Art “workers” are to art what sex workers are to sex. – Even more stuff I said on facebook with the really challenging, thoughtful, responses removed

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 07/23/2013

This might clarify:

To describe what sex workers engage in as “sex” is accurate, but only in a *very particular way*. I imagine most folks would agree that it is not the same type of sex one means when talking about consensual relationships. Ergo, for those engaged in art as art “workers,” what they engage in is art, but only in a very particular way as well…

Now, I knew the comparison was dicey from a gender point of view, but it is not the nature of the work I was trying to compare, but the relationship one has to, and in, work. The way that “work” transforms an activity.

So, fighting for improved working conditions for sex workers is clearly laudable. But I think a better strategy would be to focus not (solely) on the conditions of one’s “work,” but on the compulsion to work altogether. In the specific case of sex workers, I think those struggles are better attacked from a human rights angle than from a “work” angle…

Again, to me calling art “work” accepts a set of normative principles and imports a whole ideological framework that I think is unwise. I understand the motivation (or think I do), but it’s the same reason I call what I do out here on the boat “cooking” (with scare quotes) rather than without because what I mean by cooking has a set of qualitative conditions attached that get completely severed by doing it as work.

***** – “acknowledgement of the value of cultural labor” is precisely what I continue to object to.

To call something “labor” invites a particular type of “value.” So, do I think artists engage in interesting activity? Yes. Do I think the activity is work? No. Do I think it is valuable? Yes, but the nature of that value and how it is valued is important. If it is indeed, *mere* work (yes, in Bob Black’s sense) then I have no more or less sympathy for it than say selling insurance. If work is supposed to be honorific in some sense, then I think another term might be needed or we need to be expansive in its application (to no good end in my mind other than to be fair and inclusive) so that we speak of juggling “workers”, hiking “workers”, etc. And yeah art *can* be a stand in, and often *desires* to stand in for the “general application of creative principles,” but I think we might need to get away from the word “art” as quickly as we need to get away from the word “work!”

I would say talk of compensation is tricky. When I have friends for over for dinner I hardly expect compensation despite the fact that I might have undergone tremendous effort (“work”) to prepare the meal. So if one’s art is akin to a shared experience among friends, talk of payment gets weird. But if it is not for friends, but a professional endeavor, one in which a “service” is provided to a client then talk of money makes sense – to the extent it is such it seems like talk of “art” then becomes tricky…

I should have said – *can* become tricky. I definitely don’t want to set up ironclad dichotomies…

The comfortable absurdity of artistic “experimentation.” – Toward an expansive “we” (hint: mom and dad are invited) – Some more stuff I said on facebook with the really challenging, thoughtful, responses removed

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 07/22/2013

Mental Prototypes and Monster Institutions. Some Notes by Way of an Introduction – Universidad Nómada (Nuria Rodríguez Trans.)

Well, after sorting through all of the theoretical gobbledy-gook, I find myself in some agreement (with the intro “Mental Prototypes and Monster Institutions.”) with the spirit… But then I get to the conclusion in which they call for 4 circuits (not feeling all this 90s grad school lingo – “circuits” “monsters” “hybrids” “swarming”). These circuits sound an awful lot like they will need to be populated (and led) by artist-academics. How convenient! Their description does not seem to align with the stated ambitions:

“struggles and forms of social existence that some would accuse of being non-political or contaminated or useless or absurd ”

“monstrous, because they initially appear to be pre-political or simply non-political in form”

“another politics, that is, another way of translating the power of productive subjects into new forms of political behaviour”

I *wish* the proposed circuits, were not circuits at all and were more “useless” or “absurd.” Absurd that is in a way that academics would find uncomfortable rather than the comfortable absurdity of artistic “experimentation.”

I wouldn’t characterize my reaction as “phobia.” Rather, I would call it allergic.

The problem with the notion of hybridity advocated here is that the multiple layers don’t really seem all that “multiple.” So describing this writing as “technical” might be right…it is a field manual for the already converted, the ones who already speak the same way, the ones who always do all the speaking and not enough listening. Communication isn’t just about finding the right rhetoric. It is also about developing the proper dispositions right? I would be far less suspicious of the circuits if the notion of collectivity they proposed didn’t seem to place academic/activist/art types at the center (or at the very least, the sorts of programmatic structures they have such an affinity for – educational projects, research projects, media/publishing, and institutes/foundations). In other words, let the monsters rise, but not be created, educated, published, and exhibited within the comfort zones of the academic/activist/artistic industrial complex! Screw their mental prototypes.

I am allergic to missionary fervor – to being “saved” or “helped” by those in the know. As you have already guessed, I got nothing. But, yes, folks out there do have something, and I will not lead them. It is true we don’t read the same way, but I am happy to have at least put our readings in contact.

I have been hearing/reading big plans and big ideas from academic art types for quite some time and the track record here in the US is pretty paltry. Until they figure out a form of (non, anti, new) political engagement that has them at the margins, that has small ambitions, that isn’t predicated on “producing knowledge,” that stops thinking only in terms of urban space, that advocates diversity without being dismissive of *actually* dissenting points of view, that accepts pleasure (especially “unhealthy” sorts), and especially gives up the romance of avant gardism – I too feel like I’ll be waiting for them to work their “magic” forever…

Happy 4th of July!

I would say to your last question that *not all* art criticism, cultural theory, and yes, even urban planning is technocratic. And I would add that the technocrats have had ample opportunity to use their “expertise” to manifest something good and have very little to show for it…

Yes “we” have art, “we” have culture, and “we” have education – but a point of contention here is how expansive that “we” is. From my 20+ years around academic/art/activist types it has become clear to me that the “we” is pretty narrow. My white heterosexual middle class mom who has no interest in overthrowing capitalism, or has much clue what heteronormativity might be is pretty clearly excluded even though she might agree in spirit with the notion that a fairer allocation of resources might be a pretty neat idea…I am for a “we” that isn’t the hollow fantasy of grad school romantics, one that includes their moms and dads and all the unironic mall shopping conformists they think they are so much better informed than. I am for a “we” that includes gun owners and people who don’t have a clue who Zizek is (or even Chomsky). And I have no problem at all with attempting to “contribute towards the emergence of a non-centralized liberatory culture.” I just wish for a little more humility a little less grandiosity and maybe less occupying of parks (which is indeed useful) and more strolls. And I do think you sell short the power of the stroll vs. the dérive, or what I might call (thanks to Scott Stroud) artful living vs. art. Here is a snippet from him that may or may not help (asterisks added for emphasis):

“***Life is always lived in some present, and it is here that the battle of life is fought***; one can come armed with habits that foster engagement with that present, or one can bring in ways of viewing the here and now (be it an art object or a work task) as a mere means to achieve something in the remote future. Both of these approaches will affect and tone the quality of lived, transactive experience. Dewey’s point, which I will explore at length in this work, is that the former approach is constitutive of artful living.”

The one that got away – Donald Hall feat. Katy Perry

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 07/02/2013

They say being a parent changes everything and it is true, but not all at once. There is the immediate annihilation of available time, but there is also the slow accretion of change as bits of what seemed solid about your identity get worn away.

My son, my executioner
I take you in my arms
Quiet and small and just astir
and whom my body warms

Sweet death, small son,
our instrument of immortality,
your cries and hunger document
our bodily decay.

We twenty two and twenty five,
who seemed to live forever,
observe enduring life in you
and start to die together.

– Donald Hall

So there is the literal death foretold in birth, but also this subjective death. I do not lament it. Mortality becomes as present as a blister in contact with a hot stone. Everything becomes both more, and less, urgent. Every little shard of experience lies in wait. A potential sabotage. Another bifurcation point in an unfolding narrative. So Katy Perry talks of young love lost, but it is also a tale of alternate paths – lives lived and not lived, the melancholy of the could, the should…I get that feeling every time I’m in an airport or see a plane passing overhead. But I especially feel it each morning whether faced with rain on glass, cold sunshine, or the grim darkness of hotel drapes.

In another life
I would be your girl
We’d keep all our promises
Be us against the world

In another life
I would make you stay
So I don’t have to say
You were the one that got away
The one that got away

– Katy Perry

Baby breath becomes laughter. Words become poetry. Skin becomes soil. And pop music becomes philosophy. Happy birthday June babies – it is July already.

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I can’t stand (for) art – Dear Dan Fox – “energy, dedication, love”

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 06/08/2013

[The following is a response to the piece highlighted and linked to below]

Dear Dan,

Thank you so much for this update. I think you might be the most interesting person in the art world – or I should say the “capital A” art world. Since you asked “What kind of art do you stand for?”, I thought I would endeavor an answer. Thanks for the opportunity to consider this.

The short answer is I can’t stand (for) art. Or rather, I am tired Dan, too tired to stand up (for art). I am tired of all the fretting, all the “legitimizing footnotes” and the curatorial pomp and circumstance. I look around me and see creative people everywhere – some of them wear white caps, a lot seem to wear sports jerseys, but almost none of them seem to have an opinion about documenta. And it seems to me that this is okay, that people make meaning where they are, whether watching Seinfeld reruns, gardening, arranging their Ikea furniture, or writing for frieze.

I agree that setting aside big claims like ‘This show challenges your preconceptions’ is probably for the best. And I think we should do our best to put art in its place – as one form of aesthetic enterprise, one form of meaning making, with no special purchase on fascinating ideas. If we focus on the “energy, dedication, love” rather than “the art fairs, biennials, mfa programmes, magazines, dense jargon and newspaper articles about how to make it in the art world,” I think we’d be off to a great start.

So I said I’m tired of art, but that was only because of the wording of your question. Looking closely, I notice that you engage in a kind of sleight of hand, asking what kind of art someone stands for, but then talking about Claes who advocates for an art. You too close your piece advocating for an art, rather than art. The “an” implies one among multitudes rather than a singular field, this I fully support. I stand for the art of things – the art of cookie decorating, the art of writing letters, the art of fly fishing, the art of comedy, the art of mixing music, the art of playing poker, the art of the cocktail, the art of kayaking, the art of knowing when to share a story at dinner…

I even stand for the art of making art, as long as it sees Jesus in a piece of toast not as a sign of the Second Coming (as you rightly suggest), but as one miracle among many – the miracle of people, even ones that don’t have clean drinking water, pressing on, finding beauty in small things. Or the miracle of folks making meaning from the clouds, their mom’s laugh, a reality TV show, or a gossip magazine. I stand for an art engaged in by everyone. I stand for any art of “energy, dedication, love.”


Randall Szott

Dear Claes … – Dan Fox

‘I am for an artist who vanishes, turning up in a white cap painting signs or hallways.’ A sceptic might call you out for indulging that middle-class fantasy of the artist as blue-collar worker, but I reckon you’re too savvy for that. Perhaps you meant it as a reminder to take pleasure in things in the world and not fret about their pedigree as ‘Art’. You’re certainly reasserting the old avant-garde desire to dissolve art into life, and although that’s an act of self-erasure few seem to chance nowadays – what would happen to all the free dinners, institutional glory and symbolic labour for urban gentrification? – it’s one that nevertheless begs the question of art’s influence beyond art; grubby questions about taste, audiences and who this whole game is for.

Art has obviously developed fascinating, complex ideas, but it’s had to work hard to explain them and to prove their worth in society. Yet nobody quite knows how much reach these ideas have beyond specialist circles. The industry superstructure is today so noisy we can’t tell whether it’s the structure or the art that’s having the effect. From outside, the art industry looks like a rarefied cultural activity. Newspapers like to portray it as a place for extreme shopping for the one percent. Neither of these views is entirely wrong, but nor are they entirely correct either. So much energy, dedication, love – entire lives – have been put into art’s hard-fought battles over identity, appropriation, feminism, abstraction, institutional critique, Conceptual art, Pop, Op, Cubism, Surrealism, Expressionism, De Stijl, Arte Povera, Fluxus, Mono-ha, Postmodernism, Happenings, Abstract Expressionism, Dada, Constructivism, realism, photo­realism, painting, sculpture, performance, installation, video and so forth that we crave a sign that it’s all been worth it. (The legacy of Minimalism can’t just be ikea tables.) The problem is that the art industry longs to have the mass appeal and legitimacy of pop culture– the same stripes awarded to cinema and music – but it still has to sell itself with some ingeniously gussied-up new angle on ‘high culture’ to justify its extravagances. We want the person in the white cap painting a sign also to have an opinion about this year’s documenta.

Big claims are made in our industry that leverage contemporary art as a form of salvation-cum-revolutionary-gesture such as ‘This show challenges your preconceptions’ or whatever toothless assertion of radicalism you wish to name. And still the world turns. Nothing changes. We’re quick to see a Jesus-shaped silhouette in a piece of toast and declare it a sign of the Second Coming. Cognitive dissonances have developed that allow for all kinds of mental contortions: a hair-shirt criticality that sees artists decrying capitalism in their commercial gallery shows, for instance, or artists having successful ‘practices’ making work ‘about failure’. All the pr, all the iconic museums erected in the hope of instrumentalizing art as an economic adrenaline jab, all the art fairs, biennials, mfa programmes, magazines, dense jargon and newspaper articles about how to make it in the art world – look at all that from outside the art industry, and it doesn’t add up to what we think it does. The signal-to-noise ratio is out of whack.

Our noses are pressed too close to the screen. We fret so much about the legitimizing footnotes – the art-historical lineages, the curatorial contexts and paradigms – that we forget to measure the proportionate importance of our discussions as they intersect with ‘social life’. I am for an art that knows where it stops and life starts. I am for an art that doesn’t see Jesus in a piece of toast.

Dan Fox

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Social practice must be broad, or not at all – Some stuff I said on facebook with the really challenging, thoughtful, responses removed

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 05/10/2013

Hasn’t much of “radical politics” been co-opted by a similar set of strategies? Isn’t there a similar profession of activism? Institutionalized “radicality” has had a pretty good run – around 50 years of theory and critique. But where is the payoff? Aside from all of those theses gathering dust in universities across the US? Obviously, I am implying that I don’t see radical politics (as imagined and practiced in the academy) as being any less susceptible to charges of elitist (or specialist) irrelevance than art. It’s all well and good to be conversant with Negri, Ranciere, Zizek, or Badiou, but construction workers in Arkansas or farm laborers in the San Joaquin Valley aren’t really helped by any of this are they? (I’m not trying to be a hater here!)

I would argue that any politics not engaged with aesthetics is doomed (and really it is always engaged – it is a matter of how attentively). Art [frieze/e-flux/triple canopy type art], on the other hand is just a highly specialized and pointless parlor game played with, and within, aesthetic experience. The hope I hold for social practice (fading though it may be), is that it will keep staking a claim beyond art, after art, without art. If it returns to the historical roots you claim for it, I fear it ensures its futility. To become wed to a critique of art plays art’s game. Or am I doing the same thing by writing this?!? Ugh.

My immediate objection here is that you make a claim for ” a political movement broadly defined” which is itself completely false (the idea of it being “broad”). The academic/activist class has an incredibly narrow idea of what “politics” is – especially Bishop for example. The “sweetness” of many social practice projects has invited much scorn from the cool kid ex-punker crowd that wants a days of rage approach to social change. Being a good mom, being a good dad, being a good neighbor – these things are every bit as urgent and political as self-consciously being “radical” no? Picking up trash along your street or bringing cookies to the school teacher are every bit as “socially engaged” as AIDS activist billboards, fossil fuel divestment die ins, or WTO protests. To me, politician, artist, activist are all professional designations (or always on the verge of being used in that manner) that certain activities are best left to those who identify as such. And that masks the political and aesthetic value people create (or destroy) in their everyday lives…so I totally agree that there are grandiose claims made for social practice, but this is no different than those made for radical political activism which also could be said “to ignore its increasingly professionalizing aspects while simultaneously insisting on its relevancy” All power to the people, even the dopey, unradical ones, even the cheese ball hug circle social practice do gooders, or the Wal-mart greeter that despite all the farcical theater of the smiley face low prices , is truly enthused and upbeat while greeting you.

To me it is the politics of avant gardism and heroic gestures that reeks of liberalism. “Service” as you put it, or “neighborliness” as I was advocating for, needn’t be liberal, and certainly not about “personal” responsibility. I come at it from a conservative (old school), communitarian, decentralist place. I dare not call it anarchist – especially if I want to avoid academic discussions or want to have some modicum of engagement with people like my mythical Wal-Mart greeter. And I have to say, your critique of social practice is striking in its normativity (not that I am not also making normative claims)! It seems social practice must be “radical” or not at all. I at least stake my normative claim for an expansive social practice one that isn’t owned (exclusively) by art, academia, or activists. Something like – Social practice must be broad, or not at all.

Leaving Dieter Roelstraete – The art world as urinal

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 04/03/2013

Can I Go Now? – Dieter Roelstraete

I find myself in the unfortunate position of defending Andrea Fraser, art, and Dave Hickey.

Roelstraete’s argument here has a familiar ring to it. Any vegetarian would likely recognize it – you don’t eat meat, but you’ve got a leather wallet. Or Anarcho-primitivists might see it too – you are arguing for an end to modernity, but you use a computer to type your manifesto. Maybe even anti-capitalist activists might notice – why don’t you leave this country or stop using money if you’re so sick of it? And who do you think reads your anti-capitalist essays other than anti-capitalists?

And perhaps Roelstraete “should be forgiven” for completely misunderstanding the distinction between being “more real” and being real in a different way. Just as the lives of the wealthy are “real” in some reductive ontological sense, it should not be mystifying to say that “real” life is not one of servants and private jets being at one’s beck and call. And McDonald’s might claim that Chicken McNuggets are real food and be correct in a very basic sense, but claiming fast food isn’t real food is not denying this. Sure the art world is a part of the real world just like Rodarte makes “real” clothes and Ann Romney had a “real” job, but they are not real in the same way as clothes from Wal-mart or being a cashier there. And to say “in the same way” is stopping short a bit – it would be more accurate to say they are not equally real in any way that actually matters. They are less real in this pragmatic sense.

One wonders how a curator might not understand an artistic proposition – how is it he ends up “wedded to the wrong notion of art?” Surely he understands that Duchamp’s urinal is both real and differently real, or that to declare the urinals in the MCA bathrooms more real than Duchamp’s implies nothing else than “more” real for a particular purpose. To borrow from Stephen Wright, if you need to piss, a double ontological toilet might not be the best choice and it may in fact be “better” to piss in a real one. Although Duchamp’s idea of the “reciprocal readymade” might cause us to reconsider even that decision.

In the various gestures of leaving that Roelstraete takes umbrage with, he appears to fail to see them as gestures. Ironically he sets up an even stricter “antimony” between art and the real world. He seems to want Fraser et. al. to really leave, a possibility he forecloses given that he believes that art and the real world are besties. It would seem that he wants to distract us from the flavorless, heat lamp warmed “food” of the art world by arguing about its reality rather than its desirability. When some declare let’s leave this place and find some real food, he merely wishes us luck and mumbles smugly like a Taco Bell manager, “They’ll be back.” And that art world attitude is what has my soul truly despairing.

MMUN – Defining Social Practice – Green Mountain Fury [Part II – The Kangaroo Court Responds]

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 02/22/2013


“It is the right of the accused to be tried by a legally constituted court, not by a kangaroo court.”
– William O. Douglas (Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97, 71 S. Ct. 576, 95 L. Ed. 774 [1951])

Secretary-General Wick has responded to this post:

I would like to begin my address with a condemnation of a reckless communiqué delivered to myself and the secretariat last night by Randall Szott, the official spokesman for social practice in the rogue state of Vermont. Szott declares that our meeting today will amount to nothing more than a “mere rehearsal of old saws and art theoretical platitudes,” dooming social practice to becoming “an art-historical corpse.”[1] As will become apparent as I continue throughout this address, and as you continue throughout your day, the words of the tyrant Szott could not be further from the truth.

I would point out that designation as a “rogue state” is not new for Vermont. It is a common tactic of distraction employed by the powerful to further marginalize dissent. I would also point out that the esteemed moderator of the event himself, went “rogue” at the Open Engagement conference in 2010.

Your title as “acting Secretary-General” is certainly appropriate, Mr. Wick. You are clearly engaged in political theater when you pronounce the kangaroo court you’ve assembled to be “wonderfully diverse,” but we both know this is a lie. Although your citation of Simmel and your overview of the role of the four councils are both welcome, I again remind you that your PR announcement established from the get go that art is still the imperial eyes through which the process is overseen. You see, my MFA was in doing nothing not naiveté.

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MMUN – Defining Social Practice – Green Mountain Fury

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 02/21/2013

Model Model UN: Issues in Practice

The California College of the Arts Social Practice Workshop announces Model Model UN: Issues in Practice, a participatory event followed by a public Oxford-style debate. The goal of Model Model UN (MMUN) is to appropriate the form of Model United Nations to examine contemporary art, specifically in the field of Social Practice. Participants draft a resolution that defines this emerging field. If passed, the resulting resolution holds authority over the definition of Social Practice Art for a period of one year (or until the next MMUN).

I sent the following salvo to Jacob Wick in response:

I Randall Szott, as official spokesman for Social Practice in the great state of Vermont, do hereby declare a procedural objection to any definition of social practice drafted by this body without the consultation and consent of the Green Mountain State.

It is clear that, to echo Erskine Childers, “…Western [social practice] powers behave in the Council, like a private club of hereditary elite-members who secretly come to decisions and then emerge to tell the grubby elected members that they may now rubber-stamp those decisions.”

There will be no rubber stamp. The veneer of inclusion belies the fact that this entire process is crafted by, and for the self interest of, the California College of the Arts and its Social Practice Workshop. This so-called “participatory event” offers mere crumbs (Thai curry) of democratic participation. Here in the land of town meeting, we see this event for what it is – an attempt to shore up institutional power by using proceduralism, empty rhetoric, and a cherry picked body politic.

The “four Focal Regions” might as well be called the “four Fuck You regions.” In the end, any light they might shed is snuffed out in the name of an insidious foregone conclusion. There is no suspense in the declaration “Social Practice is…” as the event announcement makes perfectly clear – social practice is art. The “debate” then is a mere rehearsal of old saws and art theoretical platitudes and social practice condemned thereby to be an art historical corpse.

Again, the birthplace of John Dewey, sanctuary of Murray Bookchin, starting ground of Helen and Scott Nearing, and a litany of other freethinkers, back to landers, and true democrats will voice its objection to this, not only on procedural grounds, but on moral ones as well. Long live social practice! Vermont will not consent to this funeral!

