Friday, October 28, 2011

[ 0 8 ] i n s i d e t h e w h i t e c u b e


Portland's Holy [Art] Space

I have come to a certain truth where in the most important rooms a person will walk into, in this life, are remembered from the information one inserts into it as opposed to being force fed the information. I remember my experiences in Portland while surveying its streets and array of gallery bravura. After the excursion, I came to realize that these white spaces, and thus the walls artists create their work inside, are a nexus between Earth and heaven with its own by-laws and intuitive government operating it. I infiltrate these white spaces and it moves me to discern some set of unwritten rules that are enforced in both gallery and holy church alike. Invented laws that I could think of may include “thou shalt not put hands on the grail/ pedestals” or “obey the context in which our thoughts are presented or do not enter henceforth”. To the typical John or Jane Smith who is simply admiring the work, it is an effortless, clear matter of obeying these commandments that instantaneously remove itself from reality. Yet for the artist to fit within the holy space, the idea of entrusting in a white walled context may conclude at discontent towards personal identity, disembodiment from original intent in a new simulated world, and the precariousness of losing sight of reality while pursuing art. In a post-modern age, art is most certainly about imitating life as life is about imitating art. Yet, in the pursuit of imitating 'reality', these attempts take on superficial forms themselves which can end up being self referential and often intolerant of the world outside of them. I think of the positive and negative connotations this might have in reference to convoluted spaces such as a gallery space or holy church. Brian O' Doherty's concepts in his book Inside the White Cube have just as much relevance in the art world today as religion does in the world today : a very substantial amount. I was invited after reading to reconfigure how I percieved both.

Over the period of three days, I adopted three galleries (respective to each day touring in Portland) for critical and practical reflection. I'll clearly establish each gallery as a simultaneous bio with criticism and why they are like the proverbial holy temple. Each of the three obtain a very noticable similarity for they all strive for ‘the neutral zone’. All the while, all three still have very separate notions of paperwork, bureaucracy, or even politics which surround keeping a gallery alive in midst of metropolitan overcrowding. This is one instance where my perception of these exhibition spaces change in regards to O'Doherty's theses on the white cube. Politics, in an age since the 90s (beyond O'Doherty's time), has begun to take over the art scene as a means of keeping it economically viable and commercial. Thus, the easier model between modernism and post-moderism for keeping this model afloat is the former. Modernism entails a sense of the artist absorbed into their own creative fantasy. This notion rejects the Marxist by-law that art should be a public affair outside of one's own romantic wishes. This is how I see both holy church and gallery operating in the contemporary age : for the most part shut out and convoluted from society. "Either be contextualized in the space or be excommunicated" is what the gallery walls beckon to artists. Naturally, with such a contained realm inside itself seeking monetary reward or some backing to keep itself alive, political gaming will come into play within its own walls which have no relevance to anyone outside of that magic circle. This is where I find the gallery space detrimental to the art in its pure context, in much kindred liking to the holy church where religion in America is not a part of state. It is up to the artist to interpret society with their own worlds and not the cathedral that houses them. When a gallery that houses work does this is when art becomes a precarious tool.

Evidence of the Modernist perspective reviving itself this prevalent day and age is The Museum of Contemporary Craft. The gallery is a successful place within the city repression with, as one would guess, a heavy legacy concerning craft and a very extensively framed solidarity towards history in lieu of progressive movement. O’Doherty writes that, “with postmodernism, the gallery space is no longer "neutral". The wall becomes a membrane through which esthetic and commercial values osmotically exchange (79)”. This statement does not implicate that Modernism is dead, but humorously enough, that Modernism is absorbed into Post-Modernism. Modernist commercial value, history included, may be marketed to the public eye for profit. The gallery currently houses four exhibits in a two-story building, of which, two I will select for reference. I will put a vignette on Cutting Her Own Path which is a retrospect highlighting the cut-out craft of Nikki McClure and Northwest Modern which is a self-reliant document of the museum’s ceramic displays from the year 1950 to 1964. Of the three galleries, I feel MOCC will most exemplify my vision of the gallery space being simultaneously holy and militaristic. In this scenario, militarism applies to an artist’s work and how it endures a brash recontextualization from studio to gallery or gallery to gallery. Just as a human cannot switch from religion to religion without understanding a monothestic law for both, the artist cannot go from a gallery to gallery without understanding the same autonomy as well. If it is a different space it is a different military for sake of the gallery.

