Visited The 8th Floor Waste Time: Breakdown, Decay, and Regeneration at Freshkills Park panel discussion yesterday. The event was moderated by Dylan Gauthier and we heard presentations by Mariel Villeré, Audrey Snyder & Joe Riley and Antonio Serna. The event was hosted in the same space as the the Sedimentations: Assemblage as Social Repair exhibition. I got to see Waste Flow (1978-1984) & Sanman Speaks (1977-1985) by Mierle Laderman Ukeles. She was present in nearly every frame of Sanman Speaks, wore a clean uniform and talked politely how underappreciated the sanitation workers are. The workers felt like performers.
The panel discussion was about artworks and processes that are being conducted in the framework of the Freshkills Park R/D residency program. The Fresh Kills Landfill (1948-2001) is being transformed into a public park and Villeré is organizing an artistic research program on site, which all of the panelists were involved with. Artist duo Snyder & Riley were interested where NYCs’ trash is currently being placed. They discovered over fifty separate sites and had visited 38 locations, were the trash of the city is being transported. This process of distribution or “displacement of trash” was identified as a coverup: When contemporary trash is sent far away, hidden into multiple different sites, the problems that it causes become difficult to identify. They called their practice “anti-disciplinary” which feels fun and identified the Freshkills Park in its current state as a “negative commons” because it is for the public but not currently accessible (and ultimately toxic).
There weren’t a lot of discussions or audience questions. The event did succeed in presenting the landfill as a complex site and to problematize the role of art in the land reclamation process. Art multi-complexifies discussions concerning the site and makes addressing the core issue concerning pollution more difficult. Art feels like a coverup for a simple realization: People are wasteful and they should not consume as much. The rich pollute more than the poor and the poor have to live with the toxic.
I’m rediscovering Toxic Progeny: The Plastisphere and Other Queer Futures (2015) Heather Davis.
Visited galleries with other residents of ISCP (Didn’t get to know people yet but at least I recognise them). We went to Ronald Feldman Gallery and got an introduction to the space by Mr. Feldman himself (and gallery staff). Feldman was excited about the works he talked about (the works on display had an artist-as-archivist/witness emphasis). Their summer exhibition includes Dressing to Go Out / Undressing to Go In (1973) by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who is represented by the gallery! The frame of the artwork had a cleaning cloth attached to it. Feldman talked very highly of Ukeles and made her sound like a superstar, which strangely, made me doubt Ukeles. Her work as the Artist-in-Residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation was framed as the foundation for contemporary artist-to-institution residencies. We were told that Ukeles started to work with sanitation workers because they were underappreciated and that their work was considered “dirty”. This made me feel uneasy. Why were the sanitation workers considered “dirty” and by whom? How does her art effect this? The “dirtyness” and underappreciation of sanitation workers made her initiative to work with them appear more noble (which is definitely not intended). Someone should do a project with Wall Street Bankers – They are surely more dirty then sanitation workers! Her exhibitions in Europe were celebrated.
After Feldman we visited The Drawing Center. There was an exhibition by Terry Winters but I wasn’t in the mood for drawings. The center had worked with The Center of Urban Pedagogy which seems like a really interesting organization. They have produced a comicbook called I Got Arrested! Now What? (2010) which is intended for juveniles who need to learn more about their rights.
The tour ended at the The Grey Art Gallery which presented the “Landscapes after Ruskin” exhibition. Lucy Oakley’s (Head of Education and Programs) gave us a very convincing tour (she was backed up by an intern whose name I forgot). The curator of the show had developed an interesting interpretation of “The Sublime”. The sublime is not about experiencing universal beauty (in landscapes, forms etc.) which is impossible to describe & becoming aware how insignificance humans are compared to nature… It is also awareness of ones mortality and a sense of the frailness of human life. The exhibition linked the anthropocene with the sublime, arguing that these are similar experiences! In both cases we (the spectators) feel ashamed of ourselves… Either for our pompous believe that humans are the owners of the world (The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog is humbled by the majesty of the mountains) or for the fact that we have tainted the world with pollution.
This has an interesting link to horses! Students of the Horse & Performance course felt ashamed in the face of the horse (when they failed to execute care taking tasks in an orderly fashion).
The galleries used miniature Greek columns as space dividers or as roofing panels – This is extremely interesting. I think we don’t need to see artworks… We need texts which frame the way we see the world (or fail to frame it, which is fun to witness too). What the curator intended to pass with the “Landscapes after Ruskin” exhibition would have been accomplished with a clever text. After reading it we would have understood media like this in the context of the contemporary sublime.
I’m riding my bike shirtless (it the only way to go).
Visited Alex Straschnoy’s “Le rappel à l’ordre” (2016) at the Forum Box gallery. The video is presented as a clinical autopsy of art exhibition packaging technologies, logistics and infrastructure. Straschnoy has visited various art museums to document how museum staff transports and packages art objects. The video is very clean and shows only equipment, containers and the feet and hands of the busy workers. “Le rappel à l’ordre” would be a fitting addition for a museum collection. It celebrates the unseen labor of the museum staff and traces networks art objects touch.
The video is accompanied with texts which claim that “each institution has a different tradition in terms of packing and therefore a packed work will reveal more about the institution doing the packing than about the packed work itself”. Having worked closely with museum and gallery logistics, I have to argue that packaging is a very standardised practice and there is very little room for improvisation. The dimensions of boxes are fixed on the sizes of trucks or sea containers and packaging materials are standardised. EUR-pallets rule logistics. But this detail a non-issue concerning Straschnoy’s artwork.
Straschnoy draws attention to the insane amount of vain labor and excessive resources which are bind to the presentation of art objects. It’s important to focus on the infrastructure art objects require. Current ecological concerns call out for a new kind of artistic realism. Artistic representations must be made in relation of the art object’s material impact and technical resources it’s presentation requires. Art objects must succumb to the same critique other forms of consumer culture are subjected to.
One of the accompanying texts celebrates single-channel video works that “have become an important part of the art world offerings among other reasons due to their extreme portability”. To be fair Straschnoy should have presented how the monitor that enables his single channel video was packaged and transported to the exhibition site. I think it would have been fitting skip the exhibition contexts all to together and publish the work online. The videos trailer on vimeo offers adequate cues to enjoy the piece.
The idea of evaluating art through its relation to infrastructure networks (which make its presentation and form possible) is related to Mierle Laderman Ukeles concept of “Maintenance Art” which was a critique of the minimalist mindset (Minimalist were dependent on the existence of white cubes but failed to see the wo/manpower required in the upkeep of such venues). Ukeles argues that artworks should not illustrate what is wrong in the world, they should act to make it better. This is very interesting subject concerning our Trans-Horse project. We have claimed that artists should consider the infrastructure artworks require as a statement (More in Finnish).