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 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.

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