Friday, May 29, 2015

Upcoming Exhibit: Body Mass at New Boone!

I'm very excited to be participating in the Body Mass exhibition opening this-coming First Friday at New Boone.  I'll have three pieces in the show: Exchange, Putting My Face On, and Kissing the Boundary.  I am personally thrilled to have the opportunity to see these pieces shown together in the context of an exhibit about bodies.  The opening is from 6pm-10pm, June 5th, and there will also be weekend gallery hours from 12pm-5pm Saturday and Sunday. Come check it out if you are in and around Philly, and expect an update with installation shots and post-opening reflections to come!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

On Dream Spaces

I haven't tried incorporating content from my dream analysis archive into my artwork since the attempt I made in 2011 with See You In My Dreams, but I have been thinking a lot lately about the idealized spaces of our dreams, both in the context of the constructions we experience via our subconscious mind, and in the spaces we create for ourselves in waking life.

I'm thinking in terms of safe spaces, of the utopic, ideal spaces that function as an escape from the forces that plague us socially and politically (misogyny/ patriarchy, racism/colonialism/xenophobia, classism/capitalism, etc.).  I don't think I am alone in craving an escape from systems and constructs that seek to limit my capacities as a human being in the world, but what's been troubling me lately is the knowledge that anything we create for ourselves exists as a product of our existence within the context of those structures.  The struggle to actualize an uncompromised self free of the impositions and dictates of the oppressive prevailing hegemony is a struggle because it is fundamentally impossible to be totally free of those impositions and dictates.  Who we are is shaped and informed by the systems within which we attempt to function.  Creations seeking to break away from the dynamics making us miserable are still functionally reactionary.  Maybe that is OK, but it feels burdensome.

This relates to thoughts I'm having about the dreams we experience at night while we sleep--even within the spaces, scenarios, narratives created solely by and for me/ my mind/ my unconscious, the fact is that they are ultimately shaped/ informed by the experiences I have in my waking life. The seemingly limitless/ boundless space of my own mind are in fact neither limitless nor boundless; the experiences I have within my dreams are shaped by those I have without.

This is not a surprise--it makes sense, and I acknowledge that the limitations of our experience/ the filter of our perception is what provides the foundation for the capacity to dream at all.  But it is frustrating to imagine what would be better, but only within the confines of what is.

What would a completely free space look like?  How would we establish the notion of Who We Are if everything were completely new and free from the context of history or connotational perception?  I don't know, but I'd like to experience that for a change.  I am pretty sick of things as they are--of observing fucked up realities with only the hope of slow progress toward an adjusted version, years down the line.  I want to encounter the world anew, without all of the misguided impositions that obscure and contaminate what is possible.  Why do we continue to abide by structures that make zero sense/ make us miserable/ doom us all on a fundamental level?  Why were these structures conceived of and enacted in the first place? By and for whom?  Not me.  Not the vast majority of the people I know, love, and respect.

I suppose the solution lies in continuing to dream--in creating and advocate for better spaces and narratives, until those become the foundational reality from which new dreams are formed.  Maybe I'm just too impatient, but it feels so urgent, and the urgency is the direct result of how taxing so many aspects of daily existence can be.  I've been thinking lately that my drawings might be an outlet for/ direct representation of that process.  The absurdly labor-intensive/ time-consuming effort to reconstruct the existing surface, bit by bit--mining that surface for facets that can be incorporated into a new and altered structure, functioning within my own system.  I think my digital projects probably adhere to the same general motivation--functioning within existing structures/ incorporating the signifiers of existing structures, but attempting to subvert them/ use them in ways that serve my own process of discovery.  Maybe I would like to try to construct another dream space, but I don't think direct content from my dream narratives are necessary anymore.  I'd like to try building a space made out of a drawing system.  That was the initial impulse for Creep Along--to be able to stand inside of one of my drawings, but that piece became kind of muddled toward the end--the materials were wrong I think.

