September 30, 2013 · Print This Article
Guest Post by Paul King
The most recent time I loaded up the game Dark Souls, my character unsheathed a sword from her back and drew her shield. And then I noticed a message, written maybe two steps away: â€œGrief.â€
The world of Dark Souls is, as the title would suggest, dark. Itâ€™s a classic, worn down fantasy world where everything is crumbling. Your character begins in a prison for the lost and undead; your default state is one of decay. Even as you continue to a city meant for gods, all is in dangerous, ruinous disrepair.
And most of the game is spent alone. Save a few neutral, stationary characters, any sort of dialogue is non-existent. Your hero never speaks, only grunts in the heat of battle, and these stationary merchants quickly run out of new phrases, things to sell you, or purposes to exist.
But at a certain point, your character may buy (or steal) a chunk of soapstone from one of these merchants. Once you obtain the soapstone, you may use it to write, coating the floor in incandescent orange scribbles that, upon interaction, reveal their text.
During the course of Dark Souls, no fix for the broken world emerges. At times, other characters hint that the universe has descended into darkness from a former glory, and your lone heroâ€™s quest might be the thing to restore it. But nothing you do on your journey really changes anything; felled enemies reappear upon your death and subsequent rebirth, and also upon the saving of your progress. But while your standard fantasy actions yield no change and are easily erased, the soapstone allows you to impact the gameâ€™s world in a singular, everlasting way: through writing.
Thereâ€™s a multiplayer component of Dark Souls that allows players to enter the world of another. One can invade or be summoned, and these are adversarial or cooperative interactions, respectively. Both are temporary.
Messages penned with the soapstone, on the other hand, are permanent. Quit the game and return days later, they will still be there. And perhaps more importantly, while invasions and summons are constrained to a single instance of the game worldâ€”that of the invaded or summoning playerâ€”messages, instead, are universal. Write a message on the floor of a chapel within your game, and the same message appears in the same chapel of another personâ€™s game.
And there they sit, for any other player who happens by it. But much like the world of Dark Souls, the system in which messages are created is opaque and difficult.
The soapstone may be used to write a variety of messages, but only from a template. You choose a formatâ€”for instance, â€œTry _____â€ or â€œBe wary of ______.â€ Once youâ€™ve chosen a format, you can then choose from a list of categories to fill that blank. Options here include orientation (â€œTry left,â€ â€œBe wary of rightâ€), objects (â€œTry sword,â€ â€œBe wary of chestâ€), and attributes (â€œTry fireâ€).
Because the messages are selected from a template, speech is limited, and as such, messages become muddied. As with the world, story, and mission of the game, the onus is on the player as a reader to determine the intent of a message. And as with the rest of the game, the system can be frustratingâ€”authorial intent easily becomes unclear, especially in the wake of present danger due to the gameâ€™s refusal to be paused. Pick the wrong moment to write a message, or linger too long on selecting the correct Mad-Libbian phrase and it might instead spell death.
And Dark Soulsâ€™ closed language system isnâ€™t immune to classic video game juvenility. At a certain point, my character encountered the message â€œAmazing chest ahead,â€ but instead of referring to what would make the most senseâ€”a treasure chestâ€”it was instead placed in front of a female character as an unfortunate reference to her anatomy.
While this example is depressing, itâ€™s fortunately rare. It also serves to underscore what is an even more important facet of the closed language: context. Not only may players choose what combinations of message to write, they may also choose where to place it within the worldâ€”for it to be a static element in the world of others. The same message becomes manifold depending on its placement.
A canned, writable phrase in the game is â€œPraise the Sun!â€ This is one of the only phrases that does not contain a mutable component (alongside â€œGood Job!â€ and â€œI did it!â€). Its placement is intended in relation to one of the gameâ€™s religionsâ€”meant to be written in a peaceful, brightly lit area upon which the sun shines. A prayer.
I found it once at the bottom of a sewer. Surrounded by the carcasses of massive, dead ratsâ€”think The Princess Brideâ€”here it was: â€œPraise the Sun!â€ In this context it served as an entirely different message, rife with a sense of irony not possible if placed in a different area. Though the text said differently, the message was obviously one of despair.
Just before an encounter with a massive, angry beast, somebody had written â€œtry jumping.â€ And after dying to the creature several timesâ€”an event that happens with most encounters of the difficult gameâ€”the message clicked. And indeed, it was jumping from a ledge and plunging a sword into the monsterâ€™s waiting back that proved to be the best strategy.
Elsewhere, I found the same message written on a set of uneven stone stairs, a crumbling railing beside it. â€œTry jumping.â€ I angled my view downward, past the railing, and saw only an endless descent, one that would surely kill me.
It did. After I learned a lesson about trust, I discovered another message, not far away: â€œBeware liar.â€
And what begins to emerge from identical phrases is a changing language, one dependent entirely on a static world. While some messages are incredibly straightforward (my favorite is â€œIllusory wall aheadâ€), others are incredibly vague.
One of the more interesting categories to choose a â€œblankâ€ from is â€œConcepts.â€ The category sits at the bottom of the list, beneath â€œCharacters,â€ â€œObjects,â€ and more, almost as if it were an afterthought. It is from this list some nameless stranger chose to pen â€œgrief.â€
What strikes me especially about the use of â€œgriefâ€ is that it is wholly unnecessaryâ€”the entire world embodies â€œgrief.â€ Though â€œhappinessâ€ is present on the list of concepts, the use of the word makes little to no sense in the context of Dark Soulsâ€”there is, ultimately, nothing happy within the game.
