Picabia : portraying subjectivity as mechanical process

Picabia - 1922
@ Centre Georges Pompidou
May 8 - June 30

Picabia : portraying subjectivity as mechanical process

What might be another unacknowledged artistic predecessor to pomo academics
and the "science fictions" of Baudrillard, Haraway, Debord, Gibson, Ballard
and Dick? Answer: Picabia's Spanish Portrait - Machine exhibition from the
1922. You can see it at the Centre Georges Pompidou till June 30th. The
Pompidou show is a reconstruction of the exhibition Picabia made at the
Dalmau Gallery in Barcelona in 1922 where he starts asserting that portraits
give way to spatialized mechanical concerns by mixing portraits of Spanish
women, toreros, and mechanical schematic drawings in a flamboyantly
combustible fashion. That such a DaDa concept engages our contemporary
fixations today is remarkable. In these works a profound crisis is raised
by the interface/dialectic between body and machine. Should belief in the
bodies "obsolescence" be theorized as cultural exhaustion or as a refusal
of technocratic control because the intractability of the body would no
longer be so central an issue? Should the portrait and the machine be
intertwined in a complex and ambiguous way where flesh will no longer be
the grounds for subjectivity? And does this, plus AIDS, explains much
contemporary anxiety over the body?

Picabia, in 1922, addresses how technology infects people. These depictions
seem to facilitate an inebriated Spanish subjectivity by constructing a
space of accommodation for an intensely passionate existence. If in
cyberspace our ontologies are adrift vis-a-vis how personal subjectivity
was once understood, Picabia's central idea in these works leads us right
up to that slippery elision between mechanical embodiment and subjectivity,
between physical embodiment and machine assistance/circumvention, where we
teeter today.

By using Spanish Gypsy culture, that of the Bullfight and the Flamenco,
Picabia however keeps some soul in the machine, and somehow makes
mechanical inebriated subjectivity seem desirable.

Picabia's effective use of machine metaphors for the corrida (bullfight)
and the psychotechnologies which go along with that head-set's concern for
(I hate this term) "the body", give us pause for thought about how we will
engage with Virtual Reality technologies when they come charging full-speed
from around the corner at us quite soon now. Picabia's Western
understanding of space remains primarily frontal however in its metaphoric
conception. Enter VR as technology/portraiture that magically promises to
dissolve the distance that the Modernist spatially grided vision has

Picabia draws these Spanish portraits while considering the immateriality
of the sitter - of people as a fluctuating concept. There is no Debordian
spectacular society where all people are advertisements for the status quo
portrayed here, as later found in so often in Pop & "Politically Correct"
art. Picabia simply traces the tensions between human narratives and the
mechanical spectacle. Picabia is the oracle pointing to ambiguous/creative
resolutions between the two competing categories of being - just as
"science fictions" do through dismemberment of traditional narrative
subjectivity. For Picabia, mechanical penetration achieves and performs
direct bodily engagement. The subject's existence is enhanced by his/her
disappearance into technology-induced cyberspatial realms. The body's
dissolution may be empowering. Is Picabia being DaDa disingenuous by resisting
firm conclusions and by citing this panoply of postures, variously recommending
all these options?

Given the 1920's death, or explanation of, a mythic God, alongside the
enduring wish of Western modern thought to trundle exterior reality, why
should technology/personhood now appear to take on this particular form in
the early 1920s? Might it be that by entering the repetition of the machine
the subject is dissolved in the swirls of repeats, but is at the same time
further empowered through an extension of motorized possession? Here, then,
are the paradoxically simultaneous experiences of death and immortality
that are fundamental to religious practice. Having explained God, Picabia
creates a new art form and engages each of us as discontinuous human
existences, by virtue of a relocation of souls/machine/consciousness to it.

Nice drawings. Great idea!