Knight at the Museum or, Try a Little Tenderness

September 18, 2013 · Print This Article

Detroit in the media (depending on who you talk to)

Detroit in the media (depending on who you talk to)

 

In the wake of the recently announced Detroit bankruptcy, and amid the uncertain fate of the Detroit Institute of the Arts’ collection, the Knight Foundation revealed the winners of Knight Arts Challenge: Detroit last week. 56 winners — from individuals, collectives and established organizations and institutions — were awarded grant money ranging from $5,000 to $120,000, given the chance for art to lift a community in the way an emergency manager and bankruptcy cannot: spiritually, mentally, passionately; with love and tenderness. While the Detroit bankruptcy proceedings will be fat cats and brass tacks, pushing elected officials and community members further out of the decision making, the Knight Challenge grant recipients will aim to return power to the people, on micro levels, yet with respect and agency given to the very people in the communities these artists and groups will work with. Thus, the award winners, in total given $2.1 million, represent a ray of hope in the city’s immediate future and may quickly change the landscape of the city if they are successful.

 

Detroit in the media and sad reality (depending who you talk to)

…and Detroit in the media (depending on who you talk to)

The Knight Arts Challenge: Detroit is an initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and is a $9 million dollar campaign to draw from the talent of the city, to keep creative people in the city, as an investment in the arts of Detroit. It follows from the adage “Where culture can breed, people will breed” (I just made that up), but its a lot like “If you build it, they will come” in that it is the arts that build a city or community, that the vitality of the culture sustains the soul and makes people want to live somewhere, that they need to live there, even if there’s no public transportation, lack of basic services like trash removal or functioning street lamps; even if the rest of the country has given up on the place, it still has potential that can be seen and felt. Because art and music has a deep history in Detroit, as does innovation and invention.

The winning entries are diverse, and as all were required to take place in or affect Detroit directly, most of them are geared towards working with the communities of the city to instill positive change, empowerment and growth. They ranged from creating a lending library of contemporary Detroit artwork for residents to live with and potentially buy, creative writing workshops, hyperlocal radio broadcasts to create a sound collage while driving through the city, a residency program for musicians outside of Detroit to collaborate with the local musicians, a competition to foster more talent in contemporary Jazz, production of guitars made from reclaimed wood from demolished homes in the city, an artist residency program in city elementary school, seed money to expand an established film fest into a larger event with national status, a nationwide tour of an interactive project geared at engaging viewers with ground roots change, and many many more. One that I find compelling just from its blurb on the website is a video project conceived by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History:

“To illuminate some of Detroit’s dark neighborhood streets physically and spiritually, the museum will commission a series of video art installations showcasing the faces and wisdom of the city’s elders. In conjunction with a team of Detroit media artists, distinguished filmmaker Julie Dash will create the works. Each will seek to bring light to the legacy, vitality and fabric of Detroit, while providing safe passage for residents in a city in which a recent survey said some 40 percent of streetlights were in disrepair.”

The phrase “40% of streetlights were in disrepair” is not an exaggeration, but should say “are not working at all”. So many streets in the city are completely dark at night, inviting all sorts of violent crime, not to mention further lowering the quality of life experienced by residents in those areas. The temporary lighting of these streets, with proud images and text of the city’s past will no doubt be a jolt to the senses. What is needed, of course, is for working streetlights to once again be installed. Ultimately, this will be more powerful than an artwork in terms of transformation. One hopes that this project acts as a catalyst for that to happen, by literally shining a light on a huge problem in the city.