But within the constraints of the language system, these awkward, single words can be used in new ways that don’t necessarily pertain to the game. Before a particularly trying monster, instead of writing â€œTry lightningâ€â€”the monsterâ€™s supposed weaknessâ€”one could instead place â€œTry hope,â€ stepping outside of intended use.
Whatâ€™s interesting about these concepts is that they were placed in an otherwise interesting and well-thought out system; one that plays to the same difficulties and themes of the game. It is only when we as players make a conscious decision to write a specific message does the system break down, distancing itself from in-game tips and evolving into something poetic. When the system breaks, it allows players to leave an effective mark on not only their game world, but the game worlds of others.
Because while all messages might be eternal, the ones that conform to a useful fantasy systemâ€”tips, locations, or secretsâ€”ultimately interact with the world by blending into it, not changing it. The jumping tip about the monster led me to a strategic shortcut, while the deceitful note on the staircase created a new, interactive game experience. Those that reference nothing in the world but language concepts create new experiences entirely outside of the game.
Much of Dark Souls deals with the idea of immortality. Your character, like most video game characters, is seemingly tireless. Die, and be brought back again, and again, unceasingly until the game is done. The environments and enemies around you never change, and the latter is in seemingly endless supply. Even when your quest is over, the only option is to start over, either as a new character or the same one, this time in a harder difficulty.
Though the entirety of the game is caught up in this idea of perpetual fantasy, it promotes an unchanging stasis rather than an everlasting immortality. The player created messagesâ€”which ultimately exist outside of developer boundary or intentâ€”are the only things that truly seem to point towards immortality. While standard, intentional messages quickly blend into the context of the gameâ€™s world; those that break the mold escape the world and its shortfall. When a message references nothing external in the static game worldâ€”through the intentional or unintentional garbling of the closed systemâ€”it turns into a testament of itself. As a result, it transforms the writer from a player, into an author, leaving an indelible mark.
Â Paul King is a poet, writer, and video game enthusiast currently living in Chicago, IL. He grew up in Austin, TX and graduated from Bard College with a BA in Liberal and Written Arts.
September 24, 2013 · Print This Article
Guest Post by Britton Bertran
I was there in 2005 at the beginning of Bad at Sports (Episode 4!) and I hope Iâ€™m not there at the end. Â It was the year I opened my gallery, 40000. It was a good idea at the time. I was fed up with not seeing what I wanted to see and equally mesmerized by controlling my own destiny in a commercial sort of way. There were plenty of other interesting things happening and I figured â€“ why the hell not.
The years 2005 and 2006 were ok years for Chicago Art. It seemed to be an upswing couple of years when apartment galleries and art interest were peaking. (These things come in waves â€“ Iâ€™d put us in a upward motion now after reaching the bottom in 2011.) The MCA was showing interesting work (a Dan Flavin Retrospective, Deb Sokolow and William J. Oâ€™Brien had 12 x 12â€™s), blogs were percolating with critical activity (anyone remember panel-house.com or iconoduel.org?) and this new fandangled thing called a podcast had people sitting with their bulky desktops and REALLY listening.
I took a leap of art faith and quit my job, borrowed some money from my mom and with the help of a couple close friends including a now-deceased bartender from Phyllisâ€™, rocked out a storefront space on Winchester and Augusta. A year and a half later, some guy bought the building and wanted to turn it in to a really small Italian restaurant. I moved the gallery in the summer of 2006 to the bustling 119 N. Peoria building (soon to be home to only one gallery in 2014.)
Like-minded nice folks like Corbett vs. Dempsey, The Green Lantern, 65GRAND, Fraction Workspace, Western Exhibitions, Lisa Boyle Gallery, Duchess and a couple of more spaces, were all blazing fiery paths outside the West Loop in WestTown (does anyone even know where this is now?). We even organized, set up a network, handed out flyer/maps and coordinated openings. It worked for the most part. I think.
There was no social media except for Friendster and then that thing called Myspace. My digital camera had something like 3 megapixels and took incredibly shitty pictures. It took a solid hour to update my clunky website. It was rough out there in a walking up the hill backwards in a snowstorm kind of way. But it was great. Lots of visitors – mostly artists – came, drank and stole beer during openings, I sold art here and there, got a few reviews in national art magazines, was invited to fancy pants museum openings, met not-so-nice individuals who essentially run the art world, shook hands with some artist heroes and even did the occasional art fair in and outside Chicago.
But mostly, having this gallery gave me some pretty solid insight into how artists work, what they think about and what really matters the most to them career-wise. Surprisingly, and thankfully for me, it wasnâ€™t money. 40000 was definitely a failure in that regard and the main reason I closed in 2009. I was also unable, and did not want to, secure a sugar daddy/momma, which I slowly realized was the only way to sustainability. [A little secret â€“ there is less than a handful of galleries in Chicago that donâ€™t have one of these.]
I think itâ€™s pretty telling that almost half of the original West Town Gallery Network is still in effect.Â Corbett vs. Dempsey just got admitted to the Main Fair of Art Basel Miami Beach (a big damn deal). Western Exhibitions is still cranking out shows with aplomb and has incredible dedication to itâ€™s artists. 65GRAND (all caps no gaps, please) is run by one of the smartest and nicest gallerists in Chicago. Only one of these galleries is still in West Town â€“ though itâ€™s stretching it a bit. All of these spaces work so damn hard itâ€™s difficult for me to even comprehend how theyâ€™re possibly doing it. Most of us are still here in Chicago, I think. Whether or not we are running galleries, we are all getting old, raising families, have â€œrealâ€ jobs, etcetera. I hope you wonâ€™t forget us.
