So this is it; the last entry of Thoughts from Across the Cultural Divide. Itâ€™s appropriate that Iâ€™m writing it on a plane from New York to Milwaukee â€“ thatâ€™s where I wrote my first one and most of the ones in-between.
I boarded bent on finishing before landing in Milwaukee as a kind of ceremonial gesture, but I came down with a bit of writerâ€™s block. More like writerâ€™s diarrhea, really; I couldnâ€™t seem to reduce the last 26 entries into a succinct bite-sized wafer of truth fit to reflect what Iâ€™ve gleaned.
Fidgety, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small piece of foil-covered hard candy and struggled over whether or not I should eat it.
I actually started unwrapping it, almost placing it on my tongue before rewrapping it and carefully putting it back in my pocket. The guy next to me must have thought I had a disorder. As I sat with the candy in my lapel pocket, I dwelled on this strange apprehension. Why did eating it feel so, well, unholy?
The candy in question was taken from a Felix Gonzalez Torres art piece, â€œUntitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.)â€, from the Art Institute of Chicago, where I had taken a class on a field trip a few days prior. With my class in tow, I picked a couple pieces off the top of the pile, eliciting a hushed gasp from some onlookers. The security guard stood by stoically knowing very well the nature of the situation. Only after establishing that he was cool with the move did the rest of the visitors take their turn grabbing souvenirs. Did anyone get the wonderful metaphor? Did the sacredness of the context turn Torresâ€™s point into an object to be fetishized?
I explained the nature of the work to my students, how the dwindling supply of candy represented the fragility of existence and, specifically the disease that tragically took Torresâ€™s partnerâ€™s life. They seemed moved, if still content to have a bit of insider material.
Only a week earlier I had gone to the Lutheran church in Cedarburg. I attended in spite of the fact that Iâ€™m not religious. My wife and her family have belonged to the church for years, and the pastor is surprisingly ecumenical. That day, when it came time to take communion, I hesitated. Somehow, watching from the back pews, faking my way through the Lordâ€™s Prayer and mouthing hymns I didnâ€™t know, seemed ok, but consuming a wafer and some wine that represented, or, depending on your level of devotion, actually WAS the body and blood of Christ, pushed it. But, still, I headed toward the altar.
His body tasted surprisingly bland; his blood vintage Franzia, and, though I didnâ€™t feel the prescribed transubstantiation, I did feel something more profound than indigestion.
This unexpected twinge reminded me of a piece by James Gleick that was in the â€œNew York Time Magazineâ€ a few years ago about the auction value of the Magna Carta. He describes a passage from Philip K. Dickâ€™s novel, â€œThe Man in the High Towerâ€, where two similar cigarette lighters are placed side-by-side, one owned by FDR and the other of no significance. One with â€˜historicityâ€™, the other without.
The narrator muses:
â€œCan you feel it? … You canâ€™t. You canâ€™t tell which is which. Thereâ€™s no â€˜mystical plasmic presence,â€™ no â€˜auraâ€™ around it.â€
Or is there?
Though he doesnâ€™t invoke it specifically, Walter Benjaminâ€™s â€œThe Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,â€ seems to hover palpably over Gleickâ€™s analysis. Are there plasmic presences? Are there auras? No and yes. As Benjamin noted in the essay we all choked down in art school, auras are born from artifacts that derive power from ritual. And rituals require gangs of believers to endure. And most of us, wherever we locate ourselves geographically or metaphysically, happen to believe in something strongly enough to wring a little plasma from it.
So, Religion? Culture? Not so different from 38,000 feet above the earth. Both are terms ascribed to all those things we canâ€™t know for sure. And if youâ€™re familiar with Descartes, Montesquieu, Wittgenstein, Barthes, Derrida or even CNN, thereâ€™s a LOT of things we donâ€™t and indeed canâ€™t know.
So what Iâ€™ve taken from 18 months of immersion in Wisconsinâ€™s more parochial precincts is that one personâ€™s â€œLight of Christâ€ might simply be anotherâ€™s frisson of energy evoked by a Richard Tuttle wire piece or a Donald Judd â€œSpecific Objectâ€. Arenâ€™t we all looking for a little transcendence, never mind where we get it or what we decide to call it?
