G E S T U R E S O F L O V E ,
O R L’ I N S U R R E C T I O N
Q U I V I E N T ?
H O U H A N R U
Over the past several decades contemporary art has
become a genuinely global affair. The borders of the
art world have expanded, and the myriad forms of
expression comprising contemporary artistic practice
have been widely embraced around the globe, moving
far beyond established international art capitals such
as Paris, London, and New York. In fact, it could
be argued that much of today’s most energetic
and innovative artwork is being made outside the
traditional art circuit. With the rapid creation of new
markets in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, and with
the equally rapid establishment of contemporary art
organizations, festivals, and biennials in regions that
were once considered “peripheral,” the validity of
the timeworn divide between center and periphery
has become increasingly difficult to quantify. The
most spectacular face of the new globalization can be
found in the recent boom in museum construction
throughout the non-Western world, especially in Asia,
home of the new economic superpowers. In effect, a
kind of unquestioned, or unquestionable, consensus
about the virtue of this “museum fever” has emerged.
In developing regions that wish to demonstrate their
openness toward social progress, innovation, and the
creation of a brighter future, the establishment of
contemporary art museums is considered a necessity
by the art community, the general public, and political
and economic authorities.
The business sector in particular has come to
value the development of cultural organizations
as both a good investment and an opportunity to
demonstrate a commitment to “social responsibility.”
We see this reflected in the construction of a cluster
of “world-class” museums on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat
Island, including the Zayed National Museum as
well as outposts of the Louvre and the Guggenheim.
Singapore’s new National Art Gallery, at close to
fifteen acres in size, is scheduled to open in 2015, and
Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, which
boasts more than a dozen art and culture facilities,
will soon be home to the world’s largest contemporary
art museum, M+, also projected to open in 2015. An
unprecedented number of museums are currently
in the planning stages or under construction across
China.2 Much of this activity—including Beijing’s
Today Art Museum and Shanghai’s Minsheng Art
Museum, Rockbund Art Museum, and Zendai Museum
of Modern Art, all of which opened in the first decade
of the twenty-first century—is sponsored by Chinese
corporations; like their Japanese and Korean counterparts a decade ago, Chinese business groups have
come to appreciate the political benefits of cultivating
ambitious cultural projects. The Chinese government
likewise recognizes the importance of building “soft
power” through the development of art and culture.
Plans for a national museum of contemporary art are
underway in Beijing, and the Shanghai Contemporary
Art Museum is under construction, with its opening
(National Day, October 1) scheduled to coincide with
that of the 9th Shanghai Biennale in 2012. Located
in the converted power plant that was the site of the
2010 World Expo’s Pavilion of the Future, this new
museum resembles a larger version of London’s Tate
Modern and is part of the local government’s effort
to ensure that all Shanghai residents will soon have
a museum or other cultural venue within a fifteenminute walk from their homes.3
Most of these new museums have more or less
been modeled on existing Western institutions. But
such endeavors do not always translate smoothly to
developing regions, where they can be undermined
by inadequate planning and insufficient long-term
financial support, as well as an absence of expertise
and curatorial vision. Faced with such challenging
circumstances, even the most enthusiastically
conceived projects can be jeopardized by unforeseen
crises (one thinks of the 2008 earthquake in China,
where poor construction practices and shoddy
building materials led to an extremely high death
toll and widespread devastation). In addition, many
of these projects are based on a relationship to the
market system that is drawn from the entertainment
277. Shanghai 2010 World Expo site under construction in January 2010, 108 days before the opening industry (rather than the cultural field) and therefore 208 209
encourages the spectacularization of artistic production. Obviously, this trend has evolved hand in hand
with the logic of neoliberal capitalism—evidenced in
the art market’s domination of both the regional and
global art scenes. Increasingly, artistic and cultural
projects that take a critical and emancipatory approach
and attempt to resist the new oligarchy and its cultural
alliances are emptied of real political substance and
neutralized through the process of commodification.
At the same time, the fervent embrace of iconic
architecture (which often translates into museums
that are oversize and extravagantly grotesque) and the
inflexible replication of the conventions of Western
artistic modernism (such as “white cube” gallery
spaces) have a devastating tendency to undermine the
most inventive and original aspects of local cultural
and creative energy.
The incongruities created by structuring a
contemporary art scene around an armature of
outdated institutional conventions are inevitable
and not limited to the East. Contemporary art is
universally the product of intense negotiations
between a true multitude of expressions, and it
reflects a variety of singular interpretations of local
contexts that are necessarily complex, improvisational,
and open to continuous change. New institutional
models are needed. The search for alternatives
in Asia began more than a decade ago, when art
institutions established in Japan and Korea revealed
flaws in the prevailing system. A great number of
self-organized, artist-run spaces were formed when
the members of nascent contemporary art communities—known for their emphasis on artistic and social
experimentation—found that their activities could
not be accommodated by traditional venues. The
major museums in these areas (if they existed at all)
have, for one reason or another, not been effective
in responding to the vital transformative impulse of
these smaller, more innovative grassroots efforts. As
a result, many artists collectively turned away from
these institutions, founding independent spaces
where they manifest their creative commitment by
developing various strategies of occupation. These
spaces quasi systematically thrive on everyday life;
they have to adapt rapidly and efficiently in the face of
urban expansion and economic growth, processes that
are often rife with the inherent tensions of attempting
to envision a better future and the inevitable social
conflicts that impede the possibility of positive change.
Indeed, it is important to recognize that an almost
tangible desire to be engaged socially and politically is
the raison d’être for many artists in these countries to
act as “contemporary” and “avant-garde” agents.
Many such efforts could be compared to what
Hakim Bey identified as a Temporary Autonomous
Zone (TAZ).4 They take over the urban center and
form “a certain kind of ‘free enclave’ resisting against
the mainstream, state power structure” (here I would
add big corporations, too). Their actions are “an essay
(‘attempt’), a suggestion, almost a poetic fancy” that
encourages “uprising,” or “insurrection,” against state
(and corporate) power; they are situated beyond all
established forms of organization. According to Bey,
“The TAZ is like an uprising which does not engage
directly with the State, a guerrilla operation which
liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and
then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen,
before the State can crush it.” It is invisible, always
shifting, “a microcosm of that ‘anarchist dream’ of a
free culture.” Moreover, the TAZ “is an encampment
of guerrilla ontologists: strike and run away.” It has a
“temporary but actual location in time and a temporary but actual location in space. But clearly it must
also have ‘location’ in the Web … .” In the end, “The
TAZ is somewhere. It lies at the intersection of many
forces, like some pagan power-spot at the junction of
Hou Gestures of Love, or L’insurrection qui vient?
278. Arrow Factory, 38 Jianchang Hutong, Beijing, 2009. Works on view by Ken Lum (interior) and Patty Chang and Rania Ho (rooftop). Courtesy Arrow Factory 279. Yan Lei, Locals Only, 2009. Performance and installation at Arrow Factory, Beijing. Courtesy Arrow Factory210 211
mysterious ley-lines, visible to the adept in seemingly
unrelated bits of terrain, landscape, flows of air, water,
animals.” It can bring about ultimate liberation “on
the condition that we already know ourselves as free
beings.”5 Such zones of resistance open platforms for
experimental, critical, and transgressive expression
in the face of chaotic and increasingly oppressive
social realities. They also bring about new visions of
social organization that deconstruct and even destroy
the established centrality of the institutional system,
proposing new forms of social production based on a
continuous renegotiation of relations between independent actions and institutions, between periphery
and center, between a static boundary and open
space. These spaces encourage a limitless approach to
creation that puts productivity and process at the very
heart of the generation of culture. In other words,
alternative models like TAZ present a fundamental
challenge to the static institutional systems that have
dominated the production and display of art.6 They
compel us to redefine the concept of the contemporary in relation to social engagement, and they
manifest the real singularities of artistic production in
different regions at a time when contemporary art is
proliferating in new cultural centers across the world.7
Above all, alternative structural and cultural
models make it clear that the globalization of contemporary art does not have to mean the distribution of
a single institutional infrastructure or the widespread
adoption of a homogenizing representational system.
Instead, the art world and its networks should
foster experimental processes for imagining and
inventing paradigms that honor and emphasize the
many possible ways of defining and constructing
contemporaneity. The organization of biennials, for
example, offers an ideal means of regularly testing
and examining new approaches to the presentation of
contemporary art. I have advocated such explorations
in my own curatorial practice. As a co-curator of the
4th Gwangju Biennale in 20028 I worked to assemble
representatives from more than twenty artist-run
spaces—including Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta,
Videotage and Para/Site in Hong Kong, Borges
Libreria in Guangzhou, IT Park in Taipei, Plastic
Kinetic Worms in Singapore, and Pool in Seoul—with
the aim of forming transregional and transcontinental
connections that would create a basis for future
long-term collaborations. This initiative was intended
to build an independent network representing the
originality and diversity of contemporary art in Asia,
one that would provide a new infrastructure for truly
experimental activities reflecting the various definitions of art and its social functions in different parts
of the world. It aimed to reveal, rather than flatten,
the differences and multiplicity that lie at the heart of
the global art system. In essence, it was also a gesture
toward claiming a new “glocality” in the face of the
hegemonic model of the “global museum.”9
During the past ten years, the contemporary art scene
has experienced a major structural transformation.
The market is usurping biennial culture to become
the center of focus: art fairs, which emphasize sales
as much as creative expression, are the new gathering
points for the global art community. More and more,
museums and other cultural institutions are finding
themselves at the mercy of market forces, while
artistic production itself increasingly resembles a
commodity industry. In the case of Asia and similar
emerging economic powers on the front lines of this
mutation, it is particularly apparent that the status,
function, and conditions of survival of independent art
organizations are more threatened than ever, yet it is
equally clear that they have never been more necessary as a force of critical resistance.
In this era of market dominance, the privatization
of urban space and the retreat—and even disappearance—of the public sphere is a real threat that
we must face. This is a matter of particular urgency
for the art world. The transformation of the urban
landscape—driven by aggressive gentrification and
ambitious real estate development—is uprooting
the very terrain for art’s social engagement and
contributing to the dismantling and destruction
of grassroots communities that might once have
stemmed the tide of rising market forces. Fostering
solidarity and collaboration between art communities and the wider public is now vital to the survival
of both the art world and urban society as a whole,
and it is imperative that we invent new ideas and
strategies for the preservation and protection of
the public sphere. Independent art organizations
and other grassroots activists have answered the
call by creating projects and events that encourage
interaction between artists and local audiences.
There is fresh momentum to reestablish public spaces
where all citizens can come together and collectively
reimagine society through artistic actions.
In Asia, as elsewhere, such efforts are emerging
within a rapidly changing cultural landscape. Many
historically significant independent organizations
have shut down; others, having survived, seem to have
been transformed into partially or fully commercial
galleries—Guangzhou’s Vitamin Creative Space and
Beijing’s Long March Project and Boers-Li Gallery
(previously named Universal Studios) come to mind.
New organizations have in turn been founded across
a much wider geographic area, especially in regions
once considered “secondary” to the international art
circuit such as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar.
Indeed, since 2005, several remarkable art projects,
including Sàn Art and a little blah blah in Ho Chi
Minh City, SA SA BASSAC in Phnom Penh, and New
Zero Art Space in Yangon, have been formed. Like
their elder “sisters” in Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong
Kong, and Shanghai (China); Tokyo (Japan); Singapore
(Singapore); Seoul (South Korea); Taipei (Taiwan/
China); Bangkok (Thailand) and elsewhere, they
have become important sites of artistic production,
exhibition, and exchange, both in their home cities and
beyond. Notably, education and public outreach are
fundamental to many of these independent organizations (a trend that is also evident among the spaces
included in Six Lines of Flight). For example, in
2005 Korean curator Sunjung Kim founded Samuso
in a traditional residential area in Seoul; the space
has organized lectures, performances, conferences,
and enduring public art programs (such as Platform
Seoul and City Within the City) in which international
artists and others are invited to investigate the city
and produce site-specific projects that reinterpret the
urban environment. The fact that the space and its
programs are so well integrated—from development
to execution—into the local community makes Samuso
a model platform for public engagement with contemporary art, broadly defined.
Civic engagement is also central to Arrow Factory
(pl. 278). Based in Beijing—the new El Dorado of the
art boom, where galleries flock to become profitmaking ventures—this 161-square-foot (15-squaremeter) space heroically rises up against the grain.
Distancing itself from the purpose-built art districts
on the city outskirts, Arrow Factory (which shares
its name with the narrow hutong, or alley, where it
is located) is based in a traditional neighborhood
in the oldest part of the capital. Separated from
the bustle of the street by only a thin plate-glass
window, the space both draws on and merges with
its environment, hosting site-specific installations,
exhibitions, performances, and informal gatherings
that are visible to passersby twenty-four hours a day.
Founded in 2008 by artists Rania Ho, Wang Wei, and
Wei Weng, along with curator Pauline Yao, Arrow
Factory remains committed to establishing ongoing
dialogues with the local community. With minimal
financing (raised both locally and internationally),
the artists produce significant projects that are
economical, flexible, and spontaneous as well as
ephemeral, humorous, and above all critical. By
recontextualizing familiar objects and responding to
the immediate environment, the works presented at
the space mix poetry and provocation, revealing the
creative potential in the everyday.
Hou Gestures of Love, or L’insurrection qui vient?
280. Occupy Wall Street demonstration at One Police Plaza, headquarters of
the New York City Police Department, on September 30, 2011. Stan Honda/
AFP/Getty Images212 213
Significantly, Arrow Factory focuses on staging
participatory interactions with the hutong dwellers
(who are generally from lower social classes and might
not otherwise frequent art spaces). For example,
artist Yan Lei installed an air conditioner in the
space and gave a key to a neighbor so that he and his
family could live there for a month (pl. 279). Another
“special event” transformed (or reverted) the space
into a bakery where neighbors could enjoy, in some
cases for the first time, an espresso and Western-style
cakes and pastries. These interventions achieved the
ideal union of art and life by strategically adapting
everyday gestures to disseminate critical messages.
Through such projects, the space has gradually
become a distinct focal point of energy and creative
production within the social ecology of the neighborhood. In the context of the rapid privatization and
gentrification that is taking place in many Chinese
cities, Arrow Factory claims a space for the protection and sustenance of local customs and ways of life.
Their projects demonstrate how integration with the
local community can produce highly political and even
metaphysical messages of resistance that filter into
the subconscious of the local population, mobilizing
self-emancipation while also preserving and developing natural ways of living and socializing. Above
all, such actions are gestures of love. The imaginative
and courageous work of Arrow Factory is like Cupid’s
arrow hitting the heart of a city that is so much in
need of love.
At a time when global crises of all kinds seem to be
multiplying, independent art and cultural organizations everywhere are interrogating the significance
of their work and their ethical positions. As Dan S.
Wang, founder of the Chicago-based experimental
cultural center Mess Hall, states in an essay written
for 3 Years: Arrow Factory, 2008–2011:
What does the necessity of Arrow Factory say
about the historical vector at work, defining
the parameters of political and expressive
possibility, in Beijing or wherever one finds
oneself? One answer is that as the structural
crisis of capitalism hurtles toward bifurcation and
multiple planetary systems approach collapse,
the revolutionary legacies of modernity—
unrealized, defeated, or overturned—deserve
reconsideration as the dreamworks of humanity.
