Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Deyan Sudjic's The Language of Things

In his new book from W. W. Norton, The Language of Things: Understanding the World of Desirable Objects, Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic occasionally seems like a man having an argument with himself regarding the historic nature and function of design. Associated in modernity with function and utility made attractive—the aesthetics were not an add-on in modernist design, but also weren't allowed to get in the way of efficiency and elegance of operation, about which Sudjic also has a great many useful observations—design has become increasingly preoccupied with creating the "desirable objects"of his subtitle. And that means manufacturing consumer desire in a mode previously associated with the fashion industry, using superfluous surface characteristics to present newness itself as a gotta-have-it quality in which the sense of obsolescence is not necessarily related to the onward march of technology. (This is the kind of novelty that leads inevitably to the feeling of "What were we thinking?" when surveying the once-fashionable design disasters of only yesterday.)

Like everything else, design is bound up with larger cultural forces that are easier to discern than to analyze. Some design one-offs of recent years have called attention to this fact, most notably Marc Newson's prototype Ford designed for an alternate present in which "the Soviet Sputnik was the last word in modernity"—a plausible evolutionary track that did not happen—and by Newson's famous Lockheed Lounge, an edition of ten thoroughly elegant but dysfunctional chaises fabricated of aluminum aircraft skin studded with rivets in homage to the impulses of Streamline Moderne's love affair with flight, here incorporated in an ironically metallic, near-unusable object. Made by a surfboard fabricator, it bridges decades of institutional fetishes.

Modernist design, of course, was often more about sculptural quality than functional comfort, but the quality of function puts it in a market category far inferior to sculpture. Sudjic makes much of the disparity in auction prices between a one-of-a-kind version of the Rietveld Chair and a contemporaneous canvas by Mondrian. The singular painting, one in a familiar series, was valued at one hundred times the sales price of the designer's unique object.

This is one of several points at which Sudjic engages in dialectical pirouettes. Design still suffers price-wise from the taint of being good for something—a Rietveld original may be rare, but the design it embodies was meant to be mass-produced, and once one has left the world of unique prototypes it is challenging to set values on early versus late production runs of the object. (However, as any collector of first editions also knows, values are set—in the case of books, this is in spite of the fact that most second printings are indistinguishable from the first). A Rietveld Chair done to specs today isn't appreciably different from the earliest commercially produced examples. The whole point is to eliminate the hand of the maker as a significant variable—a realization pioneered some years before Rietveld in the factories for Thonet bentwood furniture that were scattered along "the edges of the Austro-Hungarian Empire," as Sudjic elegantly puts it.

The prototype of Newson's Lockheed Lounge has sold for prices closer to Mondrian than to Rietveld, or at least at prices closer to contemporary art. This is enough to set Sudjic to musing about Andy Warhol's effortless-looking effort to blur the lines between art and design, between the reproduction and the unique object, between art and outright commerce. The boundaries between art and design have always blurred on the design end of the spectrum—Sudjic cites the Baroque suits of armor never meant to be used for more than public display, and might have cited many more instances where fashion trumped functionality.

In the final stages of writing this book, Sudjic was in the thick of condemning contemporary design's prostitution to ever fluffier tides of fashion and dysfunction when the global financial collapse brought design, for the moment, closer to stripped-down basics. How long it will remain there before market forces resume their normal distortions depends on the response to the bullet that global capitalism appears (appears) to have dodged. Just as with the literal lethal object that gave rise to this commonplace metaphor, it seems unlikely that the close call will result in the financial equivalent of gun control. The forces of excess will doubtless be back in both finance and design, albeit perhaps less forcefully. And it will be time for Sudjic to continue his campaign to ponder what exactly it is that ought to make desirable objects desirable. (His historical reflections on the concept of "luxury" alone are worth the price of the book.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

An Essay on Art Blogging, plus Four Atlanta Shows

An Essay on Art Blogging (for Those Who Care About Such Things, It Also Discusses Exhibitions by Marcia Cohen, Tom Ferguson, Paul S. Benjamin, and the Photographers of “Emerging Visions 2009”)

Jerry Cullum

What art journalism shares with journalism generally is the necessity of creating a nuanced portrait of events in the time available for a tight deadline; the writer is compelled to acquire all the tools of scholarship in a matter of a few days, then discard all the information (or at best inter it decently in long-term memory) because a new deadline demands detailed insider knowledge of something completely different.

