Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’
So I have a lot of thoughts on performance art. Many of them come down to the idea that when you push it to the extremes (which is one of art’s natural habitats) it becomes about enacting extremes on the body. Extreme pain (so many), extreme pleasure (Seed Bed comes to mind), sex, nudity, privation, stillness, repetitive motion… so many extremes of what the body is and what it can take. An extension of that is the extremes of emotional exposure as seen in and through the body. There are many interesting, important approaches to this, but I feel like it is ground well covered, and not what I’m interested in for my own work.
My work isn’t about me or my body or extremes, it’s about creating a platform, structure, even a ritual space for others to engage with ideas I present: with each other, with themselves, and now, possibly with me.
Ritual space is something I have been interested in for as long as I can remember. It was central to my studies in my first undergrad in History of Religions. I took a wonderful anthropology-based (Turner-centric) course on Ritual, but I saw ritual in everything from folk tales to architecture and football games. Ritual space is throughout our secular and personal lives- the ritual space of a hot bath with candles, a classroom, a bar, a gallery or a public library. These spaces have forms, rules, and roles which set them apart from other spheres and spaces in our lives and they create feelings and thoughts unique to those spaces. In these spaces we are ourselves, and yet ourselves in a specific role or character to fit the space, observing certain rituals of that space (a 3rd grade teacher will be themselves at both a bar and their classroom, but different selves).
In #DadaTarot I am creating a ritual space for the action to happen in. That action requires a mediator with a certain level of otherness and authority. A slight change of clothing and demeanor is enough to create this. I am still very much being myself, but I have given myself certain rules (some of which I specifically gave myself permission to break). The rules, the clothing, demeanor and the simple object of a table give me the structure of a ritual space for the piece to work in. Given the nature of Dada I didn’t even allow myself anything fancy for the table- it is a ready-made cocktail table and the covering was the first plain black piece of fabric on the top of my fabric pile, not sewn or tidied in any way.
For this piece, the Role of Barker/carnival worker has to be there to set the interaction apart from other gallery interaction, but also to get the participants to enter in a questioning way. These roles are known for being untrustworthy. I want people to come to this project with skepticism. For this piece I would absolutely not dress in any kind of clothing associated with actual fortune-tellers with very good reason: my role does not actually involve doing the fortune-telling. That I leave to the participants. The barker’s role is to bring bystanders into the action and tell them what the rules of the game are, which is what I do.
Me in the role as artist would to explain the piece and how it fits into my work. In the case of me performing in this piece (as opposed to someone else performing the piece while I stand next to it as Artist) I mostly steer clear of this. If they press, I mostly answer as Barker, not artist as to the nature of the piece. That said, I am remaining myself. This performance allows for expressing what I want to say, holding back, and then allowing myself to be pressed for an opinion, even as I say I should not really be giving it… which is what good Barkers do too.
I suspect more of my work is heading in this direction. Most of the participatory works need some kind of “baby sitter” during interactions to explain the interactive process to people and to keep people (especially drunk people) from breaking them or walking away with parts of the art. Mostly the ritual space of Gallery with the role of Gallery assistants covers this. Now that I am looking this aspect of my work in the face and acknowledging that what I am creating with my installations is ritual space (inside the ritual space of gallery/museum/etc.), it logically follows to incorporate ritual roles for certain works.
*note: I am fully aware that not all performance art involves extremes, and there is a lot of performance art out there (physically extreme and not) which I admire. A lot of it is politically extreme and I applaud that too. This studio blog post is about my own artistic path.
I’ve been taking a little break from studio work or in-depth art studies to handle other life things and refill myself.
I need to do other things, talk to friends and strangers, read non-art books as well as art books, see shows and museums, but mostly just think and absorb and wrestle with ideas. I think that when artists just focus on art and other artists the work is liable to eat itself (or other people’s work) or become a form of collective masturbation. For me, art should be connected to the greater world and to people who are not art-immersed as well as to art and the art world.
So I pause long enough to still my mind, and now it is rested enough to wrestle with ideas that will feed art.
I am circling questions for a new interactive art project. Thoughts of social access keep dropping in. Trying to think of issues I want to address, things I want to put people in contact with. I like a balance of the challenging and beautiful – they should go together. I don’t like hitting people over the head with the difficult things or just pleasing them. With interactive work especially I like drawing them in and calling on their memories and experiences, framing things in new ways. I think it has to be challenging at points not because you need an art degree to understand it, but because it makes you think about your world and your relationship to it.
This conversation between Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor from Examined Life (Astra Taylor) struck a chord that I want to work with:
It needs to percolate though. I once coached a person who was sightless from birth on the trampoline. He was amazing and it was one of my best experiences as a teacher. There are issues of access in gender, identity as perceived by others (perceived race, religion, culture, sexual identity, sexual orientation, etc.), identity (cultural and religious heritage and practice, nationality(s), sexual orientation, gender association, economic situation, education, occupation, pastimes, loves, hates, lived experiences….).
There’s just so much… but I’m thinking of exploring the idea of ACCESS. Maybe it’s just contact? What’s “normal” for you? What you feel in in your reach? I appreciate random ramblings on the subject.
Once I know what ideas I want to work with the form will come.
later… Just saw this: http://www.upworthy.com/their-parents-employers-and-boyfriends-dont-know-that-theyre-about-to-unmask-themselves?c=ufb1 Different kinds of access and obstruction. citizenship. Other stories, videos of children separated from their parents for years when their parents are deported, meeting through a fence. Gay couples, even married ones seperated by the lack of a green card, or seperated by lack of hospital access… more circling access.
So Wednesday night I learned that not getting my piece into last week’s firing was actually a blessing in disguise. The temperature regulator on the kiln broke, and so what was supposed to be 500 degrees became over 1200. Oops. I never did like electric kilns. I like to see the cones. Everything in there died, including the flower pots used to hold the glass that flows into the molds.
An element of chance indeed.
I have what many people would consider diametrically opposed methods of being. Anyone who knows me outside of any work I do knows me as a bit forgetful, messy, whimsical, bizarre, playful… while people who know me from any work I do or classes I take (same thing really) will tell you that I’m a perfectionist, always planning, exacting to a degree, always double-checking, assessing, always on time, etc. Except when I’m experimenting… and then the feathers (or wax or dye) tend to fly and one had best stand back.
On the one hand I want things to work the best way possible. I want to know how everything works and make it work better. I want to do the best job I can… and I take it all VERY seriously. Doing anything by halves? Forget it. …and so generally most people look at me like I’m insane when I describe an idea I haven’t yet done or they are watching a piece in progress. In the case of some pieces, if they are looking at a finished work and they understand what went into it, doubly so. “Do you torture yourself on purpose?” I feel that one must always pursue excellence as much as possible. People of similar mind seem to be the only ones who don’t look at me like I’m mad.
At the same time, I’m a believer in riding chaos, and that one must let go of the work as one is working. Holding on too tight to work either stunts it or kills it. As precise as one can be nothing is certain and the flexibility to allow the unexpected creates space for new things. There are things one can learn from chance that one can learn no other way. Letting go, getting messy, throwing things at the wall to see if they stick. How else to expand oneself but to explore the unknown? If the entirety of one’s work and process is too safe, too understood I feel that it dies.
I best love work that is a response to something outside myself- it becomes an exploration of understanding. I best love processes that I am discovering as I go. I love the challenge in not knowing what is coming next and knowing that I will have to deal with changes. I do love visceral work, but it almost feels too easy no matter how lovely the result- like singing or improvisational dancing (most of the Sculpted Canvas series are very much that). I could do many such pieces in the time it takes me to do one of the other sort of piece… but I somehow I am most caught by the work that really pushes me.
At the same time, I do tons of tests in discovering a new process, try to think of how things can go wrong, and overbuild on the careful side. In the case of the face that is now in the kiln (and may never come out of alive) I did a backup mold weeks ago (not a complete copy, but a good start) because my ceramics experience taught me just how fickle kilns can be. Experimentation is perhaps the line between chance and excellence. In experimentation we are exploring the unknown, but also cataloging what we learn in order to pursue new levels of excellence (as well as all kinds of other new things).
Again- I best like the combination. The Scales piece included over a thousand small, fast paintings as part of a larger, more methodical work. The Identity Tapestry involved experimenting with color- dying several hundred different colors of yarn and learning as I went how to produce specific color variations. Both pieces also involved the viewers as participants in creating the work; which took whatever order I have laid out and submitted it to the changes of the audience. It is amazing to watch your artwork finished by hundreds of people. The entirety of the Exquisite Corps Project was a study in chance, response and interaction. And since Dada “Starting From Chance” is nearly an official process… one I make a point to do when I feel too methodical.
As always, I believe in a fine line between seeming contradictions- tightrope-walking a paradoxical line between methodical order, experimentation and chance.
Firstly… let’s say that what “tastes good” is a very relative thing. Yes, there are sensory experiences that humans tend to go for universally by instinct- sweet, human faces, etc., but culture, individual experience and the intellect can affect significant changes and variations in those raw instincts.
What I want to think about is not what tastes good to a given person or even generally, but what good tasting ability is. In a relativistic world, I would define good taste as the ability to appreciate subtle differences. When one chooses a preference based on a more subtle understanding, then the choice is a more refined one, whatever the choice is.
It’s no accident that we use the word “taste” to describe finely discerning. I have come to equate learning to perceive visual subtleties with the ability to taste wine. Give a range of wines to someone who has no experience in tasting it and they are likely to tell you there isn’t much difference. Give it to someone with good taste in wines and they can not only describe the aromas, flavor and finish, but if they are really good they may be able to tell you the vintage. They have learned through practice (and often actual classes) to taste the different subtle notes in the wine- to distinguish vanilla, berries, woods, etc. and can more or less tell you what went into it.
People who don’t have that ability to distinguish might think that the wine snobs are making it up… but it doesn’t hold when the wine drinkers can take the same bottle of wine and taste the same things independently. Good taste is the ability to distinguish subtly, and it takes time and practice just like anything else, even for those with a natural sense of it.
So what does that mean with art? On a purely visual level (setting aside concepts and historical references for now) it is the same thing. Often when I first get a student they can’t tell a warm gray from a cold one, or phthalo blue from ultramarine (for a wine taster that might be like not being able to tell a Cabernet from a Merlot). To the untrained eye, gray is gray and blue is blue. Given a little time learning to look more carefully though, soon they can’t understand how they ever could have confused the two. They have learned to see better. They have learned more subtlety in distinguishing color.
Consequently they can look at a Monet and see a lot more going on in it than when they first looked, and more importantly as artists, they can paint with more color sensitivity. If their technique is up to matching what their eyes and mind can register, it comes through.
So what is often happening when someone without visual training (conscious or purposeful) looks at a painting and says “yeah, I know a student, kid, etc who could do that”? I submit is often that they aren’t tasting the different flavors. It isn’t that the difference isn’t there, it is that they haven’t got the ability to see it yet, and consequently are liable to think that there is a conspiracy of art snobs just as someone new to wine tasting might suspect there is a conspiracy of wine snobs.
On the other hand, sometimes the kid can paint it. Then we have contemporary art where it may be a pile of ordinary candy, or a smashed car… but that is usually the can of worms known as Concept, which is another little essay on its own. On the other hand…yes, I believe that every once in a while there is a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, but more often it’s a matter of taste.