This week, I feel like writers have been articulating an inherent push against traditional boundaries and bounds — what is art that smells? Where do we locate the human/non-human divide? What if we dissolve that distinction? What becomes of performance then? I am deeply interested in blurring the borders and bounds between human/non-human, natural/unnatural, living/non-living, as in doing we can destabilize hierarchal patterns that have been in place for decades. It sounds crazy, maybe — but consider how much one’s thought would shift if we simply de-emphasized the Human. If the Natural panorama was equivalent with a panaromic, digital experience — the immediate recoil and rejection of such a thought reveals some the depth of our quasi-relgious interpretations of “landscape.”
We began the week with a buffet of smells, as provided by Shane MacAdams’ visit to a “smell show” called Art and Scent in NYC, a show that called enough attention to smell that it affected his experience of surrounding environs. As he put it, “Any quaintness Greenpoint offers is mitigated by the realization that it’s sitting on 30 million gallons of spilled oil, that comes out in occasional farts that engulf the neighborhood.”
There seems to be an obvious connection between that undercurrent of oil and João Florêncio’s post, “Performing Ecology,” where Florêncio goes through series of snapshots (or “Scenes), describing the performance of the body in space, illustrating the connecting networks that such performances can highlight. For instance:
Scene 6. Johannesburg, South Africa. A white man in drag wears an old chandelier as if it was a tutu and struggles to balance himself on his disproportionately high high-heel shoes while walking on debris, stones, and dirt in one of South Africa’s shanty towns. Around him, workers hired by the local authority, armed with crowbars and wearing orange overalls, demolish the locals’ dwellings to allow for the construction of the future Nelson Mandela bridge. This is Steven Cohen’s Chandelier.
These scenes are not strictly about humankind. Rather, they illustrate our position in our present ecological time, a time that has been coined: “Anthropocene.” Florêncio will continue to write about this in the coming months: “I will be presenting an overview of the anthropocentric role theatre and performance have played throughout History, some of the ways in which they have been criticised and reinvented, and, ultimately, the ways in which they ought to be thought differently as a consequence of their unfolding on the broad Anthropocenic stage.”
Victor Delvecchio posted about Performance Architecture — focusing on the work of Alex Schweder and how his intervening “scripts” at the TATE altered visitors’ movement through the museum. “Having worked seven years as a mold and leak expert… [Schweder] comes to the point that buildings are alive, uprating much more similarities to our flesh than we want them to.” Schweder, who’s show at Opus Project Space in NY opened this weekend, describes the work this way:
Performance architecture is about aestheticizing the action that occurs within the building and using the building as a script for doing so. There is a whole history of architecture involving the body as an example giving a kind of history of how idealized bodies have come to inform the way we design building, building as effigies of those bodies that we would like to have; and then we occupy these bodies that we would like to have.
Juliana Driever posted a great interview with Mare Liberum, a “freeform publishing, boatbuilding and waterfront art collective based in the Gowanus, Brooklyn.” Throughout the week, I feel like there is a regular return to the idea of our environment and this interview is no exception. In the words of one ML member, Dylan Gauthier:
We borrowed the name Mare Liberum – which is latin for Freedom of the Seas – from a 17th century commentary which championed the natural rights of maritime trade and navigation and forms the basis of modern maritime law… In taking the name we oriented the collective toward a study of past relationships with the water as well as to the present environmental threat to the sea through global warming but also the exploitation of oil resources and other risky undertakings that threaten the health and stability of this water-commons. For us Mare Liberum is also a bit tongue-in-cheek, since we were interested in getting out on the water for as little cost as possible, hence our translation and our website “thefreeseas.org”.
Our Atlanta-based correspondent, Meredith Kooi posted a great essay about Full Radius Dance’s performance of Touch:
Touch, in its multiple parts involved dancers of varying bodies and abilities. As a physically-integrated dance company, Full Radius’ dancers are both abled and disabled, some use wheelchairs in their everyday lives. [Douglas] Scott first became engaged in this practice through a workshop offered at Shepherd Center, a hospital and rehabilitation center located in Atlanta that specializes in medical treatment, research, and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord and brain injuries. He realized that all bodies do not move the same way that his does and that there was opportunity to explore the “limits of physicality” with various bodies.
What’s amazing about Kooi’s description of the dance, is the way wheel chairs are fully absorbed and incorporated into the whole choreography, thereby pushing the bounds of what we might consider “body” and “non-body” (or machine). This article raises questions about how we define the body, and especially, how we might engage and incorporate the non-normative body. It reminds of Anthony Romero’s post from a while back, “What Can Be Done with Dance?” where he reminds us that most space is defined by “an athletic body.”
