"This special issue of wedge is devoted to the investigation of the visibility of a politically engaged form of writing. Necessarily such conception requires not only the augmentation of political subject matter, but also the creation of a newly structured text appropriate to its subject and capable of overcoming the crippling contradictions inherent in writing as it now exists. In place of traditional expository writing or even experimental literature, the works collected here posit a whole different mode of textual inscription which challenges accepted sites, structures and meanings of political discourse."
Selected Subject Headings
- Arab-Israeli conflict
- Artists’ writings
- Carnival - social aspects
- Conceptual art - works
- Corporations, American - Central America
- Discourse analysis - United States
- Experimental fiction, American
- Experimental music - United States
- Feminism - United States
- Guerrilla Art Action Group
- Images, Photographic - political aspects
- Imperialism - United States
- Information - aesthetics
- Language and languages in art
- Mass media and art - United States
- Northrop Corporation
- Pentagon (Va.) - history
- Political violence - El Salvador
- Postmodernism - history and criticism
- Social psychology
- Spectacular, The - political aspects
- Subaltern studies
- World Bank - influence
In order to provide a sociocultural context in which to situate Wedge, we'd like to jump start our notes with two quotes:
"With his exhibition, Rudi Fuchs, the Dutch artistic director of documenta 7, hoped to restore the "dignity" of contemporary art--not by emphasizing its sociopolitical responsibility, but by focusing on the aesthetic "autonomy" of art. Thus with documenta 7, Fuchs unleashed a kind of "dialectical countercurrent" to its predecessors, in which art was presented above all as a medium of social change, both within the system of art and in "real life." Fuchs's documenta had neither a title nor a theoretical curatorial concept. Instead, he presented his documenta with subtle yet provocative poetic metaphors as a "stately gliding regatta," relying on such tried and true categories as "beauty" and "artistic individualism.""
"There is a special kind of practical information that the visitor to El Salvador acquires immediately, the way visitors to other places acquire information about the currency rates, the hours for the museums. In El Salvador one learns that vultures go first for the soft tissue, for the eyes, the exposed genitalia, the open mouth. [...] The dead and pieces of the dead turn up in El Salvador everywhere, every day, as taken for granted as in a nightmare, or a horror movie. Vulture of course suggest the presence of a body. A knot of children on the street suggest the presence of a body. Bodies turn up in the brush of vacant lots, in the garbage thrown down ravines in the richest districts, in public rest rooms, in bus stations. Some are dropped in Lake Ilopango, a few miles east of the city, and wash up near the lakeside cottages and clubs frequented by what remains in San Salvador of the sporting bourgeoisie."
Wedge's first issue appeared in the summer of 1982, the same summer in which Fuchs' documenta 7 was taking place, and importantly, a year into the Reagan administration and at the height of El Salvador's U.S.-sponsored reign of state and paramilitary terror which Joan Didion chillingly documents in her book Salvador. This astonishing divide between what was going on in the world during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and "the dialectical countercurrent" embraced by some cultural producers points out to a schism between society and the cultural field that, with a feisty sense of urgency, Wedge set out to dispel.
Edited by Brian Wallis and Phil Mariani, Wedge appeared throughout the socially embattled decade of the 1980s; its complete run consisted of ten issues, albeit two of them were double, and there's even a triple issue; in total, six published items were published, one of them a box of pamphlets, and the last issue appeared as an edited book published by the MIT Press. With an austere and shifting layout, each issue was dedicated to a monographic theme; to wit, Wedge is composed of:
- Issue 1: "An aesthetic inquiry"
- Issue 2: "The spectacle"
- Issue 3-5: "Partial texts: essays & fictions"
- Issue 6: "Sexuality: Re/positions"
- Issue 7-8: "The imperialism of representation, the
- representation of imperialism"
- Issue 9-10: "Global television"
Firmly grounded in New York's cultural milieu, a milieu very much tuned to the theoretical winds blowing from continental Europe, Wedge appeared without an overarching editorial statement, no matter if we could sum up the project's drive as to provide a venue to politically engaged forms of cultural production loosely associated with postmodernism, critical practices that problematized "representation."
Therefore, in its pages we encounter an emphasis on artists using photography in order to subvert mass media's consensus and persuasion making capacities; most of these artists were loosely associated with what is now being historized as the "Pictures Generation" and Wedge provided them ample space in the form of artists' pages: Louise Lawler, Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, Allan McCollum, Sarah Charlesworth, James Welling, Laurie Simmons are all present in the journal's pages.
Given the journal's emphasis in visual representation, another important discursive node featured in Wedge foregrounded questions of sexual difference, as evinced by the issue dedicated to Sexuality: Re/positions; this issue was guest edited by artist Silvia Kolbowski and included texts and works by Mary Kelly, Rosi Braidotti and Jane Weinstock, Barbara Kruger, Victor Burgin, Judith Barry and Lynne Tillman, among others.
As a vehicle for conceptualist practices imbued in theory, Wedge was also attentive to other cultural forms that espoused critical engagement: essays by Jonathan Crary or Robert Stam, interviews with Fassbinder or Straub/Huillet, an excerpt from Debord's Society of the spectacle or an essay by Lyotard, writings by Hans Haacke or Öyvind Fahlström, and a red box containing pamphlets of essays or fictions by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Kathy Acker, or Gary Indiana, are among the many riches concentrated in the journal's layered history. It is important here to note that Wedge also included contributions by Edward W. Said and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, yet another indication of the journal's prescience in assessing the directions in which critical practices would have to expand into if they were to remain relevant.
