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Reaction/reflections to Inta(llation)gram…

The class liked it, Tom was very critical. Par for the course.

The idea of how the project is curated was a hot topic of discussion. Obviously, with the installation taking place through an app, anyone can post anything to it (provided I ever got it to work the way I wanted it to). The notion that people would inevitable abuse the platform was brought up. After all, trolls will be trolls. 

On the one hand, this is an intriguing proposition. Sure, people are supposed to post pictures of artwork from other galleries/museums, but posting something else can reveal just as much about the audience and the notion of art itself. It could be exciting. But, Tom also pointed out that if it go out of control, it could end up devaluing the installation. Good point.

My goal was to be as hands off as a curator as possible. But, to maintain the integrity of the piece, I’d have to exercise some measure of control as a moderator of the page. We’re still co-curators but I, as the artist, retain ultimate censorial control. This is a little troubling to me as part of the idea is to take the creation of the piece as much out of the artist’s hands as possible, but I recognize the concerns. 

So, how do I do that?

Additionally, before this could ever hang in a gallery, it’d have to be scaled up to how I originally imagined it. So, it’d have to be a bigger screen and I’d have to figure out a way to get the screen layout how I want it. Clearly I can’t work within the actual Instagram app. So, what do I do? Develop a website for it? Or, an idea I like, develop my own app for it.

But, with an app, how do I distinguish between installations? How is the time bracketed? If it exists as an app that anyone can access at any time, what is the point of putting it in a gallery? Yes, the notion that people always have an art gallery in their pocket is interesting. But, as I’ve written before, that’s what Google images does too. I wouldn’t be breaking any new ground except to maybe get people to look at the process in a different way. 

But, the whole concept of the performance was that the piece has to exist in a gallery, as it’s partly a commentary on the gallery space. So, how to do this?

I had an idea after discussion of my piece was over. Basically, develop the basic architecture of an app, and then create different versions of the app for different installations.

I drew a small version in my notepad…

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See it there, in the middle?

Each app version can be for a specific installation. Users would submit their pictures to me, and I would control which ones get posted. These posts would appear in the app, but they’d also appear in the gallery installation. And at the end of the installation, I’d simply stop updating an app. So, there’d be an archive of the installation within the app, but it would cease to exist in the realms of a gallery. Eventually, users would have a full archive of this work within their smart phones (and archived online). A work they co-curated. But, the problem of the time limits of an installation would be solved…somewhat.

This still gives me, the artist, a little too much control, in my opinion. So, I’m still working on how best to pursue this project. One idea is that different installations can have different themes, and some could allow for the free flow of posting. I specifically thought of calling one Troll and seeing what happens when internet ‘trolls’ take over a public art space. It could be interesting. And it’d certainly reveal something about humanity. 

 

Anyway, finishing up…

This class was outstanding. It’s the exact kind of class I came to UT Dallas to take. It’s the exact kind of training and work I’ve wanted. And now I look forward to further developing this aspect of my art. 

And moving forward, now that I’ve finally posted stuff in the blog, I’ll start using it regularly. I’ll use it to share random musings, write actual articles, and document my work moving forward. That work comprises theater/performance, writing, filmmaking, and installation work, for now. I’m excited about where things are moving with my art right now. And this blog is a good way to keep that going and create an archive.

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Insta(llation)gram (the final project)…

Putting together my final installation was challenging. 

At first, I tried to find a screen to fit a cool, ornate empty farm I have that usually hangs outside the front door of my apartment. It’s 27″ diagonally, so I was looking for a 26″-28″ screen. No go. I didn’t have one, nor could I find one that was affordable, in the context of a project for a class. Plus, I’m not sure the people who run the Art Barn would like me mounting a screen on their wall. Nor did I really have a way to mount a heavy screen. 

So, I went with my second option. Use my iPad. I bought a simple, cheap 8×10 frame, and set about mounting the iPad within…

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I had to try several different things…

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One of the problems I came across was the actual orientation of the screen. Instagram, as it turns out, is only an app for smart phones. There isn’t a tablet app. So, I scoured the app store looking for another photo sharing app that might work. No go. I couldn’t find anything worthwhile. But, I could pull up Instagram in my browser, so I decided to go with that. 