Anyway, art-making is my best shot/ the outlet that has brought me closest to achieving some sense of satisfaction within the murky struggles with what sucks about reality.  I'll just keep repeating the Cesar A. Cruz paraphrase "art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable," as a mantra...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

First Friday Highlights, March 2015 (Experiential Collaboration Forever!!!)

I haven't updated about art I've seen in a while, but a couple of the shows I saw last night made a strong enough impression that I feel like remembering them here.

Andrea Morales' exhibition "Public Play" at Practice Gallery spoke to me as an investigation of the complex social dynamics involved in dating--specifically, how we perform personas within varying social contexts.  The premise of the exhibition was Morales having organised a consecutive series of dates through OKCupid and Craigslist, to be carried out within the gallery.  Documentation of her correspondences with her dates were plastered on the walls for viewers to read when they weren't acting as voyeuristic observers of the activities of the dates themselves.  The dates/ exhibition were all documented throughout the night, and the plan is for the edited footage to be exhibited at Practice for the remainder of the month.

There is so much about the concept and the execution of this piece that I love.  I love that the artist is directing and composing these interactions for the express purpose of manifesting this exhibition, while leaving room for risk, chance, play, and vulnerability (to her collaborator and her audience).  I love that live performance, the documentation leading up to the performance, and the documentation of the performance itself are all integral aspects of the piece.  I love the fact that, even though you are in the room with the artist and her dates, observing their interaction and reading their correspondence, there are elements of their conversations that do remain private/ intimate/ just between them.  Sure, you can see their body language, maybe even catch snippets of dialogue, but you remain at a distance, a member of the crowd--you can't see and hear every element of the exchanges that build the date they are on.

I only had the chance to see one of the dates--the third of the night.  When I walked in, the space was illuminated by red lights.  There was music playing, and I could see the artist and her date sitting on a bench behind parted curtains.  They were both hunched over a camera, presumably shuffling through images.  In speaking with one of the members of Practice, I gleaned that this date had actually been photographing the earlier dates, so they were looking through the images he had taken.  I wanted to make it back to the final date of the evening, which was supposed to be with a female partner, and verge on more sexually charged content, but I missed it unfortunately.

I was sorry to miss the rest of "Public Play," but I was so happy I made it out to New Boone for "Forever," a collaborative exhibit featuring paintings by my studio-mate Kim Altomare and audio commentary by Anne Pagana.  If I had to express my overwhelming impression of the exhibit in one adjective, I would use 'refreshing'--everything about the approach felt like a sigh of relief followed by a breath of fresh air.  First and foremost, the experience of seeing Kim's paintings hung and lit within the context of a gallery space was thrilling for me--so much luster and detail that is hard to recognize when they're leaning against a studio wall came suddenly alive.  It felt like the paintings themselves had been energized/ taken on a new life, and I was so filled with joy for them!  The curatorial detailing--the incorporation of a friendship bracelet-making station [they'd run out of string by the time I got there :( ]; the integration of vibrant pom poms, shimmery sequins, tinsel, streamers, and googly eyes; the coordinated vignettes built out of objects contributed by Kim and Anne's artist friends, placed to keep the paintings company; the hand-articulated signage and decorated CD-players with headphones whose color matched the vibrancy carried throughout--all contributed to the overarching spirit of friendship and collaboration coursing throughout the show.  Walking into the space, every aspect seems to squeal, "Hi! We're so glad you're here! Come be our friend! Stay a while! Look and listen and contemplate with us!"  And how can you refuse that?

Which isn't to say that the content of the work presented is necessarily light or superficial--Kim's paintings incorporate symbolic imagery that alludes to death and violence, and Anne's commentary is deeply meditative.  There is an audio track corresponding to each painting.  I didn't listen to all of them, but those I did made it clear to me that Anne's spoken words access avenues of thought that are quite serious, and speak to a genuine desire for mutual understanding within the insular context of a friendship that exists within the broader, but still insular context of art-making.  There is a sensitivity and consideration for the differences and commonalities in hers and Kim's experiences with and approaches to art and life.  There is frustration and confusion, but also serenity to the acknowledgment that not everything can necessarily be fully understood between two people.  I felt honored to be invited to listen to these meditations, and though they were focused on a personal relationship, I felt included because the concepts being considered speak to interpersonal relationships in general, and art-making practices more broadly.  I got the sense that, though these are complex and difficult territories to navigate, underlying currents of hope, togetherness, and fun can carry us through.