Thereâ€™s a lot of religion in a Tuttle and a lot of culture in a Lutheran pancake social.
Itâ€™s funny when you can feel the antagonism about your remarks as soon as you utter them. Now is one of those moments. My friends are generally from the tribe that would side with the transcendence brought on by a great work of art, rather than a passage from the â€œBook of Jobâ€. Most of my acquaintances would probably claim that Iâ€™m making a false and probably dangerous distinction â€“ the religious right influences politics, right? Indeed. They infringe on the civil rights of individuals because of a bunch of ghost stories in a book written millennia ago? Sure. They canâ€™t compromise because their truth is not based in reason, but in the supernatural, right? Sometimes.
But then again, I felt something like sacrilege eating a piece of candy that was only ever meant to be a metaphor. And it occurred inside the hallowed temple walls of an institution that kind of chooses to keep those metaphors hidden, and in turn, keeps their congregations beguiled and charmed, perpetuating the aura of the object. That institution has priests who anoint objects with quasi-spiritual value. They have groups that help to canonize object makers. Not as metaphor-makers but as spirits. They have rituals, liturgies and taboos. They have saints and they have sinners. They all contribute to creating cultural relics that are sold at auction for prices that dwarf that of the most sought after religious relics on earth.
So if it walks like a duckâ€¦
Felix Gonzales Torres might be my favorite artist in the world. And God or god or Donald Judd rest his soul, I donâ€™t think Mr. Torres ever wished for me to be spellbound by the aura of his art, only moved by the poetic truth it could impart by being an achingly wonderful metaphor for the sadness and confusion we all share in a world that overwhelms us.
So right now I will eat Felix Gonzalez Torresâ€™s candy as a metaphorical gesture recognizing the power of art over the supernatural and all that mystical plasma that charms us into thinking we have an answer of a higher power.
28 episodes of The Cultural Divide reduced to one wafer of truth.
This week: James Jenkins Executive Director of Bad at Sports beloved place to spend our disposable income Printed Matter!
Printed Matter is the world”s largest non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of publications made by artists. Founded as a for-profit alternative arts space in 1976 by artists and artworkers, Printed Matter reincorporated in 1978 to become the independent non-profit organization that it is today. Originally situated in Tribeca, Printed Matter moved to SoHo in 1989 where for twelve years the book displays and artistsâ€™ projects in the large storefront windows contributed to the artistic and intellectual vibrancy of the neighborhood. In 2001 Printed Matter relocated to Chelsea, where it continued to foreground the book as an alternative venue – or artistic medium – for artistsâ€™ projects and ideas. Finally, in December of 2005 Printed Matter moved into our current storefront location in Chelsea with big windows and greatly increased display and exhibition space. Recognized for years as an essential voice in the increasingly diversified art world conversations and debates, Printed Matter is dedicated to the examination and interrogation of the changing role of artistsâ€™ publications in the landscape of contemporary art.
Printed Matter”s mission is to foster the appreciation, dissemination, and understanding of artists’ publications, which we define as books or other editioned publications conceived by artists as art works, or, more succinctly, as “artwork for the page.” Printed Matter specializes in publications produced in large, inexpensive editions and therefore does not deal in “book arts” or “book objects” which are often produced in smaller, more expensive editions due to the craft and labor involved in their fabrication.
To promote public awareness of and access to artistsâ€™ books, Printed Matter maintains a public reading room where over 15,000 titles by 6,000 international artists are available for viewing and purchase. In addition to being a wholesale and retail distribution hub for artistsâ€™ books, Printed Matter offers a free consulting service to libraries, art institutions, and art professionals involved with artistsâ€™ books throughout the world. Printed Matter presents a range of educational programs for the public from talks to student groups by staff members to in-store lectures and readings by artists, critics, and curators. These educational initiatives are complemented by our internationally recognized exhibitions program and publishing program.