In practice, not even magazine art reviewing, which operates on a longer-term deadline than art journalism, gets it right in this department. When more than one reviewer of the recent Tate Triennial harks back to Hiroshima or has recourse to recondite theory to interpret a mushroom cloud sculpture that alludes to a boundary dispute between two of the world’s most recent nuclear powers, it is a sign that such reviewers need to get out more, or at least read more than the online headlines and instant updates. As do we all.

One of the few benefits of blog writing is the permissibility of random commentary. The blogger is expected to allude rather than to explicate, and that is a small but significant compensation for the lack of anything resembling material recompense for the money and time expended in traveling to see and think about the art.

The difficulty for artists is that, because of the lack of comprehensive reviewing at present in most of the world’s art scenes, random blog references are often the only documentation of the details of a show—unless the gallery engages in unusually good online archiving practices or the artist has or is a really good web designer.

Lifetime retrospectives like Tom Ferguson’s at Eyedrum or major exhibitions of recent work like Marcia Cohen’s at MOCA GA (both in Atlanta, for the benefit of readers elsewhere) will doubtless get their full-fledged reviews from writers who have devoted a lifetime to reporting on and evaluating the work of such longtime career artists. So it is perhaps enough to note the interesting presentation of very nearly the full spectrum of Atlanta art practice so far as painters are concerned.

Cohen, of course, is an empirically minded color theorist whose versions of abstraction are conceptual investigations rather than emotional expressions, and everything from the specific environment in an Azores residency to the historically shifting tests for color blindness in textbooks are grist for the color-theory mill, or for the color theory compilations in a conceptually oriented Rolodex.

Ferguson, though his practice pays particular attention to color and texture in the large-scale paintings, is mostly a conceptualist of the concrete world (or of the world of concrete, plus the invisible webs of financial exploitation that get the concrete poured). It would be comforting to divide his work into transient political cartooning and long-term painterly expressions, but the political shenanigans he chronicles are perennial.

These two will get extended attention in print venues far removed from Counterforces. I, Jerry Cullum the blogger (to be distinguished from the differently motivated art reviewer, even if the reviewer was the same person and appeared in print under an identically named byline), am more puzzled and concerned about those who really needed the validation of the superseded format of the print review, and now are typically getting little more than the shout-out of the blog post.

In some ways, the format is advantageous. A clever writer can arrange keywords so that, say, someone looking for Cory Arcangel or even for Paul Klee will encounter a websearch sentence that also mentions Paul S. Benjamin, who has absolutely nothing in common with either of those artists and should not be thought of in the same sentence with them except to illustrate such subterfuges. (In practice, the citations in question would be more probable ones. I have chosen ones designed to come up very far down amid the thousands of results from most websearches.)

But the ephemeral quality of the blog medium ensures that hardly anyone will see the reference unless they stumble upon it for such unintended reasons or already know the artist in question and are looking for the name.

Benjamin, the recipient of the 2008-2009 Forward Art Foundation’s Emerging Artist Award, has his new assemblage sculptures on view at Swan Coach House Gallery in Atlanta through August 8, with artist’s talk scheduled for July 11.

This would appear to be Benjamin’s breakthrough show, though I do not know his earlier work sufficiently to make that assertion myself. The plethora of found objects and discards from an earlier day are recombined into more than the usual pleasingly decorative abstraction of so much assemblage: the objects that aren’t painted matte black are mostly bright red or occasionally metallic: what we have in these symbolically overdetermined pieces are apples, eagles, axes, goblets, bullets, plus a veritable Freudian-fetish of a shiny red shoe that contains the inscription on its lining “all man made materials – made in China.”

One could go on, and a proper review ought to: there is a Cupid and a cornucopia on a made-up captain’s wheel of fortune, and in general the emblems of history gone askew are syncopated visual rhythms mingled with depth psychological metaphors beyond easy counting.

But there is seldom world enough and time for such reviews unless someone is at least paying for transportation if not for lunch, and galleries are forbidden to do such things.

