Yinka Shonibare MBE says in his season 5 segment that he would like to have the “trappings of wealth” himself, even though he may be criticizing it. And being made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is classic irony. It’s like giving Occupy Wall Street protesters keys to the city. But then again, maybe we should be giving these people keys to the city instead of forcing them to stop setting up and speaking up. Instead of blocking out reporters, maybe the mayor should be giving the press police escorts into the action. “Occupy” protests are calling attention to the inequality of 99% feeling the ever-increasing weight of a financial foot across their throat. People continue to struggle without jobs, health care, and especially hope. The fact that Occupy Wall Street protesters do not have specific “demands” doesn’t bother me. Calling attention to inequality in this way is a positive thing. More voters- from any political party- need to add their voices to the protests. (New York Close Up artist Martha Colburn recently filmed an Occupy Wall Street protest. Check it out here).
Working with a theme like inequality in the classroom can be a challenge. Similar to teaching about racial prejudice, there’s a ton that may go unsaid in a class discussion, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important for students to think about (and even write about) these things. What do our students imagine Occupy protesters stand for, or want? What would they do if in charge of the protests? How can they get involved, even if they’re not able to actually attend?
When I think about teaching with the theme of inequality in the classroom, I am first interested in the ways it can be taught at different grade levels. For example, in elementary school, students can be taught that shared decision making and collaboration is important for positive interaction among people. Working with an artist such as Oliver Herring can be a good place to start, as he works with others to help make his photographs and videos.
Middle school students, especially given the recent popularity of anti-bullying campaigns, can be exposed to the work of season 3 artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, especially in his Art21 Exclusive “Peace”, as he encourages viewers to speak “what is unspeakable” in order to avoid a “death of democracy”. If this doesn’t connect to Occupy Wall Street, I don’t know what does.
Finally, high school students might look into the season 4 segment featuring Allora and Calzadilla as they share the story behind their interactive work, “Chalk (Lima)”. Here, students get the opportunity to learn about protest in a way that is unconventional and non-violent, to say the least. Unless, of course, you consider “arresting” chalk particularly violent.
Other Art21 artists that address inequality in their work include Mark Bradford, Jenny Holzer and Alfredo Jaar, to name a few. And if you have used Occupy Wall Street in the classroom or taught about inequality with contemporary art, please share your story.
This week, let’s give thanks for the Occupy Wall Street protesters and Occupy protesters in dozens of other cities as they speak up for 99% of the 99% unable to stand alongside them.
“First my father and my mother—both immigrants newly arrived on these shores—and then I and my late brother, Joseph, as well as many of the people who would become my colleagues, all attended Downtown City, earning degrees and setting the stage for productive careers in business. I’m grateful for what this school, now Baruch, has given me, and I welcome the opportunity to help to do the same for a new generation of young people.” – William Newman, Baruch College ‘47
“My parents, like the parents of many of today’s students, were immigrants. Their dream was that I could be a mail carrier or schoolteacher. Baruch showed me a much wider world. It gave me both the education and the self-confidence to create for myself and my family a future I could never have imagined. For me, this opportunity to give back to Baruch College is both a privilege and an obligation.”
—Lawrence N. Field, Baruch College ‘52
Much of the good that has happened in my life came about as a result of the education I received at Brooklyn College and Larry received at Baruch. The City University did us a great favor at a time when we needed it. It is a privilege to return the favor.”
—Carol Zicklin, Brooklyn College ’61 (her husband, Lawrence Zicklin, Baruch College ’57)
In 2001, with a donation of $25 million, William Newman built and opened the vertical campus that I enter each week as a Graduate Teaching Fellow in the CUNY system. I walk past his picture most days, his words etched beside it. The first time I read it, I got a lump in my throat. I’m an immigrant too, I thought. (My second response was pure Homer Simpson: I chose Art History. I’ll never make a fortune and endow anything. Doh!). Baruch’s original academic building at 17 Lexington Avenue, another place I walk past on a near-daily basis, just got a gift of $10 million from Lawrence N. Field in support of its future renovation. It’s an historically significant site: the location of the Free Academy, which opened in 1847 as America’s first free public institution of higher learning and the precursor to the later City University of New York. The majority of my students are business majors and spend much of their time plotting a perfect GPA in order to get into Baruch’s Zicklin School of Business, housed in a building endowed with an $18 million gift by Lawrence Zicklin in 1997.
