The unfunny joke and the unartist: the metaphysics of absence? A comedian and an artist walk into a bar…

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/20/2015

Excerpts from Welcome to the Age of the Unfunny Joke by Lee Siegel (marked “LS”) juxtaposed with quotes from Stephen Wright (SW) and Allan Kaprow (AK).

LS: “In the unfunny joke, the comedian’s format is the Trojan horse that makes its way into your secret store of feelings as you wait genially to be entertained. The surprise is the unfunny truth that cuts through your consciousness with the force of a sword.”

SW: “…though informed by art-related skills, their work suffers from — or, should we say, enjoys — impaired visibility as art. Yet this impaired visibility may well be inversely proportional to the work’s political efficacy: since it is not partitioned off as ‘art,’ that is, as ‘just art,’ it remains free to deploy all its symbolic force in lending enhanced visibility and legibility to social processes of all kinds.”

LS: “Comedy is becoming an occasion to abandon humor for the exposure of unsoftened truth. Of course, comedians have always had license to be blunt so long as they cushioned their provocations with humor. In the case of the unfunny joke, however, the humor is absent.”

AK: “…the idea of art cannot easily be gotten rid of (even if one wisely never utter the word). But it is possible to slyly shift the whole un-artistic operation away from where the arts customarily congregate, to become, for instance, an account executive, an ecologist, a stunt rider, a politician, a beach bum. In these different capacities…[art] would operate indirectly as a stored code that, instead of programming a specific course of behavior, would facilitate an attitude of deliberate playfulness toward all professionalizing activities well beyond art. Signal scrambling, perhaps. Something like those venerable baseball aficionados in the vaudeville act that began, “Who’s on first?”

LS: “These people are professional comedians and most of their acts are spent making people laugh. But there is a schizoid dimension to comedy now. As fiction merges into autobiography, and movies based on actual events proliferate, the compulsion for comedians to smash through the artifice of comedy and tell the unadorned truth without humor is becoming stronger and stronger.”

[from the LeisureArts archive] – Allan Kaprow – Refusal/Un-Artist – Keith Tilford

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/07/2014

Keith Tilford, in a brilliant guest essay whose first portion is hosted at Long Sunday, asks How No Can You Go? We lost a good portion of our Saturday morning reading through it and its second part hosted on Tilford’s blog Metastable Equilibrium. It’s well worth taking the time to read.

We’d like to use Tilford’s essay as “a point of departure more than anything else” as he describes his treatment of Mario Tronti’s essay “The Strategy of Refusal.” In his “departure,” Tilford thinks through practices of refusal and their generative possibilities. Regular readers of this blog (to our astonishment, such creatures exist) will immediately recognize how germane this is to LeisureArts. What follows is our incomplete and possibly incoherent attempt to ask, “How no can you go?”

Against Tronti, Tilford seeks to dispense with a class based analysis of refusal. “To say this does not mean denying that there are classes, or that there is a ruling class; only that refusal, resistance – what composes and calls for them – are not reducible to the antagonisms of a class division.” This enables us to think in terms of what we have called elsewhere – political proximities. We developed politics of proximity as a way to create a place/space based configuration of Donna Haraway’s “affinity politics” – which itself was seen as an escape from identity politics. These impulses to moved beyond sedimentary, or essentialist subject formations are the sort of thing Tilford wants to take into account in his update of Tronti.

While laying out the overlapping histories and aspirations of his reading of worker’s movements (mostly those in Italy) and conceptual art, Tilford delves into the problematics of these sedimentarities, or what he describes as “institutional nomination” when these antagonistic identities are recognized and named as such. Via a perspective indebted to Deleuze and Guattari, he argues that, “A minority may create a model for itself in order to survive, but it is a model which it does not depend on…” This is a treatment of antagonistic identities as a process rather than discrete, (permanently) stable products, he notes “…it would appear as necessary to proceed from the knowledge that such solidifications are also the mark of a very real production of social subjects who continue to resist such solidification.”

This leads us to a central concern of ours regarding Tilford’s analysis and the field of invisibility and refusal. How much do the artists (especially Rirkrit Tiravanija, Aleksandra Mir, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres) cited by Tilford really “resist” institutional nomination? Do their operations and procedures of refusal actually square with this astute statement offered in Tilford’s essay? We remain somewhat suspicious:

Whatever name is given to such procedures, refusal then becomes synonymous with invention…It might also be asked how new and complex strategies of refusal can potentially count as an art not merely for those who might designate it as being such within the field of art, but for anyone who, engaged in struggle, seizes hold of opportunities within the empty unrepresentable spaces covered over in capitalism, so as to channel their own desire toward something and somewhere other than here.

The most fruitful line of thinking here rests on the distinction between art and an art. LeisureArts exists at the interstice of this fine distinction and aims to proliferate practices that might be described as an art over those that are described as art proper. We see this as placing these practices in the realm of affinity, and proximity, as mentioned earlier, rather than identity. It follows that this is itself an act of refusing institutional inscription, a desire to remain “empty.”

We believe Tilford is correct in citing Duchamp as being an important model of refusal, but he problematically characterizes Duchamp’s intellectual inheritors as finding “…it was relevant to take an anti-art stance and perform a constant restaging of the matter and means of artistic practice.” The appropriate legacy of refusal is not “anti-art,” which ends up enacting the State/worker problematic he finds in Tronti’s work: “…the categories of ‘worker’ and ‘party’ seem to end up installing themselves within the very representations that the workers would have intended to overthrow…” A better model, we believe, is Allan Kaprow’s “un-artist.” Writing about anti-art, Kaprow notes: “You cannot be against art when art invites its own destruction…” He offers us the “un-artist” asking that we “give up all references to being artists of any kind whatever.” This un-artist reconfigures the subjective formation of an artist identity, echoing the “resistance as effect” and “antagonism as consequence” operations mentioned by Tilford.

Another concern of ours is Tilford’s treatment of “institutional critique.” It’s a bit confusing because he describes “the exodus from the studio and exhibition space” represented by the work of Mir and Tiravanija as an example of a refinement of institutional critique. We think this works against his succinct employment of Adrian Piper’s “meta-art” which in many ways resonates with Kaprow. To our mind Mir (whose work we enjoy) and Tiravanija (whose work is completely undeserving of being propped up by the cadre of critics that champion him), refuses only the institution of art in the most facile way – bring art to life and life to art in a didactic sense only. Challenging the physical apparatus of art institutions and leaving the ideological frame unchallenged (Piper calls for examining the ideological genesis of work) seems like a minor refusal, not the sort of radical refusal Tilford is writing about.

Skipping ahead to Tilford’s exploration of “anorectic subjectivities” as theorized by Maurizio Lazzarato (for a feminist take on the refusal of the anorectic see Susan Bordo’s essay “Anorexia Nervosa: Psychopathology as the Crystallisation of Culture” and Elizabaeth Grosz’s “Psychoanalysis and Psychical Topographies”) we find this question:

And what of ‘artistic practices’ within the new situations generated through globalization and the proliferation of institutions? What, if anything, is art supposed to do under such circumstances and how might it benefit from refusal – from its own ‘anorexia’?

This question brings us back to Kaprow’s conceptualization of the un-artist. One of the keys here, of course is being specific about the difference between refusal and opposition. Refusal is a kind of escape, shifting the terms of discussion, leaving the scene, and not a direct engagement. It is not possible to dispense with art completely, but Kaprow, is aware of this, noting:

“...the idea of art cannot easily be gotten rid of (even if one wisely never utter the word). But it is possible to slyly shift the whole un-artistic operation away from where the arts customarily congregate, to become, for instance, an account executive, an ecologist, a stunt rider, a politician, a beach bum. In these different capacities…[art] would operate indirectly as a stored code that, instead of programming a specific course of behavior, would facilitate an attitude of deliberate playfulness toward all professionalizing activities well beyond art [emphasis mine].”

It is this broader aim of un-artistic activity and the steadfast refusal of a professional art identity that many “relational” artists and their variants have yet to sufficiently explore. The call by Kaprow is clear “Artists of the world, drop out! You have nothing to lose but your professions!” Clearly the champions of relational aesthetics and its practitioners have no intention of answering that call.

In this vein, Tilford quotes Andrea Fraser, who in a recent Artforum essay arrives at the position Kaprow explored some forty years earlier saying that institutional escape is “only what, at any given moment, does not exist as an object of artistic discourses and practices” and “It is artists – as much as museums or the market – who, in their very efforts to escape the institution of art, have driven its expansion.” The difference here is that the sort of escape Fraser is mentioning in the latter statement, is the kind Rirkrit Tiravanija and other “relational” artists engage in. They merely import art discourse into the social field and vice versa without a wholesale re-working of the conceptual schema, of “saying no” as Tilford puts it:

Saying no – or more appropriately, just refusing in general (however it might be decided to do so) – becomes the means to invest new forms of affirmation, new ways in which to grab hold of the gaps and run with them.

How no can you go? Few have come closer than Kaprow in their direct exploration of this question. He cut to the heart of things: “Once the task of the artist was to make good art; now it is to avoid making art of any kind.” That’s about as no as you can go.

“I really despise the strip mall/corporate chain mentality that says – in every city a Project Row Houses, in every syllabus a Grant Kester, in every program a critique…” – Even more stuff I said on facebook with the really challenging, thoughtful, responses removed

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/11/2013

The material below stemmed from this (January 2013):

Morning rant:

So, yesterday I saw a status update soliciting ideas for a social practice syllabus and it continues to blow my mind how unbelievably predictable the suggestions were. Foucault, Bishop, de Certeau, Nancy, Mouffe, Jackson, Habermas, Rosler, yadda yadda yadda…

What does it say about the state of education that there is such homogeneity? Sure, we can agree on some common/core texts,but isn’t *anyone* else suspicious about this? Can we really believe that the same laundry list of thinkers passed around from grad school syllabus to grad school syllabus enriches our understanding of social practice? Is everyone so (ahem) lazy? And how can academics otherwise inclined to be critical of universal narratives so readily agree on one for social practice? The global sameness of suburbanization is problematic, but reading (always *reading*) name brand theorists from school to school is essential?

I meet person after person in the field that have a really narrow point of reference clearly gleaned from “syllabus syndrome.” And why is it almost always readings? Or activist and art projects? Why not parents, neighbors, bakers, mechanics, baristas, programmers, bar tenders, clergy, restaurateurs? Do non-academics (that are not activists) have *anything* to offer social practice (other than as a grist mill for “collaboration”)? Should we tell folks to just read through AAAARG.org, check out the Creative Time Summit videos and call it a day?

And ultimately resulted in this: All we have to do is look around: toward a local social practice syllabus – Or, an idiosyncratic “arty party” field guide to Vermont.

…being versed *academics* is part of the problem I’m trying to describe and I’m not sure I buy that social practice is not a “medium”, or conceived as such, or at least desired to be so by said academics.

“A pragmatist turns his back resolutely and once for all upon a lot of inveterate habits dear to professional philosophers. He turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequacy, towards facts, towards action, and towards power. That means the empiricist temper regnant, and the rationalist temper sincerely given up. It means the open air and possibilities of nature, as against dogma, artificiality and the pretence of finality in truth.” – William James on philosophy

Kaprow and Dewey (but Jane Addams would be even more instructive than Dewey)are near and dear to me (I’ve written about them incessantly), but mostly for the orientation they offer – Dewey pointing away from *school* and toward education as a way of life and away from *government* and toward democracy as a way of life. Kaprow for constantly pointing away from art and also for saying don’t look at my pointing finger!

not suggesting either/or…I very much believe in the value of theory, but only inasmuch as it *actually* clarifies practice. Too often it is regarded as an end in itself, and always threatens this when it becomes “essential” reading. And amen to looking at other cultures – I might offer that a visit to two week visit to Thailand would be as (and yes I admit my bias, I really think *more*) valuable as 15 weeks of readings and critique.

AMEN sister. Discourse is *one* thing, but often presented as the *only* thing. Starting with texts muddies those waters immediately and, I think, sends another message – the (extremely narrow) verbal-intellectual slice of human experience is all that is acceptable in the arts these days. Mystical experience? Nonsense. Emotions? Well, we can sneak those in by calling them “affect.” Love? Compassion? Humor? Cloak them in irony or make them “revolutionary” and we will abide.

Sticking with my James (I’m re-reading), social practice needs to widen the search for God [pardon in advance his gendered language] :

“In short, she widens the field of search for God. Rationalism sticks to logic and the empyrean. Empiricism sticks to the external senses. Pragmatism is willing to take anything, to follow either logic or the senses, and to count the humblest and most personal experiences. She will count mystical experiences if they have practical consequences. She will take a God who lives in the very dirt of private fact – if that should seem a likely place to find him.”

