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Volume 2, 2022
the spirit in the shadow
Volume 2 | the spirit in the shadow
Volume two of react/review: a responsive journal for art and architecture explores the spiritual, monstrous, cosmological, and otherworldly within or as forms of political action or resistance. Considering how spiritual themes are entangled with political action or resistance invites new attention to a range of subtle distinctions between manifestations of the “spirit,” whether as methodology, content, and/or the effect of a work. Reproducibility, with its attendant notions of mimicry, copying, and dissemination, also emerges as a key analytic in the contributions to this journal. These ideas are reflected in DJ Morrow’s balloon recreation of Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Son, which appears on this volume’s cover. Like the original on which it is based, Morrow’s piece engages with the monstrous and the political in a moment of crisis. However, its playful use of an everyday medium simultaneously veils and unveils the violence of the scene, demonstrating the power of mimicry to produce new configurations of the macabre and otherworldly. Relatedly, processes of aesthetic reproduction addressed in this compilation also reveal class, race, gender, and cultural identity as factors shaping the form in which the “spirit” emerges in the shadow of political action. Contributing authors address the modern and contemporary eras, engaging with a range of topics from Black life in the Bay area and anti-racism, to monsters in Spanish art, anti-totalitarian politics, cosplay, and the aesthetics of queer Chicana zines, as well as National Socialist black metal bands. Contradictory and subversive ways of knowing and being emerge through these studies as they integrate the supernatural and immaterial into art historical discourse, allowing us to recognize the spirit in the shadow.
In December 2020, the Vatican unveiled its annual nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square. Headlines across conservative Catholic newspapers quickly latched on to what many observers described as “shockingly unconventional”: nineteen monumental ceramic figures, including an astronaut, a cyborg, and a turkey-dinosaur chimera, surrounding a covered sculpture of the infant Christ. The sensationalized convergence of otherworldly and religious subjects was a means to reflect on the 2020 Art History Graduate Student Association’s 45th Annual Symposium Haunting the Canon: The Super-phenomena in Art, which likewise examined manifestations of the supernatural. The paranormal is important for the study of art and culture not simply because they elicit new and diverse aesthetic categories, but also because as a strategy, they offer insight into major socio-political and environmental problems shaping the present. This paper traces the development of the symposium’s theme and showcases some of the ways artists and art historians are engaging new perspectives and strategies of alternate world-making.
Crafting Interiority, or the Evolutionary Objectivity of Vibrating Worlds: An Introduction to Adolf Behne’s “Biology and Cubism” (1915)
Sublimating the transgressive atrocities of modern warfare in an enigmatic text written within a year of the outbreak of WWI, art historian and architectural theorist Adolf Behne (1885-1948) takes recourse with humanity by tracing the uncanny thresholds between the human and non-human as proliferated by contemporary theories of biology. Disguised as a manifesto-like book review of biologist Jakob Johann von Uexküll’s Building Blocks of a Biological Worldview (1913), Behne’s “Biologie und Kubismus” (1915) engages Uexküll’s pluriversal worldview to complicate straightforward dualisms between artifice and nature, subtly imbricating the geopolitical and biopolitical spheres with the expressions of modern art. Dismantling impressionist art as lacking external-natural parallelism, Behne’s text champions expressionist art, whose forms and shapes evolve organically from a biologically-encoded creative interiority, as “true” art. A critical introduction to the author, text, and context prefaces the first English translation of “Biology and Cubism” more than a century after publication in the editorial outlet of artist-gallerist Herwarth Walden’s influential syndicate Der Sturm.
Sydney Cain (she/them) is a young, Bay-area based artist whose multimedia works on paper explore Black ancestral memory, transformation, and spirituality. Using a process of reduction, Cain moves small particles of elements such as chalk and graphite in a circular motion to surface shapes and figures. These figures are often faceless and incomplete; their blurred silhouettes evoking traces, incomplete memories, and ghostly presences. Cain refers to these figures as ancestral spirits, and their graphite and chalk as ciphers that assist in decoding “unseen realities.” The artist's discussion of these zones of liminality, and their commitment to rendering these ephemeral, ancestral forms provoke the questions: what does it mean to make legible something which we feel is always there? What does it mean to make your ancestors visible, to conjure them within an aesthetic realm? This paper will explore Cain’s interest in spirituality and ancestral memory through Refutations (2018- ), an ongoing body of work that centers narratives of Black resistance across time. Using Christina Sharpe’s theories on the afterlives of slavery, Saidiya Hartman’s practice of reading with and against archives, and M. Jacqui Alexander’s scholarship on practitioners of African-descendent religions, I argue that Cain’s practice is a form of embodied spiritual labor that ruptures the linearity of anti-Black conditions structuring the past and present.
As Angela Pastorelli-Sosa demonstrates in her essay on artist Sydney Cain in this volume, Afrofuturism centers Blackness and Black experiences while sharpening the contours of our imaginations by bridging different temporal planes. Pastorelli-Sosa indicates that Afrofuturism is a powerful tool for an artist’s imagination, and is used to wade into the possibilities of multiple futures and pasts. She artfully demonstrates this feature of Afrofuturism by highlighting how Cain’s spiritual labor allows for new experiences and engagements with the present and the past. Through the process of material extraction, Cain’s drawings become a channel for ancestral intervention. They pull an “invisibilized” people from the past, allowing them to surface in a present landscape, thereby altering our understanding and relationship with space and time.
