#humanity

I initially wrote this yesterday (July 6th), with the intent of posting it after I got home from work, but life got in the way and I figured it could wait until this morning.  Then I woke up to the news that another man had been shot, and it literally changes nothing about what I wrote.  Sickly it applies whether I am reacting to Tuesday’s violence, or to the violence that took place yesterday night.  What the actual fuck…

To all my friends who must deal with the very real possibility of police violence or systemic oppression, for whatever reason, I stand in awe of your strength and resilience, and appreciate everything you’ve ever taught or shared with me. I’m just a white girl from the suburbs who wants to help make the world a better place, so keep it coming. ❤


I’m sitting in the office of my relatively cushy job at a private college.  A liberal arts college.  I work with art and photography students.  The most stressful part of my job is dealing with entitled, whiney students, or the occasional high maintenance faculty member.  I have a high school diploma and two college degrees. Both in the visual arts.  I grew up in Ohio, in a middle class family with both of my parents present.  We had a split level ranch house, multiple cars, and a dog.  I had my own bike, and for at least junior high and high school, my own room.  I got to participate in extra-curricular activities, my dad took us to the library, we occasionally went on vacations.

I currently live in a predominately black and latinx neighborhood in Chicago (one of America’s most segregated cities, by the way).  I chose to live in this neighborhood.  I love living there.  But then again,  I do not have to fear walking past a police cruiser while wearing a hoodie, or seeing police walking toward me on my street as I head home from the train at night.  Because it is far more likely that they will smile and say hello to me, than immediately assume me to be any kind of problem or threat.  In fact, the sad truth is that if I were to initiate a violent altercation with a black individual in my neighborhood, and the police were to arrive, it’s odds on that the police would jump in and attempt to protect me, over my victim.  Because I am white.

The color of my skin has never been a danger or barrier to me in my entire life…

I am a cis-gendered woman in a committed relationship with a lovely gentleman, also from a middle-class, white, suburban background.  I have never had to struggle with my identity in that respect.  Nor have I ever had to face ignorance or intolerance from those around me because I didn’t fit into the traditional gender binary or because I love someone whose sex is the same as my own.  I will never be questioned about my ability to parent my impending child simply because it would have two mothers or two fathers, as opposed to the “normal” conception, one of each.  I will never have to fight to even have the right to conceive or adopt a child…

My life, while occasionally “a struggle” or “difficult”, has been no harder than the average person’s.  I might even argue it’s been easier.  I say all of this not to brag, but to acknowledge the advantages and privilege in which my life functions.  Simply through luck of the draw I have found myself a beneficiary of all things white, suburban, middle class, and hetero.   Oh, and we might as well throw western in there too.  Because my family certainly didn’t originate from anywhere but Europe, and has been in the states for several generations now.  Except the Irish part… They didn’t like it here and went back to Ireland.  I didn’t choose to be these things, but they are part of my identity.  I do not allow all of those facts to blind me however.  I try very hard to look at the world critically, to learn and open myself up to that which I am not.  I want to experience and appreciate the diversity that exists in this world.

So, I’m sitting here in my office, reading the news of the day.  Another black man has been shot by two police officers.  Once again, it has happened under some very violent and questionable circumstances.  Yet another ignorant/hateful/racist/unnecessarily violent act has been perpetrated upon a fellow citizen.  And I want to weep.  My inner 3 year old wants to stomp her foot and scream about how unfair this all is.  She just wants people to see one another as people and go play in the sand box.  She doesn’t understand why everyone can’t be nice to one another.  My actual 32 year old self feels shattered into a million pieces as I think about all of my friends of color and all of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community, because I know that in the here and now, they will never be able to feel safe.  They will always fear for themselves and their loved ones, because someone may decide to hurt them based on a stupid, superficial reason, like the color of their skin, or who they just kissed, or perhaps even the god in which they believe.  And more than likely the perpetrator will get away with it.  I want to offer words of comfort and support, not only my friends, but the world at large.  But I feel so incapable, and so, so unqualified to do so.  Mind you, my feelings on this are nothing compared to theirs.  Absolutely nothing.

