Monday, May 4, 2009

Of Monkeys and Man

In January I was struggling to fill the class schedule for my final semester at Columbia and I was in desperate need for a class which not only gave me new material to work with but that also challenged me to move forward with my practice. The Fine Art department already thought I was crazy for not only having taken on a Marketing minor but now I wanted to finish a second minor in Art History in one semester and I wanted to take, say what?, a class in the photo department with Grad students? Well I had no real idea what I was in for. The most I knew about the course was having seen Greg lecture at the University of Chicago for the Black is Black Ain't show, and though he'd assured me the course was not related to Identity Politics when I had sent him a request to be in the course, I was ready for not only the challenge but a fresh experience within Columbia were I could benefit from engaging with new faces and new minds. I can say with great joy that I am super happy I embarked in taking the Human Nature Photo Seminar course.

In the beginning of course the readings kept reminding me slightly to a Gender and Culture course I had taken in a previous semester. I was intrigued at how many things kept popping in my head in regards to connection within my already existent interest in culture and "nature" inspired support for them. There was a quote in the first reading Snyder's The Etiquette of Freedom that said " We can give up hoping to be eternal and quit fighting dirt". This quote set my alert level to excited on learning more and more. I had remembered in the Gender and Culture course there was a lot of discussion on the construction of culture and the city and the attempt to move beyond the natural due to imminent things such as mortality within human beings.

Perhaps one of my biggest desires within being both a an artist and an having an interest in art history is for art to exist within conversations beyond that of just art itself. there are many things that shape our world and I have always felt that there needs to be a visual contribution to any given important discourse which is of great importance. It is within this position that I began to appreciate how invested art work brought up within the this course was in current issues of such magnitude. This began to help me think on my final essay presentation. When I read the Terra Antarctica by William L. Fox I had a bit of an Aha! moment. I had been struggling recently with developing a thesis on a holistic practice that addresses things from an all inclusive perspective. In my particular case it is identity politics beyond the inundated approaches of the past. But Fox's approach to the importance of collaboration within the exploration of something as the continent of Antarctica was an eye opening thing. I realized that what I was calling for was an art practice that could produce thought and activity potent enough to contribute to society beyond that of aesthetics. Ill save a little more of this for my final essay however I do think its fascinating to ask whether this approach to creating visual work be effective at all or even solution oriented. I recall Mr. Kevin Fuller , the coordinator for the Human Nature Critical Encounters theme which is what this course follows, bringing up the question of whether art can save lives and in this particular case, can art save the Earth? I'm not sure on my answer to that just yet. But I'm beginning to think that to have a "say" be it visual or not is an added voice that can only help any cause.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Aesthetics of Decay

"Not to preserve art but to use art to keep the image of the earth alive. " - states the introduction to the second floor of the exhibition After Nature at the New Museum. This gives me an intriguing thought of the future role art could and might play within the larger spectrum of things within cultural, social, global issues. Exploring this exhibition , After Nature, presented to me a conversation in which was being approached from many different "languages", but also in which the conversation was being directed towards a spectacle of sorts. The idea of the end of nature or say the possibilities of what could be after nature is, to me, what feeds this current or specific discussion of natural "realities."

The exhibition approaches many fantasy like scenarios of what our world(earth) could look like post a devastating or astronomic conclusion to nature a la "Mad Max". Key to the exhibition is the fantasy like approach to much of the work. The idea that we, as "self" directive creatures, can have the vast imagination and in a sense desire to construct fantasies of events and scenarios in which all we know to be is in danger of extinction or is extinct is fascinating. This brings me to think of how popular media, for the most part, addresses many issues of global destruction, killer viruses, massive killings, etc. We are fascinated by our decay. I'm just playing with thoughts here , but I am driven to think that the way we think about ourselves , our bodies, say that we are immortal, that we will decay, and that there is nothing we can do about it, may have some influence over the way we perceive the potential and realistic decay of our home, Earth. It's a far stretch but then again one to give thought to.

We nurture that which we feel needs help to grow. But we are asked to make decisions about pulling plugs when there is little or nothing that can be done. Why then are we fascinated with exploring, as in this exhibition, the potentials for an "after" when we still haven't reached a conclusive position with the prevention of any of these fantasies to become realities. The conversation does porduce a n awareness. It makes us think beyond a far and away issue and brings it home to something to think about today. But as the begining quote from the exhibition states, I believe art can begining to function as not only participator in larger conversations but as contributor.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Of Grass and Life.

How potent can a physical point of view be? As a participator in visual culture, I often question how distorted my one particular opinion or point of view may be. It is often I find that influential conversation may drive images or art works further beyond in potency and commentary than the initial approach to making the work suggested. It is then that I find fascinating the stark and emptiness in landscapes and yet how potent it can become within discourse.

To me Landscapes are something that I find particularly hard to comment on. Perhaps its living in a big city all my life, perhaps is the lack of anything floral in my parents house growing up, or even the fact that every weekend I was dragged to a country club to play golf for four hours on endless "scapes" of manicured grass. It is this particular landscape, the golf course, however which I found helped build an idea of a potent and very loaded terrain. The walls of the club house are decorated with endless photgraphs of grass. Picture after picture of grass, close ups, long shots, even aerial shots depicting the golf course just outside the walls. I used to think these photos were the most boring images I had ever seen, however in retrospect I find them fascinating. Whom ever took the photos was merely documenting the golf course so that the participators of such "field" could worship their glorious private and expensive meeting grounds within the club house, aka church o' golf. I can't get more excited politically than this. There is a quote in "Truth and Landscape" that states; "Although we are not as naive as we once were about the acuracy of the pictures, we continue to value them initially as reminders of what is out there, of what is distinct from us." The photographs of the grass, which is trimmed to perfect height every morning at 4am, are reminders to the club memebrs of their turf however they are also if ever where encountered by an outside audience reminders of a landscape which is unatainable by many social and economical limitations. These photgraphs of grass are not just documentation, they are worship objects.

"Beauty in Photography" states; " There must be another before there can be love. Eden becomes the object of our desire only after we are cast out." The politics are heavy in these photos, they were comissioned with a purpose. I began to think about the landscape and how much of the defacing of the American landscape via developement was influencing photgraphers and their work. A friend used to say something to me when I was a teenager in regards to dating; "How can you miss someone, if they never go away?" So I ask, when was nature missed, if not until it was basically eliminated from our lives? The reaction was "natural" to begin to address the fact that the landscape was being transformed and it no longer looked like before. The essay talks about desire, about constructing realities of one's desire, of Eden, with pleassure. I mean what a perfect description of a country club but a temple of selfish worship.

Non the less landscapes I can approach as expected visual comments. Yes they are out there, yes they are beautiful, and yes they can be potent in content. However it is the approach to the work about landscapes that makes this interesting to me. The context in whcih the photograph or artwork was made from is valuable information to the dialogue a landscape image can participate in. There is grass outside my house, however it is the context of the grass depicted within the walls of the club house which make those particular landscapes stand above any photos of my fornt yard. It is the intent in whcih they were made and the purpose they serve. I respect some though behind production. It is a easy road to merely rely on content to follow production. A conversation is a multiple direction street and therefore the photgraphers influence upon an image can be as significant as the audience.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sometimes a pretty picture is just a pretty picture, right?

I contemplated for a while on Subhankar Banerjee's work tonight. I kept thinking to myself after the lecture, were I heard him speak tonight, and after reading the essays by Finis Dunaway and Kelley E. Wilder on his work that I was missing something. I must be missing something because I'm lost here and have no idea what the big deal is. I'm being blunt yes, however I kept questioning many things and in the end I feel it was productive for me to question and this is why I chose to post true to my observations.

