Saturday, September 2, 2017

My application to the (free) Mountain School of Arts

I meant to publish this earlier prior to the Aug 14th deadline, but I also meant to submit multiple applications under various pseudonyms. Here is my application to the Mountain School of Arts in that also covers my more covert activities since coming to LA:


(My application is primarily based on previous Mountain School of Arts applications that were published regardless if the applicant was accepted or not.)




Full name: Cedric Tai

Age:
 
32

Nationality:
 
Hong Kong Chinese - Filipino American Detroiter

Languages spoken & proficiency level for each:
This is biased against those who sign or are mute, frankly I'm surprised this application is also not also provided in Spanish, everyone should be ashamed, all the time, for everything. Thankfully I am typing this, so it is not an issue for me personally.

Other languages spoken: Spanish (un poco) Musical (intuitive), English (the language I use when I want to go into detail) and Semiotics (rudimentary).

Level of education & last school attended: A degree from the Glasgow School of Art.

Main occupation: 
Currently in part of the United States that occupies the original lands of 
the Tongva.

Last job held: TSA Facility Coordinator for Cooke's Crating

How did you hear about MSA?
I don't remember exactly now but it was not through Tatiana Vahan, Agnes Bolt, Josh Atlas, Christian Tedeschi, Lee Smith, Fritz Haeg, Chris Rock, Chris Pottinger, Chris McFeely, Chris Kraus, Chris Elliot a.k.a. "Cabin Boy", Tessa Lynch, Marlene Vargas, Simon Wilkinson, Jacqui Power, J Dilla, Judy Pfaff, The Art Guys (from Houston), Andrew Berardini, Thomas Demand, Dan BustilloBryant TillmanFrancis McKee or Sara Roberts. It's also possible that I also didn't hear about it from Bread & Puppet in Glover Vermont.





What are your expectations of our program?

It is probably best to have no expectations and I will strive for that.




...But expectations happen involuntarily, so here are some of them:

I once daydreamed that I could argue with Hans Ulrich Obrist about the privilege of curating. (I just re-read that and realized how off-putting that sounds, but I'm going to keep it in.)

Other expectations include:
  • To be in the company of positive people who don't ascribe to positivity per se as self-help, but rather the opposite, a faith in community.
  • To realize that I probably could have snuck in if I really tried hard enough.
  • To find out how an artist creates their own school without it being swallowed up by bureaucracy, or maintains its pleasure & glory in the "Temporary Autonomous Zone"
  • To feel part of a community of artists who seek out similar challenges (a penchant for becoming more self-conscious).
  • To believe.

In 800 words or less please introduce yourself:

Everyday I am working on becoming less anxious. I think I like to tell jokes, but I have been told that I have a "shit-eating-grin". Although I live for good conversations, I am willing to believe that what feels natural to me, constantly making jokes, should be investigated perhaps as a way of avoiding something else, even while it creates discomfort for myself. In general, this points to a crucial part of learning, which is the long game.

To prepare myself in the past year:

  • I started practicing yoga twice a week (which I avoided until last year because I had always thought it was just white people pretending to be Asian.)
  • I avoiding any form of professional development, especially any meet ups with curators and still landed a solo show at UCLA through grassroots back channels. Essentially I couldn't stop talking to a student educator at the Hammer about my love for pedagogical strategies, which was very overwhelming for this young person who is usually trying in vain to get people to engage with the work. After I handed Weiwen Balter my card, she invited me to put on an exhibition in their student run gallery in the Kerckhoff with the possibility of a $2,000 dollar stipend. This is more money than I have ever been offered up front for a project and it was from students applying for funding through their student government clubs.
  • I snuck into Universal Studios and gave myself a golf cart tour of the props departments by calling security ahead of time and making up a fake movie production name. This was also research for the upcoming Exhibition at UCLA because I wanted to have a component about discovery that involved breaking rules and I thought it would be hypocritical of me to teach it if I had not tried it myself in LA.


  • The exhibition I put on was an exercise in non-didactic engagement. No one, including myself was entirely prepared for the opening which involved encourage students to pickup power tools for the first time and learn how to build their own gallery. (without any instructions or group guidance). The original idea was to show that a DIY anything (a toaster, a gallery, a career) is a misnomer because it involves relying on so many others. I wanted to help the students feel more free to experiment since the historic building meant that students were not allowed to do anything other than use blue tape on the walls to put up work. What upped the ante was that after a few hours into the opening, we were told by facilities that everything we made would have to be taken down as it wasn't art... This happened 4 times in one month where an installation of the walls in different orientations was approved, but then was requested to be de-installed for a different reason each time. The highlight for me was when I invited "The Best Friends Learning Gang" to run a workshop on lock picking and DIY pepper spray, it was such a good time that the security that was tasked to monitor our workshops joined in.


