A Rant (In Two Parts)

Rant:  Part I (In Which I Think Deep Thoughts About Art, Art Ownership, and the Institution, Then Get Sidetracked)

I’ve been reading a book called Ways of Looking:  How to Experience Contemporary Art by Ossian Ward.  It is a bit of a beginner’s guide to looking at contemporary art, which I picked up with the idea that  it might be useful for teaching younger kids or non-art folk about contemporary art.  Yes.  I am that nerd that thinks about pedagogy and teaching ALL the time.  It’s a pretty basic read, but interesting.  Anyway, it dredged up a few thoughts that have been kicking around in my head for awhile and got me thinking about them again.

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Urs Fischer, You, 2007 Not my image! http://thefunambulist.net/

The premise of this book, is that it breaks down contemporary art into “Art as” sections to be decoded using the author’s TABULA Rasa formula (Time, Association, Background, Understand, Look again, Assessment).  These “Art as” sections include:  Art as Entertainment, Art as Joke, Art as Message, etc.  The last two chapters are Art as Spectacle and Art as Meditation, which I was reading on the train on my way into work this morning.   Toward the end of the Art as Spectacle chapter the author discusses Urs Fischer’s You, and writes:

“Resembling a battlefield or a construction pit rather than an exhibition, Fischer’s destructive, anti-artistic statement was not only an assault on the senses—involving as it did a precipitous 8-foot drop and the risk of serious injury—but it was also an attack on the very structures that support and validate art itself (it was nevertheless sold to a foundation for excavation at a later date at some other location).

At which point I literally wanted to stand up on the train and flip a table.  It just seems so ridiculous to me that this piece was bought by a foundation to be moved from it’s context, making it even less accessible. It actually made me angry. Because let’s face it, there is a certain amount of privilege involved in being able to visit (access) a museum, gallery, foundation, or other arts institution.  But also, I really HATE the idea of ownership when it comes to art (especially when it comes to something so ephemeral and site-specific).  I want everyone to have access to art all the time.  I don’t think you should have to pay to see something that is culturally relevant, or interesting, or thought provoking, or just plain fucking beautiful (although I could personally not care less about that particular criterion). And I think art objects are stupid.  It upsets me that these are things which artists have poured themselves into, and they are hoarded away by private collectors or museums, only to see the light of day occasionally.  Art isn’t about just looking/seeing.  But I’ll get to that rant in a second.

The author continues his bit about You, referencing the writings of Robert Smithson (of Spiral Jetty fame).  Smithson was a leading figure in moving art outside of the gallery, and helped to develop the Land Art movement of the 70’s.  At one point he wrote that museums are just graveyards above ground.  And, regardless of the context in which Smithson said/wrote that, or the context in which Ward is theoretically linking it to You, I really am starting to believe it’s true in a very literal sense.  Museums are places that art goes to die.  Art no longer exists as it was originally envisioned once it’s consigned to a collection, where it is restored, or stored, or academicized.  It becomes part of a hushed atmosphere, in which you are supposed to take everything very seriously, study the beauty of the “masters” (which, fuck that noise), and learn something.  These randomly selected objects are placed onto white walls and white pedestals to be admired and revered (from a distance), because someone employed by the museum said that they should be.  Aside from the usual rhetoric over who gets to decide what is art, what isn’t, and what should be displayed/preserved, it’s a stupid, stupid system.  And sure, there are museums, or exhibitions out there that challenge this status quo, but not enough.  The majority of them do not.  The majority of them are the white cube-didactic-no-touching model.

This makes me think of the Futurist Manifesto (because really, it’s never far from my mind), and the Futurist’s desire to destroy all museums/libraries/academies etc, because they viewed them as antiquated and therefore an impediment to the progress of the future. Sometimes, I think they weren’t far from wrong (aside from their somewhat blatant misogyny and general delight at war).  We have created these repositories of things that we are told to revere.  I can easily question and challenge it because I have the theoretical knowledge and art back ground, but the average person does not.  They take it to heart.  We cling onto these things, as if they truly are the end all and be all of beauty, or whatever the hell it is that we are looking for in art.  We uphold the past, and scorn the contemporary (Thats why books like Ways of Looking are written…).  It’s almost like we want to hold ourselves back.

My ponderings on art ownership, objects, and destroying museums also started me thinking about the other forms of art that we accumulate and store.  For instance, why am I OK with collecting outrageous numbers of books, of which many are works of fiction, and therefore art?  I LOVE books.  I learn things from them, I escape every day life with them, they are magical objects to me, and are tied into happy childhood memories.  But still, they are art.  So why can I support ownership of those and not works of visual art?  Is there any difference?  Perhaps it bothers me less because there are often thousands, if not millions of the same copy of my book floating around?  Because anyone can go to the library, find that book, and read it for free (Unrestricted access)?  And libraries are depositories of ALL books, not just some.  I realize not every library will have every book, but they don’t actively seek to curate their patron’s visit by limiting their selection, to say the 200s (Religion) in the Dewy Decimal System.  Or perhaps they do, and I am just unawares.

And what about music?  I’ve never been one to obsessively collect albums.  I’m perfectly content to turn on Spotify/Pandora/insert-other-internet-radio-here and listen.  I don’t need to own it.  But there are some who make it a priority in their lives.  And in some weird, conceptual way I find it more acceptable to collect that form of art.  Again, perhaps it’s because theoretically anyone has access to this art form, and there are millions of copies laying around.  Perhaps because someone else could then learn that piece of music and play it for themselves (or others), whether it be in a replication of the original, or in a new interpretation.  Its tough.  And I’m not sure I can justify my ability to accept owning those art forms but not others… Maybe I just need to give up my book collection.  *insert wide eyed emoji here*

Rant:  Part 2 (In Which I Get Back on Track, and Rage at the Consumption of Art)

 

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I don’t think I really need to caption this very obvious wealth of information.