Looking at the show through a feminist lens, I was struck by how it sits within the context of art history, which is so frequently dominated by men celebrating, commenting on, responding to, competing with each other, usually in a very egotistical way that has a lot to do with proving who has the most "genius". The mode of collaboration in "Forever" is definitely in dialogue with that tradition, but from a much more authentic, sincere, down-to-earth perspective.   Celebrating each other does not have to be about proving anything--it can be about inviting everyone into this dynamic of mutual consideration and dialogue, of approaching things in a genuine way, together.

I think I responded to strongly to both of these exhibits because I like what they indicate about where art practice and art exhibition is heading.  There is a sense of breaking things down and exploring them from new angles that I find so empowering and exciting.  It makes me feel a sense of freedom, like there is license to explore new territories and just try things to see where they go.  As there should be.  No more musty, tired art shows ever please!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New Project: Exchange

I've been working on this collaborative performance-for-the-lens project since January.  It continues my exploration of lipstick as a transferable medium that can connote gender, sexuality, power, etc.  For this project, I was interested in how those concepts play out within the context of a romantic relationship.  My partner and I each took a turn as the wearer of the lipstick/ initiator of the action.  For each round, we would kiss until no more lipstick could be exchanged, stopping to capture an image of the progress in between re-applications.  We repeated this process until the surfaces of both of our faces were as covered in lipstick as they seemed like they were going to get. 

This relationship is still relatively new to me, and has brought up a lot of ideas for me concerning my own sexuality and gender expression (I am a queer-identified gender-nonconforming woman; Nick is a straight cis man).  Performing this piece collaboratively speaks directly to the process of mutual transformation I have experienced in this process of getting to know and falling in love with someone while navigating these complexities. 

Much of my work deals with thoughts surrounding identity--the idea of our surface/ performed identity in relation to our inner/ personal identity; how both are in perpetual flux, informing each other, shaped within the context of broader external forces and systems.  My drawing process lately has involved directly drawing the configurations of shapes and lines that I see in the surface grain of the paper I'm working on, then tearing and reconfiguring that surface.  In looking at past projects like Putting My Face On and Kissing the Boundary, I've realized that my gestures tend to take on this process of accumulated mark on the surface until the original surface is completely obliterated/ transformed into something unrecognizable.  I like the fact that this can either take on a sinister tone or a triumphant one.  Change is difficult, and it is hard to know in the moment whether the struggle is ultimately for the better or the worse.  It is hard to know if you are losing aspects of yourself or discovering potentials heretofore unknown.  I want to speak to both--to the hope and the fear, but mostly to the overarching ambiguous mess of transition--the mess of trying to figure yourself out while simultaneously communicating to and with someone else, of learning and transforming together.  My takeaway so far is that making oneself vulnerable to someone else is always terrifying, but it can be beautiful too, especially when the exchange is mutual.  Anyway, here are the resulting images (more curated view available on the website):

Set One, Me:

Set One, Nick:

Set Two, Nick:

Set Two, Me:

 Composite, Set One:

Composite, Set Two:

Composites Combined:

Saturday, June 28, 2014


For the past month, my video has been on view at Atlantic Works Gallery as part of Engendered, a juried show that explores the complexities and ambiguities of gender. The closing reception is tonight at 6:30, but the show will be up through July 7th--if you're in or near East Boston, definitely check it out!

Also check out this review of the show, including my piece in Artscope Magazine!
And this mention in the Boston Globe's weekly gallery roundup!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Six Years

So, I did get to see the "Materializing Six Years" exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum before it closed in February.  Don't ask me why I didn't blog about it.  I was convinced I did until a moment ago, but found only this post, in which I mention that I plan to see it.  Let's remedy that... 

