense consideration of the roles of the critic within this universe of the everyday.

Keywords: Economic Narrative, Cultural Reshaping of (ideas of) Nation, Globalization, Aesthetic Urgency, Role of Theorist

The International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.231-240. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 559.794KB).

Rachel Ellis

PhD Candidate, Department of English, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, USA

My research maneuvers through, around representations of subjectivity and desire in the Americas, tracing variously manifested constructions (e.g., race, class, gender) through literature--particularly poetry--, music, visual arts. I am presently focused on theoretical notions of multitude and fugitive relations (stayed and exiting) to the state within the literatures of the Caribbean and Latin America (see and read, for instance, Diamela Eltit, Tania Bruguera, Pedro Juan Gutierrez, Juan Carlos Flores, Shakira, Rafael Ferrer, who, among others, represent distinctly complicated relations to place, nations, cities, and create spaces between layered boundaries of bodies, laws, markets, structures). My most current research focuses on the poet Nancy Morejón, the visual and performance artists, Sandra Ramos and Tania Bruguera, and the novelist and short-story writer, Ena Lucía Portela. Each of the artists demonstrates a particular and complex relation to nation and temporality, the Cuban diasporas, the realization(s) and process(es) of the Cuban Revolution, as well as the artistic market opportunities and racist horrors bound within the oscillating nexus of globalization.


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