Hip Hop Apsara Visits NYC, and we’ve got a couple mixtapes for the trip

October 20, 2012 · Print This Article


 

This Tuesday, October 23rd, The Green Lantern Press — a slow-media, art press I started in 2005 — has a book release party at the powerHouse Arena in Dumbo, New York. There, Anne Elizabeth Moore will read from the GLP’s latest book, Hip Hop Apsara: Ghosts Past and Present. Hip Hop Apsara is  a collection of essays and photos that examine Cambodia’s emerging middle class, with a particular emphasis on ways in which people gather in Phnom Penh’s public space to dance. They dance together in choreographed rows all evening. It would be similar to Tai Chi or Country Western line dancing, except that these dances involve a mash up of traditional Cambodian ballet, called The Apsara, and contemporary Hip Hop. The older folks dance earlier and their moves tend toward the traditional side. As the dusk turns into night, dance moves become ever more contemporary and the old folks—mostly survivors of genocide, mass killings, or poverty-enforced starvation— are replaced by younger generations. Its functions as both excercise and entertainment, and represents a significant turn in Cambodian life. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that people were hungry and had to conserve as much energy as possible. On the 23rd, from 7-9pm Anne will be reading along with a colorful cast of characters including the hatefully talented Mike Taylor, acclaimed novelist and cardigan-curator Elizabeth Crane, ‘funny’ Joe Garden, and internationally renowned cat-spotter Elizabeth White. It’s going to be an exciting night with lush projections of the Cambodian night life, stories about rock, ghosts, and social change. The powerHouse Arena is located at 37 Main Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201.Go here for more info.

And, last but not least, here is the playlist, as promised, and read more about Anne’s book in an essay she posted on Largehearted boy’s website. (what created the original impetus for the mixtape). The audio clip featured at the top of this post was recorded live at Quimby’s, when collaborative duo The Speers played a music set for Moore’s book. Additionally, Moore will be reading at Bluestockings in Manhattan on the 24th of October.

Hip Hop Apsara: Ghosts Past and Present (book trailer) from Anne Elizabeth Moore on Vimeo.

 

About the Author:

Anne Elizabeth Moore is a Fulbright scholar, a UN Press Fellow, the Truthout columnist behind Ladydrawers: Gender and Comics in the US, and the author of several award-winning books. Cambodian Grrrl: Self-Publishing in Phnom Penh (Cantankerous Titles, 2011) received a best travel book award from the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation in 2012. Hey Kidz, Buy This Book (Soft Skull, 2004) made Yes! Magazine‘s list of “Media That Set Us Free,” and Reclaim the Media’s 2004 Media and Democracy Summer Reading List. The first Best American Comics made both Entertainment Weekly‘s “Must List” and Publishers Weekly‘s Bestsellers List. Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity (The New Press, 2007) made Reclaim the Media’s 2007 Media and Democracy Summer Reading list and was named a Best Book of the Year by Mother Jones. Moore herself was recently called “one of the sharpest thinkers and cultural critics bouncing around the globe today” by Razorcake.

About the participants:

Joe Garden is a grown-ass 42-year old man incapable of making basic decisions without input from strangers on social networks. In the past, he was features editor at The Onion (where he created the characters Jim Anchower and Jackie Harvey), co-wrote two episodes of the award-winning cartoonWord Girl, co-wrote three novelty books (The New Vampire’s Handbook, The Devious Book For Cats,and The Dangerous Book For Dogs. Great gifts! Check ‘em out!), and appeared in the critically acclaimed film Big Fan. He currently working on a new website for Adult Swim.

Elizabeth White‘s work includes photography, video, installation, and social practices. Her work has recently been exhibited in the Artisterium International Contemporary Art Exhibition in Tbilisi, “No Soul For Sale” at the Tate Modern in London, “A Map is not the Territory” at FiveMyles Gallery in Brooklyn, and “Surveil” at the Center for Endless Progress in Berlin. Her work has also been shown in New York, Dublin, and Leipzig as well as Japan and New Zealand. White was awarded a project grant from CECArtsLink in 2011 and has been honored with an Aaron Siskind Fellowship and the support of the Hattie Strong Foundation. She has been featured on ArtInfo.com and her interview with Dina Kantor was published by The Girl Project. White holds an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York, and a BA from Vassar College. Based in Brooklyn, she teaches digital art and culture courses at the College of Staten Island (CUNY) and Ramapo College, and has been a visiting faculty member at Bennington College in Vermont.

Elizabeth Crane is the author of three collections of short stories, most recently You Must Be This Happy to Enter. She is a recipient of the Chicago Public Library 21st Centu




