Last week we talked painters on and off the podcast! Featuring interviews and studio visits with Everest Hall, Mara Baker and Steven Husby — in addition to our usual treasure trove of cultural insights….Here’s a play by play —
Amanda Browder, interviews painter Everest Hall, who describes (among other things) the value of being raw in the studio:
“There is a responsibility that comes with being an artist to be naked and open and free. Let’s bring the audience to another place. Come with me. On this journey, I don’t know where we are going, but I see a clearing in the woods. Let’s go for a walk together and maybe make love in a pine forest. I think that sounds delicious.“
The week began with our latest guest contributor, Jaime Kazay. Kazay co-curates the Revolving Door Reading Series has a poetry collection out from Dancing Girl Press. This week she reflects on all things Barbie, asking a question I have continued to trip over all week — “I wonder if Barbie likes peanut butter?.”
Duncan and Richard made appearances on a WBEZ panel featuring a “panel of local critics [discussing] their role in the new media landscape.” #fahntsie
New York correspondent Juliana Driever published an interview with Social Practice Queens (SPQ), “a collaboration of the Art Department of CUNY Queens College and the Queens Museum of Art with the goal of developing an MFA pilot program in Social Practice.” Here is one excerpted Q&A:
“Juliana Driever: Unlike other social practice MFA programs, SPQ is in direct partnership with a major museum, which is a unique set-up for an MFA program to start, but even more so given that much socially-engaged art typically takes place beyond museum and gallery contexts. Does the QMA’s investment in this program also signal a shift in the role that museums play in support of such work?
“Prerana Reddy/Jose Serrano: At the Queens Museum of Art, we are constantly striving to examine whether the avant-garde in the realms of art and politics can actually meet. Can an art project simultaneously address aesthetics and concrete social goals in public space? This is a constantly evolving process, one that must be responsive to shifting demographics, economic conditions, political will, unplanned crises, and a constantly unfolding definition of art. Unlike the confines of the gallery or contracted set of artistic services rendered in non-museum spaces, engaging in complicated social relations in the “real world” involves a surrender of control over outcome as well as some amount of risk. This is not something that all museums want to enter into or are well-positioned to do.”
Monica Westin, wrote about Mara Baker, Mara Baker, “a self-described student of deterioration and residue” about her upcoming show at Sidecar:
“In the ‘residue’ series, spray paint and glass create transparent layers that give recycled materials ‘a new history,’ Baker says, ‘creating a sense of space without building up.’ She’s deeply interested in the interplay between the real and the representational in mixed-media work, and the paintings often employ representational images like blurred photographs that formally reference abstract elements. Where previous two dimensional work has been sculptural in its formal approach, she finds such materials can create space and depth without losing the surface of the picture plane. ‘Still, I’m most successful when piling, wrapping, and removing something.’ She points out a few paintings that have abstract white space, either scraped off or added to the top of her layered images—what Baker calls ‘the conceal, something underneath you can’t see’ that creates somewhat ‘quieter objects.’”
Stephanie Burke’s TOP 5 Baby!
Some great coverage from another new contributor Robert Burnier this week. Burnier took the time to review Steven Husby’s show, BRUTE FORCe at 65 Grand, “a studied exercise in emergence and the way that severe restrictions can somewhat paradoxically throw subtle expression and gesture into great relief.” In a subsequent interview with Burnier, Husby says:
“I would say that I’ve flirted with pictorial recursivity, deductive structure, and something like absolute opacity for years. The house–painterly way I work really started in undergrad as something to aspire to and something to work against. A kind of pop–inflected formalism was in the air – and I was young and impressionable. Over time I’ve generally found it to be worthwhile to give myself over to the more excessively restrained aspects of my practice, probably because I’m not a particularly neat, linear, or orderly person, but I like what happens when I try to behave as though I were. I think I was first attracted to limits both as things to provide traction and as things to be subverted in some way. I found as soon as I practiced these things, the force generated through restraint was greater than I could ever achieve without it. The channeling, focusing, and projecting of force – whether from inside or out – is absolutely key to the whole project.”
Kickstarter is bandied about once more, as Adrienne Harris discusses the ethics of Zach Braff’s recent success in raising money for his film, on his terms”
“I worry that the success of campaigns like Zach Braff’s… is going to change the way that studios and producers expect ALL film to be financed in the future. I worry that I will take my next screenplay into a meeting which I am lucky enough to score with Sony Picture Classics and they will say, ‘We love it Adrienne. Now come back with $2 million and we’ll see what we can do.’”