I'm hoping that all of these experiences will have helped prepare me to join the Mountain School. I trust artists (but I don't think that they should be catered to by any means) and it has filled my life with a capacity for serendipity that is among the greatest of addictions.

There are sometimes when I talk with other artists about their passion for the kind of discovery that is possible through art making and I find myself filled with something like helium, possibly hydrogen, which is a lighter element, and more flammable. If I'm honest, my experience in LA has been, as Kaiser Permanente put on my diagnosis "a minor depressive episode". It feels both the place to be, but also is missing something important because technically many people do find success here and somehow it means that one should be more self-centered and do their thing. What I loved about growing up in Detroit was the lack of expectation for blue-chip success in art, and especially how much more free time I had to have spent about a third of my time just volunteering for other people's projects. I worry that at some point major cities such as these will become cost-prohibitive and we will all need to come up with a new plan of how to stay in close proximity even though we are possibly all terrible at planning things such as this. Usually I feel like I don't know if I want to make art in LA because it just seems like a thing to do, and not only do I not want to do anything, I want everyone to quit their day jobs.
Honest confession #2, I believe that I am subconsciously seeking a PHD from your artist-run 
institution. This would give me the placebo effect of believing that I have the power to also start my own school, but I forget that I don't like creating large things that would require diligent maintenance, and so it's probably a good idea to do nothing of the sort. I do miss teaching art on the college level a lot, but for some reason I've convinced myself that adjunct teaching is a dead end. My friend Andrew Thompson once drove to 7 different colleges/schools in Michigan in 1 week to teach different courses in each one, and his circumstances still makes me angry and sad even though he doesn't need to do that anymore.

I think that I am trying to get away from being an 'assignment' based visual artist, although it 
has not necessarily been the worst thing in the world since it helps me to build skills. In my boredom while exploring new skills, I tend to discover things that are more interesting which then help to be an impetus to really push the work.

Also I appreciate the perpetual-student aspect of it. I had a thought the other day: if one of the greatest lessons is to see the world like a child, and another one is to see everyone as a teacher, then when the teachers becomes the students... I'm sorry I totally forgot where I was going with that. What I think I'm trying to get at is teachers should feel lucky that they can be mentored by a professional student such as myself. This is not to gloat, I am being somewhat serious.

In the past three years if I found myself in a lecture by a well established celebrity artist, I was compelled to formulate a thought-provoking question that would make their
path to success more defined. I had to find the courage to voice my question publicly even if they are very personal 'how' types of questions. No one notices that my body shakes, but I do know that I end up talking very quickly with a nervous urgency. I want to believe that this may be because of the condition of knowing that this is an opportunity to talk to them as a person, as if they were waiting the whole time of their lecture to end their pretense and flatten the pedestal they speak from in order to plant ideas on common ground. I feel like I live to keep engaging with other people with questions. I like this quote from somewhere: "challenging questions enable us to distinguish between imaginary and real limitations"

I've had the privilege to ask in public...

  • Judith Butler (as she promoted her book "A Precarious Life") about how can we do the important work when find ourselves in jobs/a system that seems to overly value or keep Americans perpetually busy and she replied that Marx may have the answers about how work gives us meaning.
  • Theaster Gates if he had an ideal context for his work at Regen Projects, (in which I was somewhat reprimanded for the third time in my life by Hamza Walker) and Gates replied that beyond having his work collected he wants to run his own museum that shows the work he likes. (at the 1:08 mark)
  • Thomas Demand on his thoughts on having an affinity to cheap materials for both its familiarity and ease of working, while on the other hand how it could be limiting, a bad habit of staying within a comfortable range.
  • Martin Creed if part of his strategy was to use such banal materials and methods as to make it appear that anyone could do it (as a friendly gesture of openness to the demystify the artiste), and he comically shouted No! multiple times. I later found out that he does believe in his own exceptionalism, and I guess, rightly so.
  • Andrea Bower why make 'activist-like art when it seems that the most direct method usually is the most ineffectual and she sincerely broke down saying "what else am I supposed to do?"


I am wondering what it means if I want to try to compile all of the questions, and their
context, and all of the artists' responses, but I'm worried that it will reveal something about myself that I don't feel ready to express in other terms.

I really want to be part of the Mountain School because I believe I am in a somewhat healthy crisis and I think I can be really helpful and sharp for others and vice versa.