The first image of the lecture was of a polar bear eating the carcass of another polar bear. The image was striking, interesting, violent yet sympathetic. I thought to myself based on the readings this is going to be an amazing display of images and yes, this would draw attention to Washington. But then the energy died out. I was confused. I recall seeing a collection of images of the world from above. I cant really recall what this exhibition or collection of images was titled but it was at Millennium park, displayed outside. It was strange. Anyways this is what I kept reminding myself of as the images of aerial shot landscapes scrolled through the big projector. Then I though of Planet Earth the documentary special on the discovery channel, I think, which Disney is ripping off soon with their own version of it called Earth. There seems to be a trend here and really, the images just maintained an expected allure of what I would expect from a general Polar Ice Caps Google search. I understand I'm being highly critical here but based on the arguments made on the readings and the whole controversy surrounding the exhibiting of these photos, I was from the begining, a little confused at was going on.

So I got to thinking about the audience of this work. The Smithsonian, Capitol Hill, Republicans, etc. The people engaged in the conversation of these images were not your typical art engaging crowd. I really find it interesting that these photos could be approached a la NEA four. Would Senator Helms find this work a threat?
I questioned would Mr. Banerjeer have considered his photographs political if there had not been such a reaction to them? What about if he had not juxtaposed text with them? Would these images be considered political by anyone if they had not been brought up in politics by a politician in Washington? Context here is very important. The images are political and received such a reaction because a politician said they were proof of something much greater than a pure aesthetic exploration. The thing about aesthetics is that they never exist without filters. There's politics to the saying ; " Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." By extension I take this to mean also Beauty fuunctions within the realms of convenience and realtive goals.

I suppose many of these questions could be best answered by the artist himself, which Ill have the opportunity to discuss with in class tomorrow. I look forward to what Mr. Banerjeer has to say and to gain more insight on his practice. I find it fascinating that he is a scientist and that he is practicing visual communication with training in other fields. I find it is a very important component in contemporary culture to be multilingual on many levels to better grasp understandings and construct critical and progressive conversations on issues at hand.

I would like to add a panel form a project I'm currently working on. It serves relevant to the polar bear initiative of Banerjeers first trip to the arctic. Though it is a work in progress, I gained some thought in how I'm approaching it and comfort in how I'm approaching the work from this exposure to Banajeer.

I must stress however that a pretty picture sometimes is just a pretty picture. Felix Gonzalez Torrez once said "to be alive is to be political." To that I say everything is political, even beauty, but there is always other ways and in many aspects more critical ways to approach the political.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

All for one and one for all

I been writing for a few deadlines the last few days and so it's been a busy schedule, however a lot of what I'm writing has to do with collaborations beyond that of intended practice. The fact that things benefit, in particular here artistic practice, by gaining insight form other perspectives. Reading Elizabeth A.T. Smith's essay on Buckminster Fuller and his influences and well his influence on many others is something I found greatly rlevant to this concept of colaboration. I have never thought of art to be ever a solution for much when it comes to present issues however I feel it is important I feel to approach art as visual contributor to a larger conversation. Though we say that as artist we are visual people creatures in reality as HUMANS we are visual creatures therefore it is crucial that our discourse material have a visual component of great substance. It also brought to my attention the information that scientist provide to artist and the information artist provide to scientist. It is a discussion a conversation and no conversation can be had alone and from only one view point to be productive.

Monday, March 16, 2009

by the dawn's early light.

In a recent post of mine I mentioned Bob Ross, the TV painter of landscape fame and cheesy art stereotypes across the board. Well reading the catalog for Manifest Destiny/ Manifest responsibility Mr. Ross came back to my mind. The idea of these paintings becoming a reminder or a visual record of what our surroundings used to look like, is too much of a possibility at this point. The cheesy and "arteest" stigma that this kinda work carries in contemporary culture is a weird paradox to how this work may be rethought. the fact that these images , oaintings, are being incorporated into an exhibition addressing current issues as referrence to not only how things once stood but of how much admiration and allure they held in the begining to start with is a weir dturn of events that I think is fascinating here. Typically I would walk past this kind of work and dissmiss it as just another image that would make a great puzzle but this is the power of words and pictures and how they corrilate in forming a complex dialougue of things that we may deem mundane or too common.