But these legacies, if they are to be useful at all
in the bewildering political-cultural landscape
of multiple and overlapping subject positions,
incomplete emancipations, extreme wealth
disparities, and uneven developments that now
make up the mosaic of daily life, must be renewed
outside of their historically and context-specific
vocabularies. In its first three years as an organic
blip on the urban texture, Arrow Factory has
been this mutation chamber, where idealistic
potentialities at the socially granular level can
be made into signposts of the future without
depending on the overdetermined language of
critical theory. At Arrow Factory self-sufficiency
comes into the conversation where before there
was only class-consciousness, market-resistant
forms get created by blue-chip artists, and the
sometime focal point of a randomly surviving
hutong makes its own history—of art, of Beijing,
of the possible.10
This reading of Arrow Factory’s sociopolitical
context echoes Alain Badiou’s description of the
“localization stage,” which he identifies as the prelude
to “the reawakening of history” and the attendant
emergence of new possibilities for the emancipation
of humanity. In his recent book Le réveil de l’histoire
(The Reawakening of History), Badiou considers the
stages of revolution through the lens of the ongoing
Arab Spring and the actions of Los Indignados/
Les Indignés (The Outraged) across Europe, rebellions that inspired the American Occupy movement
(pl. 280).11 Drawing a parallel between Europe’s
antimonarchy revolutions of 1848 and the current
protests against the global financial powers (which
masquerade as “democracies”), Badiou predicts the
emergence of new public spheres and uprisings that
will subvert the dominant system in favor of one that
is truly democratic and egalitarian. A more radical
call for revolution is found in Comité Invisible’s
L’insurrection qui vient (The Coming Insurrection).12
Echoing Hakim Bey’s vision and strategy for
Temporary Autonomous Zones, the Comité Invisible
emphasizes direct action (for example, the guerrillastyle occupation of social spaces) and the mustering
of communal forces to overturn prevailing power
structures and usher in a new era of emancipatory
universalism. The resonances between the efforts of
Arrow Factory and other independent spaces can,
and should, be recognized as parallel claims for a
new world order in the international contemporary
Are these acts gestures of love? Or calls to arms
for the coming insurrection? The two are by no
means separate. At the brink of the reawakening of
history, insurrection is both the condition for, and the
expression of, love.
Hou Gestures of Love, or L’insurrection qui vient?
1. L’insurrection qui vient (The Coming
Insurrection), written by an anonymous group
of contributors under the name Comité
Invisible (Invisible Committee), was first
published in French in 2007. Pointing to
symptoms such as the financial crisis and a
variety of environmental disasters in the late
2000s, it hypothesizes the imminent collapse
of capitalism. The English edition, which was
published in 2009, has greatly influenced the
American anarchist movement. See Comité
Invisible, L’insurrection que vient (Paris:
La Fabrique éditions, 2007–9), available at
.pdf; and The Invisible Committee, The
Coming Insurrection (Los Angeles:
Semiotext(e), 2009), also available at
2. In 2005 the Chinese government pledged
to construct “1,000 new museums by 2015,
including 32 in Beijing in time for the 2008
Olympics and 100 in Shanghai before the
opening of the 2010 World’s Fair.” See
A. Craig Copetas, “China Is Racing to Get
Its Art Treasures Back,” New York Times
(October 13, 2005), http://www.nytimes.com
Recent figures reported by governmentcontrolled news agencies indicate that more
than one hundred new museums are opened
in China each year. See “Beijing Ranks Second
in Number of Museums,” English China News
Service (October 10, 2011), http://www.ecns
3. “China Pavilion to be ‘Art Palace’,” Time
Out Shanghai, last updated November 14,
4. Here I am referencing my essay
“Initiatives, Alternatives: Notes in a
Temporary and Raw State,” in How
Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global
Age, ed. Philippe Vergne (Minneapolis, MN:
Walker Art Center, 2003), 36–39, also
available at http://latitudes.walkerart.org
5. Throughout this paragraph, quoted
material is from Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.: The
Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological
Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism (Brooklyn, NY:
Autonomedia, anti-copyright, 1985, 1991),
also available at http://hermetic.com/bey
6. The rise of alternative organizational
models in non-Western countries has begun
to shape the ways Western museums position
themselves internationally. One notable
example is the “Museum as Hub” project that
occupies the fifth floor of New York’s New
Museum. Under the curatorial leadership of
Eungie Joo, the Hub organizes collaborations
among various museums and art spaces
including Townhouse Gallery (Cairo), Insa
Art Space/Arko Art Center (Seoul), Museo
Tamayo (Mexico City), and Van Abbemuseum
7. See note 4 above.
8. I co-curated P_A_U_S_E, the 4th Gwangju
Biennale, with Sung Wan-kyung and
9. This idea was further developed in special
projects for the Second Guangzhou Triennial,
BEYOND: an extraordinary space of experimentation for modernization, which I directed
and co-curated, with Hans Ulrich Obrist and
Guo Xiaoyan, between 2004 and 2006. The
organizations that took part in the triennial
mingled with other independent educational
initiatives, settling in a postindustrial site that
became a new cultural center in Guangzhou.
10. Dan S. Wang, “A Smooth Pebble in the
Stream of (the) Capital,” in 3 Years: Arrow
Factory, 2008–2011, ed. Rania Ho, Wang
Wei, and Pauline Yao (Beijing: Arrow Factory;
Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2011), 79.
11. See Alain Badiou, Le réveil de l’histoire,
Circonstances 6 (Paris: Éditions Lignes,
2011). “Arab Spring” is the term used for
the widespread demonstrations and protests
against government corruption and repression
that began in Tunisia on December 18, 2010,
and spread across other countries in the
Middle East and North Africa. The movement
is known for its organizers’ use of social media
to galvanize support. As of February 2012,
the Arab Spring has overthrown governments
in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, and led
to uprisings and protests in numerous other
countries. See Garry Blight, Sheila Pulham,
and Paul Torpey, “Arab Spring: An Interactive
Timeline of Middle East Protests,” The
Guardian (January 5, 2012), http://www
-timeline, and “The Arab Spring,” Institute for
War and Peace Reporting, accessed April 16,
/arab-spring. For more information about
the European movement Los Indignados/
Les Indignés, see Anne Myriam, “Bastille
Square: A New Era for Civil Disobedience á
la Française,” Waging Nonviolence (July 15,
-disobedience/. The movement takes its name
from a pamphlet titled Indignez-vous! (Time
for Outrage), which was published in 2010 by
French diplomat and writer Stéphane Hessel.
12. See note 1 above
• 9 October 2012 • View comments
Image: Henk Tukker, 1988: At youth centre De Isselt girls are trained to be metalworkers.
I Can’t Work Like This
Project, 01 May – 23 Jun 2012
Exhibition, Assembly, Workshop, Event
‘I Can’t Work Like This’ is initiated by Casco director Binna Choi and artist Matthijs de Bruijne, developed together with union organiser and member of SEIU Valery Alzaga, art historian Beatrix Birken, philosopher and assistant professor at UvA Johan Hartle, and with the assistance of Casco project coordinator Suzanne Tiemersma and Casco intern Loes Degener.
“What do you mean, you can’t work like this?” The project ‘I Can’t Work Like This’ creates a platform for examining our working conditions in the permanent crisis of the neo-liberal economic regime, and for learning how workers from variant sectors can get effectively organised. We propose to do this through a collaborative and transdisciplinary approach involving art, design, action and theory.
In recent years, a sector of the federation of trade unions in the Netherlands (FNV Bondgenoten) started reconsidering the limits of its old “service unionism model” and opted to experiment with an “organising model” to build up an organisation from below marked by grass-roots action and a high degree of self-organisation by its members. This was a drastic departure from the unions’ previously top-down structure and their function as quasi-insurance for workers with fixed contracts. However, numerous problems regarding labour organisation today – such as the increase of freelance/flexible contract work or the often invisible and poorly remunerated work of undocumented migrant workers – still tend to be beyond the scope of most unions. Hence, there is more to do.
While labour conditions in general have changed, the sphere of art and culture too has undergone paradigmatic shifts. In what official policy now calls “the creative industries”, a focus on the affectivity and creativity goes hand in hand with an effective valorization of the managerial over the artistic. Institutions feed off the commitment of “art workers” who tend to merge their work and life, while maintaining a bureaucratic superstructure that seems to become more dominant in an age of funding cuts and insecurity. This situation suggests the need for re-examination, re-articulation and new constellations: It is time to voice what kind of “work” it is that “art workers” do, how and for whom do we work. And it is time to suggest new forms of organising and becoming collective subjects.
Taking the forms of an exhibition and public events, the project will present different relations between art and labour-related struggles, suggested through documentations of actions, contemporary and historical artworks, designs and other artifacts. The exhibition includes works by artist Charlotte Posenenske, Argentinean art collective Tucumán Arde (Archivo Graciela Carnevale) and British film collectives from the 60s and 70s. It also documents a few exemplary cases where the struggle for better working conditions merge with aesthetic practices, such as in the work of the Carrotworkers’ Collective, Jinsuk Kim & Hope Bus movement, as well as contemporary organising models used in campaigns by Justice for Janitors, workers of Silicon Valley and the Dutch Cleaners Union.
Where will this artistic research lead? By discussing the relation between art workers and unions, between artistic practice and labour-related struggles, ‘I Can’t Work Like This’ hopes to stimulate new alliances between aesthetics and politics. In the end, its question is simple: Why don’t we find a common ground and get aligned with other workers in taking action for better working conditions?
• 15 May 2012 • View comments
Image: Rendering by OMA of the Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art
Marina Abramović Teams with Koolhaas’ OMA to Convert Old Theater into Performance Art Institute
By Stephanie Murg on May 15, 2012 7:49 AM
Artist Marina Abramović began her Met Gala Monday in Queens, inside MoMA PS1′s geodesic Performance Dome, where she detailed her plans to transform a crumbling old theater in Hudson, New York into the Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation for Performance Art (MAI for short). Hours later, having sharpened up her all-black ensemble, she was striding up the red carpet at the Metropolitan Museum of the Art on the arm of James Franco. “Today is a big day for me,” she told the morning assembly of press, curators, critics, and friends after a warm introduction by PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach. “In the life of an artist, it’s very important to think of the future. When you die, you can’t leave anything physical—that doesn’t make any sense—but a good idea can last a long, long time.”
Her good idea is to channel 40 years worth of pioneering performance art into a living archive-cum-laboratory that will explore “time-based and immaterial art,” including performance, dance, theater, film, video, opera, and music. The focus will be on “long-duration” performances, those lasting for between six hours and…forever. “Only long-duration works of art have a serious potential to change the viewer looking at it and also the performer in doing it, because the performance that is long becomes more and more like life itself,” she said. “There’s no division between normal daily activity and the performance. This is what I experienced especially at my  performance at MoMA, which was three months long. That really changed me mentally, physically, in many other ways.”
Abramović commissioned OMA to transform the crumbling theatre that she acquired in 2007 into a space for training artists and audiences alike. “It has an interesting level of decay,” said OMA partner Shohei Shigematsu, pointing out a rotted column and ghostly baselines from the building’s post-theater incarnation as an indoor tennis court. “The project has to house a very specific program of long-duration performance, so the first thing we decided to do was insert a very monastic box inside that can house many things. It’s actually slightly bigger than the tennis court, so you can still play tennis if you wanted to.”
Shigematsu is leading the project with Rem Koolhaas, an old friend of Abramović. The firm welcomed the challenges of designing for different types of visitors, from artists to meta-viewers. “What’s interesting for us architecturally is that you get these layers of audiences,” Shigematsu said. “The audience that gets trained to be an audience, and the audience that observes the audiences getting trained to be an audience. Typically, you’re just watching the performer, but you start to get this kind of cross-view of people looking at each other and no longer know who is the performer and who is the audience.” Inside, the plan is to carve out a wall of rooms that will face the main performance space. Changes to the exterior will be minimal, aside from opening up some windows and making an atrium for the entry canopy.
The timeline for the project remains vague. In the most optimistic fundraising scenario, the Institute would open in 2014. Paris art dealer Serge Le Borgne has already signed on as director. In the meantime, Abramović will continue instructing interested parties in her “Abramović Method” of performance. “We will continue doing these experiments everywhere until we have the physical building,” she explained. Read on for more details gleaned from last week’s press conference.
Why did you decide to create this Institute rather than a foundation?
Marina Abramović: A foundation mostly is to present your own work, but for me it was very important to create a situation, create a center, for different things, where all seven performing arts can be shown—you’re talking music, dance, opera, video, film, performance art that I’m doing, and any other performance art in the future for which we don’t yet have a name.
Why did you name the Institute after yourself?
MA: Not because I want to live forever. I took my name because I feel like I’ve become a brand, like Coca-Cola. When you hear “Marina Abramović,” you know it’s not about painting. It’s about performing art, and it’s about hardcore performing art.
Why do this in Hudson, New York?
MA: I was trying to create this institute in Brooklyn, and it was impossible to find the right location. When I went to Hudson, and I saw the building in Hudson, which was a former theater built in 1929—Martha Graham even performed there at some point—I knew it was really the right place and the right location. Plus, it’s so comfortable. It’s just two hours from New York. And it’s isolated in a way that is less stressed than New York, stress-y life.
Visitors to the Institute will be able to enroll in a school of sorts to learn “the Abramović method.” What does this involve?
MA: When you enter the space you have to put on a lab coat with “The Abramovic Method” embroidered on it. This is very simple: the lab coats make you different from the normal viewer and turn you into an experimenter. Then you go to the school. You are given headphones that completely block outside sounds, and it’s suggested that you close your eyes most of the time. You have to leave all of your belongings and also sign a contract with me that you give me your word of honor that you will spend two-and-a-half hours in this experiment. And then when you do that you get the certificate of accomplishment.
• 15 May 2012 • View comments
Draft Programme of the Inter-format Symposium on Remoteness and Contemporary Art
17-21st of May, 2012, Nida Art Colony, Neringa, Lithuania,
Over 30 curators, art & residency centres directors and project managers as well as artists are comming together to Nida to discuss and reflect on working and living in remote areas, on the theme of “remoteness”, with an emphasis on community building, interaction with local inhabitants, and site specificity. 4 days will role on with lectures and workshops, discussions and chats with tea, performances and site-specific artworks.
• 13 May 2012 • View comments
Image: George Schneeman and Bill Berkson: On the Offspring, 1969 or 1970; mixed media on illustration board; 12 × 12 in.
The Reading Room
January 15, 2012 - June 17, 2012
University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
The Reading Room is a temporary project dedicated to poetry and experimental fiction offering visitors the chance to take home a free book drawn from the overstock collections of several noted East Bay small presses, including Kelsey Street Press, Atelos Books, and Tuumba Press. Books and catalogs from Small Press Distribution will also be available. In turn, visitors are asked to replace that book with one from their own library. We look forward to seeing how the character of the works on the shelves evolves over the course of the project!
Stop by The Reading Room during gallery hours to enjoy a comfortable reading area, listen to recordings of selected poets published by these presses, and view silk-screen prints and original works on paper created by George Schneeman in collaboration with poets Ron Padgett, Bill Berkson, and Lewis MacAdams.
As part of selected Friday night L@TE programs throughout winter and spring, The Reading Room will be the site of literary readings (RE@DS) co-curated by poet/author David Brazil and Suzanne Stein, poet, publisher, and community producer at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Guided and inspired by arts writer and poet Ramsay Bell Breslin and poet and UC Berkeley Professor of English Lyn Hejinian, BAM/PFA’s new literary project invites visitors to look, listen, share, and read in The Reading Room.
About the RE@DS Programmers
David Brazil was born in New York and lives in Oakland, California. With Sara Larsen, he edits the monthly xerox periodical TRY! In 2010, his groundbreaking anthology (with Kevin Killian) The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater:1945–1985 appeared to wide critical acclaim. He is active in the San Francisco Poets Theater and has co-curated a variety of local reading series, as well as the Poetic Labor Project’s annual Labor Day event, which has invited writers to talk about how they make a living as well as their involvement in political work. Forthcoming publications include Mina Loy Portal (Trafficker) and ECONOMY (Little Red Leaves).
Suzanne Stein is the author of Tout va bien (Displaced) and HOLE IN SPACE (OMG!). Poems, talk performances, and prose have appeared in War and Peace, On: Contemporary Practice, Counterpath Online; and at New Langton Arts, the San Francisco Exploratorium, The Poetry Project, and elsewhere. She is editor and publisher of the small, Oakland-based poetry press TAXT and was codirector and film curator at (f o u r w a l l s gallery in San Francisco. She works currently as community producer at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, organizing a variety of talk- and conversation-based programs, and is editor-in-chief of the museum’s blog, Open Space.
The Reading Room is supported by a generous grant from the Kadist Foundation, San Francisco. Thanks also to Ross Craig, sound engineer, and to Meyer Sound for donating the speakers.
• 19 January 2012 • View comments
Image: Edible Estate Regional Prototype Garden #3: Maplewood, New Jersey, established July 8th, 2007 / before and after views
Interrogating Public Space
Nato Thompson interviews Fritz Haeg
Fritz Haeg is an architect and social designer. Born in 1969 in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Haeg received his Bachelors of Arts in Architecture in 1992 from Carnegie Melon. Unafraid of multiple projects at once, he has initiated several initiatives, all of which have taken on a life of their own. Haeg’s ongoing project, Edible Estates, transforms front lawns into public gardens. For each “estate”, Haeg and his team of volunteers create an elaborate vegetable garden in a front lawn. These public displays disrupt the monotony of suburban landscaping and confound categories of public and private.
Other projects include the Fritz Haeg studio, which is devoted to creating architecture that relates to and interacts with the physical environment, blurring the boundary between interior and exterior spaces. He is also the organizer of a series of events in Los Angeles (where he now resides) known as the Sundown Salons. Started in 2001, these events take place in Haeg’s geodesic dome house on Sunday afternoons. The Salons have attracted a large cross-section of artists and community groups and have given birth to the Sundown Salon School House.
Nato Thompson: Gardening features prominently in your work. How do you see gardening in relation to the politics around public space?
Fritz Haeg: I have always been interested in plants and gardens, but it wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles in 1999 that I become truly consumed by it, and it found its way into my practice. I’m mostly interested in gardens for what they represent and for what they are uniquely able to do. A healthy edible garden in its truest form is one of the few places we see human need vs. natural resource reconciled with total clarity in front of us. We can see the fragile balance played out. I think highly visible and diverse gardens should be everywhere that people are. They keep us in check and remind us that we are entirely dependant organisms but also empowered custodians.
With the Edible Estates regional prototype gardens I am removing unused, toxic, polluting, water-guzzling no-mans-land spaces and replacing them with productive edible gardens. People are back on the streets reconnected to their local ecology, food and neighbors. I’m interested in what happens when a garden is placed in a location where it becomes a threat to the industrial/commercial system that we are embedded in. For some neighborhoods, it is a very provocative gesture that is upsetting. I think that a society that cannot grow it’s own food or that is threatened by a garden is in deep trouble.
NT: Not to be a complete Marxist, but it appears you are attempting to deal with the alienation one feels from being separated from the total outcome of production. That in growing a garden, one becomes in tune with the cycles of food production that keeps him alive. Along with the macro-political components, do you find this approach has personal therapeutic effects?
FH: I have very vivid and emotional memories of my first few months gardening in Los Angeles. I became extremely attuned to the local climate, geography, geology, flora and fauna. It was such a contrast to the New York world of people, commerce, abstraction and speculation that I was coming from.
Just the act of spending an extended period of time outside with your hands in the dirt is a profoundly “deviant” act today! There is no rational or practical reason to do it. We can get anything we need at the store, right? Why are we still mucking around in the dirt? There must be something we still need there…
NT: You have many projects going at once - your studio, Gardenlab, Sundown Schoolhouse, and Edible Estates. Why do you work in multiple forms and how does this assist your process?
FH: This diverse practice confused me when I lived in New York. I have since realized that these parallel paths are perhaps at the heart of my practice, and I have let it run its course. Now I just do what ever I feel like I need to do without worrying if I am ‘qualified’, or what it might mean to the rest of the work. It’s very liberating. I have no idea what I will be doing next year, and that’s fine.
Making buildings, dances, gardens, events, or a school may seem like a crazy mess, but recently it seems to me that the work is converging on a very focused series of thoughts about our relationship to each other and our environment at this moment in our civilization.
I guess it’s also like crop rotation. When I’m exhausted, I don’t sit around and wait, I just slide over to the next thing.
NT: I am clearly a fan of an aesthetic practice unafraid to take on multiple forms from community building to hermetic gesture to straight up classroom. These forms have a long history with grassroots activism. What are your personal inspirations for a multi-faceted practice?
FH: I believe that if I allow myself to surrender daily to what I am drawn to, no matter how confusing or strange, it will be good for me and my work. Mmmmmm, is that a lesson I learned from being gay?!
I want to wake up every morning and have a place in my practice for whatever it is I feel like I need to do that day: manual labor, writing, meeting people, dancing, drawing, computer work, gardening, traveling, making spaces… I want a practice that allows me to spend my time in an infinitely diverse way. I want to create a practice the same way that I would create any project. It should age well, evolve with my changing interests and obsessions, but at the same time maintain a conceptual and principled focus that transcends media or material.
Buckminster Fuller believed that specialization and trades were a form of slavery instituted by “the man” (he called them the pirates) to prevent any one person from seeing the big picture, which would be a threat to their power.
NT: If it is possible to not be careerist in one’s response to questions regarding his professional practice (the need to turn aesthetic ideas into money to live), how do you see your work in regard to paying the bills versus making meaning in the world?
FH: I am very interested in the real economics involved once you deviate from the commercial conventions of the art and design world.
Most of the work I have been doing never paid until recently. For years I supported myself mostly by teaching and some modest architecture fees for small projects. Now I teach occasionally and I support myself from (in descending order) architecture design fees from the few projects I do, artist commission fees from museums, occasional teaching salaries, speaking honorariums, writing, and a bit from the Sundown Schoolhouse. The amount I actually earn from any one of them varies wildly, so I do what I do and hope every thing balances out in the end. I’m always living right on the edge though. That uncertainty is the price of doing work that does not have a conventional market.
Along those lines, it is quite difficult to work with MFA students that will graduate $100,000 in debt. They enter into the world unable to take any real risks, or experiment in ways that may not pay off for years or have the luxury to fail spectacularly at something.
NT: What do you find to be the key issues regarding public space and how do you see aesthetic interventions being a benefit and a problem?
FH: Right now I am most interested in private spaces that have the capacity to be public. It’s not that I have given up on public space (though maybe I have!) but I do think that private property, and in particular the home, has become the focus of our society. We are obsessed with our homes as protective bubbles from the realities around us. Today’s cities are engineered for isolation, so starting a salon in your living room or growing food in your front yard become ways to subvert this. Perhaps at this moment working from private space out may be more useful than working from public space in.
NT: I find that answer quite interesting actually. There are more than a few who consider the entire concept of ‘public space’ as deeply problematic as it tends to legitimate a large portion of the planet as inherently private. I also know from working in a museum that there are a lot of different possibilities when one owns the space in which experimental gestures are attempted, which might not be feasible in public. Yet, surely there are plenty of folks who do not own their front lawns. What are your thoughts in regard to renters or those without any private property whatsoever?
FH: Conversely I am also interested in “public” space that can be claimed and appropriated for private use. I especially like the idea of taking the least humane, most neglected and visible spaces in our cities and repurposing them for intimate human activity or nature interventions. For example I am reminded of my friends who do the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest that had a birthday party in the parking lot of Ralph’s (a grocery chain in Los Angeles). They also organized a wonderful neighborhood project in L.A.’s Highland Park a few years ago called October Surprise where they “took back the streets” and staged projects all over town with local organizations.
I am very ambivalent about the ”community project” though. It is a delicate matter to go into someone else’s neighborhood as the “enlightened artist” and impose on them your vision of what they need. With the garden that the Tate Modern commissioned me to do in Southwark (just south of the museum), I worked with a local organization that is based in the neighborhood. They were a vital link to the residents of the council estates where we did the project. I went door to door with them to talk to everybody about the edible garden I was planning. Even still, on my first day of work on the land, a woman who has lived in the building for 37 years came up to me demanding to know what I was going to do to their last piece of green space. When she found out I was from Los Angeles, she got even more suspicious….like “ok, let me get this straight, you come over here to screw up our green space & then go back to California?”. But I went to visit her when I had finished the garden and she was really delighted with it. It turns out she is an amazing painter and is now working on a portrait of the garden.
NT: You are currently planting an edible estate in a front lawn in New Jersey, how is that going?
FH: I just finished three brutal days of manual labor, turning sod by hand, shoveling dirt, lifting rocks. Every muscle in my body ached this morning. Fortunately I had about 20 volunteers turn up over the weekend to help out. It was fun and I’m really happy with the way the garden turned out. On one side of the front yard we installed 15 raised beds of vegetables and herbs and on the other we planted a mini orchard of fruit trees and vines. The neighbor next door (on this street of meticulously groomed lawns) was upset as soon as she heard about the plan, so I knew I had picked the right spot!
NT: I love the look of community gardens but I can in my heart see why people hate the idea of gardens in their neighbor’s front yard. It clearly disrupts the sense of public/private and I think for many people, particularly in front lawn friendly areas, they have worked hard for their deeply regressive sense of the private. Do the edible estates have a community outreach component? Maybe if they received some free peas or something they would calm down.
FH: When you live on the street with an Edible Estate, you see the owners out there gardening every day. You get to know them better than those with the lawn. You talk to them about how the crops are doing. They can’t possibly eat everything they are growing, so every time you pass by they are trying to unload the latest harvest of tomatoes or zucchini on you. Just the act of witnessing a garden grow can have a profound effect. When you watch daily as seeds sprout, plants mature and fruit is produced you can’t help but be drawn into the wonder of it. By being a witness, you have become complicit and are now part of the story.
• 6 January 2012 • 3 notes • View comments
Performance: The Body Politic
Mierle L. Ukeles. Social Mirror, 1983; mirror-covered sanitation truck. Courtesy of the Artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.
Art Practical’s Christina Linden talks with Shannon Jackson, UC Berkeley Professor of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies and Rhetoric, about her forthcoming book Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics (Routledge, 2011) and the symposium “Curating People,” which she is coordinating for April 28 and April 29 at the Performance Art Institute and UC Berkeley.
Christina Linden: We first met last spring in New York after the conference “Audience Experiments,” organized by Pablo Helguera at The Museum of Modern Art. I had come straight from another conference at Portland State University called “Open Engagement,” and I was curious and also perplexed about the way those two conferences were looking largely at an overlapping body of works but were producing really different conversations.
One of the primary distinctions for me was that the conference attendees in Portland were largely from visual arts backgrounds, specifically from the three social practice graduate programs on the West Coast: here at California College of the Arts, at Portland State, and at Otis. In New York, there were quite a few professionals, like yourself, who come from performance studies or theater backgrounds. It was the first time that I had thought about that particular distinction and what different readings for social practice would be engendered by coming from either of these two directions, but clearly at the time you were already well into working on a book on the topic.
From the prologue to Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics: “To be reductive but rhetorical, we might discern a kind of experimental chiasmus across the arts; a movement toward painting and sculpture underpins post-dramatic theater, but a movement toward theater also underpins post-studio art.”1
Can you say a few words about how you came to identify this as a framework you wanted to explore in the book and also generally about how your interest in social practice first developed?
Shannon Jackson: Well, it is great to hear about your experience of those two conferences and some of the new thoughts they provoked. Even if all of us are interested in interdisciplinary art, I do think that we encounter work within inherited parameters that we may not always know that we have.
I received a PhD in performance studies. This is a field that integrates theater and dance and experimental performance art. It is also informed by more sociological, anthropological, and rhetorical orientations. We think about the role of performance in ritual activity and in organizing collectives and communities; we think about theories of performativity and how, as the speech act theorists say, we “do things with words.” Performance studies is thus a very large umbrella, but, as a result, different PS scholars have different frames that we use to analyze work. Being in performance studies, I became very interested in conversations where PS scholars and artists were learning from each other but also talking past each other. When I began to learn about the field of social practice and relational aesthetics, it seemed obvious to me that it bore a relation to performance. But I soon realized that it was not obvious to everyone else. So I started to teach myself new frames of reference and art histories that had been less familiar to me, in order to try to connect the dots.
Mierle L. Ukeles. Social Mirror, 1983; mirror-covered sanitation truck. Courtesy of the Artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.
CL: One of the main thrusts of the argument you put forward in Social Works comes out of your position that looking at these perceptions and parameters “challenges our understanding of what is properly within the aesthetic sphere and what is heteronomously located outside of it…the Art/Life discourse has a different traction when we recast it as a meditation on the paradoxes of Art and its Support.”2 Can you expand on the traction you find in this distinction?
SJ: A certain kind of art-into-life discourse has had an enormous impact on performance studies discourse. At the same time, the Art/Life binary does not always provide a specific compass for doing an analysis, in part because the category of Life is so expansive and imprecise.
When Life is invoked in art practice, it is often equated pretty quickly with associations like “freedom,” “spontaneity,” and “disruption,” and I thought it was worth thinking about some other elements, especially the elements of the world that make Life possible. That made me interested in certain kinds of expanded art practices that not only celebrated freedom, but also explored interdependent relationships of obligation and care and sometimes even responsibility. If a political art discourse becomes too enthralled with breaking down institutions, then it ignores the degree to which we are in fact dependent upon institutions. Yes, the “institution” constrains; but it also sustains. Can we stay complicated about this? My hope is that by thinking about support as a complex system, as a social question but also as an aesthetic question, we can activate a different conversation.
Once I started to think about it, I really felt that we could start to link expanded art histories from the visual art world with expanded art histories from the theater world. In fact, if we think about Constructivism, Duchamp, or minimalism, if we think about Brecht and Meyerhold, there is a pervasive interest in the exposure of the support. Support is both a social question and an aesthetic pursuit in the visual arts and in theatre.
CL: How did you choose the primary examples you chose to discuss in the book?
SJ: I wanted projects where the relation between aesthetics and politics was complicated. I was less interested in projects that had a pre-determined sense of who the good guys were and who the bad guys were.
I also chose projects where I felt like I had more to learn. Most of the projects are those initiated by people who began in the visual arts. Since I am somebody who is coming from theater and performance studies, I was interested in trying to teach myself some new things by focusing more on artists who began in other forms.
Finally, every case study offers some kind of aesthetic inquiry into social systems and social structures. I tried to pick cases that showed a range of social systems and that also gave a sense of a history of innovation from the 1960s to the present. So Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s work on public sanitation is in there along with very recent work by people like Paul Chan, Rimini Protokoll, and Elmgreen and Dragset.
CL: You write about the possibility of imagining sustainable social institutions as infrastructure. What already existing institutions do you find most valuable for experimental performance or social practices?
SJ: It’s hard not to be fairly literal in answering the question, but I think that obviously I have an investment in public education, being an employee of that system. Currently, the debates over education, health care, and public welfare are all examples of cases where citizens are debating the degree to which they want or need collective systems of support. I think that safety nets are important. All systems have the potential for corruption and for getting into actuarial problems that they had not anticipated. But I think that we all rely upon supporting systems—whether they are repairing our highways, picking up our garbage, installing our exhibits, or folding our socks—more than we realize that we do. Support is noticed less when it is working for you; it is more often noticed when it breaks down or is taken away. So drawing attention to our interdependence upon support is philosophically interesting. Some kinds of systems enable freedom and democracy, even if we would rather complain about how much they constrain us. I should say that I don’t think that the complaining only occurs in conservative circles. Some self-described Left circles are just as likely to promote an anti-institutional discourse as, say, Tea Party activists are now. The lure of an anti-system discourse actually makes for some strange political bedfellows.
CL: Do you think that the nature of the relationships to the state or other institutions is specific to the kind of experimental performance and social works we’re talking about here, or would you say this applies in a more blanket way to all artwork?
SJ: As to whether it applies to all artwork, I guess I would say that it does. Painting depends upon frames and canvases but also upon the gallery system. Theatre depends on stage managers and agents. But I do think that certain art forms are less able to deny that they need a supporting apparatus and that some have a vested interest in looking the other way. The works that I ended up selecting were all works that I think are posing questions about our relationship to interdependent systems, state based or otherwise. In some instances I’m really talking about places where a state-based mechanism did not come through. When Paul Chan began to work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, you could say that that is a situation where FEMA did not come through. It may be that the state did not come through because it had been defunded up until then, but Chan was pretty clear that there was a DIY quality to his work; the supporting systems were part of a very mixed economy that included private funding, community grants, philanthropic donations, and the gallery circuit, along with inadequate state funding.
CL: What about the way the institution of the museum is taking up these practices? Recently, the education departments are often the ones commissioning really interesting new work in this mode, and in some cases it operates as a kind of substitute for programming they used to produce more directly. Given the topic of the symposium you are organizing for April 29, I guess this must be on your mind?
SJ: You are alighting upon something that I hope we will talk about at the “Curating People” symposium in April. My hope is that we’ll have a continuous, wider Bay Area conversation about this. You spoke of the conference you attended at MoMA. Pablo Helguera, in the education department, organized that gathering. Why are education departments doing, as you call it, “substitute programming”? Education departments are interested in the experience of receivers. There can certainly be a didactic quality to that role. At the same time, artists who work in social practice and performance are also very concerned about engagement with receivers. If that it is your goal, it can be incredibly interesting to work with someone in education who thinks continuously about what it means to engage people, to address them, to challenge them. Supporting these new art forms begins to challenge the traditional divisions between the curatorial department and the education department.
I ended up deciding to focus on “curating,” specifically “curating people,” because the curators and the staff of the museums and theatre are in the trenches of all of this. We really get a complex picture of what it means to support interdisciplinary art when we think about the kind of work that curators, installers, and stage managers are doing daily. They’re living it every day and also re-skilling every day. A visual art curator might have been trained in a particular way, but then a certain kind of hybrid artist comes to town and needs you to secure a street permit or to do a casting call.
CL: That’s true; I’ve had to do a casting call as a curator…
SJ: Yeah, a casting call! Or the stage manager in the theater is being told that she has to set up an installation in the lobby; suddenly all of the ushers and box office managers have to be differently trained about how to run the house. So the staff members at the institutions are in a position to tell the most interesting stories about the institution and how its processes are getting revised. How do artists communicate what they need to their curators? And how do they interest curators in what they’re doing despite the fact that the processes required will be challenging?
Paul Chan. Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, 2007; stage set. Photo: Tuyen Nguyen.
CL: In your responses to a questionnaire distributed after “Audience Experiments,” some passages appear that ended up in a truncated form in your book. For instance: “To some, an explicit social mission redeems the art object; to others, it compromises it. For some, the social is figural, for others, it is literal. Conversely, the same interaction that reads as social engagement to one group might seem to be a narcissistic violation of social ethics to another.”3 It struck me that this was edited from the published text; I’ve spent so much time dwelling over questions about unequal access to capital—cultural and otherwise—that produce uneven stakes for different people involved and reproduce systems of hierarchy in social practice projects.
SJ: There’s obviously a really huge debate in contemporary art circles around the social turn, one that creates a polarization between aesthetics and politics. Usually it’s perceived to be a trade-off: “Well, if it is doing socially engaged, efficacious work, then the art isn’t as good.” And conversely, “If the art has some conceptual rigor, then it really isn’t doing anything transformative for society.” So I definitely wanted to find a way out of that polarization. This is a place where the language about support, I’m hoping, helps the effort.
I liked this sense that the exposure of the support could have a certain kind of political traction and expose that humans are interdependent on particular systems. But I also like the idea that the exposure could have a formal and aesthetic rigor. And I like the notion that aesthetic and social provocations could happen together.
At the same time I think that different people who come from different places, whether an art school background or a community organizing background, will still perceive each work differently. This brings us back to the question that you opened with. One thing might look conceptually interesting to one person and look narcissistic to another. A work might look overly literal to one eye and highly metaphoric to another.
I think that community art sometimes gets a bad rap because it seems under-complicated formally, and so-called avant-garde art gets a bad rap because it is not legible enough to be politically effective. My hope is that there could be a bit more tolerance and mutual education on all sides.
Elmgreen and Dragset. Re-g(u)arding the Guards, 2005; museum guards in empty gallery; number of performers variable. Courtesy of the Artists and Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen. Photo: Thør Brodreskift.
CL: Does this play out differently with experimental theater projects as opposed to social practice projects rooted in the visual arts?
SJ: One thing I think that does happen in this interdisciplinary conversation is that the relation between the visual and the theatrical can get framed as a relation between the conceptual and the literal. If there is a question about who is conceptual and who is literal, there can be a tendency to feel that the theater side is on the literal, earnest, unironic end of the spectrum. In one of the chapters, I bring up the example of a debate that happened around the definition of “radical” in theater, around a community art theater group that would probably look “literal” to some visual art people: Cornerstone Theater. Cornerstone is an example of a certain kind of expanded theater practice that has a celebrated record of social engagement. I try to compare some different debates in visual art and theatre criticism in order to propose some different frames. Let’s say these are false polarizations, but misunderstanding them is one of the occupational hazards of bringing many perspectives together, especially since I am doing so as someone who began in the field of theatre and performance studies.
CL: Do you feel that, in making a connection between social practice and performance, you end up advocating for a new framework for performance?
SJ: Well, I would not say that it is a new frame so much as it is a different emphasis. I think that whenever people write about performance, we emphasize different qualities about it. Sometimes, we emphasize its artifice, some its temporality, some its embodiment, some its ephemerality, some its excess.
In this project, ensemble is the dimension of performance that I emphasize most. Performance has always been this highly coordinated event with multiple people; the systemic organization of people in time and space with materials has been its raison d’etre for a couple of centuries. How do we make an ensemble? How does ensemble make us? Those questions—with all of their histories and all of their headaches—resonate with the central questions of social practice now.
1. Shannon Jackson, Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Public (New York: Routledge, 2011), 2.
2. Ibid., 28.
3. This is not in the published book, but appears in an unpublished document distributed to conference participants by email after the event. From page 3 of this document, it is in response to the question: “Is it necessary, or even possible, to define the term “performative” referring to art practices that involve performing? What would you consider an appropriate, or approximate definition of this term?”
• 4 January 2012 • 3 notes • View comments
Parkcycle, September, 2007, San Francisco
A human-powered, open space distribution system
The Parkcycle is a human-powered open space distribution system designed for agile movement within the existing auto-centric urban infrastructure.
While its physical dimensions synchronize with the automotive “softscape” of lane stripes and metered stalls, the Parkcycle effectively re-programs the urban hardscape by delivering massive quantities of green open space—up to 4,320 square-foot-minutes of park per stop—thus temporarily reframing the right-of-way as green space, not just a car space.
Using a plug-and-play approach, the Parkcycle provides open space benefits to neighborhoods that need it, when they need it, as soon as it is parked.
Built in collaboration with the kinetic sculptor Reuben Margolin at his studio in Emeryville, California, the Parkcycle made its debut on Park(ing) Day 2007 in San Francisco.
PARK(ing) Day 2007 and the Parkcycle were both made possible by a generous grant from the Black Rock Arts Foundation.
• 30 December 2011 • 8 notes • View comments
Rirkrit Tiravanija interview by Hans Ulrich Obrist
The first part of this interview took place in Paris in December 1993 and the second part in Mexico City in July 2002.
 Paris, December l993
Hans Ulrich Obrist:
You said, “Basically I started to make things so that people would have to use them, which means if you want to buy something then you have to use it… It’s not meant to be put out with other sculpture or like another relic and looked at, but you have to use it. I found that was the best solution to my contradiction in terms of making things and not making things. Or trying to make less things, but more useful things or more useful relationships.” In terms of your idea that “it is not what you see that is important but what takes place between people,” when was the first time you set up a temporary kitchen and cooked curry in a museum or gallery setting?
It was called [Untitled 1989] (…). The first food piece was displayed in a group exhibition at the Scott Hanson Gallery, which no longer exists (“Outside the Clock: Beyond Good & Elvis,” Scott Hanson Gallery, New York, 1989). Four pedestals were blocking the passage between the entry way and the exhibition space. On these pedestals were displayed various processes of a curry being cooked, i.e., a pedestal for ingredients, a pedestal with curry cooking on a burner, a pedestal with waste products. The visitors could smell the cooking curry as they entered the space; the smell permeated through the gallery. A new pot of curry was cooked once a week. But the curry was not to be eaten.
And when was the first time that you invited the “viewers” to share and taste the curry?
It was for [Untitled 1992 (Free)] in my one-person exhibition at 303 Gallery, New York. All of the contents of the gallery were emptied out into the main exhibition space, including the office. All doors (to office, storage rooms, cabinets, toilet, etc.) were removed from their frames to open and empty out hidden spaces. The office emptied out is then timed into a social/meeting space with two pots of curry (one red curry, one green) and a pot of rice to offer the visitor on their lunch. (The windows in an office play a significant role as external/internal can be viewed). On display in the office are the ingredients of the meal plus the remains from the cooking and eating process (which later becomes documentation of the situation at hand). The cooking and food for the first time (there were other projects previous to this, which occurred for only one evening or just for the opening of exhibition) is made continuously through the duration of the exhibition. The gallery office space became a central meeting point and rest stop for many regular visitors to SoHo. “(Free)” in this particular situation could signify the emptying of context/content. From exhibition to non-exhibit of place/non-place. “(Free)” could also be read as open—-or as plain and simple as no charge for the situation (free food).
Very quickly, you also developed more and more complex environments for these encounters. Could you tell me, for instance, about your tearoom at Exit Art in New York in 1993?
It was [Untitled 1993 (The Cure)] and it was in a group show called “Fever.” In response to the context of “Fever,” I built a tea tent using a material with the color of Thai Buddhist monks’ robes: golden orange. The dimensions of the tent were made to the specifications of a Japanese tearoom—-measuring ten-by-ten-by-ten-feet. The measurement the Japanese got is derived from a Buddhist scripture—-which is the measurement of a room in which the Lord Buddha gave sermon to 40,000 monks (mind over matter). Tea plus water plus kettle plus teapots with a table and chair were set into the tent. The door of the tent faces a window—-inside the space the exhibition is blocked out of view. Tea, being a drink of medicinal quality (and for me with cultural significance) was to become an antidote to the “Fever” and a space for rest, contemplation, etc.
Another type of environment like this one is the one that took place this summer at the Biennale di Venezia (“Aperto 93,” La Biennale di Venezia, 45th International Art Exhibition, 1993).
It was [Untitled 1993 (twelve seventy one)]. “Twelve seventy one” because it was the year Marco Polo had set off to the Far East from Venice. The centerpiece to this project is an aluminum canoe—-the canoe being an image of Native America—-and inside the canoe are two pots filled with water, which are being boiled-so there is water also in the canoe itself. The image of boats with food being cooked in them are drawn from Thailand. And accompanying the canoe are local cafe tables—-and fold out stools put out to be used by the visitors to the Aperto. There are also Cup ‘O Noodles in boxes that were shipped in from the U.S. and that were made by a Japanese company in California, and these cups of noodles were left for the visitors to help themselves as they are instantly cooked. This situation lasted as long as there were noodles for the viewers to consume (this did not take too long). The remains were left as evidence of the event. I had used Venice as a focus for the piece-which was a collage of place, mythologies (Marco Polo and the pasta from the Orient), hybrids of culture, tourism. And this also provided a possible place for rest and passage in the context of the exhibition.
2] Mexico City, ten years later…
Your exhibition at the Secession (Vienna, 2002) is based on Rudolf Schindler’s house in Los Angels, his house on Kings Road in Los Angeles, built in 1921-1922; your idea was to install a reconstruction of the studio of the Schindler House in the main room of the Secession and use this as a stage for various activities, as a venue for a multimedia program including film screenings, concerts, presentations and lectures. Your idea is to antimate Schindler’s world of ideas, his concept of inside and outside in relation to the conditions of private and public spaces, but not in a nostalgic way in the sense that you are taking it as a frame for your own ideas on relationships and communities, and your characteristic conception of art as an investigation and implementation of “living well.” Do you see it as a station?
I see the idea of the station in the sense of a platform where people have to come together at one point before going off to different divergent positions again. The station is a place where, while you’re waiting, there could be an insertion of a program into the station that the people passing through interact with.
And it’s a contemporary form of relay, like in old times when on a journey, the horses got water and travelers got food.
Exactly. It is a place where you rest, but at the same time you pick up more information. But of course, it’s a different kind of absorption when you’re resting and getting information than when you’re focusing just for the sake of getting information. But I think what’s interesting about this demonstration is a culmination of different modes of presentation of both art and non-art.
You spoke about another project of yours designed like a station in Japan.
The show is at the Asahi beer space [Untitled, 2002 (demo station No.3), Sumida Riverside Hall Gallery—-Asahi Beer Arts Foundation, 2002]. It’s a space, which is programmed; there is a list of people who come and use the space. It’s the same as I did in Portikus when we had a big unscheduled program that people knew about and they came to [Untitled, 2001 (Demo Station No 1), Portikus, Frankfurt]. I think there are also possibilities for things to happen when there is nothing happening, so that other people can come in and actually take it over and use it.
A bit like in your Whitney installation when there was nothing; you just set up musical instruments, inviting museumgoers to make impromptu jam sessions (1995 Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of America Art, New York).
Exactly, people who know that it’s there can come and use it because they know that it is there. But I think that is a way to have both possibilities of presentation, so that it is static at the same time as being active.
And an acceleration and a slowness, a new slowness.
“A new slowness,” that’s a good idea. There has always been a discussion about speed, but there’s a speed at which you can think and a speed at which you cannot. I like the idea of always moving and thinking, not always just moving. It could just be in one place.
I heard rumors that you’re going to do a big summer academy in Frankfurt. Will this also be a station?
Well, it is definitely developing out of the station idea. It’s more of an academy, but having been through that situation in Portikus, I think that it would be an amazing thing to do. You could make a station where all the young students could come to. It would be like a jamboree.
It’s a term that they use for the scouts, when all the scouts come together from all around the world. But that was like the Utopia of the ’70s. I always wanted to go to a jamboree.
And you were a scout?
For a short time. I think as a young boy, the image of scouting was very important.
You said that there is a sense of “no future” in New York, which is perhaps a global climate also. I think it is important that, for our venice project (“Utopia Staion,” La Biennale di Venezia, 50th International Exhibition, 2003) we can provide a platform in a non-nostalgic and non-naive way, a platform of hope and of change. It is very important that there is a generosity and that we do not prescribe Utopia.
Absolutely not. I think it’s impossible. What interested me in this funny discussion yesterday was that there was one paper, which was presented which was about the idea of difference and otherness, and the person actually used a description of the idea as strangeness: “the others are strange,” which was a way to make a low structure towards the sophistication of difference. I thought that was quite interesting, and my explanation of my anti-globalistic idea is that globalism doesn’t really work because it’s just a skin, a skin which gives you the excuse of not understanding the other even more. And through that conversation, it struck me that the idea of Utopia is really the idea of understanding difference. And the failures—-I think these previously modeled utopian conditions have always been in a kind of conformity of ideas, which is to say that somehow everyone should become one cohesive structure, one cohesive consciousness, and that would bring with it a sense of freedom. But I think that this is impossible, and the reason why it will fail. I think that the possibility should be about understanding difference, which is something I think would be difficult for the western hegemony and the Eurocentric structures to open up to, even though they talk about globalization. I think it is very interesting in relation to the idea of hunger, because I think that is part of the economy that…
Here is an article I read in this morning paper: “La lutte contre la faim dans le monde est en echec (the fight against hunger in the world is about to fail). Starvation again threatens Austral-Africa. 800 million human beings are hungry everyday, and half of humans suffer from lack of food. In 1996, the rules of the world made an engagement to reduce this figure by six million per year, the number of people who are undernourished. The agriculture of thesouthern countries is unable to nourish the population. The reason for this are a lack of water, wars, and lack of organization of these countries’ resources. The United Nations organization for alimentation and agriculture says that many more clear that if this situation continues, the world economic system which already witnesses a strong disequilibrium between the North and the South would have a big role for the destruction of the South. The disequilibrium comes from unequal exchange. The North asks the South to abolish the frontiers for industrial products, bank products, and agricultural products… “
… which is globalization.
“… and at the same time it closes its doors to exports from the South, eroding its landscape by subventions which are higher and higher. So it basically makes a lobby of its own agriculture. This way, foods or cereals from the south are prevented from entering this market but the beef from the northern markets gets to African markets, doubling prices and leading to the ruin of the local producers and hence destroying the local economy. The recent decision of President George W. Bush to augment $190 billion for ten years would mean 80% of the subsidies sent from Washington to American agriculture are, in this context, catastrophic. Contrary to all the promises made by all the American authorities themselves on the occasion of the OMC summit in Goa last year, it will reinforce even more than ever the disequilibrium of the markets. But above all, it will break the small amount of hope, of consciousness which could be borne out of the capital of the North on the misdeeds of the global agricultural system. The message of cold egoism which risks serving as a justification for other countries in the North to reinforce even more their own agricultural aids. The U.S. is a bad example. It could be in Europe, in france. Jacques Chirac blocks all kinds of reform. Poverty and starvation forewarns them of this fake free exchange. Fake free exchange is a bigger reason for poverty and starvation than the decline in development aid. Now the drama is that the subsidies in the North are not enough in order to avoid the situation where more and more peasants abandon their wares in the United States as in Europe. So at the end, the producers of the South and the North are ruined.”
So it’s like the subsidies are actually to keep farmers from farming. The idea is to give money to people so that they don’t do anything on their farms because there’s too much produce. I’ve read similar things in which money is not given to the South but rather their products are bought. But I think this is a funny humanistic idea of global economy, and it’s always going one way and never the other. You can look at the movements of people and you can see who is going where.
A new kinetic elite —- being able to travel.
People say to me, “Why don’t you just get an American passport?”
What is your passport?
Thai. And I would say it would be a lot easier for me to travel but it would also mean that I would no longer recognize the fact that I have to struggle to move around. I would rather struggle to move around, to a point where I also don’t feel I need to be anywhere. If there is a wall there, obviously there will always be people behind that wall who want me to go. But those people are going to have to recognize the fact that there is a wall and they’re going to have to deal with that.
So you have a lot of trouble at customs?
Yes, generally. Every two years I have to get a new visa to be in Germany, which gives me some freedom around Europe. But I can’t go to England today-I have to go and get a visa. I can’t go to Tokyo instantly or to America. It’s collapsing. Places that used to be free are now demanding more. It’s like Scandinavia, which used to be a much more open and free place, but now you have to have a visa to go there…
Obviously, there is a link between this “geo-political” situation and the way you are developing projects of stations. Where did this idea of the station come from? —- because you haven’t used the term until recently…
No, it is recent, and it came from the magazine (oVER Magazine). The idea of the magazine was that it was a publishing station (Namdee Publishing Station, Bangkok). I was very interested in the idea of publishing as an activity. I think publishing is a future activity, which can connect this kind of thinking to a bigger field and other structures. Publishing can be many things; it can be an object, a text, sound…
… broadcasting, like you do through the “oVER Channel”…
Yes, so I wanted to move my idea of activity to publishing, and not just as an individual but as a collective.
And where did the name Namdee come from?
I think there was a Surrealist or Dadaist magazine called Spleen, and Namdee is Thai for spleen. But it also plays on itself because it means “clean water.” Clean water is a calming thing for Thai people, and of course, it is a place that gathers and then disperses.
And the station still exists in Bangkok?
Yes, so the office is there for the station. Then I was trying to use that idea of the station to move it around in relation to the magazine. The other side of that coin that I’m working on is the idea of demonstration. Even though there’s this sense of “no future,” there is a great deal of activism going on.
Not in the art world.
Not in the art world, but elsewhere. And I think I’m trying to recognize that. I’ve been collecting images of lots of demonstrations.
You have constituted an archive?
Yes, it’s in Bangkok. Then a young artist is making drawings of them. It’s like the way he survives-it’s like a job for him. And that’s also part of the Station, to connect people from outside to people there, to create an economic exchange structure. And it’s particular interesting to do so in Thailand, because there are of course lots of people going into art school trying to become artists but there is absolutely no structure for artists.
But there is the project of having a private museum there.
Well, I’ve been talking with this man literally for four years.
He came to my office in Paris last week.
This man was hoping to work with Rem Koolhaas because he wants a building that will be famous. I said the most interesting thing would be to get an artist to design his museum for him. I suggested he talk with Jorge Pardo about it, but he wasn’t sure about that. Then I asked Philippe [Parreno] and Fransois [Roche] to come over to look at “The Land” because they were going to work together on this structure for “Utopia.” So they came and had a look, and had some ideas. Then the night before they were leaving town we went to a party at a club. This man was there with some other friends. He came over and started talking to me about the museum some more. I suggested he speak to a couple of friends. It was a coincidence really. I had already thought it would be interesting for Fransois to come to Thailand because I think his ideas are really interesting. Also, to understand this idea of the periphery—- there are a lot more possibilities of doing things that you could never do in the center. It should be a lab. So this man talked to Francois and Philippe and went and checked out the web site of Francois. The next morning they ere and looked at “The Land,” they talked more. And then Francois made a design and they were very happy about it.
And now he wants to build it?
Yes, he would like to build it. I’m sure he would build it tomorrow if he could.
When they came to my office, I asked when the museum would open. Francois said that it would perhaps be 2003 or 2004.
These things take time.
Can you tell me about your large-scale collaborative and transdisciplinary project “The Land”?
First, I would say that it’s not my land. It’s just “The Land” itself.
When was the project initiated and who owns “The Land”?
It was in 1998. “The Land” was the merging of ideas by different artists to cultivate a place of and for social engagement. It’s been acquired in the name of artists who live in Chiang Mai. We purchased this plot of land, in the village of Sanpatong, near Chiang Mai, and we’ve been trying to find a way to turn it into a collective and to have the property owned by no one in particular. But really, that’s one of the hardest things to do in Thailand. We cannot be a foundation. “The Land” is not a property.
But to what extent would you define it as a project?
We don’t want to have to deal with it as a presentation to the art structures, because I think it should be neutral; and, it’s also one of the reasons why it’s not about property. It was started without the concept of ownership and is cultivated using traditional Thai farming techniques. In the middle of “The Land” are two working rice fields, monitored by a group of students from the University of Chiang Mai and a local village. The harvest is shared by all of the participants involved and some local families suffering from the AIDS epidemic.
Though initiated not solely as structures to be designed, built, and used by artists, most of the architectural projects on “The Land” to date are being developed by such, no?
A gardener house was build by Kamin [Lerdchaiprasert], and the collaborative Superflex developed a system for the production of biogas. There is no electricity or water, as it would be problematic in terms of land development in the area. Superflex have made experimentations to use natural renewable resources as alternative sources for electricity and gas.
Exactly. Superflex is using “The Land” as a lab for the development of a biogas system. The gas produced will be used for the stoves in the kitchen, as well as lamps for light.
And what is your own architectural contribution to “The Land”?
I designed a house based on “the three spheres of needs”: the lower floor is a communal space with a fireplace; it’s the place of accommodation, gathering, and exchanges; the second floor is for reading and meditation and reflection on the exchanges; the top floor for sleep.
“The Land” is something of a “massive-scale artist-run space” in which artists of all kinds are offered the chance to exceed the boundaries of their discipline, to construct works they may not have otherwise imagined, and to allow these works to be developed and experienced in an atypical way. Who are the other artists involved in the project?
Tobias [Rehberger], Alicia [Framis], and Karl [Holmqvist] have worked on housing structures, Philippe and Fransois are making plans for a central activity hall that will function as a biotechnology-driven hyper-plug. Their [Plug in Station] uses nature to produce the interface: it will make use of a satellite downlink and a live elephant will generate the necessary power. And then [Peter] Fischli and [David] Weiss’s project is a small office building for Chiang Mai, and Atelier van Lieshout developed a toilet system, Arthur Meyer constructed a system for harnessing solar power, Prachya Phintong put in place a program for fish farming and a water library, Mit Jai In develops tree plants to be later turned into baskets.
Are there people already coming to visit “The Land” for reasons other than because they have been invited to participate in the project?
A lot of people are visiting it and have been staying there even though it’s not quite ready.
So it’s already functioning as a station…
Yes, as a self-sustaining station. All structures are for open use.
What is the time span?
The thing I would say is that there is no time span, there is no beginning, there is no end. It’s a constant, like time itself. And because we’re not faced with problems of property or ownership, we don’t ever have to feel obliged to finish or have any success in a way.
This is a logic that you’ve been trying to bring into the exhibition realm as well like with your installation at the Secession in Vienna, and already a few years before with the Cologne show, where you reproduced your New York apartment including the kitchen and bathroom at the Kunstverein in Cologne and required these rooms to be open 24-hours a day [Untitled 1996 (tomorrow is another day)].
For the one in Vienna now, we’re basically going to build it through the “opening” so that there is no opening. There has never really been an opening for me. And I never feel the need to fix a moment where everything is complete.
You’re also been doing this project using models of [Ludwig] Mies van der Rohe’s [Seagram Building] (New York, 1954 - 1958) and his [Neue National Galerie] (Berlin, 1956 - 1968)…
Actually I’ve been making this half-scale structure, a half-scale pavilion, but it’s kind of like those Russian dolls, so there’s the pavilion, and then inside that there’s the [Neue National Galerie], and then inside that there’s the [Seagram tower].
So it’s a building within a building within a building.
Yes, but the biggest building he made…
… is the smallest.
And also I wanted to make a progression from private to corporate, which is what happened to Mies in a way; he went from a very ideological structure to a corporate American structure. I wanted to have a Barcelona chair inside which would act as Mies, so he’s sitting in this pavilion, looking at all these things, and there’s a radio on playing “The Life of Mies,” which is a radio play.
Read by whom?
And this is an existing radio play?
No, I’d make it up.
And that’s a whole show then?
And where will that be?
I haven’t got a place for it, just an idea. I’m fascinated by Mies and I’m also fascinated by the contradictions of the movement.
But for Vienna, you’re focusing on Shindler?
Yes, it’s something I’d been planning for a long time, even before the MoCA retrospective (“The Architecture of R.M. Schindler,” Museum of Contemporary Arts, Los Angeles, 2001).
And why are you interested in Shindler?
Because I think that he’s an underground architect.
More than [Richard] Neutra.
Much more than Neutra. He’s the opposite. Neutra really worked with Schindler. Schindler was in LA and Neutra came and stayed with him and they were starting on a Partnership and then they broke up. Then Neutra became successful because he was very ambitious too. Schindler for me is very interesting.
About your Secession exhibition, you also made references to the market and to the dance floor, which are also kinds of stations.
Well, I was thinking about all the markets I have been to, such as in the Light Market in Thailand where people come and socialize. And the idea of the dance floor is a place of socialization through music and dancing. Then there’s this market in Brazil where people arrive from the countryside and it’s a huge open space where people from the countryside and can bring their food. I think that is an interesting way to think about the relationship between art and hunger. The people who work at the market have to get up at around two or three o’clock in the morning. People also go there at that time of the night to eat and somehow to participate in the entertainment that these people provide for themselves at the markets. There is a stall where people are sleeping after they have set up their meat. And then there are people who sit together and drink.
Where is this market?
In Rio. But it’s the same in many places. It’s about the farmer’s market really, about people coming in from the countryside. Some people have to drive all through the night to get there. The kiosks also make me think about the idea of the station. Before you go, you need to pick up some things. So, we’re talking about some kind of space that is accommodating to the passage. At the Secession, it’s more a semi-station in fact.
Yes, it’s a semi-station in the sense that I would like to think of it more as a kind of park or a garden. That’s something that I’ve been quite interested in, its interiority and exteriority, and ideas of nature and living, inside and outside. It’s more like living outside, closer to camping, so really it’s a kind of semi-station because it’s about the “outside space” rather than the “passage space” which is the station. I would say that semi-stations are more a place to rest than a lot of other spaces.
And so for the moment it’s a platform, and a platform of interaction that is also a platform on which a house will be built.
Yes, it’s the foundation of a house, but the house itself is based on the idea of the “exterior.” There is very little “interior” in a sense, presenting you with the interior so that you can experience it outside. And of course, in this case, one night of the week the space will be open all night so that people can come and spend the night there.
For the show at the Secession, the idea is that it’s the foundations for a house but at the same time there are the plants, the palms, which bring the outside inside and vice-versa.
Yes, of course. All things together in life! Which is interesting, and particularly interesting in relation to [Marcel] Broodthaers, although I’m not entirely sure why. And again, maybe it’s the same sensibility that I also think about Schindler. There’s an interesting relationship there. Schindler’s garden plan is very symmetrical, and I don’t remember thinking about it, but it struck me that I don’t think Broodthaers would have made such a symmetrical plan.
And how do you feel about Philippe Parreno’s interests in evoking the collectivity? One of the ideas for the “Venice Station” is bringing in people, whether alive or dead. Here you are talking of bringing in Schindler and indirectly broodthaers, but at the same time there are videos of people who are working now: so there is also this dimension to consider.
Yes. Well, I think that’s interesting because of the idea of working with the vernacular.
And because nothing is new anymore.
I think it’s not so much a matter of nothing being new anymore, but that there are important ideas that have already been made. And rather than trying to represent it, to present the things that already exist. So that’s why I have been personally interested in collectivity; there are a lot of ideas already out there. We need to realize that it is part of our consciousness of reality. It’s a presentation of the author, perhaps in a different kind of condition because times have often changed, but I think it’s always important to look back at those ideas.
In terms of collaboration and bilateral exchange rather than appropriation, Kurt Schwitters talked about the Merzbau (1923-1943) as a sort of shrine of friendship.
I think it’s a good word and a good starting point. That’s also something that was interesting in the interview that you did with [Peter] Smithson when you were talking about shows and how they’re about collective friendships that come about and go away, oscillating.
What would you say are the best group shows that you have been in?
I’ve been thinking about that and I think that they were all early on. “Backstage” was a formative group show for me (“Backstage,” Hamburger Kunstverein, Hamburg, 1993). And as you say, it’s the kind of situation where we all had the energy and we all had the sense. That was a show that we really enjoyed together. The group shows I enjoy are generally not so big. Firstly they weren’t such big group shows, and then secondly there were always relations amongst the people who were in the exhibition. Always creating relations, people meeting people.
This interview is available on “Interviews Volume 1” by Hans Ulrich Obrist.
• 29 December 2011 • 39 notes • View comments
Some Thoughts on Art and Education
I was doing a weeklong workshop at an art academy in Odensen, Denmark. All of the students there said that the town was not interesting so I asked them to each go out and find someone from the town who was willing to talk for ten minutes about something they knew and cared about. We then had all of those people come over to the academy and do their presentations one after another. It lasted about four hours. The students had to host and introduce the people they selected. The topics included health care, bus routes, skateboarding, scuba diving, furniture polishing, invisible social networks, playing music on the streets, etc. We were all blown away by the variety of knowledge that existed in one little town. Almost all of the presentations were truly interesting too. Since then I’ve used the same strategy for similar events in London; NYC; Austin, TX, etc. and have done a separate series as part of the American War traveling exhibition which focused specifically on local people talking about war related experiences.
I teach at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, and I have a class currently where we started by having all of the students tell their life stories to everyone else. It took three classes to get through them all, but they revealed many interesting things that wouldn’t come out in more cursory introductions. Based on connections the students had we organized a series of field trips to places like a Veterans hospital, an alternative kindergarten, a campus fraternity, a high school geometry class, a Native American community center, a radio station, etc. From those experiences the students broke off into groups to develop projects like a radio show about grandmothers, and a lecture series in the frat house living room. Some of the field trips didn’t develop into projects, but were still valued as experiences. I like to think of this method as a way to lessen my role as the authority in the classroom and instead we share that role and all become collective learners.
The way that I work is that I’m often asked to go somewhere to do a project, an art center or a university gallery or something like that. Generally it’s a place that I would never have gone to had it not been for the offer to do something there. Examples include Eastern Kentucky; Croatia; Vietnam; Hartford, Connecticut; Houston, Texas, etc. I use these travel opportunities to learn about the place that I go to. This happens in a few different ways. I might read some books and or watch some documentary films about that place and try to figure out a project from that information. Or I might just go there and wander around and talk to some people that I run across. Sometimes I wind up working with the people I meet on a project and am taken deep into their lives. I think of that as primary learning experiences, or first hand learning experiences. The book and film research is secondary learning. I like both forms. The part that is really interesting to me is that on my own I wouldn’t have learned about the things I learn about at all-I allow the direction of my research to be out of my hands at the start. I still determine specifically what I’m drawn to and want to spend more time working with and only choose things that seem interesting to me. Once I’ve done the raw research I sometimes turn aspects of it into projects for the public to experience. I want to share what I find interesting. It’s sort of like referring people to a restaurant that you like or a movie, but in my case it might wind up being a video made at a gas station based on James Joyce’s Ulysses or an exhibition about the Vietnam War based on a war museum in Vietnam.
Photography and not photography
My dad has always liked pointing things out. He literally points to things with his finger—a tree, a building, a cloud, and then he will tell you what he knows about the thing he is pointing to. When I was about ten years old my parents bought me a used 35mm camera and I started walking about taking pictures with it. I realized that it was a way for me to point like my dad at things that I found interesting and then capture them to talk about later on. When I had the camera in my hands the world became a more visually interesting place, or I guess the world didn’t change but I became more sensitive to what was interesting to me. I continued to take pictures and look at the world in terms of possible photographs for the next couple of decades. Then I decided I didn’t need a camera anymore, I could just walk around and see interesting things with out the camera device, some of these things that I see turn into projects in one way or another. Largely I think of what I do as an artist as just pointing to things that I think are interesting so that other people will notice and appreciate them too.
When I was in college as an undergraduate at Humboldt State University, which is in a very small hippy town in northern California, I took a class from a teacher named Bill Duvall, he had co-written an important environmental book called Deep Ecology. The class I took was called Experiential Education. On the first day of class Bill Duval asked each of the students to pick an outdoor physical activity to do during class periods for the rest of the semester. Some people chose surfing, some bike riding, and some kayaking. I decided to walk on railroad tracks. I got really good at it, by the end I could walk on the tracks for miles at a time without falling off, I could also run on them, jump from one track to the other, spin around on them, and walk on them with my eyes closed. The class didn’t meet for the rest of the semester until the last weekend when we all meet up on a camping trip to talk about our personal experiences of doing our activities. Somehow I think about that class often, where as most of the other classes I took in college and all of the tests and papers and discussions that were a part of them are long forgotten.
Two years after I got my MFA I went back to school to attend an organic farming apprenticeship at UC Santa Cruz. There were forty students all living in tents together on a twenty-acre farm on the university campus. Most of the time we just did a lot of hard labor, but it was so much better than any other educational program I’d ever participated in before. Most of what I do as an art professor now is based not my art education but instead on my farming education.
Open Source Approaches
In the art world there is so much emphasis on originality. Artists buy right into that, and even though they are always influenced by other people they try pretending that they are not. The galleries promote this idea and encourage “signature styles”, rarification and the star/celebrity system. I can see why the galleries would like that way of doing business because it allows them to inflate prices and make demand, but for artists there is no real benefit. It just suppresses the true way that people develop their work through adapting and hybridizing and creates an environment where artists feel like they have to protect and make secret their process rather than sharing it freely and feeling good about doing that, which I think would be much more healthy both for individuals and as a system.
Social Practice as Opposed to Studio Practice
Let me define “art” as anything that anyone calls “art”. That can be a maker or viewer. By calling something “art” it doesn’t make it art forever just during the time that it is being appreciated as art. Similarly, I don’t think, as Beuys said, that everyone is an artist, I just think that everyone has the potential to be an artist. If anyone wants to be an artist they can be one as far as I’m concerned and that is regardless of their credentials. You definitely don’t need an academic degree to be an artist. Most of my favorite artists don’t have academic degrees.
I think an artist is someone who gets to do whatever they want (within whatever limits might be containing them-financial, legal, ethical, psychological.) Other professions or practices don’t have this level of freedom, dentists need to do dental work, dog trainers train dogs, etc. Those could be fun or not so fun professions to have, but regardless that is what those people need to do until they decide that they want to do something else. Artists can do a project about dentistry or dogs or anything else they are interested in at any time and then can do something else right after or even during, and still remain an artist.
Social Practice in regards to art can be looked at as anything that isn’t studio practice. By studio practice I mean the dominate way of making art-spending time in a studio working out personal interests into the form of paintings, or objects, or photos, or videos, or some other pretty easily commodifiable form. The often unspoken intention for this studio work is that it will go off to a desirable commercial gallery, be reproduced in art magazines, and eventually wind up in museum collections, while making the artist into a celebrity of sorts, and paying all of the bills. That is the carrot on the stick that keeps this dominate approach alive and kicking, even though very few of these studio practice artists ever get their work shown at all, and most just give up and find some other way to pay off their student loans.
I’ve just started up a Social Practice MFA program at Portland State University. There are currently eight students enrolled. They don’t get studios like the other MFA students and instead have a shared office and a shared classroom space. Currently we are looking for a more public version of these spaces possibly in the form of an off-grid alternative energy portable building that might locate itself in different parts of the city in vacant lots and at grade schools, etc. The students take some classes with the other studio MFA students but they also spend time on projects in various collaborative groups working with the city of Portland, various non-profits, and applying for public art projects in other places, as well as doing their own individual social practice work. I’m trying to show that artists can actually have sustained and supported careers within the public in ways that aren’t possible when the commercial gallery is the primary system that artists are trying to respond to. So far it is going very well.
I like to read about alternative education for kids from the 60’s and 70’s. There is one writer I’m particularly fond of named John Holt. He wrote a great book called How Children Learn, and then about twenty years later he revised the book by adding comments on his own writing in the margins of the book. He thought that a lot of the text he’d written twenty years earlier didn’t make any sense. One of the things he did agree with is that traditional classrooms are not set up as learning environments because the kids are divided up in terms of age, and because they are forced to sit in desks and not move or talk unless they raise their hand and are called on and then only to regurgitate what the teacher has already told them. He says that instead a learning environment would be one that has a mix of ages and experiences in one place so that people can learn from each other, and that learning happens through doing activities and talking with other people, so those things shouldn’t be suppressed. In later books he suggests that typical schools are really more like prisons for kids rather than places of learning. I tend to agree.
Making Work That is Accessible to Both Art and Non-Art Publics
When I was younger it seemed like it was good to make art that was very obscure, so obscure that even I had no idea what it was about. If anyone asked I would just say that I wanted the viewer to have their own interpretation of what the work was about, but really I now think that was just a way of avoiding having to know what I was doing or why I was doing it. Then it occurred to me that it might be nice if not only I understood what I was doing, but that even non-art trained publics would be able to find the work accessible. Even though I’d never been taught to think in that way it turned out to not be very hard to do. One of my favorite approaches is to do work with a local person or group of people that I met around the place where I am going to have a show. That way they feel invested in the show and invite their friends and family to see it. Working with these people made me avoid doing anything obscure and instead I found ways of making engaging projects in pretty straightforward ways. The work is interesting and complex not because I made it that way, but because the people I work with are interesting and complex (as it turns out everyone is). I’m just able to put it all into an art context, which makes people consider it in ways they might not otherwise.
Multiple Ways to View the Same Experience
I like art that can be viewed in a number of ways. I think of it like going for a walk in a forest by myself and liking it in a certain sort of direct but abstract and emotional way, and then going on the same forest walk with a botanist friend of mine who tells me the names of all of the plants and where they come from, etc. I like both experiences very much, neither is better or worse for me, they are just different. That’s how good art can be too.
I spent two years out of school between undergrad and graduate school. For one of the years I drove around the country and into Mexico living out of my truck, periodically crashing on the couches of friends and family. The other year I lived in Los Gatos, California and worked in the after school program of a small grade school in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I did art projects with all of the kids there from kindergarten to 5th grade. Right away I noticed that the kindergarteners were all interdisciplinary artists, and that they were very fearless and motivated. There was a slow regression that took place as the kids got older and by the time they were in 5th grade there was usually only one kid in each class that was considered an artist and that was because he or she could draw realistically. The rest of the kids were convinced that they had no artistic abilities at all.
One of the kindergarteners I worked with was named Walter, he was the smallest kid in the whole school but he was clearly very intelligent too. Somehow he had learned to multiply and divide in his head and the other older kids loved to throw complicated equations his way and wait for him to come up with the answers, which were almost always correct. I’d had bad experiences with math as a kid, and like the 5th graders who had lost their artistic sense of themselves, I’d lost any concept of myself being able to do anything but rudimentary math. But Walter wanted more math to tackle and it wasn’t being supplied in his kindergarten class. So I asked my mathematician friend Cleveland to explain some simple algebra to me. Cleveland is a thoughtful and patient instructor and soon I actually found myself learning and being excited about math with the primary motivation of being able to pass on what I was learning to Walter.
When it came to the art projects for the kids I tried to keep it simple, I liked making books and so I showed them how to make books too. Walter was particularly excited about this activity. Every day he made a new set of drawings on a specific subject of interest like insects, dinosaurs, ghosts, monsters, animals found in Africa, etc. He would then dictate to me the text and title and staple the whole thing together. Then he would run around the little campus and make everyone look at his book. Kids would stop basketball games and gather around to flip through Walter’s latest creation. After he had shown everyone, Walter would discard the book, with total disinterest (I rescued several from the trash) and started speculating on the next day’s book topic.
It occurred to me that Walter was fulfilling a whole little system of parts which are crucial to the artistic process. He determined a subject that was of interest to him, insects, etc. expressed his feelings on the subject through his drawings and text, and then went out to share his product with an audience. There were no other factors or motivations, no hope of using the work to get into grad school, or to get a gallery show, and no desire to make something that looked like something else he saw in Art Forum. It occurred to me that I had started similarly to Walter when I first was interested in making art, but that somewhere along the way that system had been corrupted. I decided to stop making art for a while and then as projects slowly started occurring to me again I tried to compare them with Walter’s process to determine if I should pursue them or not. It has been difficult to maintain Walter’s level of simplicity and integrity, but it is always a goal of mine.
Learning To Love You More
In 2002 I started a participatory web project called Learning To Love You More with filmmaker Miranda July. Miranda and I come up with what we call assignments like Write Your Life Story in Less Than A Day, and Take A Picture Under Your Bed, and Describe Your Ideal Government, etc. and then people all over the world respond by doing what we call Reports, which are the results of following an assignment. These reports are archived on the site so that people can see and compare everyone’s contributions. At this point we have over sixty assignments (which we continue to add to) and over 5000 people have participated by doing reports. The idea is that sometimes it’s nice to not have to worry about coming up with an idea and instead to concentration on the experience. We think of the assignments sort of like recipes that people might want to follow at first and then later after feeling more confident from the results they might be more comfortable cooking their own thing. Or for those who have no desire to come up with their own ideas they can do many of the assignments and it can be more like a yoga class where you follow along with an instructor who directs the students into a variety of different poses, but while everyone is doing for instance Downward Dog, they are still each doing their own version of Downward Dog. I personally really like taking yoga classes because for some reason I can’t get myself to do yoga on my own, but following the prescriptive exercises always makes me feel better about life in general.
In my first year of grad school I made a Xerox book of a long transcribed interview that I’d done with my Great Aunt Grace when I visited her in a nursing home in a small town in Okalahoma just before she died at the age of ninety-eight. One of the people I gave a copy of the Aunt Grace book to told me that she took it home with her over winter break and showed it to her mother. She said her mother read it and loved it. That gave me pause. Did I want mothers to love my work? For a second that seemed somehow uncool. But then after thinking about it a little longer I realized that yes I did want mothers to love my work, I wanted all sorts of people to love my work and have all sort of other emotions in regards to it also.
Contemporary Art History Dilemma and Solution
For the last two years I’ve been trying to get Portland State University to offer a contemporary art history class that just focuses on work made during the 21st century. Somehow this seems like an impossible task for the people who teach art history. Last year the teacher was a very nice woman but she was unable to even reach the 1990’s in her class. This year we tried a new teacher. I met with her and explained that I didn’t want her to even mention anything about the seventies, eighties or nineties except in reference to something made in the 2000’s. I told her not to use a textbook, and not to try to put the art into themes. Instead I asked her to just show a variety of artists and work made since 2000 and then to discuss it with the class. This proved to be too difficult somehow, and so she started with the seventies, had the students all buy textbooks that were published before 2000 and organized the term into a set of themes. About ten of the grad students dropped out of the class with my approval and instead set up their own class. They created a blog with links to contemporary art sites, they assign each other readings and writings and have their own class discussions. I’m going to periodically check in with them, but it looks like they are doing just fine.
I taught a class last year in which I had all of the students find a department on campus that wasn’t the art department and then to find someone there, a professor, student, or staff person, and ask them if they could become an artist in residence for that department. So the students became artists in residence in the black studies dept, the science dept, the music dept, the psychology dept, the systems analysis dept etc. they spent the term learning about and doing projects with that dept. Periodically the whole class would go on a tour of all of the depts. and see what everyone was up to.
I had another class that as a group went on the same walk together one day each week. We walked for an hour and then turned around and went back to the university. The students were asked to make projects with people and about things they encountered on the walk and to install the work along our walk route. By the end of the term we all had a very different understanding of the neighborhoods we had been walking through then when we started. There was another class that was made up entirely of field trips. The students were in charge of organizing and conducting the field trip. They were graded on the quality of the field trips they organized. I’m not much for grades, but I’d rather grade the organization and execution of a class field trip than an object of art. We went to visit dams, and mansions, and parks, and corn mazes, and suburban developments, and recycling centers. It was very educational and fun and interesting too.
Crow Bio-diesel project
My wife Wendy Red Star is half Crow Indian and grew up on the Crow reservation in South/Central Montana. When she took me there to meet her family it occurred to me that there was an interesting dynamic at work on the reservation. It is very common to deep fry food there in cooking oil, and people tend to drive in big diesel trucks. After talking about it Wendy and I came up with an idea that would combine these two aspects of reservation life into a project. The plan is to create a bio-diesel station on the reservation that collects and processes used cooking oil and converts it into bio-diesel that can be used as a cleaner fuel for the diesel trucks that people often drive there. Our hope is that the free or inexpensive fuel would be a draw for people to come to the station that would also serve as a community center that includes educational and cultural experiences designed specifically to address issues and concerns on the reservation, and could possible function as a kids daycare center too. The vehicle that would go and collect the used cooking oil would also operate as a mobile learning center/book mobile, going out into the community and providing services like teaching traditional Crow language and cultural practices, along with providing information about contemporary health and environmental issues, etc. Right now we are in a research and development stage.
Leading an Interesting Life
I had a professor in grad school who told me that he was addicted to the art world, and that he was never satisfied. Once he got into one show he just wanted to get into another that he perceived as more important, he also scanned Art Forum every month to make sure his name was mentioned somewhere in it and if it wasn’t he felt depressed. I think he told me this as a warning.
Mostly what I’m trying to do as an artist is to live an interesting life. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. It can be a struggle at times, but I think that is pretty much what I am doing.
• 11 December 2011 • 1 note • View comments
Simple Rational Approximations
May- October 2011
SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
Artissima invites Triple Candie to curate an exhibition for a special non-commercial section of Artissima 18 (November 4 – 6, 2011) titled Simple Rational Approximations. The section is to be co-organized by Francesco Manacorda, Artissima’s director, and Lara Favoretto, an artist.
Triple Candie presents first proposal – a U.S.I.A.-style export group show of work by 4-6 over-hyped contemporary artists working in the U.S.A.
Artissima requests other ideas, noting: “After a long discussion about radicality and the market, we got to the conclusion that, given the context of the fair, a show about artists who have been receiving undo attention may be slightly problematic, considering that most of the artists you mention are represented by galleries at the fair… . We hope you understand we would rather not be so extremely critical towards the galleries and the artists that make up the fair.”
Triple Candie submits 3 new proposals, all with arte povera as their subject. Proposal #2 reads: “In the second, we would try to make a case that arte povera never existed. Dan Cameron made this claim in a bold article in Flash Art in 1992. We will build on this, with an earnest tone and mischievous spirit. The subject could be dealt with the way skeptics try to disprove the existence of stories in the Bible – with material evidence (the Shroud of Turin, the Ark, etc.). Documentation of artworks, exhibitions … . [the] installation … will evoke that of a small-town history or anthropology museum.”
Artissima writes, “Now, looking at your proposals, we believe that n.2 may be the strongest, wittiest and most interesting viewpoint on the matter: at the same time, though, building on the statement that Arte Povera never existed may very well be seen by both art professionals and Turin citizens and officials as a somewhat aggressive response to Germano Celant’s exhibition. Also, talking of Art Povera in Turin, as you already know, is always kind of risky: everyone is an expert in Turin, but at the same time the real experts on Arte Povera will surely be in Turin for the show.”
Triple Candie writes lengthy response. Excerpts: “People have, at times, used the word irreverent when talking about Triple Candie. For us, this word is problematic. On the surface, our shows may appear to be irreverent – they are done without permission, don’t use art, often have provocative titles – but the narrative substance of the shows is never irreverent. Our wall texts always evidence a certain admiration for our subjects. When choosing our subjects, we select those for which we have an enthusiastic ambivalence and which have had a complicated influence on our own curatorial practices. The process of putting together the show is an attempt to work through these issues. We didn’t select arte povera simply b/c of its relationship to Turin; equally important, we selected it as a topic b/c of its relationship to our work… . As for the show being seen as a somewhat aggressive response to Celant’s show, we want to say a few things about context, which we think will mitigate against that. These are issues that you are all too aware of, but we think they warrant mutual acknowledgment. The first is that the show will be publicly accessible for less than a week, making it but a fleeting performance… . Second, the fact that it will be placed in a provisional faux-“institutional” context will, we imagine, enhance the absurdity of claim (that arte povera never existed). Moreover, it will be but one of many projects within the spectacle of the fair.”
Manacorda responds directly, “I have to say that your email convinced me and Lara that we should really take the risk and embrace your project. We have invited you precisely because of the shows that you used as examples of situations in which people could have been offended (Hammons above all) with the great results we all know.”
And then, “I totally believe that your approach will generate a great show and a very valuable contribution to the rest of the project. I only suggest, since the difficult character of the artists here in Turin, that we touch base every now and then on how the idea is developing so that we can give you some feedback, which eventually you can decide to ignore: I think it is important for all of us that we are aware of the possible risks that we would be running, without censoring you. Perhaps our reaction certifies that, again, in this project you have selected a subject with the ‘productive tensions’ you mentioned, which means that the results will be those you are looking for. In short, we trust you and like your idea a lot.”
Triple Candie begins production.
Artissima sends Triple Candie agreement, which it signs. The agreement does not include a cancelation clause.
Manacorda invites Triple Candie to participate in another project, separate from the exhibition – a special-issue magazine to be edited by Turin-based collector and dealer Georgia Maffei on the subject of arte povera. In writing about Maffei and his publishing partner, Manacorda notes, “They really liked the idea to have a section of their book on arte povera attempting to argue that arte povera does not exist…!”
Triple Candie sends Artissima floor plan for build-out.
Triple Candie submits statement and images for Artissima catalogue with sample images (these include reproductions of arte povera works that have been altered by Triple Candie, was well as portraits of arte povera artists that have been similiarly altered).
Manacorda responds via email, “I just read the text, I like it a lot! it is tough on celant but very relevant and balanced.”
Manacorda makes a final selection of the images for the Artissima catalogue.
Triple Candie and Artissima talk via Skype; Triple Candie updates Artissima in detail about progress, answering all the fair organizers’ questions about progress and intent. Artissima asks Triple Candie if it would agree to a joint statement, reviewed by a lawyer, that clarifies joint intent. Triple Candie agrees. Artissima says it will draft a preliminary statement. (This statement is never sent to Triple Candie for review.)
Artissima wires Triple Candie production funds in the amount of 3,000 euros.
Triple Candie sends Artissima detailed description of installation, including sample images.
Artissima responds, “Thank you for sending the description of your installation. As I mentioned at the beginning of our collaboration, I think we are walking on eggshells with this project and I would like to make sure to avoid misunderstanding of your intentions. I have worked and still now work with many of the protagonists of the movement and I would like them to look at your project not just as parody.”
And, “From this side of the atlantic, I am preparing a bit the terrain here by talking to the directors at Rivoli (where the celant show is about to open) and with the press to put forward the reasons to make your project happen. How does this sound to you? Would it be possible to send some more detailed plans of install? It is not my intention to intrude into your authorship obviously so do let me know if I am pushing it too much.”
Later in the day, Artissima write, “I have spoken to Beatrice Merz who is the co-director of Rivoli and co-curator with Celant of the exhibition and she expressed worries as recently a prominent right-wing art critic published an article on a national newspaper to demonstrate that arte povera was a bad movement made by communists who prevented the art scene to flourish in the country. I would really be gutted if your show were to be associated to this anti-intellectual campaign that is trying to destroy the contemporary art system in italy…”
Triple Candie sends Artissima an extensive update on the show, including photographs of the gallery model, of two-dimensional work produced, and a list of the vinyl quotes to be installed. The three-dimensional objects (surrogates, props) cannot be shown as they are to be built entirely on-site.
Manacorda writes, “Sorry for not having acknowledged the email i am about to meet Lara to discuss this issue and will get back to you shortly.”
Triple Candie responds, “what issue?”
to which Manacorda answers, “I mean the risk that the institution and Lara and I would take.”
A later email from Manacorda explains concerns about presenting the show within the context of Italy’s political and economic upheaval. Particular concern is for the impact the show could have on Castello di Rivoli, a repository of arte povera works that has been under severe attack from critics and right-wing politicians. Triple Candie responds, “What has changed vis-a-vis your perception of the risk? As we’re several months down the road and you have been enthusiastic and supportive of the project all along — from original proposal through updates and the catalogue contribution… . From where we sit, the risk is dialogue. What’s risky about that? This is not an offensive subject, like pornography, blasphemy, anti-Semitism, racism, etc. — the subject is the construction and definition of an art movement.”
Manacorda posits a series of questions about the show. Triple Candie responds that day, before answering the questions:
“More soon, but from where you sit do you really think that our exhibition could negatively impact government funding of the arts in Italy, and potentially threaten the viability of Artissima? Is the risk truly that great?”
Manacorda writes, “I would not put it down in writing otherwise. It is not the show that will generate the funding cut but the situation in which we are can be precipitated by an event such as this one.”
Triple Candie responds to Manacorda’s questions, though all had been answered previously. At this point, Triple Candie begins feeling resentful about the sudden scrutiny, so its answers are curt but true. The questions and answers follow:
Q: What are the reasons behind altering the images of the works? Is it parody or is there a more complex narrative behind? What role do they play in the development of your argument about the non-existence of Arte Povera?
A: The evidence is unreliable and contradictory.
Q: Why are the portraits altered? Has this got to do with individual vs group or is it a visualization of the author’s identity blurring with the work?
A: The evidence is unreliable and contradictory.
Q: Do the alterations enter within the core of the arte povera’s themes (e.g. energy, materials, process) and how?
A: Yes and no.
Q: What is the rationale behind the altered surrogates as a group? Given that people can see the originals in the museum (which wasn’t the case in many of your previous projects) is the alteration the key to the remaking? I am asking you this as the pieces could be understood by the general public as real sculptures rather than surrogates. In case this is part of your plan how do you handle this potential misunderstanding? Do you think that the public will be able to understand the reasons for the alterations?
A: Yes. We tell them in wall texts (this will be a problem for the illiterate). Yes.
Q: What is the art historical conclusion that you presume the viewers would gain from experiencing your show?
A: History is the province of doubt. Experience (a la Dewey) is all we can trust. (E.G. You had to be there.) Everything else is built from shards of misrepresentation.
Q: Celant himself declared that Arte Povera does not exist in 1972, and encouraged individual artists to pursue their own ‘solo’ career; how is your argument different from this position?
A: He said it was finished; he didn’t say it did not exist. Celant’s argumentation is unreliable and contradictory.
Q: How is your thesis that Arte Povera never existed demonstrated through the four elements (disorientation galleries, gallery of altered surrogates, portrait walls and Celant Museum)?
A: The evidence is unreliable and contradictory.
Artissima writes that, “the visual material in question [is] potentially very offensive to artists and gallerists who participate in the fair… . Here in Italy eight exhibitions have just opened about the subject in all the most important museums. Due to the potential offense, we need to make sure that your project is able to have the critical weight to stand up to them otherwise we will all look foolish. And I mean all of us: it has not only to do with my situation. The altered portraits and representations of their works that you sent me could make the project be judged here as a superficial joke on them. This is because in New York the context is characterised by a sophisticated art world able to understand and accustomed to art-world parody, in Italy the public barely knows what arte povera is and they are likely to think that your project is in bad taste, ridiculing the work and to bill Triple Candie’s work as one-liner.”
Artissima updates website with list of curatorial projects. Triple Candie’s show is not included; another project appears in its place. Triple Candie emails Artissima for an explanation.
Manacorda emails Triple Candie that the show is canceled.
• 8 December 2011 • 4 notes • View comments
Joe Sola leaps through his studio window in his video Studio Visit, 2005. He trained with a movie stuntman to prepare for the piece.
Biting the Hand That Feeds Them
Carolina A. Miranda
December 6th, 2011
A growing number of artists are poking fun at art-world inequities in their work—even as they participate in the system they critique
The premise behind Joe Sola’s 2005 video piece Studio Visit is simple. Over a period of two years, he invited collectors, curators, and critics to his Los Angeles studio to talk about his art. He would turn on the video camera, chat amiably for a few minutes, and then take a flying leap out the closed window in an explosion of shattered glass. His guests would dash to the window, only to find Sola chortling on top of a pile of strategically arranged cardboard boxes eight feet below. “People would scream with fear and pleasure at the same time,” he recalls. He repeated this act 22 times.
Studio Visit brings together Sola’s interest in performance art and in Hollywood filmmaking. (He trained with a stuntman to prepare for the piece, and the window glass was the breakaway kind used in action movies.) But the work also serves as a way of inverting the social dynamics of the art world. During a studio visit, power and authority usually rest with the curator or collector, whose decisions can determine the course of an artist’s career. By rocketing out the window, however, Sola seized the upper hand. After his jump, he says, visitors would remain wide-eyed for the rest of the meeting. “It made the studio visit an exhilarating process,” he recalls.
