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Hey, You There!
Thoughts about Ed McGowin’s project Name Change

I stand in the middle of a thousand plateaus, where there are a thousand possibilities. I cannot even say that I am standing, because, firstly, it is not I who is standing, and secondly, I am not even standing. I am movement but I am not in the movement. The movement is only lines, trajectories, digressions, stops, intensities, procurements, and departures. I am not me, because I have no center. This oedipal one, where a name and a signature attach forever to what should be my life. I have a thousand names and a thousand lives and a thousands deaths. I say no, in order to yes a thousand times!

Apparently nowhere else does the repression of names appear as clearly as in the art world and in its history. Names are the elementary particle of subjectivization, which one attempts to press onto our bodies like seals, in order to have them “limit our entire system”, and which in turn, is interpreted as a confirmation of “authenticity” and “purity.”

Hello, my name is X. What is your name? ? My name is Y, nice to meet you. These are the everyday banalities we exchange not even acknowledging that we are reproducing the ideological network we are in. We use them as polite formalities, paying not too much attention to them. But according to Louis Althusser, exactly these kinds of small insignificant situations and cases of identification are the elementary core, the molecules of the ideology. For Althusser the ideology is total, there is no escape from it. He himself uses an example from the street corner: When somebody calls us: HEY YOU THERE? And we react to that call; we are already entering the realm of ideology. It doesn’t even have to be the name we react to, the act of recognizing oneself within that call is quite enough. Althusser calls these subjectivisations acts of interpellation, where the ideology approaches and catches us. These acts manifest the identity; they recall the Self and the social ideological network. We recognize ourselves and are thus immersed in the ideological framework. Ideology points a finger at us like Uncle Sam on that notorious poster one can find in almost every pub in the world: We want YOU for the U.S. army!

From 1970-1972, Ed McGowin legally changed his name twelve times, and completed works of art under all these names. As Renato Denese then wrote, “At the very heart of McGowin´s thinking, however, is the idea of change. An artist’s will to change, he believes, has been denied him throughout history by the repressive demand that his work develop in a sequentially logical, linear progression. A condition of art history has been that the artist should present us with a “consistent body of work”. This facilitates the critical process: everything is neat; theories develop apace; annoying inconsistencies are rare and easily discarded or ignored; and the continuity of art history remains intact.”

Ed McGowin’s Name Change project from1970-1972 belongs edgewise into the same group with all types of conceptual gestures, which since the beginning of the sixties, following the example of Marcel Duchamp, have questioned all the attributes of being an artist such as authenticity, signature, relations between works of art and artists, the aura of an artwork, etc. We only need to recall Bruce Naumann’s work, Art Make Up, Orlan’s Artist’s Kiss, Piero Manzoni’s Artist’s Shit and Artist’s Breath or Yves Klein’s patented blue. In the context of this earlier conceptualism, it would have sufficed for McGowin to complete his official name change and the project would have been relevant and timely. However, it is very clear, that such a one-time act would not have satisfied him. Having created 12 different identities for himself, during time he has also developed their work. Despite some setbacks, one has died and some have given up artistic activities, he has lived all twelve of his lives. McGowin established an entire identity network: a system that would be perfect, if it could not be traced back to it starting point, that is, to McGowin. It is quite clear, that McGowin’s act is not actually equivalent to the aforementioned ones, because what did they actually want to show with their gestures? It was necessary to cite that the identification mechanisms determining and accompanying being a modernist or pre-modernist artist are no longer valid, and they need to be redefined. These artists did cite the invalidity of the identity packet, but they never started to play with that packet. McGowin started up a mechanism that became the rhizoid network permeated these twelve lives and their creations.

Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari never really shared the pessimism of Althusser about the impossibility of escape lines from the total realm of ideology. I believe that from the very beginning of their collective writing “Anti-Oedipus” which, by the way, was published in 1972, they developed their schizoanalytical method as a contra-project to the unifying principles of psychoanalysis and ideology.

They saw the desire of becomings and microrevolutions of identity as a possibility to deterritorialize and revolutionize one’s everyday practices. This was also acknowledged by Michael Foucault who wrote in the foreword about this book as a manual for coming to grips with everyday life rather than dead-serious anti-psychoanalytical theory. For him it was a guide for freeing the political activity from all the totalizing and unitary paranoias, to develop thoughts and actions through shifts and multiplications rather than through pyramidical hierarchizations; one should always have preference for mobile connections and floating by neglecting everything that is uniformed and systematical. There is a need to intensify and de-individualize via shifts and multiplications, while the individual is a product of power.

McGowin’s twelve artists are not just pseudonyms. The name changes were more a beginning rather than the final goal of the project. They merely started up the machine of desire, which, at that moment, did not know in which direction it will start to move. McGowin has referred to the linearity of art history as his basic motive for starting the project. Actually, what is this linearity? In the case of an artist, it means eternal loyalty to him/herself or rather to his/her approach. Only this loyalty, which in itself is nothing more than obedience to ideological repression, guarantees diligent artists a place on the stage of art history. At the same time, the world in the 1970’s, neither in art or elsewhere, was no longer the same. Moreover, McGowin must have felt this change very personally. He wanted to be free to make cardinal turnarounds, to change his approach, and creative position, as he felt was right, and to play with “twelve packets”. But he himself did not regard this as the main reason: The Necessity arises not merely from my periodic desire to reform my art; it is there because occasional and unpredictable change in method and insight has become a more intelligent way to make art than to hold to a rather uncomplicated and long-term linear elaboration of a single idea”. Therefore, he values it primarily due to the possibilities for the opportunities that it provides: “I must be free to let my intuition guide me, ready to move in any or every direction, keeping my balance and shifting attention as the situation changes.”

Anders Harm
May, 2006

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