Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: Little Paper Planes’ 2017 LPP+ Residency

For their 2017 LPP+ residency program, Little Paper Planes received 107 applications for 5 selected residents.*

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Selected artists comprise 1:21.4, or 4.6% of applicants.

*Two residents were invited, for a total of seven residents in 2017.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Impressions

Points of Reference: Embodied Memory

Recent notes on memory, navigation, and embodiment.

I love thinking about embodied cognition (how our mental life is shaped by the physical roots of experience). Recently, a spate of articles has me thinking about where memory lives in the brain, and how the body moving through space is tied to recollection. It’s interesting to consider what impressions you’re embedding physically or mentally. Maybe you’re an art viewer noticing how your eye “moves” through a picture. Or, you’re an art handler “walking through” an exhibition design in SketchUp. Perhaps, you’re an artist envisioning how people interact with an installation or your participatory artworks. I wonder about the many ways in which aesthetic experience is one of navigation, envisioning, recording, and recall.

 

Through the DOT's Adopt-a-Highway program, artist Katarina Jerinic utilizes a parcel next to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway as land art for site-specific interventions. Katarina Jerinic, PSA for Passers-by #2 (video still), 2014, digital video, 57 seconds. // Source: KatarinaJerinic.com // HT: The Center for Book Arts' Map as Metaphor lecture series.

Through the DOT’s Adopt-a-Highway program, artist Katarina Jerinic utilizes a parcel next to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway as land art for site-specific interventions. Katarina Jerinic, PSA for Passers-by #2 (video still), 2014, digital video, 57 seconds. // Source: KatarinaJerinic.com // HT: The Center for Book Arts’ Map as Metaphor lecture series.

 

Kim Tingley’s “The Secret of the Wave Pilots” (NY Times, March 17, 2016) is a fascinating look at a Marshallese form of seafaring using knowledge of waves only. She writes beautifully about the neurological and social ties between memory and navigation, as well as the fascinating history of the Marshall Islands. I highly recommend the entire article. My favorite passages to think about for art practice follow.

On how we know where we are in space, and how that shapes who we are and our social relationships:

“[Psychologist Edward] Tolman hypothesized that humans have cognitive maps…, and that they are not just spatial but social. ‘Broad cognitive maps,’ he posited, lead to empathy, while narrow ones lead to ‘‘dangerous hates of outsiders,’ ranging from ‘discrimination against minorities to world conflagrations.’ Indeed, anthropologists today, especially those working in the Western Pacific, are increasingly aware of the potential ways in which people’s physical environment — and how they habitually move through it — may shape their social relationships and how those ties may in turn influence their orienteering.”

“…our ability to navigate is inextricably tied not just to our ability to remember the past but also to learning, decision-making, imagining and planning for the future.”

Though journey and destination can be clichéd metaphors (not to mention signposts, road maps, off the beaten track, forge your own path), what Tingley seems to suggest is that these are fundamentally human concepts. It’s part of our evolutionary legacy to think and understand in terms of physical journeys, because we each have this kind of brain in this kind of bipedal body.

On the connections between mapping and memory:

The cognitive map is now understood to have its own physical location, … in the limbic system, an evolutionarily primitive region largely responsible for our emotional lives — specifically, within the hippocampus, an area where memories form. … [neuroscientists] found that our brains overlay our surroundings with a pattern of triangles. Any time we reach an apex of one, a ‘grid cell’ … delineates our position relative to the rest of the matrix… [an] ‘inner GPS’ that constantly and subconsciously computes location….”

“…a new unified theory of the hippocampus [imagines] it not as a repository for disparate memories and directions but as a constructor of scenes that incorporate both. (Try to recall a moment from your past or picture a future one without visualizing yourself in the physical space where that moment happens.)”

I’m always amazed by the peculiar concreteness of dreamed environments: the fully rendered qualities of light, the verisimilitude of prioperception. How awesome that this takes dozens of AI specialists and servers to re-create, and yet our brains achieve this when we’re literally not even thinking about it.

Exploring the world through our bodies is the root of imagination and creativity:

“[Others] hypothesized that our ability to time-travel mentally evolved directly from our ability to travel in the physical world, and that the mental processes that make navigation possible are also the ones that allow us to tell a story. ‘In the same way that an infinite number of paths can connect the origin and endpoint of a journey,’ Edvard Moser and another co-author wrote in a 2013 paper, ‘a recalled story can be told in many ways, connecting the beginning and the end through innumerable variations.’”

