Community, Values

DIY, DDIY

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the installation-in-progress by resident artist Daniel Nevers at Southern Exposure. His project involves accumulating and configuring ready-made materials purchased from Home Depot.

Before I saw the work, I suspected that I’d miss a sense of intervention or critique, as Nevers’ Home Depot transactions do not disrupt manufacturing or retail business-as-usual. But then again, artists still get their paper and plaster from somewhere — Home Depot may be a more notorious multi-national big box, but it doesn’t mean that Dick Blick or other chains are any better.

Nevers is interested in “DIY as the new self-help.” I didn’t see the introspective, psychological layers to the work in my quick walk-through; perhaps I was too dazzled by so much new and shiny merchandise, which is reminiscent of the work of Jessica Stockholder.

Nevers’ installation inhabits nearly every cubic foot of the storefront gallery. Liminal spaces are framed by 2x4s and sealed behind plastic sheeting. Mounds of orange extension cords on the floor are visually attractive — sensuous, even. A screen seamed with blue-green cable ties makes a 3-D fringe, and plunger heads outfitted with tiny light bulbs form beacons on the windows. Expanding foam overflows its container, lending an oozing, vegetative quality. Visitors have to find their own narrow paths through this crammed-to-the-gills installation, and every corner reveals more unexpected colors and patterns. The effect is like walking inside an overgrown window display. Through Nevers’ comically exaggerated accumulations and arrangements, the recognizable household items — push-brooms, sawhorses — outshine their mundane identities.

Recent Headlands Center for the Arts resident David Moises also uses consumer-grade appliances and tools as foundational materials in his work. Moises, though, intervenes in the objects’ functions to create viewer-interactive kinetic works, such as gasoline-powered hobby horses. He spoke about his interest in examining a tool’s potential, like liberating a bumper car from its electric floor.

Lisa Anne Auerbach‘s manifesto, “DDIY: Don’t Do It Yourself” (Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, #6), directly critiques DIY as co-opted by corporations and lifestyle magazines. In keeping with the manifesto style, the premise is indicting, the tone hyperbolic. Auerbach proposes “Don’t Do It Yourself,” which sounds a lot like the original spirit of DIY, with the revisions of hiring professionals when appropriate and trading services whenever possible. DDIY “is un-commiditized, barter-based, community-crazed and liberating.”

I have shared Auerbach’s disgust at the ridiculous extent of DIY ubiquity (e.g., God’s Eyes, the pre-school age appropriate art activity, on the cover of Readymade Magazine), and the marketing of rudimentary creative trends like scrapbooking.

As an artist and freelance graphic designer, I also agree that expertise should be valued accordingly. But though bartering can be fruitful, I think it’s an alternative to monetary compensation that should be carefully negotiated and never presumed. (Until the day landlords and HMOs accept payments in home-baked bread or knit hats, independent contractors should be spared the indignity of defending the value of their services.)

At the same time, I see nothing wrong with DIY. My parents rototilled their own land, sewed their childrens’ clothes and repaired their own home. But they didn’t call it DIY; it wasn’t a fashion or political statement, or a way of demonstrating indie community values. Their way of life has been largely abandoned because of marketing and consumer culture, true, but also due to affluence and de-skilling. Auerbach hopes to reclaim creativity and skill-building, but she disdains DIY-marketed products. But rejecting consumer culture — including DIY-marketed products — is as easy as it’s always been: shop less and do it yourself more often.

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