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I was not interested in art and it was not interested in me.

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 02/19/2013

‎[found the fragments of a talk I was going to give once and spent a little time editing it]

The arguments stopped when the bar cleared out. Ideas abandoned – crushed limes amid melting ice and chewed up thin red straws. One could’ve measured things by the ferocity of hangovers or the days upon days of jackets reeking of ash. I’ve got notes somewhere. I could title them “Minutes of the outside looking in committee,” but that might mislead.

In the early years it was pizza, wine, French feminists, Asian philosophy, salads with feta cheese, Donna Haraway (and plenty of other cyborgian stuff), southern folk art, Gregory Bateson, and oodles of continental thinkers. The Zapatistas were a frequent topic thanks to a history graduate student and member of the “band” Stool Sample Sandwich. He took so long in the pursuit of his degree that he ran out of time and never got the degree. At this time, I had a concealed weapons permit and there was a particularly heated exchange around the appropriateness, or lack thereof, of an armed left.

Influence is a funny thing. A comment made in passing by a professor from that era has gnawed at me in a pretty profound way – “Derrida is a great reader, but he ought to take up camping.”

Even though I had been camping all the time, camped my way across the country, and continued to do so upon moving to San Francisco, I still found myself in a Thousand Plateaus reading group. My heart just wasn’t in it any more. Somewhere, amid the fog and redwoods, my love affair with theory began to dwindle. Or maybe it was the gambling bus I used to take to Reno. After taking advantage of  the complimentary Heineken and casino credits, I would retreat to my hotel room and pull open the curtains for a view of the sun sinking behind the mountains. I would scribble away in my notebooks whose content slowly changed from extensive notes on books to something a more presumptuous person might call poems.

But there were still plenty of arguments to be had, only now the food was gone. It was gimlets, wet naps, and snack mix. Theory was fading fast. DJ Spooky played an important role. Funnily, it was at yet another casino that I saw him play a set followed by a really sad “mashup”  of theory. He also recounted his numerous art world accomplishments and I remember thinking that theory had jumped the shark. I went to find the Bonnie and Clyde Death Car and tried to goad Baudrillard into gambling with me (he declined).

Perhaps as penance for my blind devotion to theory (It might have been an attempt to impress a poet I had a crush on too) I read poems. That I wrote. Out loud. In public.

Shortly after this, I skipped town for Ohio in search of new arguments and a second grad degree amid football jerseys and chain restaurants. Actually, I was looking to “do nothing” which being the greatest of academic sins (apparently), brought judgment raining down on me. The bars, the flea markets, and a few key allies gave me cover, but I’m pretty sure that it condemned me to hell, or maybe just academic purgatory…Somehow I thought that it would be “refreshing” for a hiring committee to receive an application to teach in an art program from someone who was not an artist, critic, or curator,  and who had no portfolio, no publications, no exhibitions, someone who had an MFA in “nothing,” someone who survived (barely) on his wits alone…

My affinity for pancake breakfasts not in the gallery, but at the VFW post and for “installations” at thrift and antique stores did not win me any interviews. I was not interested in art and it was not interested in me.

So now I’m a cook.

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

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 01/18/2013

[What follows below is my sketch of a syllabus I felt obligated to offer after ranting on facebook about the state of social practice education. But first, the rant…]

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?

All we have to do is look around: toward a local social practice syllabus. 


Let us begin, ironically enough, with quotes from three non-Vermonters:

“The concepts and insights of the ecologists are of great usefulness in our predicament, and we can hardly escape the need to speak of “ecology” and “ecosystems.” But the terms themselves are culturally sterile. They come from the juiceless, abstract intellectuality of the universities which was invented to disconnect, displace, and disembody the mind. The real names of the environment are the names of rivers and river valleys; creeks, ridges, and mountains; towns and cities; lakes, woodlands, lanes roads, creatures, and people.” – Wendell Berry

“Our task is to build cultural fortresses to protect our emerging nativeness. They must be strong enough to hold at bay the powers of consumerism, the powers of greed and envy and pride. One of the most effective ways for this to come about would be for our universities to assume the awesome responsibility to both validate and educate those who want to be homecomers — not necessarily to go home but to go someplace and dig in and begin the long search and experiment to become native.”  – Wes Jackson

“The word ‘topophilia’ is a neologism, useful in that it can be defined broadly to include all of the human being’s affective ties with the material environment. These differ greatly in intensity, subtlety, and mode of expression. The response to environment may be primarily aesthetic: it may vary from the fleeting pleasure one gets from a view to the equally fleeting but far more intense sense of beauty that is suddenly revealed. The response may be tactile, a delight in the feel of air, water, earth. More permanent and less easy to express are the feelings that one has toward a place because it is home, the locus of memories, and the means of gaining a livelihood.” – Yi-Fu Tuan


What is social practice? An immediate answer might be “who cares?” A nicer way to put that might be “why start with a definition?” Perhaps, we should just start looking around at what people are doing here, right next to us. What threads connect these actions? What connects them to each other and to this place? Is social practice something that happens elsewhere? In art school? In big cities? By people with degrees? In some abstract, placeless, uprooted, cosmopolitan “everywhere?”

Another answer to that first question might be “haven’t we got it all wrong?” Or why start with social practice in the first place? Might the term be just a “juiceless” invention akin to how Wendell Berry characterizes “ecology?” What if we started with a homecoming? What if we began by building “cultural fortresses” as Wes Jackson suggests here in the Green Mountain State? What if we walked The Long Trail and sailed Lake Champlain to begin the “long search and experiment to become native?”

Contemporary art sometimes deals with the idea of site-specificity (sometimes art is made for a specific location and not for display in a relatively generic gallery space) and this course intends to be site-specific itself. Or to borrow a term of winemaking, this course hopes to explore social practice through the “terroir” of Vermont (The Viticulture FAQ & Glossary defines terroir as “The total, inter-related environment wherein a grapevine is cultivated for the purpose of making wine. Key factors include, but are not limited to, cultivar type, soil, climate, vineyard location, planting density, training system, pruning philosophy & the cultural and social milieu wherein the whole enterprise takes place.”). Through this we might cultivate our own “topophilia” as Yi-Fu Tuan describes above.

But let’s circle back to that first question. Here is how a friend (Ted Purves) of mine defines it for the institutional needs of his art school:

“The field focuses on topics such as aesthetics, ethics, collaboration, persona, media strategies, and social activism, issues that are central to artworks and projects that cross into public and social spheres.

These varied forms of public strategy are linked critically through theories of relational art, social formation, pluralism, and democracy. Artists working within these modalities either choose to co-create their work with a specific audience or propose critical interventions within existing social systems that inspire debate or catalyze social exchange.”

As it stands now social practice is mostly a variation on that theme, although sometimes it is called by other names (socially engaged art, relational aesthetics, new genre art). And it also is institutionally confined to art schools, departments, and programs. Another important approach this course takes is to break social practice free from art and academia. This means finding issues of community, collaboration, democracy, ethics, and aesthetics (to name a very few of its themes) at play in the lives of a wide range of people beyond the customary triumvirate of artists, activists, and academics. We will look at parents, neighbors, bakers, baristas, bartenders, clergy, restaurateurs and all sorts of other folks to see what, if anything the idea of social practice might do to connect, or understand, their activities.