I sincerely hope Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is devising some way to get the street lamps, as well as other crucial needs of the city taken care of. Obviously, he isn’t interested in the arts, as he wants to strip the city of its culture for quick cash. Which art institution will be next on the chopping block? It seems important that now someone is trying to invest in the arts of Detroit. Along with Kresge, a more established arts grant in the Detroit region, a big push is being made to not only keep talent in the city and to nurture the arts, but together they breed an outlook on the art of Detroit as a whole: within five years time (or hell, right now) if someone wanted to quickly distinguish the art of Detroit, they would probably throw out words like “community engaged”, “guerrilla”, “activist”, or the foul phrase “social practice”. Not to poop in the punchbowl, but as a narcissistic artist bent on only furthering my own artistic hopes and dreams, I find this potentially disturbing, that a city’s identity could be considered along terms of social practice, as aesthetics are so often ignored with work that is community engaged. For now, though, I am more than happy to content to leave this issue for the future, a future where we can afford to consider beauty alone, and not pragmatism and politics. Knight Arts Challenge is opening doors that seemed demolished long ago. Hell, its national news that we just got a grocery store in downtown for christsakes.

 

 

It is important to note that ALL of the recipients of Knight Arts Challenge will only get funding if the recipients find matching funds within one year. For more information on the Knight Arts Challenge, visit their website:

http://www.knightarts.org/knight-arts-challenge/detroit

ACRE: I Think I Could Turn And Live With Animals

August 22, 2013 · Print This Article

“I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,

I stand and look at them long and long…

No one is dissatisfied, no one is demented with the mania of owning things…”

- Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

 

Two weeks isn’t time to make much work. While I was at ACRE this summer as one of several residents, I quickly realized how short, yet how important the time was. I left my life behind with great expectations, all of which were just shy of fulfilled, but what I gained was so much more than what I had hoped. Two weeks, I found, is just enough time to figure out where you are, how you are going to communicate with the people of the life you suddenly left, introduce yourself to 50 strangers, start making work and realize you never what to leave, and then, its over. Its just enough time to take a chance on something, knowing that the end is right around the corner, but that you’ve still made a commitment. Its enough and not enough — in our real lives, two weeks rarely means anything, because it never has a beginning or end, just bleeds from the past and into the future. At a residency, it is a liminal space and time, where all constants are upended without chaos. Any residency worth its salt can make your head spin with new ideas, old ideas seen new, new connections, blown minds, failed pasts and energetic futures yet to fuck up, and ACRE was no different — I am still reeling from the conversations and influence of the people I met there. But no where else is there a way of life that is not separate from art (at least not until the modern day Commercial Gallery gurgled and choked its way out of the murky banks of the Galapagos Island communal bathroom, where hundreds of exotic species of semi aquatic animals did their business). ACRE was about art, as a real and true way of life, that life could not exist without feeling your bare feet in the dirt and sand, your junk in muddy water and your mind in a swirl of whiskey, beer and camp fire, back again early the next morning, up with the rooster, a cup of coffee and a new book from the library to start fresh.

 

Photo courtesy Lisa Walcott. Used with permission.

Photo by Lisa Walcott. Used with permission.

 

ACRE (Artist Cooperative Residency and Exhibitions) has just completed its fourth year as an artist residency based out of Chicago that occurs for three two week sessions each summer in the heart of the Driftless Region of Wisconsin. (Just a little east of the Mississippi on the bottom part of the state.) Residents utilize a fully staffed Wood shop, Screen printing studio, Recording studio and A/V Cabin while drawing from the sheer open space and beauty of the property. Rotating visiting artists, critics and presenters influence the space along with organic conversations that are a product of an artist bee hive. This model draws from the pedagogy of many graduate programs in art, yet ACRE removes itself from the institution due to its structure. Roughly twenty volunteer artists and musicians organize and run the program, volunteering 6 weeks of their summer (even more while planning the resulting exhibitions of past residents) towards helping others make art. Instead of focusing on their own work they facilitate the work of others.  Right here, organization, politics and the board controlled interests typical of an institution are gone out the window, leading into a more natural system where everyone – staff, residents and visiting professionals – are interacting with each other the same. Communal meals, lovingly prepared by a dedicated kitchen staff, are perhaps the keystone of this success. Symbolically, class distinctions of laborer / patron are not just blurred but forgotten.