The second gallery I highlight, following the day of observing MOCC, is The Disjecta. For scale comparison, The Disjecta is only one floor tall but makes up for that in the expansion of space across ground floor to equal that of the total mass of MOCC. Refurbished from an old bowling alley, the focus of The Disjecta frames itself in a manner toward public service and accessibility for both local Portland artists and established artists by special application, invitation, or both. Rather than a militaristic temple of art-holiness, The Disjecta serves as more of a sanctuary for the weary artist whom with the offering of an application may work in a miniscule penny-per-square-foot studio. The exhibition on display was an installation and mixed media set by Iranian-American, University of Oregon professor Tannaz Farsi. Her display illuminates what it means to live the American dream. Immigration, with themes of entering alienated realms, finds a home entering alienated spaces such as the art gallery. By natural situation, the immigrant finds his or her self already recontextualized being in another country apart from their own. I find it to be an intriguing sense of meta-art having an immigrant be an immigrant to the gallery space. I should think, ironically, the person who knows least about their surroundings (the foreigner in a gallery) is less susceptible that the religious laws which govern the gallery may be too demanding. I predict travel abroad not just for artist or missionary alike, but all educated people, will become wildly popular.

Lastly, we shift scale to a much more humble gallery in size with the Fourteen30. The smaller space, which is roughly the size of a gas station, emphasizes the importance of filling the white space with ‘thought’ versus ‘craft’ and how such a bantam exhibition ground is run by not a collaborative brain but a single, possibly objective, curator. On display at the time was a modest, but intellectually selective, painting exhibit by Grier Edmundson where in the lawful way of seeing the white wall was violated when the artist made his own darkly textured wallpaper to occupy the walls. This is in opposition to an eggshell white religiously washing the walls clean, giving false avenue of uncontextualizing space. The wallpaper put forth by the artist recontextualizes its own presence and derives the gallery of an opportunity to draw first blood with its own history. The Fourteen30 gallery is an almost sacrilege example of not the holy temple defining the disciples of artists within, but the disciples deciding what is preached. What they preach is simple : art.

I find it a great leaping off point to bring into discussion how the artist may alter their lucid, daunting surroundings with their work rather than becoming victim to them. I spoke directly with the curator of the Fourteen30 Jeanine Jablonski and she tells me that Edmundson was the first of her artist roster in a period of time to attempt the task of doing the wallpaper act. In reference to the initial Salon de Refuses instigated by painter Jean Courbet in 1855, O’Doherty explains, “I suspect he did nothing startling; yet it was the first time a modern artist (who happened to be the first modern artist) had to construct the context of his work and therefore editorialize about its values (24).” I critique that the decision of Edmundson to mask the white away from the status quo of white walls was simultaneously hysterical and dynamic, just as much as it was for Courbet when he first did so as a rejected dreamer of Modernism. I conclude that Edumundson’s decision to perform this act was not birthed out of rejection but as an accepted rejection. This artist rejected the by-laws of the holy temple and did not become governed by unwritten passages which dictate them. The eye is betrayed because the formality of presentation, much like the morning shower routine, is cast aside. Staying with that metaphor, its like taking a long, hot bath when you have to be at the office in ten minutes. Meanwhile, the romantic spectator whom reports as an outsider and not with insider knowledge becomes bewildered since there is context behind the wallpaper decision outside of their grasp (or at least content they cannot understand). The context of which is nearly immature irony; the paintings themselves were simply blunt, colorful lines on a big canvas. “The Eye looks down on the spectator; the spectator thinks the Eye is out of touch with real life. The comedies of the relationship are of Wildean proportions; an Eye without the body and a body without much of an Eye usually cut each other dead (O’Doherty, 50)”. Edmundson finds a helix of solace in the midst of this civil war. The eye is flabbergasted as its religious monocole snaps in two whilst the spectator has no earthly clue what to make of it from heart (without intellect) alone. As an artwork, I find his exhibition abysmal. Yet, for rejecting the holy temple considering the exhibition as a work of art in itself, it is glorious. Form is certainly content if there is an effort made to connect dots from discovery to realization. In many ways, it is the mantra of post-modernism. At times, we don't know if we can classify this wallpaper act as art because it emulates so tightly the notion of life. This undeniably creates a magicial entity, altering in one stroke our considerations of how to analyze not just the artwork in a holy space but the holy space itself. The space around the artwork should not be exempt from the artwork, and it would be naive to excommunicate as so.

Coincidentally, the Museum of Contemporary Craft has its own cyclical battle with the Wildean proportion of chasing one’s own ass. Take for instance the dual exhibition in MOCC of Nikki McClure’s signature paper cut outs and the historical, self-reference of its own ceramic exhibition history. The issue, respectively, with each is that it either represents such a barbaric retreat to a spectator sport of craft enjoyment or celebrating the eye that commands the holy church/gallery. The fourteen-year document of ceramics in the MOCC involves the display of large, vintage photographic prints of jurors analyzing these pots, ceramics on pedestals arranged aesthetically, and books of recorded information surrounding the installation and destruction of each piece throughout the years. To my critique, this is meta-art in the distasteful sense. The idea of a curator celebrating the work of a curator in a live gallery while hundreds, if not thousands, of ambitious artists are waiting their turn in the wing to express their wares are left space-less is a crime of limiting creativity. With the limitation of creativity comes the rise of bureaucracy and politics which will in turn become a new sliding scale on how artworks will be accepted in the future towards these holy temples. The idea of this gallery regenerating within itself apart from life as a whole almost alludes to academia where the teaching happens nowhere but within itself. Ben Shahn writes in The Shape of Content, that galleries “become almost monastic in the degree of withdrawal from common society; and thus their art product becomes increasingly ingrown, tapping less and less the vital streams of common experience, rejecting more and more the human imperatives which have propelled and inspired art in past times (6)”. Ironically, through the celebration of Modernism in a Post-Modern age, adulthood in contemporary society suffers from losing support to this form of ingrown politics that artists must go through in order to survive. I consider exhibition spaces as a public service that should be equivalent to law enforcement or health care. I do not give my full support to these spaces which deem itself holy unless they serve artists more than they serve its invisible commandments. My goal as an artist is to not fall into commodification of this force. Not for the sake of my wallet (clearly) but for the sake of my art which is my own invisible law and family. I would not sell out my religious beliefs for another religion hastily, and I will not do so with my artwork. It is my hope that fellow artists will not fall into the militaristic vein as well.

On a less heinous note, Nikki McClure in the MOCC was more a celebration of the successful artist whom crafts with the nearly non-existent arsenal of an x-acto knife on black paper. With nothing, she created an empire for herself. The gallery was arranged on the bottom floor with a superfluous arrangement of rectangles and squares framing each “cutout” (some were prints of cutouts) around the white wall space. It is already well monkiered in society that her craft is extravagant and the work itself occasionally presents political commentary that is well masked beneath a veneer of Modernist repetition. I give kudos for remaining so formal and yet subtly radical in that aspect. I deem it as disobeying the temple in order to propose a better operation.

Yet, McClure does what Edmundson did : She recontextualized the walls of the space she inhabited. The way she performed this celestial feat was obnoxiously simple : fame. 
This is the idea of the [art] celebrity, with established technique, rejecting the holy temple that essentially defined her. McClure enters into a mode of being a representation of herself. What this means is similar to the situation with the Museum of Contemporary Craft’s display of ceramics. What has become successful will become a representation of itself and commodified for further success as far as the holy temple of gallery spaces is concerned. Only what has been made successful goes out into the world, and upon reminiscent when it returns, it returns as a God that must alter the space it inhabits. If this successful art form or God does not get its proper parade in white walls, there is no recognition of its initial success or history thus leaving time to start again foolishly. In an age where galleries need to profit for itself or succumb to relocation or refurbishment, I believe such institutions as the Museum of Contemporary Craft need to ride out a recollection of its own history long enough and create representations of its own importance to re-feed the eye and trick the proletariat into thinking its feeding itself. The holy temple of this gallery is essentially retelling the same story that has existed since the early 20th century. Many in the 21st century still believe the hoax as it appears fresh and bedazzled. This may very well be the definition of Guy Debord's "spectacle". The church empahasizing its own image rather than religion.

The Disjecta illuminated what appeared to be a hope for evolution beyond a convoluted, Modernist state (and with it, the wonderful crafts contextualized by the chambers of prayer). While there were apparent flaws in its execution, as this is an obstacle that arrives to a new gallery that has relocated several times, its intentions were pure and to build on. Jumping off the previous record of the MOCC, The Disjecta realizes the danger of representing only itself within curatorial and academic circles and wishes to extend its focal lens to a broad, all-comers scope. This movement includes actual studio space in catering toward the up and coming artist in Portland and amateur space for the novice (non-professional). The novice space is far too small and meager in comparison to the cave of wonder which is the gym sized area for professionals. To me, this is playing ‘lawyerball’ with battling the galleries’ need to realize its self-importance. It takes advantage of a notion Guy Debord points out in Society of the Spectacle in relation to Brian O’ Doherty. The spectacle's estrangement from the acting subject is expressed by the fact that the individual's gestures are no longer his own; they are the gestures of someone else who represents them to him. The spectator does not feel at home anywhere, because the spectacle is everywhere (Debord, 7). In other words, The Disjecta makes good on its promise to advertise independence to its disciples, yet also makes it its victim in white walls. Like a false religion or God promising good will to the disheartened, the gallery only proposes the simulation of sanctuary to the amateur artist. In the end, the artist is lied to, but I suppose this goes for all advertisement-consumer relationships. This relates back to my issue with the self contained, white walls : that it can be self-referential and should be a precarious consideration for exhibiting works in a contemporary age.

The Disjecta may simply be a practitioner of good business while also applying practicality in human survival. In a disaster situation, businesses may commit bad situations to opportunity, taking advantage of human need. While The Disjecta is non-profit, it also certainly is encompassing the lust for public exposure and prestige in the art world, once again contextualizing not the artwork only but the non-superficial artist for aligning with the gallery space in question. Once again, the danger in this being that while artwork has broken free of the horizontally primed frame, the frame only just became bigger to encompass things that only ‘appeared’ to break free. We could even extend this metaphor wider from the gallery to the entire city of Portland. The artist in a wide city might seem lost and report to the holy temple of the Disjecta for a new path in art, nonetheless only committing themselves to another set of (city) government where it is perfectly legal to exhibit. For example, a public park may be a good locale for this type of artist. 

At this juncture, in order for the artist to incinerate the chains of stolen identity and rebranding, they must alienate themselves from the idea of belonging to anything but the self. It often feels as if we can no longer experience anything if we don't first alienate it. In fact, alienation may now be a necessary preface to experience (O’ Doherty, 52). Life experience is commonly dubbed in society as those dynamic situations without end we dangerously advance toward. In this scenario, it is advancement outside of an institution and into urban freedom. Artists, as much as they can, must find this muse outside of institutions desiring to contextualize the intent of art. My goals as en exhibiting artist shift into not finding the holy island which will consume me and my artwork, simply by association. My goal as an artist is to have association with the world and not be commodified by gallery as holy church or business alike. I want my art to imitate the most core sense of life, beyond simulation, in this contemporary age just a O'Doherty warned I should.

In simile to McClure, the only true way to be a chaplain of an art temple is to be its recognized God from success out the gate. It is at this point one questions if they even want to make successful art in the mold of a status quo. I feel this is the light wave of reactions to Post-Modernism constantly revisiting art institutions where nobody desires to have their identity and persona confiscated by artificiality. The only thing artists want to be confiscated by is life, which from birth, the artist is a victim to. In the unified breath of art and life, Alan Kaprow writes, “The old daring and the charged atmosphere of precarious discovery that marked every hour of the lives of the modern artists, even when they were not working at art, vanishes. Strangely, no one seems to know this except, perhaps, the "unsuccessful" artists waiting for their day (22)." There is no waiting for discovery, as whoever was destined to be discovered has been discovered. It solely depends on a curator with an ultimate monolithic vision, often hard to be tampered with. Life contextualizes the person and their art as does a gallery. I simply cannot call a gallery ‘life’. This brisk visit in Portland has refocused my lens through which I see the ostensibly neutral space of white. It may appear pure, but the bureaucracy and theatricality behind it ultimately drags a history behind it ala post modernism, and that history will never fade. My own work has always questioned in the virgin space through a judgmental eye. Coincidentally, my work will not entirely change, for my suspicions have only been strengthened of the precariousness of what my career beholds. Society, local or global, contextualizes everything into an eye of providence which sees all. At each opportunity, like everything in life, I shall survey the fine print and make sure I am me. The challenge in life is to live full. The challenge in art is to create full, with no exterior assistance.