I feel so much rage and disbelief, and I want to force people to see things the way I do.  To forcefully rip out their ignorant and hurtful opinions and behaviors, to replace them with kindness and acceptance.  How is it that these things are still happening?!  How have we not learned our lessons yet?  More over, I cannot wrap my mind around the idea that there are still people out there defending the actions of the police, while demonizing any person of color that is shot by the police.  That they will dig up,  produce, or misinterpret statistics in order to demonstrate how many more whites suffer from violent deaths at the hands of people of color or the police, or how its actually more common for black men to get shot because its more common for them to perform a crime.  That there are still people who straight up believe that anyone who isn’t white is less.  I cannot comprehend that there are people out there barging into women’s restrooms and attacking women (based entirely upon they way they are dressed, or manner in which their hair is styled), assuming they are transgendered and using the “wrong” restroom, then claiming they are protecting children and other women in said bathrooms from attack.  That these people refuse to acknowledge the fact that it is far more likely for transgendered individuals to be attacked while going to the bathroom than for them to be the attacker.  It’s disgusting to me that these people shout white pride or want a straight pride month.  I hate that it’s those people who co-opt the #blacklivesmatter, #queerlivesmatter, or #muslimlivesmatter hashtags and try to say #alllivesmatter.  (Let’s just leave aside the often empty gestures of social media activism because I just don’t have the emotional energy right now to enter into that conversation.)

Yes.  All lives do matter, and I wish the hashtag could just be #humanity.  But.  But the reason we need those specific movements, and to say those specific words, the reason we need to point out that they matter is because all lives DO NOT yet matter.  In actual, active practice, these lives mean so much less to white America.  The fact of it is that POCs, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and really ANY minority in this country, are still discriminated against on a regular basis.  They still have to hear politicians talk about how they’re  “thugs” or “rapists,” or that they’re “stealing our jobs.”  They’re accused of being terrorists just because they have a vaguely Islamic sounding name or look to them. They have laws being foisted upon them forcing them to use the inappropriate bathroom, or telling them who they may or may not marry. These lives cannot walk out on the street, or see a police officer without looking back over their shoulder, paranoid that they may be attacked or “restrained” for no damn good reason.

Do I know exactly what happened in any of the situations that have been plastered across the headlines in the last several years?  Was I there?  Can I speak from experience?  No, no, and no.  But that shouldn’t matter.  As a human being, all I know, and all I see, is that people are being hurt, people are dying, people are terrified, horrified, saddened…  And while none of this directly impacts me in my day to day life, and I have the luxury of choosing to step away or ignore it, I cannot, because it MUST stop.  All of this violence, all of this hate, it may not be directed at me, but I feel it with every headline, and I witness the pain it brings others.  To the best of my abilities, I empathize with these communities and seek to effect change so that it may stop, so that my fellow humans can stop hurting, stop fearing.  That is my job as a fellow human, is it not?  It should make us all want to effect change.  It should make us question what we understand to be “normal” and “right.”  It should make us challenge the status quo of police behavior or religious practices… of our own set of beliefs.  It should make us more cognizant of the micro- aggressions that we ourselves perpetuate, or witness happening around us.  If we truly want all lives to matter, then seeing this hurt, despair, and pain, should make us all step up and be advocates for anyone who is systematically discriminated against.  We should, actively, in practice, make all lives matter, not passively stand by and shake our heads at how sad these events are, then change our Facebook profile pics to show our “solidarity” for, or send our prayers to, victims of this oppression.  Instead of hashtags and empty gestures, we need to exemplify our humanity and supposed belief in equality through our daily actions and words.