The artists I worked with are for the most part pretty successful in their careers. One or two I never hear from, a couple of others I never want to hear from. Nonetheless, it gives me great pleasure to know that I have a place in Chicago art history. Itâ€™s funny though, I seriously often wonder what would have happened if I had at least a 10 megapixel camera back then.
A little addendum here: I was often asked, â€œWhat the hell does 40000 mean?â€Â In fact a couple of months ago a collector emailed me out of the blue and straight up asked.Â So I told him.Â I named the gallery after Joe “40,000” Murphy. Â â€œ40,000â€ was a Chicago outsider artist and events usher in the 1950â€™s who either knew 40,000 famous people, or was renowned for saying â€œaboutâ€¦. 40,000 empty seats!â€ when asked how many people where coming to that dayâ€™s event.Â When people asked me, I made them guess. NobodyÂ got it right.
Britton Bertran ran 40000 from 2005 to 2008. He currently is an Instructor at SAIC in the Arts Administration and Policy department and the Educational Programs Manager at Urban Gateways. An occasional guest-curator, he has organized exhibitions for the Hyde Park Art Center, the Loyola Museum of Art and several galleries. You can find him trying to be less cranky about the art world on twitter @br_tton. Stay tuned for a couple more guest posts where Britton will be discussing his tumblr-famous tumblr â€œInstallatorâ€ and his take on whatâ€™s wrong with the Chicago art world circa 2013 – while thinking out loud about how to fix it.Â
Guest Post by Jacob Wick.
Before we begin, perhaps it would help to get acquainted: in what follows, and in what follows what follows – over the next few months, or however long Bad at Sports allows me to report from my swiveling office chair in Little Bangladesh – I will be concentrating on what I would say is my main area of concern, or perhaps, to be redundant, a concentration of mine: the support.
Thinking about support originates, for me, with Shannon Jackson’s book Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics, which I read two or three years ago and which burned a hole in my mind as I drove, with Marc Riordan and Frank Rosaly, around the Midwest and Southeast on tour with Tres Hongos. Driving the potholed and congested interstates of America through climate-changed constant downpour, hating everyone on the road and being hated by everyone on the road, arriving in what might as well have been safehouses in Lexington, Columbia, Asheville, Charlotte, places where I used to be surprised but now am simply glad to arrive…
From what I can remember, and from what I can glean from skimming the book again, three or two years later, Jackson points out that much recent performance work, “relational” work, socially-engaged work, “social practice,” and so on depends on a paradoxical relation to the conditions that make such work possible. A free school might, for instance, fill a vacuum left by a closed or too-expensive school; it might also absorb energy that might otherwise be used to advocate or agitate for better public access to education. The free school then either functions as a boon or a leech or both, a condition that many such attempts happily ignore. In any case, what stuck with me about Jackson’s thesis – which of course is, as she writes, inherited from Marcel Duchamp and Bertolt Brecht, among others, which I write not so much for the currency of either of those names but to point out that this, like so many other “contemporary” issues, is not new at all, or is related to the period directly before the Great Depression, or, again, both – is this focus on the support rather than the effect. Instead of bitching about a free school as too aesthetic or too political or not aesthetic enough or not political enough or some combination – a, b, c, d, all of the above, none of the above – it behooves us to wonder why on earth such a school might be necessary or appealing in the first place.
Nato Thompson’s recent piece in e-fluxÂ appears to be the beginning of a process wherein he either compares the strategies of socially-engaged artists to those of the US military in “counterinsurgency” mode, or compares them with the sorts of insurgent groups that counterinsurgency aims to eliminate. Regardless, I would write that what is most interesting or alarming about this comparison is not that it is possible to make – the similarities between insurgent practice, counterinsurgent practice, and “social practice” are stunning, in fact – but that the conditions that allow insurgent groups like Hezbollah or the US Army to function exist not only in what used to be the Third World but also in what used to be the First World: in Oakland, in Chicago, in rural Ohio, pretty much anywhere, even in Los Angeles. These conditions amount more or less to a vacuum of support.
In his alarming book Brave New War, published in 2006, military theorist John Robb makes an example of Hamas. Writing that Hamas thrives “in the vacuum created by failed states,” Robb points out that Hamas’s validity emanates from the social services it provides: education, food distribution, youth recreation, elder care, public safety, religious services, health care, grants to students and small businesses, and so on. Robb goes on to present a more-or-less identical model as an ideal model for security services in a post-nation-state age: something decentralized, something specific to its locale, something transparent: something rhizomatic, something site-specific, something participatory. Robb calls this the resilient community. The resilient community, in its very organization, builds the notion of resilience “into the fabric of everyday life,” so that, when presented with a threat – a threat posed by more-or-less identical groups like Hamas or the US Army – it responds in “what seems like an effortless way.” The idea seems to be to subsume ideology into everyday life, to make it seem not only beneficial, but necessary; not only ideal, but inevitable. Whether that ideology is that of an Islamic republic or that of neoliberal/-libertarian “resilience” or whatever ideology a given socially-engaged artwork might wittingly or unwittingly transmit, the methodology is the same: provide support where it is missing.