Only now the problem was that the way Instagram displays pictures is not really conducive to the conception of the project. I figured there might be a slideshow type mode that gave the actual image most of the screen space. But, there isn’t. Instead, like most social media feeds, there’s a column on the side to display poster information and a space below each picture for captions and tags. 

I worked on figuring out a work around for awhile, to no avail. Running out of time, I decided I would just have to go with the current setup and explain the ideal, which is a full frame picture that features poster/tag/caption information in a small box on the bottom of the screen in its own box over the picture (see notepad). 

Another problem I ran up against was that Instagram, either in the app or the website, didn’t automatically refresh/update. So, the notion of a continuous feed of pictures was dashed. For the presentation, the screen has to be touchable (not behind glass) and I have to hit the refresh button while continuing to explain the bigger concept. 

It’s not perfect, but I like where it’s going and should be okay for the presentation…

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And here’s the final product, posted in the gallery space…

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Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction (my final installation project)…

Some very basic notes…

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Tom seemed ornery yesterday. And I get it. There have been frustrating moments for him in this class. This is a department that, though it offers an area of study that purports to be all about the arts (Aesthetics Studies) it doesn’t actually attract a lot of artists, real, wannabe, or otherwise. So, there are people in the class who are new to these concepts and sometimes present ideas that seem to miss the point, or don’t seem very well thought out. Of course, listen to me talking down to other people when it’s actually a major fear of mine. Like I’ve written, my thought process is largely internal. Sometimes it looks like I’ve thought hard about something, while other times it doesn’t. I always do, but perception…

Class did not start out great for me. Having had what I thought was my final project made invalid, I was searching for something new while most other people were adapting something they’d already done for a previous assignment. Not to paint myself as some sort of victim, but nevertheless…

I went into class with several ideas. I didn’t feel great about any of them. I decided to go with the whole first thought, best though thing and present the one I came up with first. 

The concept…

I’ve really gotten back into reading the work of Walter Benjamin, especially his seminal essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I followed this thread to John Berger’s book/series Ways of Seeing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pDE4VX_9Kk).

By requiring that our projects take place within the confines of a gallery space, I decided to analyze the gallery space in a way that considers my observations throughout the class that challenge the idea of the social scripts that go along with placing art in a defined artistic space. We’ve been taught throughout this class to challenge the classic notion of this space and go for site specific stuff (a la Kaprow), yet now we have to operate in the space.

So, I challenged myself to think about a question I once posed asking how do we use the existing artistic space in a way that gets the audience to unconsciously react to its contents in a way that remove them from being defined by the space. 

Then I took this notion that mechanical and technological reproduction of images has led to the dilution of meaning and the lessening importance of the artistic space. In other words, I’ve seen the Mona Lisa a thousand times, but I’ve never been to the Louvre and seen it with my own eyes. The necessity to do that is negated by the fact that I can simply google an image of it and look at it from my phone.

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So, why not subvert the notion of the lessening importance of the artistic space via technological reproduction by technologically reproducing art in an artistic space. 

My idea is to place a screen in a gallery, bordered by a traditional ornate painting frame, that via an instagram type interface, people can digitally post pictures of art from other galleries to. This would have this Jean Baudrillard type simulation effect that all at once comments on the digital reproducibility of art and images and at the same time gets people to treat the artistic space in a natural, different way. Additionally, the audience become co-curators, co-creators of the installation. 

As usual, class discussion and feedback really helped flesh this out. I went in with a fairly basic concept, and the very constructive discussion made it clearer. Again, I think this speaks to all the noise in my head. Everything I want to say about it and want it to be is in there, but it takes others helping me to focus to fully vocalize it. 

Also as usual, the class seemed more enthused than Tom. Again, I get the feeling I’ll someday be considered the best of the posers…

A hiccup (etude 4 &5)…

Our assignment in Performance Installation this week was to write about the space our final performance takes place in. Given the success of my online performance installation, I emailed Tom asking about using the internet for my “space”. I was excited about the proposition. 

Unfortunately, in the context of the class, we have to be able to present our final project in the Art Barn gallery space. This, of course, goes against a lot of what the course has taught us. We talk so much about going site specific and the death of the traditional art space and whatnot, but at the end of the day this is a class and we have to present something tangible for a grade. So, I’m kind of back to square one…

Therefore, I approached the assignment to analyze the space in a very literal way. I went point by point and tried to answer the specific questions asked in the assignment, while also throwing random thoughts in a long the way…

Walter Benjamin – Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Postmodernism

What’s next?

Connection

Communication

Digital barriers to communication

We live in time where we’re the most connected we’ve ever been, via the internet, social networking, and smart phones, yet also the least connected we’ve ever been because we experience this connection through digital barriers.

How can I subvert the digital barrier, the idea that anything worth seeing or experiencing can be found on a screen?

How do I address a world where a ‘friendship’ can be established with someone you’ve never actually met? What is it that causes this connection? Similar interests? Mutual connections? Randomness?

I guess I kind of want to lull people into a sort of ‘unawareness’ as a means of eliciting an authentic or honest reaction to the stimulus of the art/installation.

I can do this by drawing them into something familiar, and either slowly or traumatically pulling the rug out from under them. Or maybe it’s a slow reveal.

Traumatic kernel of the Real vs. slow realization

IDEA: Paint the Mona Lisa

Set up a print of the Mona Lisa. Then set up painting stations, complete with a canvas on an easel, a basic set of oil paints, brushes, etc., and a brief how to guide on oil painting. Allow people to attempt to recreate the famous painting. The results will reveal two things. First, that art is, in fact, hard. And second, that everyone has artistic-ness inside them, if only they’ll access it every once in awhile. Hmmm…

Step it up by doing the same thing with a Pollack action painting. Maybe even

Art, since it can now be digitally reproduced or viewed, invites multiple meanings (subjectivity), thereby diminishing (diluting) its meaning – paraphrase from Ways of Seeing

The digital barrier can cause a change in perspective/loss of context

The atmosphere around us (sounds, setting, etc.) can change how we see something through a reproduced/digital lens. (Looking at art from the MOMA while sitting at a bar).

 

 

Kris Noteboom studied Performance and Rhetoric at the University of North Texas, and Aesthetic Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, earning a Masters and PhD respectively. Starting in the theater at a young age, Kris has spent most of his life pursuing art and knowledge. Unfortunately, in his estimation, this pursuit coincided with the deconstruction of traditional art as we understand it. The move into postmodernism, bringing about relativism and poststructuralism, created an artistic atmosphere in which everyone’s expression is given equal weight, thus diluting the core of the arts and causing broad public abandonment. Starting his academic work studying satire and irony, noting its prevalence in the age, Kris has moved from this mindset to one of a search for authenticity. In a world where everything is hyper-conscious, he wonders what the next explosion of unconsciousness will bring us. His performance work seeks to challenge the notions of self-awareness and culture as a pastiche of the past. His work often aims to create a situation whereby his audience is, briefly, separated from consciousness, anticipation, and self-awarenes, in favor of a moment of pure authenticity. And honest reaction to something, not immediately compared to its antecedents, but taken unconsciously as something spontaneous and new, and thereby inviting the question, is such a notion even possible right now?

 

 

 

Part 1

Choose a space within the art barn: Not sure. Could be anywhere. Classic white walls of an art gallery preferable. Instead f going for the alternative or edgy space, go as traditional as possible.

How do I relate to the space…

Visually: It’s an art gallery, which automatically establishes a frame of expectancy
Aurally: Industrial mixed with a hushed sterility
Scale: Large, expansive rooms, meant to be moved around
Sense of Proportion: Purposely attempting to take proportion away
Physical Relationship: A art gallery necessitates purposed, yet flanier type movement
Personal Memories: Limited

What is the history of the space?
– Built to be like a Black Mountain College type artistic enclave and display space. Currently threatened by demolition

Are you a privileged informant?
– Probably
What is your ethno-self-analysis?