This course takes several books as “spirit guides” for its structural sensibility.  Of course reading them would help contextualize things, but the titles themselves might be enough: Making It Up as We Go Along by Chris Mercogliano and We Make the Road by Walking by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire

What follows below then is a set of suggestions as to where we might begin “making it up” and where to begin to “make the road by walking.” It will be left to students to find the blind spots, dead ends, outright stupidities, and to co-create our experience together in the classroom and beyond. There is some stuff specifically envisioned as “art,” but not much. There is some “theory,” but really just a few links to thinkers associated with Vermont (ex. Dewey, Miller, and Bookchin). There is still a huge gap to be filled – everyday people (of which many of the people highlighted are, but in some ways they are still exceptional in that they are not working stiffs, or stay at home moms. So a constant focus would be to look at home and next door, not just on the web, at a museum or nonprofit, or in the library.


Stuff to read, listen to, or watch

A Citizen’s Guide To Vermont Town Meeting

Weekly Standard: Our Town Meetings

The Vermont Papers: Recreating Democracy on a Human Scale
by Frank Bryan, John McClaughry

Whiteness in Vermont

Vermont and the Imaginative Geographies of American Whiteness – Robert M. Vanderbeck

Decentralizing Educational Authority [one of many essays found at Paths of Learning – a repository of work by Ron Miller]

Tal Birdsey, Head Teacher, North Branch School – Ripton, VT

A ROOM FOR LEARNING: The Making of a School in Vermont

Art, community and agriculture are one at Fable Farm where workers read and tell stories as they plant and dig, is a community-supported vegetable farm near Silver Lake in Barnard [see Fable Farm link below also]

Gov. Shumlin Sends Chick-fil-A a Message for Eat More Kale 

Chicken Chain Says Stop, but T-Shirt Maker Balks

The Bread Bike

Hippie Havens: It was 40 years ago today…the “forever young” generation reflects on life in Vermont’s first communes

Vermont’s epicurean evolution: How 1960s hippies took Vermont farmhouse cooking to today’s artisanal heights

Back to the Land: Communes in Vermont

Author Traces History Of The Back-To-The-Land Movement

Life on a Vermont commune: Poet Verandah Porche remembers back-to-the land living

Learn how Helen and Scott Nearing became completely self-sufficient while homesteading in Vermont.

Living The Good Life with Helen and Scott Nearing [Bullfrog Films clip]

At The End Of A Good Life: Scott Nearing’s dignified death, like his life, sets an inspiring example for all of us – Helen Nearing

The (written) philosophy of George Schenk [the embodied is below – see American Flatbread]

Murray Bookchin:  social anarchism, ecology and education

Murray Bookchin, GRUMPY OLD MAN – Bob Black

John Dewey and informal education

Interview with the Luddite – Kirkpatrick Sale is a leader of the Neo-Luddites.

The Frog Run: Words and Wildness in the Vermont Woods – John Elder

Architecture 101: No permits, no parents, no clients, plenty of plywood for architect Sellers and friends

The Prickly Mountain gang

The Revolution That Never Quite Was: The Vermont enclave Prickly Mountain was built as an antiestablishment utopia—and that’s what it still is.

Of paleontology and excellence in Vermont architecture

Stuck in Vermont 87: Warren 4th of July Parade


Stuff to visit, look at, and discuss

ReSOURCE retail shops provide job and life-skills training, essential household items to families and individuals in crisis, and prevent tons of material from ending up in our landfills each year. These stores also find new homes for major appliances, computers, electronics, furniture, and industrial surplus materials, which are used by the community as arts, crafts, and educational supplies

The Clothes Exchange:
The Clothes Exchange is a mission driven social enterprise dedicated to turning clothing into cash for community benefit…For every event, The Burlington Clothes Exchange selects a new nonprofit to partner with who receives event proceeds; in 2011 our May event raised $70,000 for Spectrum and 9 other local nonprofits. In total, The Exchange has raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for nonprofits in Chittenden County.

Outright Vermont:
Outright Vermont (Outright) was founded in 1989 following the release of a 1988 national youth risk survey showing that gay and lesbian youth in particular had very high rates of depression and suicide. A group of community activists gathered to form Outright, which began as a “once a week” support group. Our Friday Night support group has continued ever since, every Friday over the past 20 years. Today, Outright is a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQQ) ‘queer’ youth center and statewide advocacy organization.

The Mission of Outright is to build safe, healthy, and supportive environments for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth (ages 13-22). Our goal is to make Vermont the safest, most supportive and empowering state for queer youth in the United States of America.

RU12? was founded in 1999 by two students at the University of Vermont who believed that Vermont needed a multi-generational queer space open to people of all ages, races and genders.

RU12? is now the largest LGBTQ organization in Vermont, and the only LGBTQ community center in the state. RU12? is located in the Champlain Mill (20 Winooski Falls Way) in Winooski.

RU12? has many programs and services including the SafeSpace Anti-Violence Support Line, a HIV Prevention program that includes HIV testing, social/support groups, programming for LGBTQA Families, LGBT Elders, and the Transgender Community Wellness Program, a drop-in center and meeting space, lending library, David Bohnett CyberCenter, and more.

The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps:
The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps is a nonprofit youth, leadership, service, conservation, and education organization that instills in individuals the values of personal responsibility, hard work, education, and respect for the environment. This is accomplished by using conservation projects as the vehicle for learning in an intense environment.
Each year, the VYCC hires young people ages 16-24 who work and study together under adult leadership to complete high-priority conservation projects such as state park management, trail maintenance, and backcountry construction. Through the performance of this important work, young people expand their job and leadership skills and develop personal values, ethics, and an awareness of social, political, and environmental issues. All VYCC jobs are characterized by comprehensive and intensive training, close supervision, and extensive opportunities for individual learning and personal growth.

Center for Whole Communities:
Few places in America regularly bring together leaders of different race, class, profession and ideology to find shared purpose and renew their collective strength. Center for Whole Communities is a land-based leadership development organization. We foster the innovative and collaborative responses from different sectors of the environmental and social movements that are necessary to address the complexity of today’s challenges. While nurturing in our alumni multi-disciplinary responses to challenges such as climate change and building economically competitive and equitable communities, our leadership programs directly confront the fragmentation that exists in American society around politics, race, class and privilege.

350.org is building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis. Our online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries.

350 means climate safety. To preserve our planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 parts per million to below 350 ppm. But 350 is more than a number—it’s a symbol of where we need to head as a planet.

350.org works hard to organize in a new way—everywhere at once, using online tools to facilitate strategic offline action. We want to be a laboratory for the best ways to strengthen the climate movement and catalyze transformation around the world.

Women’s Center At UVM:
The Women’s Center is a place to build community, make new friends, access all kinds of resources and services, and learn more about the work that we do in service of building an inclusive and safe campus.

If you’re looking to get involved or are struggling with a personal issue, the Women’s Center is here to help you out. We provide advocacy services, empower women and their allies to use their voices, raise awareness about the critical issues facing women, and highlight their many accomplishments. Stop by to check our our resources & programs!

Our mission is to strengthen community food systems. Since 1988, we’ve been dedicated to improving farm viability, promoting sustainable land use and engaging our community in the food system. We’re helping to build a community food system that honors producers, values good food and enhances quality of life for Burlington and beyond!

Rural Vermont:
Our Vision is for a Vermont local food system which is self-reliant and based on reverence for the earth. It builds living soils which nurture animals and people with wholesome, natural products supporting healthy, thriving farms and communities. These communities in turn work to encourage and support current and future farmers, continuing our Vermont heritage. This abundant and generous way of life celebrates our diversity and interdependence.

nofa logo smaller

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont is a nonprofit association of farmers, gardeners, and consumers working to promote an economically viable and ecologically sound Vermont food system for the benefit of current and future generations.