 

The other side of the issue of owning art and locking it away, is that we also treat it like a commodity to be consumed.  We pack large rooms and entire buildings with vast collections of “precious” art objects for people to pay to see.  Often times these collections are so enormous, it could take you days if not weeks to view just what was on display.  For instance, according to CNN, it would take you SIXTY-FOUR DAYS to see everything in the Louvre if you only looked at everything for SIXTY SECONDS.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Sixty-four entire days, looking at roughly 35,000 works of art for exactly sixty seconds each.  Forget actually studying, appreciating, or processing a work.  And that is only what they have on display at any given time.  Their entire permanent collection is around 460,000 objects (You do the math on that one).  So it’s no wonder that with museums like MOMA in New York charging upwards of $25 or more for an individual admission to just the permanent collection, people are going to want to get their money’s worth.  They are going to rush through, trying to take in as much as possible (which is the  worst possible way to view art), making it  into a sort of scavenger hunt to find the most famous, or popular works of art.  All so that they don’t feel gypped, so that they can say they saw the Mona Lisa, and of course, so that they can snap a selfie.  What. The. Fuck. World?  It’s so angering.

Art is not meant to be consumed like that.  It’s meant to be experienced.  It’s meant to leave us thinking, in awe, or some how impacted.  The final chapter of Ward’s book is Art as Meditation, which address works of art that require time for reflection and processing.  He writes that some artworks need contemplation and a sort of extended digestion.  I would argue that this is every work of art, because art can change in meaning over time for you, depending on any number of variables… Circumstances, experiences, knowledge, relationships.  All of which are dynamic, and subject to change in and of themselves.  Ward continues this line of thought, saying:

These shifts in perception or changes of heart require time.  They need time to reveal themselves, to create an atmosphere, to warp the here and now, and –maybe– to formulate a new universe… This kind of contemplative situation, or ‘Art as Meditation,’ as I’ve called it, is not about conceptual art, or anything necessarily related to the 1960’s Conceptual art movement (with a capital C).  Nor is it about seeing something that isn’t there or posing more thoughts that can only live in your head.  It relates to the ability to better appreciate or more deeply engage with a work of art without succumbing to the bite-sized nibbles of culture offered elsewhere or having our heads turned this way or that by any number of other tempting distractions.”

These are things I’ve been trying to get at in my own work for a few years now.  I want my audience/participants/viewers to have an experience rather than simply look/see/consume what I have to share.  I want their lives to be impacted, for them to think about what they saw for years to come, and for that experience of the work to evolve as they themselves change and grow.  Otherwise, what was the point of making the work in the first place?  Sure, it fulfilled a selfish need of my own to create and express myself, but it doesn’t mean anything until someone else enters into the picture.  Otherwise, why look at art at all?  If you’re only going to spend sixty seconds staring at it, only to move on to the next piece immediately, and instantly forget what you saw just moments before.  Everything then becomes a blur, and nothing sticks.  Nothing makes an impression.  And I’ll have done all this hard work for nothing…

95…94…93…92…

I am at the 92 Day, 23 hour, 58 minute and some odd second mark until my thesis show opens.

 

And I am struggling.  But what’s surprising about that?

 

You see, I have once again gotten myself into the difficult situation of having come up with this insane idea, but of having no clue as to how to pull it off.  Aren’t I nice to myself?

 

My initial proposal went something like this:

 

For my thesis show, I would like to create an archive of a performance through documents and artifacts.  The performance which is evidenced through this archive may or may not have taken place.  There is potential for the archive could be created out of found objects, repurposed materials, etc.  These materials would then be presented to the audience in such a way that they are then required to piece together the “narrative” of the event.  Conceptually, I see the performance revolving around the themes of failure and success.  Preferably, I would like this to take the form of some type of universal failure or experience with failure, something which would compel the audience to invest time and energy into discovering the story.  The main idea behind the archive and its manner of presentation to the audience is that, while it documents and shares an experience for which the audience was absent, it also mediates and distances them from that same event.  This inherently creates misunderstanding, miscommunication, and potential meandering in meaning.  In this way the archive in the traditional sense, fails performance art, in that it cannot provide a clear or concise replication of the principal happening for posterity to experience.  Nor can it hope to truly preserve artist intent or meaning through time.  As our cultural references and understandings evolve, the documents  themselves remain stagnant.

The contents of this repository will be as wide ranging as possible, but operating within the traditional confines of an archive.  I intend to include photographs, video, sound recordings, writing, any props or objects used for the performance, as well as any artifacts created through the performance itself.  These documents will be incomplete in someways, forcing the viewer to use all parts in conjunction with one another in order to obtain the “full picture.”  These various parts will be displayed throughout the gallery, almost in “stations,” to both explain and mediate the performance for the audience.  I also anticipate providing the audience with some sort of takeaway which could function as a map, a treasure hunt, or something which would help them to tie together the various pieces of the performance.  This takeaway could then become an additional piece of documentation.  Photographically speaking, I am considering two options.  The first is having images which change periodically, and the second is presenting images that were supposedly printed with disappearing ink.  In the first option, images could be rotated on a time table, or a small group of images could be displayed on a screen or projected for a finite period of time before changing, never to be seen again.  In the second option, the images could be printed in disappearing ink, or just be stated to have been printed as such.  The audience would then be forced to rely on written captions or titles, or another individual to describe to them what was in each frame.  Similarly, the video component would be designed so that it could not be relied upon to share the narrative in its entirety.  I see it as either taking the form of a soundless video, projected or played on a screen.  Or it could also simply be a glitchy video which periodically drops out, or becomes pixillated so visual information is lost as well, similar to the way that Digital TV received via antenna is unreliable. When it comes to any objects included in the archive, I’m anticipating these being presented much as traditional art objects or historical artifacts in a museum.  Moreover, I plan on incorporating some type of sound or written element to supplement the object.  This could take the form of an audio track variously describing the original object, the history of the object, discussing the use of the object within the performance, or maybe just the sound of the object being used.  Alternatively, this could also be accomplished through a written placard accompanying the object. As a final piece of the archive, I intend to have an audio feed that provides audience members with a general interpretation of what the performance and show were about.  To accomplish this, at some point during each viewer’s experience at the gallery, they will have the opportunity to enter a sort of “confessional,” in which they can share their interpretations, impressions, or experience of the performance.  This will then simultaneously be recorded and broadcast into a “listening station,” where others may go to hear this second hand audio archive of the performance.  As with the presentation of the objects, this could also take the form of a written archive if the audience were uncomfortable with speaking or being recorded.  Additionally, I would somehow like to incorporate other audience generated archive materials, such as pictures they took, or social media posts they made relating to the show.  This could then be incorporated into the presentation of the performance in the museum after the opening….