 

We started to see that money wasn’t present at ACRE. Yeah, we all paid for the residency and it was understood that it was crucial to everyone getting there. But through generosity and time did everything exist in the space, in an ever growing forgotten area of Wisconsin. At ACRE, money was only needed in the neighboring town of Boscobel, which only sold cheap beer by the 30 pack. (At least, I’m pretty sure that was their major industry.) Creating a space where financial transactions were discouraged helped separate the real world from this special place. Class distinctions, power struggles and money were nearly eliminated at ACRE. With only two weeks, a society cannot be established, and with the staff insisting on doing all the work involved with operating the residency, a utopian model does not completely apply. (Not that utopia is what they are after.)

 

Utopia as a reality is impossible to sustain, as human drama will eventually overcome and surmount a perfect existence. Some asshole always finds a way to get his agenda to the top of our concerns. Instead, what may be proposed here is a part time utopia: a form that allows a brief exposure to a utopian system in a format that seems possible. Likewise, the temporal nature of the system actually allows it to thrive, as human nature never gets the chance to ruin it. Able to geographically remove ourselves from city life we could fit within a more fulfilling life in this part time utopia; a utopian model which recognizes the inevitable failure of utopias. In the span of a two week residency, utopia can exist. We started to get it. Hammering it home was Ukiah, a six person artist collective from the Bay Area, who leave their day jobs once a week to build a cabin out of fallen timbers and mud on a ranch property. What does it mean to have a part time or temporary utopia in the context of art? Does this mimic how art is often made, in spurts of spare time, extracted from the pressures of the real world? Could a model of a part time utopia be sustained on a personal level? Is the idea of utopia important to the creation of art? Is its manifestation proof that art can create social change, or merely a distraction from art making? Do you really want to live forever? Alphaville lyrics reprinted without permission?

 

Utopia CAN happen, maybe only once a week, for two weeks at a time or a few moments, which can be nurtured. Maybe with practice, it will be with you always. For me, utopia is drifting down the Kickapoo River on dollar store inflatables mixing warm Pabst with the river water. Its singing Stevie Nicks and Otis Redding songs with everyone around and not caring who hears you, but that you’re heard. Its playing a four string Fender Squire in an empty grain silo that is better than an amplifier. It is eating a meal with 50 other people each night knowing all the ingredients were carefully and lovingly chosen from the immediate region. It is a constant exchange of ideas, and ideas as commodity, where money is replaced by beer or help with a project. Its understanding why Nick and Phil never wore shoes, and wishing you never bothered to pack any. Where dinner is served overlooking the sunset, and each sunset is better than the last. Every night is a celebration of the work done that day. Even the mosquitoes are contributing to your existence, saying: You Are HERE, as the mall map markers of the rural midwest. Fuck yeah, ACRE: You promised me transcendence in an email, and in real physical sweating pissing reality you delivered it.

 

 

SINCERE thanks goes to ALL the amazing staff who made this experience possible, and every resident, who, without being wiser, went along with it. Thank you. Thanks also to Lisa Walcott, for lending a photo of her experience.

The Audience is Present

July 17, 2013 · Print This Article

I want to use the example of Jay-Z’s performance at Pace Chelsea last week as a case study for something more encompassing, without getting into all the details since it was meant as a location for a music video shoot and not as an art work. (At least, I’m hoping) So just as a recap: Jay-Z performed “Picasso Baby” from his new album “Magna Carta…Holy Grail” for six hours to a packed and rotating crowd of art world insiders, celebrities and fans last Wednesday.

Jay-Z performing "Picasso Baby" at Pace Chelsea last Wednesday

Jay-Z performing “Picasso Baby” at Pace Chelsea last Wednesday

 

A celebrity’s presence in our space, instead of the media version we tend to see them as confirms our own existence. At the same time, it complicates that existence. We are seen by those we have saw but here unto unseen by. I see (consume one’s image) therefore I am, but when I am seen, what am I? It is mindfuck of Turrell like proportions, as we lose our sense of up and down, left and right. We choke on our own vomit, we are paralyzed. In exchange, or maybe as a symbiotic response, we return them to a mediated image from our cellphone capture. Shrinking them to a 2.5” x 3.5” format, moving at a mere 16fps, they are more manageable as a digital apparition.  With Jay-Z rapping in our face – a desire of many to be that close to a living legend, to be acknowledged by He who hath created the current state of Hip Hop – we are quickly overwhelmed, and thus respond with our cell phone’s sad idea of video to return to a sense of normality. It helps us relate to his intangible nature. It is in this way that we treat the celebrity both as a solar eclipse and a stripper at a gentlemen’s club. At at least one point during “Picasso Baby”, a tight circle forms around Jay-Z. We see his professional camera crew which is typically meant to be invisible. They are anything but in the many cell shots taken, reminding us that this is a planned operation, to be dissected and re-edited later.  However, their visibility being an anomaly, suggests a future that is somewhat less imminent than the rapidity of the cell phone.

