Tuesday, February 23, 2010

the mending project

the latest issue of ARTnews has a small feature about lee mingwei's the mending project:
Strangers depend on the kindness of Lee Mingwei, and he on theirs, "For my practice, art is about exchange and interaction with strangers and gift-giving," says the Taiwanese-born New York-based artist, who cites the book The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property by Lewis Hyde and his Buddhist upbringing as his main influences. "I'm not always the giver or receiver," he says. "It's a mutual gift-giving process."
those of you who know me know that the gift is a book i often encourage fellow artists to read -- it contextualizes the artist's role and responsibility, as well as how art functions in culture, in a very different way. a gift is quite different from a commodity; they create or function within markedly different systems, with markedly different effects. gifts are free, and, because they are free - both freely given and freely received - they must continue to be distributed in order to "live", a gift cannot belong to anyone. it cannot be controlled. it must continue to be given if it is to remain a gift. otherwise, it becomes a commodity, and it "dies".

gifts also bond people together - they connect us - whereas commodities do not need to. in fact, they limit connection, they are self-contained - they have no meaning other than how they refer to ourselves. gifts accrue meaning because they are relational in nature. another effect of the gift's connecting nature is an emotional bond, where commodities lack that emotional weight. in addition, since gifts connect us, they contribute to community building. ultimately, the idea of the gift has implications for society, spirituality, creativity and the individual. how different life, and art, would be if we approached it, and received it, as a gift.

(please forgive me for this rather rough synopsis of hyde's thoughts -- for more about and from lewis hyde, go here)

what i find most intriguing about this exhibition was the level of trust it required from both artist and participant. the artist offers to the [potential] participant a service. that service transforms that exchange into an art event or installation. that event or activity is only truly completed when the participant returns. it's a beautiful picture of bourriaud's relational aesthetics, where "art is a state of encounter"; and the relationship between art and viewer/ reader as an exchange. there is a surrender to the possibilities of the work on both sides of the equation. what matters is the experience rather than the object. what matters is surrender rather than control. what matters is the connection between art and viewer/ reader. what else matters?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

a valentine's day poem for my wife

listen! you say, & i’m trying.
i really am. trying to work on the long pause
supposing there’s more, sounding the unsaid.
& so I wait.

maybe there are better ways to make this exchange,
& perhaps there are different sounds we can form,
rarer blessings, fuller words, less worn entreaties.
if there isn’t more below the surface
emptiness becomes our song, & we the poorer for it.

volume isn’t the solution either –
a cascade of words, of promises; a
numbing list of what we will or won’t

value. so this is important.
let my love be known as these words rest
in your hand, eye, heart.
eat them, and nestle them in your body.
then, tell them back to me. i’m listening.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

morality, a thematic project

i recently attended a [curator's] talk with nicolaus shaufhausen, director of witte de with, center for contemporary art in rotterdam, the netherlands. witte de with (wdw) has set up "morality" as a leitmotif (a dominant and recurring theme, as in a novel) for a year's worth of programming, including exhibitions, publications, educational programs and a website to engage people in conversation around the idea. i was intrigued by the idea: an entire year of a contemporary art institution (in the netherlands, no less) using the idea or concept of morality as a guiding conceptual framework. i was looking forward to hearing about the ways in which wdw engaged artists, academics and various publics as they explored the idea through art objects, experiences, events and discussions.

that didn't happen.

the talk was promoted thusly:
Director of Witte de With, The Netherlands, Nicolaus Schafhausen will discuss the thematic project Morality. In the most general sense, morality is a category of aide-memoires for living a righteous life; in its most inflexible sense, it engages the world through categorical imperatives, produces intolerance towards skepticism, and insists on transcendental ideas even when these have become unnecessary. The aim of the Morality project is to present a wide range of attitudes which tend to problematize a total conception of morality.
instead, what happened was a lot of talk about the context of the [contemporary art] institution: the political landscape, the socio-economic situation, the ethnic make-up of the city, funding issues...very little was said about the thematic use of morality. in fact, the talk was framed within the context of curatorial practice and how curating is shifting. even more, the discussion focussed on the possibilities of changing the way institutions function and, by extension, curatorial projects. now, i'm not saying that there weren't some interesting ideas generated by the presentation (or, to be more accurate, and a little snarky, in spite of it), but the presentation was really for institutional curator types, and involved more than just a little navel-gazing and theoretical wanking. i felt a little left out. and bored. and perhaps a bit anachronistic. i guess i'm of the opinion that the institution does have to justify itself; it does have to prove its value and acknowledge (and educate) the public about why it exists and what it does. it should (must?) have a social/cultural function.