Which seems like the self-same conversation that came up a while back as far as art institutions go — will government funding similarly dry up in lieue of these public charity campaigns? Which I suppose furthers the question: who is responsible for footing the bill in creative enterprises? Where do we draw the line between entrepreneurial investment, friendship pennies, fans pitching in, and government support?
“One of the things I wanted to prove is that you don’t have to be a Larry Gogosian or a Jeff Koons and plunk down 10 or 15 grand to make something happen. I think if you’re creative and energetic you can do whatever you want for a penny ninety-eight.” Wise words from painter/guerilla documentarian Loren Munk who’s interview was published this week on Bad at Sports.
Let’s see — otherwise Tilda Swinton has been sleeping Snow-White-Style in a glass box at the MOMA (which Jerry Salz wrote about here) and I saw an amazing B-Movie about a gang of Tai Kwan Do orphans who go tête-à-tête with Bike Ninja’s in Miami.
But more to the point, Nicholas O’Brien Unpacked The Shortest Video Ever Sold :
“In the past couple weeks a myriad of media outlets have been chomping at the bit to comment on the first sale of a piece of art made on the rapidly rising social media platform Vine. The work in question was made by Angela Washko and presented at the Moving Image Fair by Kyle Chayka and Marina Galperina in their Shortest Video Art Ever Sold (SVAES for short) booth produced in collaboration with Postmasters Gallery. The sale of the work has been quickly marked as an easy target for many critical articles for a variety of reasons, however I feel that most takes have missed some of the more salient issues that surround this sale. I sought out Chayka, Galperina, and Washko to discuss not only their intentions with the project but also to examine what exactly this sale might signal in terms of a potential future for new media art production and saleability.”
Shane MacAdams posted another episode from his on-going series, Thoughts from Across the Cultural Divide, “From television to cuisine to high-art, culture seems bent on sanding us down even as we strut about thinking of ourselves as unique splinters in the side of society.” It sounds like the series is wrapping up, so we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled to see what’s next on the McAdams’ Bad at Sports posting roster….(this is where you’re all supposed to grow excited, curious and sleepless with anticipation.)
Two posts from London this week — João Florêncio published a second installment in his on-going Performing Ecology: Narcissist Modernity
“The problem is that whereas the critical enterprise had, following the dawn of Modernity, been rightly concerned with calling into question beliefs such as those advanced by various religious doctrines and replacing them with scientifically validated facts, at the start of the 21st century and there being no beliefs left to disprove, criticality has now started targeting objective facts themselves, often by negating their existence or by turning them into a mere product of their dialectical counterpart, the observing human subject and its usage of language. Today, after the so-called ‘objective reality’ was found to always be the result of power-knowledge formations, human discourse has become the true cause of the world itself.”
& later that same day from Victor Delvecchio, a ruminating post about a renegade performance, Black Metal Chicken, an event organised by an apocalyptic noise band funded by Henrik Heinonen with Oscar Gaynor and Matthew Peers. Via Delvecchio I learned that Islam Green is a color and got a vibey-feel for foggy East London (where the Olympic stadium remains). This comes from his post about a performance artist being strangled, Where there’s voilence, there’s love:
Sophie appears on my back: “I thought the timing was good,” she says. “Just as the audience were eating, helping themselves to food. If I didn’t know it was a performance, I would have been concerned, it relied heavily on our knowledge and trust that this was a performance. I think, they were trying to communicate the uncanny, notions of sadism, the erotic. Perhaps, too, how vulnerable we are to another person’s decision to harm us?”
“With certain currents in the contemporary art world pulling out of the gallery and museum box and into the spaces of everyday life, social relationships have come into focus as the site of many artistic projects. Increasingly, self-organized creative types pick up with simple materials, a group of friends, and an idea to enact change in their various communities by participating in and with them. Between Chicago (Bad at Sports’ hometown) and New York City (my hometown) there are two similar projects – with varying regard to an art world dialog – that center on a waste-not-want-not brand of idealism. Encouraging inventive approaches to everyday repair problems, Community Glue Workshop (Chicago, IL) and Fixers Collective (Brooklyn, NY) have each been building community by tinkering with and fixing things. All kinds of things. I recently had the good fortune of sitting down with Ally Brisbin and Carla Bruni of Community Glue Workshop, and Vincent Lai of Fixers Collective to discuss their respective work.”