Double Rapper with cheese

Double Rapper with cheese

 

The shifting of time is the next big thing here, as the immediacy of cell video to internet upload has a tendency to further define the Present. This is congruent with the very sense of the 21st century that the Future is a finite entity, that one day, and one day soon, we will run out of Future. The speed of life itself is steadily increasing thanks to the plethora of communication technologies available, more immediate global awareness and the loss of physical frontiers and the tightening of borders. Every summer blockbuster movie (EVERY) of the last ten years has dealt with some sort of social horror of apocalyptic proportions or post human mutants, all of which signal a cataclysmic shift in life as we know it. THE END IS NEAR has returned to our minds (though it has rarely left us) with a vengeance and we are responding by trying to do as much as we can as fast as we can. And that means celebrities having completely proven themselves in one field must try other, usually related fields. (We will exclude Terminator X’s Ostrich Farm for this reason of “related”) For Jay-Z  to stage a music video shoot as a performance in an art gallery is not a huge stretch, yet it is breaking new ground from the stand pint of those who were quick to critique it as art. Increasingly, there comes the Nike spirit of “Just Do It”, though oftentimes of DIY immediacy. (thats the cell phones, not a fully planned Jay -Z event). Complicating matters is the six hour duration of the performance. Somewhere in the preface of the “Performance Artist Handbook”, Jay must have read that 6 hours is the minimum duration of a performance work. At the same time, a music video shoot is an all day affair or more, and most galleries are open for about 6 hours in a day. BUT, looking at it through my single minded viewpoint, a 4 minute song performed repeatedly for 6 hours, starts to mess with our perception of time, by looping it, putting us in a casual Groundhog’s Day Lite scenario (if only Bill Murray was in the audience!) where we can start to see the future and we lose our sense of the past, ever so slightly, for as long as an audience member may choose to stay. We can clock time in 4 min. increments instead of seconds. And every moment sounds the same (looks different, but in a bare white walled gallery, not too much different). Stuck within a seemingly never ending 4 minute sequence, we have found a loophole in time, thus gaining an extra 5 hours and 56 minutes of life. What to do with this extra time? Upload crappy video from our cells to the internet and listen to the dumbest song of the summer seems to be the only option. Sounds like we’ve just entered purgatory.

 

I’d like to thank “A Private View: American Paintings from the Manoogian Collection” by Yale University Art Gallery and the Detroit Institute of the Arts for providing me with a surface to write on while preparing this text, as well as the ACTUAL audience members of Jay – Z’s performance for showing me in their YouTube video uploads that despite his admirably true giving to his audience, I didn’t miss anything.

Not to be Missed: Michigan Modern

June 19, 2013 · Print This Article

"Rocking Chair", Ralph Rapson

“Rocking Chair”, Ralph Rapson, 1940. © The Estate of Ralph Rapson. Photography by R. H. Hensleigh and Tim Thayer.

