Tania Bruguera on Reciprocity, Generosity, and Earned Respect

Tom Finkelpearl:

“I’ve been thinking a lot about reciprocity lately…. When you say you have created a community, that could mean this exchange, the notion that I’ll help you with your sound editing if you do the camera work for me, which seems like reciprocity.”

Tania Bruguera [emphasis added]:

“The mistake is in the use of if. It is not, ‘I do this for you if you do this for me,’ it’s just, ‘I do this for you.’ The point is that each person should say the same. It is not a quid pro quo. Maybe person A is helped by person B, and later person B gets help from person C and D, and person A is helping person C. It’s not a two-way street; it’s a place in the middle, where people meet. It is knowing that you will have support, and things are not seen as debts or gains but as joy.

I always say that I wanted to provide a safe environment [at Cáthedra Arte de Conducta], safe but tough, safe because we were based in trust and honesty, not because it was easy. It is a system based on professional admiration, which each person has to work hard to get from the rest of the group.”

—From Tom Finklepearl, What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Collaboration(2013)

This community understanding described by Bruguera is the opposite of the nakedly ambitious—where other people are sources of economic or social capital to be exploited, or lacking such capital, disregarded. Since artists’ opportunities for external validation are so competitive, it’s easy to be lazy and let ambitions guide behaviors.

I’d love to strive for this model of positive contributions:

To stop currying favors and stockpiling IOUs.

To quit politicking with hidden agendas.

To admire the admirable, and to question devotion to the merely influential.

To speak up or be discreet because it’s the right thing to do, not from fear of how it will affect reputations or limit future opportunities.

To pay it forward.

To give freely, and to continually earn each others’ respect.

To create spaces that are safe but tough.


Your chance to support a brilliant young photographer at a critical juncture

I met Gina Osterloh just before she moved away from San Francisco. So it’s only been through chance encounters, organized exchanges, and art opportunities in Los Angeles, Manila, New York, and recently, Woodstock, that I’ve had the pleasure of being impressed by her work and her intellect. She’s the real deal: a strong photographer with a compelling body of work and thoughtful ideas.

Gina is about to make a big leap—developing three new bodies of work in 2012. And if that’s not ambitious enough, the process will be in the public eye, when she sets up her photography studio in the non-profit LACE gallery, open to visitors.

In the past when sought contributions to fund new projects, I had to gather the nerve to ask. Knowing Gina’s humble demeanor, this is a big deal to create and commit to such an ambitious Kickstarter campaign. If you are able, show your support for this talented, hardworking artist.

Visit the Kickstarter campaign for Group Dynamics and Improper Light: new work by Gina Osterloh.

See more of Gina’s eerie photos.

Art & Development, Travelogue

Woodstock Byrdcliffe: Get excited and make stuff

View from Mount Guardian, Catskills, NY.

View from Mount Guardian, Catskills, NY.

I’m in the Catskills for a short residency at the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild. I’m so honored to be here. The land is beautiful, serene, and full of wildlife. I’m giddy; it’s such a contrast from New York City and yet it so strongly recalls the Sierras in California. The colony was founded by British Industrialists seeking to build a utopian Arts and Crafts creative community. The initial attempt didn’t last long, but the Guild lives on as a series of amazing historic buildings housing 17 residents in visual arts, media arts, creative writing, and music composition.

I’ve been here just about a week, and am pretty much settled in my quaint room and a detached studio with high ceilings and skylights. I’m two-thirds through with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow; I started some new drawings and sculptures, and even dreamed up a staged photograph. The setting is literally invigorating—I’ve run further than I have ever before.

Inspired by a tradition I experienced as an Affiliate Artist at the Headlands Center for the Arts, I initiated a residents’ mutual presentation series. It’s basically a slide slam/listening party/clip screening/reading event, made possible with shared laptops and digital projectors and healthy doses of participation and positive intentions. I enjoyed everyone’s presentations tonight. I suspect my readers would be keen to learn more about Julie Perini’s videos. I also really liked Jane Corrigan’s paintings about sentimental landscape images. My highest hope for the series is that some parallels emerge and enliven our discourse, and it appears that some already have.

The only quandry I have now is that the event is gaining interest and we may need to add another night to accommodate fellow artists on the mountain. Seeing a little initiative returned with such participation is very gratifying.

Residencies are like slices of heaven, so that artists can envision making more of “regular” life more like residencies—to inject the space and time to create, think, breathe, stretch, learn, explore, and exchange into life more often and for longer periods.

Art & Development

SF to NY, 5 months later

In the San Francisco Bay Area, going to openings was a form of reciprocity for me. Showing up was a way to share my gratitude, interest, and participation. Running into friends and alumni was a common bonus. Some circles became as warm and familiar as an episode of Cheers.

New York is a different story. I bailed on a few openings last week. First of all, it’s cold. It’s 28ºF right now – bearable, but bundling up and braving the slippery, slushy, icy sidewalks is not exactly enticing. It’s also time-consuming in terms of transit—from my leafy borough to downtown takes 45-50 minutes (sometimes more with service changes). And, of course, I’m still very new here, which makes showing up sometimes feel like networking; I can’t wait until I gain a sense of community — that magical sense of participation and reciprocity…