Sunday, May 21, 2006

Candice Ivy "Murmur"

Candice Ivy
Old City Jail
Charleston, SC

More images here


Friday, May 12, 2006

An Omegahedron Review of Craig Drennen

Do you know anyone who remembers when they were a child and would paint or draw all the time but then also remembers the first time they drew on a wall and someone came and yelled at them?

Is this person you?

At some point in their lives, most people are taught that there are correct and incorrect ways of reacting to the world, but more importantly, people learn that if you are in a state of contentment, it is illogical to react at all, because any reaction might disturb the happiness. The logic is this: if I'm happy and make a drawing, someone might say it's bad and then I won't be happy, so I should just sit here. On the other hand, people seem to think that it is acceptable to react to the world by making art, writing, etc. if they are in a state of pain, because when you're in pain you have no choice except to react. This line of logic leads to many interesting arguments like why so many artists appear to participate in self-destructive behavior, why so many viewers assume all art is art therapy, or why “artist block” usually seems to stem from a place of contentment. I also think that many viewers have trouble relating to artwork that is not created from a state of pain, but simply as a reaction to something in the world. The fundamental questions many viewers will think while viewing work that is simply a reaction to the world is, “Why did you do this if you didn't have to? Don't you know you might be punished for it? This is a weird and illogical thing to do …”

Enter Craig Drennen's exhibition “The Supergirl Project” currently on display in Atlanta. In an artist's statement for a show in Samson Projects in 2004, Drennen wrote:

It has long been accepted that artists could stare at one spot in nature-whether it be Mt. Fuji, the Hudson River Landscape, or Mont St. Victoire-- to gather information around which to organize their work. I choose to stare at one spot in culture for my source of information. The “spot” at which I choose to stare is the 1984 movie Supergirl …

In other words, Drennen is simply using one element of the world to react to, which will inevitably lead some people to think that his work makes no sense or even worse, that it is some sort of a joke about a failed movie. Drennen's work is not mocking “Supergirl” at all, nor is it exalting the movie, Drennen is simply reactng to it because there many elements to react to. Drennen's reactions to “Supergirl” take the form of paintings, drawings, his artist statement, sound recordings, found objects, a nunchuck performance piece, interviews with himself and pretty much any other art form you can think of. Subsequently, the artwork encapsulates Drennen's reactions to many cultural elments including the ascendancy of film and video as cultural art production, fame, technological advancement and failure, strength of capital in production of meaning, reproducibility, painting, the Phantom Zone, gender roles, etc.

One of Drennen's main working methods is to produce multiples of an abstract object as well as rendering the back and front of an object. I find this working method makes perfect sense from Drennen's investigative perspective, but it simultaneously adds to the complexity of viewing the work. All of Drennen's work is either paired front and back renderings or a part of a multiple, which means that when viewing any one piece alone, it feels incomplete. Drennen's ability create work that can make multiple statements and to evoke a strange empathy for the incompleteness of an inanimate object is fascinating and can only really be felt in person, standing in front of the piece.

However, I relate more to Drennen's conceptual working method than any one single statement that his work makes because I don't think Drennen is trying to make any particular statement about culture, painting or anything else and I really don't think he is looking for any type of reward. I think he's just reacting to the world as everyone does, but he has no fear of punishment for what he makes.

I think Drennen's work should be shown to any artist who feels they have lost the creative spirit they had as a child because the point of Drennen's work is to realize that it is ok to just pick something and react to it without fear. I know I hope to emulate this working method within my own life and continue writing on the walls without fear.

-Steve Aishman

Click here to see interview with Drennen

Craig Drennen
“Official Adaptation Front”
Pencil and ink on paper

Craig Drennen
“Official Adaptation Back”
Pencil and ink on paper

Altered readymade
Multiple (edition of 8), 12.5 inches height

Craig Drennen
The Supergirl Project
The Savannah Gallery
May 2 - June 15
Atlanta, Georgia

Work also available through Samson Projects.

