Jeff Stark is a Brooklyn-based artist whose site-responsive work emphasizes the significance and spectacle of collective experience. Although it resists easy categorization, Stark’s work has a particular closeness to participatory modes of art, theater and DIY culture. His diverse and wildly ambitious projects range from street events, secret dinners in unlikely and hard-to-access locations, full-scale theatrical productions that make unauthorized use of public and private spaces (like the subway, or an abandoned factory), and collaborations with collectives like The Miss Rockaway Armada and Madagascar Institute.
Stark is also the publisher of Nonsense NYC, a “discriminating resource for independent art, weird events, strange happenings, unique parties and senseless culture in New York City.” If you live in New York and haven’t signed up to receive the weekly Nonsense email, just go ahead and do yourself a favor and opt in.
For my first contribution to Bad at Sports, Jeff and I chatted over email about the importance of cultural participation, the challenges of assessing non-object-oriented art and what he calls “trespass theater.”
Empire Drive-In (2010), in San Jose, California. Photo by Tod Seelie.
Juliana Driever: How would you describe your artistic impulse?
Jeff Stark: I’m not exactly sure what that means. I think you’re asking, “What makes you make art?”
JD: Yes, exactly. What gets you going?
JS: That’s a fairly complex question. But to take a crack at it, I suppose I don’t really think I’m special: I think everyone is creative and everyone wants to communicate. “Everyone is an artist,” just like Joseph Beuys said. So for me too: Making art is about living, about asking questions, about creating a dialog with others — not just those who live near me, but also those who live far away, and, in some cases, those who live in different times.
JD: Different times?
JS: When I’m working on something, I’m thinking about the past, the present, and — in the way that I am deliberately trying to invoke myth and story — the future. And not just in a general way, but of particular individuals. For example, I love the work of theater artist Reza Abdoh. I never got to have a conversation with him, but, in small ways, I hope my work speaks to his.
JD: You’ve published Nonsense NYC, a weekly email listing independent and quirky happenings and art for over 10 years, and have built a community of people around these events in the process. Do you view Nonsense NYC and your work as an artist as mutually exclusive?
JS: No. It took me a long time to realize this formally, but Nonsense is one of my art projects, and the values and ideas expressed in it are the same values and ideas that inform most of my more traditional art projects, some of which are easy to understand as creative works — like performances or large-scale installations — and others that are not as obvious — like secret dinners in unusual places.
The Sweet Cheat (2010), in Yonkers, New York. Photo by Lauren Silberman.
JD: Your projects are typically very active, social experiences and require the willing participation of the audience.
JS: Most of my projects look at the different ways we think about participation. I like projects that are open, that allow audiences to bring something to the work. Marcel Duchamp wrote about this in The Creative Act: It’s the viewer who completes an artwork — not the artist. So one of the things that I’m always trying to do is to make audiences aware of their own place in a performance, or in a space, or — in the big picture — in culture itself. And one of the ways to do this is to ask them to take a risk with me. When an audience makes an investment in an event by bringing their own creative being to it, or they put their body at risk — real risk, legally and physically — they are participating in culture, they are not simply being entertained.
JD: So, who typically shows up to take a risk with you?
JS: I always like to think of my audiences as my friends and my community. This isn’t always the case — I love it when strangers show up, and they do, or when someone is just going about their daily schedule and bumps into a project on the street. But I suppose I start from a place where I am making work for people who care about the same things that I do. Who are smart and creative and patient and generous and curious. When I was learning how to write, I would always read the same two pieces of advice: think about your audience; find your voice. Those are deceptively difficult instructions. Eventually I had to just think about my friends and how I would talk to them. It’s the same thing in art. Anything else comes off as pandering or pedantic.
JD: Your work relies heavily on its context. What kind of spaces do you look to occupy with your work?
JS: The answer is simply spaces: I’m looking for spaces to work. That can be any space, from a street corner to a parking lot to a ruin. The ones I end up making work in are usually found by paying attention, by living, by looking.
Art can do two things: It can show you something that you’ve never seen before, or it can show you something you see every day in an entirely new way. I’m always trying to do one or the other, and I’m constantly looking for places and projects that let me do that, one or the other. So, if I’m exploring an abandoned factory, I might think, “I’d really love to bring people to see this space,” and then go about devising a project that will allow me to do that. But I could just as easily start with an everyday place, like the subway, and try to develop something I’ve never seen before — like make a play with sets and lights and costumes. My work isn’t site specific as much as it is site responsive.
Tea (2012), at ICA in Boston. Photo by Jeff Stark.
JD: Some might say that one of the challenges of creating artwork that results in a specific social situation is the question of assessment. What are your criteria for judging the success of your work? Are there certain outcomes you strive for?
JS: This is a tricky question. On one level, success is simply doing a project, pulling it off without injury or arrest. But I am trying to communicate with others, to participate in a broader conversation. And it’s not always clear the way the work is being understood or being judged. I get a lot of press coverage, but it’s rarely critical, in part because it’s difficult to make connections among all my projects (partially my fault), and in part because art and theater critics are trained to write about very conventional work (partially their fault). So I look for other signposts. One time I organized a Secret Dinner in Barcelona. It actually failed because we got caught by a security guard on our way into an empty factory. But I talked about the ongoing project at a conference, and a few months later some Barcelona kids sent me pictures of a secret dinner they pulled off in an ancient fortress. That felt like success.
IRT (2009), in New York. Photo by Tod Seelie.
JD: The act of serving others is a gesture that appears in many of your projects. What does it mean to you to conceptualize what are often thought of as practical social transactions into an artwork?
JS: I’ve thought about this, and I’m not entirely sure what it’s about. I think part of it has to do with my belief that art and culture are things we do, more so than products or objects. And so when I create a situation in which I am serving — dinner, tea, advice — I am creating a situation in which I have something to do. It’s one of the ways that I understand what it means to be an artist: Artists serve art.
JD: Like a film or theater director, it’s obvious that group work appeals to you. Do you ever just want to lock yourself in a studio and work on an idea in the modernist, individualist tradition?
JD: On the whole, the art world tends to take itself very seriously, and for me it’s refreshing to see any suggestion of humor or playfulness. You often use absurdity in your work, and in a particularly subversive way. Would you agree that humor in art is underrated?
JS: Definitely. And I think the best artists are terribly funny going back to the Renaissance at least. I looked at The Night Watch yesterday, and it seemed to me like Rembrandt had painted in at least a half dozen dick jokes. Artists have always valued a good laugh; it’s the cultural institutions that formalize this stuff, that steal it away and insist we take it seriously. And it makes sense: Rich people are often uncomfortable with laughter; they’re worried the joke might be on them.
JD: Speaking of Rembrandt, you’re currently doing a writing residency in Amsterdam. How does writing fit into your larger creative activity?
Secret Dinner (2011), in Miami. Photo by Jordan Seiler.
JS: I used to be a writer. I studied journalism in school and had a career I quit because it made me miserable. But writing is a useful skill. It’s a tool that I’m willing to use to serve a larger project. And so I’ll do it when I need to, but it’s incredibly difficult and, I think, somewhat unhealthy for me.
JD: What are you working on next?
JS: I’m working on a few things, including a new play, another piece of trespass theater called the Dreary Coast, and a New York iteration of Empire Drive-In, which is a project that I’ve done a few times with Todd Chandler and several other artists. I’d love to make more work in New York City this year. It’s my home, and the place I care about most.
January 22, 2013 · Print This Article
What is Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) and what sort of questions does it pose for art and aesthetics? Lets start with looking at the name of the movement backwards.
Ontology is the philosophical study of what there is. A way of examining the question is to re-arrange the question asked, which is to say, ‘What is there?’
The question of ‘what is there’, is an odd one, especially to those who don’t ordinarily have a philosophical disposition – it isn’t something you would come out with in a conversation for example. But nevertheless, the question of ‘what is there’ also defines what sort of orientation is insinuated in OOO. As soon as anyone rummages around this ontological question for long enough we discover that we are Oriented towards something; it might be a pragmatic orientation, or maybe something commonplace and yet weird – inexplicably, unusually weird. The question of ‘what is there’ can be applied to anyone in any situation; implying a sense of adjustment or familarization with ones surroundings, but also in the sense of establishing their own peculiar location in strange circumstances; acclimatizing, accustoming, attuning, aligning.
So ‘what’ is it that’s being studied here? The ontological commitment of the movement (what there is) and what it must be oriented towards (what is there), happens to be the Object or thing. Ask yourself, what is there? You may reply rather awkwardly, there are lots of things here; mugs, wallpaper, dust, computer chairs, the keyboard button ‘O’, spoons, trees and god knows what else. But it is also the case that I can conjure up ridiculous things within me that will never see the light of day in the same way the world arrives at my senses; mystical creatures of a sombre mood, square circles and cats that speak German. According to the major proponents of OOO, all of these things, both human and not-human are objects. They exist and we orient towards them.