NOFA Vermont was founded in Putney in 1971, making it one of the oldest organic farming associations in the United States. Today, we are proud to have over 1300 members throughout the state and to certify over 580 farms and processors to the USDA National Organic Program Standards. We are passionate about increasing the acreage of certified organic land in Vermont while also increasing the access of local organic food to all Vermonters. All our programs strive to meet these goals, whether it involves working with schools to bring local foods into the cafeteria or providing business planning services to farmers to ensure their businesses stay viable. Whether you are a Vermonter who gardens, farms, eats local food, or enjoys our rural communities, NOFA Vermont welcomes you.

Fable Farm:
Fable Farm is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Organic Farming Project located in Barnard, Vermont in the Upper Valley Region of the Green Mountains. During the growing season, Fable Farm cultivates a mosaic of farmland peppered throughout our hillside village. We also host weekly community gatherings during pickup hours for Fable Farm CSA members which are open to the public.

Cedar Circle Farm:
Growing for a sustainable future. Annuals & perennials, certified organic bedding plants, vegetables & berries. Our educational mission is to raise public awareness about the importance of local organic agriculture, increase access to quality organic produce for low-income people, and establish models for farm-appropriate alternative energy strategies, and train next-generation farmers. We cultivate 40-acres using certified organic practices on conserved land along the Connecticut River in East Thetford, Vermont, just minutes from Norwich, Vermont, and Hanover, New Hampshire.

A family friendly public farm, we offer a cafe’, farmstand, workshops, festivals, guided farm tours, teaching gardens, a self-guided farm tour, wagon rides, and pick your own berries, pumpkins, herbs and flowers.

Bread and Butter Farm:
Burger Night started innocently in 2011 as a way for us to promote that we were raising grass-fed beef. We thought it sounded like fun to grill some burgers on a Friday afternoon for our Farm Store customers to let them try out the beef. The very first event we held, 150 people showed up! We were blown away. It hasn’t stopped since. We have been amazed with the response and have done everything we can to keep up with the lively demand, serve the highest quality, delicious food, and provide a great space for the community gathering that is a great support for our community farm.

At Burger Night we serve a full meal that comes almost entirely from our farm. We raise the cows who provide the beef (look around, they are grazing all summer – they move around a lot to pastures near to the barn and event, and then some very far flung fields), we bake the buns, we grow the veggies for the salads, we bake the cookies for dessert (we haven’t figured out how to produce chocolate yet…). Our own Chris Dorman brings amazing bands each week to liven up the event. We love the connection between food and music and Burger Night has become a perfect combo!

Our farm is a great place for everyone to come and participate in a meal on a real, working farm. We take pride in knowing that kids are running around free playing in the gardens, in the fields, on the mulch piles and hay bales and having a blast outdoors.

Numina Wilderness School:
Numina is a group of Addison County, VT educators who are dedicated to finding each person’s spark of genius or divinity, the “numen” in Latin, and encouraging it to flame. Numina Wilderness School brings that fire alive in Nature through Mentorship, After-School and Day-long ongoing programming for kids and adults.
Mission: To teach people of all ages how to understand nature while helping them find connection to their calling in this life. We do that by introducing people to their natural neighbors. The Plants, Animals, the four directions, the night, the stars, fire, themselves, each other and all things natural.

The Walden Project:
The Walden Project is a public school program serving students in grades 10-12.  Run out of Vergennes Union High School with support and guidance from The Willowell Foundation, The Walden project provides students a rigorous curriculum that emphasizes writing, philosophy, environmental studies, while supporting student centered-inquiry.  The program is modeled on Henry David Thoreau’s sojourn to Walden Pond where he immersed himself in his ecology to deepen his sense of self, society, and the natural world. To that end, students are encouraged to follow and pursue their own areas of interest with support and guidance from the staff.

The Walden Project is not school in the traditional sense. It is a community of students and teachers who use this former farmland for what the founder calls a “great, living template for education.” They spend three days a week outdoors, through fall, bitter winter, and spring. On Tuesdays, for Field Sociology class and writing, the students visit government offices, nonprofit organizations, and other institutions in Burlington, a college town of 40,000 located 20 miles away. On Fridays, they work at internships in their areas of interest, such as Web design or photography.

The Schoolhouse Learning Center:
The Schoolhouse Learning Center is an accredited elementary school and licensed childcare center that has provided quality programs for over 40 years. Schoolhouse programs nurture each child’s innate curiosity and encourage independence of mind and resourcefulness. Families are invited to be a part of Schoolhouse programs and are a vital part of the community. Our educational philosophy and values are founded upon five Core Concepts: Trust, Sharing, Responsibility, Respect and Belonging.

The Bellwether School:
We view education from a holistic perspective which means, first, we are concerned with the whole child – emotional, social, physical, moral, spiritual, artistic and creative as well as intellectual dimensions of their development – and second, that every child’s life is connected to wider contexts of experience – peers, family, community, culture, and the natural world.

Like all progressive educators, we see children as natural learners and honor that principle. We recognize that children come to the classroom with many gifts, multiple intelligences and languages, full potential, uniqueness, and natural curiosity. We strive to design a learning environment and to use teaching practices that support children’s characteristic ways of exploring, discovering, and constructing their knowledge of the world. Teachers draw forth the intrinsic motivation of each child so that learning becomes an interactive process that values imagination, creativity, and joy, fostering a love of learning. Instead of dividing up the mind and the body, science and the humanities, action and thought, intelligence and emotion, holistic education seeks to bring these together. In this way, we foster the values of both independence of each learner and interdependence of all subjects as well as all aspects of life. Holistic education seeks to foster a sense of connection to both the natural world and the human community; we feel this approach cultivates social as well as ecological responsibility, a compassionate sense of wonder, and genuine self-understanding.

Yestermorrow Design/Build School:
Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren, Vermont offers over 150 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft including a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design and green building. Operating as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization since 1980, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our 1-day to 3-week hands-on courses are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country.

A crucial aspect of our continued success derives from the supportive spirit of the community around us.

In turn, we are committed to improving and contributing to our local community. We do this through offering our time and skill in building a variety of projects in collaboration with local non-profits, schools, and other organizations that contribute to the well being of our community. Our mission is best met when we can pair our efforts with those who can most benefit from them.

There are numerous examples of work the school created over the years throughout the Mad River Valley and beyond. Some of the more notable ones include the Wheeler Brook picnic pavillion, the “Snail” bus shelter in East Warren, the bandstand at the farmers market in Waitsfield, the play structure at the Verd-Mont trailer park, and a trail shelter for the Mad River Path. Aside from the more visible examples of our work, we regularly create cabinetry, concrete countertops, small cob walls and buildings, timber frames, decks, renovations, treehouses and other building projects that may not be obvious to the general public. Additionally, we create structures that are trucked from the school to their final destination.  Click here to view a slideshow of many of our community projects.


Cochran’s Ski Area:
In the summer of 1998, Cochran’s Ski Area became a non-profit organization with a mission “to provide area youth and families with affordable skiing and snowboarding, lessons and race training, in the Cochran tradition.” Cochran’s is the nation’s first IRS 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt ski area. “No child will be denied the opportunity to ski or ride”.

Vergennes Laundry:
Located in a former Laundromat, Vergennes Laundry in Vermont is an example of community enterprise at its best. Julianne Jones raised the seed money through Kickstarter and offers $500 memberships, redeemable in pastries.