The week would be remiss without Stephanie Burke’s TOP 5 — a veritable road map for gallery enthusiasts. (CHECK IT OUUUT!)
Richard Holland has started a new column in the spirit of levity and delight — so keep your eyes peeled for that, and here is his first installment. It’ll be a nice respite from the Anthropocene……
(At least we can safely say, the Mayan’s were wrong)
Abraham Ritchie was inspired to post an essay about everyone’s darling THE BEAN, in reaction to a live tweet he disagreed with (that’s intended as a kind of bread crumb trail. In case you want to go back and follow the tweets, so to speak). What I’d like to repost here is an excerpt from the end of Ritchie’s essay (and please, take note of Ritchie’s use of the word “alien,” because I at least have always assumed that if the world ever does end, that thing is probably going to turn into a space ship and carry the president to safety.):
The alien form of the abstraction identifies itself immediately as Art but does not alienate, instead it draws people in through their curiosity and the work’s generosity. Kapoor’s contribution accomplishes the mission of Millennium Park, while being wholly successful on its own terms. Rather than an indifferent sculpture, this is public art that lives up to the aspirations of its genre, bringing people together and inspiring them.
Part of what is so awesome about The Bean is that it is alien, and strange, and yet it engages its audience (us) by reflecting our faces. We are fascinated by the translated-fun-house-mirror distortion.
Nicholas O’Brien asks about site specificity when applied to the digital space? How does such an application challenge traditional ideas about installation, and can we apply the same terminology Land Art employs with regard to site. Here too, O’Brien engages a virtual landscape as a literal one. In doing so it can easily feel alien, it might even reflexively alienate oneself (or me) from the supposed “natural” landscape (after all, I certainly spend more time on line that outdoors).
Perhaps it makes good sense that we begin the week in NY and end the week in LA: a successful coast-to-coast transfer. We began with smell and we end with Adrienne Harris’ post on a murder mystery game at the Getty. There is something I deeply dig about the simulacre of a murder mystery scavenger hunt — the body-lessness of the crime. The parody of real life located in the land of Hollywood. In Chicago we stand in the dregs of winter — warming days that melt and muddy the world, only to morph into freezing night that stiffen everything anew. The point is, I’m always daydreaming about California. Someone told me once that California was the future — it was as far into the future as any American could go. The edge of the West. On the edge of that coast you stare into the east, though my same friend pointed out there is an island of plastic in the way, otherwise known as the Plastic Vortex.
Work by Jovencio de la Paz.
PSA Projects is located at 2509 N. Lawndale Ave. Reception Sunday, 6-8pm.
Work by Maria Gaspar and Andy Hall.
The Franklin is located at 3522 W. Franklin Blvd. Reception Saturday, 7-10pm.
Work by Garett Yahn.
Happy Collaborationists is located at 1254 N Noble St. Performance Saturday, 7-10pm.
Work by Alex Moulitsas, Alexa Viscius & Drew Ryan, Anthony Lewellen, Baozhen Li, Lucky Pierre (Bill Talsma, Michael Thomas, Mary Zerkel, Holly Abney, Travis Hale, Kevin Kaempf, Jeffrey Kowalkowski, Heather Lindahl, Tyler B. Myers), Blazo, Chris Branson & Jeremy Van Cleef, DePaul University Graphic Design Student Chapter (Chris Kalis, Samantha Rangel, Julia Simplicio), Drew Tyndell, Emily Haasch, Franchec Crespo & Adrianne Hawthorne, Greg Calvert, Jason Frohlichstein, Kelly Dorsey & Tricia Chamberlain, Kyle Louis Fletcher, CMYKittens (Laura Rafson, Maria Squeri, Erika Galvez and Liz Rosenberg), Slightly Insulting Chicago Posters (Lauren Schroer, RC Jones, Jeni Brendemuehl), Lou Medel, Renata Graw, Tanawat Sakdawisark, Todd King, and Double Blind (Victor Fong, Stephen Lee, Simone Martin-Newberry, Aaron Maurer, Lou Medel, Margo Yoon).
Co-Prosperity Sphere is located at 3219 S. Morgan St. Reception Friday, 6-11pm.
Work by Vanessa Luna, Cassie Hamrick, and Jen Gorman.
Chicago Art Department is located at 1932 S Halsted St. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
December 15, 2011 · Print This Article
Entering the studio of Craft Mystery Cult, I was greeted by a plywood table festooned with ambiguous objects varying from crudely handcrafted clay bowls to scorched specimens seemingly pirated from the vault of a natural history museum. All three CMC members, Sonja Dahl, Jovencio de la Paz, and Stacy Jo Scott, were seated around this collection, which I soon discovered to be ephemera from their collaborative rites and rituals. Removed from the context of performance, the reliquary expressed an internal coherence— the vernacular of the objects linking hand, to material, to detritus, suggesting a connection between everyday practices of making and the more mystical aspects of ritualistic activity. The tableau was presided over by the sanctified portraits of William Morris and Johannes Itten—the patron saints of craft and color, whose workshop-based practices inform the social and conceptual underpinnings of CMC’s activities.
The members of Michigan-based Craft Mystery Cult are all in their final year of their MFAs in fiber, (Dahl and de la Paz), and ceramics, (Scott), at Cranbrook Academy of Art. They established the CMC collective as a platform to explore issues relating to the history, economy, and conceptual framework of contemporary craft. On Saturday, CMC will orchestrate a performance at Roots and Culture that draws from their sacred text, The Hapticon. I interviewed Dahl, de la Paz, and Scott in their studio as they were making preparations for this event.
Sarah Margolis-Pineo: It’s my understanding that Craft Mystery Cult was officially formed over the summer in residence at Ox-Bow, but I’m wondering if you can elaborate on the CMC origin story. What strange and mysterious forces conspired to bring this collaboration together?
Jovencio de la Paz: I don’t know that I’d say we formed at Ox-Bow, I think it was prior to that through discussion and writing.
Sonja Dahl: I’d say we began casually working on this project about a year ago now. It really evolved out of issues that originated within each of our individual studio practices.
Stacy Jo Scott: Through a number of conversations, we realized that we had similar concerns in terms of how we approach work. It seemed like we had this shared desire to create a conversation that we weren’t getting otherwise—in other venues or in other forms. It was really from this desire to create a narrative to work from… By narrative, I don’t mean the Craft Mystery Cult narrative, I mean more of a framework for understanding our art historical lineage.
SMP: All three of you come from disciplines focused on object making, and historically, discrete object making through ceramics and fiber. Do you feel like academia, as well as the larger cultural framework surrounding craft-based practices of making, are perpetuating discourses that in some ways are no longer relevant; for example, the Modernist tradition of autonomy, or the postmodern tradition of critique? In what sense were you breaking free?
SJS: I think for me and my experience with ceramics, it’s almost coming from a different direction than what you’re describing. As artists making work at this time, the conversation is so steeped in the dematerialization of the object. The desire to make and have hands-on material, and the desire to see objects manifest from work is something that’s disappearing from the larger conversation. It’s difficult to have a position to work from that seems relevant when everything is becoming more ephemeral. In a way, we’re trying to consider what position objects and materiality still have; specifically, the hand’s relationship to material as a different source of knowledge that we aren’t taught to access.
JdlP: Much of CMC’s work deals with the creation of language; specifically, the kind of language that might be able to house what Stacy Jo is describing, which we refer to as haptic knowledge—the knowledge beyond language. In order to present that or to create a bridge between that and the viewer, we work to create an environment that utilizes strategies that may be familiar from other forms such as text, performance, ritual, music, things to serve as access points to that non-verbal space. We’re really using the notion of the craft workshop as a model for collaborative art practice, which is a reference that is very different compared to other collaborative art practices in that it deals with a very craft-specific mode of production. There are interpersonal hierarchies that are very different than other collaborative groups.
SMP: Going back to your practice that draws from text, music, and performance, I’m curious what you think can be gleaned from the interstice of ritual and craft? Did you approach the project with a preconceived relationship between mysticism and making, and how have your thoughts evolved throughout the past few months?
JdlP: I think a very simple way to describe it is that it’s sort of like a logic puzzle. We’ve created a framework that has a very specific language related to the occult and mysticism through rites and rituals. Craft serves as a parallel structure that is based on skill. Take the Masons for example: as you progress in skill, you gain knowledge in a more profound, spiritual sense. So there’s this parallel, and we were always sort of guided by both. We were interested in the work of Johannes Itten, and his spiritualistic approach to making and teaching.
SJS: One of our earliest references was William Morris, who is complicated, but one thing that he championed was this idea of human dignity—the worker and the maker have a sense of dignity that is lost in certain forms of industrial production. For me, mysticism related in part to humanism and highlighting individual agency rather than obeying the types of beliefs and laws that are passed down by mastery.
SMP: Can you describe some components to the larger Craft Mystery Cult project and articulate the relationship between ritual and performance to object?
