Craig Randich: Derivative
The question of derivations, of being derivative, or even of ‘trading in derivatives’ for that matter, are not just questions about the status of value, but they may very well be the defining questions of modernism and postmodernism. Which is to say, that the constant need to be original, to break new ground and to produce the ‘shock of the new’, was the discourse that defined what it meant to ‘be modern’ during the first half of the twentieth century. To engage with parody, pastiche, and the wholesale embrace of mass culture were seen as being synonymous with the postmodern project, largely because these strategies were their own unique form of being “original” in the face of essentialist claims of purity, universality and the truth to materials. So today, when we live in the afterglow of so many questions about who was a "true" original and what art projects were merely derivative, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the same types of concerns might very well define what it means to be contemporary. Afterall, the word contemporary is often a stand-in for the notion of newness itself. And by this measure, Randich’s work is not just inscribed in these questions, but it is also implicated in the full set of contradictions and paradoxes that circumscribe any form of critical art production today.
But where do we find these paradigmatic tensions playing themselves out in contemporary art around the value of ‘newness’, and where do we find them on display in the works of Randich in particular? The first place is in the conceptual use of derivation, which has been around since the days of simulationism, only it is taken up in Randich’s many sculptural series in the service of producing elegant forms of variety by complicating the use of repetition. Unlike simulationism however, which used found object in a more flatfooted manner, the motives behind these early pieces feel like an exploration of the relationship between part and whole, with each element occupying a slightly different orientation in a chain of open-ended assemblage, reappropriation, and perimetric logic. Bodies of work, like ‘I Made It’, ‘Imagine’, ‘Building Materials’, 'Broken Back', ‘Inside Out’, 'Higher Education' and 'ART' speak not just to these values, but also to Randich's distinctive ability to blend the nuances of bricolage with a poetics of manufacture that trades on the transformation of everyday objects by kind, scale, and serendipity.
A second grouping of works in Randich’s wheelhouse tend to rely more on the notion of ‘being derivative’ than on valorizing the ideal of derivation for its own sake. This is evidenced through the manifestation of opaque forms of fear, hyperbolic egoic projections and the implicit paranoia of having to be perpetually original over and over again. Built upon a strategy of intensive labor, pieces like ‘I Know Everything’, ‘I Am The Best Artist’, and ‘I Am Better Than You’, are all hand-written mantra’s of a sort, repeated ad infinitium, and drawn out across the length of a single canvas. They remind us of the old-time disciplinary gesture of being made to copy a single sentence or phrase repeatedly on a chalkboard, particularly when a child has fallen prey to the irrational outbursts associated with being little more than an infant terrible. But of course, being an "infant terrible" is also associated with many of the larger than life figures of the avant-garde. From this vantage point, we can see how Randich's text pieces play with strategeis of both over-identification and dis-identifiation as a contemporary object of critique. In this case, that object is not just a single phase, but rather, it is the unconscious collection of notions that have come to define and divide our outlook about what it means to be a practing artist, not to mention how it is portrayed in media, in the movies, and in the never ending pile of salacious books that are written to titilate the masses.
It is also worth noting that Randich's obsessive-compulsive text pieces are comprised of the explicit display of such ‘knowing’ over-assertions about one’s artistic prowess as a critique of the kinds of values that have come to dominate the artworld in the early twenty-first century. Unmidigated egoism, social climbing, and narcissitic self-obssession sometimes feel like naturalized personality disorders for many of today's art stars, and it's hard not to notice that Randich is certianly poking fun at some of these rather uncomfortable truths. Even Randich’s more recent pieces, which fuse social commentary with formal austerity, find their original impetus in these earlier projects which play with language as both a sign and symbol, or rather, as a set of signs that points to the values that ground our belief in an entire symbolic world, i.e., that of the "the artworld". And that is becaus his different bodies of work tend to tap into our unconscious bias to complete an incomplete thought, to fill in the known over and against the unknown, and to jump to the comfort of linguistic-identificatory certianty in order to gain a feeling of psychological reassurance. But if one were to tarry with these early pieces a bit longer, then just how denaturalized the relationship between word and thing, life and image, and sign and signifier can become, makes itself readily apparent in its full sausurrian measure.
But all of these earlier bodies of work culminate in the illuminated iconoclastic phrases from his most recent exhibition. Here we find a body of works that trades in the kind of linguistic derivations that are regularly accorded to artworld dictums, acribed to sales formulas and which poke fun at so many cultural cliche's about what it means "to be an artist". Toward this end, we can say that Randich’s most recent body of work still retains the subtle sensualism of his earlier pieces, but it mixes the minimalist elegance of his sculptural works with the kind of strict intentionality associated with his textual interventions. The big difference being that the conceptual strategy behind his earlier projects and his more recent bodies of work is reversed in a sense, pulled inside-out, or even turned on its head.
Which is to say, that while those earlier forms of inscription exhibited traces of the artist’s touch, these new works have all the trappings of industrial manufacture; or, that while the content of his earlier series were focused on the kinds of meanderings that buoyed up the ego-function of the artist, Randich’s new work presents itself as fully engaged in questions of radical over-identification with the injunction of the super-ego; or, that where his previous works presented themsleves as system of idiosyncratic projections about what it means to make art, here Randich has made us confront the fragility of the art market as a system, and maybe even as an increasingly hermetic system of meaning-making that has become of, and about itself.
This is no small feat for an artist to pull off in the age of intensive subsumption by capital, because it has become unpopular to critique the ballooning effects of value in the artworld. This is due, in part, to the general sea change around what is acceptable to say at this moment in cluture and and what is not, which is itself the outgrowth of living in an era of increasing professionalization, rising student debt, and growing precarity with regard to job security in the arts. And this is exactly why the strategy of direct antagonism deployed by Randich marks his oeuvre as something that is immensely rare and daring today --- not just for asking questions about the critical function of art in society --- but also for addressing how the history of avant-garde, and the mounting culture wars under capitalism, have allowed all of us fall prey to the dictates of neoliberalism. It isn't lost on our historical moment, that what is often referred to as the 4th industrial revolution or affective capitalism, is also what the theorist Elizabeth Currid has characterised as growing up in The Warhol Economy.
Afterall, the kind of questions that arise from Randich’s works help us to cognitively map the intersection of the social and the economic, and they do so in a way that allows us to begin to think beyond the immediate horizon of need and want, design and desire, destitution and economic deliverance. From such a vantage point, we can say that dramatizing the mechanisms of critique within the circle of auto-valorization in the artworld might very well be one of the last avenues open for contemporary art not to be derivative. This is because it is only by confronting this strange inversion of the traditional registers of value in the sphere of artistic production that we can call into question the value of exactly what it is that we have come to give "value" to over the last few centuries of both art and life in the West. Toward this end, Randich’s work can be situated as one of the most incisive contributions in our time to the prosepcts for institutional desublimation, critical re-orientation and the forming of a new set of designations for enacting neo-conceptualist practices without recompensatory measures. Not only that, but his project is also one of the strongest voices to join the growing camp of the Capitalist Neo-Realists, a movement that not only extends the premises that follow from Richter and Polka's original manifesto on Capitalist Realism, but which also confronts Mark Fischer's povocative thesis about living in the Capitalist Realist condition. By contrast, Randich's project radicalizes the premises behind both of these contributions to cultural discourse in the hope of deterritorializing the confining strictures of the global supra-structure that has become the art industrial complex.