Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Inter Act Tion Hero

I just published a review of this show in the Ithaca Times. Here is an extract:
Inter Act Tion, a group show currently at the Tompkins County Public Library, comes to us with an ambitious goal. According to a statement by curator Pete Rush, art in the modern world has become too specialized an activity, too remote. This, he tells us, is in marked contrast to the situation of "indigenous cultures," wherein "art was an everyday activity, a means to decorate, celebrate and make special the tools, homes, stories, and rituals of daily life." The result of all this is a widespread sense of detachment from art's primal power. To counter this trend, the works in this show are to be "touched, played, worn, manipulated, and re-arranged," as well as looked at. How well does this concept fit the actual work?
Here is the rest of the review. The David Estes videos I mentioned can be seen on his website, along with other examples of his work.



Anonymous Nancy Geyer said...

Very thoughtful review, Arthur. I stopped by the library yesterday but I didn't have much time and could locate the works of only four of the artists. I ran into a friend who was ambling about while his son was choosing some books, and he said he didn't even notice there was an exhibit. I think some kind of road map would help make these library shows a more coherent experience.

I didn't see curator Pete Rush's statement, but the quotes you provided really got me thinking.
Is art really an overly specialized activity in the modern world? As compared to the era of medieval guilds, say?

Artists themselves can range as freely as they wish. We might tell an OB-GYN that she can't perform neurosurgery, but we don't tell an artist who earned an MFA in painting that he or she can't create a video work.

But the show is mostly concerned that art today, for the average person, is not an interactive, primal experience. I'm not sure if this is true either. Again, does the average person "interact" less with art than we did in the Middle Ages or the Renaissance? It seems to me that museums are everywhere and thriving. So I think the opposite may be true.

While we might not be allowed to touch much of what we see in museums and galleries, we still engage it and interact with it in fundamental ways. Sometimes, if we're lucky, our emotions and intellects are in full force. We share our ideas and feelings with our gallery-going partners, and that is a form of interaction too.

Is the problem then that art, because we rarely are invited to physically play with it, is too intellectual? Or that it's still largely the product of an indivual's vision as opposed to a group activity? Or that not enough of us are artists?

I'm always wary when people refer to "indigenous cultures" because usually there's a good deal of romanticism going on. In any event, there are plenty of contemporary examples of how art enters into our daily and not-so-daily rituals. The camera has put image-making in the hands of practically everyone, and blogs the world over are filled with stories and pictures and film. Many people think of gardening as a creative act (it certainly can be a daily activity), and it is nothing if not tactile and a matter of arrangement and re-arrangement. It might be an individual activity, but when I look at the front yards in my neighborhood it seems also to be a community-inspired act.

As for group activities, in the Ithaca area, at least, we have our share of festivals and parades and events on the Commons, with their floats and costumes and so on. We also have murals and graffiti.

So, yes, it would seem that the theme is vaguely realized, as you put it. But I'll have to go back and check out the videos you especially liked. Are they interactive, or are they *about* interaction? There might be a bit of irony there.

10:57 AM  
Blogger arthur said...

Thanks for the response, Nancy. I'm going to post some further thoughts on all of this here. Word limits are a bitch (yes, the review was exactly 750 words).

I'll add here that I think the library deserves credit for putting on ambitious (at least by local standards)shows like this one. The concept for Interaction doesn't help the work, and probably hinders it. Most of the work in the show is at least moderately interesting by itself, but the grouping isn't too coherant. But it seems like a noble failure. The Samia Halaby show was stronger, particularly her irregularly shaped canvases.

Estes' videos are definitely about interaction. They're not interactive in the sense that that term is used in discussions about electronic media (they're not video games). But I would say that I've interacted with them, just as I would say I've interacted with books and paintings (among other things).

A map would make sense, although I personally didn't mind having to search for the pieces. A bigger problem, which I failed to mention, is that the collaborative piece directed by Armelle Lefebvre hasn't been put up. This was true as of yesterday afterenoon. I don't know if anybody is planning to anything about this.

2:28 PM  
Blogger wylie said...

Nice review. Unfortunately, as I am currently holed up in a small concrete box in the UK writing my dissertation, I am not able to make it to the library to see the show, though what I am reading surfaces a logical question: as far as I understand it, didn't the 'modern era' end around 1969? Quite possibly, among other things, with the 'Earth Art' exhibition at the Andrew Dickson White Museum at Cornell? Local citizens would do well, I suggest, to pay a wee bit more homage to this important historical event, as it would undoubtedly put things in perspective. As I envisage it, from my position on the opposite side of the Atlantic, to recognize pretty little Ithaca as a work of art in itself might make it less easy to consider art being seperate from life. When Robert Smithson, the polemicist for the Land Art 'movement' walked a line from the salt mine to the Museum, arranging rocks and other items from the natural environment along the way, he was doing art. Dennis Oppenheim's ephemeral 'Accumulation Cut' at Beebe Lake, consisting of cutting a line into the ice, also revealed a new attitude into what art can be, along with how art can signify how one might make a relationship with the environment in a non-destructive way. Ms. Geyer is quite right to mention gardening (how I miss my Ithaca garden!) and brings to mind Hans Haacke's 'Grass Grows,' one of the single indoor pieces at the Earth Art show, a mound of dirt with, quite simply, grass growing. There are Buddhists all over town practicing the art of meditation on a daily basis. Surely the gorges are beginning to fill up with naturalists 'walking a line' from point to point, being bathed by nature. If that isn't live art, I don't know what is. In fact, there are very few local residents who do not consider themselves artists in one form or another- another very beautiful thing about Ithaca, and one that surely only provides further evidence that art is far from being a remote activity in the post-medium condition, or wherever we are. At the end of the day, the idea on everyone's mind at the Earth Art show was intent. It's the intention that seperates art from non art. View your life as a work of art - better still, regard the planet as a work of art, and watch as the perspective changes.
-Wylie Schwartz, MA Candidate, World Art Studies

3:50 AM  
Blogger arthur said...

The library building used to the local Woolworths. One of the artist's should have adressed that.

11:07 AM  

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