Stalking Bill Arning

A letter to the Editors of Big Red and Shiny,
I am writing this letter to Big Red because I realized the other day that I am stalking Bill Arning, the curator of the MIT List Visual Arts Center. I love the work he curates at various venues, I have followed his writing in art periodicals like Art in America and I have a substantial collection of the various catalogs for exhibitions he has written in. In fact they have their own special shelf. Next to his picture. And some candles. All of this seemed normal to me, but I realized that perhaps I crossed a line the other day when I found out that he was going to be on a number of panel discussions at this year's College Art Association's conference. I found out when and where Bill was speaking and I went to hear the discussions. I have decided that I am intellectually stalking Bill because upon sitting down to listen to the panel, I realized that I had not even taken the time to find out what the panel was about. It also had not occurred to me that I was supposed to pay a $240 conference fee to attend the panels. I had just walked in, smiled at the guard in a way only the truly, blindly devoted can smile and then I just sat down. None of those trivialities mattered because Bill was talking …

I quickly discovered that the panel was called “Curators as Critics” and the whole panel discussion revolved around the issues of curators, like Bill, who also actively write criticism. The whole mood of the panel was strangely defensive, but apparently, it was defensive for a good reason. One person in the audience actually that said he was rather concerned about the very existence of the panel as the potential moral conflicts between being a curator and simultaneously being an active critic were simply too huge.

To be honest, this attitude shocked me because the main reason I read Big Red is that I view this publication as a venue for anyone including artists and curators to write criticism. While I am cognisant of the potential problems of this system, I see the potential benefits as being far greater.

As an artist, my relationship to art criticism is very specific and I recognize that criticism functions differently for different people. I think for a large number of people involved in the arts, criticism functions as a marketing tool and that is where the largest number of potential conflicts occur. There is a notion that the critic functions as a form of connoisseur which in today's world is better described as an investment expert for the art market. Obviously if one views an art critic as an investment expert, then the conflict occurs where a critic who is a curator, artist, gallery owner, or anyone else who has a vested interest in the sales of art work would simply recommend that their work should be invested in. However, as an art maker, I don't care that much about the market side of criticism a) because I believe that all critics have a vested interest in the art market in some way, either economically or politically, and b) because there are better ways to market art work than criticism.

I also have a number of artist friends who are completely uninterested in art criticism or writing or even other people's exhibitions. They don't read Big Red or any of the art magazines or catalogs or anything really. This is fine by me and it seems to work well for their artistic practice. However, for me, I view all of my work a large collaborative project that I put my name on in the end. I'm an artist because I love reacting to something by making something. It's really that simple for me. I view criticism, not as a marketing tool, but as someone who saw something that made them want to react, so they wrote something about it. I can relate to that sentiment and that's why I sometimes write for Big Red. That's also why I love going to openings and reading reviews. I just want to be around people who react to the world by having to do something rather than being passive receptors. I need to live among the desperate.

That's why I'm stalking Bill Arning. I've never asked him, but I think Bill just loves art. He doesn't curate exhibitions or write about exhibitions because the market demands it, he writes and curates because when he sees something he likes, he reacts to it by having to do something ie. curate it into a show, write about it, talk about it, do a dance, something, anything. That's why the work he does is so intelligent and well done. It's genuine; it's not forced like some other critics and curators who you can tell are working because they want recognition for how smart they are, not because they are actually reacting to the artwork. I love going to hear Bill talk because you can tell he's so excited to talk about artwork that he can barely contain himself. Like a vampire, I feed off of that excitement and it makes me have to go make more of my own work.

It seems to me that the market is threatened by any form of artist/critic/curator like Bill and most of the people who contribute to Big Red because the divisions of labor in the art world are viewed as divisions of labor of legitimation and by hybridizing the divisions, we are undermining the legitimacy of the whole system. However, from my point of view the hybridizing of roles people play in the art market simply makes sense because none of us actually are our perceived roles, we're just people reacting to things and participating in our community. Sometimes I'm a writer, sometimes I'm a teacher, sometimes I'm a artists, sometimes I'm a curator, it all depends how I feel like reacting to world around me at the time. The fact that I react in these different ways is normal. Isn't it? I mean after all, who reacts to everything in the world in the same way all of the time?

I think this is where the greatness of Big Red really shines through. There are many venues for art criticism that support writing that is a reaction not to the artwork, but to the market. The style of criticism that is less about someone needing to react to artwork and more about the marketing of artwork is not what I am interested in. I truly hope that Big Red becomes more punk rock in an intelligent, positive way. I assume that's why the editors are advocating things like the Opening Night Quick Reviews of First Fridays in the forum. Clearly, Big Red is dedicated to supporting people who go to First Fridays and see something that makes them want to explode if they don't go home and write about it immediately. I hope to see more writing that is fueled by a deep desire to react to react to artwork by writing about it.

But maybe that's just me. I have no idea what the editors are thinking the direction of Big Red should be. I have no idea why other people read Big Red. But I know why I read Big Red. And it's because the writers are people who just have to react to something by writing about it. I love the opportunity Big Red has presented to participate in a community of creators. So thanks Big Red. And keep it up.