You’re not likely to see a better display of the most important architecture and design of the 20th century anywhere else this summer, so the fact that Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America only focuses on what came out of post war MI is even more remarkable. Starting with Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen’s highly influential submissions for the Organic Design in Home Furnishings at MoMA in 1940, and ending with a recreation of a living space in Mies Van der Roe’s Lafayette Park in Detroit, there are few stones left unturned, yet the map and timeline in the North Gallery proves that  so much editing still had to be done. Focusing primarily on the design and architecture, as well as the automotive industry from 1940 – 1970, MI Modern has original and reproductions of some of the most iconic furniture of the period, Herman Miller textiles of Alexander Girard and Ruth Adler – Schnee, advertisements for Steelcase, Herman Miller and others, and newly created and existing models of iconic buildings throughout Michigan. Encompassing most of the state including the U.P., with a symposium (June 13-16) touring iconic buildings in Broomfield Hills, Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan Modern is in many ways a summer blockbuster show, mimicking on a small scale the expansiveness of Documenta, but with everything homegrown. While considering all the Saarinen, Van der Roe, Kahn and Breuer contributions to the design and architectural legacy of Michigan, one sees how (again) much of America’s strength lies in immigration, but even more where unique timing, collaboration, forward thinking, talent and serendipity had a profound and lasting impact on the look and feel of modern America. It is our fortune that so many of these Architectural gems like Lafayette Park, the GM Tech Center, and St. Francis de Sales Church are here in Michigan. It is an exhibition that can keep rewarding the viewer all summer long, able to travel from one building to another at the best time of the year to do so. While they have always been sitting in plain site, MI Modern re emphasizes their importance and in doing so, presents them again to us as new.

 

"Marshmallow Sofa", George Nelson, 1956 for Herman Miller. In Production.

“Marshmallow Sofa”, George Nelson, 1956 for Herman Miller. In Production.

Two complementary shows at Cranbrook Art Museum highlight the lasting influence of Cranbrook at this time in MI History. What to Paint and Why: Modern Painters at Cranbrook, 1936 – 1974, curated by Chad Alligood showcases paintings by alumni and faculty of Cranbrook Academy of Art, offering works that are both in line with and counter the prevailing movements of 20th century art. Likewise, A Driving force: Cranbrook and the Car, curated by Shoshana Resnikoff offers a rare look into Cranbrook’s influence in the auto industry, complete with a stunning and unique Rocket cycle car as well as designs by alum Suzanne Vanderbilt.

 

Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America is organized by the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office in association with Cranbrook Art Museum and curated by Monica Ponce de Leon and Gregory Saldaña. On View at Cranbrook Art Museum until October 13, 2013.

Visit Cranbrook Art Museum’s website for more info:

<<http://www.cranbrookart.edu/museum/>>

 

 

The Ineffable Homestead

May 15, 2013 · Print This Article

Walking up to the clapboard rancher surrounded by a sod lawn in front of a brick building whose facing side was painted a sky blue, an uneasy feeling of displacement crept up my spine. On one side was downtown Detroit, the other was suburbia. Except it was some sort of self conscious version of suburbia, reminiscent of the prosaic childhood setting so many of us are familiar with, but with an almost mythic nature as a newly fetishized art object. Originally “launched” in 2010 as an intricately choreographed performative sculpture, Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead finally opened to the public on May 11, 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit as a permanent fixture on the adjacent lot. As a recreation of the late artist’s childhood home in suburban Westland, MI, the resulting structure is fairly straightforward. As an art work, it is extremely complex, a nearly uncatagorizable masterpiece, wholly embracing major themes of his life’s work while barreling into new territory altogether in the most ambitious project of his far too short career. Mobile Homestead asserts itself as both public and private sculpture, focusing on community involvement and outreach, yet retaining a strong sense of privacy and secrecy inherent in homes by the elaborate basement labyrinth which will be kept off limits to the general public.

 

Image by PD Rearick, which can also be found on page 277 of this month's Art Forum. (Used with permission)

Mike Kelley and Emily Gustafson during the Mobile Homestead launch in Detroit, MI, Sep. 25, 2010. Image by PD Rearick. (Used with permission)

