current stretcher TWCDC public art drawings

What's Left of Theory? exhibited at
Close Calls at Headlands Center for the Arts

theory at close calls

What's Left of Theory?,2002; Satin, thread

Amy Berk reveals and questions structures of power both in the "real" world and in the art world. By breaking down these structures through the use of pins on Styrofoam and stitches on fabric, to large-and small-scale public installations and insertions, she strives to inspire individuals to engage in their own micro-politics. What's Left of Theory was created at a conference of the same name in Tasmania, Australia. "I brought the blue satin fabric from San Francisco thinking that on my travels in the Pacific, I would find a project for such a sumptuous material." Berk translated abstract theoretical notions onto silk while listening to a myriad of presentations on theoreticians like Deleuze, Kant, and Hegel.

What's Left of Theory?

theory whole

This embroidery piece was created at the What's Left of Theory? conference in Tasmania (Australia) in November 2001.

I brought the blue satin fabric from San Francisco thinking that on my travels in the Pacific, I would find a project for such a sumptuous material. Who knew that in the rhizomes and dialectics of the Cultural Studies Conference of Australia, I would find my subject matter. I translated abstract theoretical notions into threads of meaning using my needle and embroidery hoop.

The piece was actually created listening to the myriad presentations on Deleuze, Kant, Hegel and their parallels and offspring. This piece will be stretched over wood and will measure somewhere in the vicinity of 4' x 4'.


Here's the outline of the paper Andy and I presented at the conference:

What's Left of Theory?: The art of everyday life
Considering theory as the application of philosophy to everyday life.

In the 20th century various groups have expounded theories concerning the dissolving of art into life including: Dada (Marcel Duchamp), Stiuationists (Guy Debord), Art and Life (Alan Kaprow), Constuctivists (Alexander Rodchenko and Popova), Fluxus (George Macunius, Yoko Ono), Feminist Art (Mary Kelley, Eleanor Antin) Arte Povera (Marisa Merz, Germano Celant), and Poetic Terrorism (Hakim Bey). Their aim , as broadly stated by Alan Kaprow is to "weave meaning-making activity into any or all parts of life." Debord wanted to "destroy art" making the distinction between art and life irrelevant and thereby creating a new society. The seeds of these thinkers' philosophies can be found in earlier thinkers such as Hegel, Emerson, and Mary Shelley.

We are interested in theories that dissolve art into everyday life, revealing elements of life that would otherwise remain hidden. Such elements range from day to day interactions, through media imagery and analysis, educational practices, technology, and ultimately the underlying ideology of society: capitalism.

theory large detail 1

theory large detail 2

theory detail 3
theory detail 4

For Cox, as for Debord, the melding of art and life is a (r)evolutionary practice that can, using such strategies as detournement, peel back the layers of the Spectacle, reveal its contradictions and put us on a path to a better, more egalitarian society: utopian perhaps (and Jappe has called the Situationists the last utopian socialists), but "if you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?" Berk believes that through exploding what lies behind societal strategies of power, presentation, and content, economic, gendered and cultural boundaries can be broken and "free" thinking can begin.

Does theory melt into practice as art and life merge? Are artists breaking down the boundaries between theory and practice? In this paper, we place our artwork, in the context of theories of art and life. Using examples from our work (on the streets, in the gallery, in print, and on the internet) and that of others, we present the idea that wider dissolution of art into life (political practice, education, popular culture) is necessary before authentic change towards a more humane society is possible.

Amy Berk is an artist, writer, and educator. Andy Cox is an artist, engineer, and activist. They live in San Francisco and are currently in residence at New Pacific Studio, Masterton, New Zealand.

Theory has been absorbed into our art, and our art has been dissolved into our lives.