There are a good few more personal histories where these came from (not least Bernard Baruch himself) proudly displayed on the Baruch website. All three men I’ve mentioned (and in some cases, their brothers, wives, and other family members) graduated from the city college system. The quotes above highlight their profound feelings of gratitude and privilege about the educational opportunity they were served. The other historical factor that unites them as Baruch alumni? Before 1975, the city college system was tuition-free. These men didn’t pay a cent in order to heartily grasp the opportunity of a leg-up in life. And so, as tuition protestors congregated in the lobby of Baruch this past Monday while I wrapped up teaching a class seven floors above, I wondered what Messers Newman, Field and Zicklin would think of the issues current students had come to air.
We might argue that such individual philanthropy is a poisoned chalice, with less-than-salubrious connections to banking, major corporations and real estate empires that make money by falling on the wrong side of the “99% vs. 1%”equation. We’d be right. Thus, my point here could go one of two ways: either we should shut Baruch down immediately because it’s produced (at the very least) three wildly successful and possibly megalomaniac business entrepreneurs. Or, we could recognize these men are giving back to a community that gave them a chance, and that their gifts to their alma mater are very specifically rooted in an ethos of unimpeded access to a free higher education. An ethos that is grossly threatened by the use of force against peaceful student protesters at Baruch, and on any other campus. An ethos that will be shattered by the imposition of a $300 increase in tuition fees across New York city colleges each year for the next five years. Scholarships and subsidies are great, but not everyone gets them and we’re talking about foundational principles when we have the tuition fee debate.
I count myself lucky I’m on the lowest rung of the institutional ladder in terms of administration (ie: both my feet are ten feet away from any rung at all). Sustaining, growing and balancing a school budget, and dealing with its financial development is a tricky affair. As a realist, I’m of the view that I’m not sure any of us can truly extricate ourselves completely from the ubiquity of capitalism’s machinations (although we should make every reasonable effort). What I do know as an art historian is that one of the greatest gifts humans have actually comes for free: history, or perhaps more correctly, histories, be they personal, national, global, or institutional. I respect the history of the college I teach in, and I make it part of what my students learn in their classrooms. The men and women that built our place of study used to sit where we sit today. However, I had to wonder after Monday’s events whether the college administration, so quick to quote William Newman on their campus wall, have really read what these men have said about their education when they returned to give their gifts. They were immigrants or from the working class, where $300 each year goes a long way, and tuition fees make education prohibitive. Perhaps they’d care to give our chancellor and our president a call and let them know they’ll be taking back their checks until we learn Baruch History Lesson 101: access to free or low-cost education begets grateful alumni. Along with current students’ tuition fees, grateful alumni build the offices we sit in, the classes we teach in and the boardroom our trustees meet in. Perhaps we need a reminder of our shared history, otherwise history may not be very kind to the current plans – a legacy that will make sure that future William Newmans, Lawrence Fields and Lawrence Zicklins won’t be attending Baruch.
This is the last column, I promise, where I bang on about CUNY. For your reference, a video of the student protestors peacefully utilizing the human mic before sitting down in protest outside the CUNY Board of Trustees meeting at Baruch College on Monday November 21.
If you’re a university faculty or staff member, or a student, consider signing (here) the Letter Regarding Violence Against Protesters on University Campuses, initiated by Matthew Noah Smith, a professor of Philosophy at Yale. The letter calls upon university chancellors and presidents to declare their campuses “Safe Protest Zones.”
Will Cotton’s candy and pastry-filled landscapes have come to life in recent years, taking the form of a posh pop-up bakery in 2009, and a year later, forming the set of Katy Perry’s music video “California Gurls.” Cotton’s saccharine world materialized again last Friday night at New York’s Prince George Ballroom, where cotton candy took center stage in Cockaigne, the artists’s first live production.
Curated by Stacey Engman for Performa 11, on the one hand, the performance received more hype than it deserved and left some things to be desired. On the other hand, the night was strangely satisfying in that every guest was part of Cotton’s show, an immersive sensory experience that began the minute we crossed the threshold. In a sense, just being there was to become one of the artist’s painted subjects, engulfed by cotton candy in a land of pleasure and plenty.
