Archive for July, 2010

Sculpture XChange

July 30, 2010

            The collaboration Sculpture XChange recently appeared promoting itself via a mass emailing. It consists of several current and upcoming projects: a website of regional 3D faculty, a curated exhibition of 3D work in 2011 (“To highlight the outstanding sculpture being produced by the faculty of our region”), and an upcoming conference.

            “The Cleveland Institute of Art is organizing and hosting a Sculpture conference on November 6, 2010. A morning and afternoon roundtable discussions will focus on teaching sculpture and whether “sculpture” as a discrete course is still viable.” Artist, art professor, sculptor, and faculty have all been conflated to one and the same within the body of this promotional text. True, Sculpture XChange is meant to be “a teaching and networking resource and a promotional platform for sculptors and art institutions of our region.” But by making sculptor and art professor all one and the same, it is also defining sculpture. Indeed, the text conveniently obliges when it states: “We use the term “sculpture” in the broadest interpretation of the word – artists producing three-dimensional work in any material as well as performance, video, and extended media may participate.”

             “Whether “sculpture” as a discrete course is still viable” will pretty much determine whether sculpture, as a cultural form or designation of visual art, will continue to be considered as such. It is hard to imagine easel painting, or woodblock prints as a form or designation of visual art without assuming that it is being taught somewhere, just as such. Yet the rigors and competitiveness of academic refinement have already given “the broadest interpretation” to the term “sculpture.” Can even less be expected of sculpture’s viability?

            Lest Sculpture become one of those esoteric subjects that exist only within academia (like classical Greek), it might be pertinent to consider some contemporary aspects of the art form made famous (defined?) by the likes of Giacometti, Brancusi, Rodin, Bernini, etc. An analogous situation outside academia might be a good place to look (heck, anything outside academia would be exigent).

            This summer there was a small regional conference of beekeepers, something I’m sure was repeated all over the various states. It was attended primarily by producers with only a couple of academics present. At one of the workshops, the speaker (not an academic) took a decidedly different tack in defining beekeeping and those present within the room. He spoke of the bees’ dollars and cents portion of the nation’s agricultural economic output. He gave the size of that agricultural economy, of which the beekeeping portion was miniscule. He then spoke of the portion of the agricultural economy which was dependent on the pollination of bees (almonds, apples, berries, melons and squashes, alfalfa for cattle, etc.). That portion was enormous. Statistically, half the country’s bees are needed just to pollinate the almond crop. Indeed, we are at a tipping point where if the current decline of the bee population continues, there won’t be enough bees for what needs to be pollinated. He then surprised everyone by saying that this entire, huge portion of our agricultural economy rested primarily on the continued willingness of small producers (like those present) to dig deep into their own pockets in order to replenish their yearly losses, continue to produce queens, and maintain their apiaries. This had the ring of truth about it since the honeybee is an invasive species brought over from Europe by the colonists. Without that intervention, there would be no bees in North America, and likewise without human intervention, they would currently exist only in smaller and smaller, isolated pockets.

            Continuing outside the academic frame, this morning on the NPR news program there was a small radio journalism piece by a reporter trying to determine the economic value of a pelican. What is its worth in dollars and cents so that compensation can be extracted? In the end, he concluded that a pelican is worth a pelican, a sea turtle a sea turtle and a dolphin is worth a dolphin.

            The folks at Sculpture XChange should consider that sculpture, as defined by the likes of Giacometti, Brancusi, et al, exists outside academic determination. Analogous to the bee example, a handful of folks continue to crank out 3D work and keep it alive in any culture, and mostly out of their own pockets. The pressures of grant and residency applications, and the rigors of career distinction may academically expand the interpretation of what constitutes “sculpture” to the point that its existence, as a separate form of visual art, appears irrelevant. True, the skills required to produce works akin to Rodin or Brancusi may become relegated to that of an arcane art (like blacksmithing or birch bark canoe building) and not find their way into a university’s art department curriculum. The issue is not whether the instruction of sculpture is “viable.” The issue is whether a material form can be arbitrarily adjudicated through abstract determinations by a conference of academics. That a given number of folks, who function primarily as educators, can believe themselves to be determinant of what’s included or excluded from culture is the stuff of Foucault, Ranciere, and Said. In the end, the worth of Sculpture, its “viability”, is that a piece of sculpture is worth a piece of sculpture. The current pressing global concern is not interpretation or definition, which are essential in determining “viability” in terms of (Capitalist) economic exchange value, but rather, what is coming into being, as well as what is going out of being, materially.


Anything’s Possible

July 26, 2010

            The AP ran another “Anything’s Possible” story today. You know, toddler climbs Mt. Everest with nanny to call attention to the plight of career-obsessed households, woman skateboards across Greenland to raise awareness of global warming, etc. This time it was about a 60 foot home made catamaran arriving in Sidney after 4 months crossing the Pacific from San Francisco. No, it’s not a vacation travel story even though sailing is a wonderful way to spend a summer. Oh, by the way, the boat was made totally out of recycled components (when you read some of the recycling, almost anything today could be considered recycled- candles made out of wax, steel made out of iron ore, plastic made out of BP skimmed oil, etc.). This entire adventure was the gift (brainchild) of Dennis de Rothschild  (“a descendant of the well-known British banking family” the article hastened to add).  The article quotes Dennis as saying “There were many times when people looked at us and said ‘You’re crazy.’ I think it drove us on to say ‘Anything’s possible.’”

            Sunday evening, July 25th, Ann Curry did a piece for NBC’s Dateline entitled ‘America Now: Friends and Neighbors’. To say it was about Southeast Ohio would be totally inaccurate. To say it was about hunger, about the present, on-the-ground conditions of the American economy would be much more succinct. It focused on the lives of various folks over several months- people unemployed, underemployed, out of luck, making bad decisions, or just plain stuck. It showcased the heroism of just getting by day-to-day, whether in the larger “giving” sense of keeping a food pantry operational or in the minute “personal” sense of caring, to not abandon one’s progeny (as one man said “I’m worth more dead.”). It was an accurate snapshot of an American offspring that does not normally get any attention, let alone 60 minutes of air time.

            The Teabaggers will have a field day with the Curry piece; something about welfare states, handouts and the entrepreneurial spirit, self reliance, etc. They won’t even notice the AP article on ‘Plastiki’ (the name of de Rothschild’s craft). After all, we all want a bigger boat, don’t we? I guess we’re supposed to believe that what Dennis and his entourage did was enterprising, self reliant, and of the greatest service to the world community. To say that sailing is a wonderful way to spend the summer is an understatement (Tony Hayward can attest to that). Nothing entrepreneurial, self reliant, or community oriented was ever attempted, let alone accomplished. Mr. de Rothschild did not start up any large global recycling enterprise, company, or cooperative that provided contributors with living wages and benefits, that paid taxes to the local schools to educate his future employees, that struggled to provide its participants with access to nutritional, locally produced foods. No, to do something of that sort would be to commit to actually doing something within the world community, not just saying “Anything’s possible.” But that wouldn’t be refined enough, too mundane, entangled in the day-to-day.

            On the other hand, the heroic embodiment found in the communal spirit of the folks portrayed in Ann Curry’s Dateline piece will get slammed by the Teabaggers. Here, individuals are actually being entrepreneurial, enterprising, and self reliant by playing the bad hand their community was dealt. And they are doing it all without losing their cultural heritage (Stuart’s Opera House’s locally funded talent competition). How is it that the Teabaggers will seize on this while the Liberals completely fail to notice any of it? How is it that Liberals have become so (obsessively) preoccupied with promoting “Anything’s possible”?

South By Southeast (Ohio, That Is)

July 19, 2010

            A wonderful visit with friends Howard, Jean, Peter, and Kathy was had this weekend in Athens. While there, two visual art shows of note were considered. The Majestic Galleries in Nelsonville (an entire story in itself) is hosting its 2010 National Juried Competition. The Majestic Galleries’ space is phenomenal, the envy of many Ohio Arts organizations. With this show only three galleries are utilized. The quality of the works presented is of an exceptionally fine level. Of particular note were the works of prize winners Joseph Lombardo (Columbus, Oh.) and Noriko Kuresumi (Astoria, NY). Lombardo’s paintings are this amazing (and very workable) hybrid of American Ash Can and European Fauve. They exude color, rarely localized, while portraying mundane urban scenes. Intriguing is an understatement. Kuresumi’s porcelain 3D forms were genuinely inviting, while totally accessible. The mastery of technique created a multi textured, multi nuanced form (Sea of Memory, I and 2) that compelled one to linger and listen. Two artists of note, that did not receive awards but were represented by stunning work, are Bobby Rosenstock (Marietta, OH) and Kathy L. McGhee (Galloway, OH). Bobby’s woodcut and Kathy’s photo’s were happily situated across from each other in the spacious hall gallery. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the layout of the entire show. The show has a huge quantity of fine work. Its appreciation was undermined by the layout, which found pedestalled, 3D work hugging the walls immediately in front of 2D work hung on the walls. The vast floor space of the various galleries was left unutilized. This viewer felt cheated that he could not enjoy the entirety of works that were meant to be perceived “in the round”. A work, such as Lexie Stoia Pierce’s  “Dwellings” (Orient, OH), would have benefitted enormously from placement in the middle of the room as opposed to being clustered with other 3D pieces, in front of 2D work along a wall.

            The historic, former State Mental Hospital in Athens now houses the Ohio University Kennedy Museum of Art. The building itself leaves one wide eyed, emitting a gasp. Foucault’s Discipline And Punish materialized in 3D falls short as a brief description, but will have to do (an attendant wearing a black House T shirt contributed a certain serendipity). Part of the current exhibition is a recent acquisition of the prints of Harvey Breverman, faculty emeritus at the University of Buffalo and OU grad. Breverman’s draftsmanship in his rendering of various artists, poets, thinkers he has known is more revealing of their person than what may be available through other’s documentary videos or still photos. This is worthy to consider in this day when we have unconsciously come to rely so heavily on electronic media to inform us of “celebrity” notables. Three gallery spaces are filled with the Breverman’s donation; definitely not “one thing after another”. In an adjoining gallery, the museum presents some other work from their permanent collection. There are two huge Warhol silk screens of his electric chair series. After the intensity of the Breverman prints, the Warhols came across about as memorable as collectable Hummel.

            July 23-25 is the final weekend to view The National at The Majestic Galleries. Breverman’s prints are now part of the permanent collection at The Kennedy. The word is that he is to speak there in September.

Space Station

July 13, 2010

            It never appears on the horizon as a beginning, an initial entry point (though instinctually that is where one looks for it to originate). The long set summer sun’s rays still linger there in the atmosphere, in celadon tints of green. Just outside that glow, easily mistaken for an airplane, a feint speck of light moves across the dome of the sky. As it reflects more of the dusk’s hidden sun, it brightens, hurrying toward the east. At the zenith, the third largest object in our celestial hemisphere appears to be moving with the speed of an airplane. Then it tarries as it courses east, brightens to its fullest reflection, and eventually plunges into the locally defined horizon.

            I have been puzzling about the absence, or rather, the reticence of three dimension human in contemporary art. Working in three D, what can be done is always in play. 3D human seems to be a thing of the 19th century. 2D, perhaps that is more appropriate; Kara Walker silhouettes, or the faux folk art plywood silhouette cutouts that decorate people’s lawns along with pink flamingos and leprechauns. Unfortunately that too seems to be of another era, a time of paper books and highway billboards that become collages as the glue gives out and the passing wind takes an active interest. Today’s Kindle and pixilated, ever active commercial signage have put an end to that. No, 1D is the only proper representation of human today. A constant stream of binary place holders, each one occupying a single point, create most of the representations that speak human in the contemporary aesthetic.