I don’t know that I have any profound suggestions for helping these changes occur.  Like I said before I feel very unqualified and unequipped to even offer comfort and support, however I feel that I cannot just stand on the sidelines and hope that things will eventually improve.  I can listen and hear what the individuals in these communities have to say about their own circumstances and experiences.  They are, after all the experts on their lives and deserve to be heard and respected, not talked over or dismissed.  I can offer my assistance within these communities, in a manner that they deem fit and appropriate.  I am not there to be a savior, but to be an ally, advocate, accomplice, and friend.  I should be there assisting them to fulfill their needs, not my own.  I can stand up to those in my daily sphere who are perpetuating racist/homophobic/intolerant/ignorant/privileged behaviors and mindsets.  Respectfully, I can challenge and ask them to reconsider their actions.  Am I an expert on all things race/sex/gender/religion/etc related?  Fuck no, but at least I can say “Hey, don’t use that racial slur!” or “No, I’m sorry that statement you just made is factually inaccurate, please do not continue to repeat it.” or, “You know, what you just said to me was incredibly sexist because…” or even “If you are going to say offensive, ignorant, or insulting things around me, then I would prefer not to interact with you anymore.”   I can challenge my own daily assumptions and unconscious biases or accept challenges, with out hostility, from others that force me out of my comfort zone and beg me to question those biases or assumptions.

I don’t know if any of these things are enough, or if they carry any weight or meaning… But at very least, they are things that everyone can implement in their daily lives in order to help promote tolerance and empathy.

My partner and I are about to become parents.  It makes me so sick that this hatred, ignorance, and discrimination are things that my child will have no choice but to inherit from the world.  It also makes me sick, that just because my kid is going to be the offspring of two fairly well educated white people, it will experience a certain amount of privilege over, and possibly at the expense of, many many others just as deserving (or far more deserving).  Beyond the 3 year old assessment of “not fair,” that privilege and many people’s resultant behavior, simply isn’t right.  It isn’t just. It isn’t moral.  And while I would gladly give up my privilege, or my kid’s privilege just so that one more marginalized individual wouldn’t have to face systemic discrimination, I know that’s not how it works.  I know that desire is silly and naive.  Instead, one last thing I can hope to do, is to make my kid aware of the privilege they have, instill social awareness, and a desire for justice.

 

 

 

If it’s inaccessible to the poor it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.

 

Bear with me, this is going to be rambling and probably pointless.

I’m not exactly an avid Facebooker.  I tend to use it more as a news conduit and to keep tabs on/in communication with friends and family I don’t get to see on a regular basis.  I find the obnoxious over-sharing and stupid meme trading really annoying and totally overstimulating.  Especially given that people tend to share things with out checking it’s validity or ensuring it comes from a trusted source.  It’s just not my style.  Anyway, this afternoon I happened to see something that a former colleague from grad school had “reacted” to (why I see their reactions, I have no idea), which ironically ties into something my last post was talking about, which I had totally forgotten I’d even written.  The reaction was to an image of a banner that simply read:

“If it’s inaccessible to the poor it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.”

Now, I have no idea where this image originated, or the context in which it was shared and then reacted to on Facebook.  But it hit a nerve for me.  I’ve been thinking about privilege and access a lot lately, it’s difficult not to.  From watching the current presidential race unfold, to seeing the effects of the current economy on those who were not born with a silver spoon in their mouth, to the absurd and disturbing fight over transgender rights and sexuality… The (mainly rich, white) privileged seem to be desperately grasping for any control or supremacy they can maintain, and society as a whole seems to be trying to stand up against it and call that privilege into question.  It also comes up in my personal life as I consider things like paying for childcare, the ability to be a stay-at-home parent, and as it relates to my own artistic practice…

As I mentioned in my previous post, the ability to access and view art comes is made possible by a certain amount of privilege.  Fuck man, just making art can be a bit of a privilege (for which I realize, many artists fight).  And that upsets me.  I believe that artists should work to impact the world around them and to create experiences for their viewers.  For their art to be seen and shared.  Instead, I think that often times we work toward finding a place in a gallery’s stable of artists where our work can be shown, bought, collected, but those who have the money and access to go to galleries/museums/etc.  Why are we making work if it’s not going to be accessible to the entire population?  Why should our work only be available to a privileged few?  Why do we continue to work within and perpetuate this stupid, outdated paradigm?  Is it really the money?  Or perhaps the potential for fame?   Personally, I don’t want to make art that everyone can’t access, I could care less about actually making money off of my art (I have literally only ever sold a single print in my entire career thus far), and I hate attending my own openings because of social anxiety and introversion.  These are sincerely things that I don’t understand, and ask from a place of curiosity, with a desire for discussion on the matter.

