The Heat in FLB

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

posted under , , , , by Unit for Criticism
Written by Lilya Kaganovsky, Slavic and Comparative Literature

Those of you who do not work in the Foreign Languages Building may not be aware of a perennial problem, known over email by the subject heading “The heat in FLB.” This subject line generally precedes a message about the heating system’s failure—either to generate air conditioning when the temperatures outside reach over 90 degrees, or heat, when the temps fall well below freezing. Actually, the trouble is that the heating system, like my boyfriend’s basement apartment in Michigan in 1992, generally manages to turn on the air conditioning when the temps fall below zero, and turn up the heat when they reach over 90. The most recent crisis, which precipitated the current maintenance work on the heating and cooling system, was that the heat came on in the middle of the heat wave, bringing the temps in people’s offices to well over 100 degrees. And as you know, when people get too hot, they become cranky.

The last postings from FLB maintenance looked like this:
Heat Issues - FLB [ 6/10/2008 ]
Tuesday, June 10, 2008 9:50 AM

There are heat issues currently being experienced throughout the building.

F&S has reported a ‘Chilled Water’ programming error has created the issues we are currently experiencing.

These issues should be corrected as soon as possible.

Please continue to report issues you may have so they can be relayed to F&S.

UPDATE - Heat Issues - FLB [ 6/10/2008 ]
June 10, 2008 12:57:24 PM CDT

The Building (FLB) is currently experiencing multiple issues with the HVAC with many offices reaching temperatures in excess of 90 degrees.

Not all of these issues are overlapping as the building is serviced by multiple fans.

Please submit your issues directly to me in e-mail so I can forward the issues to F&S.

Individual calls and submissions are not showing up on the buildings work request list.

WEDNESDAY UPDATE - Heat Issues - FLB [ 6/10/2008 ]
June 11, 2008 9:24:15 AM CDT

F&S/O&M has isolated what appears to have been the main issue contributing to the heat issues we have been experiencing.

Adjustments have been made and appear to be working in the offices I have checked up to this point.

You can verify that things are improving by feeling the air coming from your system. If it’s not 100+ degrees it is working.

This cool down may take a little while as it is a building wide problem.

Please check your thermostat to see that it is set to a comfortable level and not 55.

If you have air that is heated coming from your system


I will continue to monitor this situation as necessary to ensure we receive the quickest resolution possible.

Your patience through this issue is greatly appreciated.

In addition to reporting issues please report as things return to normal so we will know your individual issues have been resolved.

Now, generally speaking, the heat in FLB is not much of a concern to me (other than freezing or overheating on the days when the system goes haywire), although it does seem to stand for a certain general attitude of the building: nothing ever works quite right here. So, to repeat, not much of a concern until earlier this week, when I received the following email forwarded through various channels, with the subject line, “Possible problem you need to be aware of”:

This is a heads up for you. [name] had a report from one of the F&S steam distribution workers this morning that he is planning to file a complaint with his supervisor about a picture Lilya Kaganovsky has displayed on her desk. He finds it offensive and considers it child pornography. This worker is in the building cleaning the heating/AC coils in every office.

Just in case you were wondering, the offending art in question is not a picture of my six year old son Sasha caught in some uncensored moment, but a poster by the artist Tierney Gearon called “I am a Camera” that I bought at the Saatchi Gallery gift shop in 2001 in London. I’ve had it in my office for the last 7 yrs, and so far, the only comment it received was from a student who knew Gearon’s work and the child pornography controversy that surrounded it. Here is some useful information on Tierney Gearon, immediately collected by Robert Rushing, after five minutes on Google:

1. The London police concluded that the images were not pornographic (of the hundreds of visitors to the Saatchi gallery, only three complained).
2. The offending image is widely available on the Internet from art gallery web sites, Gearon retrospectives, art blogs and the like.
3. The images are featured in a film about the artist, entitled Tierney Gearon: The Mother Project, shown at the Sundance film festival, available on Netflix and Amazon, and soon to be shown on the Sundance Channel.
4. The poster in question is a poster. Purchased at a gift shop. In an art museum.
5. Similar Gearon images are available for sale in poster and art shops:

Here’s the original photograph from which my poster was made:

'Untitled', 2000, from the Saatchi Gallery exhibition 'I Am A Camera', 2001

My image is of the boy on the right, with mask and crossbow and penis and the words “I am a Camera.” It’s a very good poster.

Now, my first thought was, I should move the poster out of the way while the maintenance worker lets off steam (literally), and do I really want to be the next cover story of the DI or the Chronicle of Higher Ed (“Feminist Accused of Child Pornography” or “Newly Tenured Professor Fired over Moral Turpitude”)? My second thought was, my love of strange and bizarre art has finally come to bite me on the ass. I have another lovely poster in my office at home which features a manikin/woman holding up a champagne flute of yellow liquid and the words, “Save Yourself: Drink Urine.”
This one I picked up at the Diesel Store in Rome and it is a part of a long brochure advertising different ways to “save yourself” (another one features the woman reproduced several times with the words “Save Yourself: Cloning”).

And then I took another look at the contents of my office:

In the fall, I am once again teaching a course on Nabokov, including, of course, Lolita.

