I have enjoyed our weak ties together

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I’d like to start with Emma’s project, the paint-by-numbers for modern art, which can be found on her blog. Paint-by-numbers kits, often sold in craft stores, allow the hobbyist/enthusiast to recreate paintings they know – and trust – as art. A DIY Mona Lisa. A connect-the-dots Starry Night. The choices Emma made – Stella, Lichenstein, Mondrian – work very well for the medium of paint-by-numbers. Lots of hard outlines, solid blocks of color. It would be difficult to paint a Jackson Pollock by numbers. But then again, there’s already a program for that.

The paint-by-numbers piece that intrigues me the most is the Barnett Newman, with instructions 1 Red, 2 Black. Perhaps because of the simplicity of the two colors, this piece more than the others resembles a work of conceptual art. The instructions are more ambiguous. My first interpretation of “1 Red, 2 Black,” was not to fill in the spaces marked “1″ red, and those marked “2″ black. It was to paint one space red, and two spaces black. It was a Sol LeWitt moment.

I’m interested in how this project can be pushed further. It’d be cool if Rudy Giuliani were walking around in Michael’s or Hobby Lobby and came upon a Chris Ofili’s Virgin Mary. Because, you know, if Giuliani could do it, it’s not art. How ’bout it, Emma? Are you into shopdropping?

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I’ve often wished I were a smoker. So many things about it are just so cool. The crisp little boxes, the neat rows of cigarettes packed in together, not loose, not too tight. Smokers always have lighters, which is really convenient for going to concerts, or putting on eyeliner. In cities where people are still allowed to smoke indoors, bars are alight with people cooly pulling out their Parliaments. Can I bum one? Sure, why not. I’m Curt, what’s your name? Smokers make easy conversation with strangers, and instead of awkward silences they can just take a drag.

Fortunately for non-smokers like me, Curt and his crew at The Awkward Alligator have invented a pack that I can indulge in without feeling pains of my wallet or lungs. If I open up a pack of Awkward Alligators, instead of finding cigarettes I would find a delightful substitute of poems and drawings. This traveling collective of litmag material is a really nice object, so nice that instead of passing it along I might just want to hold onto it for myself. In fact, I’d like to subscribe to it – a pack a month? These packs are like mini versions of the box zines that I’ve heard about. I’d like to see them at Quimby’s and would happily pay $3.25 for one – the price of a pack of cigarettes.

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I’d like to end with comments on Julie’s submission to the public radio contest. I was particularly fond of this project because I listen to Fresh Air and This American Life everyday, and it was nice to hear Julie’s voice take on those soothing public radio intonations. For me and (from the look of all the comments) for other listeners, the story made me sympathetic to Julie’s experience, from growing up around Southern hospitality to exchanging a knowing glance with a stranger on the Metra.

The project embodies the idea of participation not only in the format, but also in the content of the story she tells. Julie opens with the scene of a big southern picnic, the kind that she’s used to, with “lots of food, lots of people, and lots of conversation.” It moves on to her quiet routine of riding the train with strangers, who normally abstain from making eye contact or conversation with one another. In some ways the story is about the loss of a tradition of socializing with people in public spaces.

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Review of Luis Maldonado – It’s all about things – at ThreeWalls, March 2007

When I went to see Luis Maldonado’s exhibit at ThreeWalls, I almost mistook that bright blue tarp-covered door for a construction site.   Luckily I was with Carrie, and she knew better.  On the other side of the door was a guy standing in a booth, where the press releases were laid out.  He must have been the gallery assistant, or so I thought.  When we walked through the yellow cloth curtain the same guy had popped out on the other side.  He picked up a microphone from a cardboard-tiled floor, which was sealed with packing tape, and greeted us.

“Welcome!  My name is Luis Maldonado, and this is my show.  If you have anything to barter, please let me know, and also which item you would like to barter for…”  I looked around at the yellow painted walls lined with paintings and dioramas, and then looked through my purse, where I didn’t find anything I wanted to trade.  He added through his microphone, “I also have a karaoke machine.  If you would like to do karaoke, I can make a video of you and that can be bargained for an item also.  Yesterday we had a guy do a Garth Brooks song, and he got really into it.  It was great…”

After surveying the prizes around the room, Carrie and I decided to sing.  Why not?  We had nothing to lose.  We decided on “My Favorite Things,” from The Sound of Music, which I own on VHS.  Luis got out the camcorder, and Carrie and I shared the microphone he used to greet us.  Although we missed a few beats, each confident chorus of “When the dog bites!” tied the performance together.  Luis’s applauded enthusiastically afterwards.  Later, he would brag about us to other visitors, just as he’d praised the Garth Brooks guy.  He had approved.  Our performance was bargainable.  In fact we were so good, he said, that he would let us barter for two items instead of one.  We had been talking about how we would share the single “Homie” Diorama.  Six months at her place, six months at mine?  But because of our stellar performance we were relieved of this dilemma.  Luis even signed the bottom of my prize.

As with any exchange of goods, there is the aftermath of paperwork.  Item traded:  “My Favorite Things” karaoke performance.  Item traded for:  “Homie” Diorama.  How should the artist treat your item?  I trust the artist to use his discretion.

I must admit, I got a kick out of this whole thing.  Perhaps this is because I am a “volunteer” enthusiast.  I remember the time a magician performed at a Chinese New Year celebration that my parents and I attended.  I was seven, and severely shy, but my mother talked me into raising my hand to be one of the magician’s “volunteers.”  The Magician held two corners of a long red sheet lengthwise and another, older and more experienced “volunteer” held the other end.  My job was to pour a cup of uncooked rice into the belly of the sheet, which the Magician and the other volunteer shook until all the grains turned into edible puffs.  He offered me one and I refused to eat it.  Everyone laughed; I had put on an entertaining performance.

I realize now why volunteering to participate in a staged performance is a satisfying experience.  The magician from the party had it all planned out, and there was little I could do to mess up the show.  And I have a feeling that even if Carrie and I had sang out of key, Luis still would have rewarded us for participating.  The whole experience of interacting with the artist in a gallery space on a personal level is sort of exhilarating.  In fact, the whole space was so transformed that it didn’t even feel like an institution.  The painted walls and cardboard floors encouraged a playful sort of interaction.

Throughout this quarter we have often debated the merits and failures of relational aesthetics.  Some of us have argued that Luis’s paintings are crappy, and the knick knacks worthless.  True, my “Homie” diorama may never make it to Christie’s, but the thing that interests me is what happens when the show is over.

Luis explained that he is starting a collection of all the stuff people have bargained for.  This was all displayed in a closet-turned-viewing-room.  It was full of all sorts of stuff that operated on different levels of sincerity: a doll that a grandmother started and her granddaughter finished.  Keys to someone’s apartment.  A dollar bill embellished with permanent marker ink.  DVDs of karaoke performances.  Lots of other stuff.  These all are items he has vowed to look after until death.  Some are precious in themselves, and some are worthless without the context of “It’s all about things.”  How he chooses to construct a world for these objects to exist in will determine the success of the project.

Something I felt strange about was the room full of paintings that Luis was trying to for real money.  Not that there’s anything wrong with making money, but within the context of the exhibition they seemed out of place.  They were priced according to size – “itty bitty” was the cheapest, and “gigantic” was the most expensive.  And there was another hierarchy at work.  The paintings for sale definitely looked better than the ones up for barter.  So despite the utopian premise of the bartering room, in the end, money is still more valuable than our dolls, our singing, our keys – our “things.”  Being in that room brought this project down to reality, and reality is somewhat disappointing.

Another room which didn’t make much sense to me was the “lounge area,” which was empty, save for a few chairs and a couple issues of ArtForum.  The space seemed to encourage contemplation about the “Things” exhibition in relation to the art market, but the real-money-paintings undermine the system that I think Luis was trying to create: the absolute fiscal democracy of art collecting.  In the end, there isn’t a democracy.  The bartering system is not sustainable without a grant, or a sale; it’s not autonomous.  People with money are art collectors, and those who lack funds settle for souvenirs.

Perhaps that “lounge” space would have better served as a museum area, a space where all that stuff we trade for Luis’s souvenirs can be displayed.  If the artist is sincere in wanting to keep all of it and display it in the future, then that tiny closet space where the keepsakes were stored really did not do them justice. They were squished.  The space was so narrow only one person could view them at a time.  Some of the items were placed on a high shelf, out of my range of visibility.  What’s the point?  It would be great to see all that stuff people traded to be displayed with care, each with a title card explaining where it came from, what its significance was, and how it tells a story.

“It’s All About Things” has a lot of potential, and is bound to evolve with each new exhibition.  But as of now, there isn’t a clear-cut purpose to the show.  How do viewers reconcile the bartering and the selling?  Maybe money and “things” can somehow come together, but we weren’t given any way of grappling with that.  Real Money distracted me from the merits of the show – Luis’s excellent performance and generosity as a host, the fun experience of participation and exchange, and the potential for a really interesting museum of our “Things.”

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Filed under Autonomy, Barter, Luis Maldonado, Three Walls, Utopia

Text-Your-Own Adventures of Spiderman

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Filed under Everyday, New Economy, Spiderman

A box for everything

Though there was no Chinese takeout like I suggested at 40000′s reception on Friday, there were two boxes of Franzia – box wine to go along with Nevin’s “Box” paintings. The project room, where Mark Powell’s photographs were hung, served as a Champagne/VIP room. An hour or so into the reception, Anthony Elms was the first one brave enough to uncork a bottle of Champagne Brut, exclaiming to the hesitant onlookers – “I’ll show them what a gallerist can do!”

Nevin Tomlinson looked spiffy in fitted jeans and a brown sportcoat, an outfit that Ryan Fenchel deemed “business casual.” I finally had a chance to talk to Nevin about his paintings. I asked him, first, about the transition in his work from abstraction to text. He explained, “There is such a limited audience for abstract painting these days. I wanted to create something that more people can engage in. Also, abstract painting is so much about irony, and I need to get away from that. But if you look at my paintings, a lot of the stuff that was in my abstract work is still there.”

Maybe it’s true – that text somehow engages people more. A lot of people who come into the gallery comment, “I really like Shit Box.” Maybe it’s the rainbow coming out of it. I mused, “At the end of the rainbow, there’s a box of shit.” But Britton countered, “No, no. You see, the shit is at the beginning.”

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Reception at 40000 Friday

If you’re in the West Loop area this Friday evening, come by 40000 to a reception.  There will be food, beer, and Nevin Tomlinson will be there too.  And I’ll be there, serving edibles, so come say hi!

By the way, can anyone take a stab at what 40000 means?  It’s a secret.  Britton won’t tell unless you guess right.  Only two people besides himself know.  I Google it and the thing that comes up the most is a video game called Warhammer… Britton assured me that it’s not what it stands for!  A special prize for anyone who can take a guess…

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Dealing with Every Day

We opened the discussion with samplings of Rirkrit Tiravanija’s work. Inspired by R.M. Schindler’s architecture, he built Untitled 2002 at the Guggenheim, an interactive space for barbecues, massages, etc. Lane asked what we thought of the shiny stainless steel – but the question didn’t quite get answered and got lost in discussion.

And there was that piece where Rirkrit hosted a Thai banquet for viewers who came to the opening. The artist himself was dressed as a caterer. The rest of the show was an exhibit of the debris from that meal.

They’re like happenings, someone said.

Emma mused, when reality becomes art, does reality become artificial? It was a question that hadn’t occurred to me. I guess I would substitute artificial with orchestrated. And reality with the everyday. Rirkrit, the artist, used his Rirkritness to orchestrate an everyday occurrence inserted into the context of art (-world, -history). As a result, he not only enabled social interaction, but also communicated his – let’s say, essence – through the banquet and the leftovers.

Lane pointed out that Henri Lefebvre makes a point about forms, structures, and functions: “In the past, each banal object is apart of a style.”

Christian referred to a commercial about ‘stylizing your life,’ which reminded Lane of integrating design, such as the success of Apple. So what’s the difference between Rirkrit and functional integration? With Rirkrit, it’s not strictly anthropological. Lefebvre was getting at a difference between a period style and a life style. Life style is what happens after the big break with modernism. Signature style, life style, personal style. Rirkritness.

Backing up a bit, how is Rirkrit emblematic of relational aesthetics? Let’s go back to Miwon Kwon, Andrea Fraser, and Nicholas Bourriaud.

Dematerialization of the art object, for one. And emphasis on space, context, and social interaction (which is a big one for Bourriaud). Change from consumer to patron. Relationship with the client. Cutting down on transferability of object. An event like the Thai Banquet is free!