When I moved to Oakland two years ago, I read a book – American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland, by Robert O. Self – thinking I was going to take a class at CCA whose purpose was to create some sort of site-specific project in West Oakland’s historic rail terminal. I did not end up taking the class – which, by the way, failed in its internal negotiations and negotiations with the relators at the terminal, who were/are intent on it becoming yet another yuppie mall in yet another tedious yuppie development in West Oakland – but I did read most of the book. As one can imagine, the history of Oakland is not pretty, and books like this tend to weigh heavily. Self focuses on the lead-up to the overwhelming passage of Proposition 13 – arguably the beginning of the nationwide tax revolt that led to the election of Ronald Reagan and the subsequent gutting of social services – as a turning point in the city’s history. Beginning in the 50s, white residents in and around Oakland – with an emphasis on around, since many white residents simply left Oakland for whiter hills or whiter pastures in surrounding San Leandro, Hayward, Walnut Creek, etc – began a campaign of racist real estate practices against black and Latino populations, ghettoizing them to tiny neighborhoods, shuttering or draining business districts, reducing civic services to a bare minimum or below.
It is too tempting, at this point, to not bring up the striking similarity between the services Hamas provides and the services the Black Panther Provided in Oakland in the 70s, as described by Thompson and others, and to marvel at the implication that the Panthers, too, operated in a vacuum created by a failed state. West Oakland, at this point, had been ghettoized by racist real estate practices; physically separated from the rest of Oakland by a highway; and had lost its historic business and cultural center to the development of that highway. I suppose here the state did not so much fail as leave, or actively act against the people that constituted it (or decided, more accurately, that these people did not belong in the state and tried to make them disappear); the effect, though, was the same. The emergence and subsequent demonization of the Panthers made the “grassroots,” “populist” campaign of Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann, a wealthy white realtor and a wealthy white former realtor, appear logical to white people across California; Proposition 13 passed with overwhelming support.
Proposition 13 limits property tax to 1% of real property value. Cities use property taxes to fund civic institutions: public schools, libraries, transit systems, and so on – even the police. When Proposition 13 passed, California’s public schools were ranked among the nation’s best; since the passage of Proposition 13, California’s public schools have scuttled down to 48th. Which brings us, finally, to my swivel chair in Little Bangladesh.
Since moving to LA, I figured I should start reading City of Quartz, a sort of go-to history of the city by Mike Davis. So far, I’ve read the preface, which is a sobering catching up of the first edition of the book, published in the late 80s, with the second edition of the books, published in 2006; and the Prologue, the first chapter of the first edition, which relates the history of the early-20th-century (1914 actually, the same year as Bottle Rack) socialist Llano community, its demise, and Davis’s discovery of and conversation with two undocumented itinerant day workers in its ruins. For now, I’ll focus on the preface, which makes the case that the conditions that produced the riots of 1992 – which I think went all the way up to my neighborhood, here in the north of Koreatown (here in Little Bangladesh, in the north of Koreatown, between Historic Filipinotown and Thai Town/Little Armenia) – persist. Since the early 90s, manufacturing has continued to decline, corporations have continued to not headquarter themselves in LA, and
real household incomes fell throughout much of Southern California, but the worst drop in the median income was in the City of Los Angeles, where it fell by 9.1 per cent. At the same time, the percentage of households in poverty increased from 18 to 22 per cent, while the percentage with an annual income of more than $100,000 increased from 9.7 to 15.7 per cent. Almost 700,000 working adults in L.A. County have incomes below the poverty line, and seven of the ten fastest-growing occupations in the city, including cashier and security guard, pay less than $25,000 per year. (xvi)
If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably been listening to NPR or reading the news lately. Both Morning Edition and To the Point – produced here in LA! – have featured segments on growing income inequality recently, spurred by figures published last week by the Atlantic that show that the very richest Americans got even richer, richer than almost ever even, last year, richer than they’ve been since right before 2008 or right before the Great Depression. Davis places the blame largely on Proposition 13, writing that its effects ensure that
the greater part of the real-estate windfall annually passes through the economy, on its way to buy Hummers, Laker tickets, and vacation homes, without paying a tithe to schools and the creation of the human capital on which the future of California will rest. Luxury lifestyles are subsidized, as it were, on both ends: by a seemingly infinite supply of cheap service labor, and by the tax advantages that accrue to real-estate and sumptuary consumption. (xvi)
In the seven years since Davis wrote this, not much seems to have changed: Bentleys and helicopters shuttle the rich (or the police, or the news) across Los Angeles’s jumbled civic topography while precarious service workers cram limited and inefficient public transit and the rest of us in the ever-growing swath between stew in traffic. If anything, these conditions have simply spread across the US. The evaporation of traditional middle-class jobs – manufacturing, teaching – means that a huge range of people are clamoring for the same unpredictable and unreliable service sector jobs. As one of the commentators on the To the Point broadcast mentions (I think), the evaporation of the middle class means also the evaporation of class or income mobility. The poor will stay poor; the indebted will stay indebted; the rich will stay rich.
In the months between when I decided I was going to move to Los Angeles and the day my boyfriend and I actually did move to Los Angeles, I think the most common question – after, perhaps, a disgusted “have you been there?” – was a disgusted “why?” To which I would reply something vague and unhelpful about Los Angeles being ludicrous, fun, etc. Something about the discombobulated setup of the city being exciting, full of holes in which to do something. Perhaps also I would say something about LA being a place where dreams go to die and that I was interested in being in a place where dreams died and seeing what happened next. Actually, I probably never said that; I think I wrote it in a grant application though. Â Since moving here, I’m beginning to wonder if Los Angeles is just a microcosm – I hate that word, but there you go – of the US generally. In Los Angeles, there is a horrific gap between the rich and the poor; general public disregard for public institutions; shitty public transit; overwhelming belief in outmoded or disappeared dreams. Proposition 13 heralded a nationwide tax revolt and subsequent gutting of social services, leading in part to the evacuated and disjunct nation we have today. And if art can do anything in LA, perhaps it is a signal of what art – or anything, or anyone – might be able to do in the US generally, across all of its destroyed or depressed cities and towns.