i wanted to hear about how wdw presented and discussed various ideas about morality: the questions it asked to complicate questions about morality, how they facilitated dialogue and discussion (and perhaps even argument) about what constitutes morality, and how we define what is moral and immoral. i was interested in how specific they were, rather than having "morality" offered as a giant bucket or catch-all idea that you could throw anything and everything into, and conceivably never discuss anything concrete. i'm all for ambiguity and multivalence, but there has to be something for people to bounce off when discussing this kind of idea. facilitating a discussion means you take a position, or at least offer a proposition to explore. how else will you figure out where you stand?

anyway, it raised a number of questions for me about my own practice, and my desire to work more within the arts community, including curating. are artists
looking to be curated? is a physical site even necessary anymore? where can exhibitions happen? how else can they happen? what scales are possible? can they be generated by larger curatorial projects/agendas, and how does one pursue that? how do i apply my own concerns and processes, and create interesting dialogues around that? what kinds of objects, remnants, resources could that produce? it helped me realize that the model of the institution/gallery/collective i envision is a different one than is currently at play in most situations, and i am going to get back to working on that.

so for that, if for nothing else,
hartelijk bedankt mijnheer. hartelijk bedankt.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

dark matters


i really really really want to go see this:

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

batter my heart

john donne's holy sonnet XIV:

Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
that's it.

nothing else.

Monday, February 1, 2010

the authority to remove

the tate modern recently hosted an exhibition of work by jill magid, work commissioned by the Dutch Secret Service who, once the work was installed proceeded to confiscate some of the contents of the exhibition. what ensued over the course of the various negotiations and exchanges between artist and patron is an interesting study about control of both information, images, content and, of course, people. it's a fascinating performance:

'The secret itself is much more beautiful than its revelation.'
Jill Magid, The Report for the AIVD on the Subject of its Face.

Authority to Remove marks the final chapter of American artist Jill Magid's long involvement with the Dutch secret service, the AIVD. In 2005, she was commissioned by the AIVD (De Algemene Inlichtingen en Veiligheidsdienst) to create an artwork for their new headquarters. This unlikely-seeming invitation came about as the result of a stipulation under Dutch law that a portion of the budget for the new building be spent on an art commission.

Through her performance-based practice, Magid has initiated intimate relations with a number of organisations and structures of authority. She explores the emotional, philosophical and legal tensions between the individual and 'protective' institutions, such as intelligence agencies or the police. To work alongside or within large organisations, Magid makes use of institutional quirks, systemic loopholes that allow her to make contact with people 'on the inside'. Her work tends to be characterised by the dynamics of seduction, the resulting narratives often taking the form of a love story. It is typical of Magid's practice that she follows the rules of engagement with an institution to the letter - sometimes to the point of absurdity.

you can find out more about the book generated (or edited) by the project here.

you can find out about another piece generated by the experience, the directives, here.

all of which raises the question: what is the relationship between artist and patron/ commissioner/ institution? what are the expectations, responsibilities, hopes for both players in this relationship? what i find most interesting about jill's work is the surrender to the conditions of the commission(s). it is courageous. and yet it goes against the grain of our precious [artistic] autonomy -- not that this kind of control was a primary issue (or it least it isn't recorded) for many of our art history stars: michelangelo, raphael, da vinci, rembrandt et al -- all had to work to others' expectations and demands (and potential rejection or alterations) while creating their pieces. it wasexpected. how things have changed. now things often start - and end - with the artist rather than the commissioner, patron, consumer.

when did art stop being about serving others, about serving - and giving voice to - a community? when did art become about the artist? please understand me - i'm not asking this in order to have someone explain to me how there was a shift in the late 1700s/ early 1800s in continental europe in the conception of the idea of the artist, which was shaped by philosophical, social, political, social and, ultimately, market (read: economic) forces -- if you want to read a very good summation of that, read larry shiner's the invention of art: a cultural history. what i'm asking is a question for the artist - the cultural producer - who do you serve?