Who are you? How would you describe yourself?
Artist

What are the criteria, definitions, systems, by which you define yourself?
An artistic/Academic level of competence in my art

What does the telling of the history tell you about yourself and perspective?
Even as an artist, I don’t access as much art as I should because I come from a culture that doesn’t access, or even value, art.

How does time relate to the space?
There are no clocks. Nothing to mark the time. Like a Vegas casino, galleries are often mark less and serpentine, allowing the spectator to get lost in them and lose time.

What implicit or other meanings embedded or bundled with the space?
Entering into an art gallery immediately creates a frame of expectancy, or even a barrier. And going to see art is not so special occasion anymore due to the mechanical reproduction of artwork into our world. Therefore, there is no immediacy to visit an art gallery, thereby creating the assumption that the only people who do visit an art gallery are high minded artistic and society types. Both of these things work together to keep people out of art galleries.

What meanings are real, imagined, or imposed?
This is really a subjective answer. The feeling that art today is somehow impenetrable, perhaps due to the loss of meaning brought forth by reproduction, simulation, postmodernism, relativism, etc. can be all three of real, imagined, and imposed. I think the average person imposes this meaning more often than not, but even as an artist, seeing a piece of performance art of installation that does little but to perplex makes it feel real.

Cultural, Social, Economic, Personal?
Again, this real is a ‘pick one’ type situation. Cultural, social, and personal would seem to overlap quite a lot. For instance, the anti-intellectual, anti-art movement of right wingers could easily be said to stem from cultural, social, and personal issues. Religion versus art. The economic question is, perhaps, more interesting. Art does have an economic barrier stigma, whether true or not.

The average person’s interaction with art usually either consists of hearing the exorbitant selling prices of famous works quoted back to them on the news, or seeing the bad examples of art and performance held up as an indictment of the entire field. How do we get them to see the in between?

What are the collective memories?
Like with art, I’d say this is largely subjective. Especially given my narrow frame of reference. I know what the space wanted to be, and in some ways achieved. But, it is still largely self-contained, filled mostly by artists most of the time. Does that change the collective memory? Also, it is both a gallery space and a workspace. What effect does this have?

What meanings are stable and which are not?
Well, apparently the building itself isn’t stable and that’s what is leading to its inevitable closure and demolition. Yet, I had to take a class in the actual building to learn that. Despite being in the middle of campus, students are unaware of it. It hinds in plain sight, as it were. Does this diminish its meaning? It has nurtured a lot of talented and successful artists? But, when it’s gone, will anyone remember or even know?

Which memories speak – who walked through the space and what are they saying? What would they say?
Because I see the building as just as much of a workspace as a gallery space, I immediately think of the artists who have passed through the building, toiling away in the workshops and labs creating perfect pieces of art to display in the public spaces. And I can’t help but wonder, would the audience have a better sense of the meaning of the building and the creation of art if they had access to the workshop?

What are your expectations?
To foster a dialog about art, creation, perception, connection, etc.

What are you psychophysical reactions?
Over the course of the class, what I’ve noticed, is that the space becomes more of a workspace for me, rather than a gallery space. When I first walked in the building, it was with that hushed reverence, as if I was entering into something hallowed and high. Now, I walk in casually, as if I’m going to work. This intrigues me.

What is the implied worldview?
Art, and especially art galleries and museums, evoke a certain kind of worldview that, at least to the casual observer, holds itself above the common man. It is a hallowed place to be revered, with the work of complex geniuses adorning the walls and floors. It’s impenetrable, in a way. The frame of reference that surrounds it, lampooned in popular culture, implies a, well, snooty, worldview.

What are the attributes and burdens of your perspective?
The burden is that this obviously isn’t true. At least not universally. Or anywhere close to that. But growing up straddling both the art and non art world, I know I’ve heard enough of the reactions to art that are negative to understand that the needle isn’t exactly pointing towards the artists on the public’s favor. Arts funding and education are routinely cut. And unfortunately, due to the rise of relativism and deconstruction of the academy, to a certain extent, bad art gets lumped in with otherwise good art to poison the well. I’m not sure exactly how this shakes out in attributes and perspective, but I generally get the sense that the perspective is negative to the bigger culture and adored by the culture of people who would actually visit a gallery.

