Here’s to Doing Things the Wong Way

There’s a printmaking technique named after me.

It’s called, “The Wong Way.” The pun is intentional.

In undergrad, I was an eager student of woodcut printmaking, but not of color registration. Ken Rignall demonstrated a system involving metal buttons at the California College of the Arts, but he warned against leaving the buttons in the press. That would destroy expensive blankets and thus incur the wrath of fellow printmakers. To this day, I’ve never left the buttons in the press, because I’ve been too afraid to use them.

Either due to early twenties overconfidence or mechanic’s daughter ingenuity, I thought, if all you’re trying to do is line the block up with the paper consistently, why can’t you just jam them both into a corner? I made a 90º angle out of wood and tried it out on a block with a margin carved out. If your block or paper is less than square, you pick an edge to line them up with, and, Presto!

It wasn’t the most precise, but it was the most idiot-proof. (If there is an essence to the Wong Way, that might be it.)

Ken caught wind of this method and admired it. He coined the name and taught the technique in subsequent semesters. The pun in the name suggests that this is not how you should do it, but this is how you can do it.

I finally bought some sewing reference books—six years after buying my sewing machine, and experimenting with many combinations of needles, threads, and fabrics, not to mention patterns of my own devising. I’d been rambling between states of unconscious and conscious incompetence—sometimes completely unaware of incorrect thread tension, sometimes painfully aware that the bias in the fabric was exacting a toll for my poor cutting.

The reference books point out the sheer volume of fundamentals I’ve skipped over.

You might be thinking that I’m kicking myself for putting the wagon before the horse, but actually, I’m grateful and elated to learn these fundamentals now. I know WHY I need to acquire this knowledge, and am able to ground it in prior experience. I appreciate it so much more.

My Dad taught me to problem solve fearlessly. He’d take broken things—from toys to toaster ovens—down to his garage tool bench, rattle around in his toolboxes, crack the thing open, and have a look-see. Sometimes he repaired it, sometimes he didn’t, but he always gave it a try. Dad went to automotive school, but he learned a lot by doing. No one taught him how to re-roof our house or make a kid’s play structure from an old barrel and a car rotor. He just figured it out. He showed me that I too could figure things out, and that there’s no reason to shy away from trying.

Here’s to jumping in with both feet. To the confident leap into the unknown, that the things around us are not too complicated, that fear can be rather useless, and that curiosity is intertwined with survival.


The Object of Art and the Art

This sounds like an AMAZING class — the use of the phrases “symbolic capital” and “artifactual production” suggest the influence of Johanna Drucker’s writings on complicity in contemporary art. I heard Ken Lum speak at CCA a few years back — really bright thinker and artist.

Master Class: The Object of Art and the Art as Object with Ken Lum
The Banff Centre

The relationship between art and life (in terms of the potential collapse of one term into the other or the discursive separation between the terms) has underlined the primary function of the avant-garde in art. The dialectical tension between those objects deemed art or non-art is itself an institutional function of the cultural (social) category of art. How is artistic discourse produced to transform an object into art? In what ways does artistic discourse negotiate the question of the art object as commodity? What role does the artist play in this negotiation?

This Banff Master Class will study the operational functioning of the work of art within the constitution of the art world and in relation to different institutional frames. The relationship of art to the concept of “symbolic capital” and “artifactual production” will also be explored. As interest in art continues to accelerate and spread globally, the aim of this class will be to revisit the most fundamental questions about the status and function of art.

The class will take the form of a bi-weekly seminar. The first class of the week will critically examine an assigned reading. The final class of the week will be an open session moderated by the Master Class leader.

Now if only I had $5k for the class/room/lodging fee and the means to take 6 weeks off of work… Back in my twenties, my roommate would visualize finding a paper bag full of cash, and I think she did eventually did find a bag with like $40 on the street, once — maybe if I start visualizing a grocery bag or garbage bag or sofa stuffed with cash (Would walking distance to my house be too much to ask? OK.), it’ll magically appear.


Rochelle Steiner Lecture at CCA

Rochelle Steiner, Director of the New York-based Public Art Fund, gave a lecture tonight at CCA. The Public Art Fund is a non-profit organization that commissions new, temporary works of public art by contemporary artists. You have heard of Olafur Eliasson’s Waterfalls project, perchance? That was them.

I came away really impressed with the Public Art Fund’s work. The organization thinks of itself as a museum without walls, so their public works rotate after six months. Developing a new work could take years, so their commitment to keeping the art temporary is admirable.

Steiner showed Public Art Fund projects by big-name artists—Alex Katz, Mark di Suvero, Juan Munoz, Jenny Holzer, Anish Kapoor (whose Sky Mirror in Rockafeller Center might be one of the most brilliant public interventions I’ve seen), Chris Burden—so I was familiar with all of the artists. I must have been looking for art that seemed incongruous with the artists’ oeuvres, because I was a little surprised that it all looked like contemporary art. I guess I was expecting some public art works to have more of a “community art” feel. More modest, pictorial, “easier.” But it didn’t. And I think that’s wonderful. The work is top-notch, the kind of thing that audiences would flock to at the Venice Biennale. Of course, it was public art for New York, free for anybody walking by to take a gander at, and made in collaboration with city agencies or corporations, yet I didn’t see any signs of compromise, of the urge to dumb down the art for general audiences, or to simplify elaborate installations.

Lest you think that the Public Art Fund is all highfalutin’, they also do educational outreach. In the Waterfalls project, they developed, printed and distributed a curriculum to NYC classrooms, and developed boat and bicycle tours. Steiner also listed the huge economic benefit to the city. Of the Waterfalls’ $15.5 million budget, the City gave a $2m grant; but the economic impact in tourism, boat trips, etc., centered around Lower Manhattan, is estimated to be around $60m. (Not that I think art’s aesthetic payoff isn’t enough.)

I left the lecture with one small regret—there are no equivalents in the Bay Area, no nimble public arts non-profits free from the problematizing consensus-building that dominates civic agencies.

Ann Pasternak, Director of Creative Time, is talking at UC Berkeley’s Kroeber Hall on Nov. 24. Don’t miss it.