At the entrance, Cotton’s assistants handed out complimentary bottles of the candy-scented perfume “Cockaigne,” made in collaboration with International Flavors and Fragrance leaders Nicolas Mirzayantz, Pascal Gaurin, and Maria Wright. In the venue’s main room, that sweet scent was twice as thick, thanks to two women who spun cones of pink cotton candy for guests. In proper Cotton fashion, many of his assistants wore little cotton candy fluffs on their head. A sugar haze filled the room and floating filaments seemed to bond to my eyelashes and contact lenses as I ate and licked the pink stuff from my fingers. Inside and out, I grew delightfully stickier by the minute. As if all that wasn’t enough, cupcakes and champagne could also be had.
The cocktail reception set the tone for the main event, a two-act dance performance created in collaboration with big name creatives, including choreographer Charles Askegard, formerly of New York City Ballet, and MacArthur-winning composer John Zorn. Unfortunately, the performances failed to titillate like the hoopla that lead up to them. First on stage was singer-musician Hannah Cohen (a sometimes model for Cotton, Richard Prince, Terry Richardson, and David Salle) who had the simple task of spritzing perfume, humorously pumping whipped cream fragrance in the air at every turn of her sparkly heels. She bared some resemblance to a bothersome employee of a department store perfume counter.
Burlesque personality Miss Ruby Valentine (who has also sat for Cotton’s portraits) quickly followed with a whipped cream-inspired routine, making bullfighter-like gestures with white feather fans, set to a score by Caleb Burhans. Last up was the highly anticipated and sadly underwhelming “Cotton Candy” ballet choreographed by Askegard and enacted by a trio of ballerinas: Savannah Lowery, Georgina Pazcoguin and Ana Sofia Scheller. Had it not been for their impressive professional bios and ability to dance on pointe, I might have written them off as young amateurs just happy for an audience. They appeared cramped on the small stage and their movements were so cutesy that I could hardly take them seriously. As we know, context is everything. Running for maybe ten minutes in total, when the performances were over you got the sense that the audience was waiting for more, a grand finale, a climax that never came.
Cotton is no stranger to criticism, particularly where it concerns his treatment of the female body. It is hard to know when he is critiquing desire in consumer culture or reinforcing sexual stereotypes. Cockaigne was no exception. My companions that evening expressed discomfort with the artist’s blatant objectification of women and staging of male fantasy. Should we have expected anything less? Cockaigne was, after all, a real time manifestation of Cotton’s oeuvre, where celebrities, burlesque performers, and pale-skinned nudes are dropped like candies into plush Rococoesque landscapes. As Ms. Magazine blogger Stassa Edwards writes, they are “beautifully constructed scenes in which women are presented for decoration or sexual consumption.” Perhaps, then, Cockaigne was, for right or wrong or however you want to interpret it, just as it was intended to be.
In the end, the food-inspired dances of Cockaigne were just meh, pleasant but not all that interesting, and to my friends, somewhat distasteful. But there is another way of looking at this performance: as an active eater and partaker of Cotton’s ephemeral, olfactory, and sort of carnivelsque space. In that sense, Cockaigne was a wonderfully Wonka experience and utter sugar bliss.
Cotton’s first monograph, Will Cotton: Paintings & Works on Paper, was released earlier this month. Published by Rizzoli, the book is available for purchase from Amazon.
The support of many friends, partners, and sponsors has made for an extremely productive year at Art21! Highlights of 2011 include:
- The Peabody Award for William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible
- The New York State Art Teachers Association Special Citation Award
- The keynote address, delivered to 3,500 art teachers, at the National Art Education Association’s annual convention in Seattle
- Art21 Educators, now in its third year; benefits a total of 46 K-12 educators and thousands of their students
- New York Close Up, a new geographically-focused online film series, is launched
- Art in the Twenty-First Century (Season Six) filming and editing is complete; national primetime PBS broadcast is scheduled for Spring 2012
Fans champion Art21 in many ways, ranging from donations to programs, to purchases of books and DVDs to share with others, to introductions to individuals around the world; each gift helps Art21 expand its programming and reach. Another method of support we value is the spontaneous emails, posts, and tweets from program participants and viewers, which quickly convey the power of Art21’s programs.