And then on Thursday, Atlanta-based Chicago friend Meredith Kooi reported on TRITRANGLE’s “No Media” project:
“NO MEDIA happened March 16, 2013 at TRITRIANGLE, the art space that formerly held Enemy Sound, in Chicago, IL. Developed out of a GLI.TC/H Working Group, the first NO MEDIA happened at GLI.TC/H 2112 on Friday, December 7, 2012 at TRITRIANGLE. Described in the schedule as “Proposed by Jason Soliday on the Working Groups: NO_MEDIA is a performance framework that goes from zero to zero! Participating performers will start with blank slates, build sets from scratch. No preparation allowed. Zeroed out knobs. No strings on your guitar. No presets. Everything done in realtime from beginning to end. Everything that happens exists only in and during the performance :: “Raw Real Time.” After ~ 10 minutes you will delete all assets. It happens … and … then it’s gone …”
“On March 16, 2013, I participated in it, but that’s the only detail of the night I’ll give. For, there is no documentation allowed. After the event, I sat down with [dis]organizers Jason Soliday, Nick Briz, and Jeff Kolar via electronic-mail. I wanted to ask them: Why a NO MEDIA new media performance event? What is considered documentation? What does it all mean??
And then, here I am, writing for the “media” about NO MEDIA.” (more)
TOP 5 WEEKEND PICKS !! (whoop-whoop) posted by the ever magnanimous vet of culture and distinction, Stephanie Burke.
& last but not least, a little something by yours truly about Harmony Korine’s SPRING BREAKERS.
As we close on spring break in earnest, I’m going to leave you with a little something from Miami Connection, that B movie I told you about — I failed to mention that the band of Tai Kwan Do Orphans also moonlights in a super-posi(tive) band called DRAGON SOUND. While playing music for a crowd, they also practice their martial arts. This one goes out to you, dear readers, from the bottom of my heart.
With certain currents in the contemporary art world pulling out of the gallery and museum box and into the spaces of everyday life, social relationships have come into focus as the site of many artistic projects. Increasingly, self-organized creative types pick up with simple materials, a group of friends, and an idea to enact change in their various communities by participating in and with them. Between Chicago (Bad at Sports’ hometown) and New York City (my hometown) there are two similar projects – with varying regard to an art world dialog – that center on a waste-not-want-not brand of idealism. Encouraging inventive approaches to everyday repair problems, Community Glue Workshop (Chicago, IL) and Fixers Collective (Brooklyn, NY) have each been building community by tinkering with and fixing things. All kinds of things. I recently had the good fortune of sitting down with Ally Brisbin and Carla Bruni of Community Glue Workshop, and Vincent Lai of Fixers Collective to discuss their respective work.
Fixers Collective at Proteus Gowanus, 2013. Photo by: Vincent Lai
Juliana Driever: Can you describe, generally, what you do and how you each got started?
Ally Brisbin: I think it was probably in May or June of 2012, when Carla posted a link to a New York Times article about the repair café movement in the Netherlands on Facebook, wanting to start something similar. I saw it and responded immediately. I own a coffee shop, called Kitchen Sink – which is how I know Carla, she comes into the shop. It seemed like Community Glue Workshop would be a natural thing that we could start, so we began reaching out to folks in our network who could help us. We found a designer, found people who could donate their time and tinkering abilities, made a WordPress site and a Facebook page and launched it within two months. It took off and got a great response right away. We have a crew of about six fixers who have been with us since the beginning. We have been doing one fix per month at my cafe in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. But next month, in April, we’ll be doing our first fix at a new location, StoryStudio Chicago, so we can reach a new audience and hopefully get new faces in the door.
Community Glue Workshop organizers Ally Brisbin (left) and Carla Bruni (right) at a repair clinic on November 18, 2012 at Brisbin’s coffee shop Kitchen Sink.
Vincent Lai: Fixers Collective started in the 2008-09 season when Proteus Gowanus, the gallery in Brooklyn that hosts us, organized its annual thematic exhibition schedule around the idea of “mend.” I started up with Fixers Collective in 2010, after a friend of mine who was interested in fixing umbrella fabric told me about it. I came on board because I wanted to fix. Period. I do it for the sake of being very hand-sy, working with my hands, and to repair things that probably would go in a landfill, or would be shredded. There’s a lot of value that can be re-captured with a little tinkering. I’ve been active with the Facebook page, outreach to the community, we’ve been at the Maker Faire the past few years in New York, and there are a lot of other things that are developing on the horizon, too.
JD: Was Fixers Collective something that came together because of the show at Proteus Gowanus? Or was it something that was starting up already?
VL: During that season, there were workshops, and people would come and sit around and fix things. And actually, part of the exhibit was not only the things they were fixing, but also the tools used. At the end of the night, when you put your things down, a large Plexiglas shield would be placed over the table, so the next day you saw the work in progress.