Here’s the thing about Andrea Fraser: there are two kinds of post-commodity artworks: 1) service model 2) readymade model. The readymade model would be: Carl Andre, Dan Flavin – people who work with prosaic store-bought everyday materials. At a certain place (say, gallery), they arrange them a certain way. For that specific show. That was a certain way of moving beyond a traditional studio practice. The artist does a certain thing in a particular space, and the work is contingent on the space. An example of the service model: Douglas Huebler, “The fugitive.” It’s a work modeled on the contract of the wanted poster, and has to do with people entering into agreements.

Perhaps Rirkrit is building the service model with readymade. It’s different than Dan Flavin because Untitled 2002 doesn’t just sit there. The participation of viewers is absolutely necessary for the success of the artwork.

Miwon Kwon says that what we don’t want anymore is the idea of the transferrable object. There’s an unrootedness, which Miwon Kwon gets to at the end of “From One Place to Another.” The place itself becomes mutable, inpermanent. How does Rirkrit’s work parallel or work through the change to the New Economy? How does he deal with the conditions?

Here are the hallmarks of the New Economy: flexibility; planned obsolescence (actually, sometimes objects evaporate on their own) – in Untitled 2002, when it’s just about backrubs and hanging out, the experience evaporates. There’s no surplus of paintings to be tucked into the backlog of a studio; information; creativity; market saturation; overproduction.

Lane pointed out that MFA programs are a form of overproduction. In 1965, with the creation of the NEA, it was mandated that money had to go to all 50 states. But most states outside New York didn’t know what to do with it. So every state sets up a state art council, which leads to Gallery spaces, which lead to MFA programs. Rirkrit, you can say, has solved the problem of overproduction by only making enough work for the show, not more.

It’s not just a market anymore, it’s about visiting artist programs, It’s a mixed economy, with private money, public money, foundational money.

Structuralism as a big turn off for a lot of people because you, the subject within the it, is thoroughly determined by your place, your time in the structure.

There is water to swim in outside the market. There’s room for subjectivity, for pranks, for creativity. “Wig” in French apparently refers to the pretending to be everyday while exercising a prank.

A bit of a digression: Ryan suddenly brought up fashion trends as a grotesque combination of layers. One person can be simultaneously business, punk, safari. etc. Christian pointed out that it’s just the cause of collage culture. And Tim refuted the fact that fashion magazines dictate fashion, and insisted that street feeds fashion, and back out. Readership is not passive. It reminded me of that Burberry button guy that Michael’s always talking about – apparently this guy made tons of buttons one year with the stolen Burberry design and they became popular. The next year, the models in Burberry’s catalog were all wearing buttons. I wish I could remember his name.

Well actually, this is a good transition the DIY show. There’s a lot of material culture there–jeans, T-shirts, plastic. People are trying to make what they wear signify, and to make sense semiotically.

Our big problem with DIY culture two discussions ago is that everyday life isn’t necessarily semanticized. Brushing your teeth, sleeping, what you sleep in, doesn’t always speak volumes about you.

We constantly speak ourselves, and we do that because there is no other a priori for everyday life other than to express yourself. Why? you instantly go to the big meaning. Meanings that are beyond our processes. Because the universe is ruled by a strict law of meaning. Modernism gets rid of all that. Suddenly the references become very floaty. Everything becomes about choice.

What you do when you make visual art is you try to compete with the best, the unquestionably approved art that’s out there. So, when Andrea Fraser speaks about autonomy she’s not saying it is not bad per se, it’s the but falsified autonomy that we must watch out for.

How can art go with the idea of autonomy without being genius? What are the other types of autonomy?

Heidegger argued that the only way to take solve the problem of the everyday is to take yourself out, beyond, higher than it.

But there’s also a place for work which doesn’t alienate the everyday, and instead points out what’s sinister, or what’s comical about the everyday. Critical thinking. Free expression. Politics. Art as a commodity. Social freedom. Freedom of the art world to name its geniuses, to name its hot topics.

These things we call art now, what we know about art is this thing that has a lot to do with freedom. This sense of being able to make the world we live seem meaningful. The idea would be fairly simple. There’s a kind of development of culture–this is a very western, modern notion, that gains its first true articulation in the Renaissance. Before that, people developed “art” out of need.

What does it mean when we can make outside of the demands of need? Something about humanness? Beyond humanness? When you do out of necessity? Create some meaning besides – I need to eat, I need it to rain to grow crops, etc.