A small lending library greets visitors open entering the house, while in the room to the right an electric organ is tucked by the doorway leading to two back rooms furnished as offices of sorts, with donated or second hand furniture. This office vernacular continues through the back hallway and restroom, with overhead lighting and white walls, gray linoleum floor that denies the sense of warmth typically associated with a home. Having looped around to the back left of the house, the last two rooms before the garage contain the most engaging participatory elements of the house thus far. On wall pegs were thrift store items that could be “purchased” by creating money from materials provided on a nearby table. Visitors can determine the perceived value of the item of their choice, which were mostly fake food items, knick knacks and toys: objects of little use, or like the invented monetary system, items of play. While both a welcoming and generous proposal for a new economic system of exchange, it underlined an important critical perspective of the art. We are pretending that art can make an impact on a community that has little need in or interest of art. Kelley’s mistrust of public art is manifested in a contradictory work that both invites and refuses, both provides a platform for social empowerment and an expectation of failure. By paying for a sequined Mexican Wrestlers mask with hand drawn currency I am not helping anyone but myself, for something I don’t need at all or that will serve me any purpose except momentary enjoyment. Carrying it around the rest of the night, I felt stupid and a bit guilty, that I had taken advantage of the generosity of an invented system that could have bettered someone else instead. With the gift is the debt, and Kelley has specifically talked about this with works like More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid (1987):

<<http://bombsite.com/issues/38/articles/1502>>

 

“ ‘…we can make an art object that can’t be commodified.’ What’s that? That’s a gift. If I give you this art-thing, it’s going to escape the evils of capitalism. Well, of course that’s ridiculous, because if you give this thing to junior he owes you something. It might not be money, but he owes you something. The most terrible thing is that he doesn’t know what he owes you because there’s no price on the thing. Basically, gift giving is like indentured slavery or something. There’s no price, so you don’t know how much you owe.” – Mike Kelley in conversation with John Miller in 1991

Experiencing this sense of debt, an acknowledgement of worth arises. Art must have some worth in one’s day to day life, but to come at it through debt is to force its sense of worth on the indebted. Yet in the bowels of the house is a very private and crucial element of the art work that is off limits to the general public, harkening all the way back to the Tree of Knowledge in the Book of Genesis. The desire to enter the basement becomes even more significant. To be invited into an elite group that has access to the more private or sacred space of the artist. A twisted mentality develops of feeling slighted by the benefactor, that class or some social identifier has determined one’s limit in the consumption of the work. This sinister turn of emotional understanding complicates one’s position towards Homestead as a public artwork, while invoking the gothic nature found throughout Kelley’s art. The unattainable labyrinth basement sets the house as a sort of prison in which the inmate was just informed of his captivity after a lifetime of believing they were free. How would the programming develop, would it actually create community impact, would it fail, and quickly? What types of programming would be offered and when? From this comes the question, for whom? Would the programing be for me, or someone else? How am I included or excluded?

 

Public art and social practice typically engages a community by attempting to fill a need which is usually seen from someone outside of that community. They rarely give the community the chance to discuss if these actions of altruism are actually beneficial to them or not. In essence, the underprivileged remain unrepresented, denied agency to speak while seen without agency to overcome their perceived situation. Slyly cynical as a suburban home entering the city of Detroit as a reversal of White Flight, Mobile Homestead can potentially become a carefully disguised form of oppression like many other public art and social practice works. As Kelly has stated in his essay accompanying Mobile Homestead for the 2012 Whitney Biennial, “…public art is always doomed to failure because of its basic passive / aggressive nature. Public art is a pleasure that is forced upon a public that, in most cases, finds no pleasure in it.”

 

Throughout the house and walls of MoCAD on opening night everyone wondered how the programming would unfold, and thus what would the fate of Mobile Homestead be. Without the guidance of the artist, it is up to the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts and MoCAD to do the best in executing the artist’s wishes. Thus Mobile Homestead is not at an end point but just a new phase of its ongoing development. As MoCAD is encouraging public suggestion and development of supported programming in the house, it seems then that even though Kelley believed that it wouldn’t work, he may have wished for it to, that Homestead was an honest attempt at public art performed in “bad faith,” as the artist put it. It will continue an unwieldy yet potentially revealing choreography as one of the best artworks of its time, a harsh critique of power, public art and social engagement that challenges its audience to prove it wrong by embracing it as a tool for community enhancement while remaining an autonomous work of art.

 

More information on Mobile Homestead, including visitor hours and programming can be found on MoCAD’s website:

<<http://www.mocadetroit.org/Mobile-Homestead.html>>