Epilogue 

If I was in a lecture by Piero Golia, depending on how comfortable I felt, I would most likely 
ask one of these questions:
  • Does the MSA website have Google Analytics, and if so could some of us look at the data and see if the are parts of the world where their acceptance/representation/rate of application is generally low? Would that change how the school wants to be discovered beyond word of mouth?
  • Have you noticed that more than a few applicants and possibly alumni are the past studio assistants of famous artists, what do you think that's about?
  • If you don't believe in planning, do you believe that artists should give any other artists advice? And is there such a thing as 'bad advice' from artists/people that you try to curb? (For example if you notice that a conversation is devolving into so and so should check out so and so's work because it's like so and so's work. Comparing artists becomes somewhat prohibitive/overbearing/patronizing until the artist has a stronger sense of self.)
  • I often find it difficult to focus on reading, but I thrive when I can find alternative forms of research to get around obstacles. Do you employ any yourself? (Example: A sculptor during a crit was explaining that she's interested in exploring spaces, so it was then suggested that she should go spelunking in a cave for research.)
  • Can I still volunteer or still help even if I'm stuck in a conservative head space such as a 9 to 5 job? What realistic collaborations do you believe are possible between the many different realities of how people have 'free' time?
  • Do you think that there's anything to my skepticism towards compiling online resources (centralizing them) where I believe it may be a placebo of progress in a time of such wealth (and therefore realistic access) disparity? (I thought I saw somewhere online that tMS had compiled resources for the benefit of the public called the Teaching File, but I could be wrong about its direct association with this group.)
  • Do you think that it would be 'weird', for lack of a better term, if Maurizio Cattelan were to come and take part in MSA?
  • Do you think this is a fair description of contemporary art right now?: Use the most cost-effective materials in the most clever way.
  • Do you ever wonder if there is or will be a black or asian or female counterpart to 'Piero Golia' that comes up with the Underground Museum or another grassroots local art scene?
  • Although this no matter what will come off as offensive, I want to know what other artists in the art world think about what artists struggle with on their own, together. This many years out, does Mike Kelley suicide feel part of a bigger discussion beyond simply his legacy?
  • How many times are people allowed to apply in a single round before it's considered too much? What if I use a pseudonym each time? What do you foresee for the future of the Mountain School? Does it run in perpetuity?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Brian Dario & Christian Tedeschi at Reserve Ames (and interview with Tedeschi)

Part 1: The last day to see Christian Tedeschi and Brian Dario at Reserve Ames is August 22nd. (open by appointment)




Compared to other exhibitions that have taken place in this quaint wood garage, artist-curator Ben Echeverria encouraged Tedeschi and Dario to take the maximal, generous, multiple-relationships-all-at-once approach.




There are no wall labels, and no titles, which further blurs individual authorship between two artists whose work appears to have quite the affinity with each other considering this is the first time they've worked together. 

They both engage with found materials, but their tact allows the viewer to still feel like they too are 'finding' the object (as there is too much to see all in one go) in order to understand the essence of each thing separately and when it's all together. 

Curious objects do not feel elevated to a precious level, nor is it like stepping into a cabinet of curiosities. It's more like a prop house with everything jammed together partially sorted in a haphazard way by type. Particular items have an aura to them, like they can stand to represent something from afar, a character all their own. A silhouette may suggest a modern gargoyle, a prehistoric satellite, or a Félix González-Torres.



Unlike a prop though, each is actually it's own world, not just populating someone else's world. The longer and closer you look in and around it, the more thrilling it really is.



One of the latest bodies of work by Christian Tedeschi are wabi sabi tools outlined in hard edged plexiglas. His work sometimes reminds me of Paul Thek's use of tight vitrines that held "meat" as well as Art Povera works with the kind of formal design that lent itself well to having clean formica edges. He also works as a serial artist, like a previous employer of his, Chris Burden, who made many iterations of massive "toys", in Christian Tedeschi's case it is the messy encapsulation of "tools".  This obviously renders the tool useless except that the reading is complicated by its proximity to other living things, rotting wood, the skin or the actual meat of a dead animal. This is not a vague equivocation between life and death, rather everything is at play, everything is kind of socializing. I think this is partially what Leslie Dick's accompanying essay was about, which was referred to as the exhibition checklist.





Brian Dario has more similar actions directly relating to Leslie Dick's essay, most notably, mimicry. A wall may or may not have belonged to the shed, but someone immediately recognized it as the artists' own property from his studio, as if it was a painter's palette. Dario also obfuscates authorship one step further when he let me know that the pale painting in the back was actually by another artist. He tracked this painter down who then ended up giving her blessing to alterations that he has been making to these discarded works. He sees the forgotten as perhaps the most useful material for their unassuming traits. His installations successfully play with when something becomes visible or invisible. I almost missed the painting altogether, mistaking it for some kind of white panel that somehow just existed because there wasn't enough space given to it, no cues to approach it as a painting. But this strategy worked wonders as I kept shifting left and right to peer around larger works just to figure out if I was really looking at a painting or not.



Both artists have a background in ceramics, but perhaps their background in working with others and opening up the process of making art is what gives it a prescient quality. Working with materials as basic as clay may have deep roots, but is anything older than curiosity? The works are more abstract and formal than conceptual or personal. The exhibition is more like a miniature golf course than a portfolio. 