Not at all coincidentally, I'm now reading the 1997 re-release edition of Lucy Lippard's Six Years (this copy courtesy of the PAFA library, but I will definitely be buying my very own copy because it is clearly a thing to which I should have forever-access).  Needless to say, I have identified Lucy Lippard as a new personal hero.  She rocks.  So hard.  Some excerpts from the intro that really clinched it: 
"There has been a lot of bickering about what Conceptual art is/was; who began it; who did what when with it; what its goals, philosophy, and politics were and might have been. I was there, but I don't trust my memory. I don't trust anyone else's memory either. And  I trust even less  the authoritative overviews by those who were not there. So I'm going to quote myself a lot here, be cause I knew more about it then than I do now, despite the advantages of hindsight."
"The times were chaotic and so were our lives. We have each invented our own history, and they don't always mesh; but such messy compost is the source of all versions of the past"
 "As I reconstitute the threads that drew me into the center of what came to be Conceptual art, I'll try to arm you with the necessary grain of salt, to provide a context, within the ferment of the times, for the personal prejudices and viewpoints that follow" 
"In a de-commodified 'idea-art', some of us (or was it just me?) thought we had in our hands the weapon that would transform the art world into a democratic institution"
"Even in 1969, as we were imagining our heads off and, to some extent, out into the world, I suspected that 'the art world is probably going to be able to absorb conceptual art as another 'movement' and not pay too much attention to it. The art establishment depends so greatly on objects which can be bought and sold that I don't expect it to do much about an art that is opposed to the prevailing systems.' (This remains true today--art that is too specific, that names names, about politics, or place, or anything else, is not marketable until it is abstracted, generalized, defused.) By 1973, I was writing with some disillusion in the 'postface' of Six Years: 'Hopes that 'conceptual art' would be able to avoid the general commercialization, the destructively 'progressive' approach of modernism were for the most part unfounded. It seemed in 1969 that no one, not even a public greedy for novelty, would actually pay money, or much of it, for a xerox sheet referring to an event past or never directly perceived, a group of photographs documenting and ephemeral situation or condition, a project for work never to be completed, words spoken, but not recorded; it seemed that these artists would therefore be forcibly freed from the tyranny of a commodity status and market-orientation.  Three years later, the major conceptualists are selling work for substantial sums here and in Europe; they are represented by (and still more unexpected--showing in) the world's most prestigious galleries. Clearly, whatever minor revolutions in communication have been achieved by the process of dematerializing the object, art, and artists, in a capitalist society remain luxuries"
"Perhaps most important, conceptualists indicated that the most exciting 'art' might still be buried in social energies not yet recognized as art. The process of extending the boundaries didn't stop with Conceptual art: These energies are still out there, waiting for artists to plug into them, potential fuel for the expansion of what 'art' can mean. The escape was temporary. Art was recaptured and sent back to its white cell, but parole is always a possibility"
"Everything, even art, exists in a political situation. I don't mean that art itself has to be seen in political terns or look political, but the way artists handle their art, where they make it, the chances they get to make it, how they are going to let it out, and to whom--it's all part of a life style and a political situation. It becomes a matter of artists' power, of artists achieving enough solidarity so that they aren't at the mercy of a society that doesn't understand what they are doing. I guess that's where the 'other culture' or alternative information network comes in--so we can have a choice of ways to live without dropping out"
I mean...Can Lucy Lippard be my life coach please? Do you think she'd mind following me around saying obscenely articulate/ significant/ inspirational things to me for the rest of my life? No? Wellll I guess I'll just have to covet her writings then...

Another potential role model for life is Christine Kozlov.  Yesterday, as I frantically copied the following affinity-inducing phrase out of Six Years into my sketchbook: "Kozlov showed an empty film reel, and made rejection itself her art form, conceptualizing pieces and then rejecting them, freeing herself from execution while remaining an artist," I mentally shoomed back to the moment I had in the Brooklyn Museum, scribbling the name CHRISTINE KOZLOV into my former sketchbook and drawing a huge box around it to affirm the dire importance of its addition, because though I'd heard or read her name before, I felt like I didn't know enough about her.  "Oh yeah," I thought yesterday, firmly drawing yet another bold box around Kozlov's name because, clearly, the first hadn't been firm enough, "I meant to look her up."  And now I had even more reason to--"freeing herself from execution while remaining an artist"??? Ummmmmmm, hell to the yes.

But a quick Googling has revealed that there is, like, ZERO information to be found on the Internet about Christine Kozlov!  She doesn't even have a Wikipedia page!  There are interviews in which people talk about her, and links to texts that feature her work or reference her as a part of the formative Conceptual times etc. but nothing remotely akin to a monograph or even a simple bio giving me basic details about the trajectory of her life and work.  The part of me that wants to romanticize everything is tempted to turn this into a poetically appropriate turn of events: It is somehow fitting for Christine Kozlov to be as ephemeral as the work she made (or intentionally didn't make), for her to be digitally untraceable, for her un-documents to go relatively un-documented, for her existence to be a nebulous, evaporating thing.  But then another part of me defiantly asserts, "NO! I need to know more about this artist with whom I am experiencing a recurring affinity, dammit!" The experience I'm having right now in 2013 seems to be similar to things she went through in the 1970s, according to what Joseph Kosuth had to say in a referential interview with him I managed to find:
"Christine and I were in art school together and had a personal relationship. She was also my best friend and we had a great dialogue. She had her particular kind of work which was very much her own and I think that we both learned a lot from each other as art students do. Then, things begun [sic] to happen and, as I was the ambitious male and a little more theoretically oriented - I was more of an activist while she was a quiet, introverted person - I was out fighting for this idea of art. At a certain moment she said something which filled me with tremendous feminist guilt (me as a feminist, not her); she said 'Well, you are doing it for both of us now' and I said: 'No, you cannot say that!' But it was quite horrible. I remember Lucy [Lippard] being in contact with her because at that point she really stopped; I tried also to encourage her and she eventually began to do work again but at a certain critical period she was quiet when she should not have been quiet, because we needed her. She was really the first woman in the Conceptual art context."
So here's the thing: for the most part, I very much identify as a "more quiet, introverted person" (especially where me and my work are concerned) and I'm struggling to do work lately, and would therefore be completely ecstatic to be able to read Kozlov's own account of her experience considering she still managed to put some wildly fantastic things out into the world for quiet, introverted people like me to stumble across, empathize with, be inspired by.  Clearly I need to do more than Google...Using Six Years as a launch point for further investigation is undoubtedly a solid place to start....

ALSO, Lee Lozano, who DOES have a wikipedia page, thank the Internet! This article in Frieze is really excellent, and has me convinced that Lozano is ridiculously appropriate for me obsession-wise.  I think she more than Kozlov is probably a role model for life.

And now, Some of My Favorite Artworks Documented in Six Years (the book and the exhibition based on it):
  • Bruce Nauman, Thighing 16-mm 8-10 min color film with sound (1967) 
    In which the artist manipulates the flesh of his thigh with his hands for a solid 10 minutes--weird, funny, mesmerizing to watch; made me think about how bizarre it is to have a body, what it means to have flesh, what are the properties of flesh/ a body, etc.  It's very slow, which makes it even more hypnotic, and you get the feeling that you're watching him discover/ attempt to figure out this mass of meat that is his thigh for the first time--like a child discovering that it is an independent being with autonomy and motor skills, but he's not a child, which means that he is consciously inhabiting that frame of mind and performing the process of othering his own body to himself.  But at the same time, it remains a simple, direct gesture. I also loved how the title is an invented verb that perfectly encapsulates the gesture itself--manipulating a noun into a gerund; manipulating one's thigh into malleable matter. Spoke to me on a personal level; resonated with my own concerns.
  • Joseph Kosuth, Titled Series (Art as Idea as Idea) (1967)        
    In which the artist proves that he is the cleverest fucker around, and I fully endorse it.  Dictionary definitions for things are fascinating to me and frequently serve as a grounding point when I'm feeling confused abour a particular idea, word, concept, etc.  So this is really good.  Also, only one of these definitions has to do with actual output/ product--the rest are about skill and learning and the application of that skill and learning.
  • Vito Acconci, Following Piece activity, 23 days, varying durations, NYC (1969)   
    In which the artist chose a random person each day to follow until they entered a private space.  Immediate impulsive thought: "what a fucking creep!" Directly antecedent thought: "What a fucking genius!" A totally intuitive, though still systematic process/ gesture that really appeals to the narratively intrigued observer in me.
  • Lee Lozano, Dialogue Piece (1969)                                                                                       For which the artwork was the act of calling people up and inviting them over to her house to have a conversation, and the conversation that resulted, which was not recorded. OK, so LL's annotation in Six Years says: "Her art, it has been said, becomes the means by which to transform her life, and, by implication, the lives of others and of the planet itself." This is my approach to art too.  This piece kind of reads as an attempt to reconcile being an introvert with knowing the importance of an active, intellectually stimulating social life.  I sympathize.  Also, I was doing a thing in this vein for a while last year, only kind of the opposite, in which I was frantically trying to document the conversations I was having with friends about an idea in order to incorporate their thoughts about the idea into the idea itself [the idea was for there to be an exhibition of the documentation of the conceptualizing of the exhibition that just keeps growing and being added to by the attendees of the exhibition, who can contribute their thoughts and suggestions, which will then be incorporated into the exhibition. I know.].  General Strike Piece (started 1969) and Masturbation Investigation (1969) are also extremely badass. I like that her pieces' only evidence are these handwritten pages documenting her intentions. The lived experience is the art, which cannot be translated into a visual or an object, so the original idea, the impetus of it, is what survives.
  • Dennis Oppenheim, Arm & Wire 16-mm film by Bob Fiore (1969)  
    In which the artist "repeatedly rolled the underside of his right arm over some wires". The wires leave imprinted marks in his skin, records of the contact between his body and the material.  Arm and Asphalt (1969), Reading Position for Second Degree Burn (1970), and Material Interchange (1970) are other products of the thematic investigation of the body as marked recipient of the effects of an interaction with external forces/ materials.  Resonated for me because of the emphasis on mark-making as a physical gesture/ as the remnant of a physical interaction (thinking about lipstick/the kiss)
  • Marjorie Strider, Street Work (1969)
    Street Works I (March 15): 30 empty picture frames were hung in the area, to create instant paintings and to call the attention of passers-by to their environment. Street Works II (April 18): Same work, different area. In both of these works, most of the frames were taken home by people on the streets. Street Works III (May 25): A large felt banner (about 10 feet long) on which was lettered the words PICTURE FRAME, was hung in the area. Street Works IV (Sponsored by the Architectural League of New York, October): A 10' x 15' picture was placed in front of the entrance to the Architectural League, forcing people to walk through the picture plane. Street Works V (December 21): Taped frames were placed on the sidewalk, creating more picture spaces for people to walk through.  Reminds me of Lorraine O'Grady's Art Is... (1983), which was among my favorites in the This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s exhibition at ICA Boston this past winter.  Both involve the idea of framing life as the subject of art, but the fundamental difference in the execution is that Strider leaves the frames to do the compositional work, while O'Grady physically holds the frame, and is involved in the lived action being framed.  I think I prefer O'Grady's for that reason--she is not an absent framer of compositions to be found, experienced, interacted with by others; she is a present participant, engaging with the people who comprise the content of the framed compositions.  O'Grady's piece feels more empowering in that way--she is expressly telling people that their lives, their experiences are significant enough to be framed and documented, while simultaneously critiquing the history of art's lack of consideration and inclusion of those people and experiences. Strider's feels like an intellectual stepping stone toward O'Grady's more sociopolitically charged execution.  But I guess that can be boiled down to the difference in the climates of the late-60s/ early-70s and the 80s. 
  • James Collins, Introduction Piece No. 5 (1970)                                                                                     (I couldn't find a paste-able image, but you can look at the document in Six Years here)                                                                                           For which the artist introduced strangers to each other and then had them sign a document verifying that the introduction had been made, the date, time, location and signature of both participants, as well as a picture.  Another incarnation of the idea that human interaction/ connection/ exchange is art.
  • Bas Jan Ader, Fall 1 (1970)                                                                                                 Which is footage of the artist intentionally falling off the roof of a house. Fall 2, filmed in Amsterdam, shows the artist intentionally riding his bike into the river. Another piece of Ader's I really like, and which is featured in the book, is I'm Too Sad To Tell You (1971), in which he cries in front of the camera.  I like how Ader's work highlights the trickiness of performance: he's really falling, but it's not a "genuine" fall because it's not an accident; he's really crying, but it's a self-aware, performed cry because he set up the equipment and knows the camera is recording it.  How "authentic" can you be when you're framing/ composing the expression? I think about/ experience this tension a lot.  
  • Christing Kozlov, Information: No Theory (1970)  
                                                                                     1. The recorder is equipped with a continuous loop tape
    2. The recorder will be set at record. All the sounds audible in the room will be recorded.
    3. The nature of the loop tape necessitates that new information erases old information. The "life" of the information, that is, the time it takes for the information to go from "new" to "old" is the time it takes the tape to make one complete cycle.
    4. Proof of the existence of the information does in fact not exist in actuality, but is based on probability.  
    I love everything about this. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

First Friday in Philly Take Two (Braving the Rain)

This past Friday, June 7, I gave it another shot.  I convinced my friend John to come with me to the 319 building before meeting our friend Vy at HyLo Boutique for a beer, coffee, cheese tasting around 7.  We stopped for food that I thought was going to be takeout Vietnamese sandwiches, but ended up being a sit-down meal because I directed us to the wrong place.  It was fine though because we had a solid prologue conversation about how frustrated I get reading theory due to the inherent hubris involved in any theorist offering an alternative solution to the problematic constructed system they are observing.  My central point was something to the effect of: "It's like, I'm with you when you're deconstructing and problematizing and pointing out the wrongness of what's going on and the fact that the rules of what's going on were invented by and are upheld by other humans, but I feel like from there, there is this disconnect where the theorist doesn't acknowledge the fact that they are just another fallible human offering another construct.  They end up saying: 'Recognize this problematic construct that misguided, fallible humans have been blindly promoting for centuries; I've got a better one for you.'  And they fail to recognize their own subjectivity and the fact that everything they are observing is filtered through their own imperfect perception.  They actually think they're better because they are embodying an idea that's more-than-human, because they've discovered a Truth, but instead of it being about the idea, it is inevitably about them and their brilliance and their contribution to history, and I can't get over the fact that the furtherance of that is extremely dependent upon problematic bullshit firmly rooted in the intertwined systems including-but-not-limited-to colonialism, classism, racism, patriarchy, eurocentrism that any decent theorist is supposed to be problematizing."  John made a point about the necessity of doing the work of sifting through the annoying dregs of each separate theory to find the nuggets of Truth in order to string together your own collage of Truth that can guide you through your life, and how it's a singularly excellent thing to be able to encounter the Truths that resonate for you and be able to keep that.  I agreed, but realized aloud that I've mostly had those kinds of moments when reading fiction—when reading novels.  That when I read theory and encounter a Truth, I don't feel impressed by it because I feel like, "Yeah, so?  I thought that thought yesterday." I don't respond well to people telling me what to think or what to look at in that kind of direct "look at what I know and you don't yet know" sort of way.  I am much more inclined to be engaged by something that leads me to my own conclusions, that asks me to look and think in a more collaborative way because that's so much more empowering and requires a whole lot more skill and finesse and subtlety than having a thought and being like "OH SHIT I'VE HAD A BRILLIANT THOUGHT—EVERYONE, LISTEN TO ME NOW!" It might be a truly brilliant thought worth sharing, but if you can't figure out how to communicate that thought in a way that engages and empowers your audience, then you're just another asshole.

