In 1969, John and I were so naïve to think that doing the Bed-In would help change the world.
Well, it might have. But at the time, we didn’t know.
It was good that we filmed it, though.
The film is powerful now.
What we said then could have been said now.
In fact, there are things that we said then in the film, which may give some encouragement and inspiration to the activists of today. Good luck to us all.
Let’s remember WAR IS OVER if we want it.
It’s up to us, and nobody else.
John would have wanted to say that.
Yoko Ono Lennon
Of course nostalgia isn’t a progressive place. When looking back to the past, it’s possible to know the outcome of every action. Progressive actions happen when consequences are yet to be determined. They are insecure, idealistic and defiant. Their success is compounded by, and most likely contingent on, other idealists.
I often take the 60s for granted as a kind of failed parent to our present — I remember for instance, my disdain when America declared The War on Terror. There were protests on Market Street in San Francisco where I lived; since I worked at a gallery downtown, a number of the dissidents came through our doors. Most of them old timers, they seemed enthused and exhilarated, wearing old ponchos with old buttons — costumes from a former life. It brought back the old days, they said, enjoying a renewal of purpose to which I was highly critical. The protests that year felt more like block parties, sequestered as they were to specific streets with police lining the borders between outcry and everyday life; there was no real disruption.
Neither was an alternative supplied: while half of the country (at least) cried out for war, the other dug its heels in, adamantly opposed. The protest parties celebrated opposition without solutions. I wanted someone to come up with another way, a non-violent action — that would mark a good leader, I thought. Even in my financially challenged state, I still had a roof and a car and two jobs. I had a sister who fed me when I couldn’t buy groceries. I had access to a world our supposed enemies did not. My parents’ hippy friends gave me a bumper sticker that said, “Bomb them with butter.” At least that seemed like one new idea. I know I had none.
When soldiers brought the statue of Saddam Hussein down with a crane, we’d been in Iraq for 20 days. There was a sudden euphoria of success and achievement. It became its own short-lived propaganda. “A few minutes after the toppling, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters,’The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad are breathtaking. Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain’ (The New Yorker). We watched it on the news. I remember feeling both impotent and relieved.
“War became the evil pimp and illegitimate master, while society became a terrorized subaltern. War was not just about political domination through physical violence leading to death, but about the exploitation of bodies and minds for financial gain, sexual power, and the censure of our unique capacity as human beings to engage in abstract thought. As a performer, I understand you to be saying that what makes war terrible is not just that it can kill us, but that it forces us to perform against ourselves — against our will, against our interests, against our values” ( A Field Guide for Female Interrogators, Coco Fusco, Seven Stories Press, 2008). Years later, I pulled into a Pier One parking lot to listen to Cheney’s trial being broadcast on the radio. There had been headlines all week about what a creep he was. The rapid cries of infamy as we the people denounced his behavior. He admitted his sanction of torture. All the photos came out with dark men, naked, faces in black hoods, sometimes in piles. The bright burn of a camera flash in a corner as soldiers–men and women both–smiled. We know those pictures. They come from a time when popular ideas about Muslim taboos were bandied around public space like beach balls; every room I was in discussed the terror of war, the stress of soldiers. “How could this thing have happened?” The day was bright and sunny outside. The highway banal and complacent. But I’d thought everyone knew, like it was in the collective unconscious–I’d known and I didn’t even read that much back then. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were dark places, beyond citizenship, as though human rights were contingent on state. Of course that torture still exists now — because we are not innocent — and Cheney’s presently on a book tour as an advocate of his practice. ”If we give up all efforts to identify and set limits to uses of force and violence, unwarranted, and unmerited,” Fusco writes, “we essentially relinquish any agency with regard to politics, and aquiesce to authoritarian control of our lives or those of others” (p. 25).
