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?