But there are two realist interventions within OOO; that this orientation of ‘what is’ is never uniquely human, nor special to human understanding, and that no object cannot be privileged over any other, including the individual object which aims to be understood. So what is there? All objects are there – although this is complex.
The study of ‘what there is’ and ‘what is there’, can never be a question of what exists solely for human interpretation and assumption. The question of ‘what there is’, is not the same as ‘what is there’ – for a spoon is there in a place or position near to me, on a shelf, a desk, in a mug. We ignore it, even as we use it – and yet it still ‘is’ there in existence. It is real, it exists without me, despite me requiring its substantial reliance and frequent ignorance. The spoon’s autonomous adventures in a shelf or a sink, never crop up until I ponder over it, but that has little effect on the autonomy of the spoon. The same can be said of sun radiation, my bank details, my MacBook – or oxygen molecules that pass through my alveolar capillaries; and whilst some of these objects remains critically important for my survival, none of them can justify any privileged reason to exist over anything else.
The key OOO difference between ‘what there is’ and ‘what is there’, is the difference between knowing that there is an object and not knowing it. The first is a statement or conviction, the second is a question. The departure of OOO, as a study and movement, is identifying this difference. It simply states that we know there are spoons, organs, chairs, armies, planets and cocoa-beans: we just don’t know what they are. Our orientation of the thing – ‘what is there’ – hopelessly grasps at them for one reason or another, and yet we never grasp the thing itself – the ‘what there is.’ The lynchpin of OOO – philosopher Graham Harman – terms this ‘withdrawal’, following Martin Heidegger; nothing we can do or say manages to fully explain or understand objects in their entirety. ‘What is there’ can only ever be a strange exercise of translation, or of a secondary description. The ‘what there is’ of the object itself – its primary reality – cannot be known nor fully demonstrated when asking ‘what is there?’
There are then, two sorts of ‘what is there’ – a generic one, which fathoms different things quickly, scanning over contents within a menu or a desk. But there is a more direct version of ‘what is there’, which examines the hidden contents of one or more specific things; like a fishing pool, a molecule, a planet or even the contents of a painting.
However it must be said that for OOO, the ‘what is there’ is also not a principally human question, despite being a different question from ‘what there is’. Objects are also oriented towards other objects. Each object has its own characteristic, individual, operation for foraging out the orientation of ‘what is there’, irrespective of cognition, reasoning or experience.
In the case of animals, this isn’t too hard to speculate on; the ‘what is there’ for the robin, requires foraging for food and nutrition whilst fending off hostile threats and unexpected weather. But for OOO this insight need not be restricted to the animate; the ‘what is there’ for the security computer program identifies and removes external threats in its own image, just as much as the ‘what is there’ for the falling boulder could be any contingent blockage or unfortunate creature that stands in its path. Each relationship has the same metaphysical properties, the same equality of relation between anything else.
It is for this very reason, that OOO shrugs any primary privileging of monism (everything is one or ‘nature’) or human access (everything is a product of culture). Its ontology is not an orientation of one thing, of one nature, one scientific law, nor reduced to specific things such as discursive cultures or political hegemony: it speaks only of individual, real objects. This ontology only contains detached, disconnected, disjoined objects, with each irreducible object partly connected towards another irreducible entity, like a continuous box of finite magnets being repeatedly thrown down a infinite staircase. Each magnet might be locked together with another, and then separated soon after repelling or connecting with something else – forever doomed to repeat the involuntary question of ‘what is there’ on its finite journey.
Every proponent of OOO has a different insight and a different collection of metaphors to illustrate their nuanced ontological differences. Such bodies of work have different methods of asking, ‘what is there’, without getting a lot back in return from the world. These descriptions only offer a brief summary of the differences between them.
Graham Harman’s ontology borrows and radicalizes past achievements in the phenomenological ‘object‘, not only advocating a strict difference between ‘real objects‘ and ‘sensual objects‘ (the latter which tries to account for the dream-like aforementioned cats who speak German), but also a demanding non-relational ontology, where no object can ever be fully reduced to its relations.
Levi Bryant speaks not of objects, but of difference machines, or systems whose adventures are structurally open, but operationally closed. Bryant’s machines are material processes that have differing power according to their contextual situations, and these instigate different, potential, namely ‘virtual’ effects within the activity of the entity.