In the Art 21 video for the fourth season, Mark Dion made a remark which I think is not common in the way people perceive the condition of the enviroment and earth's future He said something arround the lines of us being in a place were we are in a game in which if we win we et to keep the earth, but how he did not think we ha d a very good chance of achieving that at the moment. Ok, this to me is insanely interesting. This comment is to me not necessarily pessimistic in nature but more so realistic and in a sense a comforting honest evaluation of the situation. It is often my belief that the voice whihc we all get our information from, wether it be the news, newspaper, professors, etc, is not the absout truth and that is very seldomly challenged. In respect to the issues that this particular exhibition wishes to address I think its important to note how in context is responsable material thought to the community. what do we deem important enough to care about? What will make the soccer mom stop driving her hummer to pick up her kids only to dorp them off to the nanny kind scenario? What will make the clerk at Ace Hardware realize why I was in such disgust and horror at the fact that after I said no bag for my purchases please, she threw the bag she was about to give me dirrectly into the garbage? Education is key and I feel it is not "manifested" correctly and appropriately too often.

While flipping through the images of Manifets Destiny Manifest repsonsability I came to mind of particular bit of a Simpsons episode. I dont recall the scenario of the episode much but basically the image is of a man kicking a machine on the floor outside of an educational building and a hologram of a tree appearing. there is a sign next to this which reads in memory of a real tree. Ok in the text we came accross references to early discussion of the enviroment and how it is not necessarily a new thing to note. the Simpsons eisode in itself is but 14 years old at most and that is still a time when the trend of Green was not such well a trend.

Monday, March 2, 2009


For the last month and a half or so I've sat across from one of Edward Bertynsky's photos in the Criteria exhibition at A + D Gallery which I work for for. The photo is of a "landscape" formed by the collection of thousands upon thousands of discarded and used car tires. The image is striking and beautiful in its formal qualities. However I find that as people progressed through the exhibition, one of the most common questions was how this photograph could function as a part of an exhibition which was assumed to be about sustainability. The truth behind the driving force on the exhibition Criteria was not sustainability but more so on how unsustainable WE truly are. A mirror effect if you will. The paradox Bertynsky's photograph presented was of how it was probably the most aesthetically pleasing image in the whole show yet it was the most blunt image on waste and an unsustainable culture.

I find it very interesting to think, regarding on this weeks readings; Creative Destruction by Rebecca Solnit, EveryCorner is Alive , and The Death of Enviromentalism by Micheal Shellinberg and Ted Nordhaus, on what an artists role could be in environmental issues and activism. Kevin Fueller ( I hope I spelled his name correctly) whom is the director for 2008-2009 , had a lot of interesting things to say regarding why he feels artist could be a better vehicle for communicating a lot of the present issues facing humans nature than scientist could ever attempt. His reason for this is that artist have a better sense of connecting to a viewer wile scientist approach a more dry and statistical dialogue to research. I keep thinking back to the Bertynsky photo and how it perplexed a lot of iewers yet it striked a strong attention and thought process. There are breaking of rules and ethics in a sense which artist have more liberty of playing with than a scientist or a politician. I can begin to understand exactly what mister Fuller means.

A lot of the discussion sorrounding Eliot Porters practice is how nature informs culture and how our sorroundings have developed into entirely synthetic enviroments. I find it interesting to reflect back to the Byophylia theory here because in a sense though our sorroundings are very heavy in synthetic material ,it is clear to point out that everything we have created comes from nature itself. Yes the tampering of material and changing of process has conscecuences, and a lot to which ar eevry clear and present threats. However I think there is much to say about were things come from and how in a sense earth remains locked within itself as both the scene of the crime and the provider of material. Im a little unclear of were im going with this statement I will admit, but I think the connection Im attempting to make is the connection between man and earth and how there is a conversation between the two taht continues even though our current synthetic world blurrs things.