very nearly done

I had my final art history class one week ago, which more or less capped off the semester (aside from the 15 or so page paper I still have to write in order to graduate). The last three classes were devoted to student presentations and all of the art history students (the MFA students made up at least a third of the seminar) essentially read their papers for about 15 minutes, set to a dozen or so images that rotated every minute or so. A minute is a long time to look at one image, or, as an alternative, stare at the person reading. I'm not a big fan of being read to, so that gave my mind some time to wander and contemplate this practice of reading papers for presentations. I went to two public lectures this semester as part of this class and they did it, too! Even Howard Singerman read his presentation to us, from his upcoming book on Sherrie Levine. Talk about disappointed. This is the guy who wrote Art Subjects, a book about the history of formally educating artists that I read while applying to MFA programs (and yet I still decided to pursue this degree!). I ate that stuff up, and yet I was bored to pieces during his lecture. Granted, I'm not a huge fan of Sherrie Levine's work, but I have to assume some of my lack of interest was caused at least in part by being read to.

Not to suggest that the MFA students were far superior; my presentation, for example, went over a bit, despite talking way too fast, and was fairly scattered. And I did have my presentation typed out, but more in a bulleted outline style (or "dots," like in the first episode of The Wire, which we've just started watching). And I read a few quotes. But I had 51 "slides" to entertain my audience while I gave my presentation. 51! At least they had something new to look at every 20 seconds or so. I don't know...Maybe I'm just cranky because now I have to write this thing and all the art history students clearly have their papers mostly typed out already.

Anyway, one of the ways I've put off writing this paper was a weekend trip to New York, to catch the Whitney Biennial and a few other shows. We took the bus down on Saturday morning, making our first stop, as usual, at the Doughnut Plant. Is it just me, or have their donuts gotten even tastier?! We shared four donuts, including the Valrhona raised (or "yeast" as they call them), the jelly filled (which was okay - the jelly was too much like the organic preserves I buy at Trader Joe's...probably better than the typical jelly donut goo but not what I was expecting), the "Blackout" (a chocolate cake donut with chocolate frosting, some sort of chocolatey bits on top, and filled with a pudding-like chocolatey filling...yum!), and the tres leches cake donut (I've never had the actual cake that is known as tres leches, but if this donut bears any resemblance, I can't wait to give it a go next time I'm at a good Mexican restaurant). From there we got settled at our home for the night and headed back out to Chelsea by way of the Mail Art show at the Center for Book Arts (I posted some pics on my class blog, as well as some commentary and comparison between that show and the next on our itinerary). There were two shows that seemed to cover both the hand-made and digital components of my class but, as I write in the class blog, I was fairly underwhelmed by the second, Maya Stendhal Gallery's From Fluxus to Media Art. It just seemed to have a focus that was not at all described in the show's press materials, which seemed odd.

I was already beat by this point but carried on, heading to Eyebeam for Leah Gauthier's Sow-In. I was really glad we stuck it out and went. It was so refreshing to sit in the large window area of the gallery, folding origami boxes from recycled newspapers and potting soil and herb seeds. Our herbs have yet to show much activity, but the exhibition and closing night event were immensely enjoyable. There's even evidence of our attendance on Leah's website.

From there we bid adieu to our Belgian companion up to this point and headed to Times Square to eat at Chevy's. Authentic Mexican it ain't, but we miss this "Fresh Mex" chain, so common on the west coast. With good Mexican food a rarity out here, we tend to take what we can get. And it's funny that visiting New York for me is like visiting a foreign country; I tend to feel guilty if I consume anything purchased from a chain restaurant. I find, however, that I'm caring less and less about that kind of thing the older I get. And New York is still America. Kind of.

Most of Sunday was devoted first to finding something for breakfast and, once our bellies were full, to the WB. I really should have blogged about it sooner because most of my observations from the three or so hours we were there are pretty vague now. We got the audio tour again, which I find really helpful - even when the Whitney posts a blurb below the basics, it tends to be incredibly formal. I can see that what I'm looking at is an installation composed of wooden 2x4s, broken mirrors, and paint, thank you. I like to take work in on my own, but contemporary art usually needs a little help in the context/meaning/intention arena. I'm not sure it's possible to get it all from the visual or physical impression of a work, nor is that even necessarily ideal anymore. I like to know why what I'm looking at is an installation of wood, mirrors, and paint. Sometimes the artist doesn't even know, but the museum's wall labels will rarely give any clues.