Come & Have Some CAKE

June 13, 2012 · Print This Article

There is a really fantastic comics festival going down this weekend at Columbia College. Edie Fake and Neil Brideau have been putting it together for the last several months, as is evident from the ambitious vision and extensive programming. It’s like a world-class event with some phenomenal talent, old and new alike. A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to email back and forth with them about what the festival is about, what’s going down and how it relates to the pulse of the Chicago comic scene.
Caroline Picard: I can’t believe that CAKE is just around the corner — what made you all decide to put something like this together? Why this year? What’s it been like to organize?
Edie Fake: Yeah - CAKE is coming up so fast – it’s really exciting! Our initial impulse was that the alternative comics community in Chicago is so large and vibrant, it didn’t make sense tonot have a comics festival to celebrate it. We’d been to other amazing small press festivals of different flavors: TCAF in Toronto, Stumptown in Portland, SPX in Bethesda, BCGF in New York, APE in San Francisco… and it’s awesome to see these festivals harnessing the energy of a city’s scene and putting it in conversation with artists from all over.
This year is shaping up as an amazing year to debut a show like CAKE - there’s a ton of outstanding comics coming out right now, and I’m blown away by the talent we’ll be hosting. We’ve gotten to watch the Chicago Zine Fest (CZF) really take off in the past few years too, which is really encouraging.
Organizing for this year’s CAKE meant laying a lot of groundwork for the festival to continue – so it’s been a long and wild ride at times. We’ve got a tight core of five organizers now and an auxiliary committee of about 20 other folks and that sort of manpower really helps make everything more manageable. It actually makes putting it together pretty fun.
CP: In many ways I feel like your efforts in organizing community zine and comic-events is this incredible way of drawing out and publicizing vital energy that tends to lie below the surface. I feel like there is a ton of natural comic-energy at the moment, but I also feel like my awareness is tied to community opportunities for discussion and public engagement (like CAKE) that you and others are creating. Can you talk a little bit about what that’s been like? And maybe the tension (if there is one) between insular community-creativity and public accessibility? 

Neil Brideau: I think over the past few generations comics have really come into their own.  They’re being accepted more by the larger cultural world, and I think that helps cartoonists break out of their shells a little bit.  Most of CAKE’s exhibitors are in their late twenties and early thirties, and I feel like this generation is a lot more social than their immediate predecessors.  There’s this stereotype of the alternative comics artist toiling away in their studio not getting any financial or critical compensation for what they love, and feeling sorry for themselves.  But I see our peers really celebrating their creative process and the creative process of others. Not that there aren’t a lot of nights spent alone in a room inking pages of comics very few people will read.  I think Chicago too, in general is really welcoming of DIY and small-run creativity. Whether it’s the Night Market, or the CIMM Fest, or the Chicago Zine Fest, or Printers Ball, or house shows that DIYCHI is putting together, Chicago seems to be an incubator for lo-fi production and celebration of that production.  I think cartoonists in Chicago react to that energy, and are more social and community-oriented animals.

CP: Is there a way that you would characterize the comic-making energy and interest in Chicago at the moment? Do you have a sense for how that compares to other cities?
EF: Comics in Chicago have been a pretty big deal for a while – but I think we’re in a golden time right now. There’s a lot of overlapping community here. The Trubble Club is a great example of folks meeting up and drawing, sharing about what they’re making and influencing each other’s work. We’ve got micropresses like Sarah Becan’s Shortpants Press and printshops like Spudnik and try-anything stores like Quimby’s. Lyra Hill’s performative reading series Brain Frame is expanding what  comics are and how they’re presented. We’ve also seen totally off-the-chain events happen here recently like Hilary Chute’s star-studded Comics: Philosophy and Practice conference. This city values great comics like no place else- the scene here is really open, supportive and interactive. People here really up the ante for each other.
CP: I feel like we should talk about CAKE too, of course! What kind of things can people expect? Are there certain events that stand out as highlights for you?
EF: It’s going to be a jam-packed weekend! We’ve got over 200 artists exhibiting comics and a full slate of panels, screenings and conversations. We tried to set up events that we thought were a vital part of comics that we hadn’t seen happen before, like a panel on silkscreened comics and how the printing technique changes and expands the shape of comics. Ryan Sands, who’s an incredibly interesting and edgy editor is presenting a slideshow/mixtape of stuff he’s excited about and it just might be like seeing the future. The Eyeworks Animation Festival has curated a great program of work that highlights the overlap of comics and cartoons along with a q&a with Amy Lockhart, Marc Bell, Jim Trainor and Jo Dery. We’ve also got artist and comics historian Joe Tallarico leading a discussion on comics and fine art between two tremendous local art monsters, Paul Nudd and Karl Wirsum.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too – we’ve really been able to do a lot our first year out, including putting out an anthology CAKE Book with ITDN Group and an art show in conjunction with Morpho Gallery’s downtown Annex. It’s going to be a great time.
CP: Aren’t some people debuting comics too? What’s that like? (I’ve never been to something where comics — and multiple comics — debuted, but I imagine it’s some kind of custom? haha. I sound like such a goober.)
NB: Oh yeah! Debuts are a great tradition at alternative comics shows. Self- and small-press publishers often use comics fests as anchors to plan their publishing schedule. Making a comics fest like CAKE as the first time someone can get their hands on a comic helps create a buzz for their publication, the creators are excited to get it in people’s hands, and a lot of attendees seek out new work, knowing their the first folks to get their eyes on the comic!  So celebrating these brand new books are events within the larger event of CAKE and those celebrations add to the excitement that already exists within this convergence of tons of comics creators showing off their gems of self expression.
We have over 25 new titles debuting at CAKE, which we’ve been announcing on our website, one at a time. Being the one who posts them on the site, I’ve been bubbling with anticipation about some of the stuff coming out.  My list of comics I need to get my hands on is already really big.  A few that stand out to me are:
-Suck It Up by Krystal DiFronzo, who enthusiastically performed a portion of the comic (which involves a character puking out her stomach to consume her lunch) at the most recent Brain Frame performance at Happy Dog
-July Diary by Gabrielle Bell, published by Uncivilized Books.  Gabrielle is a great cartoonist who drew a comic everyday last July, which is now collected in this book.
-The Adventure School for Ladies Comics Intensive, is putting together a book during their two-week session, which takes place right before CAKE, so their book will be hot off the presses!
-Weather by Gabby Schulz -who also goes by the name Ken Dahl.  Secret Acres is publishing a comic featuring his character, Gordon Smalls, who is a great vehicle for Gabby’s social commentary on american consumerism.
For more information about CAKE and all its illustrious events, please visit their website.