 

And then it goes into discussing research routes and technical challenges.  Sorry if you read all of that.

There are several problems with this idea, despite the fact that I am so excited about it and have the support of my committee to take this risk.  The first of which being, I HAVE NO FUCKING CLUE WHAT THE PERFORMANCE IS GOING TO BE.  And I can’t piece together anything else until I nail that down.  Frustrating!  Like I mention in the proposal, I want it to related to failure, but how do you make failure completely universal?  It’s pretty crucial in this situation I think, to make the performance something that is relatable and understandable in terms of theme and content.  Otherwise I feel like there would be NOTHING for the audience to grasp since there are several layers happening here, and I’m not 100% certain that everyone in attendance is going to understand that as I look at it, archives are failure…  Something, something, something, something?

I submitted that proposal in December, and have approval to attempt this madness, and ever since then I’ve been thinking about what my performance might be, if it were going to be live, or take place before hand, how I might engage the audience in piecing together the archive…On and on.

For quite sometime, the only conclusion I had come to was that there had to be a live performance (the night of my opening at least), so that the distinction between experiencing the archive and having a first hand, potentially participatory experience could be made for my audience.  But then, how do I make sure that ALL visitors to the show can experience that contradiction?  I can’t perform in the museum the entire time the show is up.  I can’t afford to pay performers to perform in the museum the entire time the show is up.  Do I make my audience become the performers?  And how do I keep the performance hidden, secondary in some ways, so that the audience could experience everything else first and THEN discover the live performance?  Should I make some sort of scavenger hunt, where the performance becomes the pay off in the end?  And how do I ensure that my audience complies?

Then over the last few days, I’ve started to think that I’m attempting to combine too much into this show.  Trying to use too many ideas simultaneously, and that I should try to simplify where possible.  This also made me think that maybe I should try to really simplify my intents for the performance itself, and maybe attempt something on a smaller scale…  But I still didn’t know what it would be.

But I think I had a small break through today.  In one of my posts from November, I talked about how I was thinking about playing telephone (almost literally) for a performance, and shared my discovery of  an essay titled The Viral Ontology of Performance Art.  Something else I read today (also out of Perform, Repeat, Record) started to make me think about performance telephone and Viral Ontology again.

  “Documentations magic lies in its explosive power, it shatters the reclusive planet inhabited by the once-lived into a radiating galaxy of astroids.  Each astroid carries some memories of the once-lived, each in turn extends, renews, or replaces the vitality of the once-lived; each has the potential to grow into a different planet.  Thus, the once-lived lives again and lives on not as itself per se, but as itself altered: dismembered, redone, augmented, partially replicated, diminished, burned into ashes, or consumed as legends.”

Suddenly I remembered a game a member of my cohort taught me and that I would frequently play with the kids at Lafayette Art Camp.  It’s called Telephone Pictionary.  To play this game, you sit in a circle with the other participants (as with traditional Telephone, the more people, the better), and each player has a stack of paper or note cards.  On the top card, each participant writes a word or phrase.  They flip it over and hand it to the person sitting next to them.  That person looks at the word or phrase and attempts to draw it on the back of the same piece of paper.  The drawing is then passed to the next individual who looks only at the drawing, and writes out a short phrase or word that describes what they think the drawing is of. And so on and so forth.  The pay off obviously comes once the cards have made the full round of the circle and come back to the original owner, where the evolution of their original word or phrase is seen.

And I thought… Why can’t that be the performance?!  It’s so perfectly simple.  It doesn’t require anyone to constantly be performing.  It’s wholly participatory, but un-agressively so.  It creates it’s own archive by default.  It’s subtle enough that it doesn’t make a spectacle of itself and could be taking place in a self contained room…  It’s so flipping simple and perfect, it’s brilliant.  It embodies the very idea of viral ontology and audience centered experiences I’m so keep to explore.  It is also sort of the very definition of failure, and I don’t even have to manipulate the situation  to create the failure!  Why am I so obtuse sometimes!?!

I’m not entirely sure how this all fits together into my crazy scheme yet, but I think I’m going to test run this idea at the 621 Cabaret in a few weeks.  Every year 621 Gallery does a fundraiser in which local artists and performers create an act and then put on a cabaret style show, and since I’m sitting on the board this year, I got suckered into performing…  But I think it might be a good venue to explore this idea, if I can make it happen with in a 10 minute time frame…  Always gotta make it hard on myself.

 

More soon.