-Steve Aishman

If you agree with me or disagree, please, start a dialog in the forum. Let's try to make the forum a fun creative act as well.

The picture I keep of Bill Arning on permanent display in my apartment.


Cultural Laboratories

"I found the Palace of Green Porcelin, when we approached it about noon, deserted and falling into ruin. Only ragged vestiages of glass remained in its windows, and great sheets of the green facing had fallen away from the corroded metallic framework... The tiled floor was thick with dust, and a remarkable array of miscellaneous objects was shrouded in dust....further in the gallery was the huge skeleton barrel of a Brontosaurus. My museum hypothesis was confirmed."
The Time Machine, H. G. Wells (1895)

It makes perfect sense that HG Wells places the Time Traveler, humanity's last scientist and artist, in a vast museum to discover what has survived of human culture in the future. Science and art are both concerned with how we see the world now, while one of the things museums are concerned with is how the world of the future will see the world now. The question always seems to be, “What of today's culture will make it into the archives of the future?”

I used to work in an astrophysics lab and I remember the first serious experiment that I conducted was a dismal failure. When I showed my results to my mentor, she smiled and said that I had done excellent work. Naturally, I asked her what the hell she was talking about, since I had wasted months of research time and at the end didn't have a publishable paper. She said, “Oh no, you shouldn't be upset. 99% of what we do here is a failure. You conduct experiments exactly because you don't know the outcome will be. By definition, the only experiment that is a waste of time is one where you already know the outcome. It just happens that we only publish the 1% that turn out ok, so it looks like we know what we're doing.”

I view the art world in the same way. I view galleries as a form of cultural laboratories that are designed to codify and generate values and beliefs. But just like any other laboratory, 99% of what is made is a failure. The artwork that's up in most galleries is not what I'm interested in. It doesn't reflect my values and it isn't changing my beliefs. Many people think that is a bad thing and they spend a lot of time complaining that the vast majority of what they see in galleries is not “good”. But I believe that seeing lots and lots of bad artwork is a healthy sign because if artists aren't continually making work that is a failure, then they are doing something wrong: they're not taking enough risk. In my analogy, it would be like scientists conducting experiments they already knew the answers to, and to me, that would be a waste of time. I don't want to see “good” artwork, I want to see artwork that has the possibility of failing.

Museums, on the other hand, function quite differently. In my analogy, museums function like scientific journals where the 1% of all of the experiments that are successes are the only things that are supposed to appear in it. This notion can be clearly seen in museums like the Louvre, the Museum of Natural History, etc. There are no risks in these museums. Everything you see is “good” as canonized by professional cultural investigators.
The problem occurs when people go to see shows like the Whitney Biennial because the show itself removes the best quality of contemporary artwork, the element of risk. I believe this is the core reason of why so many people have problems with the Biennial. It's not because of the work. It's because the work that is selected is in the middle of moving from gallery to museum, from experiment to canon, from having the risk of failure to being “good”.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Biennial because of course I want the artists that I'm interested in to see their work being validated and exposed to a huge audience, but then I shudder to think what would happen if their work lost its edge of risk by someone deeming it “good” artwork. It's just like the opposing emotions we all have about hoping that our favorite local band will one day receive the global recognition it deserves, but then still privately hoping the band never actually becomes mainstream because then it would suck. I don't know how I would feel if “Harvey-Loves-Harvey” was viewed less as underground punk rock and more as mainstream pop rock. However, I am really excited that Andy Mowbray was listed in last weekend's Sunday Globe article on “10 Artists to Watch”. These are just two local art makers that I love and would have loved to have seen them in the Biennial, but I love their work specifically because it takes massive risks and a show like the Biennial would have robbed them of that power.

So, asking me what I would do if I were in charge of the Whitney is like asking me what I would do if I were in charge of a massive, mainstream underground punk rock music festival. I would dismantle the whole thing because it doesn't make any sense. The Whitney Museum, by definition, is filled with “good” artwork, but the flipside of that coin is that it will never have any great artwork. So instead, I say let's just go out in droves and support our local artists and our local community because that's where the risks are being taken and subsequently, that's where the really great work is.

Cover of my copy of “The Time Machine” - Published by The Berkley Publishing Corporation, September, 1960.

Andrew Mowbray, still from Just for Men, performance at the Mills Gallery, 2005

arvey Loves Harvey, live at CBGBs in 2002