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Monday, August 22, 2011

From Phase I and II receptions...more images

The vegetable set in progress..

Cathy's performance (with Laura)...

Emmanuelle setting up veggie film noir

Some connections

Ryan, Jesse and Scott connect to David and Seth

Rachel, Pete, and Jennie connect to Pete, Joe, and Evan

Nancy and Matthew connect to Cathy

Luca and Carissa connect to Emmanuelle, Bryan, and Vita

Pressed Up Against the World

Nancy and I started thinking about this show months ago, and our first avenue was pregnancy. I was looking for a photo of the cocktail napkin from our first meeting where we (read: Nancy) made a small cluster graph of our ideas surrounding creativity/fertility. This line of inquiry did not last.

From that first brainstorm we veered quickly into the idea of conversation and what made a good constructive conversation between artists or anyone for that matter. We quickly realized that this angle of thought might not produce any viable objects and that mostly we just liked talking to each other and so with some pressure, guidance and suggestions from Laura, we moved off of the sheer hedonistic pleasures of insular conversation and into the arena of social-environmental commentary.

We discussed the ideas of auto traffic and carbon footprints, digital waste and its toxic footprint, and my secret obsession with water waste and the imminent resource wars. Laura again walked us back from the edge reminding us that the corporate body creates exponentially more waste that the artist body. Which is what ultimately led to the conception, execution and construction of our installation in the way that it appeared in the gallery.

We ended up considering what it takes to make a final work of art, object oriented or something more ephemeral. The toll that it takes financially, materially and emotionally for an artist to create anything, even a failed work, is a heavy one and the detritus that never makes it out of the studio is mysterious, fertile and complete in its own truncated way.

Sitting alongside the material and emotional concerns is the pivot between a vulnerable hermetic creative act and its presentation in the more superficial public arena. The navigation that artists must perform, a peeling back of layers from which there is little insulation regardless of the success of the public act. Our final piece contained bits of all of the discussions we had along the way, folded into and repurposed for each successive set of ideas.

At the end of our blog post here, I would like to take a moment to thank Laura and Hava for all of the hard work that they put into this show. I think it was a huge success and a really inventive and interesting show. I am glad I could take part in it and know that it couldn’t have been easy wrangling all the different aspects of this show into place. You both did a great job! So thank you.

Nancy and Matthew

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cathy Fairbanks

I have not met Cathy Fairbanks—at least not formally—but she has been watching over me for a week now. In the southeast corner of the Root Division gallery, the visitor can find Cathy Fairbanks if he or she wishes to meet her. Tonight will be an opportunity to meet her in the flesh, but until then, the visitor will confront her surrogate instead. Looming overhead, one is able to view the image of her eye projected into the corner. It is blue. Cathy Fairbanks has blue eyes.

It would be a mistake to not mention the obvious. The eye is watching us, just like a surveillance camera would in its similar location. To most, the surveillance camera has become so prevalent and commonplace in the public realm that it is barely noticed, like wallpaper. And now would be a good time to insert a conversation about “Big Brother” and how contemporary urban citizens are used to being watched. We now live our lives on stage, where the surveillance camera is simply one lens aimed our way. Blogspot, facebook, twitter, myspace_music, YouTube, tumblr, flickr, FaceTime and digital cameras make it easy to see and be seen on an increasingly constant basis. Broadcasting our mundane adventures rather than cherishing our privacy is encouraged, if not expected.

Cathy Fairbanks’ work is more private though; it is more personal. Even if conversations of “Big Brother” hover alongside her work, I want to make sure Ms. Fairbanks is discussed too. This is her eye on the wall, not a generic machine. And there are some complexities at heart that go beyond the notions of surveillance cameras. Her eye is much larger than a surveillance camera; it wants to be noticed—it does not want to be wallpaper.

Cathy Fairbanks’ installation is personal, but it exists in a public space. The projection plays between being active and passive. The eye, in reality, is very active. It scans, refocuses, and blinks incessantly. It gives and receives information simultaneously. The projected eye in the Root Division gallery watches over those who pass by, but it does so very passively. It does not blink and it does not scan the room. The visitor looks into it, but it does not look back into the viewer. As we, the viewers, gaze into the projected eye, the work becomes active again. There is water rippling behind the image of the eye and if we stay tuned in a bit longer, we will notice the image of Cathy Fairbanks swimming across the pupil.

I can define the installation’s key components: the projector, the image of an over-sized eye, the video of a swimmer swimming, the wall(s) catching the projected light. But I cannot define where the work begins and ends. If it were a flat two-dimensional print hung on the wall, foreground, middle ground and background would be compressed into the same plane. The projector throws light across a three-dimensional space though; the image of the eye literally begins at the projector and ends at the wall. Once the image hits the wall(s), the eye looks back and starts the process all over again. The video of the swimmer illuminates the same distance from projector to wall(s), so the eye and swimmer are constantly fighting to be foreground and/or background incessantly, depending on the gallery viewer’s orientation. Is the swimmer being reflected in Ms. Fairbanks’ glassy eye, is she watching herself in some sort of out-of-body experience? Or is she allowing the viewer to peer behind her eye, revealing the introspective thoughts of her wading through an endless sea? The video, after-all, is looped. She treads water without ever taking a break. Is the eye blue or is it just the water, maybe both?

I will add a simple vinyl number 0 later today to Ms. Fairbanks’ work for two reasons. One, I feel like her installation introduces some ideas prevalent in the neighboring artwork that Seth Lower and I installed for the exhibition. (Those ideas can be discussed elsewhere.) Two, because I love the looping play between the private and the public, between the passive and the active in Ms. Fairbanks’ installation. Aside from it numerical meaning, a 0 is also a loop too, a circle with no obvious beginning and end. I eagerly anticipate meeting Cathy Fairbanks tonight and look forward to witnessing her performance, which is certain to compound the complexity of her already existing installation.

-David Wolf, 8/20/11

Friday, August 19, 2011

Collaboration as Social Praxis

Most artists I know, if asked whether they would give up their artistic practice for a more secure lifestyle, would cheekily reply “over my dead body.” Without surrendering to the artist as outsider or artist as unstable clich├ęs, Hava Liberman and I, as collaborative curators of this show, are interested in what it takes for an artist to survive during this time of economic uncertainty and political frailty. One means of survival is collaboration, and so we are intrigued by the idea of curating a show that asks its participants to not only collaborate within their chosen artist-teams but also with the other artist-teams in the show.

The Surrealist parlor game of the Exquisite Corpse acts as the platform upon which this evolving installation is built. This non-linear means of collaboration developed by the Surrealists to tap into a collective unconscious, when contemporized, offers a particular means of getting at the play, chance, and instigation that might produce alternative ways of experiencing the world creatively. Furthermore, we have conceptualized the needs of artists as a “body,” with each need intrinsic to the functioning of the entire system and whose isolation would threaten the integrity of the whole.

Collaboration does not have a singular characteristic but is a process replete with a multitude of possibilities. It can be exciting, complicated, messy, infuriating, and enlightening, and it has the ability to throw an artist off-balance, challenging preconceived notions related to how one perceives, thinks, and creates. Most artists do not work in pure isolation, but collaboration ups the ante. Collaboration does not always ask the necessary critical questions, but it can perform many critical functions in destabilizing the status quo within the art world and within the broader social/political/economic fabric of our society.

Collaboration functions to broaden our understanding of one another’s ideas and therefore most, though not all, artists collaborate in one way or another. They do this in order to survive as artists and as critical thinkers, to ultimately maintain fluid boundaries, question accepted practices, and keep the creative process from stagnating.

-Laura Boles Faw, August 2011