Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Skipping Stones Reflection on Text & Art Discussion

On Sunday I participated in a roundtable discussion about using text in art. Hopefully the entire conversation will be published, not only because I was part of it, because it was a comprehensive overview of the different ways text is being used in paintings. Co-moderated by Bert Stabler and Noah Berlatsky, the talk was much more academic and theoretical than I anticipated. However when the discussion would get too heady, a gentleman in the audience who initially admitted that this kind of work was new to him and this was an educational experience for him, and would kindly ask for definitions and information about the artists names we were tossing around. Noah provided the expertise on the history of concrete poetry, and even touched on early political cartoons in relation to text and art. Bert did an excellent job providing a historical framework of text-based artwork, as well as effortlessly summing up modern theoretical issues. I suspect he is planning to write an article on the subject and used this roundtable for research. The other participants involved were Carol Jackson and Diana Guerrero-Macia, both of who are artists in the middle of their career and teach at SAIC. Instead of recapping the entire conversation (waiting for the recording to be transcribed) I want to jump to the last topic we discussed. Without getting too into it, we started talking about meta strategies in contemporary art and punk rock. Mostly because the composition in Diana's work sometimes resembles early zines and punk rock cover art. Soon hereafter, I was asked two questions that threw me for a loop. I wish I could quote Bert's question verbatim, but a paraphrase will have to do. He asked me whether or not I sided with the Ramones' flickering spirit of hope, or with the defeatist coopting Ikea capitalists. What kind of question is that? Of course I side with the Ramones. I think this question also deals with the general attitude shift toward earnestness. People are tired of irony, and now artists are either sincerely optimistic or sincerely pessimistic. Carol then asked me if I considered myself part of the avant-garde. I said yes, then changed my answer to 'I don't think about avant-garde while I'm working, I just investigate my interests and focus on what makes my art interesting'. This is true, but the question seems to highlight the generational difference between artists who studied in the 80's and my contemporaries who studied in the past decade. If you think about 80's art, there was a clear us vs. them thing going on, a bifurcation, zines vs. mass media. Identity politics had a clear enemy, and artists who wanted to see change directed their aggression succinctly. Everything was cut and dry, you either were part of the avant-garde or you weren't. But now we've seen every counter-culture style and tactic become co-opted into a market strategy for H&M or a leaked viral video for Miller High Life. Now we get the Yes Men hijacking corporate conferences, infiltrating and impersonating The Man. And we get artists like Allora & Callzadilla who use conventional gallery type art along with public interventions. As for an avant-garde meta strategy, this would be a blending or chameleon strategy. No more us vs. them. With all the pluralism in the 90's, the inter-disciplinary practices, considering everything in the past century that has expanded art, along with irony being unfashionable, artists are now more free to hack away at their elusive thesis. An upside of the pending market collapse is that it may allow more freedom to artists, to create work without the pressure of the market. This recession could be a long one, but once it is over who knows what those artists are going to drag out of their studios.

2 comments:

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