January 18, 2013 · Print This Article
I came on as the Managing Editor of the Bad at Sports blog about a month ago. It’s been an exciting turn and I hope to do well by it. A few people have asked what my vision going forward is, and I thought I might say something about it here.Â I hope to continue reflecting on the dynamic energy in Chicago’s contemporary art world while connecting to conversations and aesthetic agendas in other cities and disciplines. That agenda was set in place a while ago and I believe I can continue to guide and focus that intention. There is room for experimentation in that vision, which seems necessary to me. Bad at Sports has never presented a tidy, singular package and as such, I believe it would go against the nature of the project to filter content and tone through a single, editorial lens. Its roots in independent, DIY and Punk Rock collectivism remain at the heart of the project’s vitality and the blog is a platform for unique and individual voices that pass through the subject of contemporary art and culture. As such it becomes a nexus of concerns and responses to culture at large. That is something I hope to preserve under my stewardship. As an artist-run forum, Bad at Sports has the unique capacity to reflect on a host of subjects, exposing the intellectual, aesthetic and social networks that define and subsequently influence cultural production. I believe it is our job to explore and discuss the contexts we inhabit. In doing so, we further establish a living touchstone and future archive of contemporary discourse.
Some changes should be apparent already â€” others will fall into place like pieces of a puzzle in the coming months. The process is organic, but I’ve been trying to set up a casual, thematic architecture Â that unfolds over the course of a given week. Eventually, I hope to schedule two posts a day, one before 2pm and one after. Built in to this, is room for special occasions and guest writers â€” those posts would either go live in the evenings, or fill in existing gaps. To that endÂ I’ve been inviting a number of new writers, many of whom I have admired for a long time.
Here is something of a loose schedule:
Mondays: Essays and reflections from old favorites Jeriah Hildewin, Shane McAdams and Nicholas O’Brien â€” writers who have been posting with consistent dedication. In addition, I’m excited to announce a new bi-weekly column by Dana Bassett, whom you may know for her ACRE Newsletters.
Tuesdays are dedicated to three subjects: Performance, Social Practice, Language (or the performance thereof) and Object Oriented Ontology. Confirmed participants include longstanding contributor Abigail Satinsky and Mary Jane Jacob (Social Practice), Anthony Romero and JoÃ£o FlorÃªncio (performance), Gene Tanta (language), Robert Jackson (OOO).
On Wednesdays, we will read about artists and art in other cities. The following writers will post on rotation: Jeffery Songco is covering the Bay Area, Sam Davis continues to represent Bad at Sports’ Los Angeles Bureau,Â Sarah Margolis-Pineo is writing about Portland. Juliana Driever will be relaying posts, interviews and artist profiles about New York, and then we’ll bring it back to the Midwest with Kelly Shindler’s dispatch from St. Louis, and Jamilee Polson Lacy writing about Kansas City.
ThursdaysÂ herald our illustrious Stephanie Burke’sÂ Top 5 Weekend PicksÂ and a new monthly contribution from author/translator Johannes GÃ¶ransson whose writing you can also find here.
Fridays have been set aside for art reviews and artist profiles with contributions from Danny Orendoff, Monica Westin, Abraham Ritchie and myself.
WEEKENDS will feature a range and flux of the above, plus Brit Barton’s Endless Opportunities, cultural reflections and short essays by Terri Griffith, continued posts from Jesse Malmed, in addition to a monthly contribution from the newly confirmed Bailey Romaine and Adrienne Harris.
My last note is this â€” there is room in this schedule for additional posts, posts that would feature special events, festivals and conferences in the city. That space would also be available to, at times, connect the blog and the podcast. As a first indication of this, we will be highlighting IN>TIME, a performance festival that is going on as we speak, from January until March.
Otherwise if you have any comments, suggestions or, even guest posts you would like to submit, please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
November 13, 2012 · Print This Article
I left New York City for Wisconsin just as hurricane Sandy was barreling up the East Coast, and I returned in the middle of the norâ€™easter that came to salt the wounds that hadnâ€™t yet healed.
That means I was in Wisconsin to observe the aftermath of both the election and the hurricane. It was the first election I spent outside of New York in over a decade, and, despite being in a place that rallied behind a lesbian senator and prides itself on its artisanal cheeses and beers, the sense that I wasnâ€™t in Brooklyn was palpable.