Give and Take Between Parts: An Interview with Andrew Oesch

October 26, 2011 · Print This Article

Print shops are inherently communal. The overall expense and maintenance of printing equipment is generally only possible when shared. Being in this space, the smell of ink alongside a regular hammering of various machines (there was a particularly well-used off-set printer) reinforced one of the things I love about print making — its communal backbone, something that seems ever present in the proliferation of posters and brightly colored images. While at this print shop, I ran into an old friend, Andrew Oesch. I met Andrew for the first time years ago in Chicago. Oesch is a printmaker who, at the moment, teaches comic book production. In the following conversation we talk more about Providence and the enduring exchange of influence between generations.
Caroline Picard: We first met when you came out for a show that Anne Elizabeth Moore had curated at The Green Lantern. That show was my first introduction to Providence and I was struck by the seeming resonance between the project you and Meg [Turner] installed, (“We Built This City Together”) and my later impressions of Providence itself. For instance, you had some amazing stories about the physical place you living in at the time: cavernous rooms in old warehouses with smaller rooms built inside and space heaters. A lot of communal creative space that at the same time was somehow hyper aware of its (specific) urban context. In We Built This City Together, people were invited to take pre-printed stickers of buildings, color them in and paste them on a wall. It was sort of like a social experiment to see how people would respond to one another. It sounds very much like what those communal living situations must have been like.  I’m starting to ramble, but can you talk a little bit about that?
Andrew Oesch: I hadn’t thought about the ways that communal living might have been affecting my projects before. To put things in a little perspective artists have been living in large amounts of shared space for a while, it’s not a phenomena which is unique to Providence, right? Those opportunities often form along peripheral conditions…artists move into provisional spaces that are in transition or of unclear purpose. In my personal work I do look to  architecture — both its planning and history — for a lot of insight to the culture of a place.
A lot of the architecture and culture of Providence is informed by the industry at the beginning of the 20th century. There was a lot of manufacturing — textiles, tools, and costume jewelry. So there’s a fair amount of large brick mill complexes and a surprisingly dense amount of housing. In the early 1900s the peak population of Providence was around a million people.
With those historical notes in mind we come to the turn of the 21st century and all the large manufacturing is gone. The hemorrhaging of those industries started in the 70s and after a couple of decades the city is fairly depressed and its population is a quarter of what it once was. Some of the large mill complexes are there, though there are large vacant lots like broken teeth where a building might have burned down or was demolished. The buildings which remain are utilized in a variety of ways. Some have light manufacturing, some have small studios, some are flea markets, some are abandoned. The rent is cheap and landlords are permissive, so artists move in and things like Fort Thunder happen, and then they unhappen when the Real Estate market gets crazy.
One thing that I remember someone saying about why they live in these sorts of spaces is that unlike a house, these mills aren’t made for people to live in. So it feels weird to live in them; she chose to live in them to continually remind herself that she wasn’t normal, so she could remember that she feels weird.
I don’t what that says about my practice… I feel weird and temporary? And to answer my own unsure rhetorical question I would say, yes. I am interested in the how Robert Smithson talks about entropy. The city is a system that shifts over time. I don’t think it is moving towards an equilibrium…and it’s not a closed system, but I can create finite systems and invite people to participate in them through various art making methods. Does any of this thinking make me a good housemate? That might be me starting to ramble.
CP: What kind of space does printmaking have in Providence? Has that changed over the years? And how has it influenced your own printmaking practice?
AO: Well, I wouldn’t have a print making practice if I didn’t live in Providence…maybe that’s not true, but I began printing because I saw prints everywhere, and I was like “Oh, I wanna do that…”Print making and this place for the last 15ish years has been shaped by the Dirt Palace, and other less permanent industrial mill living places. It just so happens that many of the folks who live at these various places make screen prints. The biggest way these practices continue to change is because the sprawling mill living spaces are less common. Buildings have been renovated, demolished, or just outright condemned. And this hasn’t stop people from making, but it adds a provisional quality to everyones living situation. So that’s why places like the Dirt Palace are really important: it is owned by two artists committed to keeping the world weird, loud, and rad. The AS220 prinshop is important in a similar way because it represents another place of stability. The contrast is that at the Dirt Palace every surface is covered by something else — old packing, glitter, show flyers, doodles, old paper mache projects…the space amorphously switchs from personal space to cooking space to work space to library to printshop to dance party and back again, while As220′s printshop walls are more neutral. Their space is more obviously a printshop.
CP: While in Providence this summer, I noticed an interesting relationship between the city’s educational institutions and the non-commercial, in many cases DIY, art spaces. Like the Dirt Palace got some kind of cartoon-making-machine because Brown no longer needed it. Do you feel like the universities have enabled the art-making community somehow?
CP: Yeah, Brown, RISD, & Johnson+Wales impact the city a lot. In mundane ways there is (what I imagine to be typical) resentment of the impact the universitys have on the tax base, and universities can gobble up real estate, and are touted by business leaders+politicians for innovation. But I think your observation is totally spot on;for the a certain section of the art scene universities have excess resources artists can mine. There are some  proposterously giant ways that happens and a lot of small ones too. All the Youth Arts programs I have been involved with have a few hand-me-down silk screens from RISD’s print making department. And often at the end of the year there is a dearth of printing ink too.
But beyond the physical resources and material surpluses, these institutions have supported and spawned various organizations in town. New Urban Arts, Community Music Works, and AS220 Youth all ride a paradoxical relationship. Having been incubated by Brown, they nevertheless came into being because there was something that Brown was not providing. They exist because resentment and anger built up around the universities’ inability to engage with a corrupt under city. Resources were mis-appropriated by a twice imprisoned mayor (and many others) while the public school population had 80% of its kids receiving free or reduced lunch (the school bureaucratic euphemism for “really poor”). Even with that resentment, these folks were able to start their respective organizations with the support of fellowships from Brown, and a few key mentors, and the large pool of potential volunteers who attended those same universities. Now these organizations and programs are a little over a decade old and they are the compelling civic leaders to offer something outside of the ways in which Brown, RISD, and Johnson&Wales do public engagement.
So what does this mean for our city’s art scene? There is a generation of people who have grown up making art and hanging out with artists and mentors at these organizations; now grown up, that generation participates as emerging makers+artists+staffers, working and making alongside their former mentors. This is beautifully exemplified in this photo I really love of The “What Cheer?” Brigade, a loud and rowdy local brass band, taken by a young person who was a participant in AS220′s Youth Studios, where a couple other members of the band were running a street band workshop. The photo has one of the trumpet players filling up most of the frame and foreground of the image, and in a the soft focus of the background there’s another trumpet player and a trombonist, it’s a good image, but those three members pictured are no longer in the band, and the photographer is.

