This week in the podcast realm of Bad at Sports: I had the great opportunity to sit down and talk with Claire Doherty in Portland this last May. Doherty was a keynote speaker at Open Engagement where we met. She initiated Situations, where is is currently the Director, in 2003 following a ten-year period investigating new curatorial models beyond conventional exhibition-making at a range of art institutions including Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, Spike Island, Bristol and FACT (Foundation of Art and Creative Technology), Liverpool.Â Listen to our discussion about art in public space, alternative models for funding and curatorial practices here.
Edition #16 came in this week with notes about the magnetic field of Roger’s Park galleries, the pilot episode ofÂ â€œBetter Luck Next Time,â€ (a newlyweds-style game show for artistic duos), dispatches from ACRE, and noted recent popularity of the sahrong. That and much much more here.
Paul King kicked things off on Monday with a vivid description of Protues, an a-typical, evocative video game:
To move past the title screen and into the game, you begin by clicking the silhouette of a distant island. After fading, the screen opens from a murky black into a gently disappearing elliptical shape, as though you were slowly opening your eyelids. Youâ€™ve awoken in what appears to be an endless ocean, a muted sea-green punctuated by the gentle lapping of white reflections. In the distance, you begin to make out the outline of a shrouded landmass. As you trudge towards it, the only anchor in the gameâ€™s ceaseless sea, you can practically feel the sunlight of the raincoat-yellow orb shining in the sky.
Everything inÂ ProteusÂ is rendered in a blocky, colorful style that should be familiar to everyone whoâ€™s ever seen an early pixelated video game. (Think the â€œballâ€ of pong, or the sharp edges of Mario.) But the style isnâ€™t due to a lack of processing power or graphical method; instead, the worldâ€™s lack of texture translates into a picturesque canvas of flat colors, almost as though you were gazing directly into a visual interpretation of one ofÂ Brian Enoâ€™s ambient tracks.
This week, James Pepper Kelly submits The Greatest Proposal for hi-fiving high culture, via an imaginary embodiment ofÂ Judith H. Dobrzynski and James Durston:
Imagine thatÂ a writer named Judith H. Dobrzynski boards a plane. Sheâ€™s ambivalent about her recent op-ed for theÂ New York Times, â€œHigh Culture Goes Hands-On,â€ in which she mourned the loss of a classic, passive museum experience. The response was decent (63 comments and a spot on the â€œmost-emailedâ€ list), and the negative response didnâ€™t go much beyond baseless ad hominems (â€œcrank,â€ â€œelitistâ€). But real-world impact? Judy sighs. She tries not to think about institutions these days, their obsequious rush to digitize, crowdsource, and create a â€œfun experienceâ€ for all. Instead, she thinks about real change: about her upcoming fellowship at the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria, and how sheÂ helped influenceÂ the countryâ€™s new Holocaust restitution laws. Judy sinks back into her business class seat (being a Fellow has perks!), orders a tomato juice and relaxes, thinking of all the reading sheâ€™ll be able to catch up on in the air.
Juliana Driever interviewed Chris Stain who’s “characteristic large-scale murals evolved out of his practice as a graffiti writer, and stand today as a kind of contemporary nod to WPA-era portraiture, featuring the faces and plights of everyday people in all of their affecting, confrontational realism.” When asked about how graffiti has changed since the 80’s, and whether there is a difference between graffiti and street art, Stain replied:
In one sense itâ€™s all art but there are different energies to what is known as â€œgraffiti,â€ mostly lettering based primarily using aerosol paint, and â€œstreet artâ€ which runs the gamut of various mediums. As for the letter-based movement, it has changed quite a bit since the 80â€™s. Technically, its reached levels unimagined back then through the help of all the newer spray paints on the market with lower pressure and cap options. The introduction of the internet helped styles develop more rapidly as it was easier to access photos from all over the world, get new ideas, and spark creativity.
I reposted an interview with EXPO’sÂ Stephanie Cristello, and Bad at Sports’ own,Â Richard Holland and Duncan MacKenzie. They discuss the upcoming newsprint publication Dana Bassett is spearheading, exactly how much gossip said paper will contain, and the interviews Bad at Sports will be conducting on site at the art fair:
Duncan MacKenzieÂ andÂ Richard HollandÂ ofÂ Bad at SportsÂ are two of the best in town to talk with about art. Known for their witty commentary and contemporary art talk platform Bad at Sports, they are most admired for their weekly podcasts and blog. The three of us sat down to discuss their involvement with EXPO/2013 â€“ the recent venture of a newspaper that will be distributed throughout the fair spearheaded byÂ Whatâ€™s the T?columnistÂ Dana BassettÂ entitledÂ The EXPO Register, and the live interviews they will be fielding from their booth next to the /Dialogues stage. The lineup for this yearâ€™s panel is impressive, titled â€œOne-on-One,â€ just one of many sports puns, MacKenzie and Holland will be in conversation with gallerists, directors, and curators, such as Solveig Ã˜vstebÃ¸ of the Renaissance Society, Elysia Borowy-Reeder of the MOCAD Detroit, and Director Charlie James, as well as artists William Powhida, JosÃ© Lerma, and Sanford Biggers. While the details of these interviews are kept secret (you will just have to see them in person to find out), our conversation breaches the extent of Bad at Sports coverage at the fair, their plans for the paper, and MacKenzie and Hollandâ€™s bucket list â€“ like an interview about interviews, or something along those lines.
Monica Westin interviewed Zach Cahill about the third and final installment of Â “his epic USSA 2012 project,” presently on view at the Smart Museum and now called USSA 2012: Wellness Center: Idyllicâ€”affair of the heart. In this interview Cahill composes as imaginary travel brochure for the USSA, flowers on facebook, and art mourning:
I mean I very much like the direct experience of being in front of an art work, but I enjoy being haunted by art works tooâ€¦a visceral quality that occurs with the work of some of my favorite artistsâ€¦they infect me and I canâ€™t stop thinking about itâ€¦Ideally, Iâ€™d like my work to do both: give off an affecting sensation for the viewer and to haunt them afterÂ they walk away from itâ€¦ my work wants to have its cake and eat toâ€¦.Â
And last but not least, I posted a series of upcoming opportunities including the call forÂ Anchor Graphics’ Artist in Residency program at Columbia College. That and much more here.
This week: Part one of the Open Engagement conference 2013 series. Caroline Picard talks to Caire Doherty!
Claire Doherty is Director of Situations. Claire initiated Situations in 2003 following a ten-year period investigating new curatorial models beyond conventional exhibition-making at a range of art institutions including Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, Spike Island, Bristol and FACT (Foundation of Art and Creative Technology), Liverpool. Claire has worked with a diversity of artists including Lara Almarcegui, Uta Barth, Brian Catling, Phil Collins, Nathan Coley, Lara Favaretto, Ellen Gallagher, Joseph Grigely, Jeppe Hein, Susan Hiller, Mariele Neudecker, Cornelia Parker, Roman Ondak, Joao Penalva and Ivan and Heather Morison. She has advised a range of organisations as curatorial consultant including Tate, Site Gallery Sheffield and is author of the public art strategies for the University of Bristol and Bjorvika, Oslo Harbour.
In 2009, Claire was awarded a prestigiousÂ Paul Hamlyn Breakthrough AwardÂ as an outstanding cultural entrepreneur. Claire directedÂ One Day SculptureÂ in 2008-9 with David Cross, a year-long collaborative series of 20 commissioned, 24-hour public artworks across New Zealand. In 2010, she was Co-Curatorial Director ofÂ Wonders of WestonÂ for Weston-super-Mare.
Doherty lectures and publishes internationally. She is editor ofÂ Contemporary Art: From Studio to SituationÂ (Black Dog Publishing, 2004);Â Documents of Contemporary Art: SituationÂ (Whitechapel/MIT Press, 2009) and co-editor with David Cross ofÂ One Day SculptureÂ (Kerber, 2009), with Paul Oâ€™Neill,Â Locating the Producers: Durational Approaches to Public ArtÂ (Valiz, 2011) and with Gerrie van Noord,Â Heather and Ivan Morison:Â Falling into PlaceÂ (Book Works, 2009). She was also an external advisory member of the Olympic Park Public Realm Advisory Committee and a Fellow of the RSA.
I keep trying to trace emergent themes at Open Engagement. Our organizers have done a good job of marking three umbrella categories, under which each panel, presentation or discussion resides. These headings, Publics, Contexts, and Institutions, feel like hubs through which a larger, interconnected current runs. One conversation bleeds into the next. Institution could be one example of a context, for instance. An institution could also be populated by a Â public, but neither “Contexts” nor “Publics” rely exclusively on “Institutions.” The project of this particular conference, one might say, is to investigate the way socially engaged art practice runs through (or negotiates) those headers.
That said, I am hunting around for additional trends, for theoretical concerns that crop up continually in the subtext of various presentations, reflecting perhaps on a collective undertow that Social Practice artists are preoccupied with. There is something problematic about my efforts. It’s an artificial exercise in a way, especially when the subject of presentations â€” not to mention the styles of address â€” are so broad. My insights are additionallyÂ subjective, stemming from what panels I’ve seen and how the concerns therein stick to my ribs.
Still, I persist. Obviously this is a post that I deliberately published. Obviously I am interested in failing a little bit. I’m emboldened by the fact that failure, as a topic, is one of those recurring themes. Failure and the equally nebulous question about ethics. These subjects bubble to the surface not only in talks themselves, but also in audience questions. For instance, “I feel there is a danger that the projet you described could waste someone’s time. Someone in your intended audience for instance. How can you be sure you’re not doing that? What can you guarantee your public?” It suggests the artist ought to deliver something, and ideally that whatever is delivered is good, or worthy of (in this instance) one’s time. Ethics and failure are linked up with responsibility in this regard â€” conveying a feeling that something in works of art that rely on audience participation ought to offer or fulfill something.