In a genre commonly known as institutional critique, artists for decades have used their work to lay bare the power structures of the art world or to expose its conventions. In 1970, Hans Haacke created an installation for New York’s Museum of Modern Art that challenged the Vietnam War views of New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, one of the museum’s board members. (Viewers were asked to answer whether they would vote for him or not in the next election.) In 1986, Chris Burden dug up the floor of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art in a work titled Exposing the Foundation of the Museum.
Many contemporary artists continue to make work that subverts the nature of institutional spaces. For example, Michael Asher’s piece for the 2010 Whitney Biennial consisted of keeping the museum open for 72 hours straight. But a growing number of artists are creating works that hold up a mirror to a larger art universe: tweaking the powerful, documenting inequity, and reveling in the foibles of the culture.
The anonymous collective known as the Bruce High Quality Foundation (also featured in the 2010 Whitney Biennial) has challenged the market-driven nature of arts education with a free “university” in Manhattan. In Los Angeles, figures like Sola, as well as various performance groups, have created pieces that comment on everything from power to exclusivity to bureaucratic inertia. On the East Coast, artists such as Jennifer Dalton, Ward Shelley, and Loren Munk sift through mountains of data to create drawings, installations, and paintings that chart the industry’s history, not to mention its biases.
“What’s important about this type of work is that it raises a question,” says Edward Winkleman, the Chelsea gallerist who represents Dalton, an artist who frequently tracks issues of gender inequity in her work. “And once that question has been raised, it makes it a lot harder to ignore.”
One of the biggest issues artists are tangling with is money, from its distribution to the way it has come to define artistic success. Many of the artists interviewed for this story were squeamish about the art market, and this sentiment is reflected in their work. Brooklyn-based William Powhida is an outspoken critic of what he considers to be the financially driven nature of the art world, producing scathing pencil drawings that chart networks of money and influence. In 2009, he collaborated with artist Jade Townsend to produce an oversize drawing that depicted Miami during Art Basel as a smoking Hooverville with bread lines. (Disclosure: Powhida has made reference to me in a few of his works.)
Last summer he took over the Marlborough Gallery’s space in Chelsea for a solo exhibition titled “POWHIDA.” The gallery was transformed into a louche den of artistic iniquity, where an unshaven, mirror sunglasses–wearing “Powhida” (played by an actor) lounged on black leather couches, behaving boorishly in the company of attractive women. From the over-the-top language of the press release (“a divergent, yet coterminous installation”) to the single painting on view (an image of “Powhida” releasing a dove), the installation skewered art-world decadence. “Part of the goal was to use the press to curate hype,” explains the artist (the real one). It worked: the exhibition got plenty of ink.
In 2006, Dalton debuted an installation at New York’s Pulse Art Fair titled The Collector-ibles, in which she created a display case full of figurines that charted the ARTnews 200, the world’s most important art collectors as listed in this magazine. The piece reflects her frustration with the attitude among some collectors that art is just another luxury commodity. “I wanted to give myself a feeling of power,” she says of the work. “I wanted to turn them into trinkets.” Early in 2010, she and Powhida collaborated on a month-long show at Winkleman called #class, in which the pair turned the gallery into an improvised think tank and welcomed the participation of the broader artistic community. The issue of the art market was front and center: many artists expressed discomfort with the notion that ideas should have a price tag, even as they recognized that selling work allowed them the freedom to produce more.
The Bruce High Quality Foundation has also tackled the market issue. In late 2009, with support from the arts non-profit Creative Time, they founded BHQFU, a collaboratively run free “university” in which anyone could propose a class or sign up for one. The curriculum included courses on metaphor and “XXXtreme Performance Studies.” The group stated via e-mail that the project was a reaction to “the growth of the artist-education industry, specifically the rapid expansion of M.F.A. programs.” The current market-dominated system, the e-mail continued, prizes “uninventive thinking” and has led to “a whole hell of a lot of artists working on their resumes rather than their work.” The Bruces (as they are informally known) followed up BHQFU with a road trip in 2011 called “Teach 4 Amerika,” in which they visited arts programs around the United States to discuss the connection between arts education and the market in greater depth.
Certainly it is no small irony that many of these artists are active participants in the market they critique. The Bruces are represented by independent dealer Vito Schnabel, while Powhida recently joined Postmasters Gallery in New York, where his original drawings sell for between $3,000 and $15,000. Dalton, who is represented by Winkleman, has work that ranges in price from $2,000 to $25,000. Sola is represented by Nye + Brown in Los Angeles and Blackston Gallery in New York, where he had a solo show in October.
Powhida admits that selling work can leave him feeling a little like a contortionist: using the market to fund new work that criticizes the market. This past summer he created a large mixed-media piece for a fall solo show at Postmasters that tracks the ways in which some powerful figures were involved in the financial collapse of 2008. “Chances are, the dude who can buy this painting is a hedge-fund manager who is packaging bogus derivatives,” he says. “It puts me in a paradoxical position.”
Moreover, some critics have questioned whether work with hyperspecific art-world references is relevant to a larger audience. Independent curator and critic Christian Viveros-Fauné included six of Powhida’s works in the Dublin Contemporary 2011, an exhibition he cocurated in Ireland this past fall. He says that these works do have broader appeal. Powhida’s “criticism of the art world is a much larger criticism of the venality of sucking up to money all the time in every sphere,” Viveros-Fauné wrote in an e-mail to ARTnews. “I think parking his work solely within the art world is a setup for a superficial dismissal.”
“I don’t think art about art is inaccessible or just a joke,” says Gary Carrion-Murayari, who, as cocurator of the 2010 Whitney Biennial, worked with Bruce High Quality Foundation. (He is now an associate curator at the New Museum.) “You can do work that speaks to several audiences—and I think that audiences are more sophisticated and aware than we in the art world give them credit for.” If anything, he was interested in some of what the Bruces were doing because it was accessible. “And it was funny,” he adds. “I appreciate things that are funny and irreverent.”
Money isn’t the only thing artists are talking about in works like these. Dalton’s drawings and installations have tracked everything from the way female cultural figures are visually portrayed in the New Yorker to the subjects discussed on critic Jerry Saltz’s Facebook page. Loren Munk, a Brooklyn-based painter represented by Lesley Heller Workspace in New York, has chronicled noteworthy art-world locations and figures in his pop-inflected canvases. And Finishing School, a performance-art collective from Long Beach, California, used its space at the last California Biennial, at the Orange County Museum of Art, to gather footage for an ongoing film project about … biennials.
Some artists are interested in drawing attention to disregarded corners of art history. Ward Shelley is an artist based in Easton, Connecticut, whose works are in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art and who is represented by Pierogi Gallery in Brooklyn. He creates large-scale diagrammatic drawings resembling colorful alien viscera that chart the historical details behind various cultural phenomena. In one drawing, from 2006, he detailed the influences surrounding 1970s performance artist Carolee Schneemann.
The piece, he says, serves as a way to note the work and accomplishments of an artist he thinks has been overlooked by the establishment. “Narratives tend to be seeded in our culture by special interests,” he says. His drawings, he adds, are a way to insert new information between the dots of art history.
Other artists want to address issues of race and class in the art world. Orlando-based Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz has an ongoing video series called “Ask Chuleta,” in which a Puerto Rican homegirl (played by the artist) explains the ins and outs of art in an informal YouTube style. The artist, who comes from the Bronx, says she sought to create a work that stripped the art world of its overwrought jargon. “Chuleta” (which means “pork chop” in Spanish) rattles stream-of-consciousness tirades on everything from appropriation to feminism in a thick urban slang laced with profanities. This style is also employed by New York artist Jayson Musson, who last spring began posting web videos in the persona of Hennessy Youngman, a figure who also uses urban lingo to discuss art-world concepts. (His advice on how to be a successful black artist: Be angry and “paint niggas … doing historically white shit.”) In late February, Musson (as Youngman) will appear at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art in a series devoted to art and technology.
Raimundi-Ortiz says works such as these provide an opportunity to insert an unlikely person into a high-art context. “This is definitely a character who wouldn’t exactly be welcome at a gallery opening,” she says of Chuleta. “She would be looked at up and down.” Since she launched the series, in 2005, her videos have been shown at Manifesta and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. And, this past fall, her work was part of the exhibition “American Chambers,” at the Gyeongnam Art Museum in South Korea.
Ultimately, many of these works are steeped in a profound appreciation of art—even as they poke fun of it. In 2011, Sola produced a video series called “Cinematic ‘Artforum’ Reviews,” in which he had a voiceover artist narrate the magazine’s reviews of his shows in the style of a Hollywood movie trailer. The result: Jacques Lacan references are delivered in the sort of speech you’d generally hear attached to a movie full of explosions. For Sola, these pieces represent a way of mixing two things he loves.
“I really enjoy reading art criticism and I enjoy listening to movie reviews,” he says. “Really, I just enjoy talking about art.” And there is no bigger tribute than to make work about it, too.
Carolina A. Miranda is a freelance writer in New York and a regular contributor to WNYC. She blogs at C-Monster.net.
• 7 December 2011 • View comments
Tercerunquinto, Public Sculpture Project in the Urban Periphery of Monterrey, 2003
Art Lies, Issue 56
Artistic collectives are rare in Mexico, especially ones that address the relationship between art and public space. Tercerunquinto is one such group that has successfully engaged collective practice as a means of critically dealing with the role of the built environment, utopianism and its limitations. The Monterrey-based group, comprised of Julio Castro Carreón, Gabriel Cázares Salas and Rolando Flores Tovar, has been working collaboratively since 1996. Tercerunquinto has exhibited widely in Mexico, the United States and Europe, including the Gallery at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) and most recently at the New Langton Arts residency program in San Francisco.
The collective is primarily interested in, among other things, the collapse between public and private space and the ways in which art can articulate a political and social discourse within these parameters. Beuysian notions of social sculpture provide fundamental underpinnings to the group’s working philosophy, just as performative and relational histories have affected contemporary artistic practice on a global scale. Architecture and its attendant theories and practices provide a strong framework for much of the group’s work, whether it resides within—or in spite of—the white cube. Public Sculpture Project in the Urban Periphery of Monterrey (2003), for example, consisted of the group pouring a forty-square-meter cement foundation for a community of illegal settlements on the outskirts of Monterrey, providing them with a foundational base for various neighborhood functions, including the distribution of food, blankets, medicine and various religious and political meetings.
In other projects, Tercerunquinto has manipulated or altered the walls, gates and staircases of existing structures as a means of both changing and heightening the use-values of such elements. In a project realized in a group exhibition at the Mexican Cultural Institute during Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002, for example, the group tore a hole in the wall that separated the exhibition space from the immigration office of the Consul General of Mexico, thereby collapsing and contaminating the sacrosanct nature of each respective space. In all of their projects, an awareness of social dynamics emerges as the real essence of the work. Moreover, the burden of the monument and its devalued currency in contemporary Mexican culture is an important cornerstone in the collective’s work. In the following series of questions, I wanted to address the social dynamics that led to the group’s formation and the implications of working collectively versus an individual voice.
GV: Why did you decide to work as a collective?
T1Q: For us, it was the manner in which we began to produce art. Almost as soon as we entered the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, we collaborated in an artist collective called “Caxa,” formed by some professors and students that focused on public space. Since then, we’ve had particular individual interests but no formalized production. Therefore, collective production was the manner in which we engaged in art. Politically, it wasn’t the result of a manifesto or some other type of foundational pamphlet.
When we first formed our own group as students, it was made up of a variable number of members depending on each particular project. We could be ten, nine, seven or five depending on the video, mural, installation or performance we made. It was a spontaneous way of working as a group. When there were just three of us left in 1998, although we were still students, we assumed a more formalized project because we realized that we had a lot in common.
GV: What are the implications in doing so—in working as a unit? Is it socially based or does it indicate the death of the author?
T1Q: For us, the discussion—the dialogue and the interchange of ideas—represents the primary material for the production of art. We cannot say that we have a political/socialist interest, nor can we say that our particular way of working postulates the “death of the author.” We are not necessarily in conflict with artistic tradition.
GV: Are there any historical precedents that inspired you to work as a group?
T1Q: Honestly, there is no historic movement that has inspired us as a group. At times context determined, in large part, the need to work as a group. Being that Monterrey is such a difficult context in which to work and at times hostile to certain forms of contemporary art, collective practice is, in some ways, a strategy for survival. The joining of forces guaranteed that we could exist as artists. It should be noted that Marcela Quiroga and Georgina Arizpe of the duo “Marcela and Gina” share a similar history.
Now we have more conscious ideas about collaboration through our knowledge of other collectives, historically speaking and in the contemporary arts. We are now capable of recognizing in others the similarities and differences in work dynamics and aesthetic interests.
GV: You have realized projects in public spaces that are very interesting within the context of contemporary art. What was the impetus to move outside the white cube?
T1Q: We are constantly moving inside and outside of the white cube.On the one hand, we have a series of projects that questions and works around the notion of public sculpture as a “coronation” of urban development: public sculpture with monumental characteristics that dignifies supreme values or heroic deeds. On the other hand, we produce work for institutional spaces as well. Also, we have become increasingly interested in the moment that documentation of the art we produce in public spaces becomes inserted into institutional spaces. We believe this is another state of the work that seeks correspondence, perhaps in order to explore the relationship between artwork, document and space and time.
GV: Do you ever present work as individuals or always as Tercerunquinto?
T1Q: We generally work in tandem. What little work we do produce as individuals functions as personal exercises, which are later returned to the collective.
• 7 December 2011 • 3 notes • View comments
Art Work is a newspaper and accompanying website that consists of writings and images from artists, activists, writers, critics, and others on the topic of working within depressed economies and how that impacts artistic process, compensation and artistic property. The newspaper is distributed for free at sites and from people throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. It is also available by mail order from Half Letter Press for the cost of postage. Art Work is a newspaper that consists of writings and images of Julia Bryan-Wilson, Holland Cotter, Tim Kerr, Nance Klehm, Harrell Fletcher, Futurefarmers, Robin Hewlett, Nicolas Lampert, Lize Mogel, Dan S. Wang, Gregory Sholette, Dylan A.T. Miner, Christina Ulke and Marc Herbst of the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, OurGoods, Chris Burden, Scott Berzofsky, John Duda, InCUBATE, Linda Frye Burnham, ILSSA, Cooley Windsor, Brian Holmes, Nick Tobier, Lolita Hernandez, Stacy Malasky, Nate Mullen, Aaron Timlin, Harold Jefferies, W&N, Damon Rich, Teaching Artist Union, FEAST, 16 Beaver Group, W.A.G.E., Chris Kennedy, Nato Thompson, Carolina Caycedo, Guerrilla Art Action Group, Anthony Elms, Adam Trowbridge, Jessica Westbrook, and many other artists, art workers, curators, interns, volunteers, writers, and activists. and others on the topic of working within depressed economies and how that impacts artistic process, compensation and artistic property.
• 1 December 2011 • 6 notes • View comments
School of the Future
Research for the Future
School of the Future is a project about what a school can be. The mission/hypothesis of the future is that the best learners/teachers are the best teachers/learners. School of the Future invites anyone to propose classes, workshops, apprenticeships, installations, or moments that add to our active research about how to make a better education.The project defeats the notion that school is as it should be, and to offer witnesses of the school the freedom to experiment with what their learning and teaching process can be. In the process of exploring the possibilities of school, we aim to become a body of unschooled and educated teaching students.
• 1 December 2011 • 1 note • View comments