29 October 2007

As Promised: Images of A Specific Piece of Public Art and More Questions About Public Art In General

Solid State Change, 2007, discarded tires and electrical insulation over cement, 9'x24'x11', commissioned by Middlebury College's Committee for Art in Public Places

Look forward to more musing on the nature of public art later in the week. In order to do its job (that is, actually be art), public art must produce conflict--if everyone liked it and it made no one uncomfortable, it would be bad art. Generally, this creates a lot of lame art in public, and a lot of artists afraid to leave the safety of the gallery. But need this be so?

I was talking to Rachel Owens about going to Middlebury, and she provided an interesting insight. She compared what happened--a spirited debate about interesting ideas and problems--to the unanimous lovefest that generally characterizes the Artist's Lecture, and wondered why artists can't give and get feedback like this from one another.

Interesting question, and relevant to the content on this blog. There will be as much palavering as time permits in the upcoming days. You all know what I think. Debate is good, the art world has too little of it, and public art could perhaps help overcome this artworld aversion to critical opinion.

ON A RELATED NOTE: Tyler Green's Dave Hickey Top Ten Challenge is asking for similar walls (of constant bobble-headed approval) to be torn down... and new walls (of discernment) to be erected instead. I have, as a good blogger should, linked to this article instantly and reflexively--without actually thinking about whether a top-ten list makes sense. All I am saying at this point is that I am going to the dentist. And while they scrub and scrape my pearly whites, I'll be staring at acoustic tile and trying to come up with a reason why I shouldn't agree that Dave Hickey "kicks serious ass."

27 October 2007

Environmentalism and A Possible Aesthetic of Understanding Vastness

New images of SSC, installed, with grass, are forthcoming... as soon as I figure out how to get Photoshop to see a raw camera file. In the meantime, here's an ancient detail from April 2007, and the "fresh install" shot, circa mid-August!

I spoke about Solid State Change at Middlebury College on Thursday, and it turned into a spirited discussion about, of all things, the appropriateness of tires as a material in a setting like rural Vermont.

The fact that Vermont dairy farmers love to use tires to hold down tarps aside, this points to a larger question about defining and using the aesthetics of environmentalism. Elsewhere on the Middlebury campus, environmentalism has dictated an attachment to "local materials," meaning local stone from local quarries, local wood from local forests, harvested in smallish amounts, and so on. This focus on local material has yielded a campus full of uniquely beautiful buildings that solve problems of scale or overuse in creative ways. And this looking to local materials and food is sheer common sense, as transportation equals carbon.

But is the intellectual work done when a building's carefully-crafted paneling has been gently taken from the surrounding forests, or has it merely begun?

When does local become shorthand for a larger statement of what one values in one's environment?

And what effect does this valuation of some materials or things over others have on one's ability to see what is actually there?

I certainly cling to the fact that finding stuff in the immediate environment is better on a practical level than shipping stuff all over the world without thinking about where it comes from or how it grows. But I wonder when exactly that practical decision transforms into an aesthetic, or worldview, that has the potential to exact its own harm--its own acts of not-seeing.

Like not seeing the tires for the forest.

Whether or not my art is liked by others is irrelevant to me. What is important is that it provokes thought--that it spurs the intellectual work of thoroughly understanding the relationship between the self and the world, between what we build and what we build it upon. So I am thoroughly pleased to have touched an aesthetic nerve at Middlebury College, and hope that Solid State Change continues to spark debate.

Environmentalists are facing such vast and terrifying problems, and this sense of threat creates the potential for mind-expanding revolutionary thinking on a heretofore unimaginable scale. To face the vastness of the whole changing world with your little frail body, and understand both the great potential and the inevitable limits of your own actions is to truly fucking see something!

But that same sensation of threat will spur just as much reactionary easy answermaking as actual revolutionary hard work. I hope more than anything that Solid State Change keeps refusing to yield an easy answer, and keeps the eyes of Middlebury from resting on any soothing notion that anyone there may have of that which looks "environmental," "local" or "beautiful."

20 October 2007

Best of DF: Artists Should Write Criticism

I got into a discussion with someone last night about artists writing criticism. It would be rude of me to get into it, but the basic idea was that I was being given some friendly advice. I could either stand outside art and write about it, or I could stand inside and make it, and that it was "dangerous" to think I could do both.

To my career? To my health? Dangerous? Really?

It seems like a good time to revisit last year's Kuspit lecture.

19 October 2007

New Content On ArtCal Zine: Or, Blogger Says No To Images So Here's Some Picturesque Language

Raymond Pettibon at Zwirner. Thoroughly digested and thrown back up for all the little baby birdies. Come 'n get it!

