On Courage

May 7, 2013 · Print This Article

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“Courage is the great enabling virtue that allows one to realize other virtues like love and hope and faith. To have courage is to be willing to look unflinchingly at catastrophic circumstances and muster the will to overcome the fear, never to fully erase and eliminate the fear but overcome the fear, so that fear does not have the last word or so that fear does not push one into conformity, complacency or cowardice. ”- Cornel West

I don’t know how to be courageous. I don’t think that I am now but I know, at least I feel, that I must be in order to make it through this moment. Recent months have seen us, as Americans, wrestling with the baseline hatred and oppression that we had so naively believed we had moved beyond, a desire we know now to be a desperate fantasy. I believe Cornel West to be true when he tells us that courage will lead us to other virtues, other strengths that might enable us to not only make it through our time but to imagine a real alternative, a utopian dream no farther than our beds. What I mean to describe here is not a kind of free imagination but, as Žižek has described, “a matter of the innermost urgency”, an imagined alternative to a situation whose solution is so far outside the coordinates of the possible that one is forced to imagine an alternative space.

Bill T Jones

There is a courage to performance, as there is a courage to poetry and criticism, to those forms whose goals, from the outset, are a freshly imagined future. Not just the courage of those taking to embodied action but a courage to witness those acts. A willingness to be changed by something, to allow oneself to feel what John Martin calls muscular sympathy. A kind of sixth sense that gives the viewer access to the work through the performers body. Not simply the courage of the stage but the courage of the street and bar. The courage to stand beside one another, to allow oneself to feel responsible for each other, for ourselves. Too often the heady dialogues surrounding the production of aesthetic experience call to mind a kind of aimless drifting identity. An abstract subject, tethered to nothing and no one, submerged in the machinic realities of our time but this is not true for all of us. For those of us operating from a place of difference, whose lives are not simply shaped but are out right controlled by social and economic oppression,  there are other ways of being. New ways to gather, to love, to share. New economies. Strategies of resistance. Alternatives simultaneously imagined and enacted between sweaty down beats on crowded dance floors in rooms that are forced to accommodate us as we are.

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I wish that I could tell you how to be courageous, that I had some great strategy for us, but I don’t know. All I have is a feeling of urgency, a sensation that drives me towards hope, towards an alternative. I can tell you that the work will be courageous and that with it so will we. I can tell you now that we will be in this together, as a community, as a collective. We who feel strongly, we will be the ones to make a practice of resistance. To turn ourselves towards a tumultuous present of catastrophic circumstances, where revolution and change are palpable events, the tyranny of unaccountable elites runs rampant, and the violence of our city howls just beyond our walls. We will be the ones to turn towards this moment, our moment, to face our oppressors courageously for each other.

“Who will fight the bear? No one? Then the bear has won.”  – Bas Jan Ader




Works Sited: Time-Lapse at SITE Santa Fe

April 24, 2012 · Print This Article

SITE Santa Fe, my home city’s premiere contemporary art exhibition space, has a good track record with moving images. Among the many stand out pieces in the Klaus Ottmann-curated 2006 biennial Still Points of the Turning World was Carsten Nicolai‘s immersive mind-melter Spray (you can watch a reasonably unsatisfying version of it here, though I might only recommend that if you can Honey I Shrank Myself to the point of feeling completely overwhelmed by the intensity and ferocity of the image). With 2008 came a marvelous retrospective of pioneering video artist Steina. Last year’s biennial was devoted to works in film and video and featured an embarrassment of riches to braid cinematic and gallery concerns, including Cindy Sherman’s lone stop-motion animation, a stray Raymond Pettibon animation, a stereoscopic dance film by Bill T. Jones and OpenEnded Group and a meticulous tabletop installation by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy which reenacts (as you watch and as figurines of the artists watch [as you watch them]) the indelible tracking traffic jam scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s Week End.

Which is not to say much beyond that an internationally recognized contemporary arts space is doing its job and doing it well. Time-Lapse, the current exhibition (through May 20th), to crib liberally, “challenges the notion that an exhibition is a fixed entity with artworks that remain consistent throughout the time the exhibition is on view.” Changes are made throughout the show ensuring that “no two days will be the same.” I can report on the day I was there, at least.

Since 2007, Mary Temple‘s Currency project has involved drawing a portrait image drawn from a news site and fusing it with an accompanying text built from the image’s caption and its headline. The works are scanned each day and posted digitally on her website (and to twitter) and physically on the walls of SITE.

Byron Kim‘s decade-plus Sunday Painting series couples weekly cloud paintings with diaristic texts. They’re quite lovely and give a sense of the ordinariness of his days (kids’ soccer woes, lots of meals, sending paintings to Santa Fe), the slow passage of time and the continual flux of something like a sky. I enjoyed imagining the graphite texts on the clouds taking the place of his attempts to anthropomorphize and concretize the abstract churning billows: it looks a demon riding a circus elephant, no, wait, it looks like chicken parmesan for dinner and, oh shoot, I forgot to call Jerry, it’s ok, I’ll see him tomorrow.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer‘s Pulse Index is a far-sighted palmist’s new best friend. The interactive installation records the fingerprints and heartbeats of visitors and plays them back on a series of screens. The video of the most recent print takes on gargantuan proportions and knocks the next most recent down a scale. This in turn knocks the next and the next down until eventually each kid is knocked off the bed, like so many nursery songs. His Microphones is also interactive, featuring a microphone with an embedded speaker. Upon speaking (or singing) into the spotlit microphone it responds with a past visitor’s speech (or song).

Most impressive to me was Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation‘s whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir. Like past works by Sussman and her team, art history loans the title (White on White) to this heady, recombinant algorithmic noir. The film is edited/constucted in real time through an artisinally-crafted computer algorithm using 3,000 film clips, 80 voice-overs and 150 pieces of music. The quasi-narrative is in continual flux with constant new collisions of image, text and sound. The wall text carefully credits all involved (the Rufus Corporation) in a bold expression of the collaborative nature of the project.

Its clever technological sophistication is evinced through a flatscreen showing the coded processes by which the combinations we’re watching arise. Though I am not a programmer (nor did I speak with Jeff Garneau, the team’s programmer), I was able to glean that the image, text and musical sequences have a variety of tags associated with them. The computer hunts for other like tags in choosing the next clip. In so doing, our concept of the elliptical and subjective strategies of poetic cinematic representation are both challenged and satisfied. When trees as a metaphor transition into literal trees, the decision making process feels honest and human. Indeed, that the film is set in a dystopian future city and has so many hallmarks of a hazy science fiction essay allows the narrativiness greater space to root itself in our brains. I don’t even know that all people are aware that the film is continually changing.

Less successful, I felt, were the looping films in the Time Capsule Lounge. As I’ve said before, the “recontextualizing” of works meant to be experienced in a linear and trajective manner in a cinematic space to the looping, gallery space is rarely successful. The lounge is not without its charms, though including a curated library of time travel books and a series of special performance events programmed by amorphous dynamo local art collective Meow Wolf.

Somewhere in and outside of all of this was the March 2012 web-exhibition. Conceptually indebted to Seth Siegelaub‘s catalogue March 1969 (a.k.a. One Month), the website featured a different work by a different artist each day of March. As now, the (physical) gallery is showing a playlist that takes you through the month. And though this screening mode for many of these works might garner the same criticism of the loops shown elsewhere, that this component of the exhibition is acting as a catalogue of an internet-based show feels distinct and justified to me. The website now is mostly links to the artists featured (and not the specific pieces) but is still an excellent grouping.