February 13, 2013 · Print This Article
Some time in the 1990’s, two children named Jeffrey and Renée were dancing ballet in separate productions of The Nutcracker. Jeffrey was performing in New Jersey, while Renée was performing in Florida. Years later, these two kids would grow up to be young adults and their stars would align in graduate school at San Francisco Art Institute.
When Renée Rhodes and I started our friendship, her hair was no longer than 2 inches in length. She captivated my interest with her performance-based artwork, utilizing a familiar language of dance that I always assumed was separate from the discourse of fine art. She exposed me to her interests in Yvonne Rainer, Pina Bausch, and Jonah Bokaer. Today, Renée and I jokingly prance around the city of San Francisco, hoping to one day choreograph our own piece for the world to see.
At the start of this interview with Renée for Bad at Sports, we sat down and watched a YouTube clip of Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle. The clip reminded me of a ballet movement called croisé…
Renée: I think I’m losing my French ballet words.
Jeff: Uh oh.
R: Have you heard of Labanotation?
J: No! What the hell is that?
R: It’s a method for movement notation created by Rudolf Laban. It’s a way of noting dance moves as a graphic score.
J: Have you used it before?
R: No, it’s very complicated. You really have to study it and be trained to properly use it. I’m more interested in the narrative and history of measuring the body in that way.
J: You’re so smart!
R: Are you mocking me?
J: No, but, before we started this interview, I thought I was going to open with, “Renée, your hair is so long”.
R: Oh God. You know what else is long? A Jacques Tati film.
J: Are they really long?
R: No, but there’s not very much dialogue, so it can feel really long, and kind of like a dance. I like how he creates an alternative language out of gestures.
J: Have you taken a ballet class lately?
R: Nope, sure haven’t.
J: But ballet has been a huge part of your artistic practice, or at least, an influence, right?
R: Is this is a prompt?
R: I was taking ballet classes mostly throughout childhood and high school life, and later started using that as creative material. And back to Labanotation, the reason I brought that up was because ballet is another way of measuring how the body moves. Ballet is a sort of geometry when you strip it of its fairytale narrative. It’s about making shapes and forms in this sort of perfection. So I guess I’m not really interested in perfecting my ability to make those shapes, but I’m interested in that sort of quest and narrative. It’s very human to want to achieve formal perfection, and I see that in ballet and that’s interesting, and it’s something I’m critical of, too.
J: I see formal perfection in an Abercrombie & Fitch ad.
R: Damn! Anyway, I think that the idea of making forms and shapes with your body is a way of measuring your own body’s physical terrain. But it’s also a way of measuring the space around your body, or the space that your body is in. It’s a very abstract language, but I see it as a sort of cartography, which is itself an abstract representation of space.
J: Do you mean like Google Maps? Is that a stupid question?
R: No! Yes! I love Google Maps because they make me totally confused!
J: How are Google Maps and ballet related?
R: They both operate on a fixed number of axis points in their movement. They’re both very frontal. It’s more about the grid – working on a grid system, and fixity that appears to be fluid. With projects that I’m working on now, that ballet influence is there in a critical way. I’m more interested in rolling around on the floor.
J: Isn’t that how we met in grad school? We rolled into each other on the floor?
R: Yeah – fun icebreakers.
J: So what project are you working on now?
R: It’s called Navigating In a Whiteout. There’s a lot of rolling on the floor.
J: I’ve never seen a ballerina roll on the floor.
R: (in theatrical voice) “It’s Modern Art, Jeffrey!” Joking aside, it’s a more contemporary form of movement that starts with one simple movement phrase that is permutated along different axis points of the body. It moves from the variation of the movement that’s just in the hands, to the version of the movement that happens through floor work, and then a version of the movement that’s for a body standing.
J: How did you arrive at this type of choreography? Can I call it choreography?
R: Sure, you can. I started the project by imagining myself as an explorer of Bouvet Island via Google Earth. Bouvet Island is tiny and is the most remote island in the world. It’s a place I’d never likely get to in any other way, but I spend a lot of time there! I feel really familiar with the terrain and the topography on the island as if I have a memory of it. That memory is now very visual and cerebral, and I am trying to figure out what my sense and physical memories are of that place. The movement is a narrative about translating mediated landscape – about wandering through that terrain and transposing that topography onto my own body.
J: Whoa, so you’re like explorer and terrain all at once?
R: I think so! When you navigate through a place, that terrain maps itself into your memory and onto your body.
J: How will this project manifest?
R: As a manifesto.
J: Are you serious?
R: No, but thanks for asking. It’s actually a performance for three dancers with four different movement sections, sound, and video. It’s being presented during Scrawl at the Center for Drawing, which has a new monthly performance series created by Mimi Moncier. Mimi’s idea is to present movement and performance-based works that loosely explore the idea of drawing.
J: Are you one of the three dancers?
R: Yes I am.
J: Can you share how you choreograph your work with the dancers?
R: I made all the choreography on my own, before meeting with them. So that’s a lot of time alone in the studio, jumping around, rolling on the floor, and looking for movements that are compelling to me. I’m also spending time with source material, which is the Google Earth footage through Bouvet Island. I think it’s called making a tour in Google Earth. You can save your movements in Google Earth as a data file and re-watch your expedition. In terms of the dancers, I met Laurie Bramlage at a favorite dance class of ours, and Rosa Navarrete at a symposium at Z Lab UC Berkeley where I gave a presentation – or a “movement workshop,” if you want to be more specific.
J: I do not want to be more specific, thank you.
R: In this project, we had a really short amount of time to set the piece, so I wanted to make sure that I had all the movement ready. There wasn’t a lot of time to experiment and change things. It was a process of me demonstrating movement and them developing a memory of it.
J: Whoa, that was a beautiful way of explaining how any dancer probably learns how to dance.
R: (in kid voice) “I’m going to show you this move and you’re going to repeat it over and over until you remember it so we don’t have to use words anymore!”
J: What is “a short amount of time”?
R: We met four times. It really feels like the beginning stages of a project, like it’s in a sketch phase or something. This is atypical for me because I usually spend more time on things. On the other hand, I performed a solo excerpt of it last week in Portland at Worksound Gallery. It felt really good to get it out there.
J: I think that fast paced, “no-time” sense of urgency is actually quite precious, and for me, makes me work really strangely in a super productive way.
R: Yeah, I agree with that. Sometimes it’s good to have limitations so I just don’t go off on every tangent. So now I feel like I have a pretty solid framework for this project that I’d like to develop more in the future. One of the ways I want to develop it more is to collaborate with the dancers more and create a responsive movement with them. Right now, there are some moments with partnering work, and in the future, I’d like there to be more improvisational exploration of what that movement could be.
J: Renée, do you feel like you ever finish anything?
Renée Rhodes’s Navigating In a Whiteout was presented last week as a part of Scrawl at the Center for Drawing in San Francisco on February 8th. You can view her other artworks on her website: www.reneearhodes.com.
Recently, while trolling the facebook site for Works Progress, an artist-led public design studion in Minneapolis, I came across a thread on Colin Kloecker’s page (who co-runs the studio with Shanai Matteson) compiling a list of must-reads on the subject of Creative Place-making. What I gathered from the thread and then from talking more with Colin is that we share an interest in how new funding opportunities, that are becoming available under the rubric of “creative place-making” (most significantly through granting organizations like ArtPlace), are affecting and intersecting with socially-engaged practices. Most recently this conversation came up in Chicago when Theaster Gates’ Rebuild Foundation along with the University of Chicago and the Bruner Loeb Forum held a conference called The Art of Place-making.
