…art is—or should be—generous. But when working with place, artists can only give if they are receiving as well. The greatest challenges for artists lured by the local are to balance between making the information accessible and making it visually provocative as well; to innovate not just for innovation’s sake, not just for style’s sake, nor to enhance their reputation or ego, but to bring a new degree of coherence and beauty to the lure of the local. The goal of this kind of work would be to turn more people on to where they are, where they came from, where they’re going, to help people see their places with new eyes. Land and people—their presence and absence—makes place and its arts come alive. Believing as I do that connection to place is a necessary component of feeling close to people, and to the earth, I wonder what will make it possible for artists to “give” places back to people who can no longer see them, and be given places in turn, by those who are still looking around.
—Lucy Lippard, “The Lure of the Local” (New Press, 1997)
It’s hard to keep up—much less synthesize—current events, so here is a collection of ideas that have been resonating with me… None more than this:
“No one action will be adequate. All actions will be necessary.”
—Jon Stewart as quoted by Dave Itzkoff, “Jon Stewart Savages Trump: ‘Purposeful, Vindictive Chaos,’” New York Times, February 1, 2017. (Please read in full, in fairness to comedic craft.)
Note to self: If I question the value of individual acts of resistance, remember that more is more.
Case in point: The #nobannowall opposition—protestors’ and lawyers’ rapid response at airports, the ACLU’s legal cases, the Brooklyn judge’s emergency order, the win achieved by Washington State’s Attorney General, and the strike self-organized by 1,000 NYC Yemeni bodega owners. (Side note: If self-employed, precarious bodega owners can demonstrate such a unified show of force, when will artists? Why were strikers in the #J20 art strike dispersed among art-world institutions?)
Protest Cakes’ Seven Nations Cake, distributed in last night’s #nobannowall protest at San Francisco City Hall.
Illustrator and comic book artist Yumi Sakugawa‘s recent drawing/meditation:
Victoria Graham’s projects about casting spells:
Jenifer k Wofford’s NO SCRUBS intervention: joy in the face of repression, cultural workers making revolution irresistible, with women of color to the front.
Krista Tippett: “A cynic would say, ‘…they’re just drops in the ocean.’”
Larry Ward, dharma teacher and Baptist minister:
“That is true. I am a drop in the ocean, but I’m also the ocean. I’m a drop in America, but I’m also America.”
—From “Being Peace in a World of Trauma,” On Being, July 14, 2016.
Reflections on immigration, racial identity, and place
I flew back to the Bay Area to visit family. The next day, Lunar New Year, the Muslim ban, and the gravity of DJT’s reckless nationalism began.
I watched videos of protests at SFO and JFK as my mom happily arranged Chinese New Year’s offerings for peace and prosperity. It was surreal to think that my parents—who came to the US to escape war and fear of persecution in Vietnam and mainland China—might not be welcomed today.
I didn’t do anything to earn citizenship. I was granted citizenship because I was born here—a simple quirk at the complex nexus of my parent’s tremendous sacrifices and generations of people who fought for equality. When I think about how hard immigrants have to work to become naturalized, it makes me want to be deserving of citizenship. Engaging as an active citizen seems a small price.
At the San Mateo History Museum, I saw register books for “enemy aliens”—Japanese, German and Italian Americans. I thought about how such xenophobic, unconstitutional acts seemed like relics of the past not too long ago, but could be seen as part of a racist continuum now (and indeed have been cited as legal precedents).
My past internalized racism also came to light. A a youth I disdained the peninsula and the South Bay; I thought they were boring and lacked culture and worldliness. But I looked at things differently as I drove around San Mateo and visited a pan-Southeast Asian Buddhist temple in San Jose. While the region may be short on high or alternative cultures, its unfussy integration of Asian and Pacific Islander cultures into suburbia with mid-century vernacular architecture and design, is specific and kind of wonderful.
It renews my gratitude to call both the San Francisco Bay Area and Queens home. What I love most about the two are their richness of cultural diversity and the simpatico afforded by progressivism and tolerance. I don’t feel split or unrooted. I feel “multi-centered.” Is that such an odd proposition? My mom is shaped by three countries—the one of her heritage, the one where she was raised, and the one she emigrated to.
I just started reading Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society (1997). The idea of belonging to a place, and at the same time, to an interconnected world, seems especially meaningful.
Notes for forward movement
Some tidbits of creative inspiration:
- The lion dance is said to have originated when villagers were tormented by a monster, so in defense they sewed a costume and choreographed a dance. Their united power scared the monster away.
- 2017 is the Year of the Rooster. The rooster is in charge of time and starting a new day.
Positive psychology researcher Shane Lopez’s Hope Map exercise is a set of instructions to identify goals, pathways, obstacles, and methods (in other words, ways and means) of overcoming obstacles. [Updated link.]
[I’ve been holding on to this one because it’s like a make things (happen) activity waiting to happen, if presented as visually-oriented handout for download. But it seems worth sharing now; the time is ripe for planning and self-determined goals.]
I liked how Kevin Chen recently described five areas of life (figure 2): a romantic relationship, friendships, family, practice, and job(s). In this schema, “productivity” accounts for only two-fifths of life, and relationships account for a majority.
I realized that I’d held a three-part schema (figure 1): work, practice, and personal life. This short-changed other people and explained why I always felt like I was failing someone.
I suppose I might add two more “houses” to a revised schema (figure 3): “me-time” and citizenship/civic engagement. This might be a temporary mode for the next few years, that incorporates both activism and self-care. In this case, people still occupy the majority.
On the value of an hour.
In Julia Bryan-Wilson’s Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era, three hourly wages are described: $2–3, 4, and $25.
Lucy Lippard got her master’s at NYU so she could raise her hourly rate for doing research from $2 to $3. She graduated in 1962. In 2015 dollars, that’s $15.65 and $23.48, respectively.*
Slightly better paid were a few art handlers. Sol Lewitt paid four assistants $4 per hour for four days to fabricate his wall drawing in Kynaston McShine’s Information show at the Museum of Modern Art. Four 1970 dollars adjusts to $24.91 in 2015.* It’s decent; it’s close to a common freelance art handler rate in New York now.
This is Robert Morris’ wage in The Peripatetic Artists Guild, an performative art project in which he placed ads offering his services in a range of political, artistic, and construction projects. (He also stipulated that “all travel, materials, construction and other costs to be paid by the owner-sponsor” and that any subsequent sales require a 50% return of funds.) Twenty-five dollars in 1970 amounts to $155.71 in 2015 dollars.*
This is an art project, so it’s economically irrational, to the extent that Bryan-Wilson acknowledges that “in retrospect it appears to offer a remarkably good deal.” I assume that she’s comparing that hourly wage to the cost of purchasing Morris’ artworks now.
Still, I think there’s something fishy about this project as an exercise in wage labor. With such a high rate, all expenses paid, and resale rights that most artists today still don’t enjoy, the ‘guild’ is operating more like a hard-negotiating consultant. When you can make in one hour what others make in eight, you’re afforded more choice and autonomy. It’s not a precarious or proletarian position, so Morris’ identification with “workers” and “wage labor” is questionable.
“We cannot perceive artistic compensation as an end goal abstracted from the strata of support that precipitate that payment. We need to reinforce the infrastructure that enacts that labor.”
Building upon that, I’d ask what are the infrastructures that afford and determine compensation? How are these infrastructures shaped? Art handlers at large museums usually receive a decent wage and working conditions, mirroring the affiliation of museum workers with a union—one of the lasting accomplishments of Art Worker Coalition agitation.
How are these infrastructures biased?** Do they fall into the trap of equating administrative labor with women’s work, rendering it less visible and less likely to be well-remunerated? When I interviewed Elizabeth Travelslight this spring, she noted,
“I think administration—often because it’s gendered female—it’s not considered noteworthy.”
Yet administration keeps collectives, coalitions, and movements together. Indeed, one of the factors in the dissolution of the Art Workers Coalition was the defection of women—including its administrators—to feminist groups where they felt they could be heard.
*Inflation adjusted via dollartimes.com.
**The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s new study of diversity on museum staffs provides quantitive evidence to what many museum workers already know: women are well represented in curatorial, conservation, and education, and people of color are often employed in low-growth departments in maintenance and security.
In thinking about psychological resourcefulness, and how artists might view ourselves, this struck a chord:
“I think of self-care as a political position, which one must take when one is vulnerable to a system that doesn’t recognize and care for you.”
—Shannon Stratton, as quoted by Zachary Cahill, “Exquisite Self-Reliance: Zachary Cahill talks with Shannon Stratton,” The Exhibitionist, August 10, 2015
It was great timing to come across this quote, as I’ve been thinking about artists’ power this past week-and-a-half in LMCC’s Process Space studio program.
I read Julia Bryan-Wilson’s “Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era” (2011), a look at the ‘art worker’ identity vis á vis the Art Workers Coalition and four key figures: Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Lucy Lippard, and Hans Haacke. The book has deepened my understanding of AWC and each of these individuals’ practices, especially how their politics influenced their artistic development and vice versa (rhetoric and a soapbox for Andre, risk and a cynical turn for Morris, public evolution of perspectives for Lippard, and a lost Guggenheim solo show and reinforced beliefs for Haacke).
I especially appreciate the extensive historical context, from the Vietnam War (and burgeoning anti-corporate ethos), the strategy of non-participation in the context of mass strikes and slowdowns, the New Left and the writings of Marcuse, and the rise of second wave Feminism (which ultimately bore the alternative culture the museum-targeting AWC aspired to create). I enjoyed Bryan-Wilson’s embrace of practice-as-rehearsal; ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are criteria too blunt for these shifting developments. She’s a fastidious thinker, using clear language to nimbly explore contradictory aspirations and actions.
I’ve also recently re-read the introduction and conclusion of Tom Finklepearl’s What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation (2013). The introduction is a thorough history of social and relational art, the social history that influenced it, and the books and exhibitions that mark its evolution. It’s a fantastically researched chapter, and if it were up to me, I’d make it required reading.
Finklepearl, formerly of the Queens Museum, profiles a refreshingly diverse set of artists. The conclusion draws upon American philosophical pragmatism, and social relationships and actions as productive fields of practice. It’s an energizing read, which left me thinking about how individuals contribute to groups, and how, in turn, individuals achieve more agency, individuation, and autonomy. A lot of writing about cooperation is based on evolutionary theories, which strikes me as a bit too transactional and calculated. For Finklepearl, the benefits of mutualism extend beyond corporeal or material gain to intrinsic reward and personal growth among participants. The optimism is contagious.