Theising (I’ve turned it into a Verb…)

Holy cow.  I have no idea why, but man did people blow up my blog last weekend!  My phone was literally buzzing and beeping every 5 minutes for about 12 hours.  That’s never been a thing before… So thanks to you all who came and checked me out here, and for everyone who also started following me as a result.  It’s nice to feel special every once in awhile.  I apologize if I don’t follow you in return, but I can’t keep up with everything anymore.  Rest assured you are noted.

 

I’ve been terribly absent recently, and for that I apologize.  A lot of things went very wrong back in August, and then my marriage kind of started to… unravel.  And I went into survival mode.  Which means I was functioning on a day to day, minute to minute basis, just trying to keep my head above water.  Seriously.  My brain was elsewhere.  But now I’m back on track, and that’s happy!  I’ve been digging through my “sketch books”  (in quotes because I don’t actually ever sketch… EVER), and pulling out all the random ideas I wrote down but forgot about.  Then through a very scientific process I am calling The Whiteboard, I’ve been sorting them out, making connections, and basically trying to understand what my thesis is actually going to be.  You see, I’ve been theising hardcore.  I’ve also been working on a professional website, job applications, teaching, and drinking copious amounts of coffee…Well, copious for me anyway.

 

Back to the theising…  As it stands right now, the written paper will probably revolve around my failure/success research as well as my interest in the way that photography mediates and fails as a tool for documentation.  I’ve been reading a really great book about Performance art and archive, Perform, Repeat, Record:  Live Art in History which has helped me to clarify my thoughts as they relate to performance and photography, as well as introduced me to the idea of a viral ontology of performance art.  The essay this idea comes from (The Viral Ontology of Performance), was written by Christopher Bedford.  He contends that a performance cannot be limited to it’s “originary” event.  Rather, he says it “[S]plinters, mutates, and multiplies over time in the hands of various critical constituencies in a variety of media, to yield a body of critical work that extends the primary act of the performance into the indefinite future of reproduction.”  I’m really drawn to this idea for two main reasons.  The first is that it implies that any document made during the originating performance, cannot and should not define the work.  As I feel that photographs fail to capture the performance fully anyway, this makes perfect sense to me.  Secondly, the idea of a viral ontology extends the ephemeral nature of the performance.  The performance happened within a certain time and space, which cannot be recreated or made concrete outside of documentation.  Since these documents are all that exist, and not the  thing itself (unlike say a painting), they move forward in time, being constantly re-contextualized, re-interpreted, but never concrete.  I’m not sure that makes sense…. It does to me though.  In any event, I’m excited about that.

 

The work itself is 99% likely to be performance and installation based.  I’m playing around with some ideas involving playing telephone (almost literally…) and mediating the viewer’s experience of the performance in order to address both the ideas of failure and the primacy of my viewer’s experience in the context of my work.  I was considering doing something with handing out fake awards to my fellow MFAs that constantly moved around all night….  Buuuuut maybe not.  In any case… This shit is real.  It’s happening.  In like less 6 months.  Crap.  I’ve now given myself an anxiety attack.

 

That Whiteboard thing I mentioned earlier?  Yeah… Not joking, it is my scientific process.  This is what’s been happing in the studio lately:

 

There is just something about writing that helps me focus.  It is so way better than sketching.  😉  Hopefully I’ll be back on track with the blog posting now, but I make no promises!  Have a peachy keen evening… I’m off to eat some dinner and check out a visiting artist lecture here at FSU.

SO MANY THINGS!!!!

I have studiously been working on a post about my on going shoe piece, applying to shows, reading/researching, teaching kids about art, and cooking, but while doing all of that, SO MANY THINGS HAVE HAPPENED THAT I JUST FREAKING CAN’T KEEP UP!

ALL THE THINGS

The next blog post I was going to write (once I finally posted the one about the shoes) was going to be about performance art and popular culture smashing into one another and making weird offspring. I was thinking about this specific topic because, A) I make performance art, B) I’m not entirely sure people understand what performance art is, and C) my Sister the Psychologist posted this about Amanda Bynes potentially being the greatest performance artist ever. That all got me thinking about Lady Gaga (never thought I’d be talking about her on my blog…), and the interpretations of her as a performance artist that were rife about 2 years ago, and then about the more recent Tilda Swinton and James Franco performance art… But before I had even had a chance to sit down and sift through my thoughts on this matter, much less properly research it (ie not just Google “Lady Gaga Performance Art” or “Tilda Swinton Sleeping” or “James Franco Performance Artist”, and copy and past the most recent link I could find… Like I might have just done….), I get an email from Hyperallergic telling me THIS HAPPENED.

If you’re like me, and didn’t have the damn Vine app (but unlike me refuse to download it, even for this epic something) here are some images of JAY-Z RAPPING AT MARINA ABRAMOVIC AT PACE GALLERY IN NYC. (I whole heartedly admit that these are not mine, I found them doing a Google image search. The first is from blouinartinfo.com, and the second from vogue.com):

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jayz-picasso-baby-behind-the-scenes-03_124820387319.jpg_article_gallery_slideshow_v2

Yeah, in case you missed that:

Jay-Z-Marina-Abramovic-Dance-Feature

That one’s from hipinion.com…

I haven’t even had time to process this. I feel like I need an adult or something. I’m not even sure what to say… I can’t keep up with all this arting! Hennessy Youngman help me out here! Give me sometime to think about this and do some reading and I will totally get back to you on this topic. Until then just… Um, I guess make some performance art?!

Oh! And this happened too:

Dry spell officially watered!
Dry spell officially watered!

More soon!

Whoops.

Hi.  I’m going to tell you a secret… I’ve totally been putting off (AKA avoiding) writing a post.  Which is why it’s been two months.  TWO MONTHS!  Whoops.

Whoops
Whoops.