I kept trying to back up in order to 'really see' the work, and perhaps the opening would have freaked out a claustrophobic person who is afraid of bumping into artwork, but something about the show seemed to be about facing reality; one in which there may not be as much comfortable space as we would like, but it also means we have a greater chance of bumping into someone who we don't know and to alleviate the awkwardness, we engage in a conversation with a stranger. (Note: not all interactions of the evening were exactly pleasant, a certain guy was making Rachel very uncomfortable with his questions about what she might wear in a hypothetical situation, but that's not the fault of the artists or gallerist.) What I keep coming back to is the interesting format of Reserve Ames, and how, even though Ben Echeverria has not occupied the house in front of the garage for quite some time, the current occupants and owners and pretty happy to keep a pleasant thing going.







Part 2: An Interview with Christian Tedeschi


I've been wanting to know more about Christian Tedeschi's work since we kept missing each other as we ping ponged in and out of Detroit. We finally met up in LA and I got glimpses again of his work when a mutual friend lived with him. While doing the internet research to prepare some questions, I was surprised to see how make-shift a career he has had, down to try everything that might be a little messy, which totally fits his practice. I accosted him by chance on the same day that he returned from his honeymoon, we corresponded over e-mail.

1. We both really appreciated our time in Detroit and perhaps found coming to Los Angeles more of a challenge, in part due to the circumstances to making the move in the first place, but moreso perhaps because of the difference of scale and heightened pressures. I wanted to ask you if you thought your work changed depending on where you lived, but I want to ask it in a different way.

You've had your home studio for some years now and a smaller program that you teach within, do you think that your next best body of work would come from a place of confidence in familiarity, or from something more improvisational, out of necessity from something unexpected?

Yes, I believe that I’m constantly responding to my life environment and or situation. When I was younger I lost my grandmom, my dog and two close friends in a weeks time. I went to the studio and didn’t leave for several days. I didn’t shower or brush my teeth, ate very little food, and drank lots of coffee. The act of discovery and creative pursuit in this life has been my tether to sanity for long as I can remember.  

When I lived in Detroit the situation was much different. I had a 29,000 sq. ft. warehouse for $300 a month (which was tough to pay at times). But the expansiveness and freedom that  I was afforded was critical to the work I made there. As was the free space and materials that came with the courage to venture into abandoned buildings and spend time there. This is where I really started using found objects. I realized that in scenarios where one might find a burnt down, abandoned home, they were extremely deep and dark but incredibly poetic. It was a post 911 world and Detroit felt like a forgotten land. A void filled with incredible people who were neglected by their elected officials but also a vibrant place booming with creative energy and artist types. A place where anything was possible (good and bad). It took about a year for me to see that but once I relaxed into it, I fell in love and my work changed. I became obsessed with what I was seeing in these spaces.

Now that things have stabilized a bit for me here in LA at the age of 43, my work has not. I’m always looking for the poetic. I rarely know things before hand. Most of what I make are a result of moving, collecting, walking and talking.

The “branding” issue in the art world is something that I have a difficult time understanding. I can’t adhere to any one “style” or methodology. I have many interests and life is complex. Sometimes the work feeds the work and sometimes life interjects something new. I really try my best to remain open to the signals and impulses without too many walls.

2. Correct me if I'm wrong but it looks like you've shown at a lot of down-to-earth spaces: Popps Packing, Monte Vista Projects, Elephant... (feel free to add any) as well as ones that have closed (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) Space Craft Gallery, The Happy Lion, and Summercamp. What have you come across in LA that excites you the most and does it make you feel like good work can get done here?

I love the gallery where I am currently showing, Reserve Ames. It is run by a unique artist / curator Ben Echeverria and it’s run out of an old garage. I think the programming at this space is unique and not LA specific which I find refreshing.

I was in a group show at ASHES/ASHES which was not specific to Los Angeles artists as well. I think the world of that space and the director. It’s a shame it closed its brick and mortar here but I’m sure will come back stronger wherever it lands.

For about a year I was represented by a gallery called Western Projects but they lost their space in Culver City and I chose to go my own way.

It seems that the wealth inequality of our country is being reflected on the gallery system. It’s kind of an interesting time in that there seems to only be large museo-galleries as well as in people’s garages and homes.

Currently the garage and home format makes for exciting contextual opportunity that doesn’t exist in a white cube. I’ve always loved images of contemporary exhibitions in Europe that take place in old cathedrals or churches. Anyway, maybe that affords a different opportunity for the work to expand into. It seems important somehow or at least, of the moment.

3. You mentioned that being an artist-teacher is a kind of model that you're interested in. Reserve Ames also has an interesting model in letting things unfold slowly (the pun being holding back on defining something too early) to find its footing and change to what things need to be.