Writing seven years ago, Mike Davis argued for a “more, not less, ideological politics.” Perhaps this is analogous to means more, not less, awareness of the ideology or ideologies buttressing a given socially-engaged project, relational event, or what-have-you; a focus on the support. What’s interesting about Los Angeles and the projects being undertaken here is not that they exist or that their structures might be analogous to those of Hamas or the Black Panthers (or InCUBATE), but rather the ideology being communicated by their action, the thing that they aim to build into everyday life, the thing that will appear effortlessly; what’s interesting about Los Angeles and undertaking a project here is not how hard or easy an environment Los Angeles is to undertake such a project, but rather if one can be organized in such a way that transmits an alternate ideology, something that focuses not on the same old neoliberal catchphrases -Â innovation, progress, a new vision -Â but on support, on fostering the conditions where mobility might have a chance to begin to occur again. We’ll see…
Jacob Wick is a conceptual artist based in Los Angeles. For more information, visit jacobwick.info.
Guest Post by Hannah Verrill
Iâ€™d like to use this bit of time-space to introduce a series of posts that will use process as a way of looking at and unpacking a handful of contemporary performance practices.
Each segment exists first as an encounter between an artist and myself. In the space between maker and observer, together we excavate a process, a series of actions that the artist is currently using to create performance material. Each exchange is specific to the work at hand, necessarily time-based, and unfixed in form.
The writing, produced in response to each exchange, seeks to mirror the kind of thinking that happens for a viewer after a performance has ended. The faulty and exuberant process of sifting through, assembling, and organizing the experience of such an ephemeral form.
Why focus on process? Iâ€™ll take my cue from Gertrude Stein: in order to know we always have to go back.Â
I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and it was through my mother and her involvement as a performer with Elise Longâ€™s amorphous dance-theater company Spoke The Hub that I began performing at the age of four. Longâ€™s performance projects were interdisciplinary, using movement as their main component but regularly incorporating visual art and spoken text.
In one of my earliest performance memories I am six years old on a large stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I am hiding behind a set piece waiting for a cue and watching Elise Long, dressed in a magnificent red lobster-gown costume, deliver a monologue to an audience of hundreds.
Two years later I was cast in Meredith Monkâ€™s work The Politics of Quiet; an ensemble piece addressing the Bosnian war for independence and Sarajevo in the 1990â€™s. I recall the intensity of the audition for this piece: my eight-year old body crossing a room slowly, picking up a vessel, feeling its weight and carrying it with me through space, and later being asked to sit as still as possible, my legs folded in front, focusing my attention on the air surrounding me.
In contrast to these kinds of engagements, my experience with performance as a kid was just as often marked by amateur experiments: strange dance-theater pieces thrown together in collaboration with cousins and staged for the family after thanksgiving dinner; solo dance numbers set to Fleetwood Mac and performed for my brothers, my dad, and a video camera; improvised movement by myself and for myself in the attic space of my home.
Three months ago I completed an MFA degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago focusing in performance. From where I stand now in relation to these childhood memories, I am aware not only of the performances themselvesâ€”events characterized by the work meeting an audienceâ€”but also of a much larger and more complex sea of experiences surrounding and generating the work. Time does its thing and I am still standing inside of the processes of those past works: the scaffolding comprised of auditions, rehearsals, trials, notes, periods of waiting, of watching, of thinking, of doing.
Performance theorists assert that in the instant of performance, the work experiences a kind of disappearance. With twenty-two years as a performer, I have felt time and time again the loss that comes with a performanceâ€™s end. My experience of my body as a learning-thinking-moving-performing thing, never fully knowing or comprehending the work that I was just then putting forth towards an audienceâ€”a you. This repeated rehearsal of loss drives my desire to spend time with and examine rigorously the nature of a process that works towards a disappearance.
What remains and what comes next? In a disappearing present, the past and the future takes on considerable weight. Process asserts a present. If we can agree that as a form performance undercuts the value of a static or fixed productâ€”an end resultâ€”the questions of what remains and what comes next persist. How can the weight of the past and future be leveraged, made light and moveable? I can commit to the present just like I can feel the weight of my feet on the floor, just like I can feel my breath as it rises and sinks through the space of my torsoâ€”through a focus of attention. I will practice that attention to the present by way of this series called Process Notes.
Hannah Verrill is an artist living and making work in Chicago, Illinois.