This would be a very modern idea, these notions of creativity. We don’t do away with need, but we fold that need into meaning. Make life a work of art. Reconcile them–freedom, need. Even T.S. Eliot talks about the notion of artistic expression – seeing society as a work of art. Michael Fried. Theory of visual art. One of the things that constantly reoccurs is the desire to reconcile the individual as that trope for creativity freedom with the structure. So as to be able to take individual poetic and reconcile it with public rhetoric. To make subjectivity manifest in objective facilities of society. To make the internal external.

And the notion free space – Fraser is arguing that in the studio (when you’re off in your own space) you get no renumeration, but you get to make all your decisions. Isn’t that great? Andrea Fraser says that’s the problem. It’s too much conformed to the ideology of freedom, partly because of its connection to the genius. The genius and the non-genius have always been the means to achieving a secular utopia. That means that nature and necessity have been reconciled with freedom.

Then what’s wrong? Why aren’t we in utopia?

Julie: “Utopia is boring.”

Like Clement Greenberg said: “I’ll take Utopia over art.”

Curt: “Our luxury is on credit. We’re not in Utopia.” Meaning, we’re overlooking the fact that there are people in the world who don’t have the freedom to do beyond necessity.

Ryan S exclaimed, “Commodities don’t exist without market. Market doesn’t exist without consumers. It still feels like an alienating system where pursuit feels like dispossession! The demand to express oneself feels like a necessity.”

Utopia becomes a sales pitch. Ryan F talked about the “existential vacuum” we need to fulfill by the consumption of goods.

Brian Holt talks about how advertisements now are – be really cool. Be slightly ironic, slightly distanced – through practice of consumption.

Andrea Fraser talks about the constant contradicting of artistic autonomy. We want it, we should be there, we’re not. Utopia’s the newest sales pitch. A lot of modern art has been monuments to this condition. Why does art always have to answer correctly the notion of free choice? Like Schendal sai, “Now art can be our promise of freedom.” Adorno said, “Yeah, it’s a promise because it’s always broken.”

Even Andrea Fraser says, we can bring distinctions in. Maybe distinctions can be work that create contradiction instead of just papering over it as a false utopia. Utopia doesn’t mean the end of death. But it’s going to feel authentic. It’s going to feel like we all have stakes and we’re working at it. This is one of the attributes about it. This is what makes people like everyday life. It doesn’t oversocialize everyday life, but it doesn’t allow for undersocializing of the individual. It allows for some agency, the agency that is always articulated outside the social scene. It allows for differences. If you go with Lefebvre’s version – he went for the Paris commune. When France is at war with Prussia, Paris gets surrounded by enemy troops. The everyday life dramatically, qualitatively and quantitatively changed. Butchers and bakers are constantly running around rampant. Supposedly it was joyous!

The social production of autonomy can be very radical. Fraser opposes the social disconnectivity of autonomy. Creativity is only expressed through social structure. The contradictions are expressed through social structure.

Everyday life of consumer culture is not just images of fancy cars, but je ne sais quoi. It very much is life. In media, you used have the product placed some fantasy world. Now product advertisement is about networks of consumers talking, reviewing products, recommending products to each other.

Lefebvre sees the idea of the everyday as a weird glue. It’s material unconscious. At the middle level is the activist. Rimbaud. Marx. Change material life. Change how we do shit. Classic surrealist technique – to take something that is so normal and so everyday that it makes you speechless. Going precisely at the point of the world that is unthought. Turning into the fantastical. You don’t even get fantastic technique in Surrealism. Dali – make it normal so as to rupture the very register.

The third is the consumer everyday.

The interesting thing is trying to locate within these three versions, what are their potential? Where do the artworks sit in relationship to these three? Christine Hill is definitely more about commodity culture. Rirkrit is about the everyday.

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Filed under Andrea Fraser, Autonomy, Everyday, Modern, New Economy, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Structuralism, Utopia

Earnestness

I received a phone call from my mother two nights ago–

“Have you heard what’s happened?” I hadn’t. She told me about the shootings at Virginia Tech, with a sense of urgency in her voice. “Where are you?” she wanted to know. I was home, and she sighed with relief. This made me roll my eyes. What could I possibly do to be more careful? It’s not as if we could stop going out, stop going to school. I remembered how nearly six years ago, after 9/11, my mother got me a dust mask and flashlight from home depot. “So I could…what? Protect myself from the fallout of a nuclear attack in the future?” I sort of laughed at her then, but her concern, then and now, is earnest. It’s the sort of thing that breaks my heart.

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