I know you told me that you really appreciated that Ben is a curator-artist himself and that you and Brian Dario were able to fire up that playful part of him. It seems like your style to dive into a process that is inherently open is meant to forge more friendly relationships to avoid otherwise stark power relations. Can you tell me more about what perhaps you do as an artist and/or as a teacher with students to get praxis going?

Well actually Ben was the one who got us going, but he was responding to the work. I thought the show would be much more minimal, stark and contemplative but when Ben saw the work, he wanted us to bring all of it. I can’t speak for Brian but I was intrigued.

The whole experience was all about getting to know these two guys and discovery. Both Brian and I brought way too much work. We packed the show and the stripped it down. We moved everything around and added video. We took everything out again and decided that minimal was the way to go. Then we moved everything inside to store it because we were too exhausted to bring everything home that day and that’s when it all started coming together. It was an intense week of trial and error but I think it’s the way all three of us work anyway. I got to be very close to Brian and Ben as a result of this experience. I am very proud of this show and the work in it. But I wish I could say I gained new friendships with every show I’ve done.

As far as arts education goes Cal State Northridge has been a unique opportunity for me. I was brought there to build a sculpture program. I didn’t have an elder faculty leader breathing down my neck making sure I was passing on their dogma. I’ve had the freedom to teach how I want to teach. I have a very open attitude toward the work my students make and I see it as my responsibility to teach them practical tools (woodshop metal shop mold-making etc.) and fill them with a historical and contemporary precedent for the ideas they may be interested in. Then I enable. I enable all ideas and attitudes toward making in an open and creative environment. All in the hopes that they will break through to something that gives them something to be proud of, to laugh at, or to throw in the trash.

An arts education in sculpture at CSUN is about seeing things differently, in my classes that means the visual language and material.

Anyway, I work alongside my students and talk to them like human beings. I push a rigorous work ethic, I don’t play favorites, and I believe every idea can and should be discussed.


4. You’ve had quite a few students who went into good grad schools and now are showing their work in museums, the two I know are Beatriz Cortez who teaches at CSUN in Latin American literature and returned to art where she was established back in El Salvador in that scene. Then there’s Kevin Beasley whose work reminded me of Mike Smith who went to Yale before him, but he may have been introduced to resin for the first time in your class at the College for Creative Studies. What they share with you is their work ethic and maybe a ceramicists way of working, not too precious to be able to really push a material, but that’s perhaps that's where the similarities end?

In other interviews you mention Chris Burden and Nancy Rubins as influences, but who do you feel like you are in conversation with artistically speaking?

Mike E Smith and Kevin Beasley were students of mine at CCS in Detroit where I taught ceramics as well as an experimental course called “intermedia”. That’s where I worked closely with them.   
And Beatriz was a student out here at CSUN. She received her MA at CSUN sculpture while teaching full - time in Central American studies then went on to Cal Arts for an MFA, a remarkable work ethic. They are all extremely bright , poetic and driven artists.
I did use a lot of resin in non-traditional ways when i lived in Detroit and still do. I can’t speak for their influences directly but I am extremely proud of them and really enjoy following the evolution of their work.

I worked for Chris during Metropolis, I got a teaching job then stepped down to part time work for Nancy. Their life as artists was enlightening to me, their professionalism and fearlessness, to live the way you want to live. I am influenced by both for different reasons. I love Nancy’s directness. Her touch has a lot to do with the way clay works when it’s at its most alive which is when it’s on the verge of collapse, very direct and confident but loose and sophisticated. She has a tacit knowledge of physics without overselling it. It is simultaneously magnetic from afar and practical when up close. Like when the magician reveals their secret but you’re still baffled.

I was thinking about Paul Thek who was skeptical of the market around art and may have been written about less because of that kind of stance. I feel like Detroiters refer to having an affinity to Gordon Matta-Clark or Tyree Guyton as influences on how they think about artists who deal with discarded houses.

I agree. I like artists like Thek, Manzoni or Merz or Durham who seem to make the market come to them. In Detroit those houses do become material when you live there. Some have a D for demolition on the facade but never get demolished. They become illegal tire dumpsites, user houses, spaces for all kinds of questionable behavior as well as places for the homeless to live. Most times they are dangerous structurally as well. They are tempting to employ like any other material.

5. There's this pithy way of saying that when people talk about how broke they are, then it's a self-fulfilling prophecy and one shouldn't limit oneself like that. How do you feel about that sentiment? Do you feel like your working with cheap materials is in the same spirit as the Cheap Art Manifesto and Arte Povera or is this something you actually feel resigned to in order to have a realistic daily studio practice?