Carla Bruni: So, it’s like a performance.
VL: Yes, exactly. It’s part performance. So, after the season ended, People still wanted to fix, and we’ve been getting together on a regular basis since then.
JD: So, would you say that you started fixing things from an art context?
VL: Yes, we did start from an art/gallery context, and we would still like to keep the art context as much as possible. I think without it, we would just become just a repair shop. We try to discourage that concept, where people may come in and ask, “Can I just drop this off?” We tell people that they really need to be there to participate in a performance.
CB: We don’t come from a performance perspective – it’s more of an environmental perspective – and the community focus is just as important. Just to do repair is not enough. We do get people like that, but most of the time we get a lot of people coming back to participate again – because we figure things out together. For us, it’s not really an art angle, it’s a community angle. But we are also intuitively aware that to do it just as a straight-on repair shop would not be as rich of an experience.
Fixers Collective at Proteus Gowanus, 2013. Photo by: Vincent Lai
JD: What’s a popular fix?
CB: Good Lord, are there a lot of lamps! People bring in three at a time. It’s outrageous.
VL: I know that we can count on having at least one lamp for each session, unless it’s specifically geared to something else. Other things we get on a regular basis are small kitchen appliances. We do see toasters, blenders, food processors, coffee grinders and a lot of issues with motors or switches.
AB: We get clothes a lot, too. We have a little rotating stable of seamstresses, so we always have one sewing machine. One time I had the shirt I was wearing repaired, my friend had the skirt she was wearing repaired, all during the the event …So you just go and hide in the bathroom while they’re stitching up the holes, and then throw it back on. We get a lot of broken ceramics, too. I think because our name is Community Glue…
CB: Right, because some people think the fixes would be limited to that. At least one fix every workshop requires gluing things, and it’s usually me who ends up gluing things back together. Oh, and bikes, too. We have a guy who comes in and repairs bikes, and more so when the weather gets warmer. It’s huge because it’s so expensive.
VL: We don’t get a lot of bike repairs because there’s an organization in NYC that has done a lot with reuse and repair called Recycle-A-Bicycle. They do a lot of community outreach, so we may see a bike repair once a quarter.
Community Glue Workshop fixer Paul Bassett (left) helps Jorge Sanchez get a floor lamp back into working order at a repair clinic.
JD: There is an aspect of folk pedagogy in what you each do – where learning is happening in more social, participatory and informal ways. I think of a gathering like quilting circles, where community knowledge was passed down through talking and interacting and the simple fact of being there and being hands-on. Have you observed this? What are the effects of this more personal exchange of knowledge?
CB: I think it’s been a really important part of what we’re doing. One thing that’s especially great is when kids come in and they’re blown away when they understand that you can “look under the hood,” so-to-speak, and actually see how things connect. I used to do this when I was a kid, but you don’t really see that anymore. In general, the issue of why we don’t use our hands is a big part of why, philosophically, this project is so interesting to us.
VL: I find myself using the phrase, “Project-Based Learning Initiative” partly because I heard that phrase used by Nolan Bushnell, who founded Atari. I was attending the Games for Change conference, and he made a wonderful case for project-based learning for an educational model in schools. He listed a bunch of roles that teachers play right now – being an entertainer, a clerk, a disciplinarian. But, you can remove all of those roles if you’re engaged in a project-based learning model. So, I think it’s important to have people come over and hang around and idle. The more people around you, the more valuable the experience. Of particular interest are the slice-of-life observations that are made when all sorts of people come in with their stories. We’ll hear stories about manual fixes and what people would call “ghetto fixes,” and I think so much of this wouldn’t be possible if you were just doing it by yourself in your garage.
CB: You do get to hear a lot about the things other people are working on. There was a guy at the last workshop who works with a group that takes stuff out of alleys and makes franken-machines. It’s a bit different from our mission, but it’s obviously related, and we get to know a lot of people like that who are super handy and help out.
JD: Do you also think about how your work might take on outcomes that are less practical, perhaps in the way it might address larger social issues? What are the large-scale implications in working toward these smaller-scale “fixes?”
AB: For me, it’s to draw attention to the fact that our culture is so obsessed with the disposable. We’re so far removed from nature and even from trades. Everybody’s job is digital – and it’s not real, it’s not tangible – so even objects become these things that you can just delete. But, you can’t really. It goes somewhere. Someone made it, and probably in a sweatshop. So, I think about how we need to stop feeding the beast, and reduce what we’re using.
