Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Studio Day #2: NYC

In the name of grad school I have managed to finangle my way into having wednesday's off so that I can "work in the studio."  Which is totally what I'm going to do!  But while I get back on the "making stuff" horse, I've been catching up on my museum-going.  Last week I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the Gee's Bend Quilt Show (which I had already seen in Baltimore, but, c'mon, why pass up a chance to be in the presence of those quilts?!) and a show at the Perelman Gallery on African American Quilts.  Both shows were very impressive and although I meant to do an entry about them... clearly I didn't get to it.  Sorry.  Today I decided to try to get over my (vaguely irrational) fear and loathing of New York City and check out the Museum of Art and Design's new facility and a Ghada Amer show at the Brooklyn Museum.  So I got up early (aka the same time I get up when I have to go to work) and caught the Chinatown bus to the Big Apple.  

The show that most interested me at the MAD Museum was one called Second Lives; Remixing the Ordinary.  It featured art made out of "ordinary" materials- materials that were created for something else, like disposable plastic spoons and vintage records (see left: Paul Villinski's My Back Pages, 2006-07).  I feel like there has been a lot of art shows lately that focus on similar issues, for example, the Green Show that I participated in last month at Cafe Estelle's.  I don't think that this show was
 specifically designed to be recycled art but the concepts tend to overlap.  As the world gets more and more "green" themed even the art world reacts.  On one hand I think: "jeez, it's about time.  We've been over-producing and obsessively collecting shit for years!  Everyone on the bandwagon!"  On the other hand, some of the pieces in MAD's show seemed more like a waste of materials than they would be if they were used for their original purpose.  Which just doesn't seem... productive to me.   I guess there are a couple of things that this kind of art needs to get my motor revving.  (intellectually, duh.  Get your minds out of the gutter!)  Below are a couple of highlights that demonstrate some of those things that make my art-heart twitter. 

Transcendence of Material:

Long-Bin Chen: Reading Chair w/ Buddha Heads (2007)
NYC phone books, catalogues, wood.
(Unfortunately, I couldn't find a picture of the exact piece from the show, but this is the basic idea.  It was a reading nook in the back and a sculpted face in the front.  It was accompanied by a Buddha face that was similar to the one below.)

To take a mundane material and make it art there needs to be some sort of transcendence into something worthwhile- either functional or thought provoking in a way that makes it more important than it's original functionality.  I liked this piece a lot because at first glance you can't even tell what the sculpture is made out of.  The artist statement that accompanied the work said that the phone book pages looked like wood and although that is true (and definitely karmically appropriate what with the pages originating in tree form and all) to me, the sculpture looks more like stone.  It transcends even the material past of it's own origin and questions the relationship between stone and wood and paper.  Between place and time and alchemy.  The imagery used propels the comparison:  books for reading, reading into knowledge, knowledge into life.  

It's like drag:  the reveal is part of what makes it so compelling.  You can almost believe your eyes, but the artist doesn't let you.  Instead, they give you the power to understand the entire situation- all the past incarnations and implications.

Cultural/Political Statements

Hew Locke: Golden Horde (2006)
Plastic toy shields, tow swords, metal chains, mirrors, plastic christmas decorations, plastic/metal beads, toy guns, baby dolls, rhinestones.
(Again, unfortunately, images of the specific pieces seemed unavailable, but these "Hordes" were also part of the show and can almost illustrate my point.)

The pieces by Hew Locke that I appreciated most were not the free standing, float-like sculptures shown about, but were smaller sculptures that resembled absurdist coats of arms.  They hung from the wall in clusters, recalling overly decadent collection of taxadermied animals.  Each cluster was completely covered with plastic toys, gold beads and rhinestones along with fake flowers and the heads of baby dolls.  There was also an anachronistic collection of weaponry protruding from hidden depths:  plastic swords and toy machine guns crossed behind mutilated plastic faces that peered out from under words like "congratulations".  The result of this plastic cacophony is a mockingly modernized and hauntingly familiar object that hangs in defiant pride.

We are achingly familiar with all of these objects, but when combined in such a greedy manner they seem almost a tribute to over production, the hording of useless junk, the game of violence and a general sense of contemporary glut.

Also they made me think of sorority pirates.  Which made me giggle.


Yuken Teruya:  Untitled (2006)
Cut paper bags.
I seem to have noticed a trend in the pieces that struck my fancy in this show: work that involves the history of paper on it's uses in capitalistic society.  (Hey look, my dad's an environmental codger, ok?)  I loved these bags and I loved them for their beauty.  Teruya managed to create a full environment within the given spacial limitations using nothing but the bag itself and it's own history.  

Look at how pretty they are!  The beauty of a simple act of amazing craftsmanship is sometimes enough for transcendence. 

So... how does all of this fit into my own art making practice?  Well, not only have I been trying to focus my creative energy into reusing preexisting materials, but I've been thinking a lot lately about art and... well, worthiness.  As someone who's trying to balance being a studio artist and a full time employment struggling to make ends meet, it's actually a terrifyingly difficult reckoning:  Do you give up one day a week to making art, even if it means eating less or not getting new shoes?  Do you spend your money on art supplies, yarn, fabric... or PECO bills?  On some levels the answer is mind-numbingly easy.  PECO bills, duh.  Your house needs heat.  Food, duh.  You need it.  And even though I was convinced when I graduated from MICA that I would never make art again... i yearn for it.  I miss it more than I even knew I loved it.  I hate the fact that our capitalistic society does not provide me with the wherewithall to just create, to think for hours on end, to read at leisure.  Money reigns supreme here and I've been building up this this resentment that makes me feel like I deserve to relax whenever I'm not at work.  Which inevitably ends with me alone in my room drinking beer, knitting and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for hours on end.  (And loving it.  What.)  But then I end up feeling guilty about it.  Like I should be spending that time changing the world through my art work.  Which makes me question the hubris of my opinion of myself, and then doubt the worthwhile-ness of my own art.  Which brings us to todays word: worthiness.  

I guess at this point it's just one day at a time.


Nelly Face said...

Those bags are incredibly beautiful! What a fun day, I never do stuff like that, also harbouring a vague fear of NYC.

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