Art & Development

a follow-up to “the original”

I recently got a note from the artist Mircea Cantor, whose work I mentioned in a blog post written about a year ago.

Cantor and I share an interest in creating empty present forms (see his and mine).

As Cantor pointed out, my post could misconstrued as a snarky lob at a fellow artist, or a claim to precedence. I’d like to clarify that while I wrote that

what matters is not who comes up with an idea first, but who does it best (a cousin to the cynical saying, If you can’t do it better, make it bigger)

I didn’t intend to claim that my work was better, or that Cantor’s work was bigger b/c he couldn’t make it better. I am not that cynical. That’s why I distinguished our works, and discussed how the scale differentiates his work. Examining our conceptual intentions might help a larger audience understand how similarities and contradictions can co-exist in contemporary art. As I ended that previous post with this thought, I’ll do so again:

A lot of artists fear being unoriginal, so they usually wince when they encounter similar work by other artists. Whatever. Here’s a new saying: Similarities happen. It’s not the worst thing in the world. In fact, it can work out for everyone.

No hard feelings.


Art reviews: Steven Barich, Scott Kildall and Victoria Scott, Pae White

After knocking out a new screenprinted edition (see it at the Headlands Open House July 12, or at The Kiss of A Lifetime in Newcastle and London) and attending the artists’ talks at the Headlands yesterday, I decided to knock off and go enjoy some galleries this Friday afternoon.

Steven Barich: The Logic Stone and other new work
Rowan Morrison Gallery
Oakland, CA

steven barich the logic stone rowan morrison gallery
Image source: Rowan Morrison Gallery.

Steven Barich‘s show at Rowan Morrison is comprised of a series of mostly-compact graphite drawings of logic stones, in which the stones themselves are rendered in a pixelated greyscale grid. The images in reproduction look flat, but the drawings have a lot of “hand” in them; the teeny scale of the pixels seems to point your attention to the tooth of the paper, the grains of graphite. “Technology v. Nature” seems to be an overworked thread in contemporary art, but Barichs’ drawings depict as well as enact this dichotomy. The labor of representing a machinelike perfection in pixels is contrasted with the labor in representing the baroque carvings of the stands. It’s also interesting to notice that so much pixel-based hand-made contemporary art uses full color spectra, whereas Barich’s work is limited to shades of grey. I imagine it’s not an easy task to create random patterns with only value contrast to work with. While the premise behind The Logic Stone may seem straightforward, these deliberate reductions reveal a tight conceptual and technical approach.

Kala Art Institute
Berkeley, CA

no matter scott kildall victoria scott
Scott Kildall and Victoria Scott, Pot of Gold. Image source: No Matter website

Kala’s new gallery space on San Pablo Avenue is spacious, with high ceilings, a nice balance between open space and smaller nooks, and great walls and good lighting. The current exhibition, re:con-figure, features the work of several past Fellows or AIRs, who exemplify a certain Bay Area contemporary art diversity. On view were video-papercut-installations, mixed media collages, photo-sculptures, performance-installations and kinetics-installations (and noticibly, not a whole lot of traditional printmaking per se. re:con-figure seems to announce that Kala is a contemporary art presenter, in case you still thought of it as a intaglio-oriented printmaking atelier.)

I really enjoyed Scott Kildall‘s and Victoria Scott‘s No Matter project of humorous cut-and-fold assemblies. The objects appear to be inspired by Kildall’s ongoing interest in virtual reality; the planar, crappily-colored objects bring Second Life hokeyness into “first life” materialization. This project is similar to eTeam‘s (Hajoe Moderegger & Franziska Lamprecht) Second Life Dumpster , but No Matter embodies the cheap crappiness I found lacking.

The renderings in 3D animation can be woefully inadequate, so to create 2D prints that cut and fold into truly 3D counterparts is a brilliant rhetorical gesture. Even when the wood-grained Contact paper-wrapped shelves and chalky inkjet paper announce their media a bit too obviously, it works with the spirit of the piece, which seems to saying that Second Life is Camp, and the artists intend to honor to the spirit of the Camp with its own oblivious pretensions. The ridiculousness is appreciated, since by acknowledging the artifice of virtual reality, the artists might be acknowledging the artifice of artmaking itself.

Pae White: In Between the Outside-In
New Langton Arts
San Francisco, CA

pae white in between the outside-in
Image source: New Langton Arts website

Pae White’s show at New Langton Arts may be one of the most surprising art experiences I’ve had in the Bay Area in the past two months. It’s killer. So killer, I’m shocked and dismayed how little press I’ve seen on it, and how no one has told me that I have to see the show. So I’m telling you now: You have to see the show. Especially if you like how the self is brought to the fore in installation art, have any interest in digital animation, or, like me, you find disorienting perceptual experiences and your resulting hyper-awareness to epitomize the best that contemporary art can offer. It’s Earth Art, yes, but unconventionally so, and it seems to be fully Romantic in nature, in the sense of presenting a techno-digital-Sublime that’s otherworldy and quite possibly terrifying.

I’ll add that the show ends July 18th, and say no more.

Citizenship, Research, Sights, Values

Answers: we all need them.

“In general relativity, an event horizon is a boundary in spacetime, an area surrounding a black hole, beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer. Light emitted from inside the horizon can never reach the observer, and anything that passes through the horizon from the observer’s side is never seen again.”

The phrase “the art world” suggests that art is like a foreign entity with rules of its own making.

I blog to increase transparency about art and artists and bust the myths about artists and art making that are so pervasive and persistent: That a person “can” or “can’t draw.” That you don’t get famous until you’re dead. That modern art is a sham. That meaningless rhetoric turns a tampon in a teacup into art. That artists are stereotypes: the starving artist, the egocentric artist, the flamboyant, condescending artist. The anti-social artist. They’re like a list of Smurfs, where everyone’s boiled down to one outstanding characteristic designed for easy, non-threatening identification.

When you’re in a community of artists, it’s easy to feel human — whole, sane, remarkable for the breadth of our modest experiences. But it’s different in the World at Large, where one is reminded that the general public thinks of art as synonymous with paintings, that the point of art is beauty or expression (but the point of being an artist is to be famous), and that hostility towards contemporary art is a completely acceptable means of anti-elitist individuation.

Brushing up against that world can leave me feeling like my work is both less productive or valuable to society, and paradoxically, my work makes me special: I’m more tireless, more gifted (rather than skilled or disciplined), more remarkable for my Other-ness for having a creative pursuit at the center of my life.

So can you blame an artist for feeling like she navigates two worlds? For wishing to see more observers outside of the event horizon to get sucked into the World of Art?

I mean, people participate in multiple worlds all the time. For example, I skirt the edges of the macho World of fight sports. Going to a boxing match for the first time was new and scary, but I got over it. On the other hand, some people find the prospect of attending a gallery opening too intimidating or too unrewarding to try.

Fundamentally, if people think they either “can” or “can’t” draw as children, as adults they might think that they either “get” modern or contemporary art, or they don’t. That if a Matisse portrait with a green nose doesn’t stir something in you, that you’re somehow not smart enough to intuit the significance, so you shouldn’t even bother figuring out why the Donald Judd shelves are art. But how to look at a Judd, or understand the historical conditions that led to Modernism, is something that can be learned, very easily (An art history class: You sit in a dark room and keep your eyes open while someone talks and shows slides).

As an artist, it’s in my best interests for more people to engage with art, to take art history classes, to feel like art is a desirable, rewarding part of one’s life. In other words, it’s not in my best interest to be egocentric or condescending, or to be secretive about art and art making. I believe most secure artists like to encourage other artists and help the public engage art.

Earlier, I visited Yahoo Answer‘s Visual Arts forum. Most questions were about appraising antiques, materials recommendations, or requests for critiques by amateur manga artists, nature photographers and still-life painters, with a few how-to questions. I posted a few answers about techniques and materials, and more urgently, safety suggestions (melting plastic in one’s oven = not a good idea). I also responded to the heartbreaking post from a 14-year-old girl whose dad said her drawings wouldn’t be good enough for her to study art in college.

At the risk of sound like an intellectual snob, or maybe someone just someone with a sense of cynical irony, here’s a list of questions that made me want to laugh, cry, or both:

What is the significance of clowns in Chicano Art? What do they mean? Can anyone tell me?

If you sick a metal rod, (lightning rod) in sand and its struck in a storm will this make glass figures?

I want to forge my own sword. I’m in chicago, does anybody knows where do I go?

Can someone give me a list of COOL graffiti names?

Where can I register as an Artist (Oil Painter)?

What do you think of the name federico?

I need a pict of a toryilla chip next to apair of red headphones on the shoulder of a man in a bannana suit?

I have over the past few years started painting abstracts. How do I get my work into gallerys?

Is blue a real color?

How do I find an artist willing to submit to my every whim?