Guest Post by Young Joon Kwak
This edition of salon talk is a conversation with artist and educator Patrick Jackson.Â Jackson was born in Los Angeles, CA, where he also currently resides.Â Working primarily in sculpture, heâ€™s had exhibitions in galleries and institutions internationally, including FranÃ§ois Ghebaly Gallery, and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery in New York, The Soap Factory in Minneapolis, MN, and CAPC Musee dâ€™Art Contemporain in Bordeaux, France.Â His next solo show The Third Floor opens at FranÃ§ois Ghebaly Gallery in November 2013.Â Jackson got his MFA from USC, where he is currently the Sculpture Area Head.Â I first got to know Patrick Jackson through Mutant Salon barber Marvin Astorga, so I thought Iâ€™d ask him to say a few introductory words about Patrick:
Patrick Jackson is a regular visitor of the salon. Apart from making cool stuff, he prefers a #3 clip guard, as he likes a bit more length in the back and sides than most of our clipper-inclined clients. I’ve tried the #1 and #2 guards on him before, and the result was perhaps a bit too flashy. Patrick understands that, while his hair type is very forgiving (it’s thick with a well-behaved curl), it’s important to know what you want out of your hair, your art, and your life.â€”Marvin Astorga
PJ:Â Lately, Iâ€™ve been reading Philip Gustonâ€™s writing and looking at his paintings. Â I think his work is a good example of ideas and forms working off each otherâ€”clashing, in a productive way. Â One can relate to it in a beyond-language kind of way, just thinking of objects like a clock and questioning it, taking it apart, and how it relates to us as an object and as an idea of time.
YJK: Â Do you look at other sculptors or sculptures when youâ€™re starting a project?
PJ: Â I look at a lot of sculpture, I like sculptors, but I feel like I sculpt mainly because thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m good at and I enjoy itâ€”it fits my personality.Â I move slowâ€”itâ€™s a contemplative medium by nature, I think. Â But when it comes to looking at work, Iâ€™m more attracted to films and writing, just idea-wise.Â Sculpture is not a thing where you can explore ideas in a really deep way. Â I think if you wanted to do that, youâ€™d turn to writing.
YJK: Â Whatâ€™s a favorite film of yours?
PJ: Â My favorite film is probably Terrence Malickâ€™s Badlands. Â Thereâ€™s something about it similar to Gustonâ€™s work, in a way. Â They both deal with peopleâ€™s relationships to objects. Â Thatâ€™s how I think about sculpture, as the study of relating to objectsâ€”from a rock, to something bought in a store â€¦
YJK: Â How do you feel about a lot of sculptors today using stuff that they bought from stores, readymades?
PJ: Â Some of itâ€™s too heavy on the â€œpurchase and lay it on the groundâ€ approach, without any alterationâ€”or perspective. Â But itâ€™s an important part of considering objects, I thinkâ€”how we navigate the aisles. Â Iâ€™ve always thought Rachel Harrison is good with that kind of stuff and Iâ€™ve flipped through her books, trying to figure out how to use them in my own work. Â Her show, If I Did it, has been a big influence. Â The title for the show came from OJ Simpsonâ€™s book, by the same name, which I think is him telling how the murders would have gone, if he had done itâ€”something like that. Â But for Harrison, If I did it was the idea of the readymade and making.Â If I buy something and put it in the gallery, am I the one who made it?Â The whole show was really an open consideration of objects, how we relate to them, understand them, our connection to them, how weâ€™re involved with them â€¦
YJK: Â Yeah, I think itâ€™s interesting that you bring up Harrison. Â There are so many different ways to engage with her work, so many entry points, like pop cultural references, a mixture of readymades, and thereâ€™s a sense of play in her process and certainly in the experience of the work.Â Iâ€™m also interested in the formal decisions she makesâ€”her accumulation of material fragments and how she reconfigures to incite different interactions between materials, screwing around with hierarchies of different materials, and then how some of the same sculptures that she made continue to be reconfigured and shown in different ways for different shows, like the piece Green that she showed in the 1993 exhibition at the New Museum.
PJ: Â Yeah, Iâ€™ve heard that she describes the way she makes work as similar to the way someone shops, where itâ€™s sort of like Iâ€™ll try some of this, and try some of that, and like you described, a sort of movement through objects.
YJK: Â Someone told me that John Kelsey thought of her sculptures as drag objects. Â Iâ€™m also interested in your use of materials, and how you animate them, imbuing them with a sense of the body, but a sort of traumatized body or a precarious body, such as with your tchotchke stacks, and certainly the show where you had a body leaning against a wall, or the one with two bodies lying on the floor, or just kind of how theyâ€™re positioned with their eyes closedâ€”they do seem like theyâ€™ve been inflicted, like itâ€™s the aftermath of some sort of violence or disease or something like that. And then I thought that it was funny that one of the sculpturesâ€”I think thereâ€™s a stocking pulled over the faceâ€¦
PJ: That was from a body cast and the cast was made for the project in the apartment, House of Double, the one with the two figures lying down. Â The one that has the stocking over its head is the same body, itâ€™s from the same molds, but itâ€™s made up of leftover pieces. Â I sawed the body in half, so it could sit against the wall â€¦ ended up looking more like itâ€™s folded in half and crammed against the wall.
YJK: So was it a cast of your body?
PJ: Yeah. Â When I first started working on House of Double I knew that I wanted to make a body, because other sculptures Iâ€™d made were more in relationship to the viewerâ€™s body, so I wanted to make a sculpture where this body would actually be the piece and then the viewer would have a relationship to this body, as opposed to their own. Â I wanted to make it lying down, on the one hand because I felt like thatâ€™s what would make it feel between object and person … then thereâ€™s also this idea of violence. Â Again, I was thinking a lot about Badlands, and thereâ€™s this idea that goes through that film, a classic philosophical consideration, of oneâ€™s relationship to the worldâ€”about whatâ€™s an object and whatâ€™s a subject. Â The movie is based on the true story of Charles Starkweather, an American serial killer. Â This character is continually considering what is worthy of living, and whatâ€™s not, and then it gets applied to objects too, where heâ€™s sort of, â€œWell, what object is useful to me and which one is not?â€ And thatâ€™s something all of us can enter into, like a more benign consideration of use, with animals, or the coffee cup you throw away.
YJK: Iâ€™m interested in knowing more about this sense of masochism I get from the work, I mean itâ€™s cast from your body, like youâ€™re enacting violence on yourself, or a projected self, or a surrogate self?
PJ: In the House of Double, thereâ€™s a body in each bedroom, and the idea was theyâ€™re supposed to be relatively identical, but in the experience of being in there, you can never see both of them at the same time, so itâ€™s sort of a memory comparison, or the idea that they existed somewhat in your head. Â Of course when you look at them online you see both of those images at the same time, though â€¦ I guess that doesnâ€™t answer your question.
Installation view from House of Double, 2011
Â YJK: I was thinking a lot about the relationship of yourself or your body, this body that youâ€™re creating in relationship to the viewer looking down at it, and there being this sort of hierarchy thatâ€™s established between yourself and the viewer, so I was curious about your perspective of this body or your body or a more general idea of the self.
PJ: Â A lot of ideas went into it: research, reading, movies, TV, and a lot of stuff I was going through in my own life. Â It was a mix of a lot of things, and then it felt like it clicked in the end â€˜cause it took on a life of its own, it became something separate from my own ideas, but it was born from those. So what youâ€™re describing is really interesting and kind of true, but thatâ€™s not the only thing that this piece is about.
YJK: Â I think itâ€™s interesting that in relation to the work where youâ€™ve created more representational bodiesâ€”you then have your Tchotchke Stacks, which are literally stacks of all these different kinds of statues and figurines, with their own histories, and the residue of their ownersâ€”Theyâ€™re also almost body height, but a bit taller maybe, more imposing, like a body that comprises a collectivity of varied parts. Itâ€™s interesting to think about this collective body being composed of all these different little tchotchkes, and how that leads to questions of subjecthood and collective subjectivity, how we all relate to each other through objects, through tchotchkes.
Detail view of one of Jacksonâ€™s tchotchke stacks, 2010
PJ: Â Thereâ€™s also just the fact that our relationship to our body is changing, it seems to me. Â Â Iâ€™m a big Cronenberg fan, and heâ€™s someone whoâ€™s thinking about our relationship to our own bodies and other bodies, all through changing media, from Videodrome to the availability of something on video, or through cable television, to eXistenZ and the internet.
YJK: Â With each project, does your conception of the body change or transform?
PJ: Â I try to make individual projects, but as you start to make more work, it starts to add up and to turn into something on its own, like where theyâ€™re not just completely divorced projects from each other, although thatâ€™s usually how I try to start something, trying to make it autonomousâ€”like a film or a book.Â But before you know it, youâ€™ve created this body of work, but also a reflection of yourself, basically. You see it differently than I do. Â You come to the work and look at it as a whole, and you start to see these connections that I see too, when you bring them up, but I guess I donâ€™t try to approach it as this idea of â€œI make work about the body transforming.â€ Â But now when I hear you talk about the body transforming, Iâ€™m like, â€œOh yeah, I think that makes sense.â€Â Definitely with doing this sculpture that is partially based on my nephew for my show…
YJK: Â Yeah, the scale of itâ€™s funny…
PJ: Â Because Iâ€™ve seen him change a lot, knowing him since heâ€™s a little kid.Â Iâ€™ve seen him go through life and that makes a lot of sense to me with thinking about that sculpture, and then also just him. Â As a piece, itâ€™s just a boy, but what youâ€™re talking about â€¦ I can really see in relationship to this show.
sculpture in process, 2013
YJK: Â Can you tell me more about the other work youâ€™re making for your upcoming show at FranÃ§ois Ghebaly Gallery, in the fall?
PJ: Â Well, one of the things I was thinking about with the title of the show, The Third Floor, is a sort of relationship of one object to another object, or subject to subject, and this book Flatland, that classic book of circles or triangles that can only move through two dimensions of spaceâ€”they can only go forward and backward, left to right.Â And then us, being in the third dimension, we can see them and understand them in this really basic way, but they canâ€™t understand our worldâ€”our third vertical dimension. Â And then thereâ€™s an idea of the fourth dimension, where there are these eyes, this sort of knowledge that exists beyond us, that sees us as limited in movement and can observe us and can see all of time. Iâ€™m trying to do a similar thing with this show, where thereâ€™s the narrative of the space where this boyâ€™s body is on the third floor, looking down, or sort of seeing everything as objects in relationship to him.Â Then thereâ€™s us as viewers, who come in and see him and everything else as an object inÂ relationship to us. Also, Iâ€™ve been thinking of the idea of the uncanny, something like thinking that I just saw a person Iâ€™m attracted to, and then itâ€™s like, oh no, itâ€™s a 90-year old woman I just saw out of the corner of my eye, this feeling of like, â€œOh, whatâ€™s going on?â€
YJK: Howâ€™d you end up working with ceramics for this show?
PJ: It came about because I didnâ€™t have any money. Â I work at USC and I can use the facilities for free. On top of that, mold making can be really expensive, but slip molds and ceramic supplies, in general, are pretty cheap. Then I just got into the process, my hands in the clay and experimenting with the materialsâ€”especially the glazes.