Given its focus on issues of "representation," it comes as no surprise that Wedge's last (double) issues are dedicated to the violence of cultural imperialism, while providing analytical tools to counter their nefarious effects on the lives of so many; the issue dedicated to "The imperialism of representation, the representation of imperialism" provides a searing indictment of U.S. imperial policies by publishing documents like "The Pentagon-CIA archipelago," or "The overlord: the United Fruit Company," among texts and analysis by authors like Noam Chomsky, Jürgen Habermas, or Jean-Luc Godard. Global Television, a book, provides an overview of the effects that television and advertising have in spreading a "way of life" that fosters political violence in order to establish "political stability," concerted efforts aimed at erasing cultural difference in order to appease profit-based ventures, media among them.
In the journal's issue dedicated to the imperialism of representation, U.S. ambassador Robert White's oral statement before the House and Senate Subcommittees on Western Hemisphere Affairs is published. Posted to El Salvador, White was dismissed by the newly elected Reagan administration in 1981, a year before documenta 7 was staged; critical of the U.S.-backed Salvadorian government and suspicious of the military and paramilitaries as committers of atrocities against civilians, White's stance and predicament provide a lasting expression of the power of ethics and critical thought.
An essential document to round up our understanding of New York's cultural scene during the 1980s, Wedge's extraordinary feat was not only its diffusion of cultural practices that refused to back down amidst an extraordinary hostile cultural backlash, but to imagine a world in which one's "stately gliding regatta" has not to be stalled because the boat's rudder has been entangled with dismembered human bodies.
To peruse the indexed contents of Wedge, please log into the database.
"Partial texts: essays & fictions. Editorial," Wedge (New York), no. 3-5 (1983): box back cover.
Joan Didion. From Salvador, in We tell ourselves stories in order to live: collected nonfiction. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006: 349-351.
The issue "was developed in conjunction with the exhibition Difference: on representation and sexuality, curated by Kate Linker for The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York."
5]This conceptualist node was also being diffused from the feminist journal m/f, as several of the artists and contributors to this issue were also published in the British journal.
In Wedge (New York), no 7-8 (Winter-Spring 1985), Edward W. Said is interviewed in "In the shadow of the West," pp. 4-11; in the same issue, Spivak published her influential "Can the subaltern speak? : speculation on widow-sacrifice," pp. 120-130.
Global television first essay is co-authored by Armand Mattelart, co-editor with Seth Siegelaub of the series Communication and class struggle. We point to this detail in order to further establish the linkage between conceptualist art practices and forms of politically-engaged mass mediation as noted in our infoweb record.
 Roger White. "Document 6: armed minorities. Oral statement by ambassador Robert White before the House and Senate Subcommittees on Western Hemisphere Affairs," Wedge (New York), no. 7-8 (Winter-Spring 1985): 58-59. The article includes a table: "The origins and spread of the death squad in Latin America."
“The department of Morazán, one of the country’s most embattled areas, was the scene of another armed forces operation in December, the fourth in Morazán during 1981…The hamlet of Mozote was completely wiped out. For this reason, the several massacres which occurred in the same area at the same time are collectively known as the ‘Mozote massacre.’ The apparent sole survivor from Mozote, Rufina Amaya, thirty-eight years old, escaped by hiding behind trees near the house where she and the other women had been imprisoned. She has testified that on Friday, December 11, troops arrived and began taking people from their homes at about 5 in the morning… At noon, the men were blindfolded and killed in the town’s center. Among them was Amaya’s husband, who was nearly blind. In the early afternoon the young women were taken to the hills nearby, where they were raped, then killed and burned. The old women were taken next and shot…From her hiding place, Amaya heard soldiers discuss choking the children to death; subsequently she heard the children calling for help, but not shots. Among the children murdered were three of Amaya’s, all under ten years of age…It should be stressed that the villagers in the area had been warned of the impending military operation by the FMLN and some did leave. Those who chose to stay, such as the Evangelical Protestants and others, considered themselves neutral in the conflict and friendly with the army. According to Rufina Amaya, ‘Because we knew the Army people, we felt safe’. Her husband, she said, had been on good terms with the local military and even had what she called ‘a military safe-conduct’. Amaya and other survivors [of the nine hamlets in which the killing took place] accused the Atlacatl Battalion of a major role in the killing of civilians in the Mozote area.” From the July 20 1982 Supplement to the “Report on Human Rights in El Salvador” prepared by American Watch Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union. Didion, ibid., p. 364-365.
The Commission on the Truth for El Salvador concluded that the Atlacatl Battalion was responsible for this and other massacres. The Battalion was trained at Ft. Bragg, NC by US Special Forces and the 2nd Battalion, 505th Infantry of the 82nd ABN. As a result of their U.S. training, the Battalion had a close relationship with U.S. military advisers and Special Forces operating in El Salvador during the civil war of the 1980s. From Wikipedia Atlacatl Battalion.