Nobutaka Aozaki, From Here to There, 2012–ongoing, questions, various pens and paper, 10' x 3' 2" / dimensions variable. // Source: NobutakaAozaki.com

A series of hand-drawn maps made by strangers upon request of the artist, who posed as a tourist and refused directions via app. The installation approximates a map of Manhattan. Nobutaka Aozaki, From Here to There (image as of June 15, 2012), 2012–ongoing, questions, various pens and paper, 10′ x 3′ 2″ / dimensions variable. // Source: NobutakaAozaki.com // HT: Nobu is a fellow Center for Book Arts 2016 resident

“…people who use GPS, when given a pen and paper, draw less-precise maps of the areas they travel through and remember fewer details about the landmarks they pass; paradoxically, this seems to be because they make fewer mistakes getting to where they’re going. Being lost … has one obvious benefit: the chance to learn about the wider world and reframe your perspective.”

That’s a good reminder: Be where you are. Don’t worry about the fastest route. Learn about your environment and build up your mental map.

The same can be said about the creative process. I need reminders to stop over-valuing productivity, and to experiment in the studio. This is partly my nature, and partly not—as Barnaby Drabble points out, “the increasing application of time and resource management methods to our personal lives”* is symptomatic of larger forces like neoliberalism, and the conditions of immaterial labor, etc.

Furthering the connection between exploring space and imagination:

“All maps are but representations of reality: They render the physical world in symbols and highlight important relationships … that are invisible to the naked eye. If storytelling, the way we structure and make meaning from the events of our lives, arose from navigating, so, too, is the practice of navigation inherently bound up with storytelling, in all its subjectivity.”**

Maps are subjective, and could be more transparently so.

“Many of our [mapping studios] students began the semester enamored with the sublime, totalizing visions afforded by exhaustive data-sets and sleek visualizations. Yet by the end, nearly everyone’s mission and values shifted – from a pursuit of ‘accuracy’ and ‘exhaustiveness,’ to an interest in the personal and the partial, the subjective and the speculative. They sought to find ways to express ambiguity, to insert cartographic ‘buts,’ ‘ifs,’ ‘howevers,’ and other qualifying statements to convey the ‘interpretative nature of the mapping process.'”

—from Shannon Mattern’s excellent slide lecture at Maps as Metaphor at the Center for Book Arts. It’s posted online on her equally excellent blog, Words in Space.

 

These subjectivities can work for us. Memory palaces, for example, exploit the connection between memory and environments. It’s a memorization technique of:

“associating the ideas or objects to be memorized with memorable scenes imagined to be at well-known locations (‘loci’), like one’s house (‘palace’)”

Austin Frakt’s “An Ancient and Proven Way to Improve Memorization; Go Ahead and Try it,” (NY Times, March 24, 2016).

I’m most fascinated by how the physical and conceptual interact and influence each other. How we walk the earth shapes our cognitive metaphors, and they imbue the memories that inform our identities. At the same time, we use mental powers to traverse real and imagined spaces, even constructing new spaces to expand our abilities. These interactions blur the boundaries of what is permanent and real:

“[Es Devlin, set designer,] is an architect of temporary space, making images that can survive only in the minds of the people who see her shows. ‘I do all this work and nothing physical remains,’ she told me. ‘So what I’m really designing are mental structures, as opposed to physical ones. Memories are solid, and that’s what I’m trying to build.’”

Andrew O’Hagan, “Imaginary Spaces: Es Devlin and the psychology of the stage,”New Yorker Magazine, March 28, 2016

This resonants with the core of why I’m an artist. I make objects and exhibit them for a few weeks at a time. While a small portion exists in people’s homes, most are squirreled away or no longer exist. I continue to make objects because I believe that  art experiences “live” on as viewers’ memories of firsthand, physical experiences (and secondhand, virtual images on the Web). This speaks to my immense faith in the power of aesthetic experience—a process of viewing, thinking, and feeling—to enrich human experience.

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*Barnaby Drabble, “On De-Organisation” in Self-Organized, edited by Stine Hebert & Ann Szefer Karlsen, London: Open Editions / Bergen: Hordaland Art Centre, 2013

**Digression: Here’s an example of how much place and memory are tied. Brandon Brown’s “Limited Access: Art and Gentrification in the Mission” (Art in America, March 30, 2015) mentions Artist’s Television Access and The Lab, two venerable alternative art organizations a few blocks apart in San Francisco. Reading his descriptions of places—even on a small screen, in a noisy gym—flooded me with memories: my first visit to ATA, as a high school student at a Sick ‘n Twisted shorts fest; trading sketchbooks with Erik Drooker at Muddy Waters, where he drew speech bubbles making fun of my slang; as a young art student, viewing Barry McGee’s mural in the labor building; the time I was on a panel with Boots Riley at ATA (and I think Chicken John?) that got hijacked; the doc on Humboldt County tree-sitters; the palpable discomfort of a friend from out-of-town when we met him at 16th and Mission to eat at Taqueria Cancún; Intersection, and how often I’d run into Kevin Chen right in front of the building, day or night, wearing yellow glasses and having a smoke… What makes a space a place are the meanings assigned to it. Personal experiences—pleasant or not, juvenile or formative—are part of what makes San Francisco’s transformation potent.

