Sunday, September 30, 2007

Antagonyms in Art

Dust - To remove dust (as in cleaning)
Dust - To apply dust (as in fingerprinting)

Bound - Moving ("I was bound for Chicago")
Bound - Unable to move ("I was bound to my desk")

Buckle - To hold together (buckle your belt)
Buckle - To fall apart (buckle under pressure)

Assume - To actually have (To assume office)
Assume - To hope to have ("He assumed he would be elected.")

Fast - Moving rapidly
Fast - Unable to move ("I was held fast to my bed.")

Trim - To add things to (trim a Christmas tree)
Trim - To take pieces off (trim hair)

An antagonym is a word that can mean the opposite of itself. (Don’t bother looking it up, it's not in the dictionary.) We all use these words everyday and very rarely does anyone seem to have a problem with them because the words are entirely context driven. I have listed just a few of them, but I’m sure you could come up with a few more yourself if you think about it. (Citation, cut, oversight, fix, etc.) In old English, the word “awful” meant both something that was “awe-inspiring” in a good sense and in a bad sense, but over the years, one of the meanings fell out of use.

To me antagonyms represent the best part of language: that we get to make-up the rules of language and can even make rules that directly contradict each other. It seems to me that a specific, one-way relationship has developed between linguistic philosophers and artists. I get the distinct feeling that many artists are waiting for linguists to develop a new vocabulary that can then be applied to analyzing art, just as linguists did in the 1970’s with deconstruction, Orientalism, etc. I also see many artists that are purposely making work that can be discussed with the current vocabulary.

Now there’s nothing wrong with making work that people already have a vocabulary to discuss (after all, I make a lot of work that is designed to be digestible). But shouldn’t there also be visual artists be making work that inspires writers to develop a new vocabulary?

In other words, artwork that is not about modernism or post-modernism or any other “ism” because language breaks down when the work is viewed. The problem with work that is designed to cripple the current vocabulary of analysis is that no one is willing to write about it because it is too hard. It is far easier to explain how a piece of artwork already fits into a vocabulary that people understand.

Well, I know I’m interested in reading art criticism that does not try to translate artwork into an already extant way of thinking, but has to invent a language and then try to explain the rules of the new language. Unfortunately, this is a high-risk proposition and with high-risk comes a huge chance at failure.

Oh well, here goes …

Looking at Amir Fallah’s work at Rhys Gallery, it’s too easy to simply state that his work combines low-art and high-art. I’m sick of the binaries that reduce complex ideas to simplistic one-liners. Fallah’s work situates itself to obliterate a binary way of thinking. The work is an antagonym that encapsulates many meanings that exist simultaneously and in direct contradiction to one another. There aren’t layers of meaning in Fallah’s work because the meanings are not separate. There is just one big meaning. It’s not fine art that stems from street art or vice versa, its art that says that the two are the same thing and yet exact opposites at the same time.

Noriko Furunishi’s piece at Samson Projects functions in the same way. It’s too easy to say that Furunishi makes work that fuses foreground and background to destabilize how we experience the natural world. Her work speaks much more to an antagonymistic view of the world where landscape can hold contradictory notions simultaneously and seamlessly. Not just visually in terms of foreground and background, but conceptually as human notions of the Earth as provider and as slave become increasingly the same notion.

In fact as I look around, I see more and more artists working along a similar notion of antagonym that seems pervasive in the contemporary condition. How many binaries that used to be so clear, can you think of that have now merged into antagonyms over the past few years? (Us/them, good/evil, etc.) Now using a binary vocabulary to delineate certain things may still be a good idea, but maybe it is time for another vocabulary as well. Maybe by looking at art with many different lenses that don’t have names yet, we can stop only using the analytical vocabulary of binaries taught to us by the linguists of a previous generation and open new doors of interpretation.

Amir Fallah
240 x 96 x 80 inches
Paint, found wood, plexi, soil, cacti and succulents, ceramic pots, and panties

Noriko Furunishi
Untitled (Waterfall)
93 1/2 x 48 inches

Liz Darlington @ Krause Gallery


Liz Darlington @ Krause Gallery

iPod Version

YouTube Version

Sunday, September 16, 2007

This week in the Zone

"It's amazing how much you can get done when you don't care who gets the credit." (Richard Hettrick)

What does it mean to collaborate in the art world today? When does it matter who did what? At what point is the gallery part of the collaboration by hanging the work in their space? Is Big Red a collaborator by promoting the arts?

Yesterday I edited a video piece for a friend who didn’t have the time. Today I asked someone to write a press release for me. Tomorrow I am hanging an exhibition for another artist who may or may not be able to be there. Collaboration happens, whether you know it or not. Every time you ask someone if they have an extra sheet of paper for you to write down an idea, that person has collaborated in the actualization of that idea. Then you make a new piece of artwork from that idea and you have to ask someone to photograph it so that you can get it into a gallery. The gallery accepts the piece, they hang it on the wall and then someone writes about it and Big Red publishes it. Now how many people are involved in the world seeing your piece? Do you care?

If you deny all of those who are involved in the making, promoting and exhibiting of your work, you are denying the energy they have infused into it. My husband asked me to “help” him write his column for Big Red this week. At some point he left, and he was gone for a good 6 hours. At this point, for this week, it’s my column. People may think he wrote it, but sometimes you just can’t care who gets the credit when you have to get something done.