I have no idea whether anything has “backfired” or not. On one hand I want say there is nothing wrong with being “comfortable” and that tying growth to discomfort is an old saw of the avant garde, but then again students *can* be outright lazy, and worse, completely ungenerous with their attention…never talking about the term social practice is probably a wise choice (and one I wish I was better at)…

I might agree ***** if I knew how to tell ahead of time whether such uncertainty was exquisite or not. Sometimes students find only fear/alienation…I have been thinking about social practice (the field) today as a building without an architect, vernacular architecture…and I see academia resisting that, wanting to bring in the professionals and make sure everything is built to code, properly licensed. I’d like to stick closer to the approaches of Freire’s and Horton’s “We Make the Road by Walking” or “Mercogliano’s Making It Up As We Go Along”…

And yes let’s not get stuck with the same old examples either. Being a hardcore localist (and anti-globalist), I am puzzled by people that appear to understand the value of such a perspective when it comes to food or retail/small business, but abandon it in the name of “cosmopolitan” education. This isn’t to say we can’t or shouldn’t learn from outside perspectives – but shouldn’t a San Francisco (social practice) education be distinct from a Chicago one or a NYC one? Not just in terms of faculty, but in terms of who is read and what projects are considered? I really despise the strip mall/corporate chain mentality that says – in every city a Project Row Houses, in every syllabus a Grant Kester, in every program a critique…I thought people took diversity seriously!

*Some* rural areas are conservative, and what exactly is wrong about being conservative? You seem to equate conservative with “racist, bigoted, sexist and homophobic” and that, of course is a highly contentious characterization. And if homogeneity is a problem, one would think my criticism would resonate. Obviously, we disagree about how heterogeneous the suggestions were. This would stem from my academic “privilege,” I suppose, given that there was almost nothing suggested I hadn’t seen dozens of time before. The funny thing about “privilege” though is that almost *anyone* is privileged from one perspective or another. And I find it as a rather lazy (ahem) way to try to negate someone’s point of view. You are “privileged” to have internet access so, let’s just ignore? Funnily though, my rant was directed not so much at privilege, but at a variant – exclusivity. I am in the middle of putting together a “syllabus” called “All we have to do is look around: toward a local social practice” and the first part of that title sums things up nicely. The idea that we need academic gatekeepers, curators, artists, academics, activists, etc. to understand social practice is troubling. Or rather what your criticism (thank you) and some comments above remind me of is that I need to be clearer about my “either/or” tone – I am not proposing an end to those suggestions that you find value in, but want very much to supplement it with the stuff right in front of us, beneath our feet, right where we are, by non-academics and non-artists. I want a broad, messy social practice, not just the tidy intellectual/political baubles of academe (oops fell back into that tone again – I’m working on it. I swear.).

I keep finding myself thinking/feeling that all of the things that distinguish an art project from some other thing/experience in the world are all of the things that make it less interesting, not more, that make it less vital, less luminous, less magical. – Why I wish art was more like National Lampoon’s Vacation – some sh*t I said to someone way more interesting than me

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/07/2013

[an excerpt from a conversation with Sal Randolph that will some day be made public in full – along with a bunch of conversations with other folks on art/life]


As usual Sal, you’ve made an eloquent defense of art’s ability to create meaningful experience(s). Although I would say you’re cheating just a little bit with Mildred’s Lane as the “art” part of it is way too messy to fully claim credit. My problem is that I find life so full of amazing poetic moments that I don’t need or want someone to go about trying to create them for me. Aesthetic experience is everywhere and I’ve found that art is too often about pointing to that experience, describing that experience, dissecting it on the latest critical altar, documenting it…

I mean, take your commentary about the “impoverished” descriptive language for social practice – I think we are getting dangerously close to agreeing here! I would argue that it is precisely to the degree that social practice tries to generate “project statements” and “proposals” and that it tries to adapt itself to the “historically familiar” art practice of making claims by which it can then be judged in some intellectual way, is the degree to which it fails to become anything other than another genre, another art fad waiting to fade from the limelight…

It is indeed the VAST “chasm between the lived experience of works like these and the constricted voice of their own PR” that is the very structure of contemporary art itself! Art has basically become a truth in advertising test – Did the ad accurately convey the experience of using the product? Did the advertiser make false claims about the product? Is that all that is at stake?

I keep finding myself thinking/feeling that all of the things that distinguish an art project from some other thing/experience in the world are all of the things that make it less interesting, not more, that make it less vital, less luminous, less magical.

To invoke Kaprow again:

“I would like to imagine a time when Tail Wagging Dog could be experienced and discussed outside the arts and their myriad histories and expectations. It would be a relief to discard the pious legitimizing that automatically accompanies anything called art; and to bypass the silly obligation to live up to art’s claim on supreme values. (Art saves the world, or at least the artist.) The arts are not bad; it’s the overinflated way we think about them that has made them unreal. For activities like Tail Wagging Dog, the arts are mostly irrelevant and cause needless confusion.

But in the foreseeable future, complete detachment from art culture is unlikely…It can’t lose its parentage so quickly. The best that can be hoped is that a gradual weariness with the art connection will naturally occur as it appears, correctly, less and less important.”

Maybe it is like National Lampoon’s Vacation, in it, Chevy Chase is determined to get to Walley World, along the way a series of mishaps occurs. These mishaps are all of the things beyond Chase’s control, and they are the things that make the film comedic, the vain attempt to stay on course, to stick to the plan, while life gets in the way….If art’s failure to fully control experience, to meet its own demands in the face of a recalcitrant life, were more like Chevy Chase forgetting to untie the dog from the bumper of his car before leaving the campground, then maybe I would find it more engaging. Instead, I’m left feeling sorry for the (tail wagging) dog.

“the nebula of “offroad conceptualists” who have withdrawn from the artworld attention economy into the shadows, never performing what they do as art.” – Stephen Wright on “art without qualities”

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/23/2013

An Art Without Qualities: Raivo Puusemp’s “Beyond Art — Dissolution of Rosendale, N.Y.” – Stephen Wright

[Stephen Wright is one of the last truly vibrant theorists left in the art world. Although maybe that is because he spends so much time outside the art world. And maybe his early years in the Pacific Northwest gifted him with the temerity of a cryptozoologist (escapologist). He is relentlessly innovative with turns of phrase and new memes, not in some pointlessly entrepreneurial attention seeking way, but as a matter of necessity – because the things he is trying to describe are outside “accepted formal parameters of art” (as he quotes Raivo Puusemp saying in this post). Wright, if not a member himself of the “offroad conceptualists,” is surely their greatest chronicler.]

Upon resigning as mayor, Puusemp left Rosendale forever, moving to somewhere in Utah, and thereby joining the nebula of “offroad conceptualists” who have withdrawn from the artworld attention economy into the shadows, never performing what they do as art.

Of course plenty of things are not performed as art (in many cases because they just aren’t) although their coefficient of art — in terms of their form, contextual engagement and the competence they epitomize — would be largely adequate for them to successfully lay claim to artistic status. And it is precisely this issue which makes Raivo Puusemp’s short preface to Beyond Art so compelling. From it can be deduced an entirely original and under-theorized line of institutional critique as the background of his project to instantiate a plausible new artworld in Rosendale, A public work.

But before considering the underpinnings of the project laid out in the document’s preface, let’s pause for a moment to consider just exactly what “not performing art” means in the case of Raivo Puusemp. Since his stint as mayor of Rosendale, Puusemp has ceased making art; he hasn’t even done art. But he’s thought it. Meaning that he’s not so much a former concept artist, as that he remains an artiste sans oeuvre. Not in the affected sense of a dandy, but with the infectious humility of concept art. As he put it in a recent public conversation with curator Krist Gruijthuijsen at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (one of the venues to recently host a retrospective of the artist’s work, up to and including his stint as mayor) Puusemp acknowledged as much, at least implicitly, describing how his relationship to art had itself become conceptual. “I’ve always thought about art, I just haven’t done it. I would see something, and think someone should do that. But I would never do it myself.”

He’s sees conceptual-artistic potential in any number of situations, relations and things, contemplates making it art, but leaves the doing, the making, the “performing” (or not) to others.

Of course, this principled imperformativity only makes sense against Puusemp’s background as an active artist in the 1970s. This is the paradox of the imperformative: not-doing only has traction against a horizon of reasonable expectation of an ability-to-do and the deed itself. Countless things don’t get done, but the imperformative implies that something actually eludes performative capture — that it is done quietly, and not necessarily materially (who knows?) in the shadows. And the shadow of the deed is the idea. But the very fact that Puusemp would be inclined to contemplate people performing (or not) ideas he had thought of also stems directly from his previous artistic practice.

Several things happened that would lead Puusemp to choose to move into the shadows. For one thing, he became involved with an underground group in New York City called “Museum” which allowed him to understand art as an essentially collective endeavor and to gain insight into group dynamics and process. But above all, he writes, “it became apparent that art was a continuum of predictable steps each built upon the last. It seemed that by being familiar with the then accepted formal parameters of art, and by doing work within those parameters, there was a great likelihood of art community acceptance of that work. Creative leaps were reduced to inevitable innovations and predictable steps. I became fascinated with the process of conception to completion rather than the product. From that point, I found it difficult to continue making art within the standard context.”

–Did you still think of yourself as an artist?
–It’s hard to say. I just kind of walked away from it, or from the object stuff anyway. I was thinking about things a lot. I mean, the other thing is, I started looking at this Rosendale thing more and more as a piece of art. It was a strange thing to do, like living a dual life. On the one hand, I was doing this thing, but I couldn’t tell people I was doing it because they would think I was using them or kind of manipulating the whole thing.
–But was it always intentional for you that running for mayor would be an artwork?
–I think it evolved. I was intrigued by the possibility…

Raivo Puusemp, a possibilitarian? That was the term (Möglichkeitsmensch) that Robert Musil coined to describe Ulrich, his Man Without Qualities. Not because his protagonist was without quality — his insights were of exceeding quality — but because he possessed none that determined the others and locked him down into a particular ontology. We tend to think of artworks as characterized by a deep singularity — and as the documents on Rosendale’s dissolution show, it was a project so steeped in nitty-gritty singularity as to conceal its self-understanding as art. But as a morphing pursuit of intriguing possibilities, and in light of Puusemp’s decision to further withdraw from exercising artistic agency, Rosendale, A Public Work may be seen as paving the way toward an art without qualities.

Claire Bishop and Nato Thompson as two sides of the same art worshiping coin – Some notes on a review

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/19/2013

Social Works – Sara Marcus

It goes by several names and takes a range of forms, but as with so many protean phenomena, we know it when we see it. Participation-based art, social engagement, social practice: Art that takes relations between people as its medium is currently ascendant, with specialized MFA programs, new social-practice art prizes, and biennials all attesting to its rise. This past spring’s Berlin Biennale, which gave the city’s Occupy activists free rein over an exhibition hall in the Kunst-Werke, is only the latest prominent example. Works like Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave, 2001, a weekend-long event during which historical reenactors and Yorkshire locals rehashed a 1984 clash between police and striking miners; Phil Collins’s They Shoot Horses, 2004, in which a handful of Palestinian teenagers in Ramallah danced to Western pop hits for eight hours; and any number of arranged social interactions by Tino Sehgal have for some years been staples of museum exhibitions and art-magazine exegeses.

Yet if we’re now several decades and theoretical upheavals too late to still be asking whether or why these projects are art—embedded as they are in the networks, conversations, and institutions that make up the art universe—discussions about how they are art, and what this means, are arriving not a moment too soon. They have surfaced most recently in a pair of divergent yet overlapping books, a quasi exhibition catalogue and a scholarly volume, that illustrate some of the tensions and problems that this kind of work brings up.

[Asking *how* they are art is just another way of sneaking in the question of *whether* they are art. This, of course, is the least interesting question one could ask. The notion of these activities being art-embedded is odd, as the very notion that something is a “project” and not say, a mode of living (living as form), indicates immediately that they are merely art after all.]

The former book, Creative Time’s Living as Form, is a kitchen-sink survey of art and activism, profiling over a hundred social projects, from canonical artworks (Francis Alÿs’s When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002; Suzanne Lacy’s The Roof Is on Fire, 1994) to those whose status is more contested (Women on Waves, a group that sails a mobile abortion clinic around Europe) to, most provocative of all, projects that seem to have never made any bid to be included in such a context: WikiLeaks, Pirate Bay, the Tahrir Square demonstrations. The idea here is not so much to expand what can be considered art as it is to think beyond that category altogether: “If this work is not art,” Nato Thompson, who edited the volume and curated the fall 2011 exhibition of the same name, writes in the title essay, “then what are the methods we can use to understand its effects, affects, and impact?” He has described this project’s approach as a “cattle call” and quotes Donald Rumsfeld: “If you have a problem, make it bigger.” In other words, if artworks that look a lot like activism continue to give some people pause, then, Thompson proposes, we should bring we should bring projects that look even less like art into the mix, and see what happens., and see what happens.