Yes. It’s good Bin Laden is no longer a threat, but I don’t think anyone — especially a leader — should ever be proud of murder. It’s a terrible thing to have to take someone’s life, regardless of the circumstances. Circumstances that lead to such a necessity are all the more heartbreaking, stemming from a desperate responsibility. And here again, I think leaders give us examples of behavior, demonstrating through their address the weight of such a choice, thereby acknowledging the unequivocal meaning of life. Ten years later we are still at war, still shadow boxing. September 11th is still impossible to comprehend. Its tragedies will always remain irrevocable regardless of all subsequent acts, many of which have perpetuated violence: the shadows cast by our way of life. Embedded in my disappointment in the 60s is a tremendous disappointment in the present. The notion of peace seems all the more impossible, just as the emotive potency of war becomes more remote. There is so much to think about and learn from in those old performative gestures of peace–the way in which the media, still naive itself, could not get enough of those crazy kids.
..my favorite images of the aforementioned film take place at breakfast.
This week: Duncan talks to Chris Johanson and Jo Jackson from Ox-Bow this summer!
“Johanson was born in suburban San Jose, California in 1968. He has no formal training in art, learning some technique by painting skateboards and houses. He moved to San Francisco, California‘sMission District in 1989, where he became a member of the local art community, initially drawing cartoons on lampposts and bathroom walls using black Sharpies.” from Wikipedia.
Through out the nineties Johanna (aka Jo) Jackson found herself in art school in Maryland and later at SFAI but with her artistic sympathies moving toward a similar “street informed” aesthetic. In the late nineties and early “aughts” She and Chris both became associated with the SF Mission school along with notables Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen. Both were feature prominently in the documentary and publication “Beautiful Losers.” In 2004 they bought a home and moved to Portland, Oregon. They now split there time between Portland and LA.
Both are particularly rad people.
September 12, 2011 · Print This Article
GUEST POST BY MONICA WESTIN
As environmental art progresses and then doubles back again between earthworks and site-specific land art to more explicitly ecological work, there’s a real question hanging in the air these days about what kind of awareness art can or even should bring to the natural world, and what successful environmental art might look like or do. Michael Wang’s article in May’s Artforum about the contemporary merging of architecture and the environment focused on the process of making the invisible visible—such as the work of experimental architect Bernard Tschumi in Santiago, who uses polluted air as “material for design”—avoiding simple propaganda about air pollution in making public encounter part of a zone of aesthetic experience that includes the weather. Wang closes his discussion with a call to “make evident” the “dissolution of boundaries” between the human and the natural.
This might seem like an overly-heady invocation to an intentionally very family-friendly art show at the Morton Arboretum—and much of the art doesn’t lend itself to much discussing in academic terms, though it’s fun for the kids to look at, like a stack of tree logs with a huge bow on top or fluttering wisps of kite-like material improbably named “Soul of the Trees”—but there are a handful of pieces that are remarkably thoughtful, even groundbreaking in their approach to the question of this boundary between nature and human. While a few works seem completely disconnected from their environment in the arboretum, others offer new perspectives on the framing of nature and the issue of medium specificity. A couple offer explicitly environmentalist messages, and a handful of them—which are as cutting-edge and thoughtful as any other art I’ve seen in Chicago this year—actually reflect on the work of this frame itself and offer up a strong model for what a critical environmental art practice might look like.
First the slightly less interesting pieces. The You are Beautiful collective presents a huge namesake sign, not unlike the Hollywood sign, at the top of a hill—white from a distance, but yellow on the sides close up. The piece is about the relation of the work to space and the perspective of the viewer, but there’s no interaction between the work and its environment; it sits in a clearing, framed by nature. It could be anywhere. Slightly more interesting but falling squarely into the old activist ecological art mold are Theodoros Zaferiropoulos’ “How Far Have We Gone?,” which turns cross-sections of a tree trunk into stepping-stones eventually disappearing into a small lake; and Thomas Matsuda’s “Purification,” consisting of tree trunks burned to charcoal and displayed provocatively amongst the living trees in the arboretum. Both are visually interesting, but they take up an old rhetoric that sometimes makes my eyes glaze over, and it’s hard to read much meaning or self-consciousness into each about the environment of the arboretum itself.
