31 March 2006

Art and Idealism

I had a professor who hated hated hated Americans for being so puritanical and earnest.

Two good things came of that experience. I have him sitting on my shoulder to this day, reminding me that I am completely implicated and that I cannot hope to be enlightened. That art is dirty, and that this dirtiness is where it gets all its power.

And of course understanding that I am soaking in it just makes me that much more puritanical and earnest.

Note to art establishment: this is why artist's statements are always so bad. Art is often driven by paradox and conflict. These paradoxes are usually hard to verbalize. If you could just say them, then why bother buying all this extra material and getting yourself all dirty and tired and ruining another pair sneakers?

30 March 2006

Wrong Word

Note to self... framing this in terms of ethics completely misses the point.

The word ethics connotes effort, deprivation, right and wrong. I am not talking about those things.

I find myself doing to my own art practice what Flannery is doing to the rest of us in The Weather Makers, which I am still choking down, and BTW, it's all about politics now and so the Hysterical Puritanism is at fever pitch--what's wrong with us?????

I keep trying to force this connection because (this is going to sound so fucking precious), I think sculpture can help. Sculpture is a set of dynamic, nonverbal relationships that are peculiar because they do play out in real time and space, even as they defy real time and space. This very real and bad physical reality is unfolding as the climate keeps changing, and it would be most helpful to be able to look at it and believe fully what is going on, and be able to poke at it and negotiate a better outcome. When I do this on a smaller scale with my own work, I don't generally use value judgements. It's not being bad because it won't stand up. Not standing up is just the what's happening right now.

I want to talk about that specific suspension of ethics.

I ran into a very old and dear friend got really into Feldenkrais yesterday, and that kind of thinking about the body and effortlessness seems important to this discussion. And so does the fact that I spend much more time listening to physics than telling physics what I want.

29 March 2006

Not Pushing

The opposite of macho pushing... Charles Ray, Unpainted Sculpture and Fall 91.

Ethics of Sculpture

Chris Burden, Samson, 1985

Richard Serra and Chris Burden exemplify one way of thinking about the ethical problem of sculpture. A rigger lost his life installing a Richard Serra sculpture. The Tilted Arc Controversy, though largely driven by one uptight judge, pitted the needs of the community against one sculptor's vision. Burden's early performance work is poetic because it is real (like sculpture), and powerful because it catches the audience doing something completely unethical--watching as something bad happens to this man. Burden's sculpture consistently capitalizes on our own interconnectedness in the presence of danger. Big Wheel is a lame sculpture until Burden gets in it and rolls, at the mercy of physics, down UCLA's mall. Samson is essentially a huge geared jack connected to a turnstile. Each turn of the turnstile cranks the pressure on the jack, which is pushing two load-bearing walls apart from one another. Participating in the sculpture could cause your own death in a pile of rubble. This social problem animates a sculpture that is formally quite boring.

Burden and Serra have their fingers on a fundamental problem of sculpture:

1. Sculpture is real. It's not like a painting. It has to actually exist in space and obey physical laws.
2. In order to be interesting (to me anyway), a sculpture should fuck with physical laws or set up a problem between humans and physical laws or basically problematize its own existence in some way.

Sculpture wants to transgress. This transgression can be formal (Serra) or social (Burden). But a sculpture stops being sculpture and starts being stuff in a gallery when it plays nice.

I have chosen two serious Big Boys and not, say, Eva Hesse, to prove a point. Sculpture suffers from a unique tradition of arrogance that is completely Harvey-Mansfield-Manly. This cocksure attitude, while often beautiful (I am completely in love with both Serra and Burden), creates a bit of a cul-de-sac for thinking sculptors. It is easy to become dogmatic and macho about the ways in which sculpture transgresses, and label work that transgresses differently, more obtusely, or (gasp) more delicately, knowingly or fairly, as weak.

This is a doorway into more thinking about ethics later. Do sculptors have the right to drive more than poets? To take up much more physical space? Burn diesel rigging a large piece? Buy material when the world is too full of material already? Use lots of materials for a short period of time and then throw them away?

I would argue yes, but that it's not a right. I argue that as a sculptor I have the responsibility to understand the ways in which my work transgresses, and the impact it has on the interconnected world we live in. And I don't see this as a hairshirt. I see this as an opportunity to get past the Big Boy Problem of sculpture. Interconnectedness drives both Serra and Burden. They wouldn't push if there was nothing to push against. But pushing is not the only gesture a sculpture can make. I don't even think it's the strongest gesture a sculpture can make.

27 March 2006

Humans Try...

Sustainable living by individuals in this culture is a practice. It's like eating kosher or sitting zazen--it's not going to get the whole planet anywhere, but it puts the individual in the right frame of mind and is therefore a crucial first step.

I am almost done with The Weather Makers, and am increasingly disheartened (no, angry) with the way it collapses into apocalypse and Chicken Littleism. What is one to do with all this anxious drama? It's the exact opposite of doing something, even if that something seems too insignificantly small a gesture.

Some good news for Monday morning. Business is getting it faster than government. Wal-Mart is getting into the organic foods biz. (is this going to ruin organic food or revolutionize farming?) Green Technology jobs are in demand. And the insurance industry totally gets it and has for many years. This factoid is from The Weather Makers: huge insurance comapnies like Swiss Re are denying coverage to businesses that are not pulling their weight in terms of carbon footprint reduction.

Oh, and some bad news about the value of practice. Half-assed Buddhists all over Cambodia, Taiwan and Thailand are missing the point of karma and spreading bird flu in the process. Empty-but-well-meaning gestures can do more harm than good, but at this point I say yes to the discipline and discernment that practice requires.

25 March 2006

Drunken Forest

Drunken Forest, 2006, latex over bamboo and wire, 17"x11"x9"

Drunken Forests are caused by melting permafrost. It can happen to buildings, too, which is interesting. It has been happening as long as there has been permafrost that isn't permanent, but the incidents of drunken forests and sinking infrastructure are increasing in Alaska and other arctic places.

Little Dieter

If anyone hasn't seen Little Dieter Needs To Fly, stop what you are doing right now and RUN to your nearest video outlet. Boy, life is extremely simple, and gets simpler, not more complex, as more bad things happen. And human capacity for bad things is just infinite. And Herzog is a freaking magician for making all this bad stuff sweet and hopeful.

24 March 2006

Personal Virtue

Dick Cheney aside, what is the power of personal virtue?

The proposal that makes the most sense in The Weather Makers so far is a $200 per ton tax on all carbon emissions by legal persons--corporations and individuals. Enforced personal virtue.

But you know, that's not going to happen. I also realized last night that I contradicted myself. Nobody else, I know, is following this What About The Artists thread anymore, so brief recap:

Artists: The art market is icky and we are powerless.
Edward: No you're not, you're the artists. Figure out a creative solution.
Carla: Okay, artists could join a guild or a union, set up very similarly to the French-style Academy, in which your quality is rated and assured.
Fisher6000: This is an attempt at integrity from without, and can only lead to fascism. The only power I have over the art world is my own integrity.

So you'd think that I think personal integrity is very powerful. But here I do not seem to think that individual human beings can be held responsible for climate change, or for doing anything about it. In this post, I call individual attempts to reduce carbon emissions "pallative".

The art market is smaller than the earth. It has less to do with physical laws, and is less important. Maybe there are physical, spatial limits to personal responsibility.

Or maybe I need to check myself before I wreck myself. Look forward to a thrilling examination of my own environmental impact as a consumer of plastics, user of nasty chemicals, and thrower-awayer of things that I really should be handling more responsibly. Sculpture is a uniquely wasteful practice, and because my own practice is process-based, there could be a lot to learn from comparing my own practice to the living practices of eco-friendly folks all over the blogosphere who would strenuously disagree that reducing their own carbon footprint is a pallative measure.

PS: what's with no images on Blogger?????

23 March 2006

Belief Substitutes That Are Not Like Asparatame or Olestra

Image courtesy Streb Laboratory For Action Mechanics (who are *all* my dance boyfriends and girlfriends)

Modernism's great push forward was driven largely by belief. Belief that we could make reality, that (rich white educated straight men) are invincible. No, no. That won't do. Deconstructing other people's beliefs is mostly a fun parlor game (thanks Kat for that image). It creates no power. And obviously taking a great step back toward the crusades is NOT a good idea.