This becomes a major dilemma in the case of juried shows such as Atlanta Photography Group’s “Emerging Visions 2009” (on view until July 3), where juror Chip Simone assembled nine contemporary fresh practitioners who could use all the publicity they can get. (The trade used to call such coverage “ink,” but these days the reportage is as digital as most of the photography.)

Here things become particularly difficult, because though all of these emerging artists are worthy of some degree of recognition, the things they are doing are quite different from one another and really ought to be discussed in terms of their intentions and degrees of influence. Amy Arrington’s digitally manipulated images could be critiqued in terms of small problems and larger successes (I would have done something a little different with the fire-and-ice motif of her most striking image); Margaret Strickland’s photos could be discussed as a continuation of the posed re-creations or reformulations of actual domestic life that we associate with Angela Strassheim and others; Artem Nazarov could be discussed as a digital formalist working beautifully in the aesthetic modes established by earlier generations. (The Wind makes visual poetry from bright window light and a windblown curtain and a tilted mattress and boxspring, the ensemble bespeaking fragility and transience.)

Yen Ngoc Phan should be discussed in detail for the semisurreal transformation of subtle codes of dress and behavior and ethnicity: the images explore a globalized, transcultural world of identity and immigration in which everything without exception has become exotic. (“Alle Menschen sind Ausländer, fast überall,” as the slogan had it a few years back: “Everyone is an alien almost everyplace.”)

Maria Joyner’s silver gelatin prints of railroad tracks and houses in mist and the other mistily mysterious components of A Wonderful Life would be celebrated, in a proper review, for their poetic visual metaphors for subtle emotional conditions: one traditional function of traditional photographic media, and these prints seem to commemorate the degree to which those media, like the objects in these photos, are passing into history.

But some of the digital work is equally nostalgia-laden or history-conscious, and one really ought to look in detail at the images presented by Kevin Tadge, Patricia Chourio, Amelia Alpaugh—and in particular at the exuberant diversity of the work of William Hogan, who seems to range from quietly monochromatic honoring of the isolated object to meticulous documentation of the real world’s range of outrageous color.

But all of that would require the leisure or at least the financial and professional incentive that a print-publication deadline used to afford. Until online editorial guidelines have filled in the gaps in most of the world’s art coverage, blog posts like this one are the less than satisfactory alternative. Sorry.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Without whom, not; footnote to the foregoing

Dr. John Decker curated "Images of the Apocalypse," based on his course on the topic, with the jurying assistance of Tim Flowers, Pam Longobardi and Ruth Stanford.

And while I am at it, I have come across an agreeably post-apocalyptic publication, Volume magazine #11, "Cities Unbuilt," a book-length study of well-nigh apocalyptic destruction and modes of restoration in sites and situations from Beirut to Kosovo and the South Caucasus, but a volume of Volume that may already have become a collector's item.

Rem Koolhaas is a driving editorial force behind Volume, which permits me to use this excuse to remind Atlanta readers that Angelbert Metoyer and Charlie Koolhaas' inconsistent but intriguing collaborative work is still on view at Sandler Hudson Gallery through July 11.

The End of the World (As We Know It), or....

The End of the World (As We Know It), or, Smiling Through the Apocalypse

Jerry Cullum

The 2008-2009 art season in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. has been bracketed by apocalypse, though nobody planned it that way.

Wm. Turner Gallery’s Matthew Rose exhibition “The End of the World” opened, purely by chance, a day or two after the beginning of America’s financial crisis of mid-September, causing one viewer (me) to misremember the title consistently as though it had been borrowed from the song from another season of financial and cultural upheaval, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine).” (“Smiling Through the Apocalypse” is the title of a completely unrelated book.)

In the parts of the world dominated by Peoples of the Book, apocalyptic thinking has wrung multiple metaphoric meanings from history: the end of the world has often been a vision of renovatio or of the Great Instauration of ultimate perfection rather than of the end of all things. (But note that 1 Peter’s “the end of all things is at hand” would have remained in the Christian scriptures even if the Revelation to John on Patmos had been expunged by the church councils, and Islamic and Jewish visions of the sky rolled up like a scroll are firmly fixed in the words of the respective scriptures.)