How do the components of your observations interact?
I can’t help but get on this line that there has to be a way to deconstruct the frame/barrier of the gallery while also reaffirming the creation of true art. How do you disarm people enough to get them in the door and then reinforce how difficult art creation is once they’re in? Or maybe it’s not that? What about simulacrum and simulation? What if we play on the notion that they’ve seen it all before, disarm them that way, and then get a truly unconscious reaction from them that reveals something about the art and themselves? But, how to do this?

What takes priority in the space?
I’m starting to think the workshops do.

What is its core?
The remnants of creation. The process.

What are the systems of objects that composite to create the place?
I like the contradiction between the clean gallery space and the messy workshop space.

 

I have several ideas I can propose. I’m not sure which one I’ll go with…

Internal Dialogue (a journal exercise)

Tom emailed us an exercise for our journal. Basically, in different settings, record our internal dialogue. 

I’m not sure I fully picked up on the concept. There’s a lot of noise in my head. What do I write down? Again, in talking about context, mediated spaces, un-arting art, etc., but consciously thinking about this as an assignment, it was hard to not think about stuff for the class. But, I didn’t want to write that stuff, so I tried to filter that out and write about things happening around me. 

The cigar shop…

Men with their laptops open conducting business. This is a right winger, business man haven during the day. Sometimes they watch Fox News on the TV. Today, it’s off. Thankfully. If not Fox News, they like to watch golf. It’s annoying. At least Jason sometimes turns on jazz. A man talks about selling software for the oil and gas industry. I despise him just by that. Oil and gas, wearing department store suit, working at his Dell laptop, excited to be a salesman. I could never live like that. Why is it detestable to me? Is it so wrong to just make a living? Am I just assuming based on his politics? Am I assuming his politics? Does it make an ass out of him and me? The cigar shop is communal space. I’m friends with people here I otherwise would never know or associate with outside of here. Is that comforting or concerning?

A coffee shop in Plano…

Plano is pretentious. This coffee shop is surprising. It’s not sleek and rich like the rest of Plano. It’s in the square, and older part of the city. And while some nouveau riche has infiltrated, the square still has a cooler feel than the rest of the city. This place seems unpretentious. Is it just the setting? It feels almost like Fort Worth. I have a performance tonight. I’m making final edits. I feel good about the piece but I worry that Fred won’t like it. He’s been very critical of me this semester. And it’s over a project that he once claimed to love. He used to use a lot of hyperbolic language when discussion it. Once, when I performed a big section of it, he remarked that it could make me famous. It’s the kind of thing I could make a name and a living on. Now, he’s very critical. Is he being hard on me because he’s trying to get me to do even better? Is it because he thinks I’m good and can make it? Or have I regressed? Every grad student gets impostor syndrome sometimes. I seem to get it more now than I did in the past. Maybe I should be writing about the things around me rather than this. It’s generally quiet. They seem to be having issues with the music system. I imagine it’s someone’s iPod plugged into a sound system. Probably one of the young, cute employee’s. Everyone is good looking here. I’m an outlier. Money and beauty seem to go hand in hand. It’s almost time to go. I’m nervous, yet confident. We’ll see. 

 

Again, I’m not sure if I did it right. My mind is constantly on my work. If anything, it made me pay attention to the world around me more. Despite considering myself a people watcher, I do often get tunnel vision as I bury myself in work. Even at the cigar shop, which I frequent regularly, I often have my computer open or notepad out, writing, working, whatever. I’m tuned out. This did help me consider my space more carefully. Maybe that was the point?

 

The performance (cyber)space (reflections on part 2 of etude #3)…

Now, here’s some notes…

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Notes from journal…

Luckily, a woman from class, who has her own private studio at the Art Barn with a couch and coffee table setup, allowed me to use it for my installation.