I have, on my film theory bookshelf, Linda Williams’ Hard Core and The Porn Studies Reader.

My favorite novel to teach is Madame Bovary. I generally use Molly Bloom’s monologue from Ulysses to demonstrate jouissance and stream of consciousness.

I have been known to project images of male genitalia onto the ceiling of the Levis Faculty Center (it was a question of masculinity in the film Fight Club)—but all these, I suppose, are a question of context.

What the maintenance worker encountered was an image out of context. He had no class assignment, no art gallery visit, no clever book intro to place the poster/work of art into anything that would make it make sense. All he saw was a boy with a penis. Titillating? Not at all. Erotic? Clearly not. Disturbing? Shocking? Provoking? Certainly. And therein probably lies the issue: in our daily exposure to the strangeness of art we have become used to images of fisting in Mapplethorpe, and “Piss Christ” and dung; we are no longer shocked the way Baudelaire, Benjamin, the Russian formalists, and other people writing about art at the beginning of the 20th century thought we should be. We are neither the bourgeois French reading public, nor the uneducated Soviet “masses” that saw pornography and decadence wherever they turned. But I suppose it’s nice to know that there are still people out there that can be shocked by art. Nice, until they report you and you start making the news.

So: there’s no turning this poster to the wall. But I may have to chain myself to Lincoln Hall if the heat in FLB is elevated beyond “threat level: orange.” In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a quote from Alfred Appel’s well-known introduction to The Annotated Lolita, and some moments in art/porn history:

I was Nabokov’s student at Cornell in 1953-1954, at a time when most undergraduates did not know he was a writer. Drafted into the army a year later, I was sent overseas to France. On my first pass to Paris I naturally went browsing in a Left Bank bookstore. An array of Olympia Press books, daringly displayed above the counter, seemed most inviting—and there, between copies of Until She Screams and The Sexual Life of Robinson Crusoe, I found Lolita. […] [T]his title was new to me; and its context and format were more than surprising, even if in those innocent pre-Grove Press days the semi-literate wags on fraternity row had dubbed Naokov’s Literature 311-312 lecture course “Dirty Lit” because of such readings as Ulysses and Madame Bovary (the keenest campus wits invariably dropped the B when mentioning the latter). I brought Lolita back to my base, which was situated out in the woods. Passes were hard to get and new Olympia titles were always in demand in the barracks. The appearance of a new girl in town thus caused a minor clamor. “Hey, lemme read your dirty book, man!” insisted “Stockade Clyde” Carr, who had justly earned his sobriquet, and to whose request I acceded at once. “Read it aloud, Stockade,” someone called, and skipping the Foreword, Stockade Clyde began to make his remedial way through the opening paragraph. “ ‘Lo… lita, light… of my life, fire of my … loins. My sin, my soul … Lo-lee-ta: The… tip of the… tongue… taking… a trip…’—Damn!” yelled Stockade, throwing the book against the wall. “It’s God-damn Litachure!!” Thus the Instant Pornography Test, known in psychological-testing circles as the “IPT.” Although infallible, it has never to my knowledge been used in any court case.

On book censorship in the US

On Tierney Gearon at the Saatchi Gallery

The Meese Report



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Laurie Johnson said...

Lilya, your comments on the importance of context are well-put...although, based on what I've seen throughout FLB, many more Uncontextualized Moments must be happening to the steam distributor these days, enough in fact to perhaps start providing a context.
Anyway, on the anecdotal side: I was reminded, when I read your post, of a moment a few years back when something I did was rejected and reported to a higher authority, even though my action occurred within a prepared context. My daughter had to bring a book to share with her class at a religiously oriented preschool; the book was supposed to reveal something unique about the child. My daughter chose a Dutch children's book, since her dad is Dutch. Cool, until we got a call to pick up book and child because the book was "pornographic." It's about a cat, named Dikkie Dik, who gets into trouble of the sort that seems to plague Dutch house pets in particular...he didn't actually visit the Amsterdam red light district, but I guess we could have thought it through a bit better. However, after almost two decades of life with a man who comes from a country where a popular TV show involves people discussing the best mulch for growing marijuana in your back yard, and then smoking it live, I have lost some of my norms, so to speak.
Anyway, that experiment in cultural "sharing" didn't go over so well. In so many words, the school asked us to "please report as things return to normal so we will know your individual issues have been resolved. These issues should be corrected as soon as possible." However, we opted against issue resolution, recognized our problem as building wide, and enrolled our daughter in another school. Would that it were so easy to fix FLB's steaminess. Laurie Johnson

Jan Palach said...

Is the poster framed?

I don't know if this qualifies as a comment, but the post, and the whole issue, reminded me of the only Derrida's quote I really like:

Now you have to know what you are talking about, what intrinsically concerns the value of beauty  and what remains external to your immanent sense of beauty. This permanent requirement - to distinguish between the internal or proper sense and the circumstance of the objet being talked about - organizes all philosophical discourse on art, the meaning of art as such from Plato to Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger. This requirement presupposes a discourse on the limit between the inside and the outside of the art object, here a discourse on the frame. Where is it to be found?

Emanuel Rota

John Terry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.