The Love Librarian is in. Another Valentine’s Day may be behind us, but Detroit-based artist Chido Johnson still wants to talk about love. For the month of February, Johnson is the official Love Librarian of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), cataloging, digitizing, and facilitating public engagement with his ongoing project, Let’s Talk About Love Baby, a growing collection of artist-made romance novels. Since its founding in 2008, the Love Library has expanded from Detroit to include branches in Chicago, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia. Each chapter has its own resident Love Librarian whose task is to invite a group of artists, (who in turn have invited additional artists), to contribute a book to the burgeoning collection.
The current Detroit archive consists of works from artists and collectives who cross all media and cultural demographics, and their variable portrayals of love and romance range from the steamily satirical to the unnervingly intimate. “Heart Abortion” by Suite42, (Danielle Julian Norton and Tarrah Krajnak), is an homage to art world-induced heartbreak bound in the pages of Artforum; Scott Johnson’s “Guilty Love,” is a volume whose pages literally reflect the reader-as-author bound in narcissistic self-love; and Ed Brown and Annie Reinhardt’s dual volumes, “Birds + Shell,” consist of a cassette and player housed in a pair of two unassuming covers of Danielle Steele paperbacks. Each book when ensconced en masse is equally compelling, and upon closer examination, the works reveal maker, collector, and reader as agents bound by an affection for, well, affection, in all its mysterious and salacious incarnations.
The Love Library was born from a time of crisis. Creator Chido Johnson sought to address the violence and devastation of the current moment with a project that could serve as a generative counterpoint—love being a force that similarly leads to undoing and affect. Exploring a subject that many would consider taboo in the context of academia and fine art, Johnson ventured beyond the pop precedent of Robert Indiana, the unsubstantive sparkle of Damien Hirst, and even the digitally-networked quotidian community of Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher’s Learning to Love You More. Indeed, Let’s Talk About Love Baby is a different brand of cheese altogether. Johnson’s library reminds us that universality doesn’t preclude difference, and sometimes quirkiness can be found in cliché.
I spoke with Chido Johnson, Love Librarian, in residence at MOCAD.
Sarah Margolis-Pineo: So, let’s talk about love. How did this project begin, and how is love as a subject significant for you?
Chido Johnson: The idea for Love Library [Let’s Talk About Love] began when I was teaching in Sweden in 2008. This was just when violence in the Gaza Strip was escalating, and when Zimbabwe—where I was born and raised, was going through a horrific time. An image that has stayed with me from that moment is news footage of a doctor amidst the shelling in Gaza being interviewed live by a friend who worked for the Israeli TV. While he was being interviewed about the conflict, he was told that his family—his daughters were just killed by Israeli shells. It was crazy. At that time, I was thinking that as an educator we don’t talk about love, sex, or religion, and for whatever reason, these are all no-nos in an academic setting; instead, we talk about psychology and identity, and I felt like we were missing the meaty stuff of life. Later, talking about this issue with one of my colleagues in Sweden, I knew I wanted to address this idea. I was moved by it.
SMP: Why the form of the romance novel?
CJ: I was raised in rural Zimbabwe where we didn’t have television. My mom was a medical doctor and for her downtime she would read Mills and Boons, which is the British version of Harlequin— novels that are more toned down and more romantic than the very hot, highly sexualized versions that are over here. Really, it was the only form of entertainment, and I used to read at least one romance book a week.
This romance novel project is a way to address the cheesiness of love—how it’s perceived as a cheesy subject, packaged in cheesy formats like the Harlequin novel and the top-forty movie. I had to address the work in a totally cheesy way—I embraced the cheesiness. The thing about the romance novel is you tend to discount this shelf immediately for its cheap paperbacks—as a one-night stand kind of experience, but then, if you really let yourself go into the project, you can be caught. The love story is human.
My work has been always curious about othering and the formation of assumptions—assumptions of self and of other. The idea is to look down the shelf and see all of these homogenized objects. It’s only when you pick one out and spend some time with it that you realize that it’s so different. It was really important to the project that this work was not made by me, rather, I invite people to participate in it. It had to be about the collectivism, and it had to be about the assumptions of the similar and the shock of the differences. We are enriched by our differences, not by systemized similarities. That’s what I really wanted to push with the project.
SMP: It’s interesting, because as you rightly point out, there’s a distinct stickiness between numerous elements within the work including: fantasy and reality, serial and singular, and ephemeral and eternal. Can you speak more to the objecthood of this work?
