Writer in Residence: Shifting Spotlights Introduction
by Chelsea Rozansky
The emphasis that Dr. Irene Gammel places on every. single. word. suggests that you ought to hang off each. Her 2002 biography of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, the New York Dada artist whose probable hand in the authorship of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917)—a controversial theory first proposed by Gammel, who is also responsible for publishing von Freytag-Loringhoven’s mostly forgotten body of poetry—sparked my own research on authorship, attribution and notability within C Magazine’s archives. Given that von Freytag-Loringhoven’s art is regularly concerned with sex, trash, fashion and scatology (Fountain being a notable example), and that she is now regarded as a pioneering figure in performance art, I might have expected that her biographer would be similarly zany. When she spoke about von Freytag-Loringhoven, Gammel reminded me of a mystic: given to an air of kooky otherworldliness that historians, who live in the past, and mystics, who live in the future, both possess.
For reasons mostly to do with scholarly integrity, Gammel could not conclusively say that von Freytag-Loringhoven was the sole author behind Fountain. So, instead, she suggested that the object be regarded as a collaboration, both in its conception and in its mythologization after the fact. This proposition offers a helpful structure with which to reframe the larger project of history-making and -telling, one that disrupts dominant narratives, hierarchies and other power asymmetries. In Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” he wrote that, “only for a redeemed mankind has its past become citable in all its moments.” History can indeed be regarded as a project of selective citation. Most commonly, citation practices are, as noted by Sara Ahmed, “a rather successful reproductive technology, a way of reproducing the world around certain bodies”—in other words, a narrow genealogy that perpetuates limited canons. But at its best, citation might mean, as Gammel reminds us, paying tribute to what might otherwise easily fall into an invisible matrix of collaboration.
Over the past year, while saturating myself in the contents of C Magazine’s 35-year history, I homed in on mentions of assistants, collaborators and, largely, individuals alluded to through abstract acknowledgements of the collective labour credited to singly authored artists’ work. I’ve managed to connect with a small selection of these figures whose practices intersect with questions around citation, radical collaboration, determinants of so-called notability, drafting of new historical narratives, working in collectives and the attendant physical, intellectual and artistic labour that may go unrecognized therein. Many of them have formed initiatives that expressly exist to combat systematic silencing that places us at risk of collective forgetting.
To read the 2020 Writer in Residence Chelsea Rozansky’s essays in her Shifting Spotlights series, please visit: