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The pale surrogate humans of Michelle Handelman's performance work Passerby infiltrated Bryant Park today, mingling with the late lunch crowd. Resembling a cross between "living statue" mimes, Duane Hanson sculptures, and nerds who got lost on the way to a DEVO reunion, the actors mostly sat frozen, or changed position artistically, as if voguing. Prerecorded conversations came from iPods concealed in their bags or clothing. Did I say actors? They're actually reenactors: what most parkgoers didn't know was that real people had sat in these same positions a few days before, eaten the same takeout food, and spoken the same words. Handelman photographed them and recorded their chitchat and then turned her pod-folk loose to simulate them. (Her notes and photos are here).Some of the privacy issues raised by this work were discussed earlier, and many of the conversations were frank and revealing despite their everyday banality. If you eavesdropped on the tapes (and you had to stand pretty close in the noisy park) you found out who was having parent problems, who was worried about blowing an audition, and who were ex-lovers. (My favorite line was one guy to another: "You were the daugher-in-law my mother never had.") But who would connect these intimate conversations to their source? Only someone in on the joke, or who stumbled randomly on the truth. If any of the tapees were mad or determined enough they could sue, I suppose, but surveillance in public places is pervasive, and of course we have to "watch what we say, watch what we do" in a time of total terror, as Ari Fleischer reminds us.
More info here.
Günther Selichar's Who’s Afraid of Blue, Red and Green annoys because it's a rather stale parody of a well known brand name of modernist abstraction and promotes bogus creativity under the guise of communal participation. What Selichar did was create a "make your own Barnett Newman" program and invite artists to fiddle around with it. You are limited to vertical stripes, the three aforementioned colors, a fixed size limit and whatever you can do to animate these elements. Thus Newman, whose work was "about" Kabbalistic meditation on a fixed object, or, alternatively, the phenomenology of moving back in forth in front of the canvas in real space and being subjectively affected by it, and whose paintings differed enormously depending on the scale and materials he used (this was abundantly clear from his recent Philadelphia retrospective) becomes fodder for disposable blinking graphic eye candy. (No, this isn't a Newman-protecting Hilton Kramer rant; I mean, the actual theories associated with his work could always use a plug, as opposed to "Newman=Evil White Man," but I'm more appalled that someone still thinks a riff on Newman is fresh--please read on.) Dozens of artists created virtually identical animations--it's painful to click through them and see how much alike they are--and the three most "original" were chosen by an expert panel including professional Newman hyperrealizer Peter Halley. The winners are currently having their animations shown hourly on a big video screen in Times Square.
In all fairness the three winners' pieces are pretty good given the limitations they had to work with--they're dynamic, hypnotic Op abstractions and almost make you forget you're looking at Newman's quasi-proprietary, well-known-from-art-school format. Selichar's project would be vastly improved if we found out it was a goof on corporate "customize your experience" faux-creativity and made light of the cult of artistic competitions and expert panels, by asking panelists to furrow their brows over hundreds of similar pieces created within ridiculously narrowly-defined parameters. Somehow I don't think we're going to find that out, though. (Apologies to selma and others who liked the piece; you do the hard work of linking and I'll carp.)
Below are photographs of the current World Trade Center site, taken from inside a moving PATH train as it enters the temporary station. The PATH is the main commuter subway from New Jersey: one branch goes under the Hudson and terminates at the WTC; another one enters Manhattan in the West Village. Explanatory captions are located under each picture.
1. Looking east. The large, evenly-dotted concrete wall is the so-called "bathtub," an enormous retaining wall that keeps water out from the surrounding landfill (and survived the catastrophe). Note huge truncated tunnel (water main?) in the center, and directly above it, the sign for Century 21, a thriving designer outlet store located across Church Street. 2. Looking northeast. The temporary PATH station is in the center of the photo, butting up against the bathtub. Trains enter the station several floors below street level. 3. Looking north. In the center is the rapidly-rebuilding WTC 7, former home of Mayor Giuliani's "command bunker in the sky." There are conflicting explanations for why the original building (which housed many federal government records and offices in addition to the bunker) was destroyed. (See 9/11 timeline, March 2, 2002) The three theories are: fires burning out of control (official explanation), an explosion of the fuel tanks for the Mayor's bunker (the New York Times' theory), or, according to a 2002 PBS interview statement by WTC owner Larry Silverstein, a deliberate, controlled demolition late in the afternoon on September 11, 2001 (what he called "pulling" the building). The rubble was cleared out quickly and its whereabouts are unknown. Of course, I don't believe anything conspiratorial happened regarding Tower 7.
2. Looking northeast. The temporary PATH station is in the center of the photo, butting up against the bathtub. Trains enter the station several floors below street level.
3. Looking north. In the center is the rapidly-rebuilding WTC 7, former home of Mayor Giuliani's "command bunker in the sky." There are conflicting explanations for why the original building (which housed many federal government records and offices in addition to the bunker) was destroyed. (See 9/11 timeline, March 2, 2002) The three theories are: fires burning out of control (official explanation), an explosion of the fuel tanks for the Mayor's bunker (the New York Times' theory), or, according to a 2002 PBS interview statement by WTC owner Larry Silverstein, a deliberate, controlled demolition late in the afternoon on September 11, 2001 (what he called "pulling" the building). The rubble was cleared out quickly and its whereabouts are unknown. Of course, I don't believe anything conspiratorial happened regarding Tower 7.
I grew up in the same town as George Bush (Midland, Texas) and like him, was educated on the East Coast. He's older than me, but we went to the same junior high school (San Jacinto--Go Mustangs!). So I often wonder, what went wrong? With him, I mean. How is that I became an artist and a writer and a productive, creative member of society while he became a party animal, failed businessman, and later, election-stealer and killer of hundreds of soldiers? I ponder this a lot. (Excellent graphic from Bartcop.com.)
What Is An Art Blog? (2)
The "what is an art blog?" discussion continues in the comments to the previous post, and Cinque Hicks also has some thoughts on the subject. While some webjournals focus on work exhibited in museums and galleries (news and criticism) he kindly cites my page as a counter-example--in that it strays, and then strays from the straying, and maybe that's not so terrible. He has some good observations about art changing (horrors) into something more collective, fluid, and hybrid, and suggests that maybe blogs have a role to play in this. And he considers whether blogging can be an art, as opposed to just documentation.
Maybe, as with previous emerging media, we're still in the stage of figuring out what a so-called art blog is going to be best and worst at. Photography started out copying the formal strategies of painting until practitioners got a grip on its own unique properties; ditto film with stage plays. Blogs aren't art magazines; they have their own life and logic. For one thing, they don't have the same high production costs; you can post more text and pictures. If you can put up a music file, why shouldn't you? As for journalistic objectivity--maintaining a firewall between your creative and critical thoughts (this is assuming you're an artist)--forget about it! The print magazines are stifled by fake objectivity (like we don't know who pays the bills); people look to bloggers mainly for honesty. Also, thanks to Google, people do non-categorical searches, why should any blogger care about maintaining "evenness" or predictability? If anything the personal, diaristic nature of blogs makes random eclecticism the norm and tight, self-imposed parameters, well, not the norm.
This sounds like an argument for the (pretentious reference alert!) fox who knows many things over the hedgehog who knows one big thing, but reading a blog over time can also bring a "big thing" into clearer relief. I do believe, with the evil Greenberg, that visual art ought to remain entrenched in its area of greatest competence (as he once said about painting), that is, that there's something about the purely visual worth preserving and doing well, but to deny technology and where it might take the visual experience (via imaging software, Internet exchange, cross-pollination with other media) by replicating print magazine approaches to reviewing art-gallery art is pretty hard to defend at this point.
A woman in Europe named M_____ 0______ (name permission pending) is researching "artblogs" and sent these questions to artist & blogger T.Whid. He forwarded the list and my slightly edited response is below. All this stuff vomited out, probably, because it was so shocking to see this level of interest about something American galleries usually say "huh?" about:
• After having done research on the artblog phenomena for a couple of months now, I’m surprised to find that not many artists use this media. Personally I would find it an ideal space for artistic exhibition, exploration and exchange. Do you have an explanation to this?
