30 May 2006

Columbia Glacier

Columbia Glacier, 2006, plastic over plywood, 29"x95"x39".

Columbia Glacier has no armature. It was constructed by temporarily arranging concentric topographic rings into a three-dimensional shape, and then pouring fast-curing plastic through the skeletal plywood form. The weight of the plastic and the unstructural quaity of the plywood caused quite a bit of initial deformation. Eventually, enough plastic accreted on the plywood to cement the form together and create a structurally sound sculpture.

This piece is based on a real glacier in Alaska that is, of course, receeding.

29 May 2006

I've Got Your Inconvenient Truth Right Here

I saw An Inconvenient Truth.

And I expected to be frothing at the mouth about it, but I am not. The content of Gore's slideshow is similar to Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, but the similarities end there. Flannery is anxious and powerless, and this makes every fact in his book sound insane. Gore, on the other hand, has a real gift for delivering bad news. Like everyone else, I like this guy better than I like the Gore who ran for office.

Gore does not feel powerless, and he manages to position himself as a leader. He got the presidency stolen out from under him; has had to watch the utter insanity of the Bush administration unfold and know that he would have done better; has been working for like 30 years on this global warming issue and has watched the US consumption of oil and coal skyrocket...

But he does not feel powerless. Sure, this movie collapses into gratuitous thoughtful looks, as Gore tippy-taps away at his ibook (product placement?). And he says so-democratic-party things sometimes, like opening up the fucking movie with the statement "I feel like I have failed." The stuff about his personal tragedies rings hollow and reminds us of Candidate Gore drumming up likeability points--it's not perfect. But if Al Gore--the one person who has personally suffered more than any other single person at the hands of George W. Bush and Karl Rove--does not feel powerless, then I should not feel powerless, either.

An Inconvenient Truth was kind of scary, but there was no hysteria. He largely avoided Tim Flannery's three scenarios for a sudden climate flip--a smart strategy. He managed to be extremely optimistic, and clearly framed climate change as a problem completely within our reach. He was smart to mention the fact that climate change will spur economic growth. It was soothing to watch him treat the audience like a bunch of smart people who have to make a choice, and present himself as a trustworthy steward on this issue. The montage of past sacrifices and important changes Americans have made stirred me, and made me feel like something really could happen.

In other words, I got my money's worth. I walked out of the theater nodding my head, along with all the other liberals who paid $11 bucks and an hour and a half of their free time to watch a lecture. All positive and clucking like a bunch of chickens, heads nodding, moving down the stairs at the Sunshine, talking about positivity and leadership.

And you know that summertime movie feeling? When for the first couple of minutes you are so blinded by the sun and your skin is still tingling from the air conditioning and you are in that space between the fantasy of the movie and the reality that it's really fucking hot and the sun won't go down for hours?

That's when it hit me that I went to a fucking movie. I paid for a simulation of how democracy should work, and I did it to feel better about reality. We, who streamed out of the Sunshine Theatre, are not substantially different from Dubya's vetted and screened audiences. Behold the choir. I realized that I left Farenheit 911 with a similar sense of righteousness and peace, only to find that not enough people who actually needed to see and believe that movie chose to hand Michael Moore their money.

Leadership means reaching out to everyone, not just people who are willing to pay for your message. If An Inconvenient Truth becomes this generation's The Day After, then I will stop being offended that Laurie David has decided to pimp out Gore as a leadership substitute in these desperate times and start believing all of this positive talk.

26 May 2006

MakerThinker Profile: Elizabeth Streb

Artist as philosopher... I buy it. Art is more than craft. But there is more than one way to think. This is the first in a series of meditations about MakerThinkers.

MakerThinkers are not mere art workers, fabricating someone else's thoughts, and are more than art thinkers, whose skill is verbalizing their ideas for others to make visual. MakerThinkers stand outside the richkid/poorkid caste system. MakerThinkers actively create new propositions by thinking nonverbally: with their bodies, hands, relationships to materials.

You can't start talking about MakerThinkers without invoking Elizabeth Streb. Streb is playing with the limitations of the human body, Newtonian physics, and the relationship between the body and physical law. There is a sweet, thin packet of space between flying and falling. There is a moment of time when a body can push past an unegotiable boundary, like gravity. A body can navigate amazing obstacles using grade-school science concepts. A pendulum has a period. A brick has weight. Flesh is soft and flesh is hard.

Streb's company actively mines these relationships and searches for new information about what a body can do, what a prop can yield, what the negotiable points are in physics. I was lucky enough to talk to Elizabeth Streb after a show once. I asked her how her company started to rehearse Gauntlet, in which dancers dodge swinging cinderblock pendulums. Obviously using a foam brick wouldn't work--it would be a different weight and the pendulum would have a different period. "Did you give everyone a helmet?" I asked.

She said no. She said that they watched, and counted, and when they understood the pendulum's period, they started working with it. Un-outsourceable... that's MakerThinking!

We Call It Life

There are concepts that are difficult to get across visually. But man, this set of ads by the Competitive Enterprise Institute are doing something really interesting. They capture desperation and the act of lying to the public really well.

Idea for Environmental Defense, the creators of the "train" and "tick" ads:

Stop being so earnest--it freaks people out! I know! My earnestness gets me into trouble consistently! Let me be the blogger with a daily readership of like... 4. Learn from my mistakes!

Start playing with these ads. Their rhetoric is so absurd, so easy to mock! They are being so openly greedy, and lying so baldly. The problem with climate change is that it's a problem that defies our sense of scale and importance. Make it a human story, make it about The Man, who is soooo lying to you. That's a comprehensible scale. That's a relationship we have some experience with. That might be an arm of your campaign that does more than preach to the choir.

It works for anti-smoking campaigns.

23 May 2006

Art Workers and Art Thinkers. Fascinating.

That's a quote from Art Powerlines' thoughtful digestion of that Times article about other people making your art. Jeffrey Deitch is convinced that the artist is a philosopher and not a craftsperson. And yes, I have too much personal experience with the tiered system:

Art thinkers, who all went to Columbia and Yale and don't know how to put a drywall screw into a wall but are expert networkers and self-promoters. They get their art made by art workers who blew in from skill-based crappy state school art programs like my alma mater and were never taught to always talk about yourself. Always.

I would like to add that this is a uniquely American system, in which the art workers are exploited specifically because they believe they could get somewhere... but whatever. That's griping, and griping places myself too squarely in one camp when what I want to do is offer Door Number Three.

There is a lot of art out there that doesn't have to be made by the artist, and if artists are paying fabricators a decent price, what is there to judge? But who on earth honestly believes that making is not thinking? Matthew Barney provides an interesting platform off which to jump, because he struggles with this system. Everything that is interesting in his work is about the experience of being an art worker. And his numerous faults are an active negation of that lowly, dirty status of maker.

This is unfortunate, not just because we have to wade through the effects...

(slicky-slick art objects that are not particularly informed or imbued or lavished or wrought, often paired with hours and hours of ponderous video that brings navel gazing to new heights of inanity)

...but because there is a baby being stuffed down the drain here. To state that the making of the thing matters not because artists are philosophers and not craftspeople is absurdly narrow. There are too many people who are actively thinking with their hands and bodies and coming up with new, relevant propositions for this classist system to make sense.

For once the art world is fair! Yes, this rich kid=brilliant genius, poor kid=exploited immigrant system is either being taught or tolerated at Columbia and Yale. But there are too many people doing something else for Deitch to conclude that this is the New Artworld Order.

22 May 2006

Another What The Fuck Is Wrong With Us Post

This is Kipnuk, Alaska, home to about 500 Inuit. The whole village is sinking because it is built on thawing permafrost.

What if someone offered a truly useful plan of action to address global warming? Would everyone finally wake up? Katherine Ellison is pointing out the problem in Saturday's Times:

If you, personally, are worried about this impending apocalypse, why don't you go get some power strips and flourescent lightbulbs?

Louisiana and Holland and the Maldives and those cute little orange frogs and coral reefs and glaciers will still disappear. And they will still be replaced with malaria, mosquitoes, Category 5 hurricanes in New York City and a new system of canals for streets in lower Manhattan... but it won't be your fault.

Marketing debacle, leadership failure, utter scale fuck. Smug liberal shitheadism at its worst.

To-do list for actually preventing the extinction of our species:

1. Stop burning coal by May 2007, even if it means rationing energy.
2. Focus all resources on wind, hydroelectric, solar and nuclear energy (nuclear=ugly. extinction of 95% of all life on the planet=uglier. I choose nuclear.)
3. HUGE gas tax
4. HUGE tax subsidies for natural gas, biodiesel, hybrid and fuel-efficient vehicles
5. Huge WPA-style effort to make public transportation work in the exurbs.

19 May 2006

Barney Festival--Greenpoint Sculpture

There has been much palavering over on Greenpoint Sculpture, where Matthew Barney Season is in full swing (orange vests recommended).

Barney v. Serra (Power v. Tyrrany)
Barney as "outsider"
Barney and Power

And while I'm at it, here's a vintage review of DR9 from this blog.

17 May 2006

Fist Pumping: AFC

I have nothing to add but admiration. Paddy Johnson, thanks for standing tall for artists who write...

...and would rather not "go hang out at the College Art Association."

Failure is Beautiful

Edward Rothstein wrote a great review of Hentry Petroski's Success Through Failure: The Paradox of Design for Monday's Times. Failure teaches more than success, and we already knew that. Artists, particularly, have the luxury of failing more than engineers do, and can make a whole career out of leveraging failure. All Hail The Most Beautiful Failures!

I strongly suggest going to see Streb at a Slam Show in Williamsburg, where things haven't quite jelled and you can watch the process of attempting to defy gravity. Elizabeth Streb is the Queen Supreme of leveraging failure to achieve the impossible!

When Matthew Barney is really good as a sculptor, he is barely containing a gigantic failure!

Robert Irwin's bar is set so high that he fails all the time, and those failures are beautiful because Irwin's task is so outsized, so impossible. The fact that it's never exactly what he wants gives his work a quiet, aching despair.

That perfect impossibility and constant failure of high expectations goes double for James Lee Byars. I think his work is impossible to understand except in terms of disappointment that it's still here, that it didn't pop into some perfect dimension.

Cai Guo Qiang fails all the time because he's brave enough to work with gunpowder, which is finicky and fickle. Spectacular loss of control!

14 May 2006

Art Gotham=Uncool

I have nothing new to add to this, but would like to register my disgust. AFC's reprinting of an anonymous artist's Art Gotham consignment agreement is worth your time. Being an artist is hard enough--the last thing any artist needs is a gallery that is this ungenerous, this unsupportive.

11 May 2006

Strong and Weak Interdisciplinarianism

Saws, 2005, photo courtesy Joel Murphy's website. See, the reciprocating saws inside the granny carts talk electrically to the chainsaws mounted on the wall... check out video of it working to see what I mean.

Joel and I were talking the other night about his work, and he said some things about working between disciplines that made me rethink the conversation about interdisciplinary work (specifically Oda Projesi) that is happening over on Leisurearts. So let me tangentialize the discussion even further away from Claire Bishop and Grant Kester, and just talk about interdisciplinary approaches to artmaking.

Lately Joel has been inspired by NASA's Centennial Challenge problem-solving contests, in which you design something for space. The chances of him singlehandedly designing something that works in space are slim, because he's not an engineer. But his goal is not to make something that goes into space. His goal is to make a sculpture that is informed by this problem-solving process. Because he is not an engineer and the thing doesn't actually have to go to Mars, he can fall in love with representing specific parts of the process. More importantly, because he is making art and not space stuff, he can pry specific aspects of the problem-solving process off their utilitarian moorings. He can do whatever he wants with them: fetishize, absurdize, romanticize. You can't do that when the shit has actually got to get to Mars.

What's interesting about Joel is that he is not looking at interdisciplinary work in terms of boundarylessness. Rather, he is leveraging one boundary against another for maximum creative effect.

This kind of interdisciplinary work--which actively uses the notion of discrete disciplines and leverages one against another--strikes me as more interesting and useful than the kind of interdisciplinary work that relies upon the absence of boundaries between disciplines. Shane Hope is more interesting than Eduardo Kac. Eleanor Antin is more interesting than Tamy Ben-Tor. Biospheria is more interesting than Oda Projesi.

Oda Projesi is doing art education and applied sociology and calling it art because it can. Steve Ausbury and Anthony Burr, on the other hand, used the rigor and logic of opera to transform the UCSD campus and leveraged a whole community of volunteers who were expected to do rigorous things, like attend rehearsal and be in the right place at the right time and learn dance steps. This was not declaring UCSD's campus life "art" by intellectual fiat. Every volunteer actor and dancer and technician (including myself) was there to assist in creating this transformation, and we understood that our role was crucial because the scale and the desired effect was so large.

Boundarylessness is flaccid. It wastes what artists are good at and makes that Duchampian gesture of declaring it art into a tired cliche. Because these boundaries are concepts, they can come and go as we please. Just because we, the art people, have been wandering through a relatavist wasteland doesn't mean that we can't pick up these boundary-tools and describe real relationships between intellectual disciplines. And just because we think the boundaries are irreversably eroded doesn't mean any other discipline thinks with this kind of finality. Designers, welders, riggers and doctors still embrace the specific skills they learned and practice daily, and still admit that this skill-set and daily practice filters and colors the way they see and think.

Strong interdisciplinary work pushes disciplines against one another. Work that defines itself in terms of an absence of discrete disciplines is not only not strong, it's not even interdisciplinary. And I am genuinely curious about what use that absence serves.

10 May 2006

Go Matthew Moore!

Matthew Moore's Rotations: Moore Estates, image courtesy Daily Dose of Architecture

Wow. Thanks Modern Art Notes for reminding me about Matthew Moore, fellow Arizona native and thinker about the relationship between the built environment and "nature". There are a lot of things about Moore Estates that I find inspiring. I like its scale, the way it tells a story specific to the area (Phoenix, like my hometown Tucson, is gobbling up surrounding farmland at an amazing rate, exurbs growing like cancers), its ease.

It's a little too simple--I wish it wasn't about copying the real developments and re-presenting them so straightforwardly. But how else do you start with such a grand idea? Moore has been actively thinking about development over a few bodies of work, and I am completely impressed with the way he is moving it around in his head--moving the scale in and out.

This image is from Moore's website, it's Conversations Within a Landscape: 2020 Concrete, rammed earth, carrots, 2003, 60" x 24" x 24"

08 May 2006

Alexis Rockman

I have been meaning to write about Alexis Rockman for weeks now. And of course I don't have time to do this justice today, but incremental progress is progress. Let me set something up that I can chip away at through the week.

The thing I have been turning over in my head was some review somewhere (artnet?) that called Rockman's latest effort "as corny as grandma's toes." First, I just think that's a brilliant turn of phrase. And it's not entirely untrue. Look at this:

But I think I like the corny-as-grandmas-toes Rockman better than I like this less corny Rockman above. I think corn and apocalypse go together, that the cornier Rockmans work is, the more it succeeds. More later.

07 May 2006

The Tao of Talent

As if anyone needed more evidence that thirty and forty year olds (and beyond) have more to make art with than twenty year olds, there's a great little blurb in today's NY Times Magazine about talent. Turns out what we call "talent" is more like patience--an ability to get better because you practice and set goals and care about nuances in technique.

04 May 2006

Claire Bishop

Finally found my February Artforum under the sofa and started reading the Claire Bishop article, The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents. So far, I am straining not to give knee-jerk responses, it's an interesting read. There's a great set of posts about this article and its little Grant Kester Controversy over on leisurearts.

03 May 2006

Annie Proulx: Guardian Angel of The Low Road

Studio shot--trying to figure out how big you can make something out of paint.

I don't want to inadvertently write a manifesto, so I'll start with a confession. My back was troubling me this weekend, and so I spent most of Sunday stoned and doodling while watching Brokeback Mountain over and over again. And the movie got so stupid that I downloaded someone reading the short story from Audible and just kept going, with the movie on and the sound turned down and the real story playing on headphones, drawing bad humpy landscapes out of hunched shoulders and stands of fir trees and the hindquarters of sheep moving downhill. And while there is certainly nothing sexier than cowboys in love, I wasn't sure what I was doing with all this. I blamed being really stoned and not wanting to get up off the heating pad.

I might be making excuses for laying around all day, but I think I learned something. Before my body revolted on Sunday morning, I was working on a really egotistical, manifesto-ey tract about political art and what it's good for and what kind of political art I am making. It was prompted by a discussion on The Intrepid Art Collector, and it was full of proclamations about things like what I want Kara Walker to do and why Steve Mumford is not, IMO, making good political art. Fate seemed to intervene, and I want to tell someone about it, even if it doesn't make much sense. Because I don't want to make political art.