Tim Morton speaks of ecologically strange ‘hyperobjects’ – massively distributed transcendent entities (such as climate) whose viscosity and sticky-ness clamber onto our awareness and yet remain invisible. For Morton, objects are in essence, a blind contradiction of inconsistency; they are both themselves and somehow, not themselves, wandering in and out of a chaotic world, not tailored for our sole understanding.
And lastly there is Ian Bogost, whom also speaks not of objects, but of units, and the tenuous operations of units. Each unit has a hidden procedurality of operation, which is never made explicit nor fully revealed. His iteration of OOO is a tiny ontology: whole infinite universes crammed into specific things, with each one being a cog in another machine, or a module in another program.
So how would OOO, in its various orientations, engage with and deliberate on art and aesthetics? How would this ‘schematic of being’ help artists understand their own work or reinterpret its historical significance? The question of ‘what is there’ must be, I think, an aesthetic call before anything else and this suitably serves as the focus for the next part.
While the Chicago art scene may still be reeling from the AFC Midway coverage, divided opinions on EXPO and the domination of the Whitney Biennial by Chicago curators, it’s a new year and B@S is looking forward to a 2013 full of surprising exhibitions, breakout successes and hurt feelings. Here’s a recap of the most interesting Chi tidbits as far as I can tell.
#Seen on Instagram
Last week, Red Eye Chicago posted a list of 15 musicians to watch in Chicago. Though I’ve never even heard of most of them, there are a couple notables. A personal fav, Gel Set, made the list at #11. Also making the list at #4 is Supreme Cuts, a Chicago duo who apparently “will never move to Brooklyn under any circumstances.” SC’s Austin Keultjes was recently spotted on SAIC dropout and NY based performance artist Mykki Blanco’s instagram feed.
Former Chicago artist turnt “mini-film” babe
In other superstar sightings, everyone is in the new SSION video for Luvvbazaar. It’s the best and gayest dance party you’ve ever virtually attended, featuring none other than 2012 SAIC grad and LA transplant, Marcel Alcalá, shirtless and werkin’ it. Before becoming a profesh video ho, Alcalá organized the Mega Mall Exhibition Series and moonlighted at Roots&Culture. Additional cameos include Colin Self, another long lost Chicago luminary, and House of Ladosha, who I fucking LOVE.
Aunt Flo meets The Whistler
Since talking about your period is always prurient in my book, I’m particularly excited about the upcoming flow at CRIMSON GLOW at the Whistler this Thursday night (January 24th). Arrive at 10pm to catch Melina Ausikaitis, a story-telling musician who is not to be missed. Her performance last September at the recently concluded New Capital Projects was nothing short of a miracle.
If you’re looking for a job (like I am), forget about the Chicago Artist Resource. LVL3 is looking for an intern. Responsibilities include sweeping and mopping the gallery and updating their mailing list. If you’re looking for studio space on top of sweeping, I hear Peanut Gallery is also hiring, sort of. The gallery’s post advertises “valuable arts administration skills and networking opportunities in exchange for covering 25% of the rent.”
It’s not me, it’s you
In other non-essential news, it’s almost almost Valentines Day and Heaven Gallery in Wicker Park is commemorating this non-event by exhibiting collaborations by local art “power couples.” IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU will feature work from couples Culp/Foch, Gent/O’Brien, Chitty/Baird and Green/Mike(?).
Real Shit opens February 3rd
Speaking of openings in February, the award for best exhibition title next month goes to Shit is Real at Devening Projects. Not only does the title rule, the artists featured in the show are pretty rad, too.
Performance Art continues to confound
Also coming up (wait, already happening?) is the IN>TIME city-wide and winter-long performance festival. I’m not quite sure whats up with this, all I know is “performance festival” screams nudity and controversial boredom. What is performance art? What isn’t it.
Thankfully, some things never change: This is still the most entertaining Facebook feed in 2013.
Finally, in “real” news, I am seriously horrified about the mega-flu going around this season. As we say in this column, shit is real, and none other than the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s own music director, Riccardo Muti, had to drop out of the company’s upcoming Asia tour due to a particularly virulent case.
Clogging up my inbox
Oh yeah, one more thing: What’s up with this Michelle Grabner tat pic? And why can’t Shane Campbell send out one email listing all his space’s openings instead of one email for each of his three spaces?
Got any T? email me!