THIS JUST IN: Appriciation of this article, from the always-thoughtful editorial desk at Art Fag City

15 October 2007

I Will Never Make Fun Of Tyler Green Again

I will never make fun of Tyler Green again.

He has not just delivered Saltz the dope slap he so deserves.
He has not just put his finger on exactly why less art criticism and more pictures of rich people doing arty things.

He has proved that one can be earnest and righteous and interesting at the same time! A MAN first! Go Tyler go! More righteous earnestness! We eat that shit up around here! We cannot get enough! Pump your fist without worrying about tactlessly showing whose side you're on! Be on the side of art and not the art people! Stand for something, and keep standing for something, damnit!

More On Gore

Apologies about the picturelessness of this post. Looking for images of Al Gore was taking me down a rabbit-hole of flat-earth blogdom and, well, I do have things I want to accomplish today.

Everyone is still talking about Al Gore running for president, and I don't blame them.

Gore talks openly about the serious structural problems with the current "democracy." That the senate isn't acting like the senate, a separate legislative body of government, but instead acting as a wing of the executive branch.

That the judicial branch is stacked with people who want to create more unilateral power for the executive branch.

That this is unbalance of power is a serious constitutional threat.

That, unsurprisingly, the executive branch is taking advantage, claiming that they have the power to do things that are totally unAmerican, like hold anyone they want, for as long as they want. Forever if they want. Without telling anyone.

Like collect information about the citizenry without a warrant.

Like torture.

And he is the only one talking about these issues as such. He's the only one saying that senators spend too much time making money and not enough time legislating. The only person out there who is saying that George W. Bush is breaking the law.

Is it true that he is saying these things precisely because he is not running for president? That his position outside politics is exactly what gives him the power to tell the truth?

Mayhap. But it is just as likely that he is showing all those other mealymouthed carefulkinses exactly how to use the media. How not to compromise. How to go and have some fucking vision.

Here. Listen to or read these speeches that Gore has given over the past few years. They are chock full of content and ideas, and they are also full of hope.

The Limits of Executive Power
This One's About The Judicial Branch

13 October 2007

Chelsea In Brief

From Keith Tyson's Large Field Array

Chelsea’s rhythm is generally brisk—the same as one’s own footfall. There are so many things to see, and so much that is not particularly meaningful, that it’s easy to think of it as a literal hike. In four and a half hours I planned to get from 18th street to 25th street.

But after shuffling tediously through Raymond Pettibon at Zwirner as I read each drawing individually...

...and then plopping myself down on a sofa at Elizabeth Dee for an hour and forty minutes, so that I am not the only person who hasn’t seen the latest Ryan Trecartin effort...

...and then waiting twenty minutes to spend (sorry people waiting) fortyfive minutes wandering through Keith Tyson’s Large Field Array...

...it was getting kinda late. I was tired. And all the other art looked kinda stupid in comparison. I tried to finish 22nd street, but wound up at the Half King, gulping down a decidedly ungenerous bloody mary.

I still feel kind of beaten and disoriented. And generally, I want art to make me feel big feelings like this, but I have questions. I mean, DR9 made me feel similarly punch drunk, and it wasn’t because it was good. In part, I think I am exhausted simply because I confronted two of my least favorite gallery tactics: text and linear narrative. Sofa or no sofa, these time-sucking devices fail to understand what walking around in a gallery feels like for a viewer—they misunderstand the transaction. I definitely want to get sucked in, but generally not doing something I can do better in the comfort and privacy of my own home. Reading is intimate, and all video looks and feels better when I am on my own sofa.

I’m open to surprises, but generally I’m looking for something that benefits from me going all the way to a large, white room.

I also think I am exhausted because Ryan Trecartin is exhausting. And because the difference between Reagan-era Raymond Pettibon and W-era Raymond Pettibon is elusive. And because Keith Tyson managed to make the cube relevant in a way that has nothing to do with backward-looking modernist mannerism.

Over and over again.

These three shows do belong together somehow, and will be written about at more length, perhaps for ArtCal Zine. But I don't know how yet.

Draft Gore '08?

Well, he has already won the popular vote once, and failed doing it. And I am a firm believer in the transformative power of failure.

We cannot forget that Gore achieved greatness not in spite of, but because of that lame election and the horrendously bad Supreme Court decision that ended it. Gore was an equivocal, people-pleasing weakling in '00. His most distinguishing feature was his caution. He compared most often to wood, and did not even have the balls to stand up for himself and demand a full recount in Florida. He was a better choice than Bush, but he was not a good leader.