CJ: Yes, this project definitely speaks to the book and its perceived temporalness. These objects here are very much alive —in touch, caress, smell—yet in our present time, books have become the object of nostalgia almost similar to a hand written letter. So that physicalness was very important too, and I think that’s why I specifically called out to artists who would approach work so differently, but are very conscious of the physical nature of objects. Each book is a very physical experience.
Growing up, my father was an artist—a political activist and a puppeteer. As a child, I really enjoyed making puppets, and for me, a puppet has a defined role and function. It has a purpose, a cultural function. So i see the work being very raw, naked to its actual role, thus very real, and not dependent on an existential narrative. It’s an object that is what it is—it exists through a performative act, not through its fabricated narrative. I see traces of that here in the Love Library, and also in the project in the next gallery, [Laugh Detroit].
SMP: I’m also interested in the collaborative aspect of this project. Primarily, you solicit the participation of artists contributing to the work, but then you also have the continued activation of the project through the lending library and the physical interactions with the viewing/reading public. First, can you speak to the logistics of participation in this project—is there an open call, for example? And more generally, what does participation bring to your practice overall?
CJ: There’s no open call, and it’s up to the Love Librarians to extend the invitations to artists to participate. All the people who I initially called are people who I totally admire and respect. I called them individually, and then I told each one that they could in turn invite one person to participate. That’s how it grew, and now in all the different chapters—Chicago, Addis Ababa, [Ethiopia], St. Louis, Harare, [Zimbabwe]—the librarians there can extend their own invitations to allow those chapters to grow. It’s amazing how it slowly creeps and expands. Looking at these shelves, I know everyone here is so intimately connected and there’s so much love and respect that exists here. I wanted to keep the project real that way, the feeling of a community.
On top of that, I guess, as any artist tries to do, I always try to question the ways we present work and how we interact with an audience. What I really enjoy about the idea of a library is that is that it’s not an immediate, total experience—it’s a changing space that has to be constantly interacted [with], and it’s intimately interacted [with]. I like that it’s not being perceived as art, so people can perform the work and have a natural experience rather than a trained experience. At first I thought that I would have the public check-out books, but right now, books are still coming, so I’m here every day cataloging. I’ve held back from checking-out books because now I’m very protective of all the books in the show.
I’ve been starting to think about that. It’s gotten to the point now where it’s a project that I feel honored to be a part of, but it’s a lot of work. I do everything: run the website, self-sponsoring, ship books back and forth, so I’ve been starting to think of what to do in the long term. It’s a responsibility I have now—it’s not just a project, it’s a responsibility, and these are really precious books.
SMP: What struck me immediately about this project is its seriousness. Despite the cliché fantasy of romance novel, by in large, these artists presented very real, very moving, very intimate narratives through making these objects.
CJ: That’s what shakes me up! A friend of mine—that colleague in Sweden who I mentioned earlier, she passed away last year. Her book is a copy of Romeo and Juliet; she removed all the text except for the words that bind. The pages are sort of translucent, so as you flip through the experience of it is almost like a river—like water, but it’s still mapped out as the pages were, so there is an internal order. She did this book in honor of a friend of hers in Sweden who was a Fluxus artist who passed away at that time, and since the artist’s own passing, this has become a truly powerful piece. I remember sitting down in Ethiopia meeting a group of artists and introducing the project. In the beginning, I have my rap about the project: this is what it’s about, it’s all about love, etc. But then when the work actually happens, every time, it’s totally moving. It’s then that the realness occurs. People tell their stories. There’s one couple: he’s in Ethiopia, and she is attending school in Texas. Since the day they’ve been married, they’ve been separated by a great distance with no funds to travel. They’re book is a collection of emails sent back and forth across the globe during their separation.
Love is something that’s trapped in us. The world is in such a state now, that’s it’s almost like we have to hold on to something—some sense of realness. We’re at the height of crisis, and people become overrun with emotion. Really, we need love.
Chido Johnson is the head of sculpture at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, and was a 2009 Kresge Fellow. Currently, he is the Artist-in-Residence at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) as part of the Department of Education and Public Engagement Space Residency, where the artist has installed his Love Library and will be serving as head librarian. On Sunday Feb. 19, 12-4pm, Johnson will facilitate “I Love You and Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!” as part of Laugh Detroit, also on view at MOCAD.
This interview is part one of two. On Thursday March 2, Bad@Sports will post part two of Sarah Margolis-Pineo’s interview with Chido Johnson.
“In the beginning, in the beginning, there was not a beginning. The common ancestor is unknown. Between each species and the common ancestor, who is unknown, one must seek, forever seek the intermediate forms” (Georges Aperghis, L’origine des espèces).
The performance took place inside a non-descript office building in Mid-town Manhattan. Despite the newish marble-clad lobby downstairs, the designated floor rested on creaking wood floors, that had been subdivided by drywall. Within an audible distance, someone sang scales and the outside wall of the theater (just opposite the elevator) was decorated with pairs of headshots — a before and after beneath which lay professional tag lines and phone numbers offering touch-up services. We had gathered in the corridor of what felt like a rehearsal studio — a realization that only added to the curiousness of what was to come: I mean, what would an opera about Darwin look like?
When we first sat down in the theater, before the production had started, the nearby, but disembodied voice had switched from scales to Celine Dion — practicing for an upcoming audition, I supposed. She continued to push through the climax of her song until the accompanying pianist would stop unexpectedly — silence ensued (what signified a conversation to me) — and then the two started again, just before the song’s crescendo. Two folding tables stood waiting on stage. Five binders waited patiently on each, along with a pair of rubber gloves, glasses and an assortment of small, plastic animals. (There was a pause in the Dion song, this one longer than the last). A series of steam-punkish bare bulbs had been clipped to the table and one of the walls was covered with pictures from an animal calendar. The invisible chanteuse finally completed the song and the room grew quiet. So too the house lights dimmed as six women came on stage in lab coats. One carried a cello. They bowed, we clapped and the cellist moved to the side. She sat apart from her peers who moved behind the folding tables and sat down side-by-side.
The cellist spoke first, in French (the language of the entire piece); she suggested both that there was no beginning and that we must look to intermediate forms to discover human nature. Drawing on both Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species and Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life, Greco-French composer Georges Aperghis wrote a seventy-minute opera. With those texts as an anchor, and the ever present counter balance of the cello (the only instrument the opera calls for), we experienced a musical rendition of the history of evolution. Much of the performance is babbling — an assorted accumulation of consonants that sometimes mimic other life forms (a parrot for instance) but there are coherent narratives that emerge in the throng. Each of the five vocalists performs an aria on one of the following themes: Birth (Soprano I : Megan Schubert), Death (Contralto: Amirtha Kidambi), Cinderella (Mezzo-soprano: Silvie Jensen), Delivery (Soprano II: Christie Finn) and “the love experience” (or eros)(Soprano III: Gelsey Bell). The Cellist, Émilie Girard-Charest embodies theory (logos), and often seems to quote Darwin and Gould directly. Probably it would seem like madness, except that the characters delivering this production are certain of themselves and focused; they never seem bewildered by evolution but instead appear to channel its course seeming at once facilitators of process and investigators. They wield the authority of science, conducting comical demonstrations in petri dishes. The last thing I was expecting was that sense of humor and it gave so much life to the whole show, eliciting a whole range of emotional experience (for me anyway) from Laugh out Loud, to the sanguine bittersweet.
The script regularly calls for a “nonsensical interlude,” portions of rhythmic nonsense that separate individual solos. Always, the cellist guides the audience through the changing landscape. The production continues this way: the cellist sits to the side and interjects sensible, reflective statements. These are interrupted by longer interludes comprised primarily of phonemes — the building blocks of language — produced by the other singers. Much of the vocalist sound seems hysterical, harpy-like and unformed, yet perhaps aptly capturing the chaos of ecology; the five woman fall extraordinarily into sync. At those moments the audience is supported with a sudden cohesion: what often leads to the description of a particular life form: “We are in the Age of Arthropods, in the fossiliferous rocks the oldest have suddenly appeared the species belonging to the great divisions of animals. But we are in the Age of Arthropods, far more numerous than Mammals.”
Sextuor: L’origine des Espèces is not officially an opera. It is an oratorio. As an admitted amateur, I’ve at least discovered the broadstrokes of distinction. Operatic characters interact with one another; operas also engage historical or mythological themes. Oratorios have traditionally dealt with sacred material; they are often produced in churches and require little in the way of sets. Sextuor: L’origine des Espèces seems to occupy a wonderful in-betweenness where these genres are concerned. On the one hand, it uses the scientific tradition as a sacred platform, conjuring the feel of an origin-story within the terminology of science. At the same time it incorporates colloquial myth, telling the Cinderella story between the music of birds and the introduction of fish. As in a proper oratorio, the characters interact very little. What interaction exists appears incidental.
One might say the same in biology. In Giorgio Agamben’s The Open: Man and Animal, one of the primary projects of the book is to examine where and how humanity defines itself against its animal cousins. Over the course of that discussion, Agamben incorporates an historical naturalist Jakob von Uexkill. “Where classic science saw a single world that comprised within it all living species hierarchically ordered from the most elementary forms up to the higher organisms,” Agamben writes, “Uexkhill instead supposes an infinite variety of perceptual worlds that, though they are noncommunicating and reciprocally exclusive, are all equally perfect and linked together as if in a gigantic musical score at the center of which lie familiar and at the same time, remote little beings called Echinus esculentus, Amoeba terricola, Rhizostoma pulmo, Sipunculus, Anemonia sulcata, Ixodes ricinus, and so on” (p. 40). Agamben goes to describe precisely how the fly cannot physically perceive the spider web — that the worlds of spider and fly while being mutually reliant essentially exclude one another. To return to SLDE, the piece occurs both as a cohesive — potentially operatic — whole, and as an oratorio comprised of several, independent, interlocking parts.
And then there is the most marvelous end. Because any biography must surely account for the demise of its subjects, a performance based on the fleeting occasion of life must also account for its own disappearance. Suddenly humanity’s advantage — its peculiar capacity to tell a story — seems especially mistaken in its privilege. A gross delusion we share, even Homer’s posthumous fame would appear insignificant: another bit of fodder for time’s desert. SLDE admits to the weight of that knowledge by drawing through audience into darkness. We feel its immanence. The stage goes dark after a particularly moving solo by Love, in which she describes the pleasure of being alive, just shy of an epiphany perhaps. “But I, I was truly having fun. I whirl about as if drunk. I understood that I was carrying a great weight on my shoulders. I have an explanation for the beginnings of life on Earth. I understood that I was already lucky to be a living being.” Following her song (she has taken off her lab coat and wears only a dress now), the other performers gather in a circle, joining hands around a single light. The cellist puts down her bow and joins the others, who must open their circle wider to admit her. “O, you who listen to me tell this story full of memories and holes, we are that improbable,” says the Cellist in French, “and fragile species heading toward extinction and the extinction of all species, internal causes, external causes, I do not know, we the original species that tells the story of its origins full of holes and gaps, because we have so few documents, an incomplete story of the Earth in an everchanging dialect, of which we have but the last volume, some fragments of its chapters and some lines of its pages or some letters, and words of uncertain meaning! Immense Nature improbable and unpredictable, contingent nature, where are we going, we who say life was wonderful, we who say life is wonderful?”
This production made its New York debut once before one year ago. Almost the same cast performed at Joria Productions in 2012. After several months of preparation this year, they had a three-night run. I felt so fortunate to be there. It brought so much to mind — for instance, Timothy Morton’s ideas about Nature and how there is no “over there” Nature, only a mesh we all inhabit together: SLDE captures that, while at the same time maintaining the tension of a human narrative. It also made me think about artist Marion Laval-Jeantet’s experiments in hybridity and how these potentially challenge hierarchical habits between species. And then, of course, the very recent attempts Russian scientists have made to drill into an ancient lake in Antarctica: in order to see what life may have endured there, outside our human timescapes. There is so much more to write about and think about, perhaps most of all the musical components, which I am probably the least qualified to consider. But. It was amazing. The energy and vitality of its members as they negotiated what I can only imagine to be a most challenging musical score. I hope they can put it on again, for a longer run; I would love to see it again.
**Sextuor: L’origine des Espèces was directed by Jeremy Bloom and Nick DeMaison with lighting design by Kryssy Wright. It was hosted by Joria Productions from February 2nd-4th, 2012.
February 14, 2012 · Print This Article
Recently the topic of online galleries and their proliferation in the past year has been on the tips of many tongues. Specifically, the argument involves a musing on how the development of online venues for showing net-based work is providing a fundamental shift in the paradigms of traditional art market systems. Although I support and am interested in these projects, I haven’t been convinced one way another of their effectiveness, or if these new galleries are actively engaging, responding, or directly working against the establish status quo of art exhibition. One such criticism of the overall impact of these spaces comes from the striking similarity of artists shown in these venues. In very few instances do these spaces show artists that haven’t otherwise had some kind of successful online exposure (through something like Rhizome, Art Fag City, or even the artist’s own dynamic social networking presence). The amount of overlap between the artists shown in these online venues is telling to the overall quality of work being made and distributed online. It’s not that I want to argue that these artists are underserving of so much attention, or that their work hasn’t earned wide distribution and exhibition, but I do question the value of having multiple online venues showing such similar kinds of work and artists (especially given the availability of so many creative, insightful, and challenging works being made within/around network culture).
This being said, I came to scrutinize my own suspicion of these so-called alternatives by questioning the fundamental basis of my own judgement: is it the responsibility of these websites and galleries to create an antithesis of the standard model of commercial distribution? Is it is also their responsibility to only show artists that otherwise would never have an opportunity to show in physical space? Following this train of thought, I came to question whether it is even the intent of these spaces and sites to operate as opponents or counters to the art market, and if it is fair of me to critique these spaces underneath these expectations. If not, then what intentions and responsibilities do organizers and curators have in the creation of their forum? To provide more substance for these considerations, I decided to talk directly with those that have been cited as promising examples of this trend in an attempt to uncover how these (mostly artist-run) initiatives consider their own activities within the larger scope of contemporary art exhibition and economics.
For my pool of information I solicited responses and conversations from Art Micro Patronage, BOCA, Bubblebyte, Fach and Asendorf Gallery, Klaus Gallery, and Parallelograms to contribute some thoughts on their role as ambassadors for online artworks. I asked these spaces how their projects saw themselves within the dominant art market system, and how they attempt to incorporate both online audiences interested in the type of work they are showing, as well as audiences that extend beyond what I characterized before as a rather insular group. It might be important to note here that some of these spaces offer their exhibitions without any intention to make money, or without any deliberate sense of “marketing” their work to buyers and sellers. This being said, that stance can be viewed as an act of defiance against the normative system of commercial markets, and in itself can be viewed as a (political) position within that market. Given this, my inquiries of how they effect and respond to normative art showcasing still applies. My decision to consider these questions in light of this variability in itself speaks to the need for flexibility in traditional systems of showing emerging artists and/or work that is difficult to purchase, own, or commercialize.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was provided with an equally variable array of answers to the above posed questions. That being said, I wasn’t surprised that most responders emphasized the creativity of the artists and work exhibited on these sites overrode the significance of needing to reach an audience that might not be aware of online cultural production. Leah Beeferman and Matthew Harvey of Parallelograms stress that their project isn’t directly intending to “dismantle” the traditional art market, but instead is “really a project for artists, and hopefully one that ends up being [more] about ‘creative’ process than anything else.” The accentuation of the work is perhaps the reason why there is so much overlap between galleries and their audiences, since the sampling of work in these venues is often specifically invested in a long term process, as opposed to the more product driven model of commercial galleries. Although the quick turn around between conception of an idea and execution might be sped up by online production, the underlying substance of most of these makers involve a long term exploration of their craft and culture.
The other central benefit that almost all spaces identified with is that by maintaining work online all the physical limitations of spatial and temporal proximity no longer are an issue. As Rhys Coren and Attilia Fattori Franchini from Bubblebyte argue:
Art online gives you a lot of freedom, the possibility of eliminating lots of costs that you would have in a normal gallery setting – equipment, space, exhibition costs, communication costs [are minimized]. It is definitely weird but we are enjoying the challenge, often using limitations as a strength to develop our discourse… we can reach the world for the cost of an Internet connection, and we’re open 24 hours a day.
In terms of considering audience, The Internet is the most accessible place I know to see art. The only requirements are an Internet connection and a way of accessing that. Where you are isn’t a factor. When you look isn’t a factor.
The newfound accessibility and wide distribution that these sites offer patrons and artists appears to be enough to sustain the importance of adapting to contemporary cultural communities. However, there is a dangerous presumption that everyone is looking at the work at the same time, or even in the same way. Not that this is necessarily suggested by these projects, but I’d argue that the vast distribution and decentrality of these works occasionally usurps the actual political, cultural, or aesthetic content. To apply this metric to the successfulness of any one show is a slippery slope, and seems a bit too closely tied to attendance demands that plague physical cultural institutions (although this problem has been partially alleviated by the growing attendance of many major institutions). In order to create “value” out of these works, one needs more criteria than a mere visit counter to judge impact. This being said, that “value” seems to be generated from the growing amount of physical mountings and exhibitions that are directly influenced by these sites (many of the projects above have already specifically forayed into physical shows, or plan on have IRL versions in the near future).
The question of how to create a space of appreciation for the kind of art being distributed through social networks and online galleries has to involve an inquiry into how to cross pollinate audiences online and off. A tricky aspect of this process lies in how one defines – or identifies with – the community they exist within, as well as the audience that they wish to access. This is particularly the case when we observe how a market system is often times attached to a specific physical audience or temporal community. The physical space often reflects the culture around it, and for the Internet, this mimetic process is almost impossible to centrally locate and concretely diagnose. To navigate between a community of makers across the globe and a local constituency can often lead to competing terms and expectations. Most responders argued that because a system of sharing, open distribution, and community discourse was already been established online, that all these projects had to do was put a name to an already familiar face. This name then serves as an external identification for an online community to be in dialog with those that might be unfamiliar – or else those that don’t have the benefit of a local forum (as Coren and Franchini indicated).
Duncan Malashock identifies that being able to talk to both a larger international audience and those more local influences how he helps operate Klaus Gallery:
The goal of the project was to introduce Internet-related artists to the audience of Klaus von Nichtssagend, two groups who’d had limited exposure to one another. The work is of course available, but to suggest that the project is “in dialogue” with a “market,” I think is perhaps to put too fine a point on it. Our hope is to introduce the online work of particular artists whose work we find potentially engaging to a particular audience that we’re familiar with.
Similarly, Eleanor Hanson Wise and Oliver Wise of Art Micro Patronage also urge that their intentions come from extending the work of artists primarily working online onto the personal computers of contemporary art appreciators and collectors:
We didn’t design AMP to compete with galleries selling work. We looked more to a museum model, where the community who appreciates the institution supports it. For a collector, we tried to provide an easy way to keep track of and access the work you like… Why don’t museums (for the most part) show or collect “netart”? It seems to us that it’s because they don’t have a good way to show it, curate it, and make it accessible to the public… By offering the general public a way to experience the shows and fund the artists working in this way, artists can reach a different audience, and that audience can give those artists a financial vote of confidence, even if it’s in a small way.
Art Micro Patronage goes on to admit how their unwillingness to participate in direct competition with the commercial gallery system shows that again the important part is to enable artists working online to gain exposure to channels that otherwise might not be readily available.
Often the power of these sites is that they already come prepackaged with an entire community at their backs. The proliferation of online spaces (and the multiplicity at which they continue to crop up) is in no small part due to a net-based community of artists that have been arguing the need for these types of venues. Kim Asendorf of FA-G even goes so far as to say that “Net Art legitimizes online galleries,” as opposed to the other way around as I initially suggest. The overall strength of this network lies in their willingness to support the programming and curation of a underrepresented net art scene. Moreover, it could be argued that this enthusiasm and support will play a major role in tipping the scale in favor of non-commercial gallery distribution, and to create the much needed alternative to the status quo that dominates most art institutionalization.
A foreseeable danger in this is finding a way to make these spaces have long term sustainability, and continued resonance with online makers. A case study to consider in light of the somewhat temporary-ness of online curatorial projects (i.e., jstchillin, The State, etc.) is to look at the transience that also occurs in the apartment gallery scenes of cities like Chicago and San Francisco. Although these projects and experimental spaces crop up frequently with much initial support, artists and organizers of those types of spaces usually move on from them after two or three years. What online galleries have going for them is that they are not as tied down to physical space, finance, and luck as these temporary spaces usually are. However, the rapid audience shifts that often occur in online environments might also serve as a word of caution to these spaces to consider how to sustain a practice over a longer concentrated amount of time (although this might not be important for some).
Some would dispute that the only way to prevent the potential collapse of an unsustainable and primarily voluntary project is to introduce a financial element into the mix. Often this takes the shape of incorporation of one kind or another – non-for-profit status, a business license or LLC, etc. In this way, Bozeau Ortega Contemporary Arts (or BOCA for short) stands out amongst the participants I polled as a specifically commercially driven platform for the distribution and sale of digital projects and objects (with some visible success according to their website). Of the projects mentioned above, BOCA is distinct in that it attempts to comment on the art market directly by satirically playing into its rhetoric and formula. Their position as a viable commercial entity explicitly investing in digital objects – regardless if the project has fictitious elements and cleverly disguised “backers” – serves as an ironic twist on standard marketplace practices:
The immaterial nature of our product has problematized its commodity status and, as a result, dialogue has become our central function (we see this as an investment in the future of ourselves and our artists)… Unwittingly, our gallery has come to occupy a critical space: our immaterial works of art, and their relatively low market value in spite of their rarity and novelty, occupy a position critical of the value of typical, physically mediated works of art… If commodification and market viability make a body of work legitimate, then yes, BOCA Gallery could be seen to be legitimizing an area of artistic production which formerly expressed no interest in such “legitimization.” However, by doing such a poor job of commodifying these objects for market consumption, our project could actually be fulfilling the opposite role, unwittingly exposing the absurdity of such economics applied to such arbritrarily valuated virtual objects (both physical and digital).
Regardless of the clarity of intention, or the degree at which a project aims to complicate the standard system of art exhibition (or the certainty of authorship and origin in the case of BOCA), the common thread between the responses that I got reflect a similar attitude to what Beeferman and Harvey discussed initially. The priority of showing work that is otherwise underrepresented in traditional gallery scenes dominates the central desires of most of these sites. The trouble I have with this is an implied marginality that occurs when discussing net based artists. This imposition of feeling excluded, or else impatience with the for-profit market system, is more self-imposed then externally dictated. To ride this rhetoric fully seems ignorant of the ways in which digital art is, or more accurately already has infiltrated and become more pronounced in the greater art world dialog. To favor one system over the other, or to underscore the supposed ignorance of major cultural institutions for not having more net based art, can position the artist, work, or community as having ingrained entitlement due to its novelty. As a result, that dueness inherently denigrates the process driven community based discourse that gives net-based art so much life and energy.
Perhaps an underlying question then becomes: why is net-art perceived as such a marginal medium needing specific online galleries to cater to their production and distribution? If an ideal environment of an artists working online lies within the personal computing web-browsing experience, then why the need for relocating these works into another specific website/framing? What is “more accessible” about an online gallery then an artists personal website? Are the tropes from the traditional gallery system still playing too significant a role in the way in which net-art is being presented? Or are these systems only being utilized in order to be exploited, undermined, and (eventually) refashioned from inside out?
This week: The Amanda Browder Show vs. Tom Friedman. As a sculptor myself, I find his work to be some of the most interesting and innovative of the last 20 years. This is an interview that has been on our wish list for a long time! Yay NYC bureau!
Tom Friedman was born in St. Louis, MO in 1965 and received his B.F.A. at Washington University, St. Louis, MO and his M.F.A. at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Tom Friedman’s art has been exhibited extensively in the United States and internationally. The quirky, and flawlessly executed work tends to defy categorization. While his art is often linked to 1960s Conceptualism and Minimal art, Friedman invents his own visual language through his almost obsessive attentiveness to detail and his striking ability to transform the familiar into the unexpected. He uses common household materials such as aluminum foil, spaghetti, fishing line, hair, Styrofoam, and Play-Doh to create works that rearrange the viewer’s perceptions of the everyday environment. Often humorous and always inventive, Friedman’s work raises questions about the making and seeing of art.
Work by Adam Farcus, Adam Grossi, Alberto Aguilar, Alex Bradley Cohen, Angeline Evans, Brian Wadford, Caroline Carlsmith, Cory Glick, Edra Soto, EC Brown, Irene Perez, Jeriah Hildwine, Jim Papadopoulos, Kevin Jennings, Nicole Northway, Pamela Fraser, Philip von Zweck, Thad Kellstadt, and Vincent Dermody.
Antena is located at 1765 S. Laflin St. Reception Friday, 6-10pm.
Work by Aron Gent, Nick Ostoff, and Sophia Rauch.
The Hills Esthetic Center is located at 128 N. Campbell Ave. Unit G. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.
Work by Heidi Norton.
Johalla Projects is located at 1821 W Hubbard St, Suite 110. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.
Work by Fatima Haider and Lourdes Correa-Carlo.
Julius Caesar is located at 3311 W. Carroll Ave. Reception Sunday, 1-3pm.
Printworks is located at 311 W. Superior St., #105. Reception Friday, 5-7pm.