To meet Oliver Herring [Season Three artist], learn about how an artist actually works and be in the space that he works in was amazing. It was probably one of the most intense weeks I’ve ever had.
– Art21 Educators participant
New York Close Up shows the whole process [and] makes my own art seem more accessible.
– Art21 YouTube subscriber
Art21 does consistently good work in opening up visual arts to the public…[while] staying fresh and continually renewing their output and impact on audiences.
– National funding panelist
A gift of any size to the Art21 Annual Fund reaps returns that are both materially rewarding – a new series like New York Close Up – and emotionally impactful – a teacher discovering new practices and inspiration. We hope that you will consider Art21 in your year-end giving!
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Gast Bouschet and Nadine Hilbert: Vibrations of Light and Sound, to trigger seismic molecular events, to shake the wall, to break down barriers
Earlier this year Gast Bouschet and Nadine Hilbert responded to a call for entries I posted for two separate curatorial endeavors: one for the Black Metal theory journal Helvete, and the other for the film/video screening “Black Thorns in the Black Box.” I have no idea how these two artists escaped my knowledge for so long and instantly wanted to learn more about their practice.
Gast and Nadine were both born in Luxembourg and are currently based in Brussels, Belgium. They have worked together since 1990s, using a combination of photography, video, and sound to create potent social, political, and institutional critiques which they have exhibited at major international venues including the Muzeum Sztuki Lodz, Poland; Philharmonie, Luxembourg; Trienal de Luanda, Angola; Busan Biennale of Contemporary Art, South-Korea; Domaine de Chamarande, France; Casino Forum d’Art Contemporain, Luxembourg; and Camouflage Johannesburg, South Africa… just to name a few. And, in 2009 they represented Luxembourg at the Venice Biennale.
Their work enchants me. Not only for its intellectual richness, but Gast and Nadine’s incorporation of alchemical aesthetics are absolutely gorgeous, and their collaborations with noise musicians adds intense layers of somatic and psychological stimulation.
Following is an interview that I conducted earlier this month with Gast Bouschet.
Amelia Ishmael: Let’s start by talking about “Toward the Event Horizon,” the recent video and sound performance that took place October 8 at the Mudam Luxembourg. What happened here?
Gast Bouschet: Well, different things to different people, I guess. What’s important to us is the location and context of the event. Where we project our art and sorcery, what’s the nature of the game and what we are throwing out into the world. Making the video and building up the energy is a long and slow process. We went several times to London to film the financial district and shoot images in Iceland after the eruption of Grimsvötn earlier this year. The live performance itself was a quick discharge of this energy. As we believe that art is more than entertainment and has to go somewhere to produce results, we bombarded the Museum building with light and sound vibrations. Our goal was to trigger seismic molecular events within architectonic concrete and glass. We wanted to shake the wall and bring this thing down. Of course we failed.
Thomas Comerford is an experimental filmmaker from Chicago with a background in performance and sculpture. His current work considers ideas of place, and the relationship of history to our physical landscape. His newest work, The Indian Boundary Line, explores the history of this artificially created boarder that once divided the Louisiana Territory from Indian Country.
Terri Griffith: When I think about your early work as a filmmaker, your work seems more experimental. But this latest piece, The Indian Boundary Line, is more narrative and seems less like it would be shown in a gallery.
Thomas Comerford: The majority of the work I did in graduate school was very open ended. I really did look at filmmaking as science. So in order to do this project, I’m going to set up this structure in order to see what happens. The end-product will be an assembly of its results. I couldn’t even necessarily articulate that at the time, but when I look back and think about those films and how they play out, that’s exactly what they are. I did a film that dealt with the palindrome as a structure but taking it from written language and applying it to a film strip and recorded sound. So there were all these segments in that film, which I made in 1997, that went forwards and backwards.
The first pinhole movie I made was simply, Okay, I have this pinhole camera. I have these locations and I have these gnarly low-fi sound recorders. So I’m just going to film in these places and see what happens. The assembly of something like that is very different. But once I moved from that, narration has been pretty important to a number of my movies, even if it’s been kind of oblique. It’s a layer I like to work with to reflect what’s going on. I like to always put things together to allow for some kind of consideration, to be mulled over. It’s something I keep returning to.