Can anyone tell me of a symbol that represents “being true to yourself”?

A good Logo design idea for a design and Print broker?

Why do my photos from my Sears Portrait CD come out all odd?

What kind of pictures would be funny/interesting if they were unfinished or half-drawn?

How much does it cost to order/purchase a bronze statue of a man, actual size?

IS there such website?
That allows you to see what you will look like at a certian age such at if you are 16 and you want to see what you might look like at 32 or something like that

I cant think of anything to shoot!!!

To any graffiti lovers in the ny/nj area?

If the world discovered a new color, what would it look like and what would it look like?

Im not creative do you have any ideas?

Community, Research

White stuff I like, more or less

I have always liked Lindsey White‘s photos. Her new photos and videos make up a nice show at Partisan Gallery, somebody’s house on Guerrero. Endearingly earnest, like her previous portraits, but less quirky-cute, and more chance-magic (in the end, it’s just about personal taste: arty vs. Art). The new works are about light, and veer between optimism and the pathetic/mundane.

A bad pic of a great photo by Lindsey White, of a spear of light on a pillow. She shoots digital and 120mm, if you wanted to know.

A multi-channel video installation; each video is a single shot of a single thing. It functions like a sequence of photos in a book, only with slight movement and minimal audio. Great!

Also liked Richard T. Walker‘s two-channel video installation at Iceberger. More instruments, letters to nature, human projection onto the romantic ideals of nature. His English accent adds something; for no good reason, I assume that it suggests more of an awareness of the Romantic period than if he were American. Maybe my visit to Cumbria, the land of all those English Lake writers, has something to do with it.

It was a nice summer evening, and I enjoyed chatting with artists and meeting some guys showing with Little Tree Gallery, but I couldn’t shake my self-awareness of the New Mission, as youthful gallery-goers drank Pabst on the sidewalk for hours on end, just like during First Fridays in Oakland. What’s at stake is so different for different people, isn’t it? Earlier in the day, I found a kindred iconoclast willing to challenge hipsters’ endorsement of dingy ethnic restaurants in rough neighborhoods like Tu Lan and Shalimar. WTF? Thanks to the digital age, there is a source to explain this behavior: Stuff White People Like. See #91: San Francisco and #71: Being the only white person around.

Another thing White People like is critical theory (see #81: Graduate School). I must be White, because the podcast of Johanna Drucker‘s lecture at SVA blew my mind. The artist and author challenges Adorno’s 20th c. aesthetic theory and explains her notion called aesthesis, a specialized form of knowing (through art), characterized by knowing grounded in central experience, emergent experiences and co-dependent relationships. In contrast to Adorno’s assertion that art is autonomous, Drucker suggests that art is complicit and co-dependent; that it is in fact a form of commodity production, even if we don’t like to think of it so.

A tasty morsel:
She classifies low-brow pop paintings and drawings that reference comics or media as:

combinatoric mass culture kitsch production

And on the meat of the matter, for me:

To dispute Adorno’s assertion that because art is removed from the world of utilitarian objects, they are inherently resistant, Drucker says:

The notion of resistance [inherent to art] will die hard because it is the last link to the kind of utopian belief that … has a long history with modernism, and certainly gets reformulated again in mid-19th century with the coming of political philosophy…. The shift to political philosophy from ‘regular’ philosophy is that rather than understanding or describing the condition of knowledge or sensation or the mind, the political philosophy said the point is to change it. So the task of change — which again, the world is broken, we do need to fix it — … comes to be identified with the avant garde and … the role of art assumes a moral hierarchy and a moral high ground for the artist and the work of art. And that seems to me to be highly suspect. And that’s where I come back to complicity. We are not better than the world we inhabit….

The notion that difficulty, in and of itself, is a form of resistance that performs some sort of political efficacy—it’s just not true. It’s what I call magical politics. It’s like, where exactly does the transformation of power relations and political agency actually occur in those difficult works? It doesn’t….

I make difficult work. I write really obscure things. But I don’t imagine that they are making a transformation of the political structure. I do imagine, and I do believe that they transform the meme world. That’s what we do. We are meme makers. We transform. We reimagine. We remodel. We offer new models of cognition and new models of experience. And we produce that as an effect. We don’t produce that inherently in objects. It is an effect of what we do.

I had similar feelings of caution around the sense of artists having a moral high ground in the process of developing new work for Activist Imagination. So it’s great to hear Drucker put a historical framework around the conditions of art-viewing that we are subject to, and available for displacement if we choose.