This is where I owe a big citation to Chris Millers’ review of the show in New City; Miller points out that the arboretum is “more about science than aesthetics” and is therefore “an appropriate setting for conceptual art.” Just pushing it one step further, I would argue that the arboretum is slightly artificial, itself on the boundary between the human and the natural; many plants growing there are not native to the area, and the only reason that this refuge exists is because the Morton Salt company family are generous and progressive enough to create this sort of natural simulacra. We might even think of an arboretum as having the kind of “dissolution of boundaries” that Wang discusses… and I wish more of the work had commented on this liminal, weird environment in which their environmental art would dwell.
Juan Angel Chávez’s “Jimshoe” (named after a homeless man the artist met) seems more challenging. Built with found materials and resembling a cocoon as well as garbage, the piece holds—or possibly vandalizes—a tree that young visitors to the arboretum are encouraged to climb (the day I went, the work was framed off with an orange plastic fence). The work is closed, the tree is framed (twice over for me), and it’s hard to tell whether the piece would change much if the cocoon were surrounding an industrial swingset. Similarly, Letha Wilson’s “Wall in Blue Ash Tree,” while visually interesting—on one side, a smooth white wall with branches poking through; on the other, as though backstage, the unpainted and patchwork wood, and tree, supports for the piece–also doesn’t make any strong claims for nature/art relations or boundaries as such. What makes both pieces interesting visually has to do with the material relation between processed and raw wood, but I wanted more reflexivity about the boundary, about the framing process.
Which brings me to the most unlikely suspect for the kind of thought-provoking, meta-aware praxis of environmental art people are looking for: a crochet-covered tree called “Lichen It,” created by Carol Hummel and a number of volunteers. It looks exactly as you’d imagine, but with garish colors in yellow, red, and purple that make the tree look diseased. It’s easily the most popular piece of art, the most photogenic, and the most funny (at least for people who are familiar with yarn-bombing and/or grew up with a plethora of throw pillows and afghans strangling their bedrooms) of any of the works in the show. The first time I saw it, I took some pictures for a couple posing in front of the tree and didn’t give it a second thought—until I walked fifty paces away and saw, in a groomed, manicured hedge with flowers growing in between, the same color combination of yellow, red, and purple. This garden was just as unnatural as the crochet, and the juxtaposition posed real questions to me about material, form, the way we frame nature in everyday life as well as art. In other words, it makes the invisible visible. “Nature doubly framed and overly implicated,” the show should read, and the kids would still have just as much fun.
The show runs until November 27, and since I’m writing this delinquently late, you have probably already gone to see it if you were planning to. However, I’d urge you to go again, to see what happens to each work as the natural world, and its relationship to the work, changes.
Monica Westin is the former Deputy Editor and current contributing art editor to Flavorpill in Chicago, where she also regularly writes about art and theater for New City, Chicago Magazine, and the Huffington Post. A current PhD student in rhetoric at the University of Illinois, Chicago, Monica teaches courses on arts writing and new media in DePaul University’s Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse department.
Work by Jason Lazarus and Cody Hudson, respectivily.
Andrew Rafacz Gallery is located at 835 W. Washington Blvd. Reception is from 4-7pm.
Work by Rob Carter.
EBERSMOORE is located at 213 North Morgan, #3C. Reception is from 6-9pm.
Work by the collaborative Public School.
The Family Room is located at 1821 W. Hubbard St. Suite, 202. Reception is from 6-10pm.
Curated by Jefferson Godard, with work by Candice Breitz, Manon de Boer, EJ Hill, Diego Leclery, and Casilda Sanchez.
The Mission is located at 1431 W. Chicago Ave. Reception is from 6-9pm.
Work by Ed Valentine. Tom Van Eynde in the project space.
Linda Warren is located at 1052 W. Fulton Market. Reception is from 6-9pm.
Work by Lorraine Peltz, Doug Smithenry, and Bill Harrison, respectively.
Packer Schopf is located at 942 W. Lake St. Reception is from 6-9pm.
Work by Nathan Vernau.
Robert Bills Contemporary is located at 222 N. Desplaines St. Reception is from 6-9pm.
Work by Jason Robert Bell and Bret Slater, respectively.
Thomas Robertello Gallery is located at 27 N. Morgan St. Reception is from 6-8pm.
Work by Barbara Kasten.
