Contribute To The Decorum

Which came first, the chicken or the egg, the body or the body image? Old questions, living in the past. It was to be a non-transgressive errand of posting notices for an upcoming, in-the-flesh, physical body assembly (meeting) of the niners (not the Herman Cain variety). Speaking of living in the past, what better place than the local branch of the state university? Visions of messy information boards slathered with notices of everything from “try outs” to “room mate needed” to “upcoming meetings” were shattered by the explicitly designated parking area with its multiple postings of continuous surveillance and actively enforced prohibitions. The campus covers large acreage with multiple buildings, most of a recent vintage, a style I remember being noted in an Art For ‘Em critique as a cross between hotel, upscale shopping mall and corporate headquarters that “helped revitalize” downtown LA. Only this was the central Ohio, Newvegas rendition. It consists of multistory or high ceiling public spaces, with sound deadening walls, ceilings and flooring, all in a drab, muted toned coloration with recessed lighting that made everything “hush, hush”. There was the requisite “help desk” at each entry strategically placed to enable an unobstructed view of all the branching corridors as Acconci had anticipated. The buildings all had food service areas right off the “common” areas, with tables and barriers creating discrete spatial subdivisions unified by an unencumbered line of sight (a common space but an interrupted traffic flow), . Everything had the “aura” of privacy (very much in the Benjamin sense) while at the same time maintaining an ostensible recognition of being public- in funding, purpose and function. Not a messy, unkempt bulletin board covered with notices to be seen. Nothing untidy whatsoever. The campus itself is laid out likewise, with clear, unobstructed lines of sight and no physically private areas whatsoever. If you sat to be with your laptop or your lover, it could only be within the common view of all, be it in the cafeteria areas or the tree shaded green. Within the aesthetic of this architectural space, the human either contributes to the decorum or is not at all.

And what of performance art? Yes, sculpture has gravitated in that direction. The Newvegas campus emulates the real Vegas with bronze, life size simulacras of figures seated on benches or in arrangements of imagined public activity (listening to the music in front of an empty bandstand, etc.). A lady giving birth in a gallery in New York and I can’t even post a piece of paper in public! Performance art is supplanting material 3D sculpture in so many of the undergrad/grad school studio art offerings. The students are always excited and titillated, like children at Halloween. It is so transgressive, a furtherance of the disruptive tradition spawned by Duchamp. Giving birth in front of anyone and everyone. And I can’t even post a scrap of paper! One wonders about this performance art since performance, within a designated performance space, is as old as classic Greek culture within the history of western art.

Performance art is ostensibly all about the body. Yet our actual, physical “public” space (like the Newvegas campus) is all about maintaining security and ensuring a “public”-ness. Here, the actual, physical body morphs into image and branding, something that can only be mediated. The medium is the message. If the actual physical presence in these public spaces does not contribute to the decorum, then it is not. I could have posted my message online, on a virtual bulletin board (it could even be formatted to appear messy). But then, who would have noticed?

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