[Thompson is given way too much credit here: “The idea here is not so much to expand what can be considered art as it is to think beyond that category altogether” Living as Form, barely pushes beyond art. When it does, it stretches ever so cautiously into art world comfort zones of activism. So Thompson makes an elitist form of culture making *slightly* more inclusive and for that he gets credit, but he falls far, far short of articulating a vision of cultural production that makes more than a cursory effort to include “projects that look even less like art into the mix, and see what happens.”]

The Living as Form project seems tailor-made, at first glance, to get art critic and scholar Claire Bishop’s eyes rolling. She is an integral participant in the conversations this book seeks to register and advance—in fact, she spoke in the program’s lecture series last year and contributed an essay to the present volume—but her approach differs dramatically from Thompson’s. For while Living as Form is largely celebratory and expansive, preferring to pose enormous questions rather than suggesting how to answer them, Bishop’s new book, Artificial Hells, takes the field to task for a certain critical and aesthetic sloppiness she sees arising from a reluctance to draw aesthetic distinctions, articulate a critical framework, or venture to discuss matters of quality. For the better part of a decade, Bishop has been arguing that a great deal of the art that travels under the label “social practice” (or other related designations) is neither politically efficacious nor aesthetically compelling, yet is given a sort of pass—exempted from critical rigor because its heart is in the right place. “It is . . . crucial,” she wrote in a much-debated Artforum article in 2006, “to discuss, analyze, and compare such work critically as art.” This is a 180-degree turn from Thompson’s gleeful aside in a Living as Form–connected talk he gave last year: “We’ll call them ‘artworks’ for now; we will destroy that as we go.”

An expanded version of Bishop’s Artforum piece serves as the first chapter of Artificial Hells, her bid to introduce precision and skepticism into a conversation that frequently tends toward the impressionistic and the utopian. It’s a capacious book, organized around a general argument that will be familiar to anybody who has read her major critical writings: Discussions about social practice tend to reject individual authorship too reflexively, while overvaluing collectivity and consensus; art that is antagonistic, that provokes difficult feelings (“unease, discomfort or frustration”), often yields a richer experience for viewer-participants than works that solicit cooperation; the failure of much social practice to attend seriously to the aesthetic experience of secondary audiences, who are not present as the work initially unfolds, is a grave liability.

[Bishop though, is especially useless and conservative. She is one of the last great dinosaurs of criticality. You have to respect her, for she is absolutely shameless in seeking to cling to the last vestiges of the academic aristocracy. One of the delicious ironies of her position on social practice, her fetish for antagonism, is that the work that seems to *actually* make her uncomfortable is work that is too nice, friendly, or uncritical. So while she allegedly favors work that provokes “unease, discomfort or frustration,” what she really means is work that provokes those feelings in a comfortable (intellectual) way. She too, it seems, wants to stay within her comfort zone.]

Although Bishop’s and Thompson’s books are plainly in conversation, they also talk past each other, the authors attempting to cast the discussion in their own preferred terms. Living as Form is interested in social and political intent, while Bishop focuses on “participation”—a term that overlaps significantly, but not entirely, with the purview of Living. Bishop wants to talk about durable artistic “results” over ephemeral “process,” while Thompson is invested in how to change the world—the less said about art qua art, the better.

In Artificial Hells—the title comes from Andre Breton and refers to the difficult works Bishop favors—she develops her argument against an “ethical turn” in art criticism, in which artworks are judged based on how much they involve and empower non-artist “participants.” Empowering participants sounds far less stirring than changing the world, and her choice of the former wording highlights what she identifies as a constrained, NGO-ish cast to discussions about social practice. Such discussions, she argues, too often reflect the positivism of impact statements and grant proposals, social sciences and community development—angles that are not necessarily compatible with memorable art or radical social change. Bishop’s approach draws on the work of philosopher Jacques Rancière, particularly The Politics of Aesthetics, in arguing that since the realm of the aesthetic is inherently political, it’s misguided to think art must be directly topical or model inclusive democratic activity in order to be engaged in politics. Throughout Artificial Hells, she offers a welcome dose of theoretical seriousness to the field. But her rhetoric occasionally distracts from her argument. At times, she frames issues in a way that nobody could agree with without sounding naive—she suggests, for instance, that certain (unnamed) politically minded artists are “upholding an unproblematised equation between artistic and political inclusion.”

Would the guilty artists please stand up? Those readers who already find social practice wishy-washy or tedious will likely nod in assent, but anybody who needs convincing—which will no doubt include much of this book’s audience—may be as skeptical as Grant Kester was of Bishop’s 2006 article on social practice, to which he retorted, “One would be hard pressed to find many contemporary artists or critics involved with politically engaged practice who would espouse such a simplistic position.” Yet in the best-case scenario, this approach will goad people who believe in social practice and its transformative possibilities into clarifying their own views, if only to free themselves from the positions Bishop sets out for them.

[This reading of Bishop takes us deep into the theoretical funhouse. Here we have Bishop using Rancière to argue about the inherent political nature of the aesthetic – fair enough. But most of the force of Bishop’s position rests on the inverse – failure to recognize the inherent aesthetic properties of the political. She also fails to see that meeting her demands with regard to aesthetic properties therefore forecloses certain types of political possibilities. That is certainly “an unproblematised equation!”]

In Artificial Hells, she pieces together a history of twentieth-century artworks that have employed participation for a variety of purposes: support of state socialism in the public pageants of the Soviet Union, proto-Fascist bellicosity in Italian Futurism, the promotion of individual experiences of privatized consumption in later Communist bloc settings, dramatizations of autocracy in Argentina under military dictatorship. She aims to show that participation and democracy are not eternally linked, and furthermore that feel-good social art is not the only option. But to claim that participation is a valuable way to make progressive art, as many advocates do, is hardly to deny that it could find a place in other projects across the political spectrum. Still, such a prying apart and opening up of concepts and conventions is undeniably helpful, and the history Hells traces is an interesting, if only seldom galvanizing, patchwork of projects. Proposing that participation-based art has periodic heydays at times of political crisis and transformation, Bishop focuses on three such moments: 1917, the lead-up to 1968, and the aftermath of 1989. Her examples range from the well known (Dada, Happenings) to the more specialized (confrontational art events in Argentina, whimsical street art in Paris) and extend to recent formations such as the Artist Placement Group and the community arts movement in the UK.

Bishop’s overall schema opposes “a realm of useful, ameliorative and ultimately modest gestures,” preferring “singular acts that leave behind them a troubling wake.” (Who, after all, would opt for art that could be described the same way as flossing one’s teeth?) Confrontational art, Bishop argues—such as Christoph Schlingensief’s 2000 Please Love Austria, in which detained asylum seekers were boxed up in a shipping container, broadcast via webcam, and voted out of the country in pairs—does valuable work by making abstract oppressive social and political forces immediate. Moreover, she asserts convincingly, the tooth-flossing stuff is easily folded into the Western status quo, since art that aspires toward social problem-solving risks simply “mopping up the shortfalls of a dwindling welfare infrastructure”; and the network-based, volunteer-dependent character of this art reflects, rather than challenges, contemporary capitalism, which feeds us precarity dressed up as freedom.

[“Who, after all, would opt for art that could be described the same way as flossing one’s teeth?” – Well, I would. And so would Allan Kaprow. See: Art Which Can’t Be Art.
And maybe I’m reading a different Bishop, but it seems like she once again smuggles in a position to support her point of view that, if applied to her own position, actually undermines it. She faults social practice for reflecting rather than challenging capitalism, but surely in all the time she spends in the library she must have stumbled across at least one article/book detailing the relationship between ideas of the avant garde and capitalism. Isn’t guerrilla marketing’s raison d’être in capitalist society to create “singular acts that leave behind them a troubling wake?” Or, shock and awe anyone?]

Self-styled progressive art is an inadvertent running dog of the neoliberal state? These are fighting words, and one might have hoped Living as Form would come out swinging. But that’s not what the Creative Time book is up to. Primarily it’s a sourcebook, a starting point for further research, and a snapshot of critical conversation about the field. Its optimism can be infectious—look at how many different ways there are to do this stuff!—yet it’s a compromised vehicle. Many of the project descriptions that constitute the bulk of the book speak in vague grant-proposal language about mission (“doual’art invites contemporary artists to engage with the city of Douala in order to mold its identity and to bridge the gap between the community and contemporary art production”); often we must read between the lines to get a sense of what relations, or forms of living, come out of this work.

Meanwhile, the book’s images—which occupy nearly half the real estate in the “Projects” section—run the gamut. Some canonical works, such as Deller’s Battle of Orgreave and Alÿs’s When Faith Moves Mountains, are represented with expertly shot photographs of striking acts; at the other extreme, photos of Tania Bruguera’s Immigrant Movement International, 2011–, merely show a sign hanging by some elevated subway tracks, dim placards on an indoor clothesline, a clutch of people standing near a table. Allora and Calzadilla’s Tiza (Lima), 1998–2006, falls somewhere in the middle: In the photographs of the massive sticks of chalk placed by the artist duo outside the Peruvian Municipal Palace of Lima, of the political messages people marked on the plaza, and of the impromptu protest that arose, we can see something of the openness and expressivity of the action. Yet the photos carry little aesthetic charge.

They’re not meant to, of course. Much social practice is geared toward resisting a hypertrophied art market that commodifies everything it touches, and these artists rarely seem to prioritize the visual impact of the documentary traces their activities leave behind. Still, when Bishop laments that the open-endedness of innovative participatory exhibitions “is frequently experienced by the viewing public as a loss, since the process that forms the central meaning of this work is rarely made visible and explicit,” one can’t help but see her point. Living as Form supports her proposition that as social practice enters the world of exhibitions, books, and documentary websites, the question of how to communicate its essence to secondary audiences needs to be more seriously considered.

[As mentioned above with regard to embeddedness, social practice (art) does not enter “the world of exhibitions, books, and documentary websites.” It arises *with* them. It seems clear that Marcus is only talking about social practice (art), not social practice more generally (or what I might call social poiesis). In this sense then, social practice is no different than any other art genre. What Living as Form *could* have “seriously considered,” but failed to, was what would a truly expansive idea of social practice look like? What would it mean to *actually* “destroy” social practice as an art genre?]

Commenting on this year’s politically minded Berlin Biennale, its curator, Artur Żmijewski, wrote of his hope “for a situation in which artists’ actions would become not only art, but could also reveal a political truth—something with the potential to change selected aspects of our shared reality, so that art would possess the power of politics but not its fear, opportunism, and cynicism.” This characterization of politics as a besmirched domain recalls Bishop’s astute observation in Artificial Hells that the rise of political art bespeaks “a lack of faith both in the intrinsic value of art as a de-alienating human endeavour (since art today is so intertwined with market systems globally) and in democratic political processes (in whose name so many injustices and barbarities are conducted).” Politics and art are two realms that largely need their constituents to believe in them, and Bishop rightly allows for the importance of continuing to revise these categories in light of such crises of faith. Her call for reconstituting the boundary between them may raise eyebrows among certain radical stakeholders, such as Thompson, who aims to eliminate that boundary entirely. Bishop argues that such an obliteration would leave us barren of evaluative standards, but it could also be argued that her approach limits the possibilities of what the relation between politics and art can be. What we need is a conversation about art and politics that is both rigorous and expansive. Bishop and Thompson each take us only part of the way.

[I would again note that Bishop wants to eliminate the border between aesthetics and politics when it suits her, but indeed wishes to police it vociferously when it sullies her position. A boundary that actually needs clarification though is the one between art and aesthetics. They are often used interchangeably, but dislodging art’s stranglehold on aesthetics dissolves much of the force of many of these “debates.” Thompson is not nearly the “radical” Marcus imagines, or maybe we mean something entirely different when using that word. A more radical exhibition would not have even been one. At the very least, the full title might have been changed from Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011 to something likeLiving as Form: Strategies for Meaning Making in Everyday Lives. In the latter, art is not Art, not merely a profession, but a widely available and employed endeavor of collective human activity. Social practice then is not just more grist for the art historical and curatorial mill, but a vital, imaginative field. One practiced not just by activists, academics, and artists, but by bankers, moms, and mechanics. So yes, Bishop and Thompson take us part of the way, but one wonders if it is the right direction?]