YJK: Â Whatâ€™s the relationship of your ceramics to the long history of ceramics in relation to contemporary art? Thinking particularly about howâ€”I donâ€™t know whether it be right or wrongâ€”ceramics occupies this place within sculpture discourse/greater art discourse of marginalization, this place of just being merely decoration?
PJ: Â Well, it goes through stages.Â I mean, ceramics is very popular right now, itâ€™s in every gallery, but it also has a history that youâ€™re talking about, which is, itâ€™s seen more as a craft and itâ€™s looked down upon, and thereâ€™s also a certain form that I was really aware of when I was making it that I was trying to stay away from, which was just the look of something that was made in a parks and rec. course or in an elementary school, having that sort of â€œceramicâ€ lookâ€”which I think is fine, to maybe even harness, but for the look I was going for I tried to pick stuff that would look unceramic, in some ways. Iâ€™ve also added other materials: wax, epoxy and rocks.
ceramic pieces from The Third Floor, 2013
YJK: Â Youâ€™ve mentioned to me that the three floors of the space are three categories of sculpture, both in arrangement and form. Â Youâ€™re thinking of the lower level, where the ceramic vessels will be placed, as storage. Â Do you feel like the ceramics, their importance or meaning arises more in relation to the other works that you create? Like in relation to the upper level, or more conceptual works, as you said? Â And just the idea of these three floorsâ€¦
PJ: Â I think a big part of meaning comes from juxtaposition. Itâ€™s like making a sentence, where words next to each other start taking on a different meaning instead of being autonomous. So thatâ€™s part of the show, too. Â I think this is something a lot of artists grapple with, nowadays.Â You have the installation, which is however long, you know, six weeks, a few months, and things are arranged to be a certain way in relationship to each other and then they get broken up and theyâ€™re never the same. So thatâ€™s definitely what will happen to this show. And Iâ€™m trying to think about that a lot, as being part of it, of questioning whatâ€™s an object alone? What is an object next to other things? But when I first started writing about the show, doing researchâ€”I have a notepad for every project I work onâ€”I was thinking about this movie Iâ€™d seen about a girl whoâ€™s discovered after being locked in her bedroom till she was like 11-years-old. So she had never learned to speak, and she hoarded.Â One of the things that she did, that apparently is common with children who experience this sort of intense isolation and entrapment, is hoard water, usually containers of water, so when she lived with a therapist in her room she just had cups, sheâ€™d get cups of water in the kitchen and then leave them around her bed.
YJK: Â Which makes sense with all of the ceramic vessels and cups you are making for your showâ€¦
PJ: Â Yeah, itâ€™s like a hoarded kind of thing. Â I looked in my notebook a few months after I started making these and I realized, â€œOh yeah, I forgot about that, but thatâ€™s what started it all.â€™
YJK: Â So is this show all about you being really isolated and trapped in the world?
PJ: Â Ha-ha, no comment. Â I donâ€™t know â€¦ It is what it is â€¦ I mean, itâ€™s about my family too. But itâ€™s also about thinking about a basic form, that everyone can relate to. Â Iâ€™ve been thinking of Brancusiâ€”he did a cup piece. Â Thatâ€™s one of the fascinations with children like this. When children like this are discovered, itâ€™s like, every scientist, every therapist wants to work with them, because now we can get to the bottom of things, like how does language work? How do we develop it? When are you too old to learn how to speak and interact with another person? How is this person going to understand things? Theyâ€™re fresh, theyâ€™ve never been educated in anything. And so, to look at something that they do, like hoarding water, hoarding cups or â€¦ thereâ€™s also the movie The Wild Child, which is about a child who was living out in the wild and was discovered by someone, a French scientist was studying him, and in that film thereâ€™s a scene where he drinks from a glass of water while he looks out a window, it was one of his great joys and I think it was used as a reward when he was being trained how to read and stuff like that. Â Iâ€™m just fascinated by that. Â What is it about having a cup of water and looking outside? Â Of connecting to nature, I guess, with water, this basic thing that we all need.
YJK: Â We talked a bit about The Third Floor before, and how the unique architecture of the spaceâ€”how on the second and third floors one can see the lower levelâ€”influenced formal decisions you made, such as extending the second floor with scaffolding, covering the lower level and making a basement of sorts. Â Iâ€™m curious about your decision to have scaffolding, just thinking of all the exposed parts underneath.
PJ:Â From underneath where one encounters tÂhe ceramics, it will look like regular scaffolding, and then from up top it will look like a wooden floor, or like an old wooden floor, â€˜cause you wonâ€™t see any of the mechanics holding it up. Â From underneath, itâ€™s more of what you would think of as an unfinished basement, where you see the structure of the house and everything that sort of holds things up, itâ€™s sort of the raw elements of things. So it seemed to just make sense that way and also, yeah, just sort of revealing the structure I think goes along with part of the narrative that basements have and of the show … I think of hidden things happening.
YJK: Â What keeps you going in your practice?
PJ: Â I just want to make work that I like and that I feel like I changed because of it, like I had an experience out of doing it, where it affected me from making the workâ€”it didnâ€™t feel like I was just going to a job and making stuff. Â Thereâ€™s a Tarkovsky quote that I often think of and I have on a notecard, on my studio wall. Â The Tarkovsky quote is something like â€¦ Iâ€™m gonna slaughter the quote, but itâ€™s something like, â€œYour work shouldnâ€™t be the next step in your career, but a turning point in your life.â€ Like any quote that one pins up on their wall, itâ€™s a bit cheesy, but I think itâ€™s something that I agree withâ€”and itâ€™s not practiced enough, these days.