Tony Wight Gallery is located at 845 W. Washington Blvd. Reception is from 6-8pm.
Western Exhibitions is located at 119 N Peoria St. Reception is from 5-8pm.
September 8, 2011 · Print This Article
Leon Johnson is an artist and educator whose practice traverses poetry and performance, film and food. He is an avid researcher into the multifaceted nature of social relations, and seeks to engage with the world at large by cultivating situations that emerge out of myth and (re)enactment. If forced to fix a label to the liquid ebbs of Leon’s creative work, I’d have to take a cue from Liam Gillick, (episode 220), and describe it as discursive practice—a method of art making that involves the dissemination of information, and it looks to the structures that underscore the sharing of ideas as a space of productive art practice. Operating within the discursive framework allows Leon to go beyond the scripted role of reflecting, generating, or denying a problem in his work. Rather, it allows for problems to be projected within concrete, albeit temporary realities, which become situation-specific sites for ongoing interaction.
In essence, Leon is engaged in “the creation of new zones of intimacy and social possibility,” (to borrow from Okwui Enwezor), and he achieves this through installation, performance, video, photography, print media, and the production of discrete objects. Most recently, Leon orchestrated interactive spectacles in Detroit and New York, and he is currently working on a three-part film that will be shot in three locations. Leon is the operating Chair of the Department of Fine Arts at the College for Creative Studies in downtown Detroit, and is an aspiring beekeeper. We spoke over the course of the summer by email.
Discussed: Failure, problem-production, armies of unprepared debtors, beehives, Gatsby, Homi Bhabha, Naked Lunch, pleasure producing exploration
Sarah Margolis-Pineo: I’ve heard you mention that failure is a place to begin creative labor. Can you articulate on that statement, and express how it might relate to your current practice?
Leon Johnson: In that unholy mix of intention, aspiration, reference, mimicry, parody, pastiche, mastery – an alloy that forms the foundation for many of our creative embarkations – we can, at best, produce an iteration of where we have already been, or someone else has already been – there is in failure the possibility for emotional contagion, produced by a not-knowing, and a non-recognition. Here is where the body’s imagination takes over, and creative galavanting for pleasure begins. Failure is where problems worth having are incubated. Where am I? Today? This moment? What have I left behind? Left out? Left in? What scares me? What in the work has activated my emotional curiosity?
SMP: If I’m understanding correctly, you envision creative possibility in the failure to communicate—it is where the systems of language, knowledge, reference and affect dissolve, where compelling work can be realized?
LJ: No, I am not a concerned about failing to communicate – that is never an aspiration of mine, to have people “understand” – but I am conscious of when “what I know” can no longer serve the act of creation – I am seeking for “not-knowing” to take over and lead me into new possibilities, new problems. Communicating, if at all, through process and problem-production rather than product and solution-production.
SMP: This notion of problem production—is this where mimicry, parody and pastiche are incorporated into your work?
LJ: No, it is where I hope to avoid those kinds of reflexes. The kind of traps one sees MFA art students lining up to dive in! Our job should be, in fact, the incubation of variables, and the production of difference. This suggests incredibly vivid spaces of making and learning, if we keep our processes porous and our conversations healthy and emergent via constant engagement. Sarat Maharaj states it beautifully:
“As we cannot quite know beforehand what form this will take–each instance is different and unpredictable–we have to be wary about attempts to regulate artistic research, to knock it into shape of the academic disciplines, to make it a lookalike of their logic and architecture. What matters today is its ‘difference’–the distinctive modalities of its knowledge production.”
For the most part art schools are habituated through non-distinctive modalities of knowledge production, and mimicry, parody and pastiche are set as default containment areas as institutions go about their primary business: the production of armies unprepared debtors.
SMP: These “non-distinctive modalities” have been so fundamental to theories of postmodern/postcolonial cultural production, and historically, have been related to difference in the deconstructuralist sense. How can the academia cultivate thinking and producing beyond the postmodern when that structure is indeed the default?