CB: I come from a historic preservation background, where we re-use entire buildings. In terms of green building rating systems, you’re rewarded for replacing everything, not for keeping things and repairing them. Even in system that was designed to make us more environmentally friendly, it’s a totally throw-away culture, it’s all about consumption still…which is of course why were in this problem in the first place. I was feeling frustrated by this for years, so that’s a large part of the thrust for me. But, it also it makes me sad that kids, and people in general, don’t know how to fix anything anymore. We’re losing a lot of our ability to solve problems creatively. Plus, it’s fun! People don’t come here to be on an assembly line, they come for the challenge of problem solving.
VL: What I think about the most is computer electronic recycling. I was a first-hand witness to all of the stuff that got turned in for recycling – or the phrase that I would rather use: “wrapping and shredding.” People mistake certain recycling for reuse, and they think that when they turn it in for recycling, it’s going to get reused. However, a lot of what gets turned in gets wrapped up, and sent to a shredder and chopped up for scrap metal. I’ve seen MacBooks that didn’t need to go to recycling, they just needed to a $20 replacement chip. So, in this town, the throw-away culture is strongly evident with computers and electronics, and the people who recycle it don’t reuse enough. Recycling is a first line of defense instead of last resort. So, that’s where I want the fixers to intercede, to bring one more line of defense before the recyclable shredding happens. Also, there’s another term that iFixit is throwing around: “product as appliance.” It explains the idea that when something is broken, we can just get a new one. Apple will treat a broken iPad or iPhone in the same way another company will approach a broken blender or toaster: by throwing it away and replacing it. So, that’s what we try to fight, too.
CB: Even when something is being recycled as we are told it is going to be, is very energy intensive. Additionally, with downcycling, it’s really grating to me when someone wants to take an item – say a really nice guitar – that is a bit warped and make it into a flowerpot. Anything can be a flowerpot! You’re taking a $500 guitar that needs a little TLC and a small part and downcylcing it. That drives me nuts — taking these really complex appliances that can last so much longer and essentially turning them into a concrete bowl. Give it another life! Instead of just downcycling everything that way, get as much as you can out of objects that are superior products or built for certain functions, that took a lot of energy to create. It’s hard to describe our mission to people because they think we’re tying to repurpose things since that’s what’s so hip now. I do that stuff too, but I’m also very mindful of that fact that this whole piece is missing: don’t repair things as they were. I think there needs to be that faction, too.
It was a full house at Kitchen Sink, host to Community Glue Workshop repair clinic, on November 18, 2012.
JD: When as a culture, we’re so taken with the disposable and the new, I’d imagine that you might have bumped up against the perception that your projects hold a kind of old-school, greatest generation mentality. Do you see the idea of re-use strike a chord again in recent years, during our economic downturn?
AB: I hope so, and it might be that I’m surrounded by more progressive folks, but I’m praying for a return to our roots. I like what’s happening with the recent return to community gardening projects, and how people want to produce their own food with a real interest and concern over where it comes from. It’s becoming hip to shun processed, terrible, chemical-laden food, and I think it goes hand-in-hand, with the idea that increasingly people want to get into their possessions and know how they work. I think that an interest in food can turn into a privileged passion, but the repair movement is certainly not a privileged endeavor. It’s extremely accessible and it makes sense for those who can’t afford to buy organic, or shop at Whole Foods. But, I think we’ve got a ways to go before we affect Middle America.
CB: I think people also miss working on things. Someone will pay a silly amount of money to go to a workshop, and put a couple of screws in a couple pieces of wood to make a bench, just because they want so badly to know they made a bench. So, they’ll pay $50 for someone to hand them a piece of wood and give them permission to make something. It’s great that this is happening, but I feel like it’s a sign of how removed people are from real things and how desperate we are to feel like we can make something again and be involved with our environment.
VL: The Mend exhibit, and in turn Fixers Collective, happened in part because of the financial collapse, so I would speculate that a lot of people came in on the defensive to just say, “Oh my God, I need this thing fixed.” So, then we just guided their hands through the process as they fixed it up. But, I’m hoping that these same people would come back later and want to sit down and fix things and be with others. We see that greatest generation mentality come in, and we have a fun time putting that up against a MacBook or an iPod that need fixing.
Fixers Collective at Proteus Gowanus, 2013. Photo by: Vincent Lai
JD: How have you observed gender roles coming into play in these gatherings? Are the women doing sewing, and the men doing electrical work?
CB: It does kind of break out that way.
