Mary Anne Francis' art work "The Faust Supplement" was later used in her critical essay 'A theory of critique…in practice: practice as critique' Journal of Visual Arts Practice, 7 (3), 2008.
Addressing an artist's engagement with critique as embodied in an instance of a formalised research process, this text elaborates three distinct phases of association. First it looks at one particular theory of critique that informed the conception of an art-work. Then it looks at how the artwork put that theory into practice; how the theory was embodied, and finally, the issue of how the artwork inflects the theory, when that inflection may be seen as the action of critique - upon critique.
Specifically, the understanding of ‘critique’ that this text elaborates (in the form of the report upon the theory for an artwork) is ‘immanent critique’. Informed by Marxist theory, this aims to ‘recognise and free the future from its distorted form in the present’ – as defined by Walter Benjamin. (As such, its values are not transcendental, but found in experience or a ‘work’.) It is Benjamin's discussion of the politics of immanent critique, and the tactics that those politics imply, that informs the artwork's theory more precisely. In particular, this article is concerned to assess how immanent critique is advanced by the semiotic method Benjamin proposed for the Arcades Project, and the role of the pseudonym, which he deployed too, in order to advance his critical objectives.
Reviewing how these tactics for immanent critique were adopted by an artwork – The Faust Supplement 2002 – the article then turns to the question of how the actuality of practice adapted them. In mapping the gaps that open up between the ‘theory’ and ‘the practice’, the text proposes practice as a medium of critique in its double sense of acting for (a specified) critique and being critical (of that critique). It notes that the recognition of this mediation has been encouraged by the institution of ‘research in art-practice’. The article concludes by proposing that ‘critical practice’ maybe re-signified to emphasise the criticality of practice – distinct from its deployment of the theories that inform it.
Funded by an AHRB Small Grant, and additionally supported by the University of Brighton, this publication developed my address to the question which has preoccupied my practice since 1992; the question of how the radically diverse artist can be productively curated. As the means by which the body of an artist’s work –‘the oeuvre’ – meets its public, the structures of curating (e.g. the exhibition and the monograph) are the points at which an unconventional, multifarious oeuvre becomes an issue.
Central to The Faust Supplement was the device of ‘inflection’ (using but adapting a given cultural form) which I also deployed in Mary Anne Francis: Group Show, Beaconsfield, London 2000, and Unsorted at e1 Gallery, London 2002. Taking the form of a publisher’s additional catalogue, The Faust Supplement purported to be featuring an array of monographs on all the aspects of the multifarious artist, M A Faust. That the publisher, Variety Press, and the artist were (clearly) spoof, tempered the perceived commitment to the heterogeneous oeuvre. Here, fiction became the means to pose a question: could the structure of the artist’s oeuvre be usefully reconceptualised?
The 20 page A5 full-colour pamphlet was produced in a run of 500; the award also supported the production of reflective essay: ‘Effecting Cultural Change: the Artist as a Double Agent’. Cued by Susan Buck-Morss’ writing on the methods of John Heartfield’s collages, this sought to understand the tactic of The Faust Supplement in terms of ‘crossing the [semantic] switches’ for critical effect.
While the supplement included an ‘order form’ which promoted a degree of correspondence with potential customers, the pseudonymous authorship and distribution of the work has meant that it has been impossible to trace formal reviews or feedback – save for those few examples in which the writer knew the identity of the ‘real’ artist.