Jones and her French husband, Didier Murat, opened Vergennes Laundry in 2010, creating an all-white interior featuring concrete, wood, and white-painted paneled walls that allow the food and the customers (and the wood-burning bread oven) to dictate the atmosphere. Jones was inspired by Scandinavian design when she created the interiors, “especially Aalto; and on the French side, Prouvé, Perriand, and le Corbusier (all through my architecture studies at Middlebury and in Copenhagen).” The bakery was built by hand: Murat made the counters, the cases, the shelving, and the wooden tables, while Jones’ mother sewed the aprons and napkins out of rustic linen.

pane e salute:
(the same people also do: la garagista and arlette & janvier studio/due)
osteria pane e salute is a farm restaurant founded sixteen years ago on SlowFood principles.  Our kitchen is inspired by our landscape with a focus on local, homegrown, and natively wild.  Our  wine list is also inspired by terroir with the mission to compile a living archive of regional, indigenous Italian varietals.  When you come to dine with us, we intend for you to savor your dishes, wine, and company.  Our aim is to preserve the experience of sharing a meal and the elegance of hospitality, and to take the time to appreciate both.  Our restaurant is not designed for those in a hurry.  We invite you to enjoy your evening with us…

American Flatbread:
American Flatbread began as a gift to friends and a leap of faith. It probably began in Gladys Ford’s kitchen, where her grandson George watched as she cooked with a wood fire.

One summer night, George built his first primitive wood fired oven of field stone from his land. He guessed it wouldn’t be capable of baking a loaf of bread so he attempted to make a flatbread. The original stone oven raised more questions than it answered: would it get hot enough? would the bread stick? would the food taste good?
To everyone’s surprise, it worked, and the bread was good.

Larger ovens followed.  In 1987, a ten-ton oven was built on the outdoor patio at Tucker Hill Lodge, and we baked under the stars.  The following year, a new oven was built which incorportated ideas from the traditional clay ovens of rural Quebec, most notably the earthen dome signature to American Flatbread ovens today.

American Flatbread is a return to bread’s roots. We have reached back to the very beginning of bread baking and used the same artisan methods: simple, wholesome ingredients shaped by hands of thoughtful caring people, baked in a primitive wood-fired earthen oven.

The nature of the bread we eat — from the way the grain is grown, harvested, milled, mixed, and baked to how it is administered and policed; from how it is hoarded or shared to whether its production enriches or enslaves — will shape our own nature and the destiny of our culture.

It is the mission of American Flatbread to provide good, flavorful, nutritious food that gives both joy and health, and to share this food with others in ways sustainable to all.

Old Brick Store:
The Old Brick Store is a mission driven community supported enterprise.  Our mission is to provide Convenience with a Conscience.  We want to be more than just a convenience store—we want to be a full service grocery store, offering all the essentials to our neighbors.  We offer fresh produce, fresh bread, local meats and cheeses, sustainable products and organic products, as well as conventional options.

The Adamant Cooperative:
The Adamant Co-op doesn’t fit neatly into any category. Since its founding in 1935 it has served the surrounding area as grocery store, post office, art studio and home of the infamous Black Fly Festival.  The Co-op is the hub of a vibrant community, joining us together as we stop for conversation while picking up our mail, volunteer in staffing the store, leave notes for each other in the community box, pick up a gallon of milk, or indulge in a quick chocolate fix. Surrounded by waterfalls and ponds, and next to the Adamant Music School and QuarryWorks Theatre, the Co-op is a wonderful destination for a meandering bike ride or drive.

The Co-op sells basic groceries and an eclectic combination of foods to suit the varied tastes of the neighborhood: an impressive selection of wines, one of the best selections of chocolates west of Switzerland, fresh baked cakes and pastries,  Or scrumptious take out meals, and a wide array of local products such as syrup and honey, home made pickles, prize winning eggs from farms down the road, jams, and local seasonal produce. You’ll find a request clipboard hanging from a wooden supporting beam–if we don’t have it, just ask.

Janet Macleod’s studio is above the store and she is always glad to show visitors around.

In summer our screen porch is a wonderful place to sit and watch the local goings on, check email with our free WiFi, or attend one of our Friday Night Cookout & Music evenings. Sodom Pond, across the road, (yes Sodom, the village was once so named, inspired by the disreputable goings on at the old quarry) is home for a rich bird, beaver and turtle population.

Barnard General Store:
The Barnard General Store was established in 1832 and stands as one of the longest running General Stores in Vermont. The Barnard Community Trust has been formed as a local, non-profit organization committed to finding a way to save our much loved and much needed Barnard General Store. Our larger mission is to promote and enable the Town of Barnard to maintain and enhance its rural quality of life in a positive and sustainable way.

Woodstock Farmer’s Market:
The Farmers’ Market is a very busy, crazy, year round market of fantastic food. We’re really hard to describe—we serve our local community great food that ranges from take-out prepared dinners and lunches to regular stuff like milk and eggs to fresh organic produce to fresh meats and everything in between. Our vision for the Market has always been to make great food accessible to everyone. We all love food and love to cook but we’re not snobby about it. In fact, we don’t consider ourselves “gourmet,” because it implies exclusivity, and we believe that anyone can create great food. Most of the time one just needs a little help…a recipe perhaps; the best, freshest ingredients you can find; or just an outgoing and friendly staffer to help out with an idea.

I think what sets us apart is that we really take this job of “bringing the food to the people” very seriously. We’re concerned about the process: what we charge for our products, what ingredients we use in our food, how clean we are, who our vendors and farmers are, where our fruits, vegetables and ingredients come from and how we treat each other and our guests.

And what’s really cool about the Market is that each and every person in a decision- making capacity lives and breathes food and service. From Brandon, our produce leader, who has been a restaurant chef for most of his professional life, to Melanie in our Grocery Department, who is our Tex-Mex expert, growing up in a food-loving family in El Paso. It’s a simple passion for food and you can feel it every time you step into the store.

Even more important these days though is actually knowing where your food comes from…and we make it point of making sure our guests know. From smart local buying to great signage, you know and trust that we are the preeminent farm to table grocer. We love supporting our local food chain and think it’s one of the most important things we can do for our community.

Through Maglianero we’re creating an experience with both local
prominence and global relevance. In our hometown of Burlington,
Vermont, USA, we are developing, testing, and sharing the ideas that serve the continuum of needs of the Modern Mobility Movement:

Farm-direct, hand-crafted coffees-the fuel for the ride.

A café/collaborative space/commuter hub-the center of community
interaction, education, and creativity.

A responsibly-sourced, durably crafted and built, commuter-centric cycling apparel brand-stylish, functional, year round protection from the elements.

Cobb Hill Cohousing:
Cobb Hill is a community of people who want to explore the challenge of living in ways that are materially sufficient, socially and ecologically responsible, and satisfying to the soul.

Situated in rural Hartland, Vermont, we try to practice sustainable land management—ecological farming and forestry, energy efficiency, and minimization of waste.  We are also developing the skills of community: sharing, responsibility, compassion, communication, consensus building, conflict resolution, appreciation of diversity and love.   We believe that these skills are necessary to bring the larger society to sustainability and sufficiency, and we want to learn them to the best of our ability.

Some of our Enterprises:

Longhouse, Publishers & Booksellers, was established in 1971 by the poet and editor, Bob Arnold. Joined by Susan in 1974, we have published hundreds of folders, chapbooks, broadsides, anthologies and small edition books by mimeograph, letterpress, photocopy and off-set…Integrating our bookselling and publishing business with a working and family life, Bob Arnold makes a living as a stonemason as shown in his authored book On Stone published by Origin Press. We also provide building and landscaping/caretaking services including dog & cat boarding!

Unitarian Church of Montpelier:
Originally called the Church of the Messiah, the Unitarian Church of Montpelier has been a Unitarian church since it was built in the mid-1800s.