As I mentioned yesterday, there is a great performance festival taking place called IN>TIME. Organized by artist Mark Jeffrey, IN>TIME features both international and local artists exhibiting in 14 diverse venues across the city between the months of January and March. Bad at Sports will be posting a mini-series of interviews and essays about this festival, including an upcoming interview with Mark Jeffrey himself. This particular post is dedicated to two concurrent exhibits at threewalls that are also part of Jeffrey’s festival. On January 11th, Mary Patten’s performance/sound/video installation, Panel opened in the main space. Mathew Jinks’ began screening his new 73 minute, single-channel HD video, The Unreliable Narrator, in the project space. While these artists are distinct from one another, exhibiting independent projects, I was interested in facilitating a conversation between them, particularly as both negotiate film, performance, history and collaboration. These exhibits will be on view until February 23rd, with an artist talk from Jinks on January 31st at 7pm, as well as a performance, SCHIZO CULTURE: A Collaborative Reading, and publication release of the catalogue associated with PANEL. On February 9th, there will be another performance, SCHIZO PANEL, at 7 PM.
Caroline Picard: You both call on speculative fiction in your respective projects. What does it mean for each of you to employ the fantastic?
Mathew Jinks: The idea of alternate histories is very resonant for me, not necessarily in the reconstruction of various alternative spaces, but aiding in imagining that sense of an ‘other’ space that can be inhabited by a narrative. Fictive narratives do not interest me. They seem too comfortable as a source of abstract invention in some way, which I see as an escape from reality and a dead end street; a more complex and evocative device for me is to sow seeds of doubt, to introduce situations and characters with a set of dynamics which have been loaded from the start and see how they play out. The origination in my practice was at the point of departure from personal histories and the evolution of expansive political histories.
Mary Patten: Mathew’s articulation of alternate histories, his desire to “sow seeds of doubt,” the leaking or trespassing of “personal” histories into the territory of “the political” are all-compelling to me… and describe sensibilities or impulses that have shaped my own work for many years. It’s very difficult, maybe even pointless, to draw an easy divide between “fact” and “fiction,” despite persistent claims of “objective journalism” or “scientific truth.” This is well-trodden territory: what “we” (in the most capacious sense) collectively and cumulatively “know” is subject to constant revision and reconstruction. We understand that “facticity” doesn’t equal truth, and that what passes as fiction is not a series of falsehoods. One of the oldest cultural practices, the oral tradition — often taking the form of what we call fables or myths — has been a crucial element in constructing “history.” And yet “telling stories” is still a euphemism for telling lies.
“Speculative” introduces the possibility of wonder, a wandering imagination, the work of invention to heal or bridge inescapable gaps in any historical record. It is a kind of affective, archaeological process to make empirically un-provable connections between obscure, unknown or little-known histories. “Speculative” need not connote the fantastical, however — at least not in the “spectacular” sense. These words are funny… so interconnected, but full of paradoxes.
In the case of Panel, I was drawn to an obscure transcript, photocopied many-times over, given to me by the only participant still living, my friend Judith Clark, herself a survivor of a barely-remembered radical history, serving a 75-to-life sentence in Bedford Hills prison in New York State. (Judy’s story deserves its own independent telling; I would ask readers to please check out judithclark.org.)
Judy’s memory of the “panel on prisons and asylums” at Schizo Culture is that the three men – Foucault, Harp, and Laing – did most of the talking. That’s contradicted by the transcript, which is itself very odd, characterized by breaks and ellipses. We know from Sylvère Lotringer’s accounts that the entire Schizo Culture conference was rife with outbursts and interruptions, including this panel discussion, although that’s not evident in the transcription.
In attempting to re-stage a little-known but somewhat exotic event, I wanted to resist any impulse to reconstruct or “narrativize” the episode in any kind of “realistic” way. I didn’t want a performance designed to dissolve the distance between the “original” event and its contents, both very marked by that moment of the mid 1970s, and yet eerily (and depressingly) prescient of our current traumas of the “societies of control”: diagnosis, punishment, imprisonment, and torture. I didn’t want to blend or unify these four amazing characters and social actors, two of whom (Foucault and Laing) possess an iconicity shimmering with all kinds of aura, with the people reading and inhabiting their words now. I am compelled by both the “connects” and “disconnects.”
CP: You share an interest in collaboration, but also work independently. How do you negotiate the role of an author who is also dedicated to fostering relationships in your work?