LJ: Students, faculty and administration have to be partners in, at least initially, de-stabilizing the default mechanisms of art history, notions of mastery, and the departmental silo system. We have to migrate across departmental boundaries often and pleasurably. We have to conjure new and exciting alliances – as mentioned above, more creative gallivanting for pleasure! Here, for example, it is critical that the art school be passionately engaged with the city of Detroit – with other artists and institutions, yes – but also with the urban prairie, the people and communities of the city, with gardens and with beehives, with retired auto-workers, bacteria and mushrooms, and all the other remarkable resources around us. Our world of ideas, and relationships, is infinitely richer than a few square blocks in Chelsea.
SMP: I’ve been interested in Nicholas Bourriaud’s recent thinking on what he has termed precariousness, which, (borrowing from Zygmunt Bauman), refers to the liquidity of contemporary social life, and the fundamental instability that is integral to compelling works of art. In a recent essay, Bourriaud wrote: “A precarious regime of aesthetics is developing, based on speed, intermittence, blurring and fragility… The contemporary artwork does not rightfully occupy a position in a field, but presents itself as an object of negotiation, caught up in a cross-border trade which confronts different disciplines, traditions or concepts. It is this ontological precariousness that is the foundation of contemporary aesthetics.” Thoughts?
LJ: For me the speed and complexity of contemporary communications, that produce uncanny new alliances, destabilizes the suggestion by Bourriaud of an order, or an aesthetic location, called “precariousness” – an artist like Vik Muniz and a project like Wasteland convinces me of that. Bracha Ettinger, moving beyond the defaults of empathy and sympathy, calls it “besidedness” – fabulous, no? – that conjures the potential of “almost-impossible borderlinks”. This suggest a rather remarkable notion of what the “classroom”, the “studio”, or the “city” might be for us.
SMP: I’d like to get a better idea of your process. Was your most recent piece the work featured at Lemberg Gallery this spring? How did this work evolve, and what did it entail?
There were two concurrent projects most recently: the Lemberg project “DEN, PYRE, THORN” and a project titled “I CANNOT BE SAVED WITHOUT YOU” which was part of the Live From Detroit exhibition in NYC, at Fred Torres Collaborations. Both evolved together, both featured a meal for audience/participants, collaboratively produced infrastructure, and both featured variations on performance. The Torres dinner, prepared and served in the gallery, featured a custom built dinner table by Jamie Johnston, hand-blown glassware by Tim Southward and Dave Helm, commissioned dinner-bowls and pewter hardware, and a six-course dinner prepared by a crew of three, Christopher Biddle, Leon Johnson, and Leander Johnson, my son – for twelve guests. This project was initiated finally, after years of gestation, by a fragment of writing I did for a catalog being produced in Canada:
“A tentative intimacy of the kind sketched skillfully by Fitzgerald, as Gatsby regards Daisy; ‘They had never… communicated more profoundly, one with another, than when she brushed silent lips against his coat’s shoulder…’ – but the perfumed damage is not far behind, the sea-moist beard and the bile, the twelve-penny-dagger and the burnt-bone eyeliner.”
I imagined a dinner of intimate irregulars selected from the audience at the exhibition – for a kind of one-night-stand. At the head of the table, it turned out, was Alison Knowles one of the founders of Fluxus, and the author of the IDENTICAL LUNCH project. Amazing! The table with all the detritus, remained on exhibition for the rest of the month of the exhibition.
The Lemberg project marked the 25th anniversary of the death of the French author Jean Genet, and focused on three of his novels, The Thief’s Journal of 1964, Miracle of the Rose of 1966, and Funeral Rites of 1969 – each represented in the gallery by 15 first American editions of each book in a sculptural system including shelves and mirrors. I served a light dinner for 50 audience members, contextualized by a spoken word performance performed by Michael Stone-Richards, Morgan Marentic, and Sound artist, Dan Steadman. The performers were served dinner in custom porcelain dinner systems produced by Marie Perrin-McGraw. The project evolved from my study, and love, of the work of Genet for over 30 years, and in particular his book Funeral Rites written for the author’s lover, Jean Decarnin, killed by the Nazi’s in WWII.
SMP: Could you speak a bit more to your emphasis on multiple-fronts of collaboration?