Spring Break Book Week: Illustration Workshop led by Andrew Oesch, photo by Jori Ketten

CP: How did you start teaching comics? 

AO: So the last two years has been a slew of new jobs. My friend, Walker Mettling, was one of two artists who were written into a grant to run comics workshops in the Neighborhood Branch Librares in Providence. The other artist ended up dropping out, and both of them asked me to fill his place so I did. Probably the most important thing about  both Walker and me is that neither of us is a practiced comics artist. We’re approaching the whole endeavor with a weird mixed bag of story-telling, print making, collage, busted graphic design sensibilities, and a general sensibility of fostering collaborative engagement. While working with Walker is new, and co-organizing workshops about comics is new, generally the project is a lot like my previous experiences as an artist educator and in that way it has been awesome!
Walker and I have been connecting kids and adults through The Providence Comics Consortium. Admittedly there are a lot of things that we can not claim credit for. We draw on a pool of artists/friends/peers who are pysched about the ideas and images that kids create. Students in our class love to see their work adapted and amplified by adults. This simple equation of strong mutual appreciation/adoration is the essential bond that makes the project kinda magical. Kids come up with outlier ideas that adult artists are captivated by. There is peculiar way kid artists funnel their attention, which is revealed in the details they obsesses over and the aspects which are direct and simple. Walker and Myself are really just go go betweens them and the adults.

One of the ways we started off creating a dialogue between kids and adults was to try out our lesson ideas with a group of our friends. We would sit down and try out what we wanted to do in class with a couple of friends, this provided us with some feedback and refinement for our plans, but it also generated some awesome examples.

One of the critical story-develop tools and the primary visual vehicle between adults and kids is the series of character books we create. There are a variety of prompts and exercises we have utilized to start the germinating a character. My favorite thus far has been a process of hybridization where we start off asking the kids to draw two types of things. A pretty typical pair is “a food” and “a type of job.” The kids make these individual drawings, we put the drawings into bags and everyone picks a pair which they have to combine into a character. This abstract visual mathematics can be confusing, but inevitably leads to good places… a memorable example is “The Apple Wedding Planner.” The boy who drew these from the bags was confused at first, somewhat uncertain about what a wedding planner does… but that didn’t matter because he could make his own meaning out of the random pairing he had drawn. The next phase in the character-develop is typically drawing a short strip using this character. After that little bit of narrative exploration with the character, we give them a worksheet with prompts to list the character’s friends, enemies, special powers, height, weight, fears, and a little bit more narrative about the characters origin story. We end up retyping these stats and combine all the drawings and write-ups into a booklet. Compiling and re-distributing that book has two effects: One, it gets the participants super excited because they see there work in print! And two, the kids get super inspired by each others’ creations. They start to utilize other students’ creations, creating other characters in response.

Then we give those books to adults, who are equally as excited. We ask them to create adaptations using student characters. Soon we are going to put out our first anthology which features the student work and adult adaptations, so keep an eye out for that. (You can visit Secret Door Projects, to see how Ian G. Cozzens developed the Scar character).