First let me make a case for the #EthicsTrend. In an account of Friday’s panel, “Sociology (of and) for Socially Engaged Practice, Institute for Art Scene Studies” I was told Pablo Helguera, Barbara Adams, David Peppas, and Adeola Enigbokan staged a kind of reductio proof of what not to do as a social practice artist. I missed it, unfortunately, but heard that someone posed as an artist, presenting a series of ill-advised projects to the panel, pretending to be an artist. (For instance, the acting artist claimed to have done a project where s/he gave up all possessions in order to see what it was like to live under the poverty line.) The panel then critiqued these projects, highlighting what exactly was ill-advised about them. (Using the same example, the panel pointed out that the artist was able at any time to reenter her/his life of material stability). This was relayed to me by a rather horrified member of the audience who, at the end of her account, leaned in conspiratorially and whispered “And it was all a hoax! The ‘artist'” (she used scare quotes) “was making it all up!” seeming at once relieved and frustrated that she had been duped.Â In a later panel that same day, “Whatâ€™s the Harm of Community Arts and Social Practice? The Ethics of Engagement and Negative Value,” Marnie Badham, Amy Spiers, Claude Schryer, and Dr. Kathleen Irwin wrestled with questions of how and when artists intrude on a public. In her opening remarks, Badham noted first, “this turn to community is rarely explored critically,” and then asked “is social change always good?” An ethical approach is often taken for granted in socially engaged art. There is an implied use or service tends to go hand in hand with these social experiments. A desire to save the world, or at least some very small piece of it.
Here the idea of failure comes in â€” because, in a way it is impossible to save the world. However in articulating an attempt, I would argue, the art project sets out to “do” something. As such it becomes easier to measure and assess. Â Rakowitz rebuffed this point yesterday when he suggested that art didn’t necessarily have toÂ doÂ anything. But if that’s the case, one’s ability to measure success and failure becomes more difficult. And, perhaps, more interesting. For instance, this morning at “Craft + Social Practice: A Roundtable Conversation” at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, a group of panelists (Gabriel Craig, Ayumi Horie, Stacy Jo Scott, Michael J. Strand, moderated and organized by Sarah Margolis-Pineo) described their relationship to failure. Many suggested that failures provided new opportunities for insight â€” Gabriel Craig talked about “Slow Gold,” a project based on ethical metal sourcing, where he and four collaborators went to the Black Mountains in South Dakota to find gold for a couples’ wedding bands. (The betrothed couple participated in this project.) They could only find .4 grains. His conclusion, “Mining, no matter what scale it’s on is absolutely catastrophic for the environment.” On that same panel, Stacy Jo Scott of the Craft Mystery Cult confessed, “Occult is always dealing with failure. That’s because we have this desire to speak of ideals, in terms of an ideal poetic space, but also in terms of utopic vision. Knowing the failures of past utopias, but still desiring Utopia. What results is the absurd: optimism in the face of futility.”
Keep this idea of ethics in one hand. Hold in your other hand the idea of failure. Now imagine yourself in the Shattuck Annex, sitting (like I was) in chair with a small desk attached. It is the sort of desk students often use. The sort of desk I haven’t sat in for years. Keep in mind it is raining outside and the opening bars of Woody Guthries’ “This Land is Your Land” is playing on a loop. People shuffle in slowly. Some are ushered to an overflow room when the room is at capacity. In that room this afternoon, Claire Doherty gave a fantastic keynote, opening with an observation that keynote speakers have the ability to highlight and anchor conversations in a conference. The keynote provides a kind of watering hole â€“ a central point in the middle of the day during which most conference-goers sit in the same room, sharing the same experience, after scattering out again to different panels, rendez-vous, and performances. Doherty hastened to remind everyone about the underbelly of social practice â€” that many projects, while on the one hand providing photographs of an engaged and happy public digging ditches and/or eating ice cream often come out of duress or protest. These works have the ability to engage a collective, public imagination because they tend to address points of tension. She went on to discuss Nowhere Island, a project by Alex Hartley produced by Situations â€” the organization Doherty directs. As a travelling landmass, self-designated as a site belonging to no-country, Nowhere Island became another version of Utopia. Pulled by a tug boat through international waters, it visited many ports, acquiring 23,003 citizens over the course of a single year. There is much more to the story, of course, but I like situating this island in this post because the land mass in an of itself is what Doherty might call a “charismatic object,” a physical object both engaging and alluring to a public imagination. This object was capable of, again in Doherty’s words, “Nourishing the capacity for creative illusion, [such that a public was able] to act and think as though things were different.” In and of itself the island is not ethical, but it enables a public to explore their own Utopian expectations thereby exploring the problems that such ideals might subsequently create.
Now, open your hand.
In Tim Etchells words, “A Utopia of dispute might be better:”
Dear Citizens of Nowhereisland
as we stop in the shelter of a doorway in the thunderstorm
S. holds out his hand to check the rain.
The hand. The flatness of it. The open-ness. The question of it. The directness. The simplicity. The pragmatism. The straightforwardness. The sunshine.
And maybe just the repetition of this gesture, which must be as old as the hills, as old as the co-presence of hands and rain.Â