I struggle, though, with ways of getting my art “out there” and “building my resume”, so that one day in the semi-near future, when it comes time to go on the job market again, I can show I have been pursuing my practice and I would be a worthwhile addition to a faculty somewhere.  I struggle with the knowledge that the vast majority of my work is not well suited for many galleries, museums, or art centers, and try to compensate by creating small bodies of work that can fit in those confines.  For instance, I’ve spent the last few months working on a series of photographic images that are totally abstract and inoffensive visually.  The only context or content is provided by what I say about them in an artist statement.  Just so that I might get another line on my resume.  And for every two or three applications I send out using that body of work, I send out another two or three of my other, more performative or conceptual work.  Guess which applications are more likely to receive acceptance?  What am I even supposed to do with that?  In my mind, it’s ultimately an empty gesture because I’m making something I don’t fully feel invested in and so exhibiting it is pointless, and that’s on top of the fact I know perfectly well that I’m producing work that will only be available for viewing by those privileged enough to visit said gallery/museum/center.

Then I think about when I do performance or video work out in public, leaving behind the context of the art work or the white cube.  Sure there are individuals out there who will appreciate it as art, smiling as they walk by, or nodding and saying “Right on” when they can relate.  But there are also many people who will be completely turned off by it, because they cannot relate to where I come from, to my privilege as a college educated visual artist, a cog in the wheel of academia, as a white woman from the upper middle class suburbs.  I can pull source material from Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me because I think her writing is beautiful and witty and valuable all I want, but again it becomes an empty gesture if no one understands the reference, is aware of Solnit’s work, or makes the connections I’m trying to facilitate about gender and society.  It’s not everyone who has time to even acknowledge that gender inequality still exists in a major way, let alone contemplate the impact that has on society at large, and their personal lives in particular.

Even my contention that having art online makes it readily available to any one who wishes to view it is still premised on the privileges of having both access to a computer and access to the internet.  Despite the fact that I often felt at times that I was one of the last people in the world to have internet connected in my own home, that is categorically untrue.  And I have had the benefit of having regular access to some sort of computer nearly my entire life.  This is not the case for everyone.

So then where does that leave me?  I can be as radical  or alternative in my practice as I want, but does it mean anything if it’s inaccessible to the majority of the population, the very audience I want for my work?  Is it possible to create those experiences and effect that change I so desire if privilege blocks the audience?

Regardless of the answers to my own personal struggles here, I think its worthwhile to keep this idea of access and privilege in mind.  You can decry the evils of vaccinations and feel like you are challenging the status quo and big pharma and helping to open society’s eyes to the dangers of vaccines all you want.  But that view is not so revolutionary outside of your own context of the privilege to turn down what others would give anything to provide their children with.  You can rage against the machine about GMOs and organic foods and how that’s all we should eat, but you don’t live in a food desert where all you can find are sodas and pre-packaged foods at the corner 7-11.  You can  bitch about Uber surge pricing ’til the cows come home, but you still have a smart phone and ultimately the means to get around while there are others who must beg rides from friends and family or walk, all relying on increasingly nonexistent pay phones, phone calls “borrowed” from who ever is around, or even a pay-as-you-go flip phone…  We just all need to stop for a moment and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes in order to consider the fact that reality exists outside of our own little bubbles.

I don’t know what my point here is or that I’ve actually said anything of substance, but yeah… Privilege and access.

 

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…