Traveling Comics: An Interview with Sara Drake

August 17, 2011 · Print This Article

I am an unabashed and biased fan of comics–the integration of text and imagery connects the whimsy of fantastic worlds, flip reflections and twee confessions to the more  transcendental preoccupations available in illuminated manuscripts or, even, Jung’s famous Red Book. Given the deep pockets of Hollywood super hero blockbusters, it’s easy to forget that comics mean much more than our tight-clad, cape and mask “Here I come to save the day.” In the following interview, I had the chance to talk to Chicago-comic artist/writer Sara Drake. We discuss the form of comics, the flexibility their formal structure affords, its relationship to gender and (!)  her forthcoming trip to Cambodia. Come November, Drake is going to Phnom Pehn with the help of Arts Network Asia and Anne Elizabeth Moore to teach a 2-month class on  self-publishing and comics to young women.  Together they will explore and suss out the medium alongside the ethos of self-publishing and dissemination. What does it mean to share one’s own reflections? How or why would this be significant?  As the center of this discourse, comics become a cross cultural stimulant, exhibiting once more their hybrid form.

Caroline Picard: In addition to your own work as a visual artist and writer, I  know you do a lot of work in the city; you run Ear Eater, a collaborative reading series and have also curated visual exhibits. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your various creative endeavors and how you feel them working together in the routine of your life.

Sara Drake: I come from a specific mid-western DIY mentality, rooted in communal and local sharing of how culture gets produced. Most of what I do is about supporting or interacting within a community of other people which then becomes a lens I use to view most everything that gets created. There’s this great Joan Didion quote that I keep coming back to, “I write to find out what I’m thinking.” I tend to engage in different things all the time and consider a lot of what I do, whether I’m curating an experimental poetry reading in my apartment, making comics, or just hanging out and doodling with friends, as a process of becoming. I don’t particularly want to separate or categorize things, the hybridity, for me, is what’s important. I think the hybridity is what attracted me to comics. No one really knows how to think or agree upon what they are culturally. I find that when people talk about comics, they describe them in terms of other mediums (literature, film, poetry). Comics can do all sorts of weird, crazy things, and they exist on this personal, experiential scale. It allows me to engage with an idea or experience in an array of ways, depending on what I’m interested in investigating.

CP: It’s interesting that you point to comics’ cultural position (i.e. the way, as a genre, they  resist a definite label like poetry, literature, or art) because they are so prevalent in so many cultures. I was wondering if you could try to define what you mean when you say comics. It sounds like there is a real spectrum of work you are thinking about.

SD: Well, I would be hesitant to define “comics” as a genre. Comics are a medium, like poetry or literature or painting, a way to express or convey oneself. I’m actually having a hard time answering your question, I’m not exactly sure what “kind” or “genre” of comic it is that I make. I’ve never liked the labels like “graphic novel” or “experimental comic” because the titles don’t really make sense to me. Comics have always been lowbrow, underground, or something that the mainstream world didn’t deem valuable. Right now, so much in comics is changing, and changing very quickly. I am a direct product of that change too, which is both unsettling and curious. Being able to graduate at an art school and say that you’ve made comics is a pretty recent development, and one worth paying attention too. I have to hope that the self-taught-ness that has been so much apart of comics history doesn’t  get lost or forgotten in younger generations of cartoonists who encounter the medium for the first time at art school.

CP: What kind of mechanics take place within comics that make hybridity possible? 

SD: Holy moly! There are so many different ways to talk about hybrids when we talk about comics. Perhaps the one that I see as most important is that a comic is time-based. Time can exist logically: from one panel to the next. Time can exist simultaneously and also sequentially: you could depict a single setting that has many actions that happen within that setting, each at different times. Time can hop around at random and sometimes gets lost between panels. As a reader, you can go forwards and backwards. Comics just work on perplexing levels depending on how you want to interact with them. Even the lenses that I use to read comics are always shifting, one day I may pay a lot of attention to the writing of a comic, then the next to the drawing style and how it relates to the mood or tone, and this list could go on and on.

CP: Recently you’ve been part of a project spearheaded by Anne Elizabeth Moore examining the way lady drawers (comics) are under-represented in the comic world. How did you get involved with this project and what has your role been? How does the project shape your expectations/visions for your own work as a lady drawer? 

I’ve always been involved a community that has had a vocal sensitivity to issues pertaining to gender and identity. More specifically though, my partner at the time was Anne’s research assistant. Through proximity to Anne’s project, gender discrimination and disparity became a part of my daily conversation and head space. Once you start looking at the rate of women in practically all comics anthologies you can’t really help but keep seeing a problem most everywhere you look. I was then asked to do the cover of the Women’s Comics Anthology, and later helped with Anne’s new Ladydrawers column on Truthout. My involvement thus far has been helping to create media to make the issues more visible. Although the people who should get credit for inspiring my awareness are all of the intelligent and inventive students who have participated in Anne’s class at SAIC or who have collaborated on gathering statics. My involvement with Ladydrawers has definitely opened some uncharted dark waters for me. On a weird personal level, I have a lot of close friends in the comics industry who feel attacked by the argument. This often becomes a heated debate or a bedraggled attempt at discussing the issue. Which, for me, becomes a daily issue of having to think seriously and critically about what is at stake when we ask questions about participation within a given medium. On a different level, the project has enabled me to work with a lot of amazing people, including Anne. I see Anne’s interest in working with young people uncommonly admirable. Her presentation of herself and her ideas are really infectious within the SAIC community and pretty soon, EVERYONE wanted to chat it up about gender and comics during downtime. So the project creates and allows participation within a community, and one that is centered around questioning cultural production at an art school and on a broader scale. Also worth noting, I probably wouldn’t be going to Cambodia to teach comics to ladies if I hadn’t become involved. So, you could say Ladydrawers really stimulates global media creation – I don’t want to think that that is so far off from the truth.