In 1950s and 1960s Europe, painting monsters was trendy. From Enrico Baj’s nuclear creatures to Jean Dubuffet’s ghostly portraits, and passing through Asger Jorn’s graffiti-like beasts, monsters became one of the most popular pictorial elements to convey the existentialist mood of the Post-World War II period. In this article, I address how the Spanish informalist painter Antonio Saura followed such trend. The painting of monsters was an idiosyncratic trait of Saura’s oeuvre, but also a way to ideologically discredit the dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco (1939-1975). The painter’s “cruel look,” as Saura himself called it, became a plastic strategy that allowed him to renegotiate some of the ideological cornerstones that the Francoist regime promoted as the essence of Spain’s national identity and its cultural tradition. As I show, by deforming Spanish historical figures, artworks, and sacred images, Saura battled the colonial, catholic, and obscurantist interpretation of Spain’s history that the regime promoted. By coming up with an art genealogy based on this “cruel look,” Saura intended to release some of the most important Spanish artists, such as Velázquez, Goya, and Picasso, from the ties of Francoist historiography in order to reformulate the country’s national identity in existentialist terms.
To contemplate Antonio Saura’s monster paintings is to ponder over the most appropriate grid of analysis to make sense of some of the most enigmatic artworks in the history of modern art. These paintings, which in Saura’s own words, are “loaded with an air ofprotest,” could be read in relation to the dictatorial regime imposed by General Francisco Franco in Spain from 1939 to 1975. Yet in “PaintingViciously: Antonio Saura’sMonsters and the Francoist Dictatorship (1939-1975),” Claudia Grego March points to the issues that come with such an assumption: the artist vehemently rejected the view that his monster series was about the misery and suffering caused by the Spanish civil war and its subsequentposguerra. In the light of this seemingly apolitical declaration, a potentially promising avenue of interpretation for the monster paintings is one which takes into account Saura’s stay in Paris from 1954 to 1955. It was in the French capital that Saura engaged with, and permanently integrated into his oeuvre, the formal concerns of Informalism, or Art Informel.
This article considers how the visual discourse in the printed zine St. Sucia (2014-2018) materializes the performed identity-making essential to young feminist queer Latinas in the twenty-first century. Founded by artists and friends Isabel Ann Castro and Natasha I. Hernandez, the South Texas-based zine forms a multi-authored space where queer feminist Latinx simultaneously embrace and rewrite familiar cultural codes. Through the figure of the fan, i.e. a passionate devotee, this article analyzes the zine’s subversion of La Virgen de Guadalupe.
By using a fandom methodology to understand St. Sucia’s engagement with La Virgen’s iconography, this article analyzes the cofounders’ personal reiterations of the cultural figure of La Virgen de Guadalupe—a strategy implemented by their queer Chicana artistic predecessor Judy Baca in the work Las Tres Marías (1976). In dialogue with Baca’s strategy, which it both honors and complicates, the St. Sucia cofounders remake La Virgen as Saint Sucia. Within the context of active and resistant engagement with preceding Chicana/o visual codes, this article posits that Hernandez’s and Castro’s shifting self-presentations in the Editor’s Notes of St. Sucia’s first and last issues reflect these processes, responding to the materialization of their patron saint and attesting to the communal inscription of Saint Sucia’s identity.
Our societal fascination with fans is nothing new. In response to the emergence of mass print culture, affective engagement with “objects of devotion” within communities infused cultural products with renewed meaning. What is a fan, and what types of objects are interesting to them? And how might fan studies help us to think productively in art history? Mia Uribe Koslovsky’s study “Saints and Zinesters,” which examines the twin devotions of fandom and religion, offers some insightful interventions by attending to the practice of reinterpretation, knowledge production, and the nature of devotion itself.
Black metal’s relationship to National Socialist and other radical right ideologies makes up a complicated nexus of historical and musicological narratives. Scholars such as Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Keith Kahn-Harris, and Jeffery Kaplan have traced some of the histories of radical right groups both within the black metal scene and as movements more broadly. However, the question of why black metal has been especially susceptible to appropriation by those with neo-fascist and radical right viewpoints has been less considered. In this article, I will argue that the black metal scene has been appealing to national socialist group members through a shared interest in paganism and mythology. Through an analysis of album art and lyrics of three national socialist black metal (NSBM) bands¾Burzum, Graveland, and Der Stürmer¾I will demonstrate how a shared interest in paganism and pre-Christian mythology allows NSBM artists to place themselves within a historical lineage of national socialist politics and the black metal genre simultaneously.
In a political momentwhen extreme right ideology seems to proliferateinpockets of the United States and Europe, it is timely to consider how an underground subculture like black metal could be susceptible for appropriation by white supremacists. Jillian Fischer’s article in this issue of react/review examines the ethnoracial symbolism ofNational Socialist black metal (NSBM) vis-à-vis early black metal and Nazi propaganda. However, her iconographical and lyric analysis should also be considered within the broader constellation of identity that undergirds these identitarian-based politics
Author & Editor Biographies