In which Suhail Malik is invited to read Allan Kaprow – Or some answers to the questions of art’s exit, and more questions

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/16/2013

On the Necessity of Art’s Exit from Contemporary Art – Suhail Malik

Contemporary art’s shortcomings are increasingly evident even with respect to its own purported ambitions: proposing alternatives to homogenizing, normative conventions; as a method or mechanism of escape from the standardizations and conventions set by large-scale, commercial-corporate, or institutionally secured forms of recognition; as a site of utopian proposals, and so on. These imperatives impose themselves yet more severely when contemporary art itself establishes such norms and institutional figures. The effort is then made to escape art as we have it, perhaps for a more valid, more immediate, perhaps more populist or accessible kind of art which, for that reason, would have yet greater critical-political traction than institutionalized art. The now-familiar emphases on public participation, nonart, smuggling, deterritorialisation, inbetweenness, eventhood, indeterminacy, deskilling, etc. all heed this imperative. But as re-iterations of the logic of escape, these efforts also perpetuate and entrench the very limitations of art they seek to overcome. The resulting interminable endgame of art’s critical maneuvers serves after a short moment to provide new paradigmatic exemplars for it, a condition of tamed instability that characterizes contemporary art today well enough.

This series proposes that for art to have substantial and credible traction on anything beyond or larger than itself, it is necessary to exit contemporary art. An exit that requires the revocation of contemporary art’s logic of escape. If the demand here has an appeal and deserves attention—and it need not since the current constitution of contemporary art serves very well the aesthetic, intellectual, and sociological forms that sustain prevalent power in and through the art field, including all prevalent forms of critique—then this demand must be placed not just on the art itself but also on the ideas it invokes, as well as the social structures and ethos sustaining this configuration. The question then is what this art other to contemporary art’s paradigm of escape can be? What other kind of social structure and distribution of power than that prevalent in contemporary art would support it? What should an art that is not contemporary art do? Of what would its traction consist and amount to?

“…the idea of art cannot easily be gotten rid of (even if one wisely never utter the word). But it is possible to slyly shift the whole un-artistic operation away from where the arts customarily congregate, to become, for instance, an account executive, an ecologist, a stunt rider, a politician, a beach bum. In these different capacities…[art] would operate indirectly as a stored code that, instead of programming a specific course of behavior, would facilitate an attitude of deliberate playfulness toward all professionalizing activities well beyond art.”

Why would an ex-artist potentially bring more creativity, more imagination or more self-responsibility to natural sciences and medicine than anybody else? I think Richard Rorty (whom we both admire) would actually support me here. If artists merely become social scientists or long-distance runners, or if they do become social scientists or long-distance runners “as artists”, would sound for him a) as really hard to distinguish, b) unclear what this distinction is good for, and c) sound like an attempt to find something essential about what artists are, exactly in the very moment of their disappearance, whereas my theoretic proposals of the artistic dropout try to contribute to an anti-essentialist perspective on that disappearance.”

“For some time now, my work has been circling the question: What if, as an artist, you decide to give up your artistic practice, disappear from the art scene, and leave the field of art altogether? Does this simply mean you have given up, that you have failed? Or would you merely be switching to a new line of work, changing your job? Or could there be, potentially, more to it than this? Could leaving art be, perhaps, a gesture of critique and (artistic) sovereignty? It will, indeed, come as no surprise if we say that today there are far more former artists in the Western world, than there are practicing artists. Given the large number of artists who graduate from our academies and the very few who eventually succeed in a professional career, the »ex-artist« is a very common phenomenon in our social environment – mind you, without being a particularly seductive subject for art critics or art historians.”

“The best parts of Documenta 13 bring us into close contact with this illusive [might he have meant “elusive?”] entity of Post Art—things that aren’t artworks so much as they are about the drive to make things that, like art, embed imagination in material and grasp that creativity is a cosmic force. It’s an idea I love. (As I’ve written before, everything that’s made, if you look at it in certain ways, already is or can be art.) Things that couldn’t be fitted into old categories embody powerfully creative forms, capable of carrying meaning and making change. Post Art doesn’t see art as medicine, relief, or religion; Post Art doesn’t even see art as separate from living. A chemist or a general may be making Post Art every day at the office.

I am referring to an art without artwork, without authorship (not signed by an artist) and above all without a spectator or audience. It is visible, public, and indeed, it is seen–but not as art. In this way, it cannot be placed between invisible parentheses–to be written off as “just art,” that is, as a mere symbolic transgression, the likes of which we have seen so often, whose principal effect is to promote the artist’s position within the reputational economy.”

“There are more stealth practices going on than the artworld ever acknowledges, or even knows about. This is for the self-evident reason that they are, by definition and by design, hard to see let alone recognize, but also because they subvert mainstream artworld values, for there is nothing to exhibit and thus, nothing to sell. Stealth practices tend to be written off as non-art, if not quite nonexistent. The art-critical challenge is to draw attention to them in an appropriately elusive way, both for their intrinsic worth and because they obey a certain art-historical logic. Stealth and spy art practices have become a viable way of pursuing art at a historical moment when art has withdrawn from the world–though that may appear grossly counterintuitive to anyone whose only sources are the official organs of the artworld like Flash Art or Art Forum. In the face of the omnipresence of the cultural and consciousness industries, art has withdrawn from the world and has hidden before our very eyes–the only place it is safe from artworld recuperation, the only place left where the artworld is not looking for it.

Get a life, not an MFA – Jon Reiner

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 04/11/2013

[This parallels art education – and Kaprow’s criticism of folks that make art about art, which is almost the only thing a young adult that has spent almost their whole life in school can do. Get out of the cloister. Have a life from which to make art rather than a school career.]

Live First, Write Later: The Case for Less Creative-Writing Schooling – Jon Reiner

The New Yorker event occurred in the same week that Helen Zell, the wife of billionaire Sam Zell, contributed $50 million to the University of Michigan’s graduate program in creative writing, considered to be the largest gift ever of its kind. The extraordinary donation is intended to support in perpetuity “Zellowships,” annual $22,000 stipends to program graduates so that they can continue to focus on their writing for an additional year a little more easily, without the need to feed themselves through the time sucks of teaching or waiting tables or joining the Merchant Marine. The idea is noble, but it’s a mistake. And I say this as someone to whom a 22-grand cushion would be manna from heaven. The last thing that a young writer needs after the cloister of the classroom is another cloister.

Ideally, creative writing programs should exist to guide students in discovering their voices within the nurturing world of the classroom. But what they can’t do is provide writers with real-world experience and the perspective to make sense of it, without which there is no storytelling, there is no “editor I’m going to work with” giving the green light. Creative writing programs can teach you how to write, but they can’t teach you what to write. No instructor or Zellowship can transform you into a storyteller without experience strutting your ambition.

…The guy who sold the essay was a non-traditional student; he had come to school after years of plugging through a unique situation that became his source material. That what was got the magazine’s attention, not the holes in his sentences. If he’d sat in a classroom during that vital time, he wouldn’t have had a story to tell, nor would he be sitting at home eking out the pennies of a stipend. Whether or not this debut break is a springboard to an enduring writing career for him will depend on the other lessons he’ll learn in his own way.

[from the LeisureArts archive] – The “as art” gaze

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/22/2012

[I would obviously state some things differently and use some modified examples, but this post is still mostly on the mark and relevant to many ongoing conversations I’m currently having]

Baudrillard – “as art” relational art – Kaprow [September 2006]

In The Mirror of Production, Jean Baudrillard writes about the colonial intellectual impulses of the West. Concerning the criticality of Western culture he notes:

…it [Western culture] reflected on itself in the universal, and thus all other cultures were entered in its museum as vestiges of its own image. It ‘estheticized’ them, reinterpreted them on its own model, and thus precluded the radical interrogation these ‘different’ cultures implied for it.


Without bias, they have attempted to ‘relocate’ these ‘works’ [so called primitive art] into their magical and religious ‘context.’ In the kindest yet most radical way the world has ever seen, they have placed these objects in a museum by implanting them in an esthetic category. But these objects are not art at all [Emphasis ours]. And, precisely their non-esthetic character could at last have been the starting point for a radical perspective on (and not an internal critical perspective leading to a broadened reproduction of) Western culture.

This critique can easily be applied to the critical appropriation of any number of new “art” practices, most notably relational art. We see quite clearly how a variety of activities and modes of research that began to stray from the flock were quickly recuperated under the banner of “relational aesthetics.” This needn’t apply necessarily to the stars of the movement (Liam Gillick and Rirkrit Tiravanija are obvious) as their work was never really intended to offer a radical perspective on anything, but Oda Projesi (who are not nearly as gallery friendly, and don’t engage in the same sort of faux art institutional critique) has certainly become a bit of a flashpoint. The debate surrounding them provides an interesting model as Claire Bishop begs to read their activities “as art,” making sure they are safely inscribed within the known parameters of self-criticality that the museum Baudrillard describes above tolerates. Maria Lind, however, prefers to read their actions without preemptively applying critical classifications.

Allan Kaprow in his essay “The Real Experiment”describes the “as art” impulse as well:

‘Look,’ I remember a critic exclaiming once as we walked by a vacant lot full of scattered rags and boxes, ‘how that extends the gestural painting of the fifties!’ He wanted to cart the whole mess to a museum. But life bracketed by the physical and cultural [emphasis ours] frames of art quickly becomes trivialized life at the service of high art’s presumed greater value. The critic wanted everyone to see the garbage as he did through art history, not as urban dirt, not as a playground for kids and home for rats, not as rags blowing about in the wind, boxes rotting in the rain.

We see here the application of the art historical gaze, the “as art” gaze. And not unlike the “male gaze” (although obviously the parallel is in how it operates, not in its social effects) it becomes a way of subjugating the world to a particular critical regime and seeks to infiltrate the self-perception of others, so that they see themselves and their activities through the “as art” lens.

We return in closing to Baudrillard’s critique of Marxist anthropology which can be seen to possess the same impulse to universalize its history, its criticality:

…because the system of political economy tends to project itself retrospectively as a model and subordinates everything else to the genealogy of this model…Thus in the strict sense, it analyzes only the conditions of the model’s reproduction, of its production as such: of the separation that establishes it…By presupposing the axiom of the economic, the Marxist critique perhaps deciphers the functioning of the system of political economy; but at the same time it reproduces it as a model.

It is evident that the “as art” perspective functions to accept as a given the art model, thus binding itself to merely reproducing the logic of art production rather than challenging it in any substantive way. It presupposes the axiom of the artistic, and shields itself from the messiness of rotting boxes, leaving us in the “internal critical” hall of mirrors, trapped in the “as art” aesthetic fun-house.

Escape, Invisibility, and Professional Suicide in Art – A brief foray into science fiction and a detective story

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/27/2012

[Someone suggested I read the article After OWS: Social Practice Art, Abstraction, and the Limits of the Social by Gregory Sholette. It is in e-flux‘s journal, which I generally find to be a complete waste of time (and not in a good way like Gallery Girls). Surely e-flux aspires to be as stultifying and obscurantist as October,  but since it was Gregory Sholette, and the person suggesting the link seemed reliable, I acquiesced.]

Scene 1: The dark star of suicide, or the infinite density of nothingness

“…After all, instructors can hardly follow Wright’s prescription simply by refusing to engage with art’s institutional frame, at least not until before that glorious moment when all delimiting social divisions are swept away in the ecstasy of revolution. Prior to that day of liberation, any failure to reproduce one’s own academic field simply amounts to professional suicide….”

There are several ways to approach the above quote from Sholette. The first is to adopt his own astronomical metaphors and propose that rather than “dark matter,” perhaps “black hole” might be more apt. That is, one can think of art as a star that exploded long ago and we mistakenly believe that the originating object still exists because the light from it still shines so brightly. This would mean that what we call “the art world” now is just the Baudrillardian death throes of a distant star and we are trapped in its immense gravitational pull, destined to be sucked into the black hole as it were. The “ecstasy of revolution” then is the event horizon of said black hole and suicide therefore is nonsensical in this scheme…

Or what of this alternative? Maybe it is “suicide” to reproduce one’s academic field. Or the becoming-professional of art is its own kind of death? And to perpetuate that is a far worse fate than walking away. Kaprow certainly appeared to think so (although yes he was an established artist with tenure!) when he implored, “Artists of the world, drop out! You have nothing to lose but your professions!

Scene 2: Why is “dark matter” so damn visible? And who is buying all that stuff at Dick Blick? And why did part of the “missing mass” go missing?

When I first encountered Sholette’s “dark matter,” I had high hopes (see this). But the “dark matter” of 2003  and the “dark matter” of 2005 changed ever so subtly from the “dark matter” of 2011. There are myriad explanations – was it Professor Plum in the Study with the candlestick? Or, more likely, an editorial decision?