Anyway, it was a good talk, and though we were running unforgivably late afterward, I'm glad we had it because the first thing we saw when walking into Vox Populi was Jess Wheelock's animation How to Win Friends and Influence People, which was maybe my favorite piece of the night.  It shows Wheelock trying to read Dale Carnegie's book, but falling asleep, from which point, a drawn animation of herself falls into a dreamy landscape of the book itself and has a surreal encounter with Carnegie himself (also a drawn animation).  It is hilarious and absurd and very smart.  My favorite moments were the animated Carnegie encouraging her to pretend to be happy so that people will feel more comfortable around her—he tells her to smile; she folds her arms across her chest and frowns skeptically, shaking her head.  So he offers her a smile-mask to hold up in front of her face instead.  Later, Carnegie rambles about his motivation for writing the book and says something to the effect of, "When I was a kid, I didn't have any friends," which made me laugh out loud and elbow John and affirm that this piece was "so great, and so appropriate to the conversation we were just having." 

Wheelock's video was separate from the "Union, Justice, Confidence" exhibition that filled the rest of the gallery.  Standout pieces included Dave Grebber's My Stassed (Red Velvet) in Gallery 2, which I would actually like to look at again when there aren't so many people around interfering with my ability to actually hear what the people in the video clips are saying.  The gist of the piece seemed to be a statement about the language of commodity-advertising as specifically applied to the virtual space that now defines our lives.  Formally, it draws you in with layers of color and moving images, and then it holds you there with campy infomercial-style anecdotes performed in a familiarly composed way (if you're someone who watches a lot of infomercial-type ads), but with the people promoting a thing you've never heard of before.  Again, I could not hear the content as much as I'd have liked to, but what I got from what I could discern is that "My Stassed" is some kind of virtual reality space that allows you to organize and keep track of your life to a vaguely terrifying extent (one participant says something about being able to watch his wife and daughter all the time via My Stassed)—it's framed as an ideal, utopic space that you can customize, but superficiality and falseness in the actors' faces makes you feel uneasy about the attractive bells and whistles that so easily drew you in.  Good.  In Gallery 4, there was a video by Stephanie Patton titled Conquer, in which a woman, presumably Patton, has covered her face and neck/ shoulders in band-aids and is ripping them off one by one.  I was queasily reminded of my own Putting My Face On and didn't really want to watch the whole thing, but I feel like I probably should go back in order to do so.

We also checked out the openings at Grizzly Grizzly: "Permanent" featuring Kim Faler and Kristen Kimler [I was unimpressed by the tiny snippet images of hubcaps pinned inside circular frames and equivalent images of columns arranged around the column in the center of the room. The "wallpaper" on the back wall also fell flat for me.  I don't know—I just felt myself asking "OK, and?"]; Tiger Stikes Asteroid: "Gillian Pears: Elsewhere" [beautiful images of pieces of cloth draped over clothesline before colored walls.  Formally impressive]; and Napoleon: "The Flame and the Flower: New Works By Marc Blumthal" [digitally abstracted images of Reagan...and some kind of manifestoish statement scrawled on the wall.  "Adolescent impulses with a pretentious title" is what I numbly wrote in pen on the notecard I took.  The downpour of rain soaked this and all other press releases to a bleeding stack of pulp at the bottom of my canvas bag, which seems appropriate to mention.] before heading out.

We got to HyLo at 8:30 instead of 7, but Vy didn't seem to mind.  Combining coffee, cheese and beer is a thing I vow to do for the rest of my life.  Walking around in the rain to the point that your raincoat ceases to even remotely serve its intended function and your shoes become squishy pools and your dress might as well be a bathing suit because it's suctioned to you like a second skin—also not so bad.  The concluding art experience of the night was accepting a feathered mask from a dude under an umbrella who was trying to hand it off to everyone walking past him.  "There's a good one" is what he said when I took it from him.  I don't know what that meant, but I wore the mask the rest of the way to the L and left it on a bench for someone else to pick up or throw away.  There were little wet bits of green feather stuck to my face, apparently. Good.