coagulum, n./coagula, pl.

CC SEQUESTRANO 16 FALSE OPERE D'ARTE, SARANNO ESPOSTE A ROMA
‘Artist’s Shit’, Piero Manzoni, 1961

(see also, abject, grotesque, Coagula Art Journal) originally pertains to anatomy; meaning a mass of matter, usually blood, coagulated over a period of time. Coagulation refers to the action or process of a liquid that changes to a solid or semi-solid state; think: blood blister contents, after-birth or the surface of French onion soup left out. Coagula are residual, unpopular with squeamish people and not necessarily material. Used figuratively by Oliver Cromwell circa 1657, ‘such a Coagulum of Jargon’, he said during a speech at Parliament, by which he meant an agglutination, a collection, build-up or barrier of nonsense not blood. [1] It’s irritating to the senses—something accidental, perhaps. Almost always a response to trauma: coagula are sometimes preceded by a suppurating wound. Unlike platelets, a coagulum can cause or prolong rather than resolve the issue (see, Cromwell). It’s one word within the name attributed to the popular zine Coagula Art Journal set up by art critic and curator, Mat Gleason in 1992 who also founded Coagula Curatorial, an art gallery in Los Angeles, California, ten years later. Gleason’s use of the word indicates and has reinforced the increasing relevance of coagulum. He links it to place, specifically the final two letters of the word: L.A. The gallery is a concrete abstraction of the periodical book, a coagulation of Coagula, sitting at the tip of Chinatown. Gleason pays attention to the regular turnover of curators, like light-bulbs that need replacing, and no permanent vacancy is advertised. Instead, invitations are distributed to guest curators as though to update his cabinet of Coagula is to combat different strains or mutations of disease (read: current affairs, real life). Coagula (the gallery) has exhibited work by contemporary artists such as Karen Finley and Abel Alejandre. A central theme of Coagula is an exposition of the indeterminable, unknown or disputed. The gallery’s makeup is linked to a body of words, its journal, so presupposed by a web of coagulated research, problems, or hyped-up happenings. Coagula is thick, gloopy, opaque and induces the shudders. It describes a current state but also, within it, a vestige of the past or journey from state to state. The coagulumesque does not conform to a criteria but might be commonly recognised as organic because it often uses organs and their contents. A very literal example of coagulum would be any painting, or series, by Hermann Nitsch in which he uses sheep, ‘dismembered in an act of crucifixion’, and their blood as paint—or, earlier, Piero Manzoni’s Artist’s Shit (1961). [2] Moving on, coagulum is sometimes described by way of shock-factor and is undoubtedly connected to Mikhail Bakhtin’s grotesque. Bakhtin noted that the hyperbolic image, a painting made using sheep guts for instance, is reconciled with reality to produce pleasure in its audience. [3] Coagulum is not hyperbole, but helps produce it. Nitsch’s audience are supposed to feel a type of pleasure, then. Conversely, their response might be more aptly described as a confusion or disassociation; this may produce pleasure in some. Further examples include, Vito Acconci’s Seedbed (1972) or any artwork by the Surveillance Camera Players. Coagulum is a trope employed by artists, but also used by the critic to describe their reflex. It’s milky water, orange juice with bits, that keep sedimentary clues within a cloaked appearance. It can be extraordinarily explicit, sexual and uncomfortable. For these reasons, Coagulum divides opinion: in 1998, the writer David Pinchbeck said Coagula Art Journal is something ‘the art world loves to hate, and loves to read’ which can extend to describe the word’s general usage. [4] As aesthetic, it is unexpectedly attractive or alluring. This is part of its charm. Coagulum, though technically a noun, can be used to describe or locate something on the edge and can be the quality of that thing, too. It has proliferated within an increasingly digital landscape because audiences are disturbed by bodies, organs, blood and feeling; this might have always been the case, however coagulum provokes a different type of reaction. Coagula are not solely defined by the organic. Yet, organs are the most readily available point of reference for something as mixed up and pervasive as this.

inspired by/responding to Raymond Williams’s Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976) and Dan Fox & Jennifer Higgie’s article by the same name. 

Notes

  1. OED, coagulum, n., <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/35037?redirectedFrom=coagulum#eid>, [accessed, September, 2017].
  2. Hermann Nitsch, ‘action painting’, Hermann Nitsch: Das Orgien Mysterien Theater, <http://www.nitsch.org/index-en.html>, [accessed September, 2017].
  3. Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World trans. Jacques LeClercq, (Indiana University Press, 1984), p.306.
  4. David Pinchbeck, ‘Culture Shocker’, The Village Voice, October 13, 1998, News & Politics, <https://www.villagevoice.com/1998/10/13/culture-shocker/>, [accessed September, 2017].

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