The missing mass of 2003:

Like its astronomical cousin, creative dark matter also makes up the bulk of the artistic activity produced in our post-industrial society. However, this type of dark matter is invisible primarily to those who lay claim to the management and interpretation of culture – the critics, art historians, collectors, dealers, museums, curators and arts administrators. It includes informal practices such as home-crafts, makeshift memorials, amateur photography (and pornography), Sunday-painters, self-published newsletters and fan-zines, Internet art galleries — all work made and circulated in the shadows of the formal art world. Yet, just as the physical universe is dependent on its dark matter and energy, so too is the art world dependent on its shadow creativity. It needs it in much the same way certain developing countries depend on their shadow or informal economies.”

The missing mass of 2011:

Like its astronomical cousin, creative dark matter also makes up the bulk of the artistic activity produced in our post-industrial society. However, this type of dark matter is invisible primarily to those who lay claim to the management and interpretation of culture – the critics, art historians, collectors, dealers, museums, curators, and arts administrators. It includes makeshift, amateur, informal, unofficial, autonomous, activist, non-institutional, self-organized practices – all work made and circulated in the shadows of the formal art world, some of which might be said to emulate cultural dark matter by rejecting art world demands of visibility, and much of which has no choice but to be invisible. While astrophysicists are eager to know what dark matter is, the denizens of the art world largely ignore the unseen accretion of creativity they nevertheless remain dependent upon.

What you may note is that in 2011 some of the missing mass has gone missing. The specificity of “home-crafts, makeshift memorials, amateur photography (and pornography), Sunday-painters, self-published newsletters and fan-zines” has been tidied up into “makeshift, amateur, informal, unofficial, autonomous, activist, non-institutional, self-organized practices.” And this revision sets the stage for the disappointment I mention here. Sholette’s book becomes then not so much a radical questioning of the creative economy, but a somewhat conventional questioning of the creative economy. By this, I mean that despite providing tantalizing hints of his admiration of, and insight into, the dark matter of anti/non professional creative practices and subcultures, very little light is cast. Instead, Sholette proceeds, despite his protestation, to celebrate if not  avant-garde strategies in some strictly defined historical sense, then vanguard strategies in which insightful political/intellectual/artistic leaders employ strategies of intervention and subversion.

So dark matter turns out to be not all that dark after all – Temporary Services, Red 76, The Yes Men, 16 Beaver, Critical Art Ensemble, etc. While none of these figures are “stars,” neither are they particularly invisible. It is certainly within Sholette’s purview to limit his discussion to the strains of dark matter he is most comfortable with, and the groups and people he does write about certainly deserve attention. But there is something symptomatic here, something that art/intellectual types seem perpetually trapped by – the allure of their own radiance.

Perhaps what Sholette describes in his final chapter as “isolated flashes of defiance” are not only found in the places he is so accustomed to looking – among his academic professional and activist peers and among the most obvious forms of resistance. It seems that Sholette, and even Stephen Wright, too often look for the “invisible” in the didactically resistant. One certainly wonders why they always seem to find activist/intellectual/artist types and not people more like Kaprow’s unartist:

“…the idea of art cannot easily be gotten rid of (even if one wisely never utter the word). But it is possible to slyly shift the whole un-artistic operation away from where the arts customarily congregate, to become, for instance, an account executive, an ecologist, a stunt rider, a politician, a beach bum. In these different capacities…[art] would operate indirectly as a stored code that, instead of programming a specific course of behavior, would facilitate an attitude of deliberate playfulness toward all professionalizing activities well beyond art.”

Sholette recognizes that “creative dark activity refuses to be productive for the market,” but its final act of refusal may well be in refusing to be productive for him. I guess I just wish he spent more time with Kaprow’s “beach bum” or even his own “river rafters” than with Bruce High Quality Foundation – it might illuminate how to go on living after “professional suicide.”

Steven Wright vs. Stephen Wright – Double Ontology, Escaping the Art World – Baudrillard & Kaprow and Abbott & Costello

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/23/2012


[Cue video to 7:06 – 7:32]

“But it is no longer a question of either maps or territory. Something has disappeared: the sovereign difference between them that was the abstraction’s charm. For it is the difference which forms the poetry of the map and the charm of the territory, the magic of the concept and the charm of the real. This representational imaginary, which both culminates in and is engulfed by the cartographer’s mad project of an ideal coextensivity between the map and the territory, disappears with simulation, whose operation is nuclear and genetic, and no longer specular and discursive. With it goes all of metaphysics. No more mirror of being and appearances, of the real and its concept; no more imaginary coextensivity: rather, genetic miniaturization is the dimension of simulation.”

[From that other comedic genius, Jean Baudrillard]

“…the idea of art cannot easily be gotten rid of (even if one wisely never utter the word). But it is possible to slyly shift the whole un-artistic operation away from where the arts customarily congregate, to become, for instance, an account executive, an ecologist, a stunt rider, a politician, a beach bum. In these different capacities…[art] would operate indirectly as a stored code that, instead of programming a specific course of behavior, would facilitate an attitude of deliberate playfulness toward all professionalizing activities well beyond art. Signal scrambling, perhaps. Something like those venerable baseball aficionados in the vaudeville act that began, “Who’s on first?”

[Kaprow invoking comedy]


[signal scrambling]

“Use the country itself, as its own map”: operating on the 1:1 scale – Stephen Wright

…They seem to be seeking to escape performative and ontological capture as art altogether. It is certainly possible to describe them as having a double ontology; but it seems more closely in keeping with their self-understanding to argue that this is not an ontological issue at all, but rather a question of the extent to which they are informed by a certain coefficient of art. Informed by artistic self-understanding, not framed as art.

[see Kaprow’s “stored code” above]

This may be a way to renegotiate the asymmetrical relationship between art and memory. Though both are constructs, art long focused on shaping and reshaping memory’s matrix-like status — in other words, art stemmed from memory, yet somehow managed to scale memory down and thereby to hold it at a distance. The practices I have briefly described, and countless others today, have come to challenge this scalar bias and instead, increasingly, to operate on the 1:1 scale, no longer distinguishable from their object on the basis of scale and thus of use. Such full-scale aesthetics may make it possible to force memory to the fore as a dimension of the historical present, and as such, fully political.

[see Baudrillard’s “mad project” above]

I love Steven and Stephen (talk about double ontology!!!), but I think Steven’s distillation wins in this instance. I also think Stephen cites terribly insufficient examples of “escape.”  And the challenge to ontology itself offered by Baudrillard should at least, when talking of maps and territories, be addressed if only to engender the silly confusion of a theoretical vaudeville.

Claire Bishop – The Humpty Dumpty Approach to Aesthetics and Ethics

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/25/2012

Art for Politics’ Sake Claire Bishop on Social Practice – Corinne Segal

Claire Bishop (I know, I know, I really thought I would never write another word about her, but the interview above found its way into my RSS feed reader) desperately needs to read Marcia Eaton, the Pragmatists, and/or the Greeks – hell, even re-reading Foucault would help. Of course, if she did, her critical house of cards might come tumbling down. This is because her whole schtick regarding social practice rests on the (false) separation of the aesthetic and the ethical. Now I know she tries to qualify it a bit and even calls for a “double analysis” and tries to employ Rancière, but the pattern is clear – art is for aesthetics and aesthetics is for art. The “regime” of the aesthetic is far more broad than the narrow slice of experience she wants to chain it to (art).

I do agree with her though about the “blind spot” of social practice, although it is important to be careful with wording. She claims social practice denies its “artistic character” and she also claims that  it does “not want to be conceived as visual art.” I would argue that these are two distinctly different things. Kaprow’s use of “artlike” and “lifelike” is useful here. Something may be lifelike art or artlike art, but also artlike non-art. So social practice may indeed have an “artistic character” without being “visual art.” To deny one needn’t entail denying the other.

Throughout the interview the worship of criticality reveals itself (and also her infatuation with strategies of agonism, opposition and “radicality” – all the good old avant-garde stuff). It is a symptom of this era in art education/theory. I’ve commented elsewhere that we moved from art for art’s sake to criticality for criticality’s sake and we are no better for it. It is funny to me that the one thing intellectuals don’t seem to care to be critical of is criticality itself. When Bishop speaks of the aesthetic, it appears to mean a critical/intellectual position regarding art and not a holistic human experience. So when she criticizes social practice for having an “allergy to the aesthetic,”  she may be right, but only vis–à–vis a very specific employment of the notion of the aesthetic. Her woefully hollow idea of it certainly gives me hives.

Allan Kaprow – Tail Wagging Dog – Participatory Activity

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/14/2012

Tail Wagging Dog – Allan Kaprow

I would like to imagine a time when Tail Wagging Dog could be experienced and discussed outside the arts and their myriad histories and expectations. It would be a relief to discard the pious legitimizing that automatically accompanies anything called art; and to bypass the silly obligation to live up to art’s claim on supreme values. (Art saves the world, or at least the artist.) The arts are not bad; it’s the overinflated way we think about them that has made them unreal…in the foreseeable future, complete detachment from art culture is unlikely…The best that can be hoped is that a gradual weariness with the art connection will naturally occur as it appears, correctly, less and less important.

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Interview conducted with Sean Dockray for 127 Prince – The journal that never really was

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/09/2012

[127 Prince was a journal intended to deal with “social practice.” It had some amazing content, but never really got rolling. The domain has now been usurped by a porn site, but it is still viewable here. I thought I would re-post this 2009 interview with Sean Dockray…to release it from, er…bondage so to speak.]


Editor’s Note:

This interview was conducted over 18 months ago. Sean and I (R. Szott) agreed early on that we would exert an extremely light editorial touch in order to allow our conversation to avoid being too polished. There are many things we might have said differently if we took the usual editorial scalpel to things. This is especially true now that so much time has passed between the exchange and its publication. It is also quite long due to its unexpurgated nature. I hope that the patient reader will find it as rewarding to follow Sean’s thoughts as I found it…

Randall Szott: There’s never really an ideal place to start an interview, but maybe my “discovery” of some things you’re up to will work. I stumbled my way into AAAARG.ORG and Telic Arts Exchange and then into The Public School before I realized that you were connected to each of them! There’s an obvious self-organizing/pedagogical thread to those enterprises and a concern with thinking in interesting ways about publics and how to organize, exchange with, or challenge them. This seems to extend across your practice as a whole. I was wondering if you could place these things in their context (as you imagine it) or say whether you see them as intersecting with broader, or even narrower, concerns from other elements in your life and work.

Sean Dockray: You’re right, there is a self-organizing/ pedagogical thread there but with those projects I have been motivated much more by selfishness than by wanting to spread education or knowledge or something like that. What I mean is that I want to be part of a social context in which people are talking and thinking about things, trying to figure out the world we’re in, what we’re doing, why we’re doing what we’re doing, what else we could do, and who we are when I say “we.”  Although AAAARG.ORG is about 2 years old, I see it as connected to its previous incarnation aaaarg.e-rat.org and then before that, 9 years ago, Zine.E-Rat.Org. They’re all quite different from one another but I think they’re connected by a desire to get people together online around short pieces of criticism and theory with the hope that we could put those little pieces together into a plan or a big idea or a way forward.

To me, “getting people together” also means trying to find strategies to overcome disciplinary boundaries like art, history, engineering, architecture, design, politics, philosophy, science, etc. This probably comes from my own promiscuity – I’ve gone from mathematics to mechanical engineering to civil engineering to architecture to computer programming to writing to art. Regardless, I discovered that I am rarely as interested in interdisciplinary collaborations (like an artist and a scientist do something and learn something from each other in the process) as in trying my best to ignore the idea of disciplines altogether. For example, the names AAAARG.ORG and The Public School don’t tell you who you have to be to participate. Also, when the conversation revolves around the idea of disciplines, it remains academic regardless of the conclusion.  This seems to me another good reason for ignoring them.

I want to also say that these projects aren’t for everyone, but I do want them to be accessible to everyone. In other words, the projects are never changed to make them more appealing, more fun, or more friendly, but I spend a great deal of time trying to make sure that if someone has the attention span that they know what is involved, how they can participate, how the project functions, and so on. The Public School makes transparency of process a central part of its operation. For me, bars, bedrooms, and basements are the best places for conversations about ideas – not university seminar rooms.

Large, ostensibly product-less websites like Facebook, YouTube, and Google fascinate me because they have had such a real cultural impact in a short period of time and they use the labor of millions of people. I think its worthwhile to experiment with similar forms, or platforms, in order to demonstrate alternatives because for all the insidious data mining and lifestyle marketing, these things have an enormous amount of potential for those of us in the world of cultural production.

One more thing: I studied architecture in college and I remember being paralyzed by the realization that 98% of all new construction – or something like that – in this country is not designed by architects. And at the same time, we were relentlessly driven to arrive at a building at the conclusion of every project. It was very frustrating because it seemed like architecture was all about transforming the material world but then we were making drawings and models of stuff that would never get built. Since then, I’ve become more interested in working outside of architecture on a 1:1 scale, producing models that exist and function in the world, and that hopefully transform the context they’re put into.

RS: The first thing that jumps out at me in your answer is the crucial distinction you draw between creating “something for everyone” vs. “open to everyone. “I find that people can be critical of something like AAAARG.ORG because the texts and conversations there tend to be extremely academic and a very particular type of academic thinking as well. In fact, I made that criticism to you. But nothing in its structure dictates that it must be that way. So critics, including myself, have the opportunity to post other things, and start other kinds of conversations. If we pass on that opportunity, that’s our responsibility. Or do you think you should take a more active role in “steering” things?

SD: Everything you say is true but although anyone could post anything, that doesn’t happen, as you’ve noticed. Some people tend to conform to the existing context and other people are just not interested by it, period. Social networking websites usually seem to be for everyone – the whole point is that you will define your own territory with other people like you somewhere within the site. Any exclusions are explicit (spelled out in the terms of service) but exclusion is not really in the spirit of those things, so what exclusions there are can be blamed on the users. Any “open-system” is never entirely open. There are always rules (explicit and implicit) and customs and initial conditions and the general look of things.

A few notes about AAAARG.ORG: there are practically no instructions anywhere; it really is not user friendly; I do respond to emails explaining over and over how to contribute texts, if someone writes to ask; I have uploaded some of the texts, people I have personally pulled onto the site have uploaded some others, and total strangers account for the rest. I think it’s important to mention what I mean when I say I “pull” people on to the site. When I was younger, I had good friends in several different contexts but those contexts never really overlapped. Nevertheless, I had always maintained this hope that at some point we would all be living together, which was probably selfish and naive. Similarly, I often now find myself involved in some temporary social formation – a simple friendship, a collaborative project, an exhibition that I am organizing, teaching a studio class, a staff member at a university hired to help the grad students, etc. – and somehow we all get to talking about ideas in relation to short non-fiction texts. I want to read what other people are excited about and also to give what I find useful. But more than that, I want those different parts of my life to join together somehow. So I always push AAAARG.ORG on just about everyone I meet that I think would appreciate it and hope that it grows into something.

Your distinction between letting positive feedback drive something into homogeneity versus “steering things” is extremely important. Although I probably have a more optimistic view than you of the variety of thought on AAAARG.ORG, I do wince when a few very academic things come in. With The Public School we probably strike a better balance between the two.  Nonetheless, I think it’s absolutely worthwhile to wrestle the type of writing that tends to be on AAAARG.ORG away from the academy (by which I mean institutionalized education). Yes, a lot of the irritating habits, terminologies, and funny jokes are products of that institution but I feel as if a certain mode of critical thought was given over to the academy at some point (or they hijacked it) where I don’t find it terribly alive.

RS: When you mention “bars, bedrooms, and basements,” it immediately brings to mind something I quote far too often from the philosopher Richard Shusterman: “After the conference papers are over, we go slumming in their bars.” This resonates directly with your sensibility in that he’s critiquing the institutions of academe for being unable to recognize the value of the various informal settings and practices that contribute to intellectual and social life. What I find so appealing in your projects is the various ways you try to square the circle, so to speak, of creating a structure that both makes a conversation more than just a conversation but also just a conversation. Does this make sense to you? You mentioned “transparency of process” with regard to The Public School but I guess what I’m getting at is do you think about transparency of apparatus as well? Would you like for the way the platform stages things to fade into the background? Or is part of what interests you foregrounding how these “social contexts” shape the possibilities of community and learning?

I would think architecture offers an interesting perspective on disciplinarity. It is its own discipline, of course, but it is quite broadly constructed as a discipline. One of the things that always appealed to me about art is the invitation “to ignore the idea of disciplines altogether” as you put it. Unfortunately, not enough artists take up this invitation and we end up with a lot of those insipid collaborations you mention. Florian Waldvogel makes some useful distinctions between multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and transdisciplinarity. Basically, the first is disciplines working along side one another around a common issue, the next is an exchange of concepts and methods and the last, which I think is what you’re getting at, approaches problems independently of specific disciplinary methods and creates disciplinary mongrels in which ideas dictate method/form rather than the reverse.

Finally, your thoughts on the ways you’ve decided to employ architecture toward ends other than buildings are touched on in a piece you co-wrote titled Building Sound: An Alternative Medium for Architectural Research. The summary of the piece on your website describes it as thinking about “…using radio as a platform for broadcasting architecture.” It is much more than that – it’s really a riff on how to utilize architecture, or architectural thinking, to construct things in the broadest possible sense of “construct” and “things.” Could you say a bit more about how that essay came to be written, and where you are now relative to it?

SD: I am very interested in how context shapes our social relations and knowledge.  And I am also very interested in the staging being apparent because among other things it is often a good conversational device. But, as you put it, it should be “just a conversation” at a certain point which I take to mean that it should work, it should be functional. Sometimes critique seems pointless because it has a certain “no shit” quality to it (thank you for pointing out what we already know, now what?) At the same time there seems to be a cultural desire to be beyond critique, which is dangerous. I’d like to have it both ways.

Architecture’s perspective on disciplinarity is definitely a God’s-eye-view. Vitruvius begins his Ten Books on Architecture with, “The architect should be equipped with knowledge of many branches of study and varied kinds of learning, for it is by his judgment that all work done by the other arts is put to test.” Anyway, you are probably right that I would align myself more with the last of those three choices. But I am also tempted to say that no matter how we rearrange our relationship to the disciplines, it never ceases being academic when we think about it in those terms. Are these different mutations of disciplinarity primarily invested in rehabilitating the academy?

There was a symposium in 2004 at UCLA’s architecture department called “Media, Messages, and Modes” which I think was formed to acknowledge the rise of architecture magazines and monographs as places where architectural research was happening and to question the point of an architecture PhD and how the dissertation might become more culturally relevant. At the time, Fiona Whitton (my partner and co-director of Telic), Tom Pilla, and I were producing a monthly radio program within an organization called the Institute for Advanced Architecture (IAA), and one of the symposium organizers asked me to give a presentation about this radio project. We (with another member of the IAA) wrote Building Sound, which is not very acceptable academic writing. When presenting, I showed slides and held up a radio to a microphone while Fiona broadcasted the Building Sound text from the school’s exhibition space – it was totally ignored for the rest of the symposium. I thought we did something really special because in the process of broadcasting our talk, we were also broadcasting to thousands of people who would have driven through the signal on the nearby 405 freeway. Sure, it was a literal way to break beyond the walls of the institution but it seemed like the symposium was asking for these kinds of provocations; instead discussion was focused around papers that encroached ever closer to the vernacular (dissertations about malls and suburban houses, for example). It was an experience that demonstrated to me that quirky subject matter alone doesn’t democratize something.

I actually just re-read our essay again for the first time in two years because of your question. One thing that immediately jumped out at me is from the “On The Expanded Audience” section which concludes, “This may not be a radio of mass-appeal but it should be a radio of mass-availability” which obviously resonates with what we were discussing above with the “for everyone” vs “open to everyone.”  From my perspective, the piece basically argued that architects are missing the boat by carrying on myopically about buildings, and pictures of buildings ,when there are so many other games out there, so many ways to be designing the world, which is ostensibly the goal of the profession. Radio was the subject of the Building Sound essay but it hopefully gestured towards media and communication networks in general, things we were thinking about while producing the show. I think that may have been one of the first projects where I wasn’t working at model scale or representing something and so the essay has an undercurrent of coming to terms with that.  Since then, I’ve been pulled more towards the art discourse – not because I was so enamored with art but because I thought a lot of art’s “to scale” experimentations were exciting in a way that I wished architecture would be.  I’m thinking about lots of things – an unordered tip of the iceberg could be the inflatables fad in the early 70s, Tim Hawkinson’s Uberorgan, Andrea Fraser’s tours, Vito Acconci performances, the Center for Land Use Interpretation and its neighbor the Museum of Jurassic Technology, etc. The creation of informal, temporary spaces, worlds, experiences, institutions, and so on seemed to me what architects could be doing but generally weren’t, or if they were they didn’t always identify as architects anymore.

RS: I’m going to resist the temptation to respond point by point and zero in on your mention of how you came to art as a field of operation. I’ve talked and written a bit about people who are in art not because of some love for art itself but because of the pragmatic/experimental possibilities it offers. Another quote I use too often comes from the collective IC-98:

“…the world of contemporary art has proved to be the most flexible environment for diverse projects, being a free zone of experimentation within the society at large…the projects are labeled art only for strategic reasons – the strategy works as long as the concepts of art do not come to dominate the discourse…you call yourself artist, just because it is institutionally convenient…”

So I’m wondering if this resonates with you. If so, I’m wondering how, or if, you try to insure that your “to scale” experiments don’t become bogged down in the disciplinary baggage of art. Or do I have it all wrong? Are you interested in what framing things as art brings to the table?

SD: Running Telic Arts Exchange for a few years was interesting for me – before that I assumed galleries just bracketed off Art from the Life outside. It wasn’t long before I began thinking that galleries weren’t so special after all. They looked like art… barren and bright and unusual but, in the end, they were plain old shops just like everything else in the world. Then I thought that maybe what our gallery could do is be more like the world but at the same time be clearly something different, something not in the world. So I found myself interested in establishing a real boundary between art and life but this could be more of a mental boundary than a physical one. That is the framing I’m most interested in and I would lose interest in a project once that frame disappears.

I feel as though it is fashionable at the moment to say that we can “take advantage” of art’s networks of distribution to extend, expand, and connect projects, although it is certainly true to an extent. Maybe I’m a pessimist but I think capital will do this (extend, expand, and circulate) to us and our projectsto us and our projects regardless, whether or not we’re being strategic. Certainly we could insist on making our projects invisible so they continue to function primarily locally but I don’t see that as being inherently any better.

None of this really has to do with art history or disciplinarity. I suppose I don’t care very much about those things. I am attracted to art because some of the people are interesting to talk to and listen to (of course there are loads of bores too).

Although I run AAAARG.ORG, a theory text-sharing website, I feel embarrassed when I mention a theorist but there are a few times where a tiny little passage will plague me for years and so I talk about that passage a lot.  Lately, it has been this one interview with Michel Foucault, called “Friendship as a way of life” where Foucault describes the relationship between men as something without a pre-existing model or institution and therefore something that requires constant invention. To me this perfectly sums up the spirit of what I would like out of my own life and projects.

RS: I’m in a bind here. Your answer is a good stopping point for the interview since you end with a summing up but I really feel like there’s a lot to take issue with.

It seems like you’re imagining a scenario where you can have it both ways, or several ways: gallery as just a shop, gallery as frame but somehow not the frame of art history, and you’d lose interest in a project without the frame? Then it is the frame that interests you and not the project which I find weird. And isn’t there a huge range of possibilities between using an art frame and making the project “invisible?” I’m also wondering where it’s fashionable to talk about using art networks tactically because I’ve rarely heard it said aloud.

As for your statement, “None of this really has to do with art history or disciplinarity. I suppose I don’t care very much about those things. I am attracted to art because some of the people are interesting to talk to and listen to (of course there are loads of bores too).” Isn’t this attitude exactly what I was alluding to in my question? This seems to indicate that operating in art is an entirely practical decision, i.e. a good place to find interesting people. This doesn’t seem to square with your more disicpline specific interest in framing experience.

SD: I feel like it’s barely started! We can’t end yet…

I think your email is so incredibly perceptive and right on it makes me feel a little naked. But there are a couple points I think I should respond to. The bigger thing is that I didn’t actually read your question in relation to our prior conversation and so my position to art comes off as even more schizo than usual. Concerning the scenario where I want to have it both ways: for some of the projects I was talking about (Telic Arts Exchange, The Public School) the project is the frame. One day we were having a lecture and I asked myself what the difference would be if it weren’t a lecture but a class. I think the difference is substantial. People generally come expecting to put themselves into it: they will prepare in advance, they will carry on relationships afterward, people even intuitively assign a different economic value to the two experiences. I am interested in framing – not for institutional legitimization but for the way the frame changes the way we treat the world (I’m sure this overlaps with the claims of aesthetics or art history but I’m just pretty ignorant about all of that.)

Anyway, I am interested in the projects, I swear! I consider the frame to be more about sensibility, enthusiasm, and energy than about territory, if that makes sense. And yes, I’ve failed in my explanation if I haven’t expressed a position of exploring the possibilities between using an art frame and making the project “invisible.” It was stupid to send my response so quickly. Fatherhood has me doing a lot things in some kind of hazy delirium.