But rather than running off to the loci classici of books by Norman Cohn or Ernst Bloch, let’s note that Georgia State University has just opened a summerlong (through August 12) “Images of the Apocalypse” exhibition, giving us often paradoxically lovely new work by Stephanie Kolpy, Etienne Jackson, and many others. (Dahlan Foah’s video of images of the apocalypse contains some images that aren’t entirely of the End Times—Dante’s tripartite Inferno-Purgatorio-Paradiso being the pre-apocalyptic arrangement that will, as Dante tells us, be greatly modified when time shall be no more—but the point here is the structure of the human imagination, and its repeated returns to the issues associated with the sense of an ending.)

The G.S.U. exhibition is primarily about the contemporary religious and secular responses to notions of the end of all things. These begin with the imaginative consequences of Christian fundamentalists’ expectations of the Rapture or of the Second Coming, depending on their particular version of Protestant theology. (See my citation in a previous post of the bluegrass song in which the lyrics’ response to a beautiful day is to think about how great it would be to have all this loveliness abruptly brought to an end in the ultimate Beautiful Day…it’s part of a dialectic that is at least as old as the prophet Amos’s “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light….”)

The Gospel’s declaration of a final judgment in which those who did not feed the hungry or visit the sick and prisoners will be sent into everlasting fire isn’t the predominant model of the Apocalypse these days. Prevailing imaginative models are more like…well, let’s not go there, but get back to the art at G.S.U.

For in any case, the art responds more often to the other current models of the apocalypse, secular but nevertheless archetypal expectations of imminent machine-based or nuclear obliteration and/or environmental catastrophe. If we are about to (metaphorically speaking) topple over the cliff as in one of Kolpy’s images, the issue is whether we can pull ourselves back from the brink.

And all the old predilections show up in these latest incarnations of an ancient imaginative structure. The recent pastoral visit by Daniel Pinchbeck to the faithful in the evolver.net(work), discussed in an earlier post, reveals an approach to the anticipated end of all things that ranges from the ultimate optimism that Pinchbeck claims as revealed truth (articulated by the elders) to others’ gleeful or apprehensive expectations of utter destruction instead of fundamental positive transformation. Those who believe themselves to be relentlessly secular are still enraptured by images of an ending that have more to do with ancient modes and models than with realistic statistical mappings of what is most likely to come.

And that version of visionary expectation makes the vehement comic-book weirdness of Leisa Rich’s “Beauty from the Beast” of particular interest. Rich’s show, at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center through August 28, features a 3-D garden of soft sculptures that imagines the vegetal forms evolved through the mutation with the physical detritus left behind following humankind’s extinction; the forms, which quote the shapes of actual flowers, incorporate hundreds if not thousands of cut-up plastic straws, recycled carpet samples, recycled food labels, and too many other found materials to list comfortably.

This lush garden of all too earthly post-artificial delights pretty much covers the floor of the gallery; the walls contain a stitched and collaged oversized comic book wiping out the planet (or actually, just the United States’ portion of it) in eight concisely imagined disasters: “Pacific Northwest Megathrust Earthquake,” “N.Y.C. Hurricane,” “Asteroid Impact” (that could take care of everybody else, too), “L.A. Tsunami,” “Supervolcano,” “Midwest Earthquake,” “Heat Waves” (that would also be sufficient to finish off the rest of the planet), and “East and West Coast Tsunami.”

The environmental apocalypse may arrive whether anyone tries to stop it or not; certain Pacific and Indian Ocean island countries are making real-life plans to evacuate. Nuclear proliferation remains whatever threat level it always was, even if the scenarios for total obliteration shift.

The alternate positive version of the apocalyptic vision, of the renewal of all things, is changing moment by historical moment just as past political versions of apocalyptic thinking did; as predicted a couple of generations ago, the revolution will not be televised, but we are in an era when forces that came to power through yesterday’s technologies now confront the elusive counterforces of digital networks. The end of the end will not be what was born in dreams at the beginning.