Otherwise, I vaguely recall a certain low-tech vibe as far as craft and construction go (think William Cordova, for example), and an embracing of failure mentioned by a few artists in the show (as in Ellen Harvey's Museum of Failure). I'm down with both of those trends, if you can call them that. As Neal pointed out, Photography kind of got the shaft this time around. On the other hand, there seemed to be a decent helping of various print media (including Matthew Brannon's installation, poorly represented by the website's one image). And I always enjoy a good replica (like Lisa Sigal's recreation of her old studio space). Some things I just loved (like Charles Long's sculptures, inspired by the flattened splatters caused by falling bird poo); and of course, some artists I felt were overrated by being included in the WB (I won't name any names but just point to this guy, for example, and this guy...I feel particularly justified with the second guy, having met and heard him talk about his work and feeling seriously underwhelmed by it all; I think I liked his work better before he came to talk about it). Film and video were sufficiently represented, but I didn't feel like I'd given myself enough time to watch it all. A proper tour of the WB really requires at least a full day; better to spend a few days, scattered out during the show's two and a half month run, but that would require living in New York or multiple bus trips, and I'm not sure I can handle the Chinatown bus experience more than once a year. Maybe one day I'll feel willing to cough up the $140 or so it takes to ride the train there and back...

Until then, I guess I should finish this paper so I can graduate already.


ask me about my briefcase

The first day of Event Horizon was indeed pushed back to Sunday, April 13th, due to a last-minute, early morning call, while it was raining pretty heavily outside, combined with a forecast of intermittent showers. In the long run, Saturday ended up being nicer than Sunday, but that was the decision we made at about 6:25 a.m. on Saturday. We held a shortened, one-location-only version of the event on Sunday, which got cut short around 12:30 due to, you guessed it, rain. Planning something outside in New England in the spring (well, anytime of year, really) is tricky.

Wednesday's weather, on the other hand, was just about perfect for hanging out in Somerville's Davis and Union Squares all day. I even got a little pink on my nose and cheeks. I made some last-minute changes to my project based on Sunday's trial run, but even so, I think the event confirmed my attraction to the Internet, initially, as the medium for this project.

Trying to duplicate the Google map I created for The Lost Object Project in some sort of tangible form proved to be more difficult than I thought. All of the pushpins refer to locations where lost objects were last seen. All of the existing stories were in a book next to the map, and new submissions were added to the bottom of the cork board as they were received, with numbered pushpins that corresponded to the pushpin at the location. But because most of the contributions I've received so far, and nearly all of the new stories submitted on Wednesday were for locations in and around Boston, there was a cluster of pushpins covering most of New England (and a little bit of the midwest and Atlantic Ocean as well). I guess I could have had two maps - one for the world and an inset map of the Boston area.

I did manage to make the project a little more self-sufficient, though, so that people browsing the projects at the event weren't completely dumbfounded when they came across mine, especially if I was elsewhere in the square. And I guess the point was to engage the public (in other words, maybe making it self-sufficient wasn't the point), but I think that was probably my least favorite part of the day. I like interacting with total strangers (especially considering some of the interesting folks I came across in Davis Square) via the Internet much better. My theory about that is that while I'm finding myself to be increasingly interested in communication and interaction, I still have a painter's temperament. In other words, I think I enjoyed the tedious couple of hours it took to hole-punch and adhere those little numbers to the tops of the pushpins than I did interacting with people in the square. Also, when I talk about this project in particular, I feel like I sound more like a psychologist than an artist. I get the impression that people wonder what part of this is art, and maybe that's a valid question to ask. But it wasn't a question I was prepared to answer on the spot.

Anyway, by the time we relocated to Union Square in the afternoon, I was beat, but the afternoon flew by. I had some difficulty with my original setup due to the wind, which wasn't a problem in Davis. This is what I came up with.

The only effort I made to engage the public and attract people to my project, really, was a t-shirt I made and wore that day that simply stated, "Ask me about my briefcase," the briefcase, of course, referring to the personal impetus that started the project over a year ago. But even that I didn't particularly want to talk to people about, preferring a rather cryptic introduction to the project that would inspire people to simply participate. Turns out most people really just wanted to know about my briefcase. I did collect a few new submissions to the project, however (and distributed a small portion of the stack of 250 postcards I designed and had printed about a year ago), so I'll be posting those to the project's website over the next few days.


event horizon

The term "event horizon," it turns out, refers to many things. It's the title of a 1997 movie directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (which I initially read as, possibly, the strange but super-talented duo of Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson), about a spaceship that returns after having disappeared into a black hole. It's also the interdisciplinary journal of sciences and humanities at Rutgers University. You can even play this free, online game with the title. And of course, in the theory of general relativity, it refers to the area around a black hole, "beyond which," according to Wikipedia, "events cannot affect an outside observer."