MJ: I have always felt uncomfortable in a lonely practice, with the idea of the studio Artist who appears after years of hermetic work with a portfolio under the arm. I began working for other artists in Chicago because I had always been a part of a DIY scene which to me was about skill sharing and enabling others to achieve their goals whilst you achieved yours, doing this I witnessed the evolution of a work through multiple creative minds first hand and this stayed with me. I introduce performers and artists into my works to have them re-interpret my ideas, for them to take the work in directions unknown to myself or to the work. It is quite stressful in many ways to work with others, although I am not precious about my projects I do have creative demands and I like to try to keep the overall affect of the work under my thumb. In return I try hard to become a tool for them to use, whether I am recording sound as I did for Mary’s Piece, working as a Cameraman for Kirsten Leenars, or doing sound for Melika Bass. I simply try to gel with the process at hand.
The most important elements of my practice that I feel need to be under my control I will do myself, The Unreliable Narrator was shot, edited and mixed by myself, with voiceover recordings, studio shoots, post image production all done in my studio. I decided to use a colorist to step up my game a little and he really did a great job, I wanted some animation work for the chapter titles and again I used a great animator Han Han Li — the big key for this work was to employ a Producer, Parveer Singh Sohal. Without Parveer’s connections in India the work would not exist, so that was an integral decision. I needed access. But Parveer is not a Producer, he is a Graphic Designer and so there were many discussions about what I needed and what he was bringing to the project.
MP: Mathew’s discomfort with the notion of a lonely, hermetic studio practice and artistic identity is of course very much in sync with my own ideas, feelings, and history… although not without risks — losing oneself in the collective, for example. A good friend who shares a similar collaborative history once commented that it’s possible that no one will know or remember that her labor and creativity helped form some of these projects, since individual authorship is so often dissolved… I’m obviously not talking here about the art world’s current embrace of “relational practices” and the career building that goes along with that. But as I’ve said elsewhere, I continue to be drawn to collaborative ways of working, such as the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project, because it’s urgently needed, and impossible to realize by a single or even a handful of authors. Most importantly, collaborations embody the kind of collective labor and passion necessary to any project that’s trying to make change.
As you, Caroline, and Mathew make very clear, the project of film and videomaking, like so many art forms, is necessarily collaborative… Chris Marker makes this point beautifully during the ending credits of “Grin without a cat” which he dedicates to the anonymous and unnamed artists and technicians without whose clips, shots, sequences, and documents that epic film would have never been realized, seen, or distributed. To that point, I would like to acknowledge the thoughtful labor, participation, and support of performers Darrell Moore, Mikal Shapiro, Matthias Regan, and Mark Jeffery; Directors of Photography Yoni Goldstein and Meredith Zielke; Mathew for such great sound engineering; Alex Brown for assisting with camera; Ilan Gutin for helping with the large prints; and the lovely, hardworking, and brilliant Joey Carr who has worked as producer, compositor, and hardware/software engineer.
CP: You call on various histories, whether philosophical or psychological traditions, fortune telling traditions, — is it possible to collaborate with disciplines? Or do you think about the way you engage those traditions differently?
MJ: This is a wonderful question; tradition by nature is a stubborn legacy and confronting it head on is an antagonistic strategy. If you lay the threads down together: personal history and its discipline of remembrance, familial oral history, musical traditions as in Jazz, Cheiromancy, Homeopathy, Metallurgy, then these lines will touch and intersect like magnets picking up each other. It is a naïve want to reshape these lines to any sort of permanence. I think of Francis Alys work, The Collector — with the magnet on wheels that he pulls behind him collecting metal from the street as he goes — the street will fill up once again with shards and paperclips. Francis creates a moment of being present, and it’s this re-presenting and laying down with traditions in new almost aleatoric ways.
MP: I consider myself a visitor, a curious student, an interloper or trespasser in many disciplines, an auto-didact, or rather someone who has learned from many teachers and texts, “negative” as well as exemplary…
CP: How do you all think of beginnings and endings? Are those narrative touchstones useful to you?
MJ: No, I instinctively move away from creating narrative structure, arcs and so forth. I find the idea of conclusion quite arrogant in non-fiction. The episodic device is interesting because it introduces the idea of the ‘false start’, or the hidden track at the end of an album, or the prologue as in Bergman’s Persona, or ‘rewind’ in Jamaican dance hall, the stutter. This is why gallery installations are so useful: people enter and leave as they wish; this is a very considered position for my work, the ideal position.
MP: There are no real beginnings. We’re always starting in the middle, picking up someone else’s traces and tracks… For me, in the realm of ideas, relationships, as well as many projects over the years, there are so many interruptions and breaks… things are “left for now” and unfinished or deferred. I find it much more habitual to abandon something, rather than “end” it. Like Mathew, I am drawn to the episodic, to “false starts” and “stutters”… but when Mathew talks about resisting narrative arcs, I think he is perhaps referring to “mainstream” or what we used to call “Hollywood narrative cinema”… for me, there are so many wonderful, rich and complicated examples of “narrative fiction” that escape these constraints – the films of Robert Bresson and Chantal Akerman, for example, but also so many more – in cinema and literature, in expanded forms of the essay, in experimental non-fiction and media forms…
CP: How do you conceive of utopia? Is such a thing possible? Is it a condition of being? Or a place?
MJ: More than a construct, a Modernist ideal, pathological, LSD induced? I never conceive of utopia. Utopia and dystopia to me are devices, but they are not very interesting devices. They suggest spaces of utter happiness or utter sadness and isn’t that a psychological state? Bi-Polar? There is no tension in these extreme spaces and it is too easy to create heroics from such static dynamics. This is exactly what popular culture thrives on. The fine-line-in-betweens, and the slippage that occurs within those minimal gradations is what art production responds to. The entertainment industry responds to those other extremes. Even in a spiritual sense — in Buddhism, for instance, elements are in a balance, whereas in cults, the utopian ideals are offset by the leader sexually prowling its herd for ultimate control. Conceiving of utopia maybe undermines an art making practice? Desire is a more interesting space to work from for me. It has the same goal as utopia — the perfect space — but it is much more psychologically complex. Desire is fixated on process, and the moment. There is presence in desire without conclusion.
MP: Unlike Mathew, I don’t think that utopian impulses can be reduced to mere devices, or that they are necessarily tied to dangerous heroic narratives… maybe this is just a difference of language, because I find that his conception of desire as a transformative force is very akin to what I would call utopian longings.
Until fairly recently, it’s been fashionable to dismiss “utopia” because of its attachment to so many terrible and failed agendas that promised brave new worlds and then delivered totalitarianisms. We know now that we should dislike and mistrust master narratives, totalities of certainty, and teleological schemes. However, I am drawn to utopian impulses not just because I was formed through my engagement with them – to the point of political lunacy, perhaps – but also perversely because they have been a despised or at best suspect category for so long.
Contemporary social movements and revolts against globalized capital, the fleeting “occupys,” the movements of the squares, the queer utopias of so many interesting artists today, all embody what people call “prefigurative politics”: “Be the change you want to make.” The emphasis is on the here and now, against telos, embracing not only possibility, but doubt. Recognizing that we, and all matter, is/are in a constant state of becoming, that small and invisible shifts and changes are always (potentially) occurring, whether or not they are seen or recognized… this is what intrigues and provokes me. Brian Massumi is an extremely useful thinker and writer here.
Paradoxically, there’s a lot of interest in reclaiming utopian thinking now because of how hopeless and scary the world has become, how reduced and flattened to information, to bits and bytes everything seems… and all the ways that capitalism forecloses the imagination and desire, except as an instrument of and for the commodity, no pleasure outside of consumption… or the deadliness of an actuarial life, with its endless assessment debits and credits…
CP: What does it mean to come from somewhere? What role does memory play in that reality?
MJ: The transition is interesting, to come from somewhere to go to somewhere else, and the translation from one meaning to another. There is a great deal of nostalgia and longing for previous inhabited spaces, especially if you have been formed by them in some way; that complicates memory. A new space can act as a lens from which to view the previous space and this is truly a unique position. You no longer belong to that place but the memories are attached to you, somehow the filtration from one’s current position gives a sober screen. I think it is essential but painful, and again that tension of knowing you need separation while at the same time being in touch with a sense of longing is the drive for this ‘other’ space to be imagined in my work.
MP: Again, we return to the problem of origins…Years ago, I made a piece provoked by Courbet’s “The Origin of the World.” I was very influenced by Linda Nochlin’s pivotal essay on that infamous painting, and the difficulty, if not impossibility, of locating an originary point — whether in relationship to that picture, which existed in several versions, disappeared, and re-surfaced over a long stretch of time… as well as the funny ridiculousness of imagining the universal vulva-cunt as the origin of us all, the Great Mother… how much better to use the term “beaver”? or just ordinary women’s names: a succession of beavers…
A more recent project was instigated by the notes, translated from Arabic into English, allegedly written by Mohammed Atta in preparation for the hijackings and attacks of September 11, 2001. When I read these, all sorts of problems immediately presented themselves. Was this an actual document? Were the notes, in fact, “found”? or were they a fiction, invented to “prove” a rationale as incomprehensible as the acts that followed? Was this a reliable translation?