Hopefully I answered some of this in the above comments. I think whatever an artist wants to make is valid. I may or may not like it but I would always defend their right to do it.
I don’t feel like anything is truly cheap these days. Do you mean, if I were to get a grant for $20,000.00 if I would just make more work with “cheap” materials? Hard to say. I had a show with 40 pieces of glass clamped by 20 salami. Neither of those elements were cheap for me.

(Image courtesy of Christian Tedeschi)

Maybe next to a bronze I guess they would be considered cheap. I just look for the poetics. I would never limit the potential of the work and, in found objects I find potent and sometimes tragic history and energy that is significant.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Mallory Bass, the poet who put on a painting show

This past month I was commissioned for a painting from someone who had secretly been a fan of my work since our college days at MSU. This came as a little bit of a shock because since graduating from the Glasgow School of Art, I really haven't painted much, maybe 4 or 5 smallish paintings a year, but I don't do anything with them, let alone exhibit them.

I should catch myself for suggesting that grad school beat the fun of painting out of me. That's not the case. There was a stigma attached to painting that I encouraged since it was such defacto "Art". Wanting to learn how to take on new risks fit the graduate program's aims; to analytically get at what kind of artist we wanted to be. From the opening line of one of the program tutor's essays: "It's best not to automatically equate painting with art. Sometimes painting is simply painting, an innocent, art-free zone."

 


It felt silly enough to want prove to myself that I was going to be a real artist (somewhat feeling like Pinocchio), but I did spend some time asking what it would take to become a real painter. The inquiry was short lived as one of my first studio visits by a well-established painter, was something along the lines of this: "Yes, I can see that you struggle to find yourself as a painter, but should anyone help you to make these paintings better?... there are usually two outcomes of this, either dabbling in other mediums is just a temporary fling (research for paintings), or you become known for doing lots of different things." This artist personally did not care for artists that did lots of different things, but he did at least admire conceptual artists like Douglas Gordon and recommended that I read James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake if I wanted to really engage with experimentation and constantly varying styles.

I still tell myself that much of my careerist success was part of a 'fake it til' you make it' strategy which downplays connecting my work ethic with authenticity. Amanda Palmer has done a good job of calling out this anxiety as the fraud police, but perhaps combating any kind of creative block is most effective when we can recognize ourselves doing this to ourselves.

I was pleased to find out that poet-curator-friend Joey Cannizzaro also has the same unease with Art, in his case at one point he too made a conscious break from straight forward poetry. He developed a certain criticality (aka cringing) towards Poetry and keeps his own poetry almost entirely to himself nowadays. At least for Joey, one of his mentors was able to successfully shift his thinking: aren't all of your activities essentially acts of poetry? And don't they continue the things that initially interested you about poetry, but done a way that pushes what poetry can do? It's because you are very much so thinking like a Poet. (apologies to Joey if I have butchered the re-telling of his personal story.)



I love being involved in the feedback loop of painting, especially to see the work in person and crit it, but I don't pull from the discipline into other kinds of art in the same way that I feel like I utilize my training as an art educator as a kind of toolkit. There seems to be only remote areas that I can tell I am calling forth my skills developed as a painter: determining the flow and composition while curating a show, habitually showing up (mentally) to work on art which is about having faith in a daily practice. I usually make other people cringe when I talk about the pleasure I get from certain paintings and honestly, I do talk about painting in seemingly inconsistent ways.

Like the look I get from co-workers as they travel frame Christian Rosa's paintings and I start going into how much I enjoy the minimal Miró-like marks on a large sparse canvas by Christian Rosa; how it would look great on a collector's big wall, pushing other paintings out of the way. Usually my passionate conversations go on for much longer, as another painter and myself scroll through images online getting glimpses of each others' favorite painters (which happen to be a lot of women, and usually, but not specifically, abstract painters): Charline von Heyl, Judy Pfaff, Lesley Vance, Gee's Bend Quilters, Dana Schutz, Sheila Hicks, R.H. Quaytman, Käthe Kollwitz, and of course Helen Frankenthaler.



I guess I've still got some pretty heavy baggage considering I still haven't gotten to the review of "Colors" by Mallory Bass up until August 6th at Namaste Highland Park.

This confessional prologue can't just use Helen Frankenthaler as a simple segway, that'd be a pretty epic comparison. But Bass' exhibition can't be taken at face value even if she herself says that it's just about her love of color, it's not that it may not be the case. I learned from writers like her, that you don't start off with a caveat, an apology. And, read for the sub-text. Yes, the show is easy to look at non-representational work, some stained with items you could find in a your own kitchen, displayed in a safe space of a yoga studio, in the most quickly gentrified, hipster part of LA. And she was kindof a weekend warrior making her art, churning out works on the floor of a temporarily empty office. I heard, but didn't see that she tinted the tablecloth for the wine and food at the opening with colors to match. All of these things sound downright trite, but this is Mallory's show... and she's a poet...