I voted for Nader, myself.

Since his public non-trouncing, Gore has grown up, figured out why he is publicly engaged, and I think most importantly, has figured out that it's not about him or his personal goals. This is the kind of person who should be president right now--the person who has written a long, boring book about how the democracy broke, and what could be done to fix it. We need someone who will stick his neck out. Someone who is all about fixing problems instead of pleasing people. Someone who thinks that the American people are smart enough to make good choices.

And he shouldn't even run. He should just be overwhelmingly written in. We should all stage a nonviolent coup. Say fuck you to the horse race and just demand someone who will do a good job.

12 October 2007


The letters after Friedman's article are funny, they are full of college students earnestly proclaiming that they would rather do something than "be outraged."

On one hand, there is obviously no point to being outraged, because we are being ruled by a classic bully, and everybody knows that you ignore a bully. And I would love to belive that these kids are quietly going about their changemaking business, all suit and tie instead of flowing hippie hair.

Their argument makes sense, because progressive social projects are inherently conservative--it's all about restoring and protecting The New Deal, the air we breathe, the ozone layer, the delicate fall leaves. It's what I do with my nasty old house. I work to make it incrementally less nasty, and I don't do that by razing it and starting over. Instead I slavishly attend to how old and new go together, so that it's still the same house when I am done...

...except that now the floors will once again take the weight of furniture and people.

This kind of restoration or conservation is simply not radical activity. It's boring, thinky labor. It is totally unromantic. Outrage has no place in restoration. It only distracts, creates bad decisions. To express outrage about the rotten wood is to wind up leaving it in place, or taking away too much too soon.

But is this what kids today are actually doing? Is this a nation of little worker ants, calmly, silently and dilligently marching along, protecting and preserving all that humanity from below, even as we lose it at the top? Is Generation Q so quiet because they are simply good taoists?

Or are Americans such great mythmakers with such an intact sense of self esteem that we simply cannot make ourselves look bad?

I don't know. But I have taught college recently. And I have called out enough plagarized papers and sat through The Grade Challenge Discussion enough times to have an opinion.

10 October 2007

Generation Q

Tom Friedman is, as usual, almost hitting the nail on the head today, talking about this generation of college students and young adults.

He calls them idealistic and optimistic, but quiet--that's the Q. And always the optimist himeslf, he is willing to buy into the idealism as such and not call these kids "deluded" or "hopelessly out of touch." And then he says that if they are not outraged they are not paying attention. And says that they need to stand up for all these things, like the polar ice cap melting, that they just talk about amongst themselves.

Friedman, wake up! This is how smart, powerless people in a closed government behave! Kids these days are not quiet, they are living in a world where asking questions goes nowhere. You want outrage? Be outraged at that.

I want to live in a democracy more than anyone. But I am not going to blame kids-these-days for understanding that we don't.


Okay, so the minute I hit the publish button, I thought about what I said. Maybe Friedman is right. After all, technically people still do walk into voting booths and push buttons or whatever. And just because in certain states you don't have a record of your vote, and just because there is ample evidence of voting "irregularities", that doesn't necessarily mean that democracy is in fact dead. What makes it dead is the fact that nobody gives a shit about the irregularities. What makes it dead is the fact that bringing it up in an appropriately outraged fashion will get you tazed by the campus police, while the student body sits and watches and does nothing. I stand corrected. Tom Friedman, you are awake.

09 October 2007

ArtCal Zine

I am pleased to be contributing regularly to ArtCal Zine--starting today!

Big thanks to all the ArtCal folks, especially Bosko Blagojevic's editorial hand.

08 October 2007

Fuck It: Call This A Manifesto

The world is very difficult to look at right now, much less envision changing. Your baby boomer parents may have had it all figured out--how to say No to war and stuff daisies in the barrels of guns and have sex and do drugs and rock the long hair--but we can all admit that this is not a reliable strategy going forward.

Dissent works when you have the power to do so, and the first thing I have to admit is my powerlessness. If Diebold delivers elections, then I am powerless. If GW Bush calls war protesters "focus groups," then I am powerless. If it's all about huge sums of money, then I am powerless. If we are talking about the polar ice cap melting or breaking the entire Middle East, then I am powerless.

I am tiny and insignificant, but I can continue to look and imagine. I can continue to ask questions. I can continue to find meaning in the destruction that surrounds me, and I can continue to see that I am not the only one in this existential predicament.

I have nothing to lose because I am not important.

I face out, not in.

I look for what we share and not what divides us.

I believe that destruction is the beginning of the story and not the end.

The scarier it gets, the more hopeful I get.