LJ: I treasure the conversations I am lucky enough to be part of – and I actively seek to incubate new ones all the time. I consider the nurturing of convivial discourse not only pleasurable, but a critical creative act. All my work emerges from these conversations, all production is dependent on collaborative engagements – some 20 years in the making, and some brand new. The process of making work for me relates distinctly to the “performance” of memory, to traversing the space between the past and the future and, ultimately, the ability to then be heard – even by one other. Homi Bhabha puts it this way: “I use the term the right to narrate to signify an act of communication through which the recounting of themes, histories, and records, is part of a process that reveals the transformation of human agency. Narrative is a sign of civic life. Societies that turn their back on the right to narrate are societies of deafening silence: authoritarian societies and police states”. To remember, to imagine, and to speak are all performative domains.
SMP: Bhabha was speaking to a decolonizing world, encouraging metanarrative and hybridity as acts of resistance. Do you conceive of a relationship between the postcolonial and the postindustrial in terms of cultural work?
LJ: If we book-end for a moment, my first twenty years of life unfolded in Cape Town, and my last 15 months in Detroit. Ok! In my cultural labor the experience of the place-after-colony is always twinned – a dual site – the real and the imagined, or the reMEMBERED. The mediating forces between the real and the imagined is my work, often fueled by a vivid on-call-prejudicial-image-index forged in fire, absence, violence and resistance. A strong translation of this for me is the work of William Burroughs, and particularly his novel NAKED LUNCH, and the work done many years ago on this subject by my colleague Peter Playdon. Burroughs describes a market-place called Interzone, which is understood as: “a transitive state, a city resisting total identification either as a vision of a real city or as an allegory of a mental state…neither an inner space nor an outer space…it is a between space, a crossroads at which textuality, alterity, and identity collide.” This dismantling of psychic defenses is imagined as ‘space-time travel’, a process of displacing the unity of the self and its relationship to place into different temporal or physical locations. The relationships between these locations, as social space folds into mental space suggests the production of a performative zone that is simultaneously real, symbolic and imaginary; what it produces is a material environment, a visual culture and a psychic space. I see it as the framework for negotiations I can work out as an artist, as a kind of social actor.
SMP: To what extent are your performances choreographed, and as the maker/maestro, how do you address the element of chance?
LJ: The performances inevitably develop as devised works: meaning the work emerges from other texts, sometimes many sources, and is orchestrated and re-calibrated.
A process described by DJ Spooky: “I guess that’s traveling by synecdoche. It’s a process of sifting through the narrative rubble of a phenomenon, an “indexical present” Like an acrobat drifting through the topologies of codes, glyphs and signs that make up the fabric of my everyday life, I like to flip things around. With a culture based on stuff like Emergency Broadcast Network hyper edited new briefs.”
I will give an example of a work-in-progress. Bruno Abroad will be, finally, a digital video shot in three locations, London, Prague and Naples featuring the Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno. Three psycho-geographical drifts through contemporary cities alive with the evidence of both vivid histories and media-saturated “becomings”; three dinners (which reference Bruno’s dialogue, The Ash Wednesday Supper); at each dinner, three groupings of Renaissance visionaries, all victims of the political and religious orders of their time, with Giordano Bruno as principal guide. The three cities are imagined as temporary autonomous zones, Interzones, of radical discourse, ecstatic envisioning, and alchemical resistance. The project concludes in Naples the site of Bruno’s death at the stake on February 17, 1600, in the Campo De’Fiori. This film aspires to track intersecting arcs of power and resistance and is not a historical representation of anything “renaissance” except the politics inherited afterwards. The interests of the Church and the State, in our “renaissance” context, to control discourse and, ultimately, to silence transgression has powerful implications for contemporary culture. It is critical to understand that these voices of knowledge, silenced almost 500 years ago, can resonate powerfully nonetheless. I will attempt to temporarily situate these thinkers in contemporary urban contexts, as trans-time specters in a celebration of the poetics of resistance. While not a “period” piece, it is approaches the form of a multi-plane travelogue. The food, the actors and the locations will be formed and selected in each city – an improvised company – each time, and certainly to a large degree chance-based.
SMP: At what stage are you at with the filming of this work? Do you often use video to unite performances and create a narrative of sorts?
