27 May 2007

Sculpturally Relevant

I was unimpressed with the mini-wave of Sculptures-About-Siding that shook my little neck of the Emerging Brooklyn Artist Universe a couple of years ago. Everything I saw seemed kinda shitty. Kinda going-to-Harlem-in-ermine-and-pearls.

Yeah, so Greenpoint is tacky and has bad architecture, and yeah so it's gentrifying rapidly despite siding. Where's the meat???

Leave it to Miss Heather to drop the artsy fartsy pretense and bust with the goods. Siding python, indeed.

20 May 2007

Beauty... Continued

Geoff forgave me for calling him a motherfucker! And he wrote some interesting things about beauty, and that deserves its own post.

You know what I hate about beauty?

The way it turns into moral rectitude. Beauty is not useful if it's a way of distinguishing right from wrong, because that too-quickly becomes an according to whom problem.

Geoff, you list toward this when you equate compassion (that word again!) with beauty.

That said, you know as well as I do that I also love a lot of things about beauty, and that I use it often. Here is what I wonder when I deal with beauty:

When is beauty a crutch? When is it me collapsing into some romanticism or ease of knowing what is "right"? And is there a way to use beauty that is pioneering? That is about delving into the unknown instead of clinging to what is already known?

Generally, I fail the beauty quiz miserably. The more I use beauty, the less I am exploring, and the more I am knitting my brow about right and wrong, or just trying to get it done. I often use beauty to know where I am going, and that kind of beauty is boring and not useful!

Beauty is usually a marked trail that I hike along, or a compass that I whip out. But not always. A handful of times beauty has emerged after I have completely lost my shit and have been staggering blind with a serious deadline looming, convinced that I have totally fucked up and will wind up with nothing.

At this stage, I don't think beauty functions as a marked path because I don't control it and didn't demand it, although I am quite bossy and controlling, and would have if I could. Instead, it has all these emergent properties that I watch, or even follow. And so if I were to continue the outdoorsy metaphorin', I would say that I follow this beauty out of the forest or thicket or whatever to a new place, a place that I would not have gotten to if I hadn't gotten lost and found this beauty and clung to it.

So when Geoff says:

The one thing that is the common denominator in work that is considered beautiful is that it is compassionate. Compassion full. When an artist realizes in a work, or when a work realizes through an artist, past his or her navel, that we are all dealing with the same condition at some level. This requires intense accountability and stems from intense vulnerability... but every beauty full work from Felix Gonzales Torres to a cave painting (past all bullshit mental criticisms) has this root of compassion.

Well, I don't buy that, because to say that is to say that beauty is this external and universal goal that remains unchanged regardless of the context. Who knows how the folks in Lascaux were thinking about beauty? And in my opinion, FGT's work is about values like sharing that we consider good, and frankly I don't find that beautiful as much as I find it nice.

But I do still think that this awful word, compassion, or its equally mealy-mouthed synonym, empathy, are at the root of what is interesting or necessary here. And I see why Geoff used FGT as an example, because it is about shared experience, or the fact that, to quote the above quote, "we are all dealing with the same condition at some level." I don't mind admitting that what I am after is grand. It's that shared place, in which universal statements are not sophomoric, because Geoff is right. We are all dealing with the same condition at some

(um... existential?)


I don't have any other big pronouncements to make about beauty, because mostly I wrestle with beauty and lose. But, on the rare occasions that beauty has been useful to me, it has led me to a place where it's not about me or anything else I know anymore.

17 May 2007

Figured that some images might be useful when thinking about ArtPowerlines' great point about the Russian Avant Garde v. Social Realism that can be found here.

12 May 2007

Response to Jason

Jason Laning and I must stop hijacking this thread about alternatives to commercial art galleries and have our political discussion elsewhere. Jason, thanks for continuing this important discussion with me.

To catch up folks who didn't invest in the links:

In a nutshell, Jason is involved in Institutional Critique and wants to change the total fucking horror we witness by more traditional means of protesting the power structure from the outside. And while we agree that these are totally horrific times, I think that Zizek is right, that the rhetoric of protest he is referring to has been completely co-opted by those who want to control us, and that we have to figure out a new language for dreaming and changing. I think that the strategies of institutional critique and the (now conventional) rhetoric of protest does more to distance and romanticize real problems like poverty and inequality and WAR, and that the tools Jason wants to use are generally used to let rich imperialists off the hook and keep all our oh-so-civilized hands clean.

Where we left off, Jason used Thoreau's Civil Disobedience as an example of how to bring down the mighty evil Bush administration.


I understand your take on Thoreau as being active. I guess the crux of my argument is that this kind of action used to make much more sense than it does now.

Protests are not effective when they are called "focus groups" by the president, and when the point of the protesters seems to be to disassociate themselves from the government (ie, Not In My Name) and not to take ownership of it. Don't pay taxes? That is a strategy of the rich, and while I hate the idea of paying for all this dying, I don't want to leave things we need unfunded (like superrich people get to do...)

And voluntary imprisonment? It looks so strange in the context of Guantanamo to think about voluntary imprisonment. It seems so quaint (to use a Gonzales-ism) to think that anyone gives a fuck that you have imprisoned yourself when we are holding people who have done nothing wrong in jails and torturing them for years.

We simply do not live in a society that values life in a way that makes your voluntary imprisonment meaningful.