There’s a film I made in 2005 that deals with a lot of the same issues as this movie The Indian Boundary Line. It’s called Land Marked/Marquette. But for that film, I really tried to break away from voiceover. So there’s only one voiceover in the movie and that’s an interview I edited to accompany some pictures. That film dealt with the history of Chicago as well but more explicitly with the legacy of Marquette–the Jesuit priest who came through here. More explicitly it dealt with monuments. Monuments are certainly a concern of the new film but they are considered alongside many other things. Whereas Land Marked/Marquette was preoccupied with monuments as public history and how strange these things are in relation to their surroundings. And also how history gets articulated at a very particular moment in time and represented, but then it’s sort of permanent.
TG: Like The Indian Boundary Line?
TG: When I was watching this film, I had a hard time imagining the starting point. It seems impossible to storyboard and there is obviously a lot of research. Still, some of the shots seem so organic that I thought perhaps the work could have grown from there. So where do you start?
TC: There’s been a series of films I’ve made that deal pretty explicitly with Chicago. There was Land Marked/Marquette and then there was a piece I made in 2003 that ended up being my last pinhole movie called Figures in the Landscape. It was about Schaumburg. Even though each of those films was carried out somewhat differently, what drove them, which is different than some of my earlier work, where I had these scientific ideas about what I wanted to talk about–Here’s an idea: The palindrome and I’m going to use it as a way to conduct experiments–with these films, the genesis, the initial inkling came from wandering, from being out and about, from wandering through landscapes and thinking about the design of land, and what are the kinds of things that have shaped why things look the way they do. It was the first thing to cause me to actually deal with Rogers Avenue. It’s so weird. Why is this road even here? Chicago is one of the most notoriously rigidly gridded cities around, right? Everything is North, South, East, and West. All of the numbers make sense. Continue reading »
Beginning with the notion of a gallery as a charged or loaded space, Vancouver-based artists Erik Hood and Sam Willcocks produced a fleeting gesture based on military traditions and tactics of deception as part of a year long series of experiments in free choice learning at Seattle University’s Hedreen Gallery. Their endeavor was at once bluff, truth, and double bluff.
As part of an afternoon of performances, the artists built a Quaker Cannon using found materials, and aimed it directly at the entrance to the gallery. This act occurred last winter, shortly after the Smithsonian’s removal of David Wojnarowicz’s film from the exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, and though its creation had no direct or intentional correlation to that event it acted as a reminder of the conversational context of a work of art. Situated in a space that had recently hosted a screening and discussion of the censored film, the work provided a new context of confrontation.
Its presence was palpable and at the same time benign, urging the viewer to linger in thought while considering advancement. This momentary suspension of disbelief situated within the active space of the gallery – a space commonly used for screenings, discussions, and other social events – brought into relief the discursive nature of art as a social object. Though not a controversial work in itself, this gesture recalled the tactical potential of art to be used as a tool for discussion. In this context, the Quaker Cannon served a dual purpose as both a false weapon (object) and a target (conversational proposition). The recoil of this false firearm was comparable to its discharge, producing a period of latent repose – a reminder that the power of art lies in its ability to create a space for reflection, discussion, and critical thought.
Thanks to our previous guest bloggers Claire Breukel and Tina Acevedo of Dirty Pink 305 for their tour of the Miami art scene and their cogent analyses of a community attempting to define itself outside the context of its internationally renowned art fair.
Next up is Amelia Ishmael, an artist whose practice includes critiquing, historicising, teaching, and curating other artists’ practices. Describing herself as “bewildered by time, space, light, sound, and motion,” Ishmael’s areas of specialization are Black Metal art and the history of photography. Her current projects include curating the traveling art exhibition ”Black Thorns in the White Cube,” and serving as co-editor and curator of pages for Helvete, a journal of Black Metal theory. She has presented her gleanings on Black Metal and contemporary art at the Black Metal Theory Symposium in London, U.K. and the Home of Metal Conference in Wolverhampton, U.K. Ishmael’s writings have appeared in ArtSlant, Art in Print, Art Papers, and Review. She received a BFA in Photography and New Media from the Kansas City Art Institute and a MA in Modern Art History, Theory, and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her personal website can be found here.