I’ve heard talk about using art networks tactically in a couple panels and in discussions at the public school! I realize “fashionable” is a judgmental word but I am interested in these discussions and am currently trying to enact them to a certain extent (“franchising” the public school). I think we should stay conscious of the fact that our “tactical use” of these networks satisfies the needs of international culture industry and maybe we’re not always as in control as we think we are (especially when using macho terminology like tactical and strategic).

Yes and I totally agree with what you’re alluding to. I never really saw art as discipline specific, so much as just plain reflective. For example, I think our government should have more accountability and discussion about why we’re doing what we’re doing and what other possibilities there are. I don’t think of this as particularly art historical, although I do see your point that art history has institutionalized this kind of self-reflection.

I just can’t stop! More on this…

“So I’m wondering if this resonates with you. If so, I’m wondering how, or if, you try to insure that your “to scale” experiments don’t become bogged down in the disciplinary baggage of art. Or do I have it all wrong? Are you interested in what framing things as art brings to the table?”

One of these experiments might have been the video game that Fiona and I made, called PACK-MAN, which was just a hack of PAC-MAN so that five people controlled the character instead of just one (rather than moving him, it was more like you were voting on where he should move and that was being tabulated in real time in a pretty fun/ frustrating way). After making the game, we invited people from the internet to make new games for the video game console that we had engineered and then had a “screening” of sorts with those games, which came in from all over the world. The disciplinary baggage of art just never came up. The game was extremely visceral – it would make you squirm in your seat and yell at your neighbor. But it’s not as if art was somehow holding the game back from being something more interesting. There wasn’t really any art interest in it to speak of. To be honest it was the same thing with Telic – we did fantastic things and many people enjoyed them but there was just not much friction or dialogue with art collectors, writers, curators, tastemakers, etc. (with few exceptions). My investment scheme, the fundraising show, and AAAARG.ORG are all the same story.

So any answer I could give is really pretty speculative. What I can answer is why I’m even hanging out in this part of town at all:

– I like people that I’ve found within the context of art. There are people who try and create other ways of living, working, coexisting, and so on.

– An analogy: when I was younger I only ate meat and starches. I became a vegetarian at some later point. There were many meals in which I couldn’t participate or partake, or I’d limit myself to the “sandwiches” section of the menu. Now, I will try anything you serve me and I look at the whole menu which makes me feel so much happier.

– The fact is there are networks of publicity, distribution, sharing, exhibition, etc. in place that change what’s possible with a project and who it can reach. I’m skeptical of my ability to “use” these networks and still smell clean but it’s something to consider, especially because it links up with the first point.

So, maybe one of the good things about not being very successful at art is that I end up being fairly oblivious to the real weight of that disciplinary baggage you’re talking about.

The “framing” part of your question brings up definition and territoriality that I tried to address previously, mainly by appealing to another possibility for framing which is more about a philosophy than drawing lines in the sand. Obviously there is some line-drawing involved but I think it is less about making pronouncements (“this is art”) than it is about being a part of a bigger conspiracy (its an arts context because the people I referenced in my first point act as if it were true). Honestly, Randall, I feel stupid writing too much about framing as art and non-art because I don’t feel like I have much to offer because I can’t tell where the answers get us.

Anyway, this all seems to be winding down. I’m a little sad about it because I enjoy corresponding with you and (obviously judging from the last paragraph) there is a certain self-assessment that your questions have given which has been rewarding and helpful for me.

RS: It’s funny how this interview has sprawled into a messier conversation. I was concerned with it being a bit formulaic but happy that it had stayed a manageable edit and now it has taken on a real life, “something that requires constant invention.” So I’m going to abandon specifying what is and is not part of the sanctioned dialog and really plunge in now. This is difficult though as I am out at sea and this makes concentrating difficult.

I guess my concern is that the way the frame changes perceptions is often a distraction. My go-to example is eating curry in a gallery. If you want to think about what it means to eat curry in a gallery or as art, then framing it in an art context obviously makes sense. But if your interest is in curry, or creating convivial relationships, then maybe eating it at home with your friends is the way to go. I personally couldn’t care less what it means to eat/make curry as art!

Now the idea of frame-as-sensibility is interesting but I wonder if creating that sensibility in a new context, other than an art one might not be more potent. I’m feeling like I give the art context too much power and you give it too little.

As for fatherhood causing you to do a lot of things “in some kind of hazy delirium,” welcome to the club!

Art has certainly tried to take ownership of a certain kind of reflexive thinking and art history has done its bit to chronicle the lineage of that thinking. What concerns me is that art as a method is too coupled with art as a discipline. I think this is what Kaprow was dealing with for years with his notion of the unartist. How do we create and experience things in complex multi-faceted ways without always getting bogged down in an art historical dialog? To use a loaded example, how do I experience for myself what it is like to play chess with a nude woman without having to talk about Duchamp? Or to be less loaded, with a nude man? The point being the “experience” is often usurped into a historical-critical artlike (to further evoke Kaprow) art conversation. The genius of Kaprow in my estimation is that he saw this so clearly and laid out a road map, an escape route. I lament that so few people appear to have really taken the plunge.

As for being tactical and strategic, yes, well I’m a very macho guy which is why I want to play chess with a naked woman!  I use the term tactical because it has such currency but often substitute practical/pragmatic. Yes, I completely agree about the complications involved in tactical use of art networks which is why I’m always harping on the art baggage associated with choosing to operate that way. I was puritanical for several years about this and at that time would not have even engaged in this interview/conversation but have since decided that the trade-offs are in fact worth it at times.

I’ll try to get into a bit more later but I have to go make some brownies. Man, we’ve really flipped the script! If you’re up for it, I think it could be nice to publish two versions of the interview – the formal, edited version; and the raw material (including even this proposal). We could have links to both and people could see which was more useful, boring or otherwise…

SD: I agree with the broad strokes of what you wrote but I don’t see what I’m doing as making curry. To go back to the radio show paper we talked about earlier, this gesture of domesticating the world by bringing it in to architectural discourse (writing an academic paper about non-academic topics) or into the gallery (curry) is less interesting to me than in what I think is the opposite motion.

What complicates this for me is that three of the projects I’m talking about are galleries. Maybe the analogy breaks down a little (it’s not bringing a gallery into the gallery) but at the same time, why do they have to be galleries? Why can’t they be ___? And here I have to admit that I’m relying on the idea of the gallery as something that people (not only art people!) get.

A recent one is the Distributed Gallery, which is basically an arrangement I made with a few business owners in my neighborhood (where Telic Arts Exchange is and where I have lived for the past four years) to put video monitors in their businesses, without obstructing normal business. They are a restaurant called Via Cafe, an antiques and other cultural objects store named Fong’s, and an art clothes and bookstore, Ooga Booga. Oh, there is a fourth monitor in The Public School.

Even The Public School isn’t bringing a school into the gallery. Rather, we had a gallery (Telic Arts Exchange) for a few years and eventually decided that a school made a more interesting model for promoting, distributing, talking about, and attracting the kinds of practices and ways of thinking that we were interested in. So, we changed the gallery into a school.

All that aside, I agree with the spirit of your analogy except that I don’t always want to do things with friends (eating curry, maybe). I enjoy having public spaces for our differences and disagreements to play out. In a way, this conversation is a tiny version of that. How do we sustain that kind of playing field? Because I do value it. I guess I’m returning to the idea of “frame.” Maybe the word itself is a little rigid and too much about carving out space, about insides and outsides. If that’s what an arts context is then it will always be problematic in ways that you’ve been convincingly describing.

Yes! Can you elaborate more on this paragraph?

“Now the idea of frame-as-sensibility is interesting, but I wonder if creating that sensibility in a new context, other than an art one might not be more potent. I’m feeling like I give the art context too much power and you give it too little.”

I think I agree with you wholeheartedly, even if our misaligned perceptions are written into it.

Each morning, I wake up thinking what did I write last night? Even these emails are written in between episodes of dancing, making sausage rolls, eating dinner, filling the bath, sending an email for work. The partial attention is frustrating but of course I wouldn’t change it for anything.

I’m conflicted because I feel like I agree with you and Kaprow here, but…I like talking about things, Duchamp included! And I don’t think experience is just some raw, primal pure moment, but something that is accompanied by talking, wondering, doubting, remembering. It doesn’t bother me that people talk about Duchamp, even in the midst of an interesting experience, I just think it’s a shame if the conversation starts and ends there.

What are the trade-offs that you see?

RS: As has been duly noted by legions of folks the gallery is something people “get” because it has a specific history as a form. Why not a community center? Or, my favorite, a public library? Both of those seem more flexible as sites for bringing various publics together. Public libraries have meeting spaces that can be used for video screenings, board meetings, birthday parties, book signings, etc. Sure, it too has an institutional history but unlike a gallery it isn’t circumscribed by basically one disciplinary form. What does the gallery provide? Seemingly the precise thing you want to ignore…

The public library is one of the last great civic institutions and one well suited to address your desire for “public spaces for our differences and disagreements to play out.” And it also has the potential to draw a far more diverse group of people. I’d also offer the Lyceum and Chautauqua movements from the 19th century as forms to modify and utilize. To some degree, I think the Public School might be an example, but there is a vast history that seems barely tapped from those movements.

Maybe this addresses the “new context” you asked me to speak more about? Or maybe you wanted me to say more about our divergent takes on the frame…

Of course I’m not interested in some idea of pure, or primal experience, or what some might call “authenticity.” There is however, a qualitative difference in experience that is historicized or art historicized and one that is not. There is a difference in intellectualizing experience and surrendering to somatic sensation, too. I am bored with, and frustrated by, the incessant drive of many art worlders to bring everything into the intellectual/historical/critical/curatorial fold. Sometimes a conversation is better suited as just that – a conversation and not some parsed meta-conversational performance, something to be framed, examined, interrogated, deconstructed, etc. This leads to the obligatory Zen reference – Don’t confuse the finger pointing to the moon with the moon itself. And yeah, I know “the moon itself” is a complicated notion, especially to the kinds of people that write for exhibition catalogs. To them I say (doing my best Nietzsche): relax your crooked soul, have a glass of wine, and enjoy the moonlight. There will be plenty of time tomorrow for your zeal, your seriousness, and the fury your academic analysis!

“What are the trade offs that you see?”

Hey, who’s interviewing who here? I think the trade offs for me were simple – continue with the art of living as I imagined it and have a few, deep conversations/experiences with people in my immediate circle. Or tap into a much larger network and open things up all the while having to be in evasion mode and spending an inordinate amount of time explaining why art is not particularly relevant to what I’m interested in doing, or rather explaining what unart is. The art world is filled with interesting people, to be sure, but it’s also filled with myopic snobs and interminable bores. I basically decided that it was worth dealing with those folks to get to the interesting ones.

To get back to Kaprow and Duchamp: I decided I would skip a step and drop out immediately rather than build a career or credibility and then drop out as they did. Eight years of doing nothing, but doing a very particular kind of nothing, was enough. At the end of that time I had my purity but I missed out on a bigger conversation and came to see my hyper-localism as potentially selfish, hermetic. So here I am now able to think through things with someone like you. It is well worth the trouble.

SD: Well some of the shop owners who are hosting televisions for the Distributed Gallery get a gallery and, even if they think it’s an odd form for a gallery to take, they are more receptive to working with me on hosting the monitors because they see it as a part of something bigger.  And it also helps when I try and get people to choose videos to put onto those televisions every month. I think I see what you’re saying but I maintain that the form of the gallery can be put into action in interesting ways, particularly in our neighborhood where the split between Chinatown tourism and contemporary art is fairly even.

Maybe this is really the wrong project for me to be bringing up because it doesn’t really aspire to “bringing publics together” in the way you’re describing. It is much more personal – I am having these ongoing relationships with friends/ business-owners in the neighborhood I rarely leave. It’s alarmingly intimate! And then, we don’t do any press releases or curatorial texts for the exhibitions. I just have a long conversation with whoever chose/ made the work for that month. I mean, I do sincerely hope that the patrons of these different businesses goes to the other shops but the scale and nature of discussion is much different than a local library. For example, an artist wants to show something pornographic and then I have to figure out how to handle the expectations for creative freedom that contemporary art instills with the totally understandable objections that someone with opinions and a business might have. It’s a bunch of very small interactions but I find them exciting, even if they occur under the rubric of a gallery.

I mean, I like some art too! And there are artists that I want to support. I do kind of think that a gallery is often the worst thing for an artist but not always. I guess my way of thinking is very American – if I don’t like it then do something about it. I mean, we got rid of our gallery and replaced it with The Public School. I am not sure I could agree with you any more (except for starting two new galleries immediately afterwards).