The idea that translation is often slippery and inexact, and sometimes impossible, is widely acknowledged. Yet we like to pretend that complete transparency is within our reach, that vast differences of culture, language, and history can be breached, if only the right tools, technologies, and “mindsets” are available. And translation, like everything else, has undergone a renewed politicization in this ever-encapsulated world.
In a lot of my work, I explore spaces and distances between a “here” and a “there,” a presumed “center” and its “periphery,” to work off the grid to the point of falling off a map completely. I work with images drawn from public, although possibly ephemeral archives – things like newspapers, outtakes, margins of the margins – to fictionalize them, at the same time as undermining the authority of “authentic” or alleged autobiography. Like Mathew, I’m preoccupied with the instability of memory, very enamored of the idea, the necessity of the unreliable narrator… or the mute, opaque, or invisible one.
January 18, 2013 · Print This Article
I came on as the Managing Editor of the Bad at Sports blog about a month ago. It’s been an exciting turn and I hope to do well by it. A few people have asked what my vision going forward is, and I thought I might say something about it here. I hope to continue reflecting on the dynamic energy in Chicago’s contemporary art world while connecting to conversations and aesthetic agendas in other cities and disciplines. That agenda was set in place a while ago and I believe I can continue to guide and focus that intention. There is room for experimentation in that vision, which seems necessary to me. Bad at Sports has never presented a tidy, singular package and as such, I believe it would go against the nature of the project to filter content and tone through a single, editorial lens. Its roots in independent, DIY and Punk Rock collectivism remain at the heart of the project’s vitality and the blog is a platform for unique and individual voices that pass through the subject of contemporary art and culture. As such it becomes a nexus of concerns and responses to culture at large. That is something I hope to preserve under my stewardship. As an artist-run forum, Bad at Sports has the unique capacity to reflect on a host of subjects, exposing the intellectual, aesthetic and social networks that define and subsequently influence cultural production. I believe it is our job to explore and discuss the contexts we inhabit. In doing so, we further establish a living touchstone and future archive of contemporary discourse.
Some changes should be apparent already — others will fall into place like pieces of a puzzle in the coming months. The process is organic, but I’ve been trying to set up a casual, thematic architecture that unfolds over the course of a given week. Eventually, I hope to schedule two posts a day, one before 2pm and one after. Built in to this, is room for special occasions and guest writers — those posts would either go live in the evenings, or fill in existing gaps. To that end I’ve been inviting a number of new writers, many of whom I have admired for a long time.
Here is something of a loose schedule:
Mondays: Essays and reflections from old favorites Jeriah Hildewin, Shane McAdams and Nicholas O’Brien — writers who have been posting with consistent dedication. In addition, I’m excited to announce a new bi-weekly column by Dana Bassett, whom you may know for her ACRE Newsletters.
Tuesdays are dedicated to three subjects: Performance, Social Practice, Language (or the performance thereof) and Object Oriented Ontology. Confirmed participants include longstanding contributor Abigail Satinsky and Mary Jane Jacob (Social Practice), Anthony Romero and João Florêncio (performance), Gene Tanta (language), Robert Jackson (OOO).
On Wednesdays, we will read about artists and art in other cities. The following writers will post on rotation: Jeffery Songco is covering the Bay Area, Sam Davis continues to represent Bad at Sports’ Los Angeles Bureau, Sarah Margolis-Pineo is writing about Portland. Juliana Driever will be relaying posts, interviews and artist profiles about New York, and then we’ll bring it back to the Midwest with Kelly Shindler’s dispatch from St. Louis, and Jamilee Polson Lacy writing about Kansas City.
Thursdays herald our illustrious Stephanie Burke’s Top 5 Weekend Picks and a new monthly contribution from author/translator Johannes Göransson whose writing you can also find here.
Fridays have been set aside for art reviews and artist profiles with contributions from Danny Orendoff, Monica Westin, Abraham Ritchie and myself.
WEEKENDS will feature a range and flux of the above, plus Brit Barton’s Endless Opportunities, cultural reflections and short essays by Terri Griffith, continued posts from Jesse Malmed, in addition to a monthly contribution from the newly confirmed Bailey Romaine and Adrienne Harris.
My last note is this — there is room in this schedule for additional posts, posts that would feature special events, festivals and conferences in the city. That space would also be available to, at times, connect the blog and the podcast. As a first indication of this, we will be highlighting IN>TIME, a performance festival that is going on as we speak, from January until March.
Otherwise if you have any comments, suggestions or, even guest posts you would like to submit, please feel free to contact me at: email@example.com