AB: We mostly have men as volunteers, the only women who volunteer are doing sewing, and it just so happens that the men do everything else.
VL: If you look at recent Facebook pictures of our one of our patching sessions, you’ll see one of our Master Fixers, Tony, working the sewing machine to seam back up his jeans. Some of us make a really active effort to jump and cross those gender role gaps. It’s there, but we do also see instances where you would expect it, but then expectations are thwarted. There was a news article that surfaced recently about a bridge in Brooklyn that is going to be reconstructed, and the Department of Transportation is actively seeking women to work on the reconstruction. The organization working on this project is called Nontraditional Employment for Women, and we had one of their members to come in and fix our power saw. It’s there, we’re aware of it, and because we’re aware of it we make an effort to go outside of those expectations.
AB: What are we going to call a guy who brings in his sewing machine one day? A “seamster?” A tailor? I tried to call them “sew-ers” one time in a Facebook update, and someone wrote in, “Hey, it looks like you wrote ‘sewers.’”
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.
Launch of the Massicot | Credit: Kendra Sullivan
Consisting of a current roster of seven members, Mare Liberum is a self-described “freeform publishing, boatbuilding and waterfront art collective based in the Gowanus, Brooklyn.” Jean Barberis, Ben Cohen, Dylan Gauthier, Anna Larson, Arthur Poisson, Kendra Sullivan and Stephan von Muehlen make up the collaborative-crew, who have been actively adventuring around New York City – and beyond – in a variety of boats made from free or cheap materials. While the members of Mare Liberum are typically described as artists, they are in fact a much more diverse group; among them – yes – artists, non-profit administrators, a poet, an industrial designer and an elementary school teacher. We recently had a round-robin discussion, including their thoughts on polyvalent art practice, the emergent dialog between waterborne artists and building a paper boat.
Tell me a little bit about the name “Mare Liberum.” Where does that come from?
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. Penned by the Dutchman Hugo Grotius in 1609, Mare Liberum sought to resolve a political debate between, on the one side, Spain and Portugal – who had been awarded halves of the earth by the Pope – and on the other, the Dutch – who had recently broken away from the Spanish Monarchy and were claiming their right to freely travel and engage in trade.
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”
Mare Liberum is known for building a small and humble boat called a dory, and more recently, canoes and kayaks. What attracted you to these particular kinds of watercrafts?
Stephan von Muehlen: For Dylan and I, coming out of the Empty Vessel Project, getting access to the water in NYC meant lowering the barrier to entry for everyone. Having a small, inexpensive boat makes it a lot easier than maintaining and keeping a big boat. They also each have their own histories that we tapped into for inspiration and historical context. The move from dories to kayaks to rowing skiffs to canoes charts a progression towards simpler lighter-weight boats that make it easier and easier to get out on the water.
Dylan: We were looking through a book of boat designs by the late John Gardner, who had been a socialist educator and labor organizer in the 1930s, but is better known as a writer of DIY boatbuilding guides and the head of the education department at Mystic. We were looking through some of his boats, which were already broken down into steps that the novice boatbuilder could build, and the Dory seemed just the right size for our first boat. It also had this long history of being a cheap and throw-about kind of thing that could be stacked on the decks of larger fishing boats and let out into the water in a hurry. We liked that.
ML Dorys on the Gowanus | Credit: Mare Liberum
In the past, you’ve offered instructional workshops on boatbuilding, and you also offer templates and broadsheets with instructions describing how to build a Mare Liberum dory on your website. What are you hoping potential boat builders will do with their vessels? Are there practical – or impractical – results you hope to achieve?
Ben Cohen: I hope that potential boat builders will get out on the water! I think these boats are not quite practical, but good at breaking the mystique surrounding boatbuilding and boating. Getting over that hurdle I think puts people in a position to take a more serious approach to how to use the waterways here.
Dylan: The main thing for us was getting out on the water, exploring this open expanse around the hemmed in city, and as we figured out how to do this, we hoped to make this knowledge attainable by others. We’ve lent a lot of our boats out – and also given instruction and hands-on advice – to artists, but we’re not only thinking of our boats as art or as platforms for artistic inquiry. We really want people to be inspired to build their own crafts and explore the water around them. So even if people aren’t building our boats we think we’re contributing to a dialogue about the uses of this public resource here in the city, and that connects with ideas about urban planning and design as well as with economic and environmental justice – so, who gets to live here, who gets to enjoy the city’s wealth of resources, who gets locked out of the equation, etc.