Which is how the imagination of apocalypse, for good or for ill, has also always played out. Our beginnings never know our ends, but as the pre-post-millennialist voice called from the audience at Pinchbeck’s appearance at Eyedrum, we know what we wish would happen.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

in lieu of a review...images tk, I hope, from MINT's "Outlines and Outliers"

Anyone coming to art writing with vague recollections of reader-response theory rather than Greenbergian formalism may have fewer problems than most with the notion that purported art critics’ first reactions to work are “I like this,” or “I don’t like this, but it needs to be reviewed positively,” or “I like this, but I know I shouldn’t, and I need to explain why,” or “I don’t like this, but other people do, and it would be worth discussing why they do and perhaps ought not to,” or “I like this, and I need to do a lot of research so I can explain what else is going on beyond my first positive reaction,” or occasionally, “I like this, and the reasons I like it have nothing at all to do with why the work is good.”

That being said, I must confess that the pressures of earning a living constrain me from doing justice to “Outlines and Outliars,” a three-person show at Atlanta’s MINT Gallery. I initially misread the title as “Outliers,” for a good many of the isolated figures in this trio’s drawings and video could be read as lying somewhere just outside the boundaries of whatever ingroup they are not members of. The young women in the images seem to have greater emotional kinship with the birds and animals around them than with the human society that is implied by their different and distinct modes of dressing. Occasionally, as in Kelly McKernan’s Cuckold, the animals become purely allegorical, the bird tied by thread to the woman’s more perfunctorily rendered cuckold’s horns, a literary symbol older than Shakespeare.

But it would require more time than I have in the duration of this two-week show (open two more weekends, actually) to deal properly with the reasons why McKernan and her fellow artists Chelsea Raflo and Cristina Vidal have individual visions of particular interest. Raflo’s video and her diverse drawings all seem to focus on unexpected complexities, and experiences that prove elusive to the experiencer and the society around her (or him, but the focus is on the females). Vidal’s conceptually and imagistically elaborate drawings deserve to be revisited, and I hope that this initial shout-out of a blog post will evolve into something more like a full review as time goes by.

The work in this exhibition ranges from pieces only slightly more than simple drawing exercises to ambitious, immense compositions. It is in the interests of full disclosure that I reveal that I bought one lowest-price-range work each by Raflo and Vidal to accompany the McKernan postcard reproductions I bought at Artlantis the previous weekend. (McKernan’s original work at MINT is accompanied by some of her eminently affordable reproductions—let’s not confuse the issue by calling them “prints,” unless there is no original of the image other than the file on the computer. Does “digital re-creations” work as an intermediate category?)

I was instantly struck by the quality of the exhibition’s one video work, which had no label apart from the brief identification of the artist at the end, and found myself inquiring as to the artist’s identity, to someone who turned out to be the artist. Raflo identifies her influences as Casey Jex Smith, Alex Lucas (who I suppose is not to be confused with Alex Lukas), Alex McLeod, and Whitney Stansell. It was the loose kinship with Stansell’s work that struck me at first viewing, and it is a pleasure to find that Stansell is coming into her own as an influence so relatively soon after becoming a fixture on the Atlanta scene. (For the record, I have never bought any of Stansell’s work, and of course I am aware that Stansell has her own influences.)

This first-person exploratory account (not review) is an initial attempt at the type of hybrid genre we shall have to evolve in the world’s local art scenes—and one that should have evolved in global art scenes, given the extent to which art gossip has been based on which artist or gallery is presumed (not always correctly) to be financially or erotically entangled with the curator or critic. On the world’s local scenes, it is seldom the case that the curators or critics are trying to increase the value of their own minimal acquisitions—apart from such exceptions as major museum shows, they would fail dismally if they did try—and critics are more often complained to sarcastically than courted. Most local curation and criticism is effectively invisible and without impact beyond a minor viewership, even though the era of viral media may be beginning to change this.

However, as I have remarked over the years in the now-fading print media, artists had rather have their names in print, or accessible to a Google search, than not; and as Henry Kissinger noted long ago regarding the struggles of university faculties, the passions run high because the stakes are low. Credibility is built at first by accretion and only later by more substantial modes of validation. It is the more substantial modes of validation that kick-start careers, but it does begin with having one's name spelled right.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Understanding What It Is We Don’t Understand: Notes towards an anthropology of the Atlanta art scene (or part of it, anyway)

The challenge of art reviewing that has no deadline or word count and is uncompensated financially (I was going to call it an artwriting gig, but thought better of it) is that the review may blossom into a full-blown essay that is completed long after the show that inspired it has closed.