What comes out of my house? What am I going to do today? What can I prove with my own body? A list of things I actually do know:

*I live in a world with other people and objects.
*I am semi-permeable. Things go in and out of me, but I am usually the same basic shape.
*Cause and effect works. Every single thing I do has a consequence.
*I am therefore connected to all these other people and things.
*If I am connected to all these people and things, then everything I want involves negotiation.

Belief Has Negative Side Effects

22 March 2006

If Richard Lugar Can Dream, So Can I (We?)

Richard Lugar, Republican from Indiana, has sounded the trumpet at the Brookings Institution: "No one who is honestly assessing the decline of American leverage around the world due to our energy dependence can fail to see that energy is the albatros of US national security." and is calling for a paradigm shift. "Realistic" energy policy has been defined by Cheney to mean business as usual, and Lugar calls for a new reality, one that takes reality into account. One that dreams up a better tomorrow.

And as a dreamer who sees the tyrrany of reality, that just makes my heart sing.

More tyrrany of reality yammering in the blogosphere... Edward Winkleman's What About The Artists thread yesterday devolved into artists claiming powerlessness and Edward's retort: You're the artist, do something creative to solve the problem and kwitcherbitchen. An interesting place to land. A little context:

Modernism's fivehundredplus years of active dreaming mostly took place in a context of not knowing any better. The individual dreamer, from Michelangelo to Edison to David Smith, had a lot of clout and was able (as part of a larger power structure) to spin a Big Truth. Everyone who went to college in the last twenty years or so learned a different tradition. Behind every Big Truth is someone else's Big Lie. Everything has a backside. Critique that institution, find that power structure. Deconstruct!

My generation has been trained only to take apart the world and see that it is a sham, point to the inequities, examine its power structure. This is useful and I would not go back, especially since as a woman I had no hope of being included in the old Modernist Big Boy Game. But all this knowledge comes at a cost. The intellectual imparative of the cultural elite is to unmake and expose, and there is a sense that we are powerless to make or invent. Frankly, outside academia, we look like a bunch of whiners.

Of course, actual power and actual making happens somewhere else. WalMart and Karl Rove are still taking over America--they are dreaming and making. Liberals, intellectuals, democrats... all very interested in how that power works and not so interested in grabbing any of their own. Obviously nobody thought about this beforehand. Deconstructionists need a power structure to deconstruct, and can't be part of that power strucutre or they can't deconstruct it. And heaven forbid you go creating your own power. Then you're open to being deconstructed! What an oppressed position to be in. Of course Lugar's assertion that "American ingenuity and resources" must be fully committed to new energy sources seems quaint (but welcome!). Of course artists are giving the market all the power so that they can deconstruct that power--to the point of making little figurines of art collectors to show at the art fair.

I point this out because I want to understand what is going to happen now that it's time to actually make something new. New energy sources. New relationships to the art market (I happen to agree with Edward, it is time for both dealers and artists to stop bitching and make alternatives). Please god, new art that actually manages to play in a bigger backyard.

The question becomes where do artists get the power to dream when it's not provided culturally? When there is a lot of deconstructive inertia to overcome? How do we dream and make new now that we know better?

21 March 2006

Idealist Imparative and Art Production

Image above courtesy Pruned, it's Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins' Site of Reversible Destiny

It was an idealistic post-fair weekend, and I was having so much fun looking at other people's railing against cold reality that I didn't have much to say. Edward Winkleman, Jerry Saltz and Art Soldier raised a fist against Tobias Meyer's hucksterism. Restore art's virtue from without!

Perhaps more interesting is Edna V. Harris' digestion of Barbara Pollack's latest tract. Why aren't there more political artists? Edna asks artists to pony up here: The Rules of Reengagement

Change from without, change from within... talk about change makes me stand up a little straighter, walk a little faster. What I have digested so far:

Political art sucks because it closes doors instead of opening them. But there is a huge tract of open space between agitprop and the playground of the super-rich. I am envisioning a big meadow where art doesn't have to make sense, but does have an opportunity to foster understanding, make connections, reframe problems as solvable. It doesn't have to be strident, have a slogan, be cute or goth or clever or pander to a market.

Idealism only makes so much sense. How does one manage to be a knowing idealist? For some reason all this talk about Meyer stuck in my craw, perhaps because I have worked sales jobs and know that people really will pay good money for this experience that Meyer so crassly describes, and that for some reason they need it. People are often ugly and want ugly things. Saltz is right on the money when he describes art auctions as "bizarre combinations of slave market, trading floor, theater, and brothel." I have witnessed exactly this kind of excess and this kind of missing the point of something beautiful working as a fine dining waiter. But is it useful for artists to excoriate rich people who are divorced from pleasure-seeking on its own terms and require these downright Roman displays of excess in order to fill the holes in their bellies?

And is it wrong to exploit that disconnect, ie go for that bra-less look and jump into the fray? After all, these people can afford it...

For now, I vote that it is not useful to pillory the market and its fetishizing, sugarmouthed orgiastic cakefest, nor is it okay to exploit it because it is distasteful and rich people have to spend their money on something. All 7.5lbs of my cultural weight is going to turn around and ignore all this gyrating madness. I think there's something better out there.

Idealism makes more sense when it comes to figuring out how to deal with things you can control. It's just angry-making to rail against the Tobias Meyer scene. What am I going to do in my studio today? How am I going to start paying off my student loans? How can I make a difference? These are questions that are worth being idealistic about, because they come out of my house.

The ultimate problem is that we live in a really puritanical and lack-oriented culture that loves to react violently to what it perceives as missing or wrong. You know how sometimes your friend just needs to complain, and gets mad when you try to point out solutions? I don't know as there's any fertile ground on that field I laid out paragraphs above. But hey, if it turns out to be a deserted wasteland, that would be something interesting to report.

17 March 2006

This is the one that was in the Times. I have no idea what it is going to be called, but it finally stands on its own icicles! Roughly 3'x4'x8'... it's a melting glacier. There will be blue on both sides, and it won't be quite that blue.

More New Orleans

No Title yet, wax over wire and string armature. Maybe 3 inches tall by 32"x24"? The armature is based on the same New Orleans flooding map as Garden District. One day it will be bronze, which will be pretty funny. When it gets burnt out, everything will go but the steel wire "streets"--and they will get a chance to jingle all around and get all displaced before the bronze comes to seal them in place forever. Hopefully there will be permanent street re-arrangement.

Sick again today... perfect time to focus on park business. The current show is coming down, Interstate, a collaboration between Socrates and Andrea Zittel, is going up. But I did get time to take some pictures of my own work in progress, before all the commotion starts.

16 March 2006


Sick today. Ugh. Thank goodness the ferocious winds drove me to the WB yesterday afternoon, so that today I can snuggle up in a blanket, secure because somewhere Cameron Jamie is making a little girl cry, and somehow making the world a better place for it. How does he manage this tough jingle-butt love? Kranky Klaus was amazing.

So I was laying in bed this morning, rolling the phlegm from one side of my head to the other, thinking about Carbon. Apparently the history of the climate is all about how much carbon is floating freely in the air as CO2. Long, long ago when the earth was populated only by algae, the climate was quite volatile because there was no place for carbon to be except the atomosphere. As we all know, lots of carbon in the atmosphere means that heat radiation stays inside the atmosphere.

Thank goodness life got more complex. Algae doesn't really use very much carbon, but life with more structure does. Your skeleton is carbon based, so are sea shells and coral, etc. Carbon became a building block for solid matter. Living things store solid carbon inside themselves, and then die and trap it forever underground as seashells and coral become limestone, or as swamplands and forests become coal deposits.

Thinking about the carbon cycle this morning was soothing. It's a beautiful image that we are all a part of. I am grouchy with Flannery because he wants to give us too much agency. I think he sees us as apart from the cycle and yet responsible for it. Like a person is the steward of their dog.

I think it's more useful to think about how we are all soaking in it. We are organisms. We become rocks, too.

15 March 2006

Biennial Redux Tomorrow

Many folks know that I have been a-gnashing and a-gnawing at the 2006 WB over on Greenpoint Sculpture, and this effort has not been a total waste of time. I am off tomorrow to re-visit the WB because I actually managed to get paid to write a review.

Review-in-progress will be visible all weekend on Greenpoint Sculpture. I welcome feedback.

Sea Ice Retreat Continues

This is the second year in a row that there has been a decline in sea ice. For the uninitiated, this is bad news because it creates a positive feedback loop. Ice and snow are white, and so reflect sun's heat. This makes the planet cooler. Water absorbs more heat than ice, creating a net increase in temperature. This whiteness factor is called albedo, which is latin for whiteness.

Less ice and snow=more heat absorption=even less ice and snow=even more heat absorption=well, you get the idea.

Fuck This Cassandra Motherfucker!

Okay, it's a strange problem, and I want to make sure that if this ever gets back to Tim Flannery that he understands that I know he's doing his best. There is a global warming story in the Times every damn day. The New Yorker is chockablock with hair-raising predictions. These (last I checked) are mainstream news outlets.

I read these stories. I care about them. You'd think I would be the perfect audience for Flannery's The Weather Makers. But 75 pages in, I want to throw the book at him, hitting him squarely in the jaw, and I am willing to fly for 13 hours to do so.

Cassandra probably wasn't cursed. She was probably just being too negative, like Flannery. Who wants to read that air pollution tends to cause mass extinctions, and that the last time there was a major air pollution problem on the earth (they think it was an asteroid that released a bunch of CO2 and particulate into the atmosphere) caused the extinction of the dinosaurs?

It wasn't just huge beasts that vanished. It was everything over 70 lbs or so, and many small species too. 95% of all life on the planet, dude! Gone! Soon! Try wrapping your brain around that! I spent my evening trying to figure out what that meant. Envisioning life during the extinction process. It can't possibly go quickly. Would I survive? I am pretty hardy. I probably would. Fuck! What kinds of resources would I need? Probably lots of decongestants and clean water. Should I buy a farm upstate? I put Road Warrior in my Netflix cue. And Waterworld.

And even though my thoughts were perfectly rational given the information that is being presented, I shook myself awake, decided that I was being completely crazy, and swore off that damn book. That is the problem.

I am an artist, not a scientist. I can't question his facts. I trust that they are correct. Scientists have been coming to similar conclusions about climate change for hundreds of years. And as an artist I am in the inspiration business, not the facts business. So I renew my pledge to choke down Flannery's scarefest, because it seems deeply necessary to provide a counterpoint.

You can't just tell people that everybody's going to die so they should really rethink their whole lives, even though the government is mute on the issue. People have committed to the way things are now. People have 4 hour commutes from huge houses that they can't afford to sell.

There has to be a better way.

14 March 2006

Crystal City

Garden District Meets The Mississippi, 2005, cupric sulfate crystals over steel armature.

This is a sculpture based on a flooding map of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I am working on other waterfronts--I like how the crazy cobalt blue gets so brackish. I like to think of these sculptures as global warming clocks. They decay very slowly because the cupric sulfate is corrosive and attacks the infrastructure. The city eating itself, you know?

In the works: San Diego, a tiny Manhattan, and a Galveston. But slowly. All that cupric sulfate is pricey! Crystal growing is magical and easier than you'd think. More on growing your own crystals can be found here

The Weather Makers

Over many years, I have discussed my inside life with three Roshi. (Roshis? Who knows. Buddhist priests. The folks who tell you what kind of meditation to do.) They all said variations on the same thing:

Thinking that you are in control, or that you have any power at all... this can only lead to anxiety. And anxiety is the ultimate state of powerlessness.

Which means you can only find power in powerlessness. I agree with this. It's a fundamental sculpture concept. You want to make something cool, and cool things often defy physics or present other physical problems to solve. And because it's a real thing you're making and not a representation of a thing, you actually have to engage in a dialogue with The Real World and negotiate a space in which your thing actually stands up and works. You can't do that if you think you have all the answers. People who think they have all the answers are really good at building stuff that doesn't break too many rules. Like furniture.

Park Friend Noah Fischer calls it Listening To Physics. I think that's a nice way to put it.

So it's interesting that Flannery has called his book The Weather Makers. That's a lot of agency to give individual humans. And it is no surprise that the introduction chapter is absolutely histrionic--an open and emotional description of his own worry. This is a strange way to start marshalling the troops around buying hybrid cars and turning off the lights NOW. I don't think it's going to be very effective.

Flannery has every right to be anxious--it's a rational response. All the data indicate that we are a bunch of lobsters in a pot. We see real evidence right now that we are lobsters in the pot. Serious, life-altering climate change really could happen within our lifetimes. That is legitimately scary. It scares me, too.

But is it useful to look at anything scary in terms of how scary it is? Or in terms of our own agency? What if we all start calling ourselves Weather Makers?

We are changing the climate, after all. And because we have the means to control our effect on the climate, we really should take some responsibility. But Flannery is gearing this book to the individual Weather Maker. Is one person a Weather Maker? Heck no. Even if I never drive again, which is easier for me to do because I live in a rationally dense place, turn off all my lights and do everything else I personally can do to ease my CO2 output, this will not make a bit of difference. Everybody's got to do it. And we have a system for harnessing huge groups of individuals into more powerful bodies. It's called government. It is asinine that our government insists on framing conservation a "personal virtue" for this very reason. And it is not helpful of Flannery (from Australia, another country who refused to take on Kyoto) to perpetuate this fallacy.

The bottom line is that you can guilt a few people into buying hybrid cars and turning off their lights for awhile, but to what end? On an individual level, I am going to feel virtuous for a little while, and that is going to temporarily assuage my guilt. I will feel less like a lobster in the pot. If I am not particularly bright or aware, this pallative effect will perpetuate indefinitely. If I do actually care, I will come to my senses and realize that I am being played. Why should I fret every time I personally get in a car? The roads are clogged with cars that don't look guilty at all. For that matter, I get all the negative side effects of cars (asthma, sinus headaches, new "allergies", hurricanes in December, that nagging feeling that I should not be living on the waterfront...) whether I drive or not. Why bother being personally virtuous when nobody else is? It's like being that one quiet kid in the classroom when all the other kids are ignoring the teacher's requests to quiet down. My virtue means nothing.

Powerless. I am personally powerless to stop climate change! Even if I personally reduce my CO2 emissions to what I personally exhale and NO MORE that is a tear in a salty sea, and it is arrogance, arrogance! to indulge in fantasies that my "personal virtue" will actually keep lower Manhattan from flooding.

Step One: admit total powerlessness.

Step Two: be just arrogant enough to keep poking at it anyway.

Climate change is a physical problem. Guilt, morality and personal virtue are useless. I have never figured out how to solve any physical problem using guilt, morality or personal virtue.

No Pretty Drift Ice

The aesthetics of climate change...

Last fall we went to Mass Moca. Knowing that accomodations are impossible during leaf season, we waited until November. Leaves hadn't turned yet and the locals were buggin'. Apparently the worry is that there would be no reds that year.

Started reading Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers last night, and boy is he anxious. Pre-coffee thoughts: anxiety is a powerful motivator, but I must say that it has never motivated me to do anything smart. Is Flannery's anxiety helpful?

13 March 2006

When Tyrants Decry The Tyranny...

Okay, okay. Charlie Finch is a pig, but his disgust is satisfying this time. The Armory show has jumped the shark. The Art Market is all an echo chamber that has nothing to do with people living in the real world.

12 March 2006

Avalanches Bury People

Click on the title to discover a sweet little Op-ed column in yesterday's Times, or read quickie (biased) synopsis below:

Better equipment and safety gear gets folks higher up in the mountains to ski and snowboard and makes them less afraid of avalanches. More people die in avalanches, killed by their own hubris. This is bad.

And yes, it's tragic, really, when people die because they see what they want to see (I have all the equipment I need to make it to the top and so I see the top and I will go there) or get in over their heads (I have all the equipment I need to make it to the top and am an expert at this, so I will beat nature every time), and stop listening to the mountain. For that matter, it's especially dismal that these people are just out having a good time. Getting killed by nature in the bat of an eye... that's so big. So Shackelton. So Donner Party.

We think technology makes us so great. Come to find most of us do not need and cannot handle the kind of agency technology delivers. The snowboard giveth and the snowboard taketh away. And this is a sculptural idea.

Ack, the first "what is sculpture" post... I am uncharacteristically shy all of a sudden--I need to just plunge in. It will all become clear as time passes. This avalanche scenario is a great explaining metaphor. The sculptor is the jackass snowboarding past the safe zone. Newtonian physics is the snow-covered ground that could avalanche. The sculptor's job is to get as far out of the safety zone as possible without getting buried in the avalanche. Discuss.

The New York Times Article

So a shout-out to my new friends Suzanne deChillo and Samantha Storey from the New York Times. Today the Metro Section... tomorrow the world!

Be sure to click on my face to see the multimedia slide show.