I had the phone on a side table, but ti didn’t play a part in the installation, really.

The laptop was on the coffee table and had a Facebook page that I’d created for the space (Installation Room) open. I also brought my portable Bose speaker, but the lack of an outlet made it practically useless. 

I had a volunteer sit at the couch. From my iPad, I Facebook messaged him from my iPad under the character name I’d created for the installation (Annie Anderson). We had a brief conversation as I explained the piece. 

It went over okay. As usually happens with my work, my fellow students seemed more enthused than my instructor. I swear I’m destined to be a popular artist that the academy looks at with a quiet disdain as a pseudo-intellectual. Anyway…

Class discussion, however, was again very constructive. And the concept changed even further.

Now, the installation is completely online and completely run through social media. 

Here’s my concept:

There is a website that serves as the “box office” of sorts for the performance. Given that it’s moved online, the performance can now accommodate more than one person at once. What happens is the audience member buys a ticket for the performance. Then, they’re given a list of the characters and all their social media profiles. From there, they can go friend/follow/etc. the characters. Once the performance starts, which will play out over the course of something like a couple of weeks or a month, it takes place on the audience members social media feeds. There is a general narrative between the characters in the performance, but again, the audience can interact with these characters and effect the course of events. 

This still plays with the same themes I’ve previously written about. What has changed is the space. 

I’ve written about the question of what comes next for art after people like Kaprow essentially blew the box up. And this seems to be an interesting answer. The internet as a performance space. 

I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of it or even do it, but my interest is certainly piqued. 

Hopefully a performance like this can help the audience look at their carefully curated online social lives in a way that examines context and how exactly we craft and define the roles we play online versus who we are in the real world. 

The scripting process will be kind of crazy. I’ll have to develop full social media pages for my characters, going into great detail crafting them and who they are. Second, I’ll have to script a general storyline, even if specific lines aren’t written down. I think of it like a commedia del’arte situation. I’ll have a carefully constructed schedule in which different characters will post different things. From there, they’ll react to the comments from audience members and other characters. And these situations will have to be fluid based on where the audience, the spect-actors, take it. I imagine a gargantuan, annotated, and organized scripting system that has dossiers for each character, a collection of situations, and a schedule of postings. It’s a huge project, but one people seem excited about it. And it’s something that genuinely interests me.

The idea of taking performance/art to the online space is intriguing, despite my relative lack of social media experience. I’ll have to do a lot of work and studying. Especially when it comes to making a website to serve as a mission control for all of this. I’ve never seen anything like it. 

Exciting…

The Spect-actor (reflections on part 1 of etude #3)…

Class was great!

Through discussion, Tom and the class helped me develop the installation and get it to a potentially cool place. 

The set is still a living room. There is one audience member at a time. They enter the room. There is a TV, an iPod dock loaded with music, a computer on the coffee table, and a smart phone on the table next to the couch. The audience member has a minute to get themselves situated, perhaps put on some music or a movie, and then the text alert goes off. From there, the audience member takes part in a performance via text message and social media. They talk to a character. There is a general storyline for the character, but the audience member has the ability to effect the direction and outcome of the interaction. They become a true spect-actor, in that thy take a role in co-creating the performance. This does a couple of cool things.

First, it challenges the notion of context. Both context in interpersonal communication that is mediated by a digital barrier, and context in the definition and creation of art. 

In time specific sessions, the audience member can experience and take part in a performance that hopefully elicits genuine reactions, unconsciously generated, leading to an authentic interaction. It’s a happening of sorts, though more curated than Kaprow would like. 

Tom liked the concept so much he suggested it could be a creative dissertation project, and I agree. This is an example of how great the class is, especially in the way Tom structured it. He’s brought us along, putting the pieces out there and letting us slowly put them together, which is starting to reveal a real idea of what our individual drives and interests in art are, which in turn can inform the kind of projects we take one. 

I really like it. This was a great week. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of thing that’s easy to document, I feel. I can write about it, but there are no fun pictures to take or screenshots to post because these are all concepts right now.

Next week, we put it together into an actual physical presentation. I’ve gotta figure out how to turn a space in the UTD Art Barn into a living room environment.

My specific assignment is to create a Facebook profile for one of my characters (we decided it’d be cool to have multiple characters) and present that in a setting that can somewhat recreate the idea. We’ll see how it goes…

Context (Etude #3)

I’m posting a scan of the actual assignment, as I made notes on it…

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So, we have to decide on a story that’s not our own, and then make decisions/observations about its visuals, sound, space, and perspective/concept.

This is definitely a site specific project, especially considering our reading of Kaprow.

I read a conversation in a comment thread online about a couple who, in the course of a normal conversation via text messaging, got into an argument because of something being taken out of context. 

This story interested me for a few reasons. First, I’ve been there before. Despite my generally jovial nature in person, I’ve had people read me in text/email over the years in a much different tone than I intended. The reason for this is a loss of context. Especially in text, it’s difficult to put any intonation into the words. Outside of emoticons, tone and intent can be difficult to decipher in a textual context.

Also, it made me thing of the social scripts I’ve already written about. Our reading of a situation (like in art) is informed by our own subjectivity. Despite the intent of what we’re perceiving, the way we read it can be completely different. 

So, this notion interested me. 

My concept is an installation in which the audience is placed in the role of the person having the text conversation. The setting is a living room. The living room os full of stuff, the decorations of an identity. They sit at a couch with a smart phone on a pedestal in front of them, a laptop on the table in front of them and a television playing a movie or speaker playing music. All of these electronic devices will be active. On the phone, the conversation plays out. On the computer is social media feeds. The TV or music provides a cultural noise that can, perhaps, influence the mindset of the audience. From here, the audience watches the conversation play out on the small screen.

This is like a happening, though I’m not sure how much further the audience could participate. Maybe be able to respond to the texts from someone else so they could experience the loss of context? How they respond to the texts reveals something about the piece and about themselves. 

This is a two part assignment, so this is my concept. I’ll present it in class and then perhaps develop it further…

Performance Installation: Week 4

Our reading for the week was the book Essay on the Blurring of Art and Life, a book of Allan Kaprow’s writings about his work edited by Jeff Kelley.

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My original reflection on the reading…

I’ve had experience studying Kaprow before, in Performance Art and Performance Theory classes during my masters.

Kaprow’s signature contribution to art is the Happening. 

Happenings are tough to define, partly because Kaprow’s own definition shifted over time. Basically, they’re a art performance or installation that happens outside the bounds of the traditional art sphere (i.e. galleries, theaters, etc.) 

That’s really broad. Winnowing down, Kaprow was concerned with the question, “What is art?” His solution partly involved taking the elements of what makes art, consciously, art, and instead using everyday locations, objects, and actions to challenge the perception of art itself. Starting with more scripted events, Kaprow eventually got to a point where events only happened once, they weren’t promoted, and there was a chance the people participating in them weren’t even aware of their intentions, meanings, etc. To Kaprow, art was the actual creation and execution of art. Not necessarily the creations themselves or the spaces they’re contained in. 

I’ve been a part of happenings before, typically of the more scripted variety where the audience was aware of their participation. 

And what this reading does for me is raise the topic of the conscious versus the subconscious. 

Once we’re conscious of something, we automatically assign culturally curated symbolism, meaning, and definition to it. As such, people in a gallery will behave the way people in a gallery are “supposed” to behave, and they’ll automatically register the gallery’s contents as “art”, because that’s what’s in a gallery. 

By leaving the safe confines of the curated, controlled space, Kaprow was able to get a more honest, perhaps visceral reaction from his audience, which in a way, is art. 

I remember taking a class on Dada and Surrealist art at the Nasher Sculpture Center. One time in class, I made the, tired, statement that art is subjective. My professor, a curator at the center, corrected me. She said, our reaction to art is subjective. 