            The space station, a single point of light moving on an arbitrarily predetermined unwavering trajectory, represents us all today; soundlessly, emphatically.

            “[r]ecalling a phrase from Keats, to convey the feel of not to feel it.” (from Bookwork as Demediation , essay by Garrett Stewart, Critical Inquiry spring 2010, pg. 455)

The Beaches of Agnes

July 9, 2010

            Recently the local PBS affiliate aired The Beaches of Agnes on POV. This marvelous film/documentary/poem/memoir, narrated by and about Agnes Varda, involves her memories, her loves, her life. The film and life are too complicated to sum up or critique in one short blog. It did bring to mind some thoughts on art and violence, adequacy/inadequacy, and the nature of knowledge.

            The courtyard, as well as the beach, weaves a continuous thread throughout the narrative. The beach, by definition, is uninhabitable. It can be visited, shared, explored, but not inhabited. The courtyard is a place of habitation, located in the midst of other domiciles. Originally, Agnes found it inadequate. The outcome of this encounter is the stuff of the POV presentation. It is this response, this outcome that interests me.

            The Oedipus tale has Oedipus answering a riddle and being allowed to pass, to continue with his pursuit of tragedy. The myth telling puts the onus on Oedipus’ choice. What is never spoken is that had Oedipus answered badly, inadequately, he would have simply slain his interlocutor and gone on with his quest (an oft repeated occurrence in Greek hero mythology).

            Adequacy and inadequacy appear to be modes of psychological difference. Inadequacy is often masked or concealed through art. The Oedipal, allowing for no sense of inadequacy, meets the insinuation of inadequacy with violence. Glibness (the ability to answer the riddle correctly) displaces the violence. It is the closest the Oedipal comes to art, though it is not a concealment or masking but rather a method of interaction (as violence is). The “authorial” personality remains the same (with regard to the issues of adequacy/inadequacy), only the technique/methodology by which the questioner (interlocutor) is dispatched differ (as opposed to the concealment/masking art of Scheherazade)

            Art doesn’t dispatch the interlocutor but sadly admits to the inadequacy, oftentimes through comedy.

            Submerged within each is knowledge. The nature of knowledge (epistemology) underlies both responses to adequacy/inadequacy. The nature of knowledge accounts for the psychological nature of the adequacy/inadequacy mode. Referencing Hume/Kant, knowing that something is happening accounts for behavior/disposition. If I “know” that something is relational/inevitable, I will act accordingly. If I don’t know, am skeptical that something is relational/inevitable, I may act variously (if at all). Seeing the gathering clouds and knowing it will storm is analogous to encountering a person and “knowing” they are interested in you (sexually or otherwise). As with the Hume/Kant reference, those who “know” that something is relational/inevitable will respond accordingly with someone they “know” is interested in them. Those who “do not”, who are skeptical, will act without responding to the interest (feigned or real). The Oedipal, and questions of adequacy/inadequacy, and the dichotomy of art/violence follow this epistemology. One cannot act, decide, respond to what one does not “know” (what does not enter into the imaginary). Entrance into the imaginary cannot be manufactured (though the education industry may claim otherwise). It appears to be developmental, if at all (resulting in an “Ah Hah” enlightenment moment?). I can watch a mocking bird do its ritual flight and song sequence along with my brother. He will say that the bird is attracting a mate and exalt in the verification of his “knowledge” should another bird happen by. All I see is an individual bird performing a repetitious set of movements and song. My brother has always “known” the necessity/inevitability of relationship. This inevitability/necessity has never entered into my imaginary (not the relationship part, but the necessarily inevitable aspect). In turn, that an isolated activity can exist for the sake of its own activity alone (by nature, definition, design) has never entered into his imaginary (not that there isn’t activity, but that the action will occur regardless of an anticipated outcome). He solves the riddle. I do not. He will become violent if the solution is inadequate (unacceptable). I see no solution (not part of my imaginary). I become creative (artistic) should the proffered response be inadequate. This is the epistemological underpinning. Much of what recurs in The Beaches of Agnes returns (and responds) to this difference.