Works Cited

O'Doherty, Brian. Inside the White Cube, The Ideology of the Gallery Space. Berkley  & Los Angeles, California. University of California Press. 1999. Print.

Shahn, Ben. The Shape of Content. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard University Press. 1957. Print.

Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Canberra, Australia. Treason Press. 2002. Print.

Kaprow, Allan. Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life.  Berkley  & Los Angeles, California. University of California Press. 2003. Print.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

[ 0 7 ] b l u r r i n g o f a r t a n d l i f e

1993. Alan Kaprow publishes his own theories on the objectivity of artlike art and calls for an understanding where it is just as easy for the artist to create art as the non-artist would. This was during a time (the 90s) when art was removed from its even slight romantic senses and needed to be economically viable in order for it to exist in the mainstream society. Thus, when art become at its most sellable, I believe Kaprow designed for this book to be an anti-thesis of it. While at the same time, of course, this anti-form referenced the form itself, that is what a heavy element of the book is about. There cannot be anti-form without representing what it rebels against, there cannot be true reality as it exists in a sea of spectacle and representative society (Debord), and at the same instance an artist who is a life-like artist will be parallel creating art and 'not' creating art.

Pollack uncovered the sense of the post-modern. Art is redefined as the escapism from the auteur and the realization of the community/non-dictated. Everything is appropriated and up for grabs now. The community emphasis and ability to leap into information is a precursor to availability and cyclical birth of/rise out of a spectacle. This is the birth of life imitating art, because in essence, all of life is recorded into some form of media or pamphlet already. Our society is asked to fill in the gaps of content for our art. With more wild knowledge and differing subgroups of audience, the auteur is at a disadvantage of being right.

This is art. This isn't art. This is life. There is no argument that it isn't physical life.

An artist shall begin to create a myth of themselves and fall into near inescapable holes of 'success'. When he or she believes an unfathomable goal is captured, the aftermath of being an artist is unfulfilled. There is no environment. Just the artist. They effectively die, because in that instant, they become history. Their mark is already made. There is no other reason to live. Destruction is a natural habit, of art and humanity. Our boundaries naturally exist as an aura, so it must be inhibiting to often resort to containing artwork (as a happening or other) within that box. In its most formal aspect, art is addition and subtraction of material to create the end product. This applies to art itself as a definition as well.

The subtraction of the senses, the addition of the participation from the crowd.

The Happenings are at once already 'dead' (apart from media attention, barely noticeable), yet undead/breathing as a myth that remains unconfirmed if it ever happened in time. It alters the very form of life, but in a very undefined canvas. The removal of static life, yet, adhering to the rules of life at the same instance. 

To harness the entity of nostalgia and romanticism of creating 'on the canvas' is a possible precariousness unto itself. It constantly puts the artist in danger and at unease, when in whim, they may draw from the formalities of life. 

The Happenings, simplistically put, narrow down choice from the possible destruction of aimless wander.

I am drawn to the writing on a personal level of my own art for it references the idea of game making, adulthood, nostalgia, and this sense that "art-like art" is pushing in a direction away from a childlike imagination. A quote : "

As direct play is denied to adults and gradually discouraged in children, the impulse to play emerges not in true games alone, but in unstated ones of power and deception; people find themselves playing less with each other than on or off other." Makes me fear. 

Is the natural sense of adulthood a lie, in a sense that if we don't nurture the adults need to escapism/play, we allow them to take it out in violence on society?

Though there is a contradiction, and it leads to the life-like artist creating simultaneously art and non art. This was discovered during the video-art chapter; The more people become aware of art about life/life about art, the more anti-aura it becomes. One must resist the urge to be extraordinary when being documented. 

No matter how struggling anti-formalism/reality is to escape from the sense of impurity or fantasy, it will always reference the legislation or proscenium arch in charge. Like, if the police walked up to me doing a non-permit performance, I am most certainly under their legislation as the baton smacks me in the face. There is a glass ceiling which dictates what "is" art and what "isn't" art in both respective categories.