Such a small change in the statement makes a big difference. It acknowledges that something is art if we call it art, taking the power away from the art academy and placing it squarely on the spectator. And there’s something to that. Think of things we interact with everyday. A chair, a table, a toilet (Hello, Duchamp!). All of these things had to be designed. They are, in their own way, art. But, because they exist in our everyday lives, and perhaps because they serve very practical purposes, we don’t immediately identify them as being artistic. The Dadas and Surrealists plead their own part in challenging these notions. Duchamp’s readymades specifically did this. Especially his work Fountain, a urinal turned on its back and signed, as a work of art would be. 

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Collage and some of the Dada sculpture would also fall into this category.

But, Kaprow took that a step further. After all, a lot of these Dada and Surrealist works were still displayed in galleries and exhibitions where they were defined as art. Kaprow took his art outside of the gallery, noting in the book that in order to get to the heart of what is art, you had to un-art the art, or basically strip it of the signifiers that identified it as art. So, take it out of the gallery, don’t sign it, don’t advertise it as art. Just let it happen, as it were. 

This, in turn, will elicit a spontaneous, unconscious reaction from the audience, which can then reveal the true definition and nature of art. 

I totally dig what Kaprow is saying, to an extent. We live in a socially constructed world and follow script throughout our everyday lives. So, when someone walks into a theater or a gallery, they’re playing the role of audience member, art patron, etc. Due to these roles that we take on, we behave in certain ways, and look at the contents in a certain way. We perceive the art as art simply because we’re in a place that houses art. Not necessarily because it actually is art. Confused yet?

I like the idea of getting your audience into an unconscious space. Getting them to react spontaneously and authentically to art really is, perhaps, one of the most interesting aspects of art.

However, what the Dadas and Surrealists played a big role in starting, and what Kaprow furthered, is this postmodern notion of deconstruction. And while there is a way in which deconstruction can be a very good thing, what happens at the end when we’ve torn the entire academy down?

By deconstructing the notion of “What is art?”, we tear it down to its parts to such an extent that we invite a total relativistic outlook on the form as a whole that in the search for meaning can dilute it to the point that it has no meaning.

As Hakim Bey suggested in TAZ: Go into the lobby of a Citibank, drop your pants, take a shit on the floor, and walk out.

Sure, you can identify that as an artistic expression. Especially in today’s world where there is such distrust of the large banks. But, if no one else knows about it, is it art? Is it enough that the 20 people in the bank perceived the action and questioned in their own heads what it meant?

I agree that we should find ways to break down the social scripts that can, arguably, sometimes limit art. But, how far can we break them down before there is no script left? Are we truly living in an age that’s so subjective that it’s enough if just one person unconsciously perceives it as art? 

And think of it on a practical level. It’s fine when you’re the one leading the charge on these movements, but what happens to artists who come after? I feel it’s safe to say that the world needs art and artists. But, we let those who came before us tear down the academy to a point that we’ve entered into a time of cynicism where everything is considered trite or derivative. Everything is been there, done that. 

Kaprow was great, but he got to work in a time when the art world was still somewhat strong, so his abstraction meant something. But, his development of the Happening, in a way, can play as him pulling the pin on a grenade on his way out the door and making it more difficult for everyone who comes after him. The grand narrative (or meta narrative) of art has been broken down to a point that to participate in the traditional art world these days is considered tired. As Tom Riccio said to me during a meeting, “Theater is dead.” (For this example, consider that theater can mean art in general). Now, Tom didn’t mean that theater itself is dead. That’s obviously not true. Broadway posted record ticket sales last year. What he meant is the “box” is dead. The traditional theater, with its proscenium seating and coherent, self-contained narratives, is dead. To participate in this old form is to be living in the past, to an extent. 

I, in all my amateurism, disagree. I think it’s still possible to work within the box (whether that be a theater, a gallery, or whatever else) and create great, progressive art. The key, as Kaprow’s work gets at, is getting the audience to truly unconsciously react to the art within. How to do that? I’m not totally sure. But, I’ll keep working on it.

I know going into this class, that Tom is a fan of site specific artistic work. His group, Dead White Zombies specializes in site specific performance. And, I think it’s really cool and results in really visceral, honest performances. I like the notion. And it’s something I want to do with my work. Which leads me to the assignment (etude) for the week…

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