Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Report from the Phantom Zone

“Our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… We need things consumed, burned up, replaced, and discarded at an ever accelerating rate.”
- Victor LeBeau, US retailing analyst, 1955

In the 1950’s, the US economy was radically transformed to become more consumer oriented as President Eisenhower implemented policies based in the belief that recessions could be avoided by ''millions of citizens making their purchases, having greater confidence.'' (1958) We obviously still live in a consumption driven economy as seen shortly after Sept. 11 when “Tony Blair asked people to go shopping and take holidays to prevent the economy going into recession yesterday after the terrorist attacks in the United States.” (Daily Telegraph, Sept. 2001) President Bush echoed this sentiment when he said that Americans should “Get down to Disney World in Florida” (Sept. 2001) in order to return confidence to the US airline industry.

One thing that has begun to interest me is how artwork usually defies the consumer culture we live in. A few weeks ago, I had a studio visit from a gallery owner and a large portion of the discussion revolved around the archivability of my work. Clearly, one of the implications of the discussion was that anyone who purchased my work would want it to exist for far longer than a human life span (like 200 or 300 years).

After the gallery owner left, an interior designer wandered into my studio (uninvited) and she stated how she had many clients who would be interested in the work. When I told her the price of the work and that the work would be sold out of the gallery at my next show, she looked shocked and said, “Well, you’ll never sell any art at those prices because people with real money redecorate their homes every year. What are they supposed to do once they’re bored of looking at your art? You should just sell prints that people can throw away ever year and then buy new ones to match the rest of their new decorations. You’ll make a lot more money that way …”

I suddenly channeled Lloyd Dobbler: “Look lady, as an artist I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. And I certainly don’t want to sell anything that is bought with obsolescence processed right in. Now get your patchouli stink out of my studio!”

The word “consumed” is applied equally well to either current economics or a devastating fire, so most artists do not fit in with a consumption economy because we do not make work that is meant to be consumed in either. We make work that we hope will have meaning and value long after we are gone.

The best example of an artist who is smart enough to create work both in and about our economy is Boston’s own Douglas Weathersby. On April 1, Weathersby performed a piece at the Beehive where the public was invited to bring in sensitive documents and he shredded them, creating an installation “nest” in the space. Weathersby’s work both challenges and participates in the work and consumer culture we live in by creating both his monetary living and a living space out of consumable products.

Weathersby’s work stands in sharp contrast to Dash Snow and Dan Colen's Nest at Deitch Gallery last summer. In many ways, as the grandson of Christophe De Menil who is one of the world’s largest collectors, Dash Snow represents the power of consumption in an art market that will apparently exhibit anyone if they know the right people. Dan Colen is perhaps best know for advertising one of his exhibitions in Berlin by putting up fliers showing him with a tallith (Jewish prayer shawl) hanging from his erect penis. Their “Nest” was made by shredding 2000 telephone books and then spray-painting the walls. You can watch a YouTube video of the work to get a feel for it. The book documenting the “Nest” will become available in July 2008. You can pre-order it now or if you send me $50 I will shred it and send it back to you.

I can’t relate to work like Dash Snow and Dan Colen’s that is meant to be vacuous, trite work in order to create legend, not meaning. There work is designed to exist like an awesome-raging high school party. I don’t know about you, but there are a host of reasons why I don’t hang out with high school kids. Why would I go to a gallery to see the detritus of their self-centered consumption?

Instead, I’m looking forward to more work from Weathersby. Watch his website, I’m sure more is coming …

Douglas Weathersby in his element

"Nest" at Deitch

Llody Dobbler from "Say Anything"

Ian from "High Fidelity"

Friday, May 16, 2008

Marcel Williams Finalist at the 2008 International Science and Engineering Fair

Marcel Williams Finalist at the 2008 International Science and Engineering Fair

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Raul Gonzalez @ NEGLAA

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Judith Larsen @ RHYS gallery

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A Report from the Phantom Zone

Some palindromes:

Live Evil
Ah, Satan sees Natasha
Drat Saddam, a mad dastard!
Cain: a maniac.
No devil lived on.
Not so, Boston.
Did Joe kill like O.J. did?
Evil did I dwell; lewd I did live.
Repel evil as a live leper.
Eve damned Eden, mad Eve.
Meet animals; laminate 'em.
Dammit, I'm mad!
Evil olive.
Stack cats.
Ten animals I slam in a net.
Dr. Awkward.
Trash Tim Smith's art.
Satire: Veritas.

There’s something about palindromes that is unnerving and deceptively complex. The author for all palindromes like “Dogma: I am God” is language itself; a person just happens to have discovered the phenomenon. Subsequently, palindromes feel like language is making its own meaning that has nothing to do with us even though we the primary users of language. Somehow, randomly arranged letters can end up saying something profound. However, unlike completely random letters, palindromes are the same forward or backward, so it’s like the letters are looking at their own mirror image. Palindromes become like an oracle. Our minds tell us “There is no way these words could have any meaning because no one is saying them.”
But then there it is.
The words : “Devil never even lived”

All we can do is to try and process what we have perceived. How is it possible that of all of the letter combinations in the universe, these stand out and speak both to themselves and to us?

Some people will say the words are meaningless while others will say they are oddly profound. The words become a test of faith and reason in a world that holds few oracles.

In the ancient world, people used to seek out tests of faith and works of art frequently served that exact purpose. The Met had an exhibit in 2000 called “Art and Oracle” that examined how people around the world for centuries have used art as part of a quest to transform and transcend the human experience. We now live in a world where more people have access to more art then ever before; especially through mediums of advertising and television. However, the art that is now bombarding people is designed to inform, but not to transform.

I know a lot of people who are waiting for the opening of James Turrell’s Roden Crater that is scheduled to open in 2011, just to have an experience where the viewer’s perceptions in the space are designed to be transformative in the same way ancient earthworks were designed. I have to admit, I am looking forward to it too because I don’t see a lot of other artists trying to create work that challenges me to acknowledge that maybe there is more to the universe than just my perceptions of it. In fact, most of what I see is the exact opposite.

For example, on view at the MFA Boston right now is an installation by Jim Lambie where he has transformed ordinary objects to create a space like listening to music. The space is designed so the viewer can enter “compelling environments where the edges disappear and the space he makes is for you.” This sounds to me like a Burger King commercial where I can “have it my way”. Lambie’s art is designed to re-enforce that my personal psychological space is all-important. Why go to the museum if when I get there I just go back inside my own head? Jim Lambie’s work serves the current model of commodified artwork where art is supposed serves the viewer’s immediate desires rather than transform the viewer in any profound way.

The Lambie installation is only up until May 25, so I recommend you go see it soon. You can go for free on Wednesdays from 4-9:45 PM if you do not want to pay for art that is supposed to put you in a mental space that is like listening to music at home and is actually made from chairs like the ones you probably have at home. Then maybe in 2011, we can meet up at the Roden Crater and I can read you some more palindromes.

Oracle Figure (Kafigeledjo)
Senufo, Côte d'Ivoire
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
from "Art and Oracle" exhibition

Jim Lambie's installation at the MFA Boston

James Turell's Roden Crater
Photography by Florian Holzherr

Ka-Chunk @ Opal Gallery

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Audrey Ward "Kissed & Bitten"

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