Paul Rabinow, in his brilliant 2008 Marking Time: On the Anthropology of the Contemporary, calls for a new anthropology in which the research can be done and the book published within the course of a year. Art critics don’t get nearly that long to do the fieldwork.

So my essay in the making based on Rabinow's book combined with a few of my deliberately inflammatory observations from a preceding essay will have to wait. This won’t be even a review, but more like a “listen up, y’all” for a pair of exhibitions that will be down before we know it.

Then I can focus on a couple more exhibitions that will also be down before we know it, given the short length of alternative-space exhibitions at places like MINT Gallery and Beep Beep Gallery. But first-ending things first.

The conceptually focused and ambitious visual explorations of George Long’s solo show and of the Sunday Southern Art Revival collaborative (who describe their practice as "making stuff" that challenges each other's notion of art while they collectively insist that they are having fun rather than being academic) are at Marcia Wood Gallery through June 20. There is something about the blend of personalities, backgrounds, and ethnicities that makes SSAR hard to ignore, even though much of the Atlanta art world has been very successfully doing so with this show: it may have been the temporal proximity of two other alternative art events, but their June 6 real-life conceptual-art cookout proved that you can’t even guarantee a crowd if you offer free beer and free chicken and free artwork.

Rabinow's book discusses the unsatisfactory quality of journalistic reports, which follow a prescribed format rather than getting into the real dimensions of the phenomenon; art journalism is no exception, but in its defense I would point out again that Rabinow calls for an anthropology of the contemporary in which the fieldwork would lead with stunning rapidity to a book in no less than a year’s time from the initial encounter. His own book has the minimally invasive copy editing (mostly regarding the correct use of the comma) and proofreading that may be required for such a fast-paced venture (relatively speaking).

The Internet, unlike print, gives us the instantaneous capacity to get things wrong, It also gives us the capacity to correct ourselves, but increasingly I am reluctant to hastily put portions of my anatomy out for public pillorying, as distinct from recommending that people take advantage of the presence of the art on the walls, and images of it online for preliminary perusal.

So I’ll say no more about the antiquely evocative yet distinctly contemporary (and not at all sentimental) imagery of our multiethnic downhome art revival. Except to remind you that you have about a week left in which to make haste to Castleberry and look, or to examine the work online in a more leisurely fashion if you live in the 99.44% of the world for which Castleberry is not an accessible commute. (The statistic is a reference to a vintage advertisement that passed into the language and presumably passed out of it again.)

I hope to have something more coherent to say about the newly opened show at MINT Gallery, which apparently is up for only one week longer than the show at Marcia Wood, and SSAR member Michi Meko’s newly opened show at Beep Beep Gallery, two exhibitions that take diametrically opposed approaches to the problems of historical and personal memory (we are all part of world history, even if the abridged version manages to leave us out of it—as a friend says of himself, he is famous, it’s just that not very many people are aware of that fact).

The Java Monkey coffeehouse where I frequently take advantage of the free wireless has a satellite-radio bluegrass show on the sound system that is closing with a song that somehow summarizes the double edge of irony and total sincerity on which SSAR and company dance so effectively: "What a Beautiful Day for the Lord to Come Again."

An anthropologist of the contemporary would love it.

An interim post between global academic disciplines and local artistic interventions

Readers in the United Kingdom will know, but other Counterforces readers may not, that Anthony Gormley has created a populist form of performance art as his contribution to filling the famous vacant fourth sculpture plinth in Trafalgar Square: the first 615 of 2400 hourly presenters have just been named, chosen by computer algorithm from all over the United Kingdom to do whatever it pleases them to do with their hour of international attention (courtesy of Sky News real-time coverage at www.oneandtheother.co.uk).

Since the good publicists of boltonquinn.com presumably have connections, the following extract from their release will be published verbatim in more print and online outlets than I care to imagine, but some of you read it here first: the first-chosen participants “include David Rosenberg, 41, a designer from London who plans to use his hour at nightfall to pedal his folding pink bicycle to generate the energy to light up a specially created suit he will be wearing.” And the others likewise range from brilliant and earnest to merely brilliant:

“Oliver Parsons-Baker, 26, an aquatic scientist from Birmingham, plans to highlight the importance of clean water for people’s health by dressing up in a poo costume for half his time on the plinth. Then he’ll change into a fish costume to illustrate the dangers of overfishing.

