Martha Schwendener is an art critic for The New York Times, a visiting professor at New York University, a critic in photography at the Yale University School of Art, and a Ph.D. Candidate in Art History at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her criticism has been published in Artforum, Bookforum, Afterimage, October, Art in America, The New Yorker, The Village Voice, The Brooklyn Rail, Art Papers, Artforum.com, New Art Examiner, CAA.reviews, Time Out New York, Flash Art, Paper Monument, and other publications. She has taught at Hunter College, the School of Visual Arts, Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY), the University of Texas at Austin, Rhode Island School of Design, and the Pratt Institute.
Articles of Martha Schwendener
Art and Language in Vilém Flusser’s Brazil: Concrete Art and Poetry
Paradoxically, Flusser felt exiled to the periphery of intellectual life and culture by his forced migration to Brazil in 1940, but he was actually arriving at a center of innovation in art and writing. The Museu de Arte Moderna opened in São Paulo in 1948, the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro in 1949, and the inaugural São Paulo Biennial in 1951. Concrete art intersected with Concrete poetry and Flusser was profoundly impacted by these developments. Flusser was impressed by the formal layout of Concrete art and poetry and their approaches to space, color, and typography. Concrete painting and poetry served as proto- interfaces or screens and offered what poet and theorist Haroldo de Campos called a “new dialogical relationship” with “imperial” languages. These developments caught the attention of Max Bense, the information-aesthetics theorist who served as an early and important model for Flusser, and who exhibited Concrete poetry, as well as computer-generated drawings and the work of Flusser’s friend Mira Schendel, in the Study Gallery at the University of Stuttgart. Flusser translated a fragment of Haroldo de Campos’ Galáxias for Bense’s and Elisabeth Walther’s experimental journal rot, and the enduring impact of Concrete art and poetry can be glimpsed in Flusser’s later concepts: the “superficial” reading of technical images, non-linear “post-historical” thinking, and the idea that philosophy itself would be practiced in images rather than written words.
Vilém Flusser’s Theories of Photography and Technical Images in a U.S. Art Historical Context
In the field of U.S. art history, the photography specialization is fairly new and the discourse is dominated by a handful of voices like Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes, while Vilém Flusser has been virtually ignored. This essay examines the trilogy of “technical image” texts Flusser wrote in the 1980s—Towards a Philosophy of Photography (1983), Into the Universe of Technical Images (1985), and Does Writing Have a Future? (1987)—and beyond these, locating the seeds of Flusser’s “photophilosophy” in his use of information and communications theory to develop concepts like “image,” “apparatus,” “program,” and “information.” It considers the U.S. art historical bias toward writers like Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, and the “control society” ethos of Gilles Deleuze and Flusser’s proposal that technical images and photography criticism could provide models for creative disruption of apparatus and finally, “human freedom.” Placed in the current moment, with its crises of environment, technology, economy, and geopolitics, this essay considers Flusser’s writing as a form of ethics and politics in which photography serves as a model for thinking about history, culture, revolution, and consciousness.