Thursday, June 18, 2009

Art for Art's Sake

June got her culture and art on last week; between a friend of a friend’s art opening; scavenging tag sales for art and finally an annual open air art market downtown; I can safely say I have seen enough art...…at least until next week when I go to Next Town and make a quick tour of the local modern art museum. Sadly, my taste in art has been referred to as pedestrian and predictable despite my appreciation of the abstract over the representational. I grew up with really bad representational landscapes (sorry mom, your work was too safe) so I bristle a little when I see them. But when representational pieces reach out to me it is usually because the artist tells the truth of the object through color. She sees the glint of light off water as the color gray tipped with yellow and thereby makes it--creates if you will--a glint of light on water. This gift fills me with awe, wonder and envy. To be able to make color and paint hang together in such a way that I see what she saw in the moment she was painting, is genius. Abstract painters amaze me, too. They think and paint outside the lines. No safe vistas and bibulous skies for them! Their leaps of faith make me giddy. A few months ago the local posh university was offering an adult ed class in oil painting and overcoming fear: the colors will be layered and therefore muddy, I will hate it and therefore wasted $$ on a canvas and paint. It was like the instructor called me and asked me: “if you love color, texture and form so much why don’t you paint?“ Hopefully, the class will be offered again.

The theme of the opening last Thursday was so obscure and ridiculous but I am reluctant to blog about it because I feel mean-spirited: as if I am utterly clueless about the often difficult process of creating. The show revolved around a theme and featured four artists each representing a different medium. My limited art background is perhaps why I found the show to be--well frankly--an absurd and pointless exercise in deconstructing space. Because literature wasn’t enough now we must deconstruct space. I can grope my way through the murky waters of Deconstructionism and it’s tenants. In the beginning, I was fascinated with subtext and all the blah-blah theory but after my initial dewy-eyed fascination, I found it to be ludicrous and a waste of time and academic energy. My favorite description of the importance of deconstructing text was: “so we can read the pauses and spaces between the letters.” Oh. What. The. Fuck. Ever.

This is a snippet of the show‘s statement: “. . .an exhibition featuring works of art that non-representationally refer to human bodily figure. Whether a surviving mark or mere evidence of the former existence--blood stains, sweat, hair, footmarks--indexical signs create a narrative.” The statement continues to instruct this collection of work “delves more into semiotics with the dualistic role of artist humanistic vestiges; intact are the clues that link the imagery to its human origin.”

You lost me at “semiotics”. Is “indexical” even a word?

One of the artists spent the last year collecting her hair from the shower drain, lobbed the wad on the scanner bed and made a picture of it. Yes, they did look like dainty line drawings but that it was scanned hair made me snort in an unladylike fashion. Another of the quartet, made paintings as he stomped, jumped or walked across the canvas in different paint covered shoes. The paintings reminded me of Joan Mitchell’s work, the shapes were airy, loose and sometimes off to the sides of the field. These pieces grew on me because the artist freely admitted what a departure this was for him as a representational artist. He lost me with over thinking his work: “Man has no identity without a carbon foot print, a traceable identity that is erased over time. “ The third is a French chemist who photographically explored how a drop of blood devolves over a year. Scientifically, it was interesting to see the breakdown. He also photographed drops of blood moving through water as an exploration of the alchemy of blood. On an intellectual level, the idea of his work intrigues me. But to see the actual work made me physically recoil. In my reality, an intimate acquaintance with someone else's blood can be deadly and is never beautiful. Finally, the piece de resistance, a textile artist who looked like Joyce Carol Oates younger more intense baby sister working hard to outdo her sister in the oversized eye glasses department. She used the bits of worn thrift store garments featuring stitching, snaps, buttons or zippers on each square of a large quilt. I thought my eyes would spin out of my head when she confessed feeling the previous wearer’s essence in each piece of clothing. She confessed being delighted as she ironed how she could smell their bodies. . .well that’s just icky. Ickier than the hair and the blood. She relates in her artist statement: “. . .the traces of human action that remains on linens and clothing--the rips, holes and stains that mark them as used--become markers of domesticities, lives constellated by cycles and patterns.” Oh joy! Feminist Deconstructionism! Let’s dig up the decomposed corpse of scholarship past and revisit how women’s art is demarked by the cycles of “repetitive and tedious processes” of domestic labor. Let’s debate whether or not biology ultimately decides my creative process. Lee Krasner's "Portrait in Green" as case in point! I did stick my hand in the air and asked if she was still artistically exploring this dead mare. (for the record, I was polite and didn’t say dead horse or dead mare but did assert this had been done to death) Many greater than she had beaten the cycle and drudgery of domestic labor to a bloody pulp back in the 80’s. For the love of the Goddess and womyn everywhere, give it a rest Ms. Oates Jr. And please, girl! The 80‘s are done! (now I’m being BitchyJuneCleaver)

I think I shall pitch a show: I can cart around an empty portfolio, and when I open it up I will do a dramatic hand flourish with a staccato “Viola!” I present to you: The Deconstruction of Space!” But there aren’t any pieces. Not even blank canvases. How ironic, how navel staring, how PoMo of me. Excuse me while I light my Gitan; adjust my gigantic and flowing scarf whilst contemplating my art.

Seriously, I thought the images were either absurd or repulsive. I found their intimacy grotesque. (I can hear Ms A’s man--R--with his laconic English accent: “June, art isn’t always about the beautiful, sometimes it’s about the profane”) But the intimacy evoked wasn’t the a sad piquant intimacy of Goldberg’s photos; or the brutish and jarring intimacy of Mapplethorpe’s finger in a penis. Goldberg and Mapplethorpe rivet me but these pieces made me want to turn away and wash my hands. Perhaps my boundaries are too hard and fast but I felt as if I had violated the artist‘s, and in one case, ultimately the subjects’ personal space. Much of my life’s work revolves around strangers most private functions and becoming intrinsically involved with their bodies. My companions at the show were surprised by my disgust and took note: “But you are a nurse!“ After a week of contemplating all of this it boils down to I would rather art not cross that line. I prefer to be entertained by art. But really, what the Hell do I know? The nice girl that lives in about 2% of my soul is appalled by my distain for these artist’ efforts and one’s complete body of work. What I do know and completely understand how difficult creating art can be.

The art market was a mindless pleasure after the intellectual contortions a few days before. Some of it was boring and predictable but other pieces were surprising and inspired smiles. Like this piece at the student show. I must admit to gasping with pleasure when I saw how well he photographed against the stormy sky.

It’s a deconstructed notion of Mr. Stay Puff as interpreted in Ghost Busters, don’t you think? oh my god! Make it stop! Make the Derrida and Smith voices go away! But you gave them the power of the text by typing their names. Their influences are now the subtext of your life. Ahem…sorry little moment with the voices in my head.

Despite my bitching about the show, I had a great time with Ms. A, R and his friends. The garage sale art and the market a few days later was cosmic payback for the head scratching, belly gazing experience last Thursday night. I did see things I would love to own at the market. I returned with cards and websites for the future when I can acquire a canvas and maybe a tea pot. Art makes a splendid gift. A picture of my hair would be just the thing for TG next Christmas! Better yet, I will allow our strands to intermingle as one continuous line. . . The supreme romantic gesture. Do you think she would like a Kleenex from the bottom of my purse? Because, that too contextualizes traces of my existence. My existence is too important to not be contextualized.

I slay myself, truly.

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