By the time the semester was over (two weeks after my last post), I was completely brain dead, between thesis writing, grading my student’s work, final projects, etc.  As such I never got a chance to write a post before my final reviews (which went pretty well, just in case you were curious), and then the joyous month of May came.  This is actually probably a pretty good thing, because knowing me, I would have posted excerpts from my ridiculous thesis draft… *Shudder*   Anyway, May is my favorite because there is literally NOTHING that I HAVE to do.  There are always things I want to do, and probably should do, but no pressing deadlines, no anxiety inducing readings to complete, no meetings… So I kinda took a vacation… for the whole month of May.  Whoops.   I went camping with friends, spent entire days on the beach drinking, went hiking, cooked and baked up a storm, sat in my backyard reading…  It was pretty swell.

 

Sunset on St. Joesph's Peninsula. I saw dolphins here for Pete's sake!
Sunset on St. Joesph’s Peninsula. I saw dolphins here for Pete’s sake!
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I mean seriously… Who’s going to do important, grown-up things while there is this?!

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And who wants to be in the studio when they can be exploring this!?
And who wants to be in the studio when they can be exploring this!?
Different day, different beach... This is why I <3 Florida.
Different day, different beach… This is why I ❤ Florida.

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Some how this is the only cooking I photographed...
Some how this is the only cooking I photographed…

 

But here’s the thing… I was in the studio a few hours (like max 4… Shhhh, don’t tell my faculty!)  for most days, putzing around, but not actually doing much.  I was also doing some seriously voracious reading.  In fact in the month of May I read more books than I have in a long time, and they weren’t all for fun.  Bet you can’t guess which ones were for fun and which were for research!

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/The Chamber of Secrets 

Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography 

Photography Changes Everything

The Antidote:  Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

After Photography

Photography: History and Theory

The Unphotographable

The Great Gatsby

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Photograph 

 

 

Aaaaand, on those camping trips, hiking expeditions, and beach days… I spent a lot of time filming somethings which one day I will post up here, as well as talking and thinking about my work/practice.  But I kept avoiding writing a new post, because a) it had already been a long time, and b) that meant it was time to put my thoughts into words and to admit somethings.  Also I’ve been having serious guilt/anxiety attacks about NOT being in the studio.  And if I’m not in the studio, how could I justify spending time writing a blog post?  But you know what?  Not being in the studio has been the best thing ever for me lately.  My month long vacation has allowed my brain to reset and I feel like I’m in a really good place.  I’ve got tons of stuff I want to research, and a few ideas for work that I’m pretty excited about.  

In any event, I’ve got somethings on tap for the rest of the summer, even though I haven’t started most of the things on my to do list, like start the job application/hunt process.  *sigh*  I should probably talk to one of my committee members about that soon.  New posts soon with actual thoughts and art in them.  Even though I’m back working at Lafayette full time this summer (which is awesome but exhausting), the next six weeks should be pretty productive.  The husband got a residency for six weeks at the Contemporary Artists Center at Woodside in upstate New York, and he’s leaving Wednesday.  And everyone else that I hang out with is either going on vacation or moving away :(…. Sooooo, I’m on my own, which is a great excuse to lock myself into work mode and ignore the wider world.  Love it!

Now, I need to go photograph those shoes of mine… Yes that’s still a thing.  We’re on week 19.  And I hate it.

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Photographs Not Taken

The cover of the book... Obviously not an image of my own...
The cover of the book… Obviously not an image of my own…

 

 

I just recently finished reading a short book of essays on photography called Photographs Not Taken, edited by Will Steacy.  The essays in this book are written by numerous photographers, including Mary Ellen Mark, Zweelethu Mththwa, Todd Hido, Alec Soth, Elinor Carucci, Laurel Nakadate, and many, many more (there are 60 some essays). In each essay, a photographer addresses the idea of a photograph, that somewhere in their past they didn’t take for some reason, or they wish they would have been able to make, and their feelings about what Lyle Rexer refers to in the introduction as “pictures without photographs”.  This is a book that’s been on my reading list for awhile, but I finally broke down and downloaded it to my Kindle last week because I started thinking about how photography, and more specifically film, is a failure, and what implications my avoidance of it has had on my work.

 

As a teenager, I always carried a camera with me, and photographed everything (and I do mean everything) around me.  However, at some unknown point, this started tapering off, until it completely stopped.  And then I stopped taking photographs all together.  Photography, for me, became frustrating and disappointing, because what I caught on film never seemed to reflect the essence of what I saw through my lens, so I simply stopped trying.  I never really considered the idea that I was missing photographs, that these unmade images might haunt me, or even that photographs could be disappointments (as opposed to me just failing), but this book has made me reconsider my abandonment of image making.  Additionally, many things that the photographers write about in their essays also echo some of the things I’d been thinking about after reading Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others.  This collection covers a number of themes, too many to discuss in great depth here, but below I’ve shared a few that stuck with me.

 

The introductory essay, The Art of Missing Information, tries to locate this idea of the untaken image in the realm of contemporary art, placing it among a “history of voids, negations, refusals, anti-art strategies, and marketing sleights of hand”.  I am not certain that this is where these essays belong.  After reading the entire book, it seems to me that these essays are more about a moment of privacy, a moral choice, a decision to remain in the moment and not exclude yourself, or simply an emotional moment which cannot be captured by the lens, nor contained by a photograph.  Instead, I might place these “pictures without photographs” in the realm of story telling.  The images written about cannot be seen or visually experienced, unless you are the one to experience them.  Instead they act as short stories, allowing the listener or reader to compose the scene in their own mind, but without have had the immediate experience, resulting in a purely aesthetic recreation.  Later in the introduction however, Rexer goes on to state that the experience of having missed a photograph, for whatever reason provides an impetus for the image maker to continue in their work:  “That gnawing lack is precisely what drives photographers to seek more pictures and regret lost opportunities– and poets to write more poems.”  I think that this is true.  To capture what you see, what you feel, or what you are experiencing, and to find yourself with an image that truly reflects that is powerful, and ultimately the goal for photographers.  If you disappoint yourself at that goal, then you must continue to attempt to prove yourself in the future.  So this collection of essays could also be viewed as a meditation on what it means to be a photographer and the implications of creating images; the choices, the sacrifices, and the experiences that create, or prevent images.