We became fast friends at the Vermont Studio Center because we were intrigued by each others' different practices. This comes full circle as I'm inspired to write about her visual works. Mallory wanted to learn the process of putting on an art exhibition and asked me if I could help show her how to build real wooden frames for the works. She didn't know that I would employ a tactic that I've always relied on: pretending that I know how to do something and then frantically trying to figure out how to teach myself just prior to showing someone else how to do it.

I am trying to wean myself off of bad habits where exhibitions are an excuse to get no sleep, and get crazy stressed which probably goes hand in hand with the dogmatic aspects of Real Art that requires Real Suffering. It's so hard to get out of that solipsistic sense of worth because subconsciously we don't want to be thinking about other more uncomfortable things. So exhibitions, even Rachel's, would throw me into a panic, (i.e. Shit SHIT SHIT, the work isn't finished yet, but I still need to make a facebook invite to tell people about the show) but Mallory did it with a lightness that proves that exhibiting sellable paintings is only as alienating as our intentions, but we need to talk about the acts as a whole, not as the pursuit of Real Painting for Real Success. It also makes me reconsider an instinct I have which is to default to heightening all aspects of amateurism so that I can have a self-effacing out.




I know that she too struggles with her creative output, like so many of us with full time jobs. But putting on a painting exhibition was a breakthrough of creativity. These are not "paintings about painting" That's the lame go-to explanation for contemporary and/or confusing wall pieces. When you don't like the paintings then you it's "zombie formalism". Some of the paintings were in the scale and proportion of Polaroids, which reminds me of the way friends and I would decorate our walls with friendly familiar faces.


When she sent everyone an invitation, they too were unique paintings, as were all of the neighborhood advertisements that she put up on light poles. Even the little tour she gave us about what the process of making the paintings meant to her, all the energy connected to a Gesamtkunstwerk.




I have to say this again, because I enjoy thinking about it so much. At a time where I couldn't imagine myself putting on painting into a show unless it was as a conceptual exhibition, she thought she would just put on a painting show because it helps her imagination. I have a word painting she gave me, one of many painted notes that she wrote to herself and pinned up on her walls. This one says "the imagination is the beloved". When she first moved to LA and I was telling her how tough it was for me to figure out how to make art here she told me that the visiting poet at VSC, Steve Scafidi had some prime advice: Take a little bit of pleasure, then a little bit more.















In a conversation between Lawrence Weiner, John Baldessari and Liam Gillick, they each described a personal issue they struggled with in art making, something that could get at a wider Art World crisis. For Baldessari it was that he could potentially be making trinkets for rich people, for Liam Gillick, it was that he had to work with the marketing department first to describe what the work was before the work was finished. (I don't remember what Lawrence Weiner said, but maybe it was about how no one actually understands what he was getting at). I personally felt like I rarely saw working models of the kind of artists and artistic career I'd want to emulate, and I also only felt successful if my friends were able to make the best work possible too. But I should flip this. I have always been inspired more by friends and what they do everyday and so are the people that come to shows for a sense of community. I enjoyed seeing all the little gold stars next to the works that sold, which seemed to surprise Mallory. She must have only considered having them up for sale as little more than a formality in the greater experiment of donning the identity of painter who has to let their children go.  I don't know how to make this not so patronizing, but I sincerely wish that sales could always be this feeling, not pretending that we didn't really want that speculative sold-out-before-the-opening kind of momentum, but that somehow, a purchase was tangible appreciation for a felt connection between the buyer and the maker. They may have bought the work because it was pretty, but probably, those who showed up in the first place were there because they wanted to show their support for Mallory Bass' overall creative life. "Cool, you actually made something I can buy that will definitely remind me of you, here's some cash, keep working!"



Back in Vermont we discussed the nuances between the different disciplines. Often other artists usually refuse to entertain my vague qualifications for fear that it might end with some pointless generalizing. All I can say is that if I could have put it more simply with more clarity, I would've. The field of writing is weird because after works are finished they usually get sorted into categories such as Fiction and Non-fiction, coloring the way that someone approaches the work. I recently heard this dilemma from someone in a writing MFA that knows that they are a better editor than a writer, but they're both referred to as the same thing: writing. I wonder if the visual art equivalent of this is that talking about conceptual art and doing conceptual art is referred to as the same thing: conceptual art.

 
I recall one of the first times we talked at a long communal table, she actually snapped at someone who said to us, "wait, are you still talking about this?" She was as into talking about process as I was. I also recall that she read an amazing private e-mail to her lover John, presented as creative writing piece, and it blew my mind that one could so easily blur the line between ones art and ones life without being a workaholic where every moment/interaction was capitalized on (Looking at you Instagram). Actually, now that I think about it, part of the romantic reason I've always admired my poet friends was because I thought they were brave for sticking with a discipline that has no clear careerist goal. One didn't do it to become a millionaire through sales, they're less deluded about their prospects within very limited institutional positions, and there wasn't the same pressure to get an MFA so that it might lead to gallery representation and more sales. I recall a vintage poster that read: "POETRY DEMANDS UNEMPLOYMENT".

The way that people talk about marks as gestures, is the way that I see the act of putting on an exhibition are gestures. I actually thought that the Underground Museum's "Artists of Color" was going to be a bold gesture where there wasn't a single black artist, where Noah Davis was making some kind of cruel joke or  statement about how we would rather get into a deep conversation about  abstraction than one about race relations in an art context. Can you imagine if it had only had these artists?





I like that I tend to come back to a few personal truths about art, namely that a successful artist is one that continues to make art, that the viewer/audience (not the artist or an institution) can ultimately decide if something is art or not, and that I really enjoy trying to figure out how to best support other creative peoples' work and that can be a fundamental part of my practice. In that way, my writing is like Mallory's paintings, I definitely get something out of it; in a way that feels much less blocked than other creative outputs. It seemed like a fun thing to do to get out of my own head, it was only as hard as I thought it would be considering that I kindof do write all the time, just not in any official capacity, and now I felt like sharing this with you because I'm proud of it and I hope you like it too, simple as that.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Top 10 things to do in LA

When we first moved to LA there just wasn't the same kind of instant immersion that I was used to living in the much smaller cities of Detroit and Glasgow. Someone informed us that it takes about three years to acclimate to living in LA, but we had not yet learned about the pervasive FOMO (fear of missing out). I understood this concept as the main psychological symptom of using Facebook, but I didn't know that this was the kind of mythmaking that bigger cities produce. Either everyone you know actually was there, or the event was necessarily exclusive so that it wouldn't be as overwhelming as the crowds at Disneyland.

What I must concede after learning key lessons, (lessons which someday soon I will make into a top 10 things that artists should prepare for before moving to LA), is that of course I am part of the problem.

From the day we officially became Angelenos by moving into 90033 we were gentrifiers. We finally found a decent place in our price range as Rachel set aside two full weeks to looking for our next place to live and part time work. Just a few hours prior to our tour of the place we're in now, someone else offered $100 dollars more per month than it was listed for, cash deposit in hand. I had lied about where we lived to get a decent job, but my pay stubs could be a red flag (Rachel wasn't really working yet) so we had to be as attractive as possible. We were just beginning to understand how buying a home was much more affordable than renting, a concept much more palpable seeing that our potential landlords were our age, and also just winging it.

Buying a home actually actually sounds laughable now. On the radio I heard that the average home price in LA is over 600,000 and the situation in our part of Boyle Heights became much more sad when a unit down the street from us with much less perks is advertising for $2,300 per month for a one bedroom.

It's hard to imagine living anywhere else in LA considering that we were priced out of every other part of Los Angeles besides Koreatown and going much farther East. But since moving here we drastically altered my commute from a 1¼ drive to a 15 minute bike ride. My work's woodshop also doubled as my only studio. This has been some next-level quality of life shit, but I also realize now that this is essentially my non-monetary standard of living that I developed since college. I can't work without air conditioning or a studio outside of my home close at hand.

When Ham Poe called me up out of the blue as some tend to do, it wasn't until he asked me what to check out that I realize that I have shifted into feeling at home here. This month we renewed our lease to enter our third year, it comes with the 3% rent-controlled increase, and at work I've asked for and gotten a raise three times. Since coming back from our Documenta trip (Berlin/Athens), our mindset is engaged again with being more light and spontaneous, so not only do we have spaces we can go that may provide some inspiration, but there is more of a balance between weekdays and weekends. There is less of an urge to see what there is to explore and so staying in no longer feels like a FOMO. Also Rachel is looking forward to making work for two exhibitions, the first opportunities not related to CalArts alumni.

I told Ham to grab a piece of paper because I wanted to see if I could come up with a top 10 in order off the top of my head and was about to rattle them all off like I did for Detroit and Glasgow. With annotations/corrections below, here it is in Ham's own handwriting, in order of must-see:



  1. The Museum of Jurassic Technology
  2. Hiking
  3. The Underground Museum
  4. Korean Spas
  5. Reserve Ames (art gallery)
  6. Chris Burden's Metropolis ii @ LACMA
  7. Commonwealth & Council / Human Resources (bit more community oriented art galleries)
  8. Frog Town: Women's Center for Creative WorkBiking the LA river, Zebulon
  9. Little Tokyo for food / Retrokitsch Divebar in Chinatown for drinks
  10. Relaxing on the Beaches
Apps for tips on getting around - Waze, 5 Everyday