Mare Liberum also maintains a publishing arm and produces broadsheets of the collective’s boat constructions. To what extent is your publishing activity part of an effort to reach a wider public? Are you also thinking of your prints as creative documentation?
Stephan: I once told Dylan that without the publishing arm that places what we do in an art and historical context and serves to share what we have learned with other people, we would run the risk of being a bunch of dudes in a garage making boats for ourselves. Although that can be good too–and I might happily end up there one day–it wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting or fun.
Broadsheet 7: On Paper Boat Construction (Le Massicot or the PAPERei Canoe) | Credit: Mare Liberum
Are you interested in defining Mare Liberum as art, activism or something in between? Do these distinctions matter?
Arthur Poisson: The difference between art and activism doesn’t matter. The most important thing is to do what we want, what we think is of significance, and to stay involved in it. To distinguish it as art, publications, or work in the kitchen is missing the point.
Jean Barberis: I’m not interested in defining it. I like the inbetweenness. The boats as objects are never meant to be seen as pieces of art, even though they’ve been shown in museums and generally get a good response from the art crowd. I guess because it’s a very hybrid and multifaceted project it touches a lot of people.
Ben: Looking from one side of this distinction to the other is the interesting part for me. It seems like people experience our project as a portal from one field to another; either they are a builder or activist and see through us to the art-world, or they are an artist and see through us to an activist or craft idea. When you see through the project you experience something you’re not used to and your ideas about what craft can be or what art can be should change.
Dylan: I think the distinctions do matter, and also the distinctions don’t matter. We go pretty easily between these at-times exclusionary “worlds.” We also have this other connection which is to the historic boatbuilding community, which is generally not primarily interested in either the art or the activism but is still interested in our project and gets excited about our use of materials, etc.
While at its core, Mare Liberum deals seriously with issues like reclaiming access to NYC waterways as viable public space, there is something undeniably playful about your project. It feels close to childhood adventure fantasies – a creative circumstance in which a new and self-directed set of rules and conventions can be enacted.
Jean: Absolutely. My collaborations with the collective have resulted in some of the most amazing adventures: Exploring a boat graveyard with Marie Lorenz as part of Flux Factory’s going places doing stuff, racing kayaks around Maumau Island with Swimming Cities, and of course rowing a paper skiff 180 miles from Clayton, NY to Montreal. Honestly my childhood fantasies weren’t nearly as wilds as these journeys turned out to be.
Kendra Sullivan: The actualization of a childhood fantasy is a bizarre and mind-bending experience. Nothing is what you expected. For one thing, it’s a lot harder. For another, it’s a lot more beautiful. I think that’s because it’s no longer about escape from reality, but an extreme engagement with reality at its most elemental – the weather, the water, your friends. Building your own vehicle to enter that altered sphere makes you feel like one among a crew of architects authoring a shared dream. It’s lovely.
Stephan: There is definitely something about the water that can capture the imagination and that we all read about as children and some of us still do as adults. The rules are different and you really do see the world from the outside when you are out there. There are no fences or roads or private property. The elements have a lot of say about what you can and can’t do, but not so much the regular set of laws and players. It can be scary and risky. We make ‘best efforts’ to make sure we don’t hurt ourselves or encourage others to the same, but you definitely can set the stage for an adventure when you go out in water in a small boat, and it’s not an adventure until something goes wrong…
There are a handful of artists building junk rafts, boats and other kinds of floats in NYC right now. Immediately, I can think of Constance Hockaday, Marie Lorenz, A’yen Tran, Swoon, Mary Mattingly… How do you see the dialog produced by this particular network of artists evolving?
Stephan: We are friends and help each other out. I am inspired by everyone you listed. We have shown work together, been on panels, and built boats with each other. We all have our own projects and draw inspiration from the same people that did similar things before us (Poppa Neutrino, for instance). I think we all started our projects for different reasons at different times, but the Sea Worthy exhibition (co-organized by EFA Project Space, Flux Factory and The Gowanus Studio Space) and the show at the Antique Boat Museum (in Clayton, NY) put us all in the same room together. It makes sense.
Dylan: I think it’s great how much work is being made around the water in the city right now, and there’s a lot of really interesting interactions happening there, all the more-so as people are responding to the changing floodlines post-Sandy, etc. But all of our work has crossed paths on numerous occasions and I know that we’re all learning from each others’ projects and adventures and experiences. There’s also a handful of other artists that we have not had the pleasure to work with directly but who are building boats and grounding some part of their practice in human, ecological or economic relationships of maritime culture or the symbolism of the water – so Hans Schabus and Simon Starling and Julien Berthier and Nari Ward and Mark Dion come to mind. So it’s a very rich and diverse, um, what is it… something between “scene” and “meme”… “scmeme?” to be a part of.
