THE SEA IS A TEAR
To live a meaningful life for seven days
As five artists and five writers gathered to hash out the direction of Detour, just one defining element was in place: that each of the artists would be thrown a curve.
Just 9 days before the exhibits opening the only thing certain was that each artist would be challenged with an obstacle to be determined by the other artists"an exercise similar to the 2003 film The Five Obstructions, in which filmmaker Lars von Trier challenged his mentor Jorgen Leth to re-make his experimental film The Perfect Human five times, each time working against a different obstruction.
The key factor for Ericsson seemed to be not any specific obstruction, but the idea of one, that a defining element about his work would be decided not only by someone else, as it might in any collaboration, but by committee discussion.
Ericsson is an artist who makes objects"not moments, or scenes, or ideas, even if those be inherent or implied in his work"but overtly beautiful objects. Having begun his career as a portrait painter, his art has evolved dramatically but never strayed from the age old concept of creating beautiful objects charged with cargoes of symbolism and inherent meaning, both in their content and their medium.
For example, in one series of drawings he screen-printed personally significant photographs using nicotine in place of ink: The smoke of hundreds of cigarettes imprinted the images dreamily onto paper with the sepia stain of addiction. A more recent series used a similar but more labor intensive process involving powdered graphite manually worked through the screens instead of cigarette smoke. Through all these works the artist maintained complete control of the idea, process, and the production of a physical result.
So ideas of control and reservations about giving it up dominated his side of the dialogue as he sat with other artists, negotiating the nature of his Detour. He expressed concerns about focus, about being considerate of the viewer. For him, form is a good thing. I love a simple framework, he said. Just keep telling me more things I cant do, and I will get more comfortable.
He talked of the work involved in building a career as an artist, the labor invested over the years as"approaching age 40"he has made his living that way, building for himself a brand so that his name itself carries with it a cargo of meaning. And yet he weighs the value and meaning of art against the value and meaning of life: Its almost a daily question for me, He says. I know that what I do does not matter. What interests me, in fact, is that it does not matter.
And from that moment comes Ericssons obstruction: Not to make something, not to work at the manufacture of art, but simply To live a meaningful life for the next seven days.
Im not sure if I have time to be meaningful this week, he joked. But Ill fit it in.
THE SEA IS A TEAR
THE ENDURANCE PERFORMANCE: DAYS SIX/SEVEN
Day 6: 05.10.10
Ive been at Day Job since 8:11 a.m. Feeling poorly. Possibly the 24-hour bug that started circulating in the office last week. I email Arzu to wish her a good morning and find out when shell be at SPACES for rehearsal.
Arzu writes back:
We will be there around 2 p.m. I am running around like crazy today. Will get more stuff to make connectors.
Connectors? What kind of connectors? She never said anything about connectors. I write back to tell her Im scheduled to work until 5 p.m. Will she still be there then?
Reader, how can I give you play-by-play if Im not there? Ive never felt more trapped in a corporate white cube.
Arzu must be starting her first rehearsal with The Choreographer, Alice Dunoyer de Segonzac, one of her students. Im missing everything. Arzus ideas are now being rehearsed live, and Im leashed to a desk and a phone, just a few miles away. But Arzu has promised to send images. Documentary evidence is not always reliable, though. When looking at multiple images, the viewer might create a narrative that never happened at the live event. You cant capture energy exchange between performer and audience anyway. This is the Great Debate that divides scholars of live art. One camp says live art should not (and cannot) be documented; the other says a document is better than nothing, even though they agree that the document creates a new, mediated text.
As promised, Arzu sends images. The subject line is Wow. Am I too old to dance? Image 1: Arzu enters (or does she saunter into?) the gallery, the performance space. Images 2 and 3: Is she seducing the gallery space, or is she trying to get the space to seduce her?
As Ive mentioned before, Arzu rarely works in galleries, perhaps for these reasons: fetishization of the object; the spectator is often reduced to a role of passive contemplation; the space is a site of commodity exchange; the spectator brings a set of (largely received) expectations; theres a limited potential pool of spectators (the audience), since certain publics may not seek out these spaces; gallery rules frustrate artistic freedom; and time and space constraints minimize accessibility, among many others. Dump the baggage! New media and public intervention strategies circumvent, turn upside-down and sometimes solve the problems that stultify galleries. The works are accessible to larger audiences"who may have minimal or no expectations"for longer periods of time, and, most importantly, they offer opportunities for the spectator to become a participant-author. More to say on this topic, but no time...
Ill be able to tell you more about Arzus dance after I see Rehearsal Two at SPACES on Wednesday after work.
Arzu was asked to stage something and bring an audience"a major detour for an artist who traffics in public interventions. She has to communicate with spectators who have made a decision to see the performance, rather than unwitting spectators who happen upon it. People come to SPACES to see art; participants in public interventions may not frame the encounter as art. But shes embraced the challenge, without complaint. She sends a postcard-advert for Love at first site, all tricked out in signifers of love: red, white, lace tights and frilly font. I also think White Stripes CD cover. She plans to distribute the cards all over Cleveland. I dont exactly know what that means. But Im distributing it here.
Day Seven: 05.11.10
Arzu was busy teaching today, so she didnt have much time to communicate. I was home sick with the flu. With the help of a collaborator, Im working on the Love at first site performance score/script. Updates tomorrow.
Lygia Clark, Sensory Masks, 1967
THE ENDURANCE PERFORMANCE: DAY FOUR
05.08.10: Composed throughout the day
I email James Luna, who lives in SoCal. HELP! Please send advice about my upcoming performance score/script and possible live performance. [Addendum 05.11.10: Did you notice how fear prevented me from seeing beyond my own navel? And, most importantly, Im not focusing on Arzus process. Pedagogical moment # 17.]
As promised, Arzu sends her morning email:
I got some rope yesterday; will try a few things today. Will let you know how it goes. :)
I email Arzu to ask what she intends to do with the rope.
Arzu responds by email:
Lygia Clark's performance is an inspiration: Lygia Clark "Propositions," 1966-1968.
Will write more tonight.
Luna responds. The minimalist, as always, but right on point:
The moment you stand up and turn to the audience you are performing.
Communication can take many forms if you are not a public speaker. You can prerecord your statement, you can write it out, you can hand out notes or pass one around. Whisper to each one: Don't do Bob, Bob did it.....
Think about how you would like to be communicated to.
I have no idea as to subject. That is between you and the artist.
Lygia Clark, The I and the You: Clothing/Body'Clothing, 1967
All day Ive been wondering how the work of Brazilian artist Lygia Clark (1920-1988) might influence Love At First Si/ght/te. Above you will find image-pathways that lead to some of Clarks ideas. (Do you mind if I call her Lygia?) The trajectory of Lygias oeuvre in one sentence: She transitioned from Constructivist painting to sculpture to relational art (for lack of a better word) and finally to what has been called therapy.
She is not a household name in the U.S. (how many female visual artists are?), but very much respected in the art world. Maybe Lygia is not well known because her entire oeuvre thwarts fetishization of the object and thus presents major curatorial challenges. She attempted to escape both the notion of artist as genius, and the supremacy granted to the object which implicitly forces the viewer into a role of passive contemplation, Juan Vincente Aliaga notes in a 1998 issue of frieze.
After 1965, she labeled all of her works propositions: a set of rules created by the artist, using easy-to-find props, that are activated (or made) by others. The propositions only exist in the now and cannot be documented or sold or exhibited post-activation. You should also know that many of Lygias propositions emphasize non-visual experience (auditory, kinetic, haptic, olfactory) and attempt to collapse the mind/body duality. Said another way, the maker of a proposition may have an experience that compels him/her to reconsider the way s/hes been taught to think about the body/self. I dont know for sure. Ive never made a proposition. Im only imagining. Indeed, Lygia, like Arzu, is binary terrorist who collapses dichotomies: mind/body; intellect/senses; objective/subjective; author/spectator; object/spectator and so on.
What does Arzu plan to do with the rope and elastic bands? Is she using other props that shes not telling me about? Lygias propositions require the makers to wear plastic boiler suits and Mobius-strip handcuffs.
Is Arzus last email a proposition for you and me, the spectators? Shes set some parameters (or rules)"the performances title and Lygia Clark, for example"and now I use what I think I know so far about Love At First Si/ght/te to produce color commentary about Arzus artistic process.
Am I not making my own Love At First Si/ght/te?
Images from Arzu's press release for "Relief valve,"on exhibit at the George Jones Memorial Farm in Oberlin from May 28-June 2.
THE ENDURANCE PERFORMANCE: DAY FIVE
9:52 a.m.; 3:19 p.m.; 5:26 p.m.
Arzu and I exchange emails. I dont know if its a good idea to give you play-by-play commentary about todays discussions. I suspect you may soon be grateful for my omissions, which I hope dont frustrate you too much right now.
Arzu went to Home Depot today for supplies, although she didnt say for what. Arzu rarely provides direct answers to my questions, only clues. Im fairly certain she doesnt have the time. Maybe she doesnt want to. Arzu strikes me as a doer, not someone who talks about doing. Besides, whats it like to be inundated with questions while youre in the middle of creating something? The sound of a ringing phone feels like an electric shock when Im writing. That said, perhaps my concerns about being too intrusive have made me a passive, overly self-reflexive commentator.
Today is Mothers Day and I have several mothers. I am busy, too.
Arzus latest email confirms something Ive thought for several days now: She juggles multiple roles and projects with enviable equanimity. Monday is the start of Finals Week at Oberlin College, where she teaches Design as Social Process and New Media Practices and is currently dealing with art students in the throes of year-end deadlines. There are classes, office hours and Detour. Plus shes curating an exhibition that opens in two weeks. Heres an excerpt from the press release she sent:
Subap, 13 Türk sanatçnn, ulusal ve uluslararas çevre ve çevre politikalarna cevaben ürettii sanat eserlerinden oluan bir sergi. Sanatçlarn, fotoraf, ksa video, performans ve yerletirme gibi medyalar kullanarak küresel snma, çevre kirlilii, doal tahribat, çölleme ve genetii deitirilmi gdalar konularn ele alan çalmalarn sunacaklar sergi, 28 Mays - 2 Haziran tarihleri arasnda George Jones Hatra Çiflii'nde ziyaret edilebilir.
Im intrigued by the Turkish alphabet (29 letters). I also want to know what these words sound like. Heres the English version (slightly edited for length)
Relief valve: An exhibition of the work of thirteen artists whose work addresses environmental issues. Using a variety of media from photography and video to performance and installation, the selected art works provide insights into land use, biodiversity and the recent controversy over genetically modified foods in Turkey.
May 28- June 2, 2010
Location: George Jones Memorial Farm, Oberlin
For info: 440-775-8181
The exhibition is curated by Arzu Ozkal and Nanette Yannuzzi-Macias.
Yeni Ant, Nazan Azeri, Burçak Bingol, Genco Gülan, Güneli Gün, Erhan Muratolu, Suat Öüt, Ethem Özgüven, z Öztat & Dikaran
Ta, A. Tufan Palal, Mark Slankard, Eden Ünlüata
Tomorrow: Arzus first performance rehearsal at SPACES!
The Other White Cube: Eleanor LeBeau's Day Job Work Station
THE ENDURANCE PERFORMANCE: Day Two
I wake excited and panicked. How am I going to pull off this play-by-play color commentary? I have obstacles, too:
1. Day Job
2. Distance from here to Oberlin
3. Access to Arzu
Plus another Big One: Is it even possible to document the creative process? Especially the creation of a performance? All I know is what Arzu tells me verbally and in writing. In the name of mischevious play, she could very well mislead me. There are no sketches or maquettes to give snapshots of her thoughts.
How does she work? Does she make notes? Write a performance score? Does it happen all in her head? I drink three cups of coffee (milk, no sugar). I listen to music"not NPRs morning news"on my commute to work. I dont need anything else to fill my head.
Im at Day Job. Arzu beams an email while shes in class at Oberlin:
I have some ideas forming. Shall we meet tomorrow night to discuss? I have to meet with a choreographer at 4 (yes for Detour), so it would have to be after 6, if thats okay with you.
A choreographer! What kind?
I hit Arzus Web site to learn more about her work. I watch a half-dozen videos. I read everything, except for an article written in Turkish. Slam! Im shut out. Now thats a pedagogical moment. Heres a CliffsNotes version of her practice. Keep in mind that form and content are inextricably intertwined:
1. New Media: video, Web sites, sound
2. Public interventions
3. Objects: original and appropriated
4. Graphic Design
1. The body as a site of social and political discourse.
2. The body as a site of state surveillance and control.
3. How is knowledge produced?
4. What is the relationship between knowledge and myth?
5. Semiotics: The processes of signification: How do words and objects accrue and produce meaning?
6. What is (are) the purpose(s) of nationalism?
7. Strategies used by the state to inculcate feelings of nationalism"i.e. a collective identity and goals"in its citizens. How and why do national symbols like flags evoke profound feelings of nationalism? How is language used to produce nationalism in citizens?
8. Homogeneity is a consequence of nationalism. What are the consequences of homogeneity?
9. The effects of war on children.
10. Strategies for breaking down socioeconomic and racial/ethnic barriers in urban communities.
11. The power of passive resistance.
12. Personalized digital technologies can be used as a form of government and corporate surveillance. Arzu writes in Technology Hijacking the Public Sphere, a 2006 paper delivered at a symposium in Istanbul:
Today, everyone in the world"even the youngest member of the populace"is encouraged to connect and stay connected to the network 24/7. It looks great to see those mini-laptops-for-children campaigns in the name of supporting education. Certainly, there will be many positive imapcts. But on the other hand, one should not dismiss that every computer hooked up to the network, every IP address assigned to a person will identify another traceable individual to be surveyed for national security and/or corporate interest. (emphasis added)