In this week’s roundup Allora & Calzadilla explore causes of discontent, Paul McCarthy channels aggression, the Red Hot Chili Peppers pay homage to Raymond Pettibon, Laurie Anderson is sampled, and more.
- Allora & Calzadilla and other artists are in a group exhibition in Dubai which takes its title from the book The Coming Insurrection by The Invisible Committee. The show is a continuation of THE STATE, a sociohistorical journal and forum. The exhibition is a response to the causes of discontent, namely mass injustice, corruption and greed in our societies and the world at large. It is not a call to arms but an attempt to get people thinking about the global transmutation that surrounds them. This work is on view until December 31.
- Paul McCarthy‘s work is on view at Hauser & Wirth (NYC). The exhibition features a new series, The Dwarves, the Forests, inspired by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This show includes bronzes, a massive wood carving, and landscape maquettes featured on both floors of the gallery. These figures reflect McCarthy’s fascination with the aggression and hard work that goes into the sculptural process with evidence of cracks and lumps and slop, that suggest to McCarthy the struggles of artists in creating abstract work. The show closes on December 17.
- Doris Salcedo‘s Plegaria Muda (Silent Prayer) is on view at Gulbenkian Foundation (Lisbon). The artist has transformed the exhibition hall into a kind of hybrid forest-cemetery made by one-hundred and sixty-two sculptures that create a nonlinear trajectory, with clearings in one place and impassable in others. The exhibition runs until January 22, 2012. A video featuring Salcedo at Gulbenkian is also online:
- Arturo Herrera is participating in a new project at the Museum of Art (Fort Lauderdale) that includes one of four wall paintings for the Museum façade, to be completed by the end of November 2011, further defining the Museum as a dynamic center for the arts. This outdoor mural project will physically define a new signature urban space that will visibly and literally extend the cultural life of the Museum into the city.
- Raymond Pettibon inspired the latest music video by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Monarchy of Roses, directed by Marc Klasfeld, was inspired by Pettibon in its swirling, jagged stop motion animations of primarily inky lines on a white background.
- Laurie Anderson’s classic 1981 art-pop and performance piece ‘O Superman’ has been sampled on a new track on The Big Pink’s “Hit The Ground (Superman).” Click HERE to listen to the new song.
- A traveling Cindy Sherman retrospective is on the way: That’s me – That’s not me: Early Works by Cindy Sherman at the Vertikale Galerie will show approximately 50 of Sherman’s works, which SAMMLUNG VERBUND has acquired continuously since its founding in 2004. Also, a major retrospective is planned at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2012, which will travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and the Dallas Museum of Art.
This past month, I encountered Ben Kinmont’s work for the first time, appropriately enough at the Fales special collection in New York University’s Bobst library. Walking through the double doors at the entrance to the collection, I could not help but notice the signage for his retrospective of works made from the late 80s until the present, Prospectus, hand-drawn with guidelines still in place on the wall. At the entrance to the library were also glass cases containing a catalogue for the retrospective, a form of lead type for letterpress printing, and a series of broadsides made for the occasion of specific works by the artist.
It was not until another visit to Fales that I would get to take in the breadth and sophistication of Kinmont’s projects, which take on a range of issues related to art historical politics, and which confront various practices and ideas undergirding contemporary art. Walking down a long corridor, I read a series of broadsides made by Kinmont via his Antinomian Press. Many of these broadsides featured information about rare books having to do with 18th and 19th century French gastronomy, social etiquette, and agriculture. Another broadside contained information about artists who in the course of their careers explored different professions and forms of work. Among these artists was Lygia Clark, who eventually developed a psychoanalytic practice based on her performance works. A number of other artists including Ravio Puusemp, Hans de Vries, Laurie Parsons, Mierle Ladermann Ukeles, and Jon Hendricks were featured for their various excursions into politics, farming, social work, business, activism and other professional fields normally independent from visual art.
The broadsides, I would learn, point to a crucial moment in Kinmont’s career, where in order to support his family the artist founded an antiquarian book dealership. Kinmont, like the artists featured in the aforementioned broadside, is an artist who practices what he calls “becoming something else.” His work foregrounds the fact that artists’ careers are often defined by hiatuses, as well as by excursions into other disciplines and cultural fields. Enframing art production with other labor practices, Kinmont reveals the multi-disciplinary nature of the typical subject in a post-Fordist society. The confusion between these boundaries often acts as his preferred aesthetic material, such as in a series of performances wherein he contracts to wash dishes for a certain duration, or other works in which he approaches others in order to offer them his services.
Fundamental to Kinmont’s body of work is a looming ethic of the art project and the social contract. Kinmont addresses the ethics of what he calls “project art” through a broadside in which he lays out what he feels are the grounds for inducing others—strangers, or a community of which one simply does not recognize themselves to be a part—to participate in one’s art practice. This ethics is tested repeatedly throughout the artist’s work, particularly in a work he made at Documenta in 2002 with the aid of a portable office (backpack, printer, paper, laptop). In Moveable type no Documenta, Kinmont held interviews with residents of Kassel, Germany (where Documenta takes place), in which he asked them about “what was meaningful in their lives and if they could and should think about that thing as art.” The result is a compelling portrait/ethnographic survey of how art is valued and defined by people who normally don’t attend an international art biennial, even one in their own town.
In another “project art” work, The Digger dug (begun in 2004), Kinmont discusses with professional social workers and art students “how it is possible to help others through an art practice and how a move outside of the institution might benefit or complicate that effort.” Contemporary with much of the recent art work devoted to service, Kinmont draws his participants/collaborators/students into a debate about the ethics underpinning such works, which are ever complicated by how the artist is positioned towards a certain set of subjects, the people who they would ostensibly like to help. As a social worker/friend tells Kinmont, “nobody participating in a project would want to be ‘authored’ by another, no matter what the purpose,” noting as well, “the difficulty of most artists to have a meaningful effect on others due to the brevity of most artists’ commitment to a given social cause.”
Kinmont’s work poses a number of questions crucial to art historical discourses of the past decade. What is the role of the artist in society, and how are aesthetic practices transected by other forms of cultural production? What do we consider the work of art when the artist’s labor is determined by a complex of cultural, social, and economic factors? Where do labor, life, and art fuse, and to what extent is this possible fusion problematized by social, cultural, and economic dilemmas? Another important question Kinmont’s work poses concerns the place of the archive in the individual artists’ work and within the realm of disparate social practices. At Fales one could open a number of archival boxes with primary and secondary documents from art works produced by Kinmont. In the catalogue accompanying the Fales retrospective, individual entries extend the artist’s archive into print indicating which works should be reproduced, as if to anticipate the archival and moral dilemmas of reenactment.
In a video interview project devoted to the remembrance of the conceptual artist Christopher d’Arcangelo, recently at Artists Space, Kinmont points out the artist’s contributions to a discourse about institutional critique, in the course of the interview recognizing how their practices differ. As Kinmont explains, the central difference between his work and d’Arcangelo’s appears through his desire to explore new spaces where the relations that he would want to model can take shape. Life work and art work become fused around sensibility, style, and custom, especially through a series of works involving the preparation of multiple-course meals for paying participants. Drawing upon his professional interest in gastronomic literature, but also an artist’s tradition of culinary processes (Gordon Matta-Clark’s and Carol Goodden’s FOOD restaurant, for instance), Kinmont uses artists’ recipes to prepare an “exhibition” in the mouth. His most recent version of the piece will take place at the Performa 11 biennial this month, where Kinmont will serve a six-course meal to participants. His efforts will be supported by friends and colleagues who make their living as chefs and restaurant proprietors.
1. What is your background as an artist and how does this background inform and motivate your practice?
I grew up around artists and their families in Northern California in the 1960s and 70s. My dad is a conceptual artist, and at the time the San Francisco art scene was very small, with lots of kids running around, and usually the moms keeping track of everything. Dad was producing poetic, hand-made objects out of plastic, wax, and wood, and autobiographical photographic works which were taken by my mother with her Rolleiflex camera. At the time she was photographing his actions as well as the family and when not watching us kids, she was either in the darkroom, studying herbal medicine, or meditating. Her photographs with my father were of situations he decided upon and set up, but I feel that the photographs were somehow collaborations between the two of them and her photographic activity was the place where she had her “voice” outside of raising us kids.