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Impressions

Impressions: Bay Area

Some art shows I saw in San Francisco and Oakland.

When I visit California during holidays, I recall the familiar, discover what’s changed, and encounter weird schedules. It’s catch as catch can.

Baby (Medium for Intercultural Navigation): An installation by Michael Arcega @ SFAC Grove Street. Kids dream of floating down a river, and MA has made a real outrigger sailing canoe. It works. Hope you got to ogle it, suspended in flight.

The Point: Kirk Crippens in Collaboration with the Bayview-Hunters Point Community @ SF City Hall The SF Arts Commission’s humanizing portrait series continues, and currently ties in to The Last Black Man in San Francisco moment.

Here’s an interesting line-up of spaces to visit back-to-back: Kiria Koula (nice fluorescent white cube with cool, linear, geometric interventions), the expanded Ratio 3 (terrifyingly perfect and high-ceilinged white cube with hard edged, linear, oft black-and-white interior design and architectural installations) and CULT/Aimee Friberg (b/w architectural interventions/wall paintings/geometric sculptures).

Stephanie Syjuco @ Workshop Residence. A combination of things difficult not to like: a residency, workshop, and artist’s multiple store, with very desirable objects. Even shopping-agnostic-I couldn’t resist a tote bag to support the artist and program. The price points were mostly out of my range, but nobody said that manufacturing things in SF would be cheap.

Dud: Oakland Black Friday. I tried not to spend money, out of respect for Ferguson, and lingering memories of Adbusters’ Buy Nothing Day. I had some help—parking meters were free thanks to “Plaid Friday” (Is the Oakland Chamber of Commerce targeting lumber-sexuals?) and Arizmendi was closed (in an almost-throwback against the creep of retail hours into the holidays). But I was only able to visit three of four galleries on my list. Admittedly, I failed to look closely enough at their websites to see if they were, indeed, actually open. So Royal Nonesuch Gallery, Random Parts, and City Limits Gallery, I guess I’ll have to check you out another time. Thanks, Johannson Projects, for opening your doors.

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Citizenship

Welcome the New: Bay Area Society for Art and Activism is here

My dear friend ET has been collaborating with genius Bay Area artists and activists to lay the groundwork for a new, optimistic organization. And they’re launching now!

Check out their Arts & Activism Quarterly; it features an interview with moi about the nineties, activism, and art, and includes tons of orgs and people that have inspired me.

It also hosts the beautifully-shot, poignant trailer for “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” by Joe Talbot.

Talbot is among the many artists that will be featured in the Society’s kickoff party this Saturday night. It’s where I’d be, if I were in SF this weekend.

for more info see http://artandactivism.org/overnight-strange/

Overnight Strange Flyer

Sue me; I’m feeling optimistic, too. Before we dive into the season of gluttony and shopping mayhem, here’s where I’ve put my money, and if you are able, maybe you can too:

  • The Lab’s triumphant return spearheaded by Dena Beard. Keeping SF weird, loud, and experimental.
  • May Day Space, a cultural worker/education/organiging space led by a diverse crew in Bushwick.
  • The Society, of course! Become a member! We won’t concede SF so easily!
  • W.A.G.E. for Work. Six days left to go in their campaign to bring justice for all artists!
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Citizenship, Meta-Practice

Intersection for the Arts as We Knew It

San Francisco’s relentless economics cuts close to the bone, dismantling Intersection for the Arts.

I had the honor of exhibiting at San Francisco non-profit art organization Intersection for the Arts in 2004 and 2012.

Backlit curator Kevin Chen speaks at the opening of "In Other Words," 2012. my Positive Signs drawings are on the wall behind him.

Backlit curator Kevin Chen speaks at the opening of “In Other Words,” 2012. My Positive Signs drawings are on the wall behind him.

