The Intentional Fallacy of the Index Exhibit at the Rubin Center
The Index exhibit is at UTEP's Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Art Center and it features six artists, Olga Guerra, Roberto Cárdenas, Gina Arizpe, Francis Alÿs, Miguel A. Aragón and curator Alejandro Morales. Index strives to answer the question: “beyond the hyperrealist images produced by the media, what are the signs, impressions, traces and vestiges of violence in the life of a city?” (rubin.utep.edu)
To which the artists answer with a spool of yarn spun from cotton fields sprinkled with the bodies of murdered woman, cabinets with mundane objects of the dead, an anthropological film of children playing in an abandoned Juarez neighborhood, pictures of murder victims outlined and transposed with bee’s wax and a flat screen television featuring the most gruesome internet murders. The latter of which is mounted backwards making it impossible to see the screen; instead, the television is outlined by the light from the screen reflecting off the wall.
At first sight the exhibit seems incomplete. How can two spools strung together by a yarn be art? The Assistant director explained that the yarn came from an artist who had spent time in New York; in fact all the artists of Index either lived or exhibited work in New York. This fact seemed, to the Assitant Director, to be an increment for defining success in the art world. The Assitant Director explained that the cotton, harvested by the artist at murder sights outside of Juarez, was also boxed and spun into yarn by that artist. At one point, the exhibit had the spindle she used to spin the yarn. But visitors kept asking if the exhibit had anything to do with Sleeping Beauty. The artists decided to remove the spindle and leave the yarn. The question then arises, is art defined by the artist’s intent or by the actual art work?
The essay “the Intentional Fallacy,” by W. K. Wimsatt, Jr. and M. C. Beardsley explores the importance of intent and the fallacy of measuring art by that intent. It is important to note that Wimsatt and Beardsley wrote about intent in terms of poetry and literature and not art; however, the argument has merit when discussing all types of art. For judging art is “like judging a pudding or a machine. One demands that it work. It is only because an artifact works that we infer the intention of an artificer” (429).
Does the yarn, free from intent, function as art? One can argue that you can look at the fibers of the yarn, perhaps the hues are a metaphor for the evolution of humankind. However, does yarn compare to Da Vinci’s Last Supper, an example in which the artist’s intent has been subject of religious debate, genre fiction and horrible films. Perhaps pop culture ascribed intent to Da Vinci’s piece and assumed that Da Vinci ascribed to the merits of said assumption.
In another instance, the Assistant Director explained that the cabinets hanging on the wall contained artifacts of the dead. The objects include Cheetos, video games, crushed cans, headphones, pirated movies, and shoes. The Assistant Director then gave the following anecdote:
A maintenance employee of the museum asked the artist what the cabinets signified. The artist explained that the cabinets contained artifacts of people murdered in Juarez. This angered the employee. A member of her family was a victim of the violence in Juarez. The artist responded by inviting the employee to bring her dead relatives mundane artifacts. The artist promised to include them in the exhibit.
According to the Assistant Direct, the artist’s tone was apologetic, for he did not intend to anger the victims of the Juarez war. His intentions were to highlight the victims’ mundane life, the things untold by the media’s coverage. If you were to see one of the cabinets hanging on a wall, next a Kandinsky, would you stop to ponder the significance of the object in the cabinets?
In Da Vinci’s case, The Last Supper works as an artifact. One does not need to know the teachings or history of Christ to understand that the man standing in the center of the painting is of importance. The composition of The Last Supper infers the importance of that man. Eight of the other subjects stare at the man in the middle. The three turned away from the man in the middle appear to be in conversation. Two men arguing with another are pointing back to a central figure. The woman immediately to the right of the central figure is listening to a man who holds a knife behind his back. The composition of the piece suggests something, has action and symmetry. The viewer’s knowledge of Christ is irrelevant to the piece’s composition.
The exhibit claims:
Index is the central concept for understanding the work of this group exhibition that features six artists responding to the context of contemporary Juarez. Beyond the hyperrealist images produced by the media, what are the signs, impressions, traces and vestiges of violence in the life of a city? The answer to this question reveals a subtle and persistent resistance when seen through the eyes of these artists who collect, transform and rewrite the marks left behind in the aftermath of a period of unprecedented violence in this border city. Reconstruction and resistance of memory, asymmetric struggles, postwar scenarios, rejection of mediated violence are the subjects that comprise this exhibition. (rubin.utep.edu)
Perhaps these artists should have focused on their composition rather than intent. Claiming that yarn signifies the death of thousands does not give that yarn an importance beyond its function. Using the death of thousands to give art importance exploits the loss and grief of the victims of the Juarez’s violence. How can one claim the exhibit differs from the mediated violence, when the most important aspect of this exhibit, its intent, benefits from that violence.
Carlos Fidel Espinoza
Stanlee & Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts. Index. UTEP. Web. 25 Nov. 2014
Wimsatt, W. K. Jr. and M. C. Beardsley. “The Intentional Fallacy.” The Sewanne Review Jul.- Sep.-Jul. 1946: 468-488. Print