At the risk of sounding highfallutin', I am looking for a new rhetoric of protest--new ways to dream about better days for all. And that is probably going to shake out like everything else in life. It's probably going to be impossible to just go out and find, and it is probably going to need some sideways action.

For this reason, I do think that the most political things one can do right now are not explicitly political, but more generally intellectual. And I think that this is true because we have lost our very language for action and dreaming. I want to know what the world looks like when humans engage, because there is so much disengagement (masquerading both as apathy and as protest). I want to know how to increase the negative capacity of the average citizen, because we have to be able to stare down such horror. I want to make complexity interesting, because Karl Rove is counting on your eyes to glaze over.

I want to know how to talk about truth in a way that is not about power and not about relatavism, because the powerful have co-opted relativism and are using it to perpetrate the biggest fucking lies.

Jason, in other words, I want to examine power, and truth, and figure out how much power an artist can have to find truth, because truth is a rudder. I think that work is also a rudder, and so I want to know what work looks like, and I want to strip away all the romantic layers of distance that cover everything and ask empowering questions like how does it work? What is holding all this up? What is the structure that is over me? What happens if I touch this? What happens if I break it? I can't do this from the outside. Well, I can, but I can't get the same kind of information. It is one thing to critique someone else's building, and another entirely to make your own. I want to look at all this evil we have wrought with the intimacy of a tinkerer, not the distance of a critic.

I am sure that you will find these tactics distressingly vague, especially since we have argued about political art in the past. But you know, I honestly believe that hammering away at this problem like Thoreau, no matter how much I respect Thoreau's work many years ago in bringing about a total revolution in thought, is not going to do anything today except make folks feel okay about living in an empire.

I think that this is why art and artists and intellectuals (the Thoreaus of right now!) have so much to offer. I think that this is why MLS is wrong, that this is a great time to be an artist. It is a paradoxical time when at the same time we are so urgently lost and so totally comfortable. It's like we are living in that last two minutes before you jump out of bed, realizing that you are an hour late for work. I want to be ready, I want to know where my pants and my toothbrush are. Anything can happen. It is a time of amazing potential, and I don't want to be saying no to it. I want to figure out how to say yes in a way that is meaningful and good and is not a lie or a gloss.

Frankly, if I knew what that meant, I would stop making art and start going and doing it. But I don't know yet. So I screw tires together and think about it.

10 May 2007


07 May 2007

On Romantic Bullshit

In the previous post, Geoff and I started groovin' on some mysterious bullshit... and we both have had some romantic zingers, and I would like to land on this one:

My feeling is that all great works of art, the timeless ones... understand this thing of which we speak. And that it is what we consider beauty in the end. I don't think it is such a mystery, and i think by making this beauty undefinable or unobtainable, just out of reach, we continue to enjoy our laziness.

This is verbal kung fu. In this statement, Geoff manages to bust with some totally romantic bullshit and simultaneously call me out on some totally romantic bullshit! All great works of art have this one thing in common? It's really that easy?

And we are actually talking about beauty?

And yet, this beauty-waving motherfucker has the presence of mind to see that yes. I am absolutely being lazy when I say I cannot describe that which is right in front of me!

Seriously now. We are both (inappropriately) gettin' our Keats on. I don't think that we are talking about anything as vague as "beauty" or "the human condition" any more than I buy that it is truly unexplainable or untouchable or in any other way beyond us.

I think the thing that's messing with the verbiage is that we are both looking for "something greater." All that looking can cause you to strain yourself. To look too far ahead, behind or to the side.

I think it is this straining that causes romantic lapses. And I think that the only cure for this straining is refocusing on that which is in front of you.

Let us, then, refocus on reality, and on what is directly in front of us:

The question was, "What is the aesthetic of implication?"

And Geoff and I so far have concluded, I think, that it's an aesthetic of interconnectedness and vulnerability, of cause-and-effect, an absence of separations. Geoff thinks beauty plays a role, and I would love to hear why because I have a very troubled relationship to beauty myself. We both agree that a lot of the verbiage surrounding western-buddhist dogma (like compassion) is unhelpful, but are somewhat at a loss when trying to figure out what to replace it with.

We seem to agree that there are existential truths that are illuminated when one focuses on the interconnectedness of all being, and what that looks like. You perhaps see the vast potential of your own self, your capacity to become boundless or accept more than you previously thought possible.

I would argue that there is a Real Magic angle to all this. That even though there is no romance or other slight-of-hand, you can actually become larger than you thought you could...

...it's just that in order to do this, you have to become much smaller than you thought you were.


Geoff, when I called you a motherfucker in this post, I meant it in a friendly way, in the same way you would call a friend a bad-ass. And when I wrote that you wrote bullshit, I took it for granted that I think we both know that we were both kinda bullshitting...

...and that neither of us could help it. It's a big topic.

Now that I am re-reading this post, I am seeing that you, or someone else, could have thought that I literally think that you are a motherfucker! And that instead of making fun of us, a too-fast read could make it seem that I am just making fun of you!

I think enough blog-spit has been swapped between us for you to trust that I have a deep respect for you and am a potty-mouthed kidder! But the other twenty- or thirty-something of you:

Geoff is a great guy and I am not really calling him a Motherfucker, and I am not making fun of him as much as I am trying to inject a little levity in an otherwise too-serious discussion that we are both engaged in.