Let's jump off Politics Bridge: The story Proulx wrote is not political. It's not about being gay. It's about being human. It's about Ennis' missed opportunity and Jack's reaching out for something impossible and this freaky little bubble of hope that they pushed out between them, this fat space in such a lean world, and how impossible it was to do that and how the electricity between them demanded an accommodation and how tenuous Jack and Ennis made that accommodation, even though it was the single most important thing to them as individuals.

The reason the movie is completely retarded (although watching Jake Gyllenhall and Heath Ledger do it is great fun and the cinematography is lovely) is that it makes them gay. It makes them flirt before they even know one another's names. It makes them pretty boys and not buck-toothed, cave-chested losers who are so poor they can't afford socks. All this gay-ifying, complete with families that one must come out to or not, makes it all political, with hurt feelings all around and a moral at the end of the story that dovetails nicely with whatever PFLAG is saying these days. Every puritanical and tidy impulse to make this freakishly unique story about something that is easy to understand was followed. The result is so moralistic--this could all just be avoided, and life just isn't like that.

Proulx, I am sure, has political ideas about gay rights, but she didn't write a gay story--she wrote a love story in which the kind of love served as this perfect device to talk about manliness and loss. The west is all about manliness and loss. As a westerner, I love the way she took this very specific love affair and turned it into a prism through which the existential problem of the west (you are totally empowered by all this space and utterly enslaved by it at the same time) shines and turns into its parts: poverty, brutal jobs and brutal weather, lonliness, conservatism, individualism.

I am not as disciplined an artist as Proulx. I rush to the finish line and want quick understanding, quick answers. I get into political discussions on this blog and others and in my art because I am afraid of what I chose to examine. My desire to solve the problem of climate change gets in the way of just seeing it for what it is. Climate change is a fantastic device for drawing out our most supreme arrogance and most intense fear. My work does not come close to touching that yet. That human state is beyond politics. Maybe if I admit to all thirty of you that this is what I am after, then I will find the courage to go out and look for it.

Cue The Fat Lady!

The first of 21 proposed Bush Administration global warming studies states that it is actually happening, that the earth is actually getting warmer because of human activity.

And yes, while I almost spit out my coffee and let out a whoop when I saw this flashlight-sized beacon of truth shining from deep within the bowels of ignorant denial, I still have a question. Why do 20 more tests?

I am concerned, primarily, with the emotional/existential/metaphysical aspect of how humans deal with the bummer news of global warming. And I am interested in how all this telescoping back and forth of time and scale:

am I causing the extinction of all life on earth by drying my clothes?am I going to see global warming?should I have children?we are all just frogs in a pot!why isn't the government doing anything?why am I getting on my hands and knees and turning off all the power switches for five minutes every time I leave the house?I am so powerless, isn't there more I can do?

contrasts with the straightforward, physical nature of the problem:

Just stop emitting CO2 and figure out how to sequester some without screwing ourselves later.

The most interesting thing to me about all this is that it's too big to handle. How does a people look at the fact that they are destroying their planet and ensuring the extinction of 95% of species without wasting precious time on the extra 20 tests, without foot-shuffling and intertia and tremendous fear?

The resulting disconnect between physical reality and human behavior is what interests me, and of course the Bush administration is going to ride that disconnected space, pull it open as wide as it can for as long as it can. Rove's favorite tactic is not to bother the American people. No draft, no high gas prices, no consequences. I have a feeling that this is a problem that can only be handled existentially by providing the public the opportunity to feel consequences instead of formless anxiety.

I want victory gardens and carless Tuesdays! I want a gas tax! I don't want 20 more tests because 20 more tests is more years spent floating in this eerie disconnected space between our increasingly certain doom and the increasingly brittle and hollow insistence on business as usual.

01 May 2006


Can't seem to write. My back hurts when I sit down. Work is both all-consuming and boring. And then, there's Nietzsche. Many thanks to Sue for sharing this article, in which somehow Nietzsche manages to describe why words fail, explains exactly why sculpture. but in the short term it sure has given me a case of ShutMouth.