Arthur: Again, I’m not sure if the term “artist” is important, the most important, to describe the water building community. A dialog exists, separate of the art community, but there is no interest in it. The water context is larger than the art dialog, and, for example, the fishermen on the Marina 59 (where Constance Hockaday’s Boatel project was docked) are a huge part of the community, and without them, nothing can exist in this place. The “dialog” that you’re referring to only holds meaning for the art world, and projects of this kind can’t hold real meaning or value for a local community if only artists act or are involved.
Jean: I think this waterborne arts scene is in full expansion. It’s especially strong in New York with the people you’ve named and collectives like Swimming Cities and events like Sea Worthy, which really helped federate everybody. The Boatel came out of that and it’s been a real focal point for the whole community. Swimming Cities has organized this amazing event called the Battle for Maumau Island for the last two summers, Chicken John out on the west coast has an event called Camp Tipsy which is also bringing tons of people together. Then there’s also a lot of artists in Europe doing somewhat similar projects though they might more isolated: Fergal McCarthy, Filip Jonker, Julien Berthier, Simon Starling, Peter Callesen…
Kendra: I am interested to see how the hurricane changes the way we approach making art in/around/about the water. I also think that how gender plays out on the water is a topic worth delving into a bit further.
Mare Liberum Crew Charts a 160 Mile Route Along the St. Lawrence River, 2012 | Credit: Arthur Poisson
In the summer of 2012, you floated a paper skiff called the “Massicot” down the St. Lawrence River after a residency at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, NY. What prompted this experiment?
Jean: The original idea was to take advantage of the Museum’s resources and create a replica of one of their pieces, though we weren’t sure of how to do it in two weeks, then Dylan started telling us about Nathaniel Bishop, a 19th century writer and adventurer who journeyed from Troy, NY to the Gulf of Mexico on a paper canoe. We all read his book and got really excited by the prospect of resurrecting this lost boat building technique. We did a lot of research and read everything we could on the subject then started experimenting with various Kraft papers, adhesives and varnishes and we got to work on this beautiful early 20th Century Peterborough Lake Ontario Skiff. We built an exact replica of the hull, using the original as a mold, then copied the wooden structure. We got a lot of advice from the staff of the Museum, which was amazing. Of course everyone was a bit skeptical that we would pull this off. I mean, there you have these seasoned boat builders, masters of their craft who are used to spending years on a restoration, and a bunch of artists from Brooklyn show up claiming they’re going to build a 17-foot skiff in less than two weeks… But once we got to work and they saw the Massicot come together they were really behind the project.
As it happened my visa was about to run out and I had to be out of the country by a certain date, so we decided to go to Montreal. We crossed the border two days after the launch and rowed for five days before getting to Montreal. The Saint Lawrence is one of the most amazing bodies of water in North America, especially around the Thousand Islands. We camped on a different island every night. I never felt so free in my life.
Mare Liberum Crew Charts a 160 Mile Route Along the St. Lawrence River, 2012 | Credit: Jean Barberis
Does Mare Liberum have further plans to look beyond local, NYC water-related issues? It might be an extreme suggestion, but would you ever consider a Neutrino-style ocean expedition?
Stephan: That would be crazy.
Dylan: I have watched a few too many YouTube videos on “Rogue Waves” to ever attempt such a crossing. That said, circumnavigations and long-distance river routes interest me a great deal, as do shorter routes in hastily built local boatshapes… What’s interesting to me in the ocean mainly happens on the coasts of civilizations, and river travel is like watching a movie plot unfold before your eyes at 6 mph. Someday I’d also like to raft what retired yachtsmen call the “Great Loop“ (a 5,000 mile loop through the East Coast’s intercoastal and canalized waterways). There’s this weird culture of self-described “Loopers” to research and develop a broadsheet on/for as well.
Ben: Are you sending us out to sea? We respond to art-world deadlines mostly, doing little on our own without an outlet to focus on. Our focus on the waterways makes a lot more sense in a city than in say, the St. Lawrence River. Up there we stepped back from access (since everyone already has it) and focused on performance and craft and active engagement. When invited somewhere it’s better for us to make plans in the setting than to think about what the project ‘could be’ in a vacuum. I would be terrified to go out in the ocean in anything I made myself.
Mare Liberum Crew Charts a 160 Mile Route Along the St. Lawrence River, 2012 | Credit: Arthur Poisson