CP: You’re also in the middle of a kickstarter campaign to raise money to go to Cambodia as part of fellowship. Can you talk about what you would do there and how the project came together? What is the Arts Network Asia? 

SD: The project, Independent Youth-Driven Cultural Production in Cambodia (IYDCPC), is based on and was founded by Anne’s collaborative independent publishing work in Cambodia. (read all about it in her really amazing and generous book, Cambodian Grrrl: Self-publishing in Phnom Penh, CANTANKTEROUS TITLES.) I first heard about the project through Anne herself. I happened to be at the right place at the right time, and the right place was an art exhibition with her work in it. We bumped into each other, and after chatting for a while she pulled an unassuming business-like card out of her pocket with a website on it. Anne said she could give me a thousand bucks to go to Cambodia. Who in their right mind would pass up an offer like that? Everything about that moment was weird and doesn’t sound like real life. I remember that evening I decided to apply not really thinking that a proposal to teach and make comics would get accepted. Skip ahead five months later and I’ve got a plane ticket and a bunch of bristol board rearing to go teach comics in Southeast Asia.

We are still in the planning phase of what I will actually be able to accomplish while I am there. As of now, I am traveling into Phnom Phen, Cambodia for two months beginning in November. I intend to teach a comics and self-publishing course to young women in conjunction with local collaborators. The goal of the course will be to offer a space in which young women can share their own ideas, and to promote real media creation in a cultural space that has historically denied women the ability to do so. We will also be working towards creating an archive of student work using local resources and available networks. The project will be documented via a comics blog and hopefully a digital archive for future students or just interested Cambodians to have access too. I have aspirations to self-publish or to create some sort of document of the comics I make while I am there to exist in the US.

Arts Network Asia was established by an independent group of artists, cultural workers and arts activists from Asia—I think, originally, Singapore, and come from the theater world. They are a grant-making body that encourages and supports regional artistic collaboration. They’re deeply invested in fostering an engaged cultural community across Asia, and I’m so honored to work with them, since they see local value in what i’m doing in Phnom Penh—which is so much more important than “international” value. Or “cool points.” Anyway, they’re great to work with, very supportive. They just want to make sure Cambodians have access to interesting ideas.

CP: What is it about Cambodia that has inspired this project? Are your interests specific to Phnom Penh?

SD: Phnom Penh is where I have a network of support already in place, due to Anne having already done work and reporting there. To answer the question, I do need to be aware that all of my current knowledge of Phnom Penh (and an entire nation) has been acquired through media and not through direct experience. I will try my best to be honest. And actually, seeking out media and information about Cambodia in the US is really frustrating at times. In one way, it’s important for me to see the disparities between how the US tends to represent Cambodia and my actual experiences of being there.

From my understanding, there is little to no educational structure in Cambodia, so providing a potential structure or a place to view structure becomes, potentially, important. Historically, Cambodia has accidentally forgotten about women’s education. After the Khmer Rouge destroyed Cambodia’s intellectual and cultural life the country has been in the process of rebuilding after it’s tragic past. School’s being rebuilt in the 1990s didn’t necessarily discriminate students on the basis of gender but strict traditional gender roles, lack of female housing options, and economic imperatives made young women’s participation within an educational system really difficult. Comics currently being produced in Cambodia are mostly made and distributed by NGO’s and promote comics as a way to help combat low literacy rates.  I’m hoping teaching will encourage real media creation that can exist outside of this system.

CP: How is comic-making a vehicle for dialogue with different cultures, particularly Cambodia? And is that a strange space to occupy? I feel like if it was me, I would be both thrilled and nervous about how to facilitate a potentially political project in a foreign country; part of what seems thrilling is trying to understand how to conceptualize myself and my role. What is that like for you? How do comics factor into those ideas?
SD: The project doesn’t really have a political agenda in scope. My main objective is to help stimulate independent media creation among young women Comics are a vehicle for dialogue only so much as someone can decide that they want to use the medium as a way of communicating and sharing information with others. The medium is only powerful as a tool if someone sees the medium and decides that they want to interact with it and say something with and through it. For the women I will be working with, it’s important to me that they see comics as a tool for speaking, locally, on a scale that relates to them first within a community. For myself, I’m used to comics being a readily available means to express myself. In this way, I can use them to hopefully talk about another culture with my own culture in the US. My goal is to present myself as a model or example of a comics maker and hopefully others will be able to see themselves as potential creators, wanting to tell their own narratives and their own histories. The project is less about me and really about convincing other people that the medium is there for them. That it could potentially be a place of self-empowerment.