When groups like the Miracle5, (who work collaboratively on each exhibition they have), are asked “Who did what?” they don’t start pointing at pieces saying, “oh I did that piece and she did that one”, because that would take the energy out of it. The Miracle 5 is a wacky superhero-themed collective which formed a couple years back and has shown in galleries all over Boston and each time it is a new and exciting experience The mystery is part of the fun, part of what makes it interesting and what makes it collaboration..

When you start thinking about it, someone else is always involved in what we make; the guy on EBay who just happens to be selling that set of dear antlers you needed, the friend who decide today was the day they were going to throw out that spool of wire you were coveting, or your husband who decided today is the day he is going to ditch you, and trick you into writing his article for him.

Collaboration is an opportunity: an opportunity to tap into the ideas, talents, and energies of others and a chance to share in someone’s success. If you are looking that kind of chance to collaborate, artist Brian Burkhardt has the venue. Burkhardt is putting together the third Word of Mouth exhibition. The exhibition is open to all and will be in Miami during the Basel Art Fair. Word of Mouth is designed to help artists get an art fair on their resume. Take a chance, don’t half –ass it, just make a piece you want shown and send it in. Here is the link:
Maybe just by mentioning it in this article someone will participate and in that case I will have collaborated in that person’s artwork being seen. The opportunities are out there if you are willing to share the credit, and sometimes let go of it completely.

However, sometimes collaboration doesn’t work out to everyone’s benefit. I am pretty sure that Steve received (and accepted) all the praise for last years Thanks giving dinner that I made. Chopping carrots alone does not make it a collaborative effort!

Here is a list of artists who collaborate:

The Miracle5

Word of Mouth

Harvey Loves Harvey

The Mail Order Brides

The Starn Twins

The ParkeHarrisons

Thanks for reading!
Written by:
Steve/Heidi Aishman

Saturday, September 15, 2007

David Hilliard @ Jackson Fine Art

Interview with David Hilliard @ Jackson Fine Art
Quicktime Video
YouTube Version

Christopher McNulty @ Saltworks

Interview with Christopher McNulty @ Saltworks
Quicktime Video
YouTube Video

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Cicero's Six and Criticism

“The Six Mistakes of Man”
1. The delusion that personal gain is made by crushing others.
2. The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected.
3. Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it.
4. Refusing to set aside trivial preferences.
5. Neglecting development and refinement of the mind, and not acquiring the habit of reading and studying.
6. Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.

- Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 B.C. – 43 B.C.)

One of the problems with writing criticism is that people often confuse expressing an opinion with the last of Cicero’s Six Mistakes: attempting to compel other to believe as I do. For me, as well as all of the critics I know, writing has nothing to do with convincing someone else of my point of view, it has more to do with a desire to share a point of view on something that I find interesting.

Last month I wrote a column for Big Red and Shiny where I laid out an argument about how I thought the art market was ready for Dada inspired art. The argument seemed pretty simple to me: MOMA had a Dada exhibition up for most of 2006, so I thought by summer of 2007 the art market would be capitalizing on Dada’s recent exposure at fairs like Scope Hamptons. In an unexpected way, I received more polarized e-mails on this issue than I have ever received.

I had one person named “Kunty Bush” actually call me a “dueche-bag” because she disagreed with my argument. I had another person call me “retarded”. Another person said that I knew nothing about art and should shut-up. Someone else sent me this message: ”WTF? FTS! UR A JAKAS AND U CAN BMA! US, GAL!” And the list went on in somewhat less humorous ways.

This shocked me on multiple levels. First, because I had to look up what “BMA” meant, which embarrassed me. (Apparently it means, “bite my ass”.) Next, I was surprised that anyone actually read anything that I wrote. Mostly though, I was surprised that so many people had not only missed the point of what I had written, they had missed the point of why I had written at all. It seems as if the anger directed toward me personally had nothing to do with what I had written, in fact a few of the people who wrote very angry letters to me with me actually agreed with my argument! The anger seems to stem from the fact that people thought I was trying to compel them to believe my point of view.

This anger seems to not only be confined to writing, but to the very act of expression itself. I think every artist I know can think of an instance where a viewer was somehow insulted or offended by their work. Usually, it turns out that the offended person was not so much offended by the work, but believed that by expressing another point of view, the artist was trying to change the minds of the viewers and was therefore threatening any other point of view. (I know one critic once wrote that my artwork was attempting to inspire “vigilante violence”. I’m still not sure if it was a good or bad review ...)

So let me make it clear:
When I write something or make something, I am not trying to compel anyone else to change their point of view. I just want to express my opinion.

The next question is then, well why do you want to express your point of view? And it’s this simple: For every negative piece of mail that I received for my last article; I received 10 times more positive pieces of mail. I received mail from people saying that I showed them an interesting point of view. I had multiple people send me contemporary Dada inspired poetry. I had one artist say that my article encouraged him to continue making work that was inspired by the desire to create without inhibition. I had one writer and photographer, Allen Cooley, send me the beginnings of an article that he is writing on the influence of Dada in hip-hop that was inspired by my column.

That’s why I write and make art. Not to change someone else’s beliefs to my point of view, but to share and pass on the energy that goes along with being inspired. If that pissed someone else off or they just don’t get it, that’s not my problem. But I know I always love to hear what other people think of what I write or my work. So please, the next time you’re in a gallery, take a moment and write something in the comment book. And if you had a reaction to this article, leave a message in this comment section, I’d love to read it.

Marcus Tullius Cicero

The Bridge Supreme, an example of hip-hop athletic footwear brand, DaDa

Example of one of my pieces that apparently tries to convince people to commit acts of “vigilante violence”.