 

In particular, curator Kevin Chen has been a major ally to me (he’s the “k” that kicks off this sequence of artistic advancements on Works Make Work). Moreover, he’s been a thoughtful, dedicated contributor towards keeping SF’s art programming current, diverse, and critical. (Here’s a great 2008 SFGate profile that captures his essence, i.e., “Placid, soft-spoken, with a low, late-night-radio kind of voice, Chen brings to his work a combination of sangfroid and compulsive work ethic.”) He’s worked countless late nights personally installing exhibitions; his work as a curator has really been curator/exhibitions manager/installer/art handler/framer. He could also be found delivering erudite introductions to Intersection’s jazz performances, and donating his time and expertise to classes and likeminded arts nonprofits. He’s a practicing artist, drawing detailed graphite drawings inspired by San Francisco’s skyline.

I came away from my first exhibition at Intersection’s Valencia Street location impressed with the staff’s commitment to excellence and inquiry despite a shoestring budget.

They’ve stayed afloat amidst recessions and busts, but they won’t survive San Francisco’s current climate intact. They’ve laid off curators including Kevin, and will suspend programming. See Christian L. Frock’s “San Francisco’s Intersection for the Arts Suspends Programs, Lays Off Curators” on KQED Arts (May 22, 2014) for more info. For many artists, this is another painful, irrevocable loss in the art community, as documented in Frock’s “Priced Out” series.

Since I moved away in 2010, people ask if I’ll return to the Bay Area. Its clearly hostile conditions, and the tolls they’re taking on the arts community, do not beckon.

What is to be done? Perhaps, as MA implored,

Everyone, go to galleries, museums, performances, and any and all cultural events!!! Invest in your local cultural institutions before they are gone…. please!

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Meta-Practice

Saltz, NYC galleries, and spaces for dialogue

Jerry Saltz makes some interesting observations in “Saltz on the Death of the Gallery Show” in NY Mag (3/31/13).

His main point is that

A great thing about galleries …  is that they’re social spaces….  places where one can commune with the group mind.

But due art fairs, mega-collectors, and skyrocketing rents in Chelsea, galleries are

playing a diminished role in the life of art.

The problem is

When so much art is sold online or at art fairs, it’s great for the lucky artists who make money, but it leaves out everyone else who isn’t already a brand. This art exists only as commerce, not as conversation or discourse.

….Many artists are now in “abundant production,” seducing collectors on the prowl for stuff to fill their oversize atriums.

Baffinglingly, Saltz goes on to make these statements about NYC-centrism:

Art doesn’t have to be shown in New York to be validated. That requirement is long gone. Fine. But… a good Los Angeles dealer chided me for not going to art fairs, not seeing art in L.A. and London, and not keeping track of the activity online. He said I “risked being out of touch with the art world,” and he was right….

I brooded for months over this. Then … I started thinking about “the art world.” Something clicked and brightened my mood. There is no “the” art world anymore. There have always been many art worlds, overlapping, ebbing around and through one another. 

This last realization seems a bit belated. Artists outside of NYC have had to cultivate their own art worlds for ages, not because of the recent overabundance of fairs, but because of long-standing NYC-centrism. NYC is home to major publications and art commerce, yet artists outside of NYC have found ways to persist—regardless of the facts that NYC critics focus on NYC shows (ahem!), and art fairs diminish Chelsea galleries’ audiences.

And, paradoxically, it seems as if Saltz is using the de-centralization of the art world to justify his own NYC-centrism. No one critic could see all the art in these different art worlds, but could certainly try harder to get out of his own city—and borough—more often.

He ends on an upbeat note:

When I go to galleries, I now mainly see artists and a handful of committed diligent critics, collectors, curators, and the like. In this quiet environment, it may be possible for us to take back the conversation. Or at least have conversations. While the ultrarich will do their deals from 40,000 feet, we who are down at ground level will be engaging with the actual art—maybe not in Chelsea, where the rents are getting too high, but somewhere. That’s fine with me.

That Saltz has been able to seek out dialogues in commercial galleries seems like a fluke, in my book. Most Chelsea galleries feel too-cool-for-school to strike up conversations.

Those spaces where dialogues happen, where art by artists’ artists is shown, are non-profit, alternative, and artist-run spaces. NYC has its share, but nothing like the vibrancy of SF Bay Area’s community, in my opinion.

I also sense that many NYC alternative spaces show a higher proportion of artists with commercial gallery representation (artists further along in the “emerging” spectrum) than those without. It would be fantastic to take a survey comparing the proportion of represented artists shown at Artist’s Space, White Columns, Sculpture Center, Socrates Sculpture Park, Smack Mellon, Momenta Art, Art in General, Apex Art and Flux Factory against those at Southern Exposure, Intersection for the Arts, The Luggage Store, The Lab, SF Camerawork, Pro Arts, and San Jose ICA. It would beg the question of what alternative art organizations are for, who they serve, what kind of dialogues they  create, and with whom.