Maybe this addresses the “new context” you asked me to speak more about? Or maybe you wanted me to say more about our divergent takes on the frame… I’ve been overthinking things as long as I can remember. Long before I knew about any folds!  I feel as though you’re setting up these oppositions that I can’t choose between. On the one hand, I completely buy what you are saying in your critique of intellectualizing experience but at the same time I am personally incapable of having a conversation without having a conversation about the conversation at the same time, and this started years before I’d ever seen a piece of art from the 20th century.  As you can imagine, I am irritating at a party but this doesn’t have to have anything to do with art.

In spite of your claims for dropping out or disappearing or doing nothing, you’ve left quite a formidable trail of thought over the last few years on the internet, much of it very critical writing about art. Maybe this is all very cohesive for you but there is an ambivalence between leaving it all behind and wrestling with it, occasionally on its own terms (maybe the archival nature of the internet skews my perception and sense of time a little though? But it does seem like you’ve built up some credibility!)

So after eight years is there any conflict for you or is that my own projection and has it really become as transactional as you’ve described?  By that I mean a trade-off, where you know what you want and you know what you need to do to get what you want. I am fascinated that you’ve spent so long doing “nothing” and that you’re maybe pulling an appearance act. But I guess what I’m wondering is there a risk for you? In what way do you expect to be transformed in this process (conflict) or do you not expect to be (transaction)?

Yes, I did also want you to write more about this “feeling like I give the art context too much power and you give it too little” comment because I think it is central to some of what we’re discussing. Does “too little” mean that I don’t acknowledge the decisions or values or ways of working that it foists on us? And “too much” means that you attribute almost magical capabilities for it to govern our practice, with little hope for us to evade it? I like to imagine that I am thoughtful about this but you still are probably right. But could you explain what you really meant if I’m wrong?

Anyway, your point was that it might be more potent to operate (frame-as-sensibility) in a different context. For me, this returns to a centrifugal desire (art dispersing outwards) as opposed to a centripetal one (the world selectively brought in to be “dealt with” by art). What I want to think about is how the things that I value (the people, the conversation, the occasional thoughtfulness, the experimentation, the disagreement, etc) continue to function through this movement.

You’ve written a couple of times about the tendency to over-think, over-analyze, over-historicize, over-frame within art discourse. And I do agree with you except that I think there is not enough thinking and talking going on. A lot of that energy has been corralled into artist statements and thesis papers and monographs and formula lectures and so on. These circulate easily but in my mind they are distinct from a thinking and talking that doesn’t resolve easily into a format, that is as undefined and self-contradictory as the world itself, that becomes something else and something else again, that doesn’t stand up to time, that doesn’t respond to the compulsion to do, that… etc. I’m sleepy again.

I’m not sure how long you imagine this conversation continuing but I want you to know that I will keep going until it exhausts itself, or you pull the plug!

RS: Wow, you really hit your stride in the last message!

You’re absolutely correct in seeing me as deeply conflicted. It’s like a bad relationship I just can’t end! Or I could try to dress it up in this Kaprow quote: “Nonart advocates, according to this description, are those who consistently, or at one time or other, have chosen to operate outside the pale of art establishments–that is, in their heads or in the daily or natural domain. At all times, however, they  have informed the art establishment of their activities, to set into motion the uncertainties without which their acts would have no meaning.” I’m conflicted about that too as I’m not convinced the acts would have no meaning.

I have built up visibility or “an appearance act” as you term it, and others can judge whether that translates into credibility.

It’s funny because I am familiar with the term “transaction” in John Dewey’s sense. That sense is more like the way you employ “conflict.” For Dewey a social transaction involves the co-transformation of participants. It is a process based epistemology that seeks to avoid the usual dualisms of subject/object, mind/body etc. So yes, I very much hope that my relationship with the art world and the world generally is transactional, in my [Dewey’s] sense.

I think you have this right concerning me: being polemical is a nasty habit of mine and therefore I tend to veer towards “almost magical” attributions too often. I know that you are thoughtful, deeply so, about your projects, but in the course of our conversation it seems like you’ve consistently dismissed any potentially negative effects of art framing. I think another possible explanation lies in our own histories. I have consistently claimed that the things I do/have done are not art and that seems to invite people to disprove it. So I’ve had far too many conversations about why something is art. Since the frame is a given in your endeavors, in a funny way it is less visible as such. For instance, in describing the PACK-MAN piece you noted the idea of art never came up. So maybe we each need to reverse positions!

I’m pretty sure we are in agreement. My complaint is not with thinking, per se, but with the highly specialized and insular form of thinking that seems to dominate certain segments of the art world. And I love the notion of art discourse corralling thought. That metaphor resonates with my concern for making things projects, pieces, works, etc. It puts experience into a pen, chases it down, ties it up…The range of what is thinkable in the art world suffers from its narrowly conceived theoretical canon. There are so many forms of thoughtfulness and intelligence (especially emotional intelligence) that get swept aside in the embrace of what I feel is “theoretical fundamentalism.” Compassion, empathy, sympathy, love, pleasure, fun, etc. all bow down before the high theoretical altar and are approved only after proving that they’re not “just” fun or “just” tender but have a whole theoretical/intellectual armature beneath them that make it okay. I think you’re right to point out that a good deal of art world conversation ends up as a formulaic enactment, one that too often tends to “resolve easily into a format.” Ultimately I just wish that there were more at stake than what amounts to artsy thought experiments. Haven’t we basically shifted from art for art’s sake to academic criticality for academic criticality’s sake? And what have we gained in the process? Not much, if you ask me – thinner and thinner slices of experience parsed by narrower and more specialized tools yet cloaked in the banner of openness and diversity. Feels a bit like greenwashing…

SD:Wow, that Kaprow quote is an interesting one. There is a part of Bourriaud’s book Postproduction where he writes (I’m not going to bother looking this up, so I could very well be wrong here) that the exhibition space could operate as a kind of “basecamp” for art explorations afield. These guys are so far apart in so many ways but Kaprow’s quote does seem structurally similar here – art is the thing we always have to report back to. I haven’t thought this through before but it seems like describing having a computer but not a network connection. You can play games, write essays, make pictures and movies on your computer, but you just don’t have the same people around, the same system of distribution, and the “reporting” kind of keeps your connection active. One very well can cut the cord and do what they do and it still has meaning, of course, just not in the same way with the same people.

I mean the network analogy, although terrible in certain respects, is fun to think about with Dewey’s transactions: i.e., to think about the ways that writing, making videos, etc. changes when we’re doing it in tandem with a lot of other people (shooting a home movie to put on YouTube vs shooting a home movie to watch whenever you feel like setting up the projector in your place). Have things gotten to the point that a book we’ve read has no meaning unless we report on it to our friends or the public in some online forum? I don’t know if this is appropriate – sorry to shift art-specific discussion to culture in general but I feel as though these are all connected.  After all, our very specific discussion is being conducted at a distance in solitude but through the Internet, the very thing that even made us aware of each other in the first place.

I have lately been referencing this one passage in Ernest Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy about “articulation”, which I’ve remembered to broadly refer to that same transaction (although they are writing more about how groups with uncommon causes create chains of equivalence to form some kind of political movement). I’ve mainly been interested in talking about collaboration not as finding common ground – or each doing what we’re good at to get something done that we couldn’t do individually – but as working to a vaguely common goal with the understanding that we’ll each be transformed in the process (the first two are premised on a pretty stable sense of identity, unlike the latter). Anyways, I’d like to read more Dewey. I had a passing affair with pragmatism that I wouldn’t mind rekindling.

I recently had a discussion with someone who works on projects that I think are quite similar in motivation and spirit to what I do. He says that he does not call himself an artist but that in conversation with someone from the arts, it usually ends up at the reverse position, with that person saying, “You actually are an artist!”  And I thought, my experience is the opposite. When asked “Are you an artist?” I will respond “yes.” But by the end of the conversation the person usually has their doubts. I think I prefer that!

I think focusing on the crossing in and out of the art frame – on one’s position with respect to the art frame – focuses attention on the art frame and makes it all mostly about the art frame. This is the art frame that generates all of those conversations about “Is it art? Or is it not art?”  Those very conversations seem to be one of the most negative effects of art framing! That’s not to say there aren’t others though – maybe we could be more specific about what they are? It used to be that commodification was one, right? (I take the position that absolutely anything can be bought and sold if someone wants to buy it badly enough, so maybe it’s an obsolete concern.) I think limiting of the people who tend to be involved is another that you’ve brought up. I don’t want to totally evade your question but I think I need to know more of what you have in mind.

Even a week later, I am still taking this in: “to ‘resolve easily into a format.’ Ultimately I just wish that there were more at stake than what amounts to artsy thought experiments. Haven’t we basically shifted from art for art’s sake to academic criticality for academic criticality’s sake? And what have we gained in the process? Not much, if you ask me – thinner and thinner slices of experience parsed by narrower and and more specialized tools yet cloaked in the banner of openness and diversity. Feels a bit like greenwashing…”

RS: I wonder where you’ve gone with my “artsy thought experiments” comment. I also wonder where we are with our conversation and if you’ve imagined what might come of it beyond being an interview…

SD: Well you wanted more at stake than artsy thought experiments. Who can disagree with that? I’m a little torn though because I think there is a widespread, popular hostility to theory that attracts me to it. The thing is maybe to distinguish between theory and artsy thought experiments. Am I completely missing the point here?

Because of the sputtering last couple weeks, I feel a little as though our conversation is a land mass that’s still identifiable but lost its detail (writing to you makes me picture myself on a boat).

Well, quite obviously I hope that we stay in touch. I’d like to think it already went a little beyond being an interview, but I might be flattering myself to say that. I honestly feel privileged that you’ve taken the time to ask some very difficult questions and help me see things that might be limiting what I do, or choices I’ve accepted rather than made. In a way I don’t feel like it’s my place to imagine any more because I’m certain I probably got more out of this conversation than you did.

RS: Well the hostility to theory is not from the inside, is it? In my experience, it is only non-art people who have a (mostly well placed) aversion to theory precisely because it’s so hard to distinguish it from artsy gobbledy-gook.

The sentiment you’re expressing in your last statement is, well, NUTS. This conversation was so enriching and I’m so glad you agreed to it. I believe we’ve definitely move from “friends” to friends. That might be a good title?

SD: Oh, I wasn’t even thinking of artists using theory so much as the social practice of thinking in general. I understand that “theory” is now an umbrella term for all sorts of postmodern academic styles of writing and discussion that end up like inbreeding for ideas. I want to be clear that I am not defending this (whether in art or higher level education in general) even if I am using the term. Rather than taking up a position on the inside or on the outside, I like the idea of a parallel existence. I think young people do that with music. The idea of successive generations toppling each other like dominos makes less sense to me than the mutations that happen when things get done wrong and become really persuasive and amazing ideas. Although I don’t always have the self-discipline to do it. Thinking positively and keeping moving, when in an argument, always seems to lead to a more fulfilling place rather than taking a position of conflict (baggage).

It’s obviously nostalgia but I’m fascinated by a number of individuals who were alive in the 19th century doing things that seem radically disjunctive now, i.e. philosopher-businessmen-scientist types. You mentioned the Lyceums and Chautauqua, which I hadn’t heard of but I’ve looked them up and they’re definitely part of this same context. It seems as if life hadn’t been separated into the categories we find dominant now. I feel like we’re in a similar moment of cultural transformation where we really just don’t understand the world we live in. Theory should be a practice of thinking that helps us make that world better (unfortunately, it is the language of specialized academic discourse).


Sean Dockary is an artist in Los Angeles. He is a co-director of Telic Arts Exchange (http://telic.info) and has initiated a handful of collaborative projects including a school (The Public School), a theory text-sharing website (AAAARG.ORG), and an architecture radio show (Building Sound). He has contributed writing to X-TRA, Bidoun, Fillip, Volume, and Cabinet magazines, and his video and sculptural work have been exhibited at Gigantic Art Space, ESL, the Cheekwood Museum, the Turtle Bay Museum, and the Armory Center for the Arts. “The Public School (for Architecture)” in New York, a project in partnership with the architecture group, common room, was recently awarded a fellowship from the Van Alen Institute. With fellow collaborators in The Public School, Caleb Waldorf and Fiona Whitton, Sean organized a 13-day seminar at various sites throughout Berlin in July, called “There is nothing less passive than the act of fleeing,” which discussed the promises, pitfalls, and possibilities for extra-institutionality.

Allan Kaprow – Education of the Un-artist Part II

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/28/2012

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Kaprow – Unart

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 01/15/2009

“This is not because I don’t like the arts, or that I’m not interested in the arts of other people. But as far as I was personally concerned, the un-arting process was primary and, therefore, I would not find useful any integration of social and cultural theory into art-making.” – Allan Kaprow

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