Artplace was there in attendance, my highlights were the presentations by Kennedy Smith and Walter Hood, presenting on the importance of small business development and creative urban design respectively (arguably the two poles of Theaster’s initiatives.) There were tours of the various properties and lots of conversations about what is unfolding at Dorchester Projects, Stony Island Arts Bank, the Washington Park Arts Incubator, and all the rest in development. One of the moments that stood out for me came in a meeting leading up to the actual conference where Theaster convened community members, local organizations, and neighbors at Dorchester Projects to talk about what was going to happen at the forum and getting feedback on a smaller-scale. I ended up in a break-out group on the Washington Park Arts Incubator and the community-building initiatives now in formation. I don’t pretend to fully understand the complexity of that project, in that neighborhood, with that set of partners, and while I am really excited about what’s happening there, I am also struck by the enormous responsibility being placed on an artist residency program sited in a neighborhood with a historically decimated economic infrastructure. A lot of people spoke about needing educational programs or job training, or of the difficulty in explaining to the neighborhood why they should embrace this place. And I thought, this is a really complex, long-standing socio-economic context to wade into and a lot is being put on artists to have a significant impact in the shaping of that conversation. Perhaps that’s just naive, but I also think it bears repeating. These issues are really, really complicated, the struggle against gentrification is a hard battle and the issues of good versus bad economic development are very deep and hard to parse out. And it is kind of a bizarre world in which artists are put forward to lead the way, while being asked to speak about economic development and community impact. Perhaps that’s where they should be, I’m not sure.
So with that in mind, while cribbing Colin’s list and adding some of my own, I thought it would be interesting to compile a list that reflects the dialogue as it is in this very moment. With the 10th anniversary of Richard Florida’s book “The Creative Class”, the much-criticized and massively influential book on urban development that ties arts funding to innovation culture and business development, rather than inherent social good, we’re primed to revisit the failures and the successes that are now the received wisdom as to the state of arts funding.
Creative Place-making from the government:
The original white paper from the NEA
In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired.
And from ArtPlace on “Vibrancy Indicators”
ArtPlace is a collaboration of 13 leading national and regional foundations and six of the nation’s largest banks. ArtPlace is investing in art and culture at the heart of a portfolio of integrated strategies that can drive vibrancy and diversity so powerful that it transforms communities. To date, ArtPlace has awarded 80 grants to 76 organizations in 46 communities across the U.S. for a total of $26.9 million.
And then the analysis:
Dead End on Shakin’ Street in which Thomas Frank explains how Creative Place-making pits Cincinnati versus Rockford versus Kansas City versus Akron in the vibrancy test. It is perhaps unfair to pit funds for city tourism over what should go towards universal health care coverage, but it might as well be put in perspective. A very trenchant and important critique here.
This guy has some beef with Frank, writing from Asheville, NC. I think he misunderstands Frank’s larger point which to me is about pointing out the disinvestment in the public sector on a wide scale, not that universal health care is being specifically defunded via the millions spent on vibrancy initiatives. He also writes for what looks like a marketing firm called Placemakers. They “cultivate livability.”
The Fall of the Creative Class, a first person story of why following Richard Florida’s plan to the letter in deciding where you live might not be a good idea by Frank Bures. Madison-bashing and a totally baffling set of unrealistic expectations aside, this has some good analysis. Also as a side note, the part in here where an overweight woman who he imagines as never leaving her apartment stands in as a symbol of his existential angst is totally problematic. Fat people are not signs of the world coming to an end.
Richard Florida responds to Bures directly here in his “What Critics Get Wrong About the Creative Class and Economic Development” which is basically a rehash of the correlation versus causation debate and then Bures responds back here. And more from Richard Florida in More Losers Than Winners in America’s New Economic Geography.
Ian David Moss from Fractured Atlas and Create Equity blog (which is really good) has some great analysis in Creative Place-making has an Outcomes Problem. This will truly take you deep into art administration nerd-dom but his critique of ArtPlace and its vibrancy indicators is coherent and worth reading. And there are links at the bottom of his post that will lead you to more Florida backlash.