 

I think that photographers exist in a difficult place sometimes.  On the one hand, they love to make images and do so for a career, but on the other, they are often expected to become image makers and record keepers for life in general.  Sometimes this is accepted, but sometimes this becomes a problem for the photographer.  Do you choose to experience things through your camera, or do you desire to remain fully present and active in the moment?  Many photographers who have written essays for this book talk about this choice, to photograph, or not to photograph, in the context of their personal life.  In Elinor Carruci’s essay, she sums the feeling up, saying: “Every moment I had to choose between photographing and mothering, and when I did choose photography, every photograph became a second of guilt, a second I neglected them [her twins Eden and Emmanuelle], a second I thought about light, composition, exposure and not about them.”  She beautifully describes the lost images as being “stored in my eyes” but as making her the photographer she is, which is ‘torn’.”  Other photographers, like Jim Goldberg, admit to using their cameras to mediate a overwhelming moment:  “Immediately when that long-ass needle went into her spine is when I reached for a camera to shield myself from fear”, realizing only after the fact that their choice to not photograph at that moment could keep them from missing something incredible. The decision to photograph or not is also present in less private situations.  In his essay, Joshua Lutz discusses his inability to create images on the morning of 9/11, finally concluding: “It’s not that I don’t want to have a photograph of the moment; its more that I would rather be living in the moment than worrying about capturing it.”  Photographer Simon Roberts struggled not so much with wanting to be present, but the idea that a moment should not be dissected through the lens, rather lived, concluding his essay about his missed photograph (One of an AIDS victim, a young girl raped by her uncle, at a clinic in Zimbabwe)by writing:  “No image, however accomplished, could have captured the agonizing poignancy of that moment.  It was a moment to be lived, not framed, analyzed, or reduced in anyway.”  Each in its own way, these essays get to the heart of the fact, once you raise the camera to your eye, you cease to be a part of the moment, you are experiencing it through the lens.  You make yourself an outsider of sorts and cease to live in the moment.  In a way, this is relatable to the current debate over Instagram, where it becomes a question of experiencing and being fully present, versus photographing.  As Nadav Kander states in his essay “…sometimes you just get an instinct when to put the camera down and be fully present.”  Personally speaking, I think this is what I find most difficult about photography, you can never fully experience the moment you so intensely want to capture and share. For me, there is so much to be had in the experience surrounding the image, and that is lost to the photographer because they are much more focused on the composition, exposure, lighting, etc…  This is where I get frustrated.  I want to share the experience and allow my viewer to feel something, but I don’t believe that an image does this.

 

The other theme prevalent throughout Photographs Not Taken, which ties so well into much of what Susan Sontag gets at in Regarding the Pain of Others, is the moral choice photographers often have to make regarding image capture.  Particularly when it comes to the genre of documentary photography, photographers are faced with witnessing many things that they may or may not feel they have the right or even stomach to capture.  In her essay, Misty Keasler tells the story of her experience living in Transylvania and visiting a ghetto of gypsy families.  In general, she says that conditions were bad, dark, crammed, no running water… But then one of the men came out of a room:  “He started yelling at me to take pictures, that he would show me how terrible life was for the people living in the building, how sad and tough things were for them…He proceeded to lift both girls [his daughters] by their shirts and slam them into the concrete wall in front of us.”  Despite the man’s behavior, her horror and anger at the situation, and the potential good she could have done, Keasler chooses not to make the images, saying that she would never be able to reconcile the fact that she had documented violence, and that it was violence which had been created specifically for her.  How can one justify the creation of such an image, much less sharing that image with others, which in some ways makes the behavior therein acceptable, no matter how much we denounce it.  Another example of this awareness of responsibility is present in Peter Van Agtmael’s essay about his first trip to Iraq in 2006.  He tells the story of being on patrol and witnessing an army chaplain peeing on the grave of an Iraqi child, and only being able to gawk in that moment.  He is unsure of why he couldn’t photograph the scene, only later recognizing that his failure to make the image lay in his feelings about the American presence in Iraq:  “..a stark realization of the odious nature of the American enterprise…and the insight that even its spiritual leadership was not immune to its dehumanizing effects.”  As we talked about with Sontag’s book, sometimes certain things should not be shared, nor do we have the right to unload them onto others.  We should always be aware of the power of the images we capture (or choose not to capture), and understand how they could affect others.

 

As photographers, one of the most fundamental decisions we make–perhaps the most fundamental decisions we make– is when to actually ‘take’ what is before us and transform in into a photograph.  By engaging in this calculated act of apprehension, we bestow certain moments, whether they are decisive or not, with value, importance, permanence, relevance, meaning, and a rather cryptic sense of significance.  Ostensibly, one could conclude that this implies that all of the other moments, which are allowed to pas by untouched, have ben judged as not particularly important or sigificant, or at least not important or significant enought.  Yet, as in the case of the instances listed above (and many more), sometimes we find ourseives faced with the opposite:  a moment that is ‘too’ something– too dangerous, too intimate, too immediate, too complex, too intense, too terrifying, too fleeting, too painful, too private, too invasive, too emarrassing, too exciting, too schmaltzy, too cliched, too ecstatic, too imagined, or simply too impossible– to ‘take’.

—Aaron Schuman

Take a Look…It’s in a Book!

I’m feeling a bit…disheartened recently.