LJ: The skeletal script is complete, permissions to film at certain sites are in place, and the production crew of three is assembled. Then there are the dreams, visions, and psycho-geographical speculations - years of image-accretions, memories of the Nicholas Roeg film Don’t Look Now, conversations with friends and colleagues - that will inevitably seep in once on site, and, happily, displace what is actually there.
SMP: Given the thematic arc of Bruno relating to power and resistance, how do you see contemporary artists addressing the notion of resistance?
LJ: I see people living fully, talking, cooking, making, raising children, growing tomatoes, writing books, being conscious of all the other endeavors of their communities, friends, lovers – lived resistance – I am not compelled by “notions of resistance” practiced by artists or art students.
SMP: Do you mean the notion that it is the artist’s responsibility to create interstices—new spaces of visibility that can serve as sites of resistance?
LJ: I would think demarcating “sites of resistance” would merely make them precious, or targets, or boutiques. Or worse, installations. No, we must do our best work in alliances with convivial constituencies, with cities, ecologies and systems, and without privileging artists and art practices. I would rather have bee-hives in the Eastern Market, than another art interstice.
SMP: You’ve spoken quite a bit about your role as an educator. I’m wondering how your praxis as an educator influences you as a maker, or are the two not exclusive?
LJ: I am influenced directly, intimately, thrillingly. No, not exclusive. Many of the most compelling contemporary creative makers and thinkers understand that 21stC engagement is one, inevitably, of hybrid practices and multi-site conversations, and collaborations. So to, I believe, should the academy be thus engaged. Alas, not so – we still have the discreet silo model, perpetuated by faculty and administrators. Clearly we must foster pedagogical templates that are not only founded on the demands of one’s craft, but also explores an intertwining of trends, debates, and practices in the humanities, sciences, politics, and worlds of commerce and communications. Our place in the world and how we can create meaningful relationships between others and ourselves is the challenge that faces us, and should motivate us to action and certainly to change. Most of this kind of creative labour is happening between students and communities, not between departments and colleges – so yes, this informs the kind of work I want to make directly and, of course, feeds back into my classrooms. The pedagogical imperative for me is to have students understand learning as the conversation that creates our cultures – in real-time, no deferment – participate now. Their lives, loves, and labor defines culture, and culture leads commerce. I wish to operate—and equip our students, citizenry, and colleagues to thrive—at the nexus between art, culture, commerce, and science. I want to support and encourage students to become authors of new subjects in the world: new subjects that celebrate the unique qualities of their relationships and aspirations within families, communities and global networks. An open-ended, porous, responsive and pleasure producing exploration – what an idea for an art school!
SMP: Site seems to be a reoccurring point of engagement in your work. Can you elaborate on your decision to relocate to Detroit and what you find compelling about this locality?
LJ: Your question has been much on my mind at the conclusion of my first year in this remarkable place – or dream, called Detroit. My current thinking? I’m not certain it has to be, any longer, a question of “leaving” in a definitive way, to go somewhere else – maybe it is closer in spirit to expanding, or re-forming. The world offers us an amazing set of options, and technologies, to engage nomadic ways of working and living. It feels simply like matter-expansion, and a very exciting one. My family and I will be triangulating between Maine, Detroit, and New York. The best way to understand this past year might be in my “articles of faith” - the pleasure of working with 45 incoming first-year students over the last three terms – amazing group of citizens – I have produced three complicated projects with a range of collaborators. And in October we open Signal-Return, a storefront press and print shop in the Eastern Market, to be directed by my partner, MeganO’Connell, produced with Team Detroit.
Detroit, past, present, and future, and the opportunity to participate in reinvention and innovation in a field I love. Regarding location, the potential of place has always been a compelling force for me. What can I make of the past, of material history? What is just beyond the visible? What is the space of potential between the claims of the past and the demands of the future? I have made the acts of reading, walking and sensing place, priorities – I was born in Cape Town, remember… complex, volatile, vivid. Detroit looms very large for me.
Sarah Margolis-Pineo is a curator and writer. She is currently the Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow at the Cranbrook Art Museum.