Roberto Bedoya on Creative Placemaking and the politics of belonging and dis-belonging writes about creative place-making strategies of community engagement not adequately meeting the challenges of spatial justice and how “place-making” has to contend with the very real histories of displacement, colonization and indigenous struggles. As Bedoya writes, “Creative Placemaking activities’ relationship to civic identity must investigate who has and who doesn’t have civil rights.”
And here’s a hilariously raw assessment of Richard Florida’s consulting group “The Creative Class Group” implementing a program to train “community catalysts” in Charlotte, North Carolina; Duluth, Minnesota/Superior, Wisconsin; and Tallahassee, Florida, conducted by Knight Creative Communities Initiative (KCCI) that Frank Bures talks about here. And a similar aggregate of the arguments with Can Creative Placemaking Be Proven? The (New) State of the Arguments.
Enjoy the rabbit hole!
Photo by Eric Rogers
Last month we closed a trio of social justice exhibitions at Sullivan Galleries—and Laurie Jo Reynolds closed Tamms, the state’s solitary confinement prison. Art did that. Artists made work, called others to do so to, and then brought in a population that usually doesn’t come to see shows at SAIC. Why should they? But these shows made art matter because the artists leading these efforts—Tirtza Even and Laurie Palmer, Mary Patten, and Ellen Rothenberg—cared and had practical, human rights goals about which they were clear on both the subject and their commitment.
When I read Grant Kester’s essay in a new book, Engagement Party: Social Practice at MOCA, 2008-2012, my heart sank, twice. First, to read that for this series artists were to present work on the first Thursday of three consecutive months; it was a program of, for, and by the museum. Oh, there were claims this made the museum more transparent, a late entry into institutional critique, and questioned the “boundaries of art, museum, and broader culture,” but really what it offered were bookings and entertainment, and Kester, too, cites complicity.
The second sinking feeling is worse, because he goes on to list questions he feels are critical to “participatory practices.” Ok, let me pause here: he says participatory, not social practices. It’s not the realm that Abby Satinsky cites as the “Chicago attitude.” But I am not the only one to juggle apples with oranges, and social is the title of the book in which he writes, so I’ll proceed.
Here are Kester’s critical points. (1.) His need to categorize by the structure of the project. (If you must; he’s got four.) (2.) The viewer’s relationship to “the work-as-thing.” Now I am among the first to rally for process-based work, but to say that the history of modernist art “provides a virtualized inter-subjective encounter” and that “these experiences are virtual and aesthetic,” is to have never had an experience with art. Dewey, the spokesperson for art-and-life within a wider understanding of “aesthetic” is rolling over in his grave. This includes a rather wooden description of “plural relationality” that hardly conveys vitality. We have to move beyond the passive/active participant paradigm. Meanwhile the “consciousness” he cites as perceiving other’s actions is not the consciousness to which I aspire and which art can give. This curiously leads him to the tired issue of authorship in collaborative art. (Get over it.) (3.) Finally, ethics. Well, if we were talking about “Opening the Black Box: The Charge is Torture,” or “Natural Life,” or “Tamms Year Ten Campaign Office,” there’d be something at stake. Stop letting Claire Bishop set the terms, Grant (his language aesthetics vs. ethics, hers—autonomy vs. morality). You’re better than that. We are better than that.
I return to my colleague Abby Satinsky’s mention of a “Chicago attitude” that she said she was struggling to articulate. How to encapsulate all that this city spawns and sends out in the world, all that artists do and keep doing here. And with this knowledge of what’s at stake, we don’t have to give up on art, and at the same time, we will never give up on social relations.
So I turn to Japan…bear with me…. because our alliances in this endeavor are wide, and our dialogues on other terrain both contribute to them by our example, while furthering our own understanding of what the Chicago attitude is. (Isn’t that what dialogue does?) I took up this conversation in Tokyo with two Korean artists, Kyungwon Moon and Joonho Jeon, whose News from Nowhere presented at documenta 13 will go a step further with the Chicago Laboratory this fall, and I invite you to Sullivan Galleries to look and participate. But to get to the origin of making art, participation and the society, I started with the question: What personal transformative or, well, moment of crisis brought you to this point in your work?
JEON: To create art is to contemplate your own circumstances, learning through experience and expressing through art forms. Thus, art must necessarily be intensely private and subjective. I had merely been expressing subjective opinions when I began to doubt whether any of my opinions mattered to the rest of the world.
That prompted me to wonder if I could grasp the true nature of this doubt, and whether I could take it beyond my own personal views and work together with someone else to make it part of the public discourse. That’s why we decided to collaborate and brought in people from fields outside the art world to participate.
MOON: The making of art is commonly thought of as a private act. Working alone used to make me feel a sort of deprivation, as if the only voices I was hearing were my own echoes. While I still acknowledge individual exploration as being inseparable from art, I started this project because I came to realize that collaborative systems are also important, and began to wonder what sort of practical influence a collaborative project such as ours could have on society.
I also wanted to know how art forms would change in the future. What changes in relationships and modes of communication in art itself could affect society in entirely different directions? How will art be transformed in the future? The very process of asking these questions was a way to think about the evolution of art and its future prospects.
MOON & JEON: Having participated in a number of exhibitions together since 2007, we began discussing our thoughts and concerns on contemporary art, including the meaning of art, the expendability of exhibitions, and the absence of the critique. We came to think we should create art that is not only practical but also introspective, that is, in the sense that it would provide us with the opportunity to reflect upon ourselves.
We began asking questions about social function and role of art, looking at values and beliefs, and these led us to ponder: What would other artists in different fields think about our questions? So we organized News from Nowhere as an open discussion platform that reflects on art not just through arts but also through the humanities, sciences, economics, education, and religion.
Our initial motivation was to break free from art’s polarity of “the self and the other” by listening to others, sharing problems, and finding solutions together. Our priority has been on people’s participation. Each discussion is part of the process, part of the work.
We don’t offer any answers or a particular message. We want to share our discussions, processes, and views with those in the art circle as well as the society-at-large, and re-think and re-flect. In this project, the word “re-think” does not equate with “reset,” as in starting anew. Instead, our use of “re-” involves empathizing and joining forces with others to think, solve, and share ideas.
Our I First Our Looking: Interview with Performance Workshop participants at Atelier 35, Bucharest, Romania
The following interview is a performer-centered echo of a bunch of cool art students and Irina Botea (the organizer of the Dec 2012-Jan 2013 workshop) with whom I had wine in the back of the famed Bucharest gallery, Atelier 35. Spaces called Atelier 35, which are geared toward younger artists, dot across Romania and are used as outlets for formal experimentation. The outstanding fact about these spaces is that these, often centrally located galleries in urban centers, were used for the same purposes even during Ceausescu’s paranoid reign.
Because I enjoyed my conversation with the performers so much, I asked them the following question. Their email responses follow my question. What does your work protest? I ask this question because it seems the most basic and therefore most relevant question given the subject under consideration: the replacement of the beautiful patina of old windows all over Romania with hermetic modern and homogenous Termopane.
Allow me to rephrase the same question and add some context and nuance. In light of Adorno’s claim that art documents history (however much through the conscious or unconscious relational aesthetics of the artist-viewer encounter), what does your project-performance-discussion about old windows being replaced by Termopane document? If you don’t think this work (in its intention or in its effect) documents anything, what idea does the work decorate? If you don’t think the work documents or decorates anything, what does it do and how does it do it?
I asked the performers not to discuss the question or their responses before emailing me. Here is what 5 of 13 performers had to say:
“Our work is about how we relate to the artificial window, it’s about how our lives are influenced by it, about how we isolate each other from each other, how our lives become more and more artificial and “virtual”, at the same time, with the rise of new technologies. Before the change, the old window allowed a conversation or, better said, maintained a relation between the two spaces—the one that’s inside of the building (our private space)—and the urban space. Termopane cease this communication, take control, and create a cold wall between the outside world and us by promising to protect us from whatever is on the other side. But the unseen part of this protection is that it can easily turn to alienation.” – Kiki Mihuta
“I think that our work questions the termopane the window and everything that comes with (the termopane is not good or bad). This was a subject that we received during a workshop. We tried to understand what was going on. And I was amazed when you ask us about “protest” the first time over wine in the back of the gallery. I can see the need for the word “protest” once I think about the fact that currently we are in the middle of an accelerated form of capitalism that has put us in the situation where we are losing something every day. You win as much as you lose, but you don’t have the time to understand the loss. You see all over the word these small groups that can’t face the new and they get lost in it (I don’t want to be taken as a traditionalist). I am talking here about the glaziers (“Geamgii” in Romanian), the old glasscutters calling out their trade between blocs carrying the glass panes on their backs. After recognizing this larger context I simply ask myself ” Against whom would such a project be protesting?”” Ileana Faur
“First of all we do not protest against double-glazed windows. We started out by looking into what seemed like a trend, a fad even but we considered it with a friendly look and after weeks of intense discussions we gained some insights into the effects of double-glazing one’s house – some of them being on the one hand, isolation and its “by-products” (e.g., not being able to react to what happens outside anymore since Termopane create an almost soundproof house) and a deeper appreciation of the sounds in one’s own house on the other hand. Secondly, I strongly believe that we react, we reflect on something that cannot be overlooked since it has an impact on both our city and its inhabitants. And yes, our work does document this to the extent to which we acknowledge the existence of something that impacts us. This is reflected in our performance. – Delia Gheorghiu
“Our work focused on the impact of this replacement (of old windows with multiple-layer double-glazed windows) on the people who purchase them. In Romania, this transition is advertised and widely acclaimed as being more than just necessary – but the default upgrade, perfect for every house. While questioning this widespread idealistic belief that Termopane are the right (almost the only valid) choice, we pursued in deconstructing its “promises”. And since you referenced Adorno’s claim that art documents history, one of the key aspects this work documented is how the perfect isolation, the safety promised by the Termopane comes with an unexpected turn: isolation means protection, security, intimacy but it also raises questions regarding responsibility and anxiety. These new guidelines of the private space influence people’s social and psychological behaviors, by means of a rather unnoticeable slow process of adaptation.” Ioana Gheorghiu
“Looking back at the way the project developed and evolved from the beginning up to the present time, I can relate to it only as a work in progress. I do not think that the aim of our work was to protests against something in particular. As far as I’m concerned, I consider it to be an attempt at understanding the current situation and its implications: types of isolation, comfort zones, relation between public and intimate space, social interactions etc. However, taking into consideration the historical aspect, it is clear that the replacement of old windows with termopane began after the fall of the communist regime, which might lead to new ways of interpreting the current situation. As political factors have direct implications in the social sphere, the phenomenon can also raise questions regarding the consequences of political changes taking place in time and the way in which they affect the social behavior of inhabitants.” Raluca Croitoru
On my first day of class in Wisconsin, I dropped a “Breakfast Club” reference that thudded like Judd Nelson’s career after “From the Hip.” And I immediately felt a compulsion to familiarize myself with contemporary popular culture.
A man in my upper 30’s, my touchstones for affective metaphorical connectivity seemed to be mossy and only getting mossier, so I set out on a mission to brush up on my understanding of Rihanna, Drake and to discover what the heck Aeropostale is, through a strict regimen of MTV and regular trips to Brooklyn’s Fulton Mall.
I think this is a pretty common anxiety for professors who try to relate knotty concepts to their students by drawing from more familiar examples. I begin every Contemporary Art class by comparing art to fashion, and knowing fashion beyond what I might have worn to a Temple of the Dog show in 1993 would certainly behoove me.
I showed my class an image of a guy in a fine suit and asked, “If you were raised by English-speaking wolves, and encountered this person, would you know what he was trying to express through his choice of clothing?”
A resounding “no.”
The students agreed that the English-speaking wolves wouldn’t know that suit to be any more fashionable, or business-like, than a banana leaf loincloth. I suggested that works of art often function like fashion, though hopefully not always. I said that the best works, as Peter Schjeldahl has noted, communicate ideas, while the vast majority merely occasion them. In other words, less successful work needs to manufacture meaning, and thus should be understood within a self-enclosed system of signs, rooted in the history of art and ideas rather than in experience.
This held their attention for a moment, but I lost it again when I showed one of Anna Betbeze’s tattered wooly rugs and a Tom Friedman sculpture of accumulated pink eraser shavings. I got a version of the ‘anyone could do that’ complaint from a hockey player in the back of class. I usually match such pat resistance with a line from a comedian in order prove that a simple, elegant observation can ring as legitimate as a baroque painting that took weeks. I performed a clumsy version of the Jerry Seinfeld bit about how if someone from another planet saw humans cleaning up after dogs they’d naturally assume the dogs were in charge.
I think my problem was that I went for the whole impersonation in addition to the joke, and impressions aren’t my strong suit. Either way, they didn’t relate. I imagined my class as me, and me as my dad recounting Klinger jokes from M*A*S*H on a morning in 1979. Eyes rolling back.
This second thud, compounded by the “Breakfast Club” dud, sent me poking even harder for common ground.
So I finally broke the fourth wall, and asked directly what they found amusing.
A collective “meh.”
“Whatta about music. What do you listen to when you hang out and study?” I kind of felt like a viral marketing specialist conducting a focus group for a new energy drink.
“How about Beyonce..is she still big? I saw her at the Deuce in Miami two years ago and she looked pretty FINE.” Trying to seem cool.
“What do you do to waste time when you’re sitting in your dorm rooms when you’re not reading your art history book?”
I told them that in undergrad I used to sit around eating Chef Boyardee ravioli and watching “Real World” marathons when I should’ve been studying. I also had a roommate that watched this movie called “Army of Darkness” over and over and over and that I couldn’t stand it because it was like a watching a video game without having the pleasure of interactivity.
And then I caught a twinge in my audience. A spark of vitality. A flicker in an eye in the back of the room; a twitch of a thumb in row two.
Video games. Yes!
Most of the class, including the girls, lit up when I mentioned video games. And someone exploded giddily that the game “Call of Duty” was going on sale at midnight, and it was quickly clear that most of my class would be in line to purchase it. A major event in a world I didn’t know anything about. Before I could get dismissive, I recalled waiting in line outside at Kieff’s Music in Lawrence, KS at midnight to purchase R.E.M.’s “Automatic for the People.”
I haven’t played a video game since a stand up arcade version of Karate Champ in 1985. So my mission to relate to my students would prove far more complicated that laundering old Seinfeld jokes through a newer and more relevant comedian. I’m up against a behemoth. A new paradigm that I don’t understand.
Considering now all the Johnny Depp and Major League Baseball and James Patterson Books I’ve dropped as relatable examples, I can’t help but wonder how much pedagogical ground I would’ve gained if I would’ve known anything about the game “Halo.” If I could only trade all of what I know about Seinfeld for a vague knowledge of which video game console is which. You’re never too old, right?
Maybe sometimes you are.
As the last few minutes of class melted away, I had a revelation. What these millennials need is a video game that bridges the gap between alternative visual culture and first-person shooter. A video game with substance. A video game that matches its phenomenological impact dynamic graphics with hearty intellectual concepts. What these millenials need is a video game about contemporary art.
And as a man already on a mission, I pledged in that moment to bring it to the world. Stay tuned for what will be my greatest masterpiece: “Bruce Nauman: Call of Duty” – A first person shooter game where the act of shooting turns into a feedback loop of self-awareness, making the player uncomfortably self-conscious and forcing them to stop and do something else after a few minutes.