“For Kay Lockley, 48, from Oldbury, her place on the plinth is an opportunity to raise awareness of Lupus, an incurable disease of the immune system from which she suffers. 'By putting myself forward to go on the plinth I am both excited and terrified. Excited to be part of such a brilliant project and terrified to put myself in the spotlight.'

“Mari Beard, a 24-year-old barmaid from Cardiff, hasn’t decided what she’s going to do, but whatever it is, it will be fun.

“Heather Pringle, a student from Hexham, will be celebrating her 20th birthday on the plinth. ‘I plan to celebrate in style, a good old fashioned birthday party. There will be cake.’”

We now return the Atlanta segment of the Counterforces readership to incipient reviews of local shows, which I intend to post in the next day or two.

I shall not attempt to offer a review of Atlanta painter James Dean’s tenth-birthday party for his much-celebrated fine-art cartoon character Pete the Cat, at the Seen Gallery in downtown Decatur (or deCATur as Dean’s coffee mugs spell it). There was cake. And it was fun.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Three or Four Events and More Than Three or Four Ideas

or, On Connecting Even Without the Dots

Jerry Cullum

Three or four events over the weekend (five if you throw in a followup lecture on Monday), all but one of them public, have left me considering the disconnects in artworlds and in the world at large, and in Atlanta in particular.

I've written already about Saturday's events: Artlantis and Gather Atlanta, both devoted to DIY community-building and the reform of the actually existing (Atlanta) art world.

On Sunday, Alan Balfour, dean of the school of architecture at Georgia Institute of Technology, offered a digital-slideshow summation of his career, at the invitation of a newly reactivated art-technology-and-science discussion group.

Balfour's larger message was about the shifting boundaries of art and architecture, the place of spatial aesthetics in shaping as well as responding to the cultural imagination—but also the unspoken issue of the difficult relationship between on-paper or onscreen projects, where the architects' imagination and attendant investigations have free rein, and the built environment where the imagination is firmly reined in by the constraints of budgets and the wishes of clients whose priorities typically have little enough to do with the future of the culture.

Meanwhile, over at the Lake Claire Community Land Trust, there was an EvolverFest, organized by people who might or might not have included active members of the mutual-aid bike repair shop that was such a prominent model of community-creating at Gather Atlanta.

Daniel Pinchbeck of 2012 and Reality Sandwich fame was there, proclaiming the good news of sustainable society and responsible practice to this one of the new urban groups formed in response to the evolver.net message of practical transformation—a message being assiduously transmitted by Pinchbeck, a skeptic who grew skeptical of his own skepticism.

When Pinchbeck asked at his Monday night public lecture how many audience members expected some kind of fundamental planetary change on the winter solstice of 2012, almost no hands went up, but a voice called out from the back of the room, "No, but we wish that kind of change was going to happen!"

And that less than millenarian outburst was another expression of the immense local and global community of mutual aid, of microresponses to macroforces. And that led me to ponder the relationship or lack of same between sobersided arts organizations (not to mention art communities), emerging architects prodded to produce impossible projects that may eventually inform their actual practice, and the sometimes semi-crazed theorists of the supposed emergent synthesis, whom Pinchbeck studies with occasional bemusement and summarizes along with the evidence or lack of same for each of their frequently incompatible fantasies. (The general rule seems to be that if each day you believe six impossible things before breakfast, maybe one possible thing will come from it before the year is out.)

The financial stakes in the artworld and in architecture alike often lead to imagination being placed in service to arrogance and personal profit. Even alternative art tends to fulfill the desires of the audience for plain-vanilla versions of underground movements that arose thirty and forty years ago. It would be hard to tell from most graffiti and lowbrow practitioners that in the past two decades we have lived through an economic and environmental upheaval that came very close to destroying global capitalism after destroying global communism, and that still bids pretty fair to leave us with the inundation of a few small countries before we are done with the highly-leveraged legacy of our carbon emissions.

No wonder the UFOlogists indulge in conspiracy theories while urban agriculturalists fiddle with ways to maximize yield in their own little postmodern versions of Victory Gardens.

At the same moment, young architects design spidery structural embroideries out of fever dreams that sometimes seem more akin to the dark delusions of the ashes-of-angels hypothesizers, and endless panels on sustainability can dream vast visions of the possible future, and long hours can go by before someone says, "Paint your damn roofs white!" (Giuseppe Terragni and Richard Meier turn out to have been harbingers of the world to come, after all.)

And no group seems aware of its own culturally imposed blind spots (how could we be?), and people who might unsettle or at least productively query one another's visions pass by one another in the early-summer sunlight, each blissfully ignorant of the other's existence.

Each would think that the other was a little crazy or dorky. And they would be right.

For we exist in community in part in hopes of reducing or modifying our craziness and our dorkiness, or at least of rendering them less immediately harmful.

When we go on in unabashed isolation or collectively pursued unenlightened self-interest, the result is the world in which we now live. Oops, there goes another glacier and a couple more piscine populations.

And the Icelandic currency hasn't been doing too well recently, either. Something about international banking making up for all those threatened livelihoods in the Atlantic fisheries.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

How else am I going to celebrate my birthday? posting solo from Java Monkey on two art events of some significance

It may be merely coincidental that the Artlantis outdoor festival of alternative art and the Gather Atlanta conference of grassroots arts organizations and (mostly) younger artists were staged on the 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings. As anyone who has ever organized such an art event can tell you, the process resembles a major military operation in terms of the coordination of large numbers of incompatible personality types and diverse sorts of recalcitrant equipment, with the same sort of inevitable wastage, unanticipated blunders, and moments of stark terror. If the results are less horrifically bloody, the ground conquered or recovered is frequently far less consequential to subsequent history, even within the art world in question. (And that is an outcome that such organizers expect, but they keep on keeping on nevertheless. And just as in long, slogging military campaigns, small movements forward sometimes bring about the resolution of what seem to be hopelessly protracted conflicts.)

Artlantis took place on the territory between Urban Outfitters and the Druid Hills Baptist Church, on one of Atlanta’s historic east-west traffic arteries. It is to be hoped that the event was digitally recorded for posterity; for the artists involved represent a significant segment of the global art world, whether they know it or not.

There were artists who have garnered major commissions from past shows in galleries, and who were offering deeply discounted items from their immense inventory. There were artists with substantial formal training who were offering a lifetime’s worth of idiosyncratic work. There was artwork ranging from subtle, careful and imaginative to appallingly awful, in many cases all by the same artist. There were savvy artists who offered almost no originals and a full range of reproductions from postcards to poster prints. There were artists ranging from the slickly commercial to the unmarketably earnest, plus a fair number of the options in between.

What they had in common was that the world in general has never heard of them, no matter how many enthusiastic regional collectors they might chance to have.

What they also had in common was the willingness to work and exhibit in the face of financial unsuccess, a willingness that they share with regional art writers (and with regional writers of any sort, for that matter).

What might be further done about the discontents of the local scene was addressed, at least embryonically, in the panel discussion at Gather Atlanta, an indoor event at Eyedrum art and performance space. Here, the information tables were occupied not by solo artists but by organizations ranging from nearly newborn to cutting-edge ones that are hitting the quarter-century mark.

What was surprising was the absence of a few organizations that seemed to fall into the same category as the organizations that did show up. As with any self-selecting event, there were doubtless reasons why some were able to put in an appearance and others were not. Frequently the reason is as simple as the incapacity to be in two places at once. Some organizations consist of not much more than a single charismatic figure enlisting the aid of a shifting group of unpaid staffers.

And every one of the artists exhibiting in Artlantis, and every one of the organizations at Gather Atlanta, would love to have their names come up high on a Google search featuring their keywords.

Anyone who has ever had the thankless job of composing the laundry list of participating artists in a big group show (or, worse, picking out the artists to discuss in a 350-word review) knows the pain inflicted by the inadvertent and/or structurally necessary omission of anybody.

And this is why I am naming no names, positive or negative, in this little essay. If you want to know who should be given credit for having pulled off these near-miracles in one specific art scene, kindly google (or bing, as the competition would have you do) the relevant terms, and honor the lists of names that pop up.