Romney/Ryan signs dotted most of the manicured lawns of the bedroom communities in Ozaukee County, one of the most republican enclaves in the state, indeed the country. Cedarburg, where I stay with my in-laws sits smack in the center of the county, and happens to be the place where John McCain and Sarah Palin chose to launch their 2008 presidential campaign, which didnâ€™t even think about coming close enough to Brooklyn to see its forearm tattoos.
When ensconced inside Cedarburgâ€™s city limits one begins to understand why its citizens gripe about the federal government. Look around and youâ€™ll see a community that seems from every vantage to have figured things out. Not in some kind of sinister, Ayn Randian, elitist disengagement either, but in a real, communitarian, bucket brigade, do unto others way. A way that leads many of those who donâ€™t leave the place to wonder why a bunch of bureaucrats 1000 miles away should be shaking them down for money to pay for social and cultural programs that they manage just fine on a community level.
In Cedarburg, if you needed food, you could walk up to any restaurant and theyâ€™d give you a meal. Thatâ€™s welfare. If you were sick, the doctor would see you. Thatâ€™s medical care. If you were pregnant and 16, the community would politely shame you and gossip about you for the rest of your life, but would also see to it that your child was cared for. Thatâ€™s social services. Thatâ€™s also the police.
My dad-in-law â€“ who happens to be named Sandy â€“ is one of a majority in his community who if allowed would shrink the entire federal government into a 24-hour help desk whose phone number was buried so deep on the website that you’d have no choice but to use the on-line chat to reach them. But as he watched New Jersey and New York plunge into darkness and not immediately light back up, I watched his conviction waver. And as he watched his beloved Chris Christie lay olive branches in front of Barack Obama, I thought I saw a little pan-American Esprit de corps bubble up from inside and pierce his usually impenetrable exterior.
Seeing Christie and Obama together, he muttered, â€œThis must be a dire situation because itâ€™s not easy for someone that big to kiss an ass.â€
We stayed up late talking about Jacksonian versus Hamiltonian democracy as the disaster unfolded over cable news. We didn’t agree on everything, but it was wholly amicable. I gave him a copy of Naomi Kleinâ€™s book â€œThe Shock Doctrineâ€ which he didnâ€™t immediately throw into the fire or back at me, a gesture as tender as a hug if you knew the man.
He liked it when I riffed about how the mediaâ€™s job is to locate scapegoats where they can and to create them when they canâ€™t. I did a shtick about natural disasters in Chris Rockâ€™s voice and then played him Rockâ€™s bit about why people blame music and video games when kids go on shooting rampages at public schools.
â€œWhat ever happened to CRAZY!!??â€
“What ever happened to BIG, POWERFUL, IMPLACABLE, UNAVOIDABLE, NATURAL FUCKING DISASTER!!!?”
He roared like a kid telling dirty jokes on the playground. He said all journalists were like hyenas but with less loyalty, and then told me an old one about a blind stewardess and a couple of donkeys for good measure.
Sometimes it takes a catastrophe to galvanize people.
The day after the election, I caught Sandy out in the front yard taking down the Romney/Ryan and Tommy Thompson signs. He like the rest of the town was emotionally hungover from the political orgy of the past few nights. In fact, earlier in the day I actually saw a guy crying at the gas station about the election. It could have been for other reasons, but I assumed he was pissed about either Romney or Paul or Tommy. After gathering and tossing the campaign signs in the trash we went inside where the 24 hour news droned on. It was Fox News and the subject was the fiscal cliff and the end of the Bush tax cuts.
Sandy Â yelled over one the pundits, â€œBE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID!!â€
â€œOf the hostâ€™s hair?â€ I added sarcastically.
â€œOf the SOCIALISTS!!â€
â€œYou mean of our democratically elected federal government whose taxes are roughly a quarter of its gross domestic product?â€
â€œA quarter given is a quarter wasted and redistributed!! Protect my shores, deliver my mail, and get the hell out of my life!! And don’t let the door hit you on the way out!!â€
Hurricane Sandy was back and no bucket brigade could stop it.
This week: San Francisco checks in with a great interview with the legendary Andrea Fraser!Â Andrea Fraser is a New York-based performance artist, mainly known for her work in the area of institutional critique. She is currently a member of the Art Department faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles.