Here is some photo documentation:
Craft is a process-object, a powerful alternative trajectory of being in time, it is act and image, its own index and its own result. Inside craft, time stops and function splits conceptually into multiple potentials: material use, catalysis of transcendental states, nonlinear cause and effect relationships with ephemeral existence, literal and metaphorical creation of new forms. These four artists use crafts, the craft, craftiness, and crafting to deal with history, technology/technique, forms of knowledge, the body and womanhood, human agency, and power:
Sindy Butz and Ivy Castellanos have know-how. Their practices include wearable sculptures made with porcelain, molded Styrofoam, and layers of paint (respectively) and more. They apply techniques they’ve tested and developed over time, skilled use of materials, teachable, repeatable techniques and new techniques they’ve invented. As their know-how, the technical, blends with performative task, their bodies become both consciously crafting agents and remain objects themselves. As predominantly constructive sets of skills, “crafts” used in performance emphasizes the problematics of human agency in its most literal forms by demonstrating the complexities of cause and effect relationships between an individual and the material world as well as grey areas between animacy and. inanimacy. The craft, or witchcraft, takes agency a step further into the immaterial, into projection of energies and molding of time and space. Amber Lee frames spellcasting as performance, practicing re-designed forms of rituals meant to operate effectively beyond the immediate situation. She harnesses the repetition of certain performances throughout time, drawing from traditions and beliefs that have been practiced for centuries. In this case, spells themselves are crafts, patterns of symbols, instructions for the body, words imbued with meaning and power. The power of know-how, craftiness, is a form of social and spiritual intelligence. For Hilary Sand (see her text on the next page), craftiness is a practically political situation, a state of self-recognition and confidence that deals with dominant power paradigms and negotiates social evolution. Hilary’s ongoing use of textiles allows her to allude to crafts that have been gradually excised from daily life, crafts that once clothed the body, crafts that once defined womanhood. In that her wrapping, tangling, and weaving is “nonfunctional” it asks us to evaluate which know-hows (aesthetic? critical?) we choose to practice and how.
Value of Variety
How did my grandmother know that salt immediately applied can lift red wine stains? Or that vinegar is a perfectly efficient cleaning material: safe to eat, safe to breathe, safe to touch, and chemical-free? How did my grandfather know to make a fishing pole out of reeds and not branches, so it would be bendy enough to give when the fish pulls? Or that perch especially love corn? Why didn’t my grandparents need self-help books to stay slender, or understand their children, or figure out their interpersonal relationships? What did they know about the world, their minds, their bodies, which I do not?
We have become so specialized that we do not trust ourselves to fix a hole in the wall without calling a professional. Many times, we are not wrong. But someone will always be able to do something better than you when you do not even once make the attempt. We often do not feel compelled even to attempt things any more. In “Art and Work,” an essay published in 1965, Harold Rosenberg said “The ideal vista for the future is clear: it is that self-development shall be the motive of all work. If that ideal prevails, the distinction between the arts and other human enterprises will become meaningless.” Forty-eight years later, while the rest of the populace never seems to have gotten Rosenberg’s memo, I think this is becoming more than an ideal for artists, it is a goal. Interdisciplinarity and community-based art practice are its heralds: we are beginning to not only share what we know, and to expand the fields of our knowledge, but to strive for cohesion and synthesis among these spaces.
Today, we can look things up, to verify with the voices of millions online that my grandparents’ tricks will work, that they do work. But I don’t like corn, I buy my fish in pieces from the grocery store where it does not look back at me with a forlorn expression, and I most definitely trust Windex over vinegar to keep my windows shiny and Shout over salt to keep my fabrics pristine. I buy bags of cookies and boxes of crunchy cheese crackers and make myself sick with snacks (mostly metaphorically). I have read many words about how to live in today’s world. I do not think that I am happier than my grandparents were. But, I do have a bonus: I have them.
I am carrying around a host of historical knowledge, though it is small knowledge by many standards. It is unused knowledge; it is even perhaps redundant knowledge—in light of the unlikelihood of a sudden change in our socio-economic cultural structures or of the absolute death of my ambitions. But, like non-coding genes in our DNA and vestigial structures that are no longer actualized in the systems of the body, this knowledge will sit in my bones and live in my mind until it becomes evolutionarily beneficial once again.
I recently spilled red wine on a white dress at an art opening, and the gallery didn’t have any stain-removers, but they did have salt. It works just fine.
 Harold Rosenberg, “Art and Work” in Discovering the Present, (Chicago and London:The University of Chicago Press, 1973), 68.
“Practice” is a term generally used to describe an artist’s way of doing things; their ever-evolving art-making processes as structured by ideology, theoretical concerns, practical considerations, techniques, methodology, disciplinary influences, and the daily functions of the individual(s) “maintaining” or “pursuing” this practice. The idea of “practice” may be used as an umbrella term for interrelated parts of art-making, referencing disciplinary rehearsal towards mastery of technical components (as in, the violinist practices the violin), but also involving modes of production (how art is made, how its making operates in conjunction with social, economic, and political structures), and how the artist makes the work itself (as in, the painter gessoes aluminum sheets), with an emphasis on the relationships between these and an artist’s deliberately constructed conceptual framework for each and all.
In the past 40 or so years, ideas of “artistic practice” have been formalized by educational theory and psychology to describe frameworks for learning art-making. New ways of thinking about how an individual becomes an artist were necessary as institutions took over the education of artists from systems of private apprenticeship and amateur emergence. In addition to providing a conceptual argument for institutional artist education, theories using the term “artistic practice” are now often geared towards helping young artists make their aesthetic and formal choices consistently, and to help them develop cohesive “voices” or “visions” beyond their technical training, i.e. to develop a factory a la Andy Warhol inside which consistently viable and valuable artistic products are produced.
Towards this end, conception of this practical framework called “practice” has encouraged educational curriculums to assist students in designing individual practices, with design largely involving the translation of institutionally-imparted “information” into a productive synthesis of existing components. Likewise, these conceptions are applied to educating “the public” about art, and “knowledge of art” at large. John Falk and Lynn Dierking in Learning From Museums write that “As our society is increasingly inundated with information each individual needs to learn qualitatively and quantitatively better strategies for dealing with information.” For them, as for many educators at museums, universities, and conservatories, “information” describes the documented processes and contexts of well-known artists throughout history, theoretical positions and statements from art criticism, history, and theory, and existing artwork or its documentation and criticism. “Better strategies for dealing with information” then becomes the application of this autonomous, institutional “art sphere” information to individual art-making processes. This schema allows educational institutions to offer these “existing informations” as tools or applicable considerations to be purchased by students. It also helps professional artists to market their art as a product of legitimized and communicable processes, as “information” is consistently set into institutional vocabulary (dialectic, or rhetoric), and mimetically distributed (every art-world individual maintains the same set of facts, amounting to an education).
Problematics embedded in these institutional conceptions variously include reinforcement of strictly capitalist modes of production, discouragement of art that can’t be “explained” or otherwise given value based on past value of similar canonical products, discouragement from generative theorization and theory stemming from non-art-historical/non-canonical sources, the misconception of learning as a “filling of an empty vessel,” etc. These schemas of homogenization, autonomization, education, and hierarchization ultimately discourage artists from synthesizing and controlling their own culturally responsive practices. Moreover, we could certainly argue (similarly yet totally differently than Claire Bishop does in her recent Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship,) that institutional conceptions of practice prevent artists from effectively functioning as agents in the co-construction of human culture.
Moreover, reactions to these institutionally-formalized conceptions of “practice” have caused many artists to reject intellectual considerations in their own practices and to cease exploration of art history and theory across contexts, fields, and sources. Thus, we may find ourselves denying our constantstate of learning in the world and through our art-making processes. We must remember that not all learning theories advocate the development of a single, set-in-stone, marketable, “A Practice” based on a “dealing with” information; the extent to which “A Practice” can be/should be sustained throughout time by an individual, can be/should be borrowed as a framework by another individual, or can be/should be analyzed as such, are debates that
emerge from conception of “A Practice” as an artistic product in and of itself, something an artist or artist group “has” rather than something that he/she/they practice(s) as a course of action. We must remember that we are responsible for our own practices. Even constructivist epistemologist Lev Vygotsky, who is often credited with the conception of “framework” as a way of seeing/perceiving concepts, argues that learning happens through social interaction and that “information” is only viable during the active processes/practice of its synthesis. For Vygotsky, and perhaps for many actual working artists, practice is the action of framing, not a set of rules constructing a frame.
There is nothing to master, there is only performance.
My thinking about these “frames” for “practice” has been recently stimulated by the work of Lital Dotan and Eyal Perry, and their Glasshouse Project. Currently central to their project’s work is been a series of “homage” performances, with artists invited to create work in response to, and influenced by the performances, theories, and practices of artists like Ana Mendieta (September), Allan Kaprow (October), and next, Rirkrit Tiravanija (November).
These exhibitions are not meant to educate a public or to educate individual artists through re-performance of the works of well-known performance artists. Re-performance is part of a debate that continues to frame artistic practice as a set of something, a product, or a factory for producing products (see Istvan Meszaros). As such, “re-performance” is currently being masticated by arguments over context, liveness, and location of the author. These arguments maintain some confusion, as they are additionally framed by “performance art,” a discipline so “practice-based” in the Vygotsky sense that its products are nearly impossible to define as such (and we like it that way.)
What Dotan and Perry invite artists to do is 1.) Consider frameworks of practice and education themselves, i.e. the very modes of learning that artists practice, 2.) identify “practical” decisions in the work of others and in their own work and 3.) engage in artistic research as part of personal practice outside of institutional learning.
This month, PPL are working at Glasshouse in homage to Allan Kaprow. As we develop this night of performance (which has already been framed as such, ruling out practice of many of Kaprow’s modes) I am attempting to follow my own neural and practical pathways towards synthesis of information (which is unlimited and un-framed) and translation (via subjective association) of it into artistic practice. More than any other “influence,” Kaprow encouraged his students and fellow artists to practice in practice, to perform by performing, to learn by learning. It’s not easy; my own mind tries to frame decisions about what we will actually do in the space through a Lacanian lens (Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real = Fraud, Absence and Impossibility), for example, just as Kaprow’s quote “The point is to do something that doesn’t even remotely remind you of culture” glares at me from the top of the piano (see right). Ultimately, my core focus as an artist working in this situation (in homage to Kaprow, as ourselves, in that space, etc) is to practice framing as an act. I want to research the timing of artistic decisions throughout situations, to experience different relationships between spectators, artists, and participants, and to work against representation, sure. However, those interests must function as frameworks for collective practicing of practices. After October 26th is over, PPL may decide to transfer similar frameworks into our ongoing opera project Any Size Mirror is a Dictator, but ultimately we do not intend to permanently learn how to do something, not how it should be done based on Kaprow’s views, nor how ‘an artist’ should ‘deal with’ the ‘information’ of his past practices.
Our practical research will be free and open to the public, taking place over the course of 4 hours:
HOMAGE TO ALLAN KAPROW
Friday, October 26, 2012
246 Union Avenue
Glasshouse Project is an artistic home-laboratory of artists Lital Dotan & Eyal Perry. It’s aim is to promote artistic experiments that are based on performance and installation art in the domestic space. The space is constantly transforming from a home into a stage, a playground, a classroom and so on, making the domestic environment a platform of constant physical and mental exploration.
Since 2007, the project and the home it utilizes have evolved, moving between residential and commercial venues in Tel-Aviv, Israel, San-Francisco, USA and elsewhere in Europe. Now, Glasshouse Projects has moved into a two-floor apartment in Brooklyn. With a large storefront gallery and all rooms, including kitchen, bedrooms, and outdoor patio open to artists, Glasshouse hosts performance evenings and an international residency program, where artists from around the world are invited to create performance art projects.
Additionally, Glasshouse TUESDAYS will occur next week:
On the Blurring of Art and Life/ Lecture & Discussion
Tuesday, October 23, 8pm
Eyal Perry will discuss Allan Kaprow’s Happenings.
Yelena Gluzman and Esther Neff are still accepting proposals until August 15, 2012 for the October 2012-June 2013 conference project Theorems, Proofs, Rebuttals, and Propositions: A Conference of Theoretical Theater. Please click HERE for more information and guidelines.
Over the past few months I’ve been carrying around a wavering holographic frame of language regarding this project, constantly performing reactive re-cognition (shifts in framing and definition required when speaking with individuals across disciplines, languages, vocabularies, etc), and attempting to hold onto formal delineation of the project based in a mere handful of dates on calendars and verbal agreements. These performative processes on my part (and on Yelena’s, and on the parts of the theorist/performance-makers as they draft and submit proposals) are the meat of the project itself, the acts of the conference-as-performance themselves, and moreover, they theorize several ways-of-seeing, projecting a theatron of “sense” or “sight/site.”
There is plenty of didactic poesy about this conference to be found on the project blog already, so I won’t attempt to describe it all one more time. Suffice it to say, Theorems, Proofs, Rebuttals, and Propositions: A Conference of Theoretical Theater is a durational conference-as-performance project that will focus on the processes of constructing four performances-as-theories. Four theorists/performance-makers and four critical writers will be considered part of the conference’s thinktank/research group/institute, a body of theorists gathered to perform research. The difference between this kind of thinktank and one that hopes to advocate policy, for example, is that this group will not share a common SUBJECT for research, nor a common METHOD, nor assume the empiric applicability of any RESULTS. The pluralistic processes of analysis, research, decision-making and evaluation should merely (yea, merely) serve to theorize performance-making (the-atre as the-ory) an effective theoretical vehicle with the authority and ability to operate alongside and in close relationship with political, social, legal, scientific, and other types of collective and individual theorizing processes. This is the theory performed by the conference itself.
Connotative and symptomatic theories researched by the form of the conference itself may include:
Performance-making inherently researches Being and proposes theoretical perspectives on existence.
Individual and small-group agency must be practiced/performed across epistemic spheres.
Erasure of mind-body and art-science dichotomies must be practiced.
No single human or cluster of humans can conclusively, entirely, and ultimately theorize reality, thus all theories have the operations of “theatrical” performances and are ways of seeing, not sight itself.
That humans perform using the systems of theorization that our social structures authorize (mathematics, for example) based on the facts we know and have decided upon.
And many others, some of which are too complex to list here, too convoluted linguistically to be written out, are even more problematic (false even), and many others which are embedded in the conference project but are invisible to Yelena and I due to our fundamental positions (which are not always shared between the two of us) within our own worldviews.
Ultimately, the problem is that this conference merely (yea, merely) frames and re-frames the practices of performance-makers already existing; performance-making is already theoretical in that it theorizes (verb) a way of seeing/a theory (noun) no matter how image-based or “abstract” that way of seeing may be. Likewise, “theorists” (in the sciences, basically in those fields authorized by academia to define reality/nature/being and determine its empiric laws and conditions) are “really” already making performances, constructing situations within their own contexts/subjectivities that operate (temporally, conditionally, epistemically, etc) as no more than (and as) ways of seeing.
Some people have asked for “examples” of the “kind of thing” we are looking for and will “accept” as part of this conference. While it is crucial that individuals interpret the project frames and guidelines and intentions as they will, I would point to John Cage as a good ultimate example of someone who made performance-as-theory.
I was reminded during Varispeed’s all-night performance of John Cage’s Empty Words that the theoretical mode applies beyond individual performances and is in itself a way of being and practicing performance-making. For Cage, ways of seeing went all the way down to the core of his being and stretched out in fibrous nests all throughout his work, wrapping his life and his work into several rumbling muscles of theorization, for example that “every sound is music,” a fundamental way of seeing that a multitude of textbooks note “revolutionized listening/music forever.” Similarly, Cage’s use of an existing (yet unauthorized at that time in the Western music world) system, the I Ching, theorizes-as-performance just as it applies a theory of existence to the act of performance-making. Cage also practiced theorization while only rarely hypothesizing results or advocating the “political” application of his methods beyond his own practice.
Listening to Gelsey Bell’s arrangement in Episode 1 of Empty Words at Roulette a little commonsense performance-as-theory mantra seemed to emerge from the repetition of syllables: follow all the way through, follow through, follow yourself all the way in, go all the way in, all the way through.
8 PM – 10:30 PM: Part I: Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue
11 PM – 4:30 AM: Parts II & III: Exapno, 33 Flatbush Avenue, 5th floor
5 AM – 7:30 AM: Parts IV: Procession from Borough Hall over the Brooklyn Bridge
All parts of the performance are free and open to the public.
This overnight realization on Cage’s centennial is a meditation on the voice’s power to transform language into music. Varispeed’s new arrangement will lead audiences on a 12-hour journey of sound, from an ensemble of electronically manipulated and mutated song in the concert hall of Roulette to the noise of naked voices on the Brooklyn Bridge at dawn.
Written in the early 70s, Empty Words stands as an epic culmination of Cage’s exploration of the “demilitarization” of syntax and the voice’s power to evacuate meaning and create music. Using Thoreau’s journals as his source text, Cage employed chance procedures to remove all syntax from the original, creating four separate movements through which the level of textual abstraction grows.
Part One (utilizing phrases, words, syllables, and letters) begins in the concert space of Roulette, employing multiple performers and theatrics to employ the musical extremes of language. The performance then moves to the new music community space Exapno, where Varispeed transform Part Two’s words, syllables, and letters into new spatial arrangements. Peppered with food (and perhaps a nap), Part Three scatters syllables and letters around the building in a performance that is both a participatory scavenger hunt and a solo lecture. In conclusion, listeners will become performers on a communal sound walk through Downtown Brooklyn across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise, vocalizing the letters of Part Four in equal partnership with the surrounding urban “silence.”
Varispeed’s premiere performance of Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives Manhattan was listed on Time Out New York’s Best of 2011 list and received praise in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. Varispeed has worked to discover new inroads into contemporary vocal music and opera in creating site-specific, sometimes-participatory, oftentimes-durational, forevermore-experimental events. As individuals, they are all multi-faceted performers, composers, songwriters, and thinkers who collaborate in ensembles such as thingNY, Panoply Performance Laboratory, and Cough Button. (text from the Facebook event)
Don’t miss this ephemeral epic. Varispeed is (from left to right in image above) Gelsey Bell, Paul Pinto, Aliza Simons, Dave Ruder, Brian McCorkle, and the ghost of John Cage…
For Friday, the no-tech night, thank you to Alejandro Acierto, who built a web in the performance space all day with Compendium curator Paul Pinto, then made a complex labyrinth of white fabric tape on the ground. Thank you to Emily Wexler, who rubbed her hair in construction dirt at the end of the street, rolled on the sidewalk back and forth, pounded her chest as the rain began to fall, and was doused by 5-gallon buckets of water and two buckets of mud and water by Compendium curator/CPR techmeister Thomas Bell. Thank you the audience members who came on time and got to see this, and got wet in the process. Thank you to Ivy Castellanos, who undressed and had us draw marker circles around her “blemishes” then put herself in a black plastic trash bag and became another animal. Thank you to Lindsey Drury, who tried hard to erase her equilibrium and throw up, spinning around for 20 minutes, drinking salad dressing, jumping, and did not succeed. Thank you to Rafael Sanchez, whose piece about Ghazala Javed’s murder was interrupted by fire trucks, police cars, and an ambulance, all pulling up to deal with this performance, and thank you to Rafael for saying “can’t a man grind a brick to dust using his hands in peace?” and the fireman’s response: “good luck with that,” and thank you to that neighbor kid across the street who had been watching and shouted “IT’S PERFORMANCE ART!” as a balloon carrying fragments of the brick disappeared up into the white sky. Thank you to Sister Sylvester, the entire team, who presented an excerpt from a new work-in-progress drawing on Moby Dick and many other sources involving a live goldfish, small models of the larger set pieces in a terrarium, and a lobster claw cooking mitt, among other items of speech, action, and object. Thank you to Hiroshi Shafer for making a piece using music box guts attached to tin and plastic plates and a hand-drawn (by Derick Wycherly) series of story boards. Thank to Matthew Silver for telling us the story, it made us laugh hysterically. Thank you to Charmaine’s Names for performing an un-amplified version of their post-modern Philadelphia experimental lounge glory without microphones, without lights, and thank you to Toby Driver (and 2nd clarinetist? lost the name…) for performing virtuosically, of course still without any technical assistance whatsoever, and concluding a day of intensity and intimacy.
The video documentation of the 2nd “full tech” day should be posted by CPR soon, but in the meantime THANK YOU to the artists of June 23, including those who came to the round-table and participated in the discussion! Thank you to those who performed technical incarnations of their work (or had performed no-tech versions of these pieces the night before): Lindsey (who did throw up a little), Ivy (who got to wear her sculptural armor), Sister Sylvester (who live-fed the taking of a weather balloon out onto the street).
Thank you also to the hi-tech Saturday-only artists: Jorge Rojas taping his face over livestream, Whitney Hunter for giving a talk about two of his pieces and their use of technology, animator/video/visual artist Brian Zegeer and banjo-player Baby Copperhead for showing/performing their film/sound project Pull My Daisy, performance artist Anya Liftig and assistant Michael Newton for their cell phone communication, and thank you thank you to Robert Dick, for demonstrating the height of human technical ability, blowing our minds (glissando headjoint®!)
Finally, thank you the audience for participating in this experimental micro-conference/exhibition! Thank you to CPR, and thank you electricity!
All the way back at the birth of the word “art,” it was a verb that meant “to put things together.” It was not a product, but a process. If we can reclaim that view of art — as a way of looking at and doing things, a series of experiences and experiments — we gain a fresh grasp on the proven, practical ways to construct the quality of our lives. Eric Booth, The Everyday Work of Art
Thursday, January 19: Please join us for art, performance, and discussion as we launch The Compendium project! The initial organizers will share their artistic practices, speak with you about what our communities need this year, and begin to construct a “living compendium” of participating artists across disciplines. Come to get involved, come to throw your work into the curatorial and organizational mix, come get to know us if you don’t already, and come to enjoy yourself!
26 Bushwick Avenue
6pm: Gallery hours (work curated by Cat Gilbert, The 22 Magazine) and mingle. Wall Artists: Cat Gilbert, Alexander Barton, Aaron Howard
Free admission, donations-for-beer from the Brooklyn Brewery. All proceeds go towards artist fees for the many local and international artists we will be working with this year, as well as towards a special issue of The 22 Magazine and a final Book (The Compendium) documenting the year of projects.
The Compendium is comprised of artists who are deeply engaged with their communities. Organizing both as artists and as directors of alternative arts spaces, curators, members of ensembles and collectives, arts writers, and as agents of cultural influence, we form a “living compendium” to channel multiple agendas, intentions, and ideas into concrete support for artists and grassroots arts organizations.
Over the course of 2012, The Compendium initiative will experiment with hybrid modes of curation, exchange, and presentation, producing exhibitions, performances, publications, and more.
Then…PPL will be at this symposium, showing a bit of our new opera NATURE FETISH (which is being developed in residence through The Performance Project @ University Settlement) during the ‘Artist Shares’ on Friday night, and Esther is doing one of the workshops on Saturday afternoon. (text below sent out by the Performance Project:)
ART IS NOT APART: Experiments, Reflections and Manifestos
A three-day symposium for artists, educators, curators and community workers who seek to reclaim the arts as an integral part of community life.
January 26th – January 28th
Join an array of creative community makers including…
Elastic City, DNA Works, Ping Chong & Company, Panoply Performance Lab, Vibe Theater, Sasha Soreff Dance, Kinematik Dance Theater, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, Arts to Grow, Leave Out Violence-U.S. (LOVE-US), Trusty SideKick, SPACE on Ryder Farm, The Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, Patty Dukes and Reph Star, The Anthropologists, Hip Hop Re:Education Project and more!
Admission is FREE!
Please click here to complete the registration form by January 23rd You can register for all or parts of the symposium but spots are limited - so act fast and stay tuned for weekly updates!
All Symposium events take place at University Settlement 184 Eldridge Street. (corner of Rivington Street) Click here for directions
Thursday, January 26th 7pm – 9:30pm
Creating Possibilities: Exploring Working Models, Approaches and Techniques
Panel Discussion: In a climate where essential services for children, seniors and other vulnerable populations are struggling to survive, how are artists making art relevant and integral to community life?
Breakout Session: Small groups facilitated by the panelists will brainstorm art and community connections and then collaboratively create a visual artifact to hang in The Gallery of Possibilities which will be on display throughout the symposium. Participants are welcome to bring artifacts from their own work.
The Shoelace Project: Created by Sasha Soreff Dance Theater. This interactive performance and workshop explores how shoelaces represent a powerful and nearly universal symbol: they tie us up, trip us up and hold us up. Personally inscribe an ultra wide shoelace with your hopes and fears and make discoveries about what gets us tangled and untangled, bound and unbound.
Friday, January 27th 7pm – 9:30pm
Resistance (theirs…or mine?): Transforming Resistance Into Creative Fuel
Breakout Session: As we have all experienced, resistance is an inevitable component of making art. Small groups guided by expert facilitators will identify and harness the forces of resistance. Each group will devise an original performance as a means of sharing perspectives, strategies, and techniques for working with resistance.
Artist Shares: Enjoy short performances by artists who are finding interesting ways to connect their process and work with communities traditionally beyond the reach of the art world.
Wine Reception: Build up your creative community network.
Saturday, January 28th 3pm – 9:00pm
(Community Dinner @ 6pm)
Manifesting Art and Community: Sharing and Acquiring New Skills, Ideas and Inspirations
Workshops: A selection of 90-minute workshops led by dynamic facilitators (topics to be announced next week). Each participant will have the opportunity to select two hands-on workshops.
Community Dinner: Sit, eat and enjoy connecting with creative community makers.
Smart Art Manifests & Artist Shares: Join us for an inspiring series of TED-style SAM (Smart Art Manifestos) talks and performances by innovative and highly creative community makers.
This Symposium is co-curated by Nellie Perera, Director of Arts in Education at Henry Street Settlement’s Abrons Arts Center, Alison Fleminger, Program Curator and Educator of The Performance Project @ University Settlement and Michael Roderick, Founder of Small Pond Enterprises LLC.
The title ART IS NOT APART is inspired by artist and educator Eric Booth.
I have been reminding many of you to send performance documentation to Emergency INDEX, here’s another reminder: SUBMIT A DESCRIPTION OF YOUR PERFORMANCE TO EMERGENCY INDEX!!!
(by January 3)
Wednesday, November 30, 2011, from 6:30pm -9:30pm at
This evening’s performance-infused forum will address performance criticism, documentation, and the relationship between writing and performance. A panel discussion with performance publishers, critics, and curators will be followed by performances by artists and playwrights based on critical writing about their own work; and open discussion between the panelists, artists, and audience members.
Antje Oegel (53rd State Press)
Esther Neff (Panoply Performance Laboratory)
Claudia La Rocco (Brooklyn Rail; New York Times)
Sylvan Oswald (Play A Journal of Plays)
Lana Wilson (Performa)
Moderated by Matvei Yankelevich (UDP)
ABOUT Ugly Duckling Presse/ Emergency Ugly Duckling Presse, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit run by a volunteer editorial collective, is the home of the “Emergency” series: the former Emergency Gazette; Emergency Playscripts; and Emergency INDEX — a forthcoming annual publication, in which artists reflect on the work they created in the past year. More info at www.emergencyindex.com
at Exapno, 33 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11217
Sunday, December 4, from 3:00pm to 6:00pm
On Nov. 6, Performa 11 presented Perfect Lives Manhattan, a day-long, site-specific celebration of Robert Ashley’s seminal opera for television, arranged and performed by the burgeoning art collective, Varispeed. Please join Varispeed at the monthly Performers Forum where members Aliza Simons, Dave Ruder, Paul Pinto, Brian McCorkle and Gelsey Bell will be presenting a performative “live documentary” and public forum on the process, practice and production of Perfect Lives Manhattan. Site-specificity, arrangement, ownership and questions of what contemporary opera is will be discussed through live excerpts, new musical compositions, video and dialogue with attendees.
“Less an act of rescuing a work from oblivion than one of repurposing its materials to unleash latent potential…. That Varispeed’s members could express themselves so readily through Mr. Ashley’s work while remaining faithful to it was impressive.”
-Steve Smith, The New York Times
Varispeed is a newly formed collective of composer-performers from music and theatre groups Panoply Performance Laboratory, thingNY, and Why Lie? that creates site-specific, sometimes-participatory, oftentimes-durational, forevermore-experimental events.
Performers Forum is anything you want it to be. Curated by Corey Bracken. Suggested donation – Beers for $$$ – Awesome Vibes Gratis. Visit Performers Forum on the web for more details!
(Performers Forum is not to be confused with PERFORMANCY FORUM, though the latter welcomes any association with the former…)
The sub-titling of the upcoming Sweat Lodge show Ashram Couture on Oct. 8, “an evening of amateur choral music” curated by Dave Ruder prompted this long amateur-theory post. What does the term “amateur” mean when we use it in experimental music and theatre at this very moment? (the two general artistic mediums in the Ashram Couture show) Why is this term popping up like a coin pulled from the ear of a little kid? What is meant by, and what are the political implications of different sorts of “amateurism?” How have other artists historically politically, practically conceived of amateurism, and how has amateurism become an “-ism” at all?
My Amateur Theory/Amateur Scholarship
Open. First, the idea of “amateurism” as I explore it here will be pretty darned limited my own context (that should go without saying), it will be as short as possible, U.S centric, seen through a lens of sociology-based performance research, and so on. In terms of geographic context, various German and Dutch collaborators with whom I have recently spoken identify an “amateur movement” on that side of the Atlantic in the theatre sphere, calling it “Crudity,” but that’s a whole other post as those complexities unravel fast and this related moniker needs more specialized attention. Also, I will not be considering the “amateur musician” contests all over the world, which award cash prizes to non-professional musicians, like the Olympics pre-1988. These are parts of other (albeit entangled) production paradigms, another post, another stage, and I won’t be considering American Idol or any other amateur contest, here’s a good article about “Work of Art” [for which I was a preliminary juror in 2010, what a weird experience that was]). I was tempted to include a long rant on public intellectualism but I’ll save that for another time too. Rather, in this post, I’d like to explore the concept of amateurism springing from the interesting titling of this particular show in Brooklyn, full-tilt across artistic mediums, (while maintaining regard for delineations between them, as I think a variety of ways of seeing complement one another and “fracture” otherwise teleological conceptions of amateurism that may or may not be held by any one of us within the horizon of our own medium) and referring to composers, theater-makers, musicians, sculptors, professionals, amateurs, everyone alike using the word “artist.” Sources and further reading materials are cited at the end of this post. Sesame.
What must be said: Amateurism may be initially defined in reference to the practice of an artist who is untrained, unskilled (in a technical sense), or only partially dedicated to his work (a so-called “hobbyist’). The work produced by a practice solely seen as “amateur” is worthless, sentimental at best, laughable garage-sale garbage at worst. Using this distinction alone, we would be lead to ask “how much time or money does an artist need to make to not be an amateur?” which I think is the wrong question for multiple reasons that I won’t go into (because I’m an amateur scholar).
Instead, let’s talk about Amateurism, with a capital “A” and with the “-ism” at the end, and how it’s used. Generally, nouns in English earn their -isms by being identified as a particular way of operating, as delineated by theoretical, ideological, or functional or other “-al” matrices and messy means to various ends. In this case, value judgment, the ultimate magic, must be performed by an authorial party regarding the economic and artistic success of artistic practice in order for bring “amateurism” to emerge from its vague connotational state and become an “-ism.” Value judgements may be performed along what I perceive as two primary trajectories. Please allow me (for the sake of my sanity at least) to split “Amateurism” into two these two trajectories, or meta-categories: what I’ll call Ideological Amateurism (included Dada, Futurism, Art Brut, etc) and Cultural Amateurism (social and political ways of describing, defining, selling, and theorizing the “inherent” human tendency to make art).
Amateurism and Agency
Let’s save the first meta-category for a moment and look at Cultural Amateurism alone, as constructed historically, economically, and/or sociologically, by dominant academic and contemporary criticism, which has authorized the “-ism” primarily to frame the entrance of teleologically defined “amateur” art into markets and bubbles and record labels and modes of cultural production within the U.S.’ particular brand of hypermimetic capitalism.
Fundamental value systems regarding what is “inside” culture, and what is “outside” culture directly construct Cultural Amateurism almost as a double negative, valuing perceived “Othernesses” via the parameters of its own academia and dominant, self-cognizing culture.
Theories about this are prevalent and those to which I subscribe indicate a further semantic categorizing and commodification that serves a convergence of institutional, national, political, and commercial concerns. A great place to see some of these processes operating is in the academic sub-terming of “folk,” “traditional,” “tribal,” “naïve” or “primitive” art, as a separate conceptual cluster from “outsider art,” “Marginal art/Art singulier,” also most recently called “Intuitive” or the politically correct “self-taught” art by various museums, archives, centers, and auction houses. The former cluster contains terms from behaviorialist ethnographers, the NEA, and collectors of strictly catalogued and priced types of amateur art. “Outsider,” on the other hand, is a term coined by Roger Cardinal (after Jean Debuffet, see texts below), belonging more directly to an academic and theoretic sphere. Both of these clusters, let’s call them “folk” and “outsider,” predominantly use the cultural position of the artist to value works of art and attempt to explain why works are valuable, more than simply “amateur” to collectors, museums, and should be included in and used by the Great Memory Theaters of Civilization.
Outsider trajectories assign value to the art-products of culturally, physically and/or mentally “disadvantaged” individuals. Language about this has shifted, but most extremely within this type of amateurism, individual artists are seen as “naïve” or less than self-aware/intentional due to age, ethnicity, cultural background, class, or the artist’s lack of training or “learned ability.” These ideas often emphasize the individual artist’s inability to function, sometimes hinting at “divine inspiration,” and exaggerating autobiographical detail. Here, we find a selling of the artist herself as a product. For this objectification of the artist to be most efficiently possible, that artist’s agency must be reduced and chalked up to instinctual drives, aberrant behaviors produced by abuse and disease, or self-indulgence of private fetishes, while works themselves are described as “primal,” “pure,” and “childlike.” Any idea or “meaning” present in form or content thus becomes masked by the very fact of the product; under what circumstances the art object was made, and how it was made (via automatic asemic writing, after a lobotomy, while on heroin, etc). This, combined with sentiments regarding “torturous artistic processes” overwhelm the experience of the work itself, or that of the artist, and aborts its operation, political or otherwise. This illusory circumscription of artmaking’s role in human experience to an automatic byproduct of circumstances speaks to an outright negation of the authority of individuals to sensibly express and describe their reality or visions of/for reality.
Folk art then reaches a similar removal of agency by drawing hard distinctions between nationalities and cultures, fetishizing individuals as pure products of their religious beliefs or valuing art objects as talismans of overarching exotic histories and experiences. Instead of individual artists being seen as cultural anomalies, artists are seen as conduits and/or representatives (symbols) of a culture or way of life. Thus, any idea or “meaning” present in the work is subsumed by the ethnographic “facts” of the culture in which it was made, and agency is again removed from the artist and from the individual work. While Orientalism, Nativism, and many other “Other-izing” modes are a major concern of postcolonial sociologists and anthropologists, many of those music, visual art, and performance scholars for whom a projection of Otherness is a concern unfortunately end up arguing not for a shift in conception-artist relationships, but rather an inclusion of specific individual artists (in the U.S, individual women, African Americans, members of Appalachian and rural areas, elders) in the dominant “canon.” This usually serves to simply shift this individual artist into the “Outsider” category (i.e autobiographical detail serves to symbolizes/commodifies the individual and his or her work).
Amateur Avant-Garde (Italian Futurism, and Fuck Yeah)
So let’s go back to the other meta-category, Ideological Amateurism, the other trajectory along which certain artworks and artistic practiced are legitimized, or authorized via the designation as “Amateur.” This trajectory primarily values having no value, defining “value” in the same way that the above trajectory does. Perhaps artists can claim “real amateur art” now as an umbrella term for a reified, reclaimed “Other;” as any art that rejects dominate modes of production, including the modes of “traditional” art and categorizations on purpose (ideologically) by calling itself “amateur.” In this sense, Amateurism becomes a “movement,” proposed and advocated by artists reacting to or in critique of dominant modes of production. We can even reify garage sale art, finding love for the ugly, the crude, the disconnected, and the unconsidered, taking it under a culturally anomic wing.
Even ignoring all that complaint about commodification above, and my own institutional engagement in the arts (are we uneducated? No, unpaid, yes!) I might end up with a view of amateurism then as a magically platonic “alternative” to monolithic Occidentalism, patriarchy, classicism, and as a respite from elitism, social oppression, and so on and so forth, a view which certainly brings us back to Jean Debuffet and his original (French accent) art brut, the raw art, COBRA, the punk rock, the beats, the loners, the outcasts, the artists and the queers, fuck yeah. Yet, this is tricky too because at this point in time we may understand too well how a reactionary art movement might co-construct the “inside,” sketching and strengthening its structures via negation (see Walter Benjamin, Frankfurt school et all) and/or become commoditized itself as a sub-culture or “genre.” Perhaps a reactionary stance from an artist such as myself, or any of the Ashram Couture artists, would be too too connected-via-negation to really be considered “outsider” or “amateur.” It would be a symbolic positioning only.
In the avant-garde music world, such ideologically posed “Amateurism” primarily connotes a formally anti-establishment trajectory and there are some great success stories about artists—reactionary or not—operating very effectively (which I define as influencing cultural doxa while staying almost entirely unknown and outside of material culture, and shakin’ things up) for example Irwin Chusid and his The Atrocious Music Hour in the ‘80s, to which some source the birth of irony and the “so wrong it’s right” aesthetic and of course the awesome Henry Flynt (who was brought to my attention by this same curator-of-the-show Dave Ruder) whose influence surges on and is perhaps the inspiration behind this actual show’s subtitling. Read this and this.
While it seems unhelpful to insist that commodification and removal of artistic agency and abortion of a work’s operation is an unstoppable machine, or that cultural anarchism is wholly ineffective as soon as it cognizes itself, or that education removes the “purity” of any “real Amateurism,” (away with such pessimisms and cynicisms I say) I do maintain that consideration of the economic and political implications embedded in “Amateur-ism” can clarify concrete modes of agency for us as (amateur or professional) artists, not just in terms of our work’s operation as a political or ideological voice in a public sphere, but also our in terms of our own ability to make decisions about how we want our work to “operate.” We neither want to confine ourselves inside an “inside/outside” binary, follow the amateur movements of Italian futurism right into the mouth of fascism, nor fail to consider that resurging interest in “folk” movements in Germany were as the beginnings of the rise of fascism while “degenerate art” was seen as the opposite and used to describe all modern art (nor fail to analyze how American folk and traditionalist movements have not always led us towards more inclusive or less oppressive social structures) etc.
Inside this maze of terminology and temptation, we have the opportunity to experiment with how Amateurism can be both Culturally and Ideologically constructed, and towards this end I advocate methodologies from the political sciences of aesthetics (of course). It is my sense that we seek a kind of de-hierarchized agency, an active, formal situation that is both unreducible to product, and least explainable via theoretical negation or accommodation; I hope that we can find a careful selection of ideas from movements in the avant-garde, from art world rhetoric, from performance studies and social practices, et all over time; from social sculpture and Joseph Beuys’s “EVERYONE IS AN ARTIST,” from social practices, from “documentary” and engaged practices such as Richard Maxwell‘s, through punk rock through art brut and more, more, more in search of this narrow path between commodifiable autonomy and un-commodifiable non-autonomy. Some interesting forms in a performance context that might make this type of “Amateurism” work now include:
1.) open-end or improvisational scoring/text (anyone can interpret and perform a work)
2.) collaboration across disciplines and ways of thinking about art
3.) “audience” participation, audience-led performance, or audience-performed work.
4.) No rehearsal, stream-of-consciousness, or other “intentional lack of consideration”
5.) Inclusion of those who consider themselves non-artists, or work by individuals who do not consider themselves professional artists (self-defined amateurs)
6.) Lack of monetary gain for the artists and/or lack of institutional involvement.
These elements, taken from the pieces to be performed at the Ashram Couture show and from recent self-proclaimed “amateur” work, do indicate a kind of aesthetic amateurism as well as ideological and cultural sorts. In their light, I am excited to align theories of and advocacies for Amateurism with participatory modes, collaborative performance, and music, all at once. There is a lot of experimentation to be done in interactive art and “public” groups of amateurs, collaboration with self-titled non-artists, and in the development of an Amateur Avant-Garde, which is constructive rather than reactionary. In the work of choral cohorts Paul Pinto, Dave Ruder, Dave Kadden, Brian McCorkle, et all, I am excited about amateurism as Öffentlichkeit, amateurism as collective action, and as inclusive organization. These are the tricks that comprise the act itself.
Ashram Couture: An Evening of Amateur Choral Music
October 8, 8pm
L’Art brut préféré aux arts culturels byJean Debuffet
Blinded Insight: On the Modernist Reception of the Art of The Mentally Ill by Hal Foster
Futurism and politics: between anarchist rebellion and fascist reaction By Günter Berghaus
Outsider Art: Spontaneous Alternatives (World of Art) by Colin Rhodes
Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond by John Maizels and Roger Cardinal
Outsider Art by Roger Cardinal
Self taught, outsider, and folk art by Betty-Carol Sellen, Cynthia J. Johanson
Testimony: vernacular art of the African-American south : the Ronald and June Shelp collection, by Kinshasha Conwill
Pictured in my mind:contemporary American self-taught art from the collection of Kurt Gitter and Alice Rae Yelen
Everyday genius: self-taught art and the culture of authenticity by Gary Allen Fine
Art Brut by Michel Thévoz
The Raw and The Cooked, by Claude Levi-Strauss
Other Random Resources from the Grand Amateur Index, the Internet: