by Douglas Ashford


by Ángela Sánchez de Vera


by Dani Sanchis


by Derek Bentley


This is not the first time that it happens, but the correlation between philosophical speculations, art development and social change have coincided several times in the past. Now, we observe that since the 1950’s there are striking resemblances and parallels between philosophical discourse and art developments in America and Europe. Observations have been teken in to consideration but it has not been observed before with clarity that the distance allows us now to establish.

Jochen Klein


It is a fact well known that Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) started to formulate his theories of deconstructions right around the early 1950’s. It happens that Peter Breger and Thomas Luckman were writing and teaching at The New School for Social Research in New York in those years. Their capital work is titled The Social Construction of Reality in 1966. What they stated is that persons and groups interacting together in a social system form, overtime, concepts or mental representations of each others’ actions, and that these concepts eventually become habituated into reciprocal roles played by the actors in relations to each other. When these roles are made available to other members of society to enter into and play out, the reciprocal interactions are said to be institutionalized. In the process of these institutionalizations, meaning is embedded in society. Knowledge and peoples conceptions (and beliefs) over reality becomes embed in the institutional fabric. Social reality is therefore said to be socially constructed by establishing the individual blocks and overall settlements of our self understanding and the understanding of our society.

Jacques Derrida starts teaching and writing in France at the time when the intellectuals were broadly divided between the phenomenological and structural approaches to understanding individual and collective life. For the phenomenologists the goal was to understand experience by comprehending and describing its genesis and the process of its emergence. For the structuralists, this was precisely the false problem, and the depth of experience could in fact only be an effect of structures which are not themselves experiential, it is in this context that in 1959 Derrida asks the question; must not structure have a genesis, and must not the origin, the point of genesis be already structured, in order to be the genesis of something. For Derrida every structural phenomenon has a history and the structure cannot be understood without understanding his genesis. It is this thought of complexity that sets Derridas’ work in motion and from which derive all of his terms including deconstruction.

Some critics charge that the deconstructive project is nihilistic. They claim Derrida’s writing attempts to undermine the ethical and intellectual norms vital to academe if not western civilization itself. Derrida is accused of effectively denying the possibility of knowledge and meaning creating a blend of extreme skepticism and solipsism. Derrida, however, felt that deconstruction was enlivening, productive and affirmative and that it does not undermine norms but rather places them within a context that reveal their features of development.

Both philosophy and art have a strong and unsuspected precursor. The modern philosophy precursor is undoubtedly Friederich Nietsche. The precursor for the constructing in the arts is undoubtedly Marcel Duchamp. But our approach to the construction in the arts is that philosophy moves through the 50’s and 60’s in some direction not necessarily looking into the arts as a field of verification. To our surprise we find that it is precisely in the mid 1950’s in Britain and in the late 1950’s in the United States that pop art challenges tradition by asserting that the artists’ use of mass produced visual commodities of popular culture is contiguous with the perspective of fine art since pop removes the material from its context and isolates its object or combines it with other objects. Pop art is an important movement of the 20th century. It was characterized by things and techniques drown from popular mass culture such as advertising, comic books and mundane culture objects. Pop art is widely interpreted as a reaction to the dominant ideas of abstract expressionism, dominant at that time. Pop art, like pop music, aims to employed images of popular as opposed to elitist culture in art emphasizing the banal or kitschy elements of any given culture most often through the use of irony. It is also associated with the artist used of mechanical means of reproduction or rendering techniques.

Celebrating Deconstruction.
Derrida, Ronell & Spivak at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, New York. Oct 26th, 2000

Much of pop art is considered incongruent, as the conceptual practices that are often used make it difficult for some to readily comprehend. Pop art and minimalism are considered to be the last modern art movements and that is the precursor of to post modern art.

An independent group founded in London in 1952 is regarded as the precursor to the modern art movement. They were a gathering of young painters, sculptors, architects, writers and critics who were challenging prevailing modernist approaches to culture as well as traditional views of fine art. The group discussions centered around popular culture implication as such elements as mass advertising, movies, product designs, comic stripes, science fiction and technology.

Begun in the late 1960s, pop in America was given its greatest impetus during the 1960s. By this time, American advertising had adopted many elements and inflections of modern art and functioned at a very sophisticated level. Consequently, American artists had to search deeper for dramatic styles that would distance art from the well-designed and clever commercial materials. As the British viewed American popular culture imagery from a somewhat removed perspective, their views were often instilled with romantic, sentimental and humorous overtones. By contrast, American artists being bombarded daily with the diversity of mass produced imagery, produced work that was generally more bold and aggressive.

Two of the most important painters in the establishment of America’s pop art vocabulary were Jasper Johns and in particular Robert Rauschenberg. While the paintings of Rauschenberg have obvious relationships to the earlier work of Kurt Schwitters and other Dadaists, their concern was with society of the moment. His approach to create unity out of ephemeral materials and topical events in the life of everyday America gave his work a unique quality.

Of equal importance to American pop art is Roy Lichtenstein. His work probably defines the basic premise of pop art better than any other through parody. Selecting the old-fashioned comic strip as subject matter, Lichtenstein produces a hard-edged, precise composition that documents while it parodies in a soft manner. The paintings of Lichtenstein, like those of Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann and others, share a direct attachment to the commonplace image of American popular culture, but also treat the subject in an impersonal manner clearly illustrating the idealization of mass production.

It should also be noted that while the British pop art movement predated the American pop art movement, there were some earlier American proto-Pop origins which utilized ‘as found’ cultural objects. During the 1920s American artists Gerald Murphy, Charles Demuth and Stuart Davis created paintings prefiguring the pop art movement that contained pop culture imagery such as mundane objects culled from American commercial products and advertising design.

Jacques Derrida didn’t write much about art. As Friederich Nietsche didn’t write much about art except for his monumental piece (1872) on the origin of the Greek tragedy but he would put upside-down Hegel’s concept of esthetics. Jacques Derrida’s concept of the construction would be ushering the post modern art movements of the last part of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century.

The work of young British artist Michael Landy, provides an excellent example of such a practice of deconstruction. In 2001, Landy took over the defunct C&A department store in Oxford Street, Central London. Into this empty concrete shell with its glass frontage onto Mayfair, Landy installed an industrial processing system and employed a small team of uniformed staff to systematically take apart everything he owned, shredding and granulating every material manifestation of his existence and returning it to dust. Over the following two weeks his team publicly deconstructed the 7,227 items inventoried as Landy’s material existence. In the end Landy’s lot weighed in at 5.75 tons of scrap; they eventually dumped it as landfill.

Here we understand Heidegger’s poetic conception of ‘the earth’ and art’s capacity to reveal it. During the course of his dematerialization, all Landy’s worldly goods circulated on conveyor belts around the various departments for all to examine, before being meticulously dissembled. There had been various offers to buy or salvage items as they had circulated around his de-fabrication system, but all were declined.

Everything was broken down and shredded to waste. Each item had been fastidiously detailed in a comprehensive inventory, for posterity: ‘Item E1038 - Purple Nintendo Game boy CGB/001 with game cartridge ‘Rug Rats’- gift from Gillian Wearing (his partner); after breaking elbow.’ The catalogue included his love letters, his art collection including his Damian Hirst, his SAAB car, all his furniture, the complete contents of his house and studio, library, whitegoods, television, computers, all his personal widgets; electronic toothbrush, torch, soldering iron, etc., his birth certificate, his passport, his credit cards, right down to the change in his pockets and the clothes he was wearing on the last day of his Break Down.

The neoclassical fight between philosophy and art that dates back to the times of the origin of the Greek tragedy was reassumed by Frederich Nietsche trough the text of Jacques Derrida, Peter Breger and Thomas Luckman. A new life starts to coincide with one of the most flourishing stages in the history of art through the deconstructed art. Along the way we have been admonished over and over by enthusiast, detractors and enemies that art has been not only deconstructed but annihilated but in this deconstruction and reconstruction a new universe of methods and logos has been discovered: the fragmented world of contemporary culture.

Past Number 00