I’m in flux, which is a place I hate to be.  I’m frustrated because I see things I like in my work, but I don’t like the way in which they are appearing, and I haven’t the slightest idea how to make it “right.”  It’s also not helping that the MFA studios are moving to a new facility and so I won’t have access to my things or my studio until January, and that I’ve been focused on planning Working Method’s trip/exhibition at Fountain Art Fair… I feel so discombobulated, disoriented, and distracted!  It took me two weeks to write this post…

To sum up though…Basically, I don’t know the next step I need to take…

So, as always, when in doubt, I’m reading books and looking at art. (Art Basel Miami is this week!)  Remember that list of books I posted awhile back?  The one I said I wanted to have read by reviews over two weeks go?  That’s OK if you don’t, because I almost forgot about them too!  Yeah.  I only got through half of those books.  F in the research category for me. But those are what I’m reading now, so that counts for something right?  The two I’ve found most interesting thus far areComplete and Utter Failure by Neil Steinburg and The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar.  (Here’s a link to a TED Talk that pretty well summarizes a good portion of the book…Watch it, it’s really good!)  They both bring up some really compelling issues that seem to dovetail quite well with the direction I’m headed.  They also re-contextualize the concept of failure, pointing out that what we view as failure may not actually be failure depending on the circumstances.

In Complete and Utter Failure, Steinburg proposes that most of what we consider failure is self-assigned and therefore an interpretation open to debate.  He goes on to say that failure is mostly a function of time, framework, and perspective.  This is something I think is very valid, particularly in relation to looking at the quiet, personal failures in which I am most interested.  These perceived failures (say ceasing your climb up the 50 foot rock wall half way, even though you set out to climb to the top) do not carry the consequences of true failures (your harness snapping halfway up the rock wall).  And yet those perceived failures are perhaps more emotionally devastating, carrying added weight in our perceptions.

Something else out of Steinburg’s rather entertaining book that stuck with me, is a discussion of failure to match your past performance in your most recent endeavor.  He framed this conversation around a mathematical principal known as regression to the mean.  Basically, as I understand this, if there is an average level of performance, then a person who exceeds that average is more likely to perform closer to the average in their next attempt in order to help preserve that average.  The example Steinburg uses is Michael Jackson and his phenomenal success with Thriller, and then his subsequent (still successful) records that did not sell as well as Thriller.  I would really like to use this concept in a performance somehow.  I think its very relevant, especially seeing as our culture seems to be laboring under the impression that each outstanding achievement must be succeeded by yet a greater one, and so on, ad infinitum.  I feel like I’m on the verge of making an artistic break through with this idea…. But who knows.

Now, in Iyengar’s book, she talks about the psychological idea cognitive dissonance, which essentially means having thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes which are inconsistent with your own actions.  She writes:

“For most of us, though, it’s not so easy to reconcile the multitudes with in us.  In particular, problems arise when we experience contradictions between different aspects of our selves, or between our beliefs and our actions… Admitting either alternative will threaten some of he most central elements of her sense of identity as a reasonable and authentic person…. [I]t can lead to anxiety, guilt, and embarrassment.”

Again, I feel like there is something there to be used in my work.  When we strive for our extreme expectations and fall short, the emotional disturbance felt is that of cognitive dissonance.  It then becomes a matter of how we justify this disconnect to ourselves… What story we use to explain away the difference.

So close to something, so far from something.  I’m finally going to post this now…

Grad School 1, Courtney 1/2

Well, it’s that time again.  Re.Views.  Friday morning.  10:30

Despite my stress level the last few weeks, I’ve been kicking grad school’s ass, and I’m totally ready for this.  For serious.  I’m on a roll.  I’m focused, I’m getting things done, I’m constantly having ideas, making connections, researching.  I’ve also been working my butt off for the gallery, submitting work to shows, and just generally feeling pretty good about stuff.  So I’m not so worried about how my reviews will go.  I finished everything I wanted to finish for them, plus a little, and I know that I worked as hard as I could.  All I want to do before Friday is relax a little and get my thoughts together so I have good questions for my committee and good answers about my work for reviews.

These are the first, official reviews for the year, the ones that actually go into the binder of doom with my name on it, that resides in the department head’s office.  Ok, so it’s not so dramatic as that… But there really is a binder with each grad’s name on it, into which all of our review pages go.  And they do live in the head of the department’s office.  According to those pages the score lies as thus:  Grad School: 1, Courtney:  1/2.  Yeah… I didn’t do so well in most of my reviews last year, and I think I’ve covered what a hot mess I was…  I pretty much kicked it in the last review, but there were 3 others that I sucked it hard.  After Friday, I fully intend for that score board to read Grad School:  1, Courtney:  2 (at least)!  This is the face I will give to my committee:

This is my “Bitch, please” look. I will not be intimidated dammit!

Also, I had a deja vu moment today.  That’s always a good sign!

Expectations, Monica Cook, Serendipity, & James Elkins…

Sorry I’ve been MIA for so long now…  I’m not joking when I say I barely had time to sleep the last few weeks.

So where did I leave off?  Ah yes.  The performance I am temporarily titling “…expectations lie…”.  You can view a 10 minute video clip of the performance here. The over all performance was about 45 minutes, and I’ve edited the video to reflect that time lapse a little bit. I’m not totally happy with the documentation, but that’s OK.  I plan on recreating this as a video piece in it’s own right.