SD: One of our performances at Ox-Bow: “In Commemoration of the Death of the Prophet William Morris” really brought together many aspects of our collaborative work at the residency. It brought together the component of collecting—we would visit each of the studios and collect material remnants of their processes, so we had the slag pile from the iron pour, fragments of glass and things like that. Those objects were collected throughout the course of the project, and we were also creating other objects both through the playful re-authoring of, for example, William Morris textile prints, as well as through various different ways of employing the symbology that we had created. We generated all these objects through various modes of making and collecting, and we funneled them all into this final ritual that involved a processional, the building of this pyre in the fire pit, creating a musical, auditory experience, which all happened at twilight. In the end, it really became this performed ritual for a number of individuals that brought together history and research, object making, collecting, the spiritual, bodies moving in space, music—all of these elements that we had been working on for the duration of the project. There’s a real spirit of play that we’re getting at with improvisation. Spontaneity can occur because of embedded knowledge and experience to some degree. We brought to this collective much of our own thinking and making, and because we come without own histories, the spontaneous and inventive moments can occur.
SMP: I find it interesting that this project evolved from reaction— a simultaneous response to your individual practices within a larger academic framework. If I’m understanding this correctly, it’s the interaction of the collective—the coming together of individuals to create a new body and a new interstice from which you can cultivate an alternative framework for making and its related embodied processes.
SJS: Yeah, absolutely. And I think part of that is we have this desire to make together. I come in with a set of skills that Jovencio and Sonja don’t have, so the way I use my skill in collaboration is in a way that they can also use, which means that the work itself is often quite basic like the pinch pots. Similarly, Sonja will lead in dying indigo since she has experience with that and Jovencio and I do not, and it’s these simplified processes that guides the making of objects…
JdlP: …and thereby the aesthetic that they express.
SMP: Is it from the aesthetic that you make references to meaning in a symbolic sense?
JdlP: I think it’s the implied process more than the aesthetic of the object. Pinch pots and one-dip indigo dye are very foundational.
SJS: That speaks to our interest in skill. We’re interested in that moment of skill that is extremely foundational—not skill in terms of mastery, but skill in terms of someones first encounter with the material. In that way too, the aesthetic that we’re developing is based on the desire to speak about that primary moment of skill.
JdlP: So the aesthetic appears always untrained, or primitive, as problematic as these terms are. We are interested in this notion of prehistory, which really relates to the realm of craft in that a pinch pot made tens of thousands of years ago is strikingly similar to a pinch pot that a high school student in a public school might make. That high school student and prehistoric person are somehow linked through the object, the aesthetic of which comes from this moment of foundational, or primal creation.
SJS: A lot of work that one might consider deskilled comes from the idea that a lack of skill is a stand in for authenticity, and I don’t quite buy that. I feel like what we’re doing is somehow different from that—not that that moment of primary skill is more authentic than mastery, but it’s about creating some kind of framework around that moment—that moment has a depth of meaning that isn’t about authenticity. It’s not that the primitive person is somehow more authentic than the teenager.
JdlP: But what’s important is that they share the same moment through making that object. That moment can be opened up, and what exists there isn’t authenticity but some sort of experiential knowledge.
SMP: I often have the discussion across a range of art practices about the concept of the moment of discovery, and whether you’re working in paint or performance, it’s all about discovery on some level for the viewer, and I suppose for the maker as well. Does that concept relate to what you’re speaking to?
JdlP: But it’s a very particular kind of discovery because it’s always available through rediscovery—it’s never exhausted, and that’s where the idea of ritual is also important. That moment is always exciting for whatever reason, which is part of the mystery, and I think that’s speaks a lot to where the aesthetic of our objects comes from. It’s interesting because the show in Chicago has nothing to do with objects…
SD: Before we get into Chicago, I’ve been wanting to mention that something I think about a lot in relationship to the CMC project is the spirit of approaching things with a sense of wonder. When we talk about using basic skill and that primary moment of discovery between body and material, there’s a sense of wonder there. You can appreciate that depth of knowledge of a maker’s body to their materials and their process through a sense of wonder, and I feel that a lot of my experience at Ox-Bow visiting all the studios was a process of cultivating that sense of wonder. To stand in front of the glass studio or the iron pour, or to see them open the raku kiln—there’s a sense of wonder and appreciation that’s very important.
JdlP: And I think it’s very difficult not to feel a sense of optimism through craft…
SD: Dare we say it!
JdlP: …because you’re encountering a moment becoming—a moment of creation—it is a generative moment. It’s very integral to that sense of wonder that you are witnessing a generative process.
SJS: And it’s already essentially performative. We can go see an iron pour, we can go see someone blowing glass, someone throwing a pot—that’s performance, and that’s ritual.