Advertisement

Paul Ramirez Jonas

Paul Ramirez Jonas makes success out of failure: down with skinned knees and up with a renewed conviction tempered by a bloody respect for the 'thereness' of the ground. Two steps backwards, one step forwards, suchness from nothingness.

But what does Ramirez make? It's not enough to say that he re-makes objects, events and demonstrations from the history of science and technology, but that is what he does. In 1994 he replicated kites designed by seven turn-of-the-century inventors, including Alexander Graham Bell, who all lost the race for flight to the Wright Brothers. Here, Ramirez constructs the present from the past, and makes crystal clear water from those opaque and deceptive clouds far away. A couple of years before, he reconstructed Thomas Alva Edison's first phonograph of 1879. Here, Ramirez made wonderment from banality; listen long enough, hard enough, and the universe can be heard in a grain of sand. Presently, he's planning to walk the precise distances travelled daily by the English Explorer Robert Falcon Smith, who succeeded in making it to the South Pole, but 30 days after another explorer had already got there. Smith died on his journey home. Here, Ramirez makes laughter from tragedy: tears on a cheek sliding so suddenly to pleasure from pain, to hope from helplessness.

In this show, Ramirez reconstructed a mini version of the Battleship Maine in a bottle for a work entitled Remember the Maine (1995) - the Maine mysteriously sank in a Spanish harbour and was the catalyst for the Spanish-American War. The ship and bottle (yes, he actually made the thing in the bottle) were then set on the ground, dwarfed by a scale-drawing of the ship's propeller measuring over 15 feet in diameter. An artist's book shows government progress reports on the actual ship's construction, interspersed with photos documenting the various stages of completion, the sinking ship, and its subsequent raising several years later.

Perhaps, to get a little closer, it would help to say that Ramirez makes decisions about what to re-make. We can see a dangling label, like Minnie Pearl's newly acquired wardrobe with price tags still attached so the return can be made. Ramirez' label reads: Appropriation Art and its questionable legacy.

What are we to make of this? Sherrie Levine made a decision to re-make the male, pale and stale cannon of great Western artists, and we talked about legitimacy and authority and institutions and criteria. Elaine Sturtevant before her made a decision to re-make her famous friends' art. Story has it that a collector was admiring a Jasper Johns in Leo Castelli's place, who casually informed the art lover that it was actually a Sturtevant. Then, there's Richard Prince making his decision to re-make the white trash, the pulp, the picture catalogues, his great archaeological dig of the underside of pop. And, as with Levine, we talked and talked about authorship, high culture and low, so many problems with 'art'. Yet we continue, with no solutions, perhaps with exhaustion, or waning interest, but nonetheless we continue.

And so does Ramirez. His art is an explicit testament to time - to technological and political time - insofar as it takes these so often as its subject. But it is also an implicit testament to artistic time, in that it asks us gently, almost as an afterthought, to reconsider the relation-ship between the two. Now, by most accounts, appropriation is no longer a gesture, it's just something else people do. To do is to be. It's okay to steal. To be is to do. Do be do be do. Appropriation is just another instrument for the artistic tool box, next to the Crayolas - a neutral representational device which artists use to talk about 'issues'.

Ramirez' issues? At face value, they are the incredibly complex and contingent conditions in which the quest for invention and will of thought become part of history; but they are behind his displays, between the stories' words, underpinning the making of his decision to remake. Ramirez' investment in these issues is not mere 'interest', rather, when looking at his work, when thinking about his work, it becomes clear that this guy is madly, passionately in love with the stuff of invention. It is in this relation, a relation of intense intimacy and conviction, a relation which blurs the distinction between success and failure, where Ramirez makes his art. Society makes the madman mad, and the madman makes society sane - and sometimes, perhaps by design or accident, new things are made.

Issue 28

First published in Issue 28

May 1996
Advertisement

Most Read

In a Victorian-era baths in Glasgow, the artist stages her largest performance project to date, featuring a 24-woman...
In further news: UK class gap impacting young people’s engagement with the arts; Uffizi goes digital; British Museum...
Italian politicians want to censor the artist’s poster for a sailing event, which reads ‘We’re all in the same boat’
A newly-published collection of the artist’s journals allows silenced voices to speak
The arrest of the photojournalist for ‘provocative comments’ over Dhaka protests makes clear that personal liberty...
The auction house insists that there is a broad scholarly consensus that the record-breaking artwork be attributed to...
‘We need more advocates across gender lines and emphatic leaders in museums and galleries to create inclusive,...
In further news: artists rally behind detained photographer Shahidul Alam; crisis talks at London museums following...
Criticism of the show at the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest comes alongside a nationalist reshaping of the...
A retrospective at Munich’s Museum Brandhorst charts the artist’s career from the 1980s to the present, from ‘fem-trash...
At the National Theatre of Wales, a performance alive with wild, tactile descriptions compels comparison between the...
There are perils in deploying bigotry to score political points, but meanings also shift from West to East
‘It’s ridiculous. It’s Picasso’: social media platform to review nudity policy after blocking Montreal Museum of Fine...
The first public exhibition of a 15th-century altar-hanging prompts the question: who made it?
Poland’s feminist ‘Bison Ladies’ storm the Japanese artist’s Warsaw exhibition in solidarity with longtime model Kaori’...
An art historian and leading Leonardo expert has cast doubt on the painting’s attribution
How will the Black Panther writer, known for his landmark critical assessments of race, take on the quintessential...
The dissident artist has posted a series of videos on Instagram documenting diggers demolishing his studio in the...
In further news: artists for Planned Parenthood; US court rules on Nazi-looted Cranachs; Munich’s Haus der Kunst...
A mother’s death, a father’s disinterest: Jean Frémon’s semi-factual biography of the artist captures a life beyond...
Jostling with its loud festival neighbours, the UK’s best attended annual visual art festival conducts a polyphonic...
It’s not clear who destroyed the project – part of the Liverpool Biennial – which names those who have died trying to...
Dating from 1949 to the early 1960s, the works which grace the stately home feel comfortable in the ostentatious pomp...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018