Supermarket Flashmob. A "Happening". Its art. It modifies material.
But it could just as easily be a bunch of people loitering for their kicks.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

[ 0 6 ] s o c i e t y o f t h e s p e c t a c l e

The Society of the Spectacle is one that Guy Debord in 1967 philosophizes about in the jargon of a post-totalitarian and post-war world, which strangely enough, has just as much if not relevance to today's society than in the initial timeframe. We are currently a civilization staring at the world through the bifocal lens of the proletariat and bourgeoisie. The former is ultimately the most of us while the latter dictate and govern (which is ultimately most of the government/higher powers) the proletariat. The working class is no longer allowed to view the world as itself but only a representation of itself. This entails that the products that are advertised and sold, and in turn the governing forces and events created, are a social construct only designed to keep the mass community in uniformity while the governors may often only speculate about what is right and what is wrong. This often leads to autonomous control and a cyclical history of rebellion against it, somewhat doomed to repeat itself in a loop through history.

There is a strong debate between the essence of reality and fantasy in these words, which as it turns out, is a primary direction of the artwork and concepts I currently toil with in the realm of digital media (proof that Guy Debord's book holds relevancy now and forever more most likely). The product of fantasy distributed to the masses designed for escapism and/or distraction from the growing tyrant of longer hours and even wages is an ultimate creation of reality, whom the reality is is that of the bourgeoisie who commissioned the use of these spectacles, images, and events to give false importance to the being of the proletariat. Nevertheless in a turn of tables, reality is constantly invaded by the presence of these spectacles and false reality giving weight to a form of representation and illusion in society to all but time, death, and taxes. Those who realize the juxtaposed, polarizing pain become the loner without illusions : separate from the society which is separate to begin with but all knowing and deemed crazy for it. As long a necessity is socially dreamed, dreaming will become a social necessity. Society is becoming a bad dream where we we wish to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of that sleep. And the loners are often the sleepers. The dreamers.

The loner without illusion. All knowing. Not congratulated for it.

Those who realize are in far lesser number than those who don't? More false than true. History is a cyclical beast, going far back as the feudal Asian societies where the spectacle to believe in was religion and God. The entity of buddhism itself is of cyclical entailment, where the human mind is supposed to believe they will cycle through the trials and tribulations of life until they reach nirvana. Those were spectacles that took the form of the lie, and thus, with two lies multiplied together it created an unorthodox form of truth. Fast forward past dictatorships and totalitarianism in the early 20th century till now where a current protest is occurring in the form of Occupy Wall Street. It is the ultimate display for this year and possibly decade where the proletariat has experienced enough pain and realization of their own false representation where a stand is made and a change in history is demanded. 

When the representation of reality is undermined by... 'reality'.

I took strong words from the script/word versions of the several films of Guy Debord in addition to the 200+ theses of his actual book. The films say essentially the same aspect of the book, but in a slightly separate avenue more geared to post-modern art and more specifically the art of cinema. It is argued that the art of cinema itself must be destroyed, not unlike how the Dadaists sought to destroy art at the turn of the first World War. The moving image designed as a narrative, by Debordian standards, is already an auteurist creation designed 'to guide' and 'lure' the viewer through a dictated vision from beginning, middle, to end. It as an example of the writer writing spectacles, the cinematographer lighting spectacles, and the director ultimately being president. A technique notably used in Debordian films involve the usage of extended black space and silence for a long period of time, as if to underline the fact to the audience of representing their own reality versus someone else's. 

The best thing I took from this as well was the involving of nostalgia into the mix of these forms of pseudorealities spectacles are creating for society. Not only in film, with the appropriation of past franchises and property (Battleship, the Goddamn board game, for example) into current money tickets for studios, but in every art form construed or advertisement designed. It is half what the product is and half what we are dreaming about which are unresolved events from the past to create our need for whatever product or event that is being presented. The greek definition of nostalgia itself translates to 'pain' and that is exactly what is causes. The more of our childhood that the bourgeoisie relishes upon the proletariat, the more of our of adulthood will become diminished. You could imagine the issues this will cause in not seeing the false representation our capitalist leash huggers brandish. I do. I qualify as what you would call the loner without illusion.

A fitting song for the realization of the spectacle.