I feel really responsible, although I’m not entirely sure I can define what it is that I am responsible for. It’s a really bizarre space to occupy, and I learn to deal with it by being open to being wrong and naive often. The more I seek information about the history of Cambodia, I notice how whack a lot of the media that the Western world has to offer is, and how little I actually know or understand how globalization or a nation in poverty works (or in reality doesn’t). I also, have a difficult time locating myself and my own thoughts on women’s rights within a culture I’ve yet to experience, where the rules are completely different than how I would normally perceive them. I’m really excited and anxious about trying to encourage a bunch of young women to wield a medium of expression, in my case comics, with very little working knowledge about how comics or even self-expression exists for them.

CP: From an artistic perspective, do you feel like your anticipation for this trip has inspired/influenced your creative process?
SD: Oh gosh! Probably in ways that I’ve yet to unpack or even recognize for or in myself. I’m not used to creating comics about my personal experiences and part the trip is about sharing my own observations and awareness. I’m having to work and think and convey myself in a way I’m uncomfortable with but I’m also finding to be invigorating.

 





Social Practice Art’s identity crisis

February 27, 2011 · Print This Article

Attending Portland State University’s Open Engagement Conference last May, one of my favorite parts was jumping in on the conversations that BAS-ers Duncan Mackenzie, Brian Andrews, and Randall Szott were recording at the local bar around the corner. I went out there with InCUBATE to see how this field of social practice was being articulated across the country and connect with current and former collaborators on this rapidly proliferating but amorphous way of working.The question of what social practice art actually is, who is defining its parameters and to what end, is a hot mess. Since the 1990s, a number of mostly European and North American art critics and historians have struggled to understand a notoriously chaotic set of practices, under an ever changing set of  names including new genre public art, socially-engaged practice, relational art, dialogical aesthetics, etc. While I have no interest in throwing my hat in the art historical ring on that one (and I think the folks over at 127prince.org (ed. correction – 127prince.wordpress.com/ ) are doing a good job on talking through the issues), I admit that I like the identity crisis that social practice art is always wrestling with. It’s rapidly becoming professionalized through MFA programs, like California College of Arts, Otis College of Art, and PSU. Yet it also heralds a kind of everyday creativity and social connectivity that is supposedly available to anyone with or without an art degree.

I’ve thought about this with my collaborators at InCUBATE over the last couple years and we’ve participated in a lot of conversations where people tear their hair out trying to figure out where social practice begins and ends. Defining the actual parameters of “social practice art” seems to be a red herring. Sometimes a dinner party should just be a dinner party, sometimes calling a dinner party an art project makes it a richer experience for the individuals participating. Social practice art doesn’t necessarily create more democratic exchange between art and audiences, often times it creates hierarchical distinctions between artists in art school and ordinary people with creative hobbies and interests that don’t have anything to do with an art career. But while it continues to be problematic territory, the larger anxiety it brings up is pretty interesting. How are artists defining the communities their work operates in, especially when traditional contexts such as commercial galleries, museums, and non-profits aren’t the intended landing pad? If one’s work is about engaging publics supposedly outside the artworld and eschewing art-speak when it comes to creative expression, who cares if it’s called art other than social practice artists? The issue then becomes not how to judge social practice within the confines of other art disciplines, but rather how the value of that work is being defined and by who. If social practice offers us anything, it openly asks not what kind of artist one wants to be but what kind of person one wants to be and how one wants their work to operate in the world.

Thinking back to that conference too, I felt a sense of camaraderie from the Chicago contingent (people like Hideous Beast, Sara Black and John Preus, Anne Elizabeth Moore, Shannon Stratton, Randall Szott, and more), something like a mixture of healthy skepticism and a sense that yes, we’ve also been thinking about this for a while now too and let’s get into it. I’ve long been inspired by groups and spaces in Chicago who have taken the art/social-engagement approach (Temporary Services, Mess Hall, Haha, Department of Space and Land Reclamation, Pilot TV, FEELTANK, Experimental Station, AREA Chicago, the Stockyard Institute, just to name a few) and maybe those people would really not like to be lumped into the “social practice” conversation. But to me, their work asks the essential questions about the social and political ramifications of participating in the artworld.

So I hope these Bad at Sports posts on the “social practice scene in Chicago and beyond” somehow incorporate that Chicago attitude that I’m struggling to articulate. I’m going to be doing interviews with Chicagoans and artists from elsewhere, asking them what they think about the audience for their work. For this first post, I interviewed artist, activist and writer Ashley Hunt. I first encountered his work as part of his collaborative project (with David Thorne, Katya Sander, Sharon Hayes & Andrew Geyer), 9 Scripts from a Nation at War at documenta 12 in 2007, a piece which cut directly through the curatorial excess of that sprawling exhibition. Since then I’ve followed his writing in the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, An Atlas of Radical Cartography and other places. When he told me he was touring his project Notes on the Emptying of a City, a performance/film about post-Katrina New Orleans, I asked him to do a performance at threewalls, where I work as Program Director.

More on that event is here
More on his work can be found at www.ashleyhuntwork.net / www.correctionsproject.com.


Here is the conversation we had:
AS: I know the background to your latest project, “Notes on the Emptying of the City” started when you joined with a bunch of community organizations to document what was happening in New Orleans post-Katrina. Can you describe what is meant to you to transform what sounded like essentially a documentary process into an experimental narrative that explores your own first-person perspective? Did you feel like the original piece ( “I Won’t Drown on that Levee and You Ain’t Gonna’ Break My Back,” ) the documentary that in turn inspired the performance, in some way didn’t satisfy your own personal feelings about what you witnessed during that time?AH: I think we often get caught up in defining our endeavors according to the institutions and audiences we’re expected to speak to. I’m interested in a more fluid relationship to our institutions and disciplines — be they art, activist, educational, etc — while recognizing the tool sets, vocabulary, capacities and possibilities, positions for speaking and listening that each discipline and institution might provide. There are not particular things that I wish “I Won’t Drown” could have done differently, as it was made within the urgencies of that moment, and it needed to be accountable to those specificities.

For me, this was not a time for critical distance and a good, reflective discussion about aesthetics, history, architecture and race. It was a time for contributing my energies and skills toward the efforts to get people released from jail, for locating family members and protesting the use of “looting” as a pretext to further criminalize and round up storm survivors. It was a time to privilege the voices of people more directly affected by the hurricane, rather than speak to my own experience.

At the same time, a great deal of critical reflection on the politics of aesthetics, witnessing, history, speech, architecture and (especially) race were really eating away at me. “I Won’t Drown” needed to be something that could not offer a terribly rich space for that thinking, nor should it have tried to bring people into a more contemplative relationship to the events. But once “I Won’t Drown” was completed and began to move out into the world, doing what it could do, it did become possible to think and work a bit differently. This allowed me to begin the political work that is rooted in reflection and critical understanding of the world, which I think needs to accompany the political work that is rooted in action.

One might say that this traces a certain relationship between theory and practice — practice was what I was initially compelled in to, but each practice is always constricted by the theories that, at the same time, have enabled it. Theory supplies the vision and describes a possible field for action; yet as each vision or theoretical construct has its limits, so will the practices they inspire; whereas similarly, experimental practices make new theories possible.

For me, “Notes on the Emptying of a City” is a much more theoretical piece, where rather than issue demands and arouse action, I hope for it to act upon our political imagination, from which new possibilities of action might emerge. This is to say that I want it to open a publicly theoretical space for its audiences, one in which some of the most difficult questions of Hurricane Katrina — especially the alienation of its issues from other issues and other histories, the forgetting that surrounds it, and the racialized assumptions built into its narratives — can be taken up critically, and where people who are not only activists (or at least don’t see themselves as such) can participate in the conversation.

AS: Can you talk a little bit about how you chose the different venues for this piece to be performed? The majority that I found through online research included The New Museum, Public Space One in Iowa City and then here at threewalls. I know that a component of this piece is the discussion afterwards that you then archive and becomes part of the work, what was your feeling about presenting this work in these spaces? Not that audiences at these spaces cannot be a diverse bunch, but I imagine there is a big difference in discussion from grassroots community venues that were involved in a campaign to help those incarcerated during Hurricane Katrina to an art museum. How do you see the project functioning differently, and who do you see as the audience for this particular work, versus the original documentary piece produced in tandem with the other activist organizations?AH: What is important to me is to build an audience that is not restricted to the audiences called together by one particular kind of institution or another. In addition to the more official art spaces that you mentioned, I’ve also brought the piece to a prison in upstate New York, to a very public venue in San Juan, a public university a mile from the U.S.–Mexico border, and the debut of the piece was situated at Project Row Houses in Houston, which, while an excellent art institution with an art world presence, also has a deep rooted community profile, with involvement and accountability like no other art organization I know.

Once one gains the possibility of working within art world institutions, one can also push them to mobilize their resources in ways that are accountable to ideas, subjects, communities and actions that are not necessarily ‘of’ the art world already. One can use their position to suggest that these institutions demonstrate a responsibility to communities and value systems beyond the art world, and I believe that I hold a responsibility to help do this wherever I can — which also includes trying to make events free and open to a wider public.

It should also be noted that there are a lot of really good people working in art institutions who do very important work, and more still who would like to do more radical programming but are under a great deal of pressure to sell things and build spectacle. So when I find a curator or programmer who’s willing to take up a more political project, one based upon social rather than economic or market values, I really appreciate that and see it as a form of solidarity. It can be a great chance to help that institution expand its audience to communities who will then place different demands upon the institution, perhaps helping to build a slow turn toward socially-based definitions of art rather than market-based definitions.

The value that I’ve placed upon prioritizing, cultivating and archiving the conversations that have followed the piece from place to place comes in part from my desire to trespass the boundaries that separate different kinds of institutions, but also looking to how the meanings of the piece shift as it is situated within one cultural context versus another. This process intends to provide a space after the performance where the private resonances that have built up for viewers can be brought into a public conversation with other members of that audience, or what I think of as a temporary public, while also becoming a part of a record that follows the life of the piece.

The most stunning thing to me has been the different references — historical, political, in local memory and so forth — that the piece conjures, and the forms of knowledge about the world that these stories of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans can suture together. So far, this has included border issues, colonialism, histories of slavery and state violence, the ghettoization of cities throughout the US and the larger world, and most recently, the political changes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain, and their relationship to the new labor movement forming right now in the capitol of Wisconsin. Even though these seem like geographically and historically distinct issues, our conversations have allowed us to draw important connections between them, tracing out how they may actually be continuous.