• What made you start blogging?
• What keeps you blogging?
• Do you perceive your blog primarily as a personal or as a professional project?
• Does your blog affect your work process as an artist?
• Do you know of other artists blogging (besides M.River)?
• Do you know of artists reading your blog?
• Do you feel part of the blogosphere? I mean do you feel part of a community of (art)bloggers?
• Have you met any problems being a blogger?
Dear M_____ O______,
The non-responsiveness of the art world to blogging is a recurring theme with me. I write from New York but the syndrome is widespread. I attribute it to several factors:
(a) somewhat rapid change in tech--just as the galleries are getting all their fancy dot-com era Flash sites up and running, this thing called blogging comes along. Worse, some bloggers make fun of the Flash sites! Galleries and artists tend to rely more on tech experts to do their updating and even if they know about blogs, not everyone has (or should have) the personality for daily ranting.
(b) art galleries (and artists who produce for them) are still stuck in the era of steam trains and butter churns. In this world, it's all about print--hard copy reviews from recognized institutional authorities that can be sent to collectors and curators. Ethereal pixeled criticism is regarded as too impermanent and likely the work of lone cranks.
(c) institutions like the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council perpetuate the divisions between gallery art and new media art by requiring painters to send in slides for fellowships, residencies, etc., whereas a new media artist can just send a URL. This idea that a photo emulsion glimpsed through a Magic Lantern contraption on a metallic screen in a dark room is the "best" or "most accurate" way to judge physical work is très 19th Century. Once the medium of information exchange changes (to URLs, etc) then metacriticism linked or patched into those resources will seem more natural.
(d) the economic (collector/donor) base of the art world includes many tech-savvy people, who stare at computer screens all day for a living and by damn, when they want to relax they don't want more screen stuff, they want to immerse themselves in the healing balm of the "old ways"--viewing pigment-impregnated vegetable oil smeared on coarse cloth; standing in a clean quiet room having elevated discourse about exquisite, handmade objects; reading elegantly typeset reviews on solid paper stock with good offset printing (see (b) above). Dealers and artists tend to follow the collectors' preferences.
(e) as T.Whid mentioned [in his response to you], many artists are quite simply tech-phobic and/or uninclined to check in on a blog. Some are excited by the idea of jpegs of their work being viewable all over the world and the subject of ad hoc critical dialogue while their shows are still up; others don't give a hoot and would rather avoid the computer and wait 9 months for an Artforum review (possibly) to come out.
PS There is an emerging community of art blogs out there that tends to draw its lines of
subject matter narrowly, chewing over news of museums, auction sales,
gallery gossip, old school art
appreciation... I'm more interested in the crossover of visual art, tech,
electronic music, film, science fiction, and politics than just replicating
the art world online. I sometimes get linkage from the pure art sites when I
do something "out there" like
criticize the Whitney, or one of the major magazines, but rarely when I just
talk about a show (in Williamsburg or wherever), and never when I stray
outside their specialized field of interest. I'm happy for the traffic, of
course, those are just some patterns I've noticed. I do read and link to some of
those blogs. As for blogs causing me "problems," I
was a print critic for years so I'm already screwed. Actually the blog has
been quite helpful in clarifying that my art practice and thoughts about
other artists are intertwined--it was a way voluntarily to take the
institutional edge off my writing.
I just contributed my first photo to the Street Meme database: a stencil of a smiling Gary Coleman captioned "Gary vs Giant," spotted on a Jersey City lamppost. Enlarged versions of the image are here. I guess a review is pending whether mine is a true first sighting of this meme, or whether it should properly be categorized as a related meme, submeme, or subsequent sighting of an original meme. There are only 100 pics in the database and I saw no other Garys. There may be legitimate doctrinal disputes as to whether (a) all stencils of Gary are considered one meme, (b) "Gary vs Giant" is the meme, or (c) (highly unlikely) that the style and caption of this image are close enough to the powerhouse Andre the Giant meme to subsume it within that meme. Of course my vote would be for (a), making my sighting very weighty and prestigious indeed.