Anyway, as I discussed before it was my intent for this piece to center around the idea of expectations versus reality and some what self destructive behaviors.  Now that I think back about it, the reason the 500 Days of Summer sequence was sticking in my mind was because it was an example of an internal or mental set up of expectations. Many of my pieces thus far have focused on external physical actions, that didn’t necessarily portray the psychological aspect of what I was attempting to address.  And subconsciously I must  have realized this because as I brainstormed, I began trying to find ways to impede or damage myself mentally.  Well, I came up with the idea to attempt to recite something, flawlessly of course, and for each mistake that I made, I would be forced to take a shot (of vodka).  For me, it was the perfect representation of frustration in action.  Trying to do something, over and over again, but failing each time, and chastising yourself each time, makes it harder and harder to live up to you own expectations.  So I ran with it…even though it seemed like a really bad idea for my liver.  But then again, I didn’t really expect to drink as much as I wound up drinking…

 
I won’t bore you with the exact details, but it took me almost a week to come up with something appropriate for the recitation…I finally settled on an excerpt from a book entitled Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

It’s the tiny bit at the bottom of page 34 through to the second full paragraph on page 35.  To be completely honest, I’m still not 100% happy with what I chose, as it’s a bit too theoretical and screams “Art!”  I am still looking for something more subtle and applicable to all types of expectations, not just the ones that relate to art making.  But it served it’s purpose well.

I also developed this idea about having an on going internal monologue calling out my mistakes and generally telling me how worthless I am.  It worked pretty well… You can see/hear the results for yourself on the video.  Here’s a few stills if your too lazy to watch or you’re like me and your internet is too slow.

Over all, I’m really pleased with the way the performance turned out.  My anxiety level was pretty high as I planned this, and it reached extreme levels as I started the performance (You can totally tell at the beginning of the video…It’s pretty funny actually).

The fantastic thing for me however, was that a few days before the performance occurred, and I was lucky enough to have a studio visit with an amazing artist named Monica Cook.  In much of her work she has this play between chaos and control going on, so I was looking forward to talking with her about that.  My visit with her was completely beyond my wildest dreams!  She was really supportive of the ideas I was using, and liked the performance I had planned.  Her encouragement really helped me get over some of that anxiety and just do the darn thing.  It was fan-tastic.  I wish I would have remembered to record it… I totally forgot to turn on the audio record app thingy on my phone.  😦

I also had this really great conversation with her about serendipity and deja vu.  Just the day prior, all my notebooks that I keep my research, brainstorming, and notes for teaching in got soaking wet somehow and the pens I use are most decidedly not water safe…

I really kind of freaked out.  To say that I was distraught would be an understatement, and I had actually gotten so upset I threw away my notebooks.  I didn’t even know what to do.  But then as the night progressed and I thought about it, there was something to these notebooks.  Even Eric thought I should do something with them.  So I went the next morning and rescued the notebooks from the trash can in the photo lab.  I showed them to Monica during my studio visit and she agreed that I needed to use them to create.  We discussed how water keeps popping up in my work, and this so called destruction was actually serendipity pointing me on my way.  We both look at serendipity and deja vu the same way… that it means you are on the right track and things are good.  Its funny to me though, that water is somehow finding it’s way into my work.  It may sound odd, but I’ve always felt a very definite connection to water, even as a child.  I loved hearing it rain, and being on beaches, things like that.  To go all astrological on you, I’m sure it’s somehow related to the fact that I am a Sagittarius, which is a fire sign.

In any event, I’ve been playing around with these pages for a few weeks now.  But I’m still not sure what they will become.  I’ve shot some photos, and I’m also working on a related video.  Both are still in an awkward, undefined stage, but I’ll share the photos, as the video is completely incoherent right now.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with these, as just photographing these objects seems too easy… I also think I just like the original object more.  But that might be my own biases.

I’ll talk more about this later maybe, but the other happening that kept me from writing, was that James Elkins came as a visiting scholar to FSU.  I was on the planning committee for that and so spent a day driving him around, which was pretty cool.  I also got a studio visit with him, which again was a great experience.  I DID remember to record that one.  🙂

One of the things Elkins said to me about my work was that I needed to find more of a grey area…  Where the topics of success and failure are not so clearly defined.  I think this is really great feedback, but I’m not sure how to do this.  He also got me thinking about how I define perfection, or the opposite of failure.  Elkins pointed out that to understand the failure, I should try to understand what perfection is.  I don’t have an answer for that right now, but it’s something that is rolling around in my head currently.

So… Busy times here in the studio.  Lots of studio visits, lots of thinking, and lots of experimenting with stuff…  Right now, I’m waiting for my committee to come in and do reviews once again.  Although, apparently only one of my committee members is going to be present. And I even showered, put on nice clothes AND make-up.  Yeesh.  Its OK, I get to do it again in a month.  Wish me luck!

Art & Fear belongs to the aforementioned authors.  All of the photos in this post are mine, but the images from my performance were taken by Samantha Burns.

This Will Have to Tide You All Over for Now…

Hey imaginary followers!

I’ve been meaning to sit down and write a post, but many things have taken place in the last few weeks that have gotten in my way.  Like WordPress crashing and my half written blog post disappearing into the digital ether…  But the bottom line is that I still don’t have a blog post ready for you, and unfortunately I don’t have the time to write a good one…  So in the mean time I present to you a pictoral version of my last two weeks.  Feel free to write your own captions or stories to go along.  It might be funnier/more interesting this way!

monica cook

Ellen Mueller

I swear I’ll get a real post out about what’s going on in the studio pictures as well as my most recent performance… It just won’t happen til the beginning of next week.  There is SO much going on right now!

Most of the images are mine, or are borrowed from the web.  Paintings from Monica Cook, performance stills from Ellen Mueller (except the ones of me…those are mine, fair and square).  Books from respective authors/publishing companies.  Fountain logo property of Fountain Art Fair, Working Method Contemporary logo property of Working Method Contemporary Gallery.  Did I miss anything?  I hope not.  If I did I’m sorry, and IT DOES NOT BELONG TO ME, IT BELONGS TO YOU.