What if more commercial galleries fold in NYC, but an equal number of new non-profit and alternative spaces sprung up in their wake? What if they focused on truly emerging artists—not trying to compete with commercial spaces, but were real, imaginative, risk-taking alternatives? What if big-time critics visited and wrote about alternative spaces more often, not just when they mount shows by established artists or shut their doors? What if, essentially, NYC can learn a thing or two from other cities like San Francisco?

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Meta-Practice, Values

How to be everywhere at once, or not

Inspired by a walk around Chelsea and CAA, here are a few thoughts about how artists of a certain level are able to sustain multiple galleries and fairs…

Variations and editions

At Doug Aitken’s show at 303 Gallery, the list of works stated that all artworks, except for the site-specific installation, were multiples. Text works that could have been fabricated by sign shops were editions of four, plus two artist’s proofs. Other text works that might involve more chance, such as a piece with broken mirrors and another foam piece that was partly carved by hand, were variations, plus artist’s proofs.

The way Aiken and many contemporary other artists edition sculptures seems  pragmatic—there is so much research and development that goes into each work, and so many venues for international artists, that being able to exhibit and sell the same work is advantageous. Yet, these editioned sculptures would never be displayed next to each other, or heavens forbid, in the same fair at different booths—like the earliest fine art print editions, the whole concept of an edition is to create scarcity and value. I’m curious if collectors feel like they’re buying originals, are concerned with the fidelity to exhibition copies, or are simply less concerned with purchasing copies, especially of industrially-fabricated works.

(The show itself was dazzling in the video as well as in person, but not especially affective. I believe a critic for the New Yorker found the show to be resemble window displays, and I got the same feeling. There were intimations of destruction, but no danger. In the large hole drilled out of the concrete gallery floor, the milky water was lit from beneath, as if a hot tub. One text work was set behind a faux wall with a cartoonish circular hole cut away; the drywall was filled with pebbly rubble painted white as if on a theatrical set made of Plasticine.)

A few rules make disparate drawings a series

Of particular interest at Mark Dion at Tanya Bonokdar:

1. The vitrines with marine encrustations that were on view in International Orange in San Francisco are now highly salable objects in a Chelsea gallery. (Also, I believe  those were clearly indicated as collaborations in San Francisco, a fact not obvious in NYC.) The settings are so different I found it humorously ironic. Fort Point was bitterly cold, practically in the Pacific Ocean than abutting it. The vitrines were lit in a theatrically dim light, which minimized Fort Point’s peeling walls. At Bonokdar, the pristine gallery housed a number of vitrines and installations, all of which were perfectly installed and maintained. The change of context from the edge of the continent to the center of a commercial art world demonstrates a fluidity that contrasts greatly with so many artists I know who exhibit in odd places in the Bay Area.

2. Dion makes preliminary sketches for his various public projects and commissions—from the UK to San Francisco’s Balboa Park—in red and blue colored pencil. Who knows why, but the effect is that a room with dozens of such drawings hung salon-style looks fantastic. A simple set of rules increases the volume of exhibition-ready work.

Conflicts of Interest Vs. Conflicts of Self-Interest

At the College Art Association conference a few weeks ago, I attended a session called “The Future of Art Magazines” (see GalleristNY.com’s write-up). A comment that has stuck with me is that people play so many roles in the art strata, that it can pose dilemmas to critics. For example, critics who are also curators may worry that they can’t negatively review certain institutions that they might work with, or risk offending artists that they might curate or be asked to curate. I wondered if this was an actual conflict of interest, when the potential of a partnership is merely a potential. Perhaps it would better be phrased as a conflict of self-interest?

Of course people do this all the time. Yet the frequency of self-interested behavior doesn’t make it right—call it Darwinian, hustlin’, or playing the game, it’s also selfish, opportunistic, and small.

To be big, one must imagine that other people are big, too. That artists or administrators won’t be offended if you write a negative review with honesty and integrity. Whether others are in a position of power or not relative to yourself, people should be able to handle direct, open communication with judiciousness and discretion. In my recent correspondence with commenters on Temporary Art Review, I have been trying to encourage artists to give feedback directly to residency administrators. It seems a reasonable thing to do, except for a fear of retaliation that is not a part of the art world that I would like to participate in.

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