I'm not sure what that description entails for the public art event of the same name, organized by Jenn Schmidt, happening this Saturday, April 12th, and next Wednesday, April 16th. Barring rain on Saturday (currently forecasting a 60% chance of showers), a group of artists from the class I'm TAing, as well as a handful of outside artists from the SMFA community (myself included) and beyond, will be hanging out for the day in Somerville's Davis and Union Squares, doing various things running the entire continuum of "performative" and engaging the public in lots of different ways. Sunday may be a possible rain day, and the weather's looking good for day two of the event on Wednesday next week. For more information, check out the event's website.

In addition to these two events, examples of the printed ephemera artists have created in connection to their projects is on view in SMFA's Project Space Gallery. Here's an installation shot from yesterday:

And here's a shot inside the space, in a corner already jam-packed with posters. For this project and event, knowing I'd be strapped for time, I chose to revisit The Lost Object Project. My humble contribution, inspired by the classifieds section of a newspaper (like the "lost and found" section...without the found part), is in red.

For the more "performative" part of the project, I plan to create a more tangible version of this map, pinpointing locations where lost objects were last seen, and hopefully adding to the ongoing archive. I'm not sure exactly how I plan to engage the public. I don't want it to feel like I'm selling Proactiv at the mall, but I don't just want to sit there either. If you're local, come to the events on Saturday and Wednesday to find out what I decide to do. If you're not so local, stay tuned for more documentation, post-events.


snooty much?

In a recent Rhizome post, Ed Halter briefly notes the paintings of British artist Dan Proops, beginning the post with ArtFagCity's "damning" description of Proops as a "BoingBoing artist," in other words (in case you're having a hard time understanding why being BoingBoing-ed would be "damning"), "glossing that mega-blog's indiscriminate penchant for tiki-bar kitsch, airbrushed girlies and steampunked everything as merely 'art pabulum for readers who can clearly handle more'." Halter goes on to more or less agree, adding that if you can't make it to London to see the show in person, "be sure to catch them sometime in the future, when they will be displayed in the spacious living rooms of Hawaiian-shirted IT dudes with more money than taste." Sheesh.



Rain's recent post, with a "What?!" collage from Lost reminded me of the "Hey" montage included in one of the DVDs from The OC (I can't remember which season). I'm not sure this is it exactly (if I remember correctly, the montage on the DVD included contributions from most, if not all, cast members), but it satisfies my nostalgia. And Marissa/Mischa Barton really does "hey" the best, anyway.

the roof is on fire

While frantically collecting research tidbits and images for my final art history presentation (due Wednesday! It's not that I procrastinate exactly...I just don't have enough time to work on things very far in advance!) and paper (due May 9th...phew!), I came across information about a performance in Oakland in 1994.

Grant Kester writes in Conversation Pieces, at the same time as another project he describes, "over two hundred high school students were staging their own conversations on a rooftop parking garage in downtown Oakland, California. Seated in parked cars under a twilight sky, they enacted a series of improvisational dialogues on the problems faced by young people of color in California: media stereotypes, racial profiling, underfunded public schools, and so on. More than a thousand Oakland residents, along with representatives of local and national news media, had been invited to 'overhear' these conversations as part of a performance art project titled The Roof Is on Fire."

The project was organized by Suzanne Lacy, who writes about Oakland in her artist statement: "Oakland, California - with its history of political activism, diversity and culture - is the site of a developing public voice for youth. With a public school population of 55% African American, 20% Latino, 20% Asian American, and 5% European American students, Oakland is a nationally recognized center for urban youth culture. Media stars Danny Glover, M.C. Hammer, Tom Hanks and rappers Toni Tony Ton-e all emerged from this vibrant cultural scene. Paradoxically, Oakland youth are also beset with high rates of violent crime, poverty and school drop-out."

Anyway, the project probably won't make its way into my presentation, so I thought I'd give it props here instead.


the home stretch

After a full day of installation, including an unexpected afternoon prior of painting gray walls back to their creamy white without primer, my class show is up and we had a lovely reception for it yesterday evening. You can see more pics on the class blog.

Having that done is a huge "check" on my ongoing to-do list. With just a couple of weeks left in the semester, I need to switch gears and find some time to finish work for this public art project I'll be participating in a little later this month, as well as my art history seminar presentation and paper, one of which is due next Wednesday...neither of which I've really started. Who knew a semester post-thesis could be so busy?