The church was designed by Thomas Silloway, the architect of the present Vermont State House and many Universalist churches around New England. Dedicated on January 25, 1866, the church is the oldest standing church in Montpelier, and is the only church in Montpelier that has its original organ, a Stevens tracker organ. The building and the organ are used regularly for services and concerts. Many community organizations hold public events and meetings at the church.

All Souls Interfaith Gathering:

All Souls Interfaith Gathering is a seeker’s destination, a safe haven for exploring spiritual and human values. Our commitment is to express love toward all through lifting spirit in music, inspirational words, community service and environmental stewardship.

We are a nondenominational community that welcomes everyone – at whatever point a person may be in his or her spiritual journey. Our goal is to offer each person an opportunity to forge a personal connection with the Divine Source – by any name He or She is called.

Our journey together began on April 11, 1999. At that time the pattern for our Sunday Evensong Service began to unfold. Music plays a major role in “Evensong” because we believe that it provides a special spiritual connection. Along with music, the services combine spiritual readings and reflections on world issues and personal values, as well as Christian, Jewish, Islam, Buddhists, Hindu, Taoist and Native American beliefs and sacred texts.

Spiritual healing is quietly woven throughout the Evensong Service, Healing and Prayer services, classes, and in one-on-one conversation and counseling.

The Bread and Puppet Theater:
The Bread and Puppet Theater was founded in 1963 by Peter Schumann on New York City’s Lower East Side. Besides rod-puppet and hand puppet shows for children, the concerns of the first productions were rents, rats, police, and other problems of the neighborhood. More complex theater pieces followed, in which sculpture, music, dance and language were equal partners. The puppets grew bigger and bigger. Annual presentations for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Memorial Day often included children and adults from the community as participants. Many performances were done in the street. During the Vietnam War, Bread and puppet staged block-long processions and pageants involving hundreds of people.

In 1974 Bread and Puppet moved to a farm in Glover in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. The 140-year old hay barn was transformed into a museum for veteran puppets. Our Domestic Resurrection Circus, a two day outdoor festival of puppetry shows, was presented annually through 1998

Eat More Kale:
Bo Muller-Moore is a father, former teacher and runs a small business out of his home in Montpelier, Vt. He makes shirts that have simple messages — ‘Cheese’ was the first he made, then he was asked by a local farmer to make another that said ‘Eat More Kale.’

The River of Light Lantern Parade:
The River of Light is Waterbury’s Community Lantern Procession.  In December 2010, artists Gowri Savoor and Angelo Arnold worked with school art teacher MK Monley and the pupils of Thatcher Brook Primary School in Waterbury, VT to create over 150 willow and tissue paper lanterns for our inaugural event. Spectators of all ages lined the parade route in support of the parade which was led by Burlington’s street Samba band, Sambatucada. The procession was also joined by artists from Central Vermont, who created larger-scale lanterns during a special one-day workshop. And of course none of this would have been possible without our crew of hard-working volunteers.

Warren 4th of July Parade:
Some say Warren, Vermont’s 4th of July is the ‘greatest independence day celebration anywhere’. It’s hard to argue when all of the Mad River Valley gets together to celebrate some serious independence, Vermont-style. Always on the 4th of July, this full day of festivities, quixotic parade, buddy badge contest, music, and food is recommended for ages 1 month to 110 years old!

The Tunbridge World’s Fair:
The Tunbridge World’s Fair is an annual event held in mid-September in Tunbridge, Vermont. The annual fair continues to this day with demonstrations of farming and agricultural traditions and culture, working antique displays, horse and ox pulling, horse racing, cattle and horse shows, junior exhibits, floral and 4-H exhibits, contra dancing, gymkhana, and many free shows.


Shelburne Museum:
Located in Vermont’s scenic Lake Champlain Valley, Shelburne Museum is one of the finest, most diverse, and unconventional museums of art and Americana. Over 150,000 works are exhibited in a remarkable setting of 39 exhibition buildings, 25 of which are historic and were relocated to the Museum grounds.

Impressionist paintings, folk art, quilts and textiles, decorative arts, furniture, American paintings, and a dazzling array of 17th-to 20th-century artifacts are on view. Shelburne is home to the finest museum collections of 19th-century American folk art, quilts, 19th- and 20th-century decoys, and carriages.

Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960) was a pioneering collector of American folk art and founded Shelburne Museum in 1947. The daughter of H.O. and Louisine Havemeyer, important collectors of European and Asian art, she exercised an independent eye and passion for art, artifacts, and architecture celebrating a distinctly American aesthetic.

When creating the Museum she took the imaginative step of collecting 18th- and 19th-century buildings from New England and New York in which to display the Museum’s holdings, relocating 20 historic structures to Shelburne. These include houses, barns, a meeting house, a one-room schoolhouse, a lighthouse, a jail, a general store, a covered bridge, and the 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga.

Mrs. Webb sought to create “an educational project, varied and alive.” What visitors experience at Shelburne is unique: remarkable collections exhibited in a village-like setting of historic New England architecture, accented by a landscape that includes over 400 lilacs, a circular formal garden, herb and heirloom vegetable gardens, and perennial gardens.

The Museum’s collections, educational programs, special events, workshops, activities, and special exhibitions constantly offer new perspectives on four centuries of art and material culture, assuring visitors a museum experience unlike any other.

Rokeby Museum:
Perched on a hill overlooking the Champlain Valley, Rokeby Museum provides an intimate record of two centuries of Vermont family life and agriculture. The house and farm nurtured and survived the growing up and growing old of four generations of Robinsons—a remarkable family of Quakers, farmers, abolitionists, authors, and artists.

Today, listed as a National Historic Landmark, the site tells two stories simultaneously — of the Robinsons in particular, and more broadly, of Vermont and New England social history from the 1790s to 1961.

Rokeby Museum is one of the best-documented Underground Railroad sites in the country. It was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in recognition of its outstanding history in 1997.

Rowland Thomas and Rachel Gilpin Robinson were devout Quakers and radical abolitionists, and they harbored many fugitive slaves at their family home and farm during the decades of the 1830s and 1840s. Among the thousands of letters in the family’s correspondence collection are several that mention fugitive slaves by name and in some detail.

Labor of Love:
Vermont Works for Women is proud to present Labor of Love, an exhibit of photos and interview excerpts that recognizes and honors 29 women who are passionate about their work, who are an inspiration to others, and who exemplify excellence in their field. The honorees – who are an inspiration to others and who exemplify excellence in their fields – come from all parts of Vermont. They are farmers, doctors, tattoo artists, college presidents, electricians, and general store clerks. They hail from Newport to Vernon. They are young and young-at-heart, well-known and not.

[from the LeisureArts archive] – A David Robbins Trifecta – The Art/Life Conundrum Solved!

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 01/08/2013

[This is a three in one post of material (in reverse order)  I did for LeisureArts on David Robbins. Although I might choose another word than “production,” I think Robbins asks a question that still needs much contemplation – “who are we when we pursue a larger field of production, some of which is art?”]

An initial stab at a semiotic square [David Robbins]

Note that “High Entertainment” is a category Robbins describes as “…works and artifacts that retain fine art’s complex ambitions for the culture while eschewing the specialized language of fine art in favor of mass accessibility – [it] can be manifested in games, toys, fashion, public sculpture, books, hoaxes, indeed in any product that has contact with the public.” p. 311

Art/Life – David Robbins – LeisureArts

The old art/life distinction.

The “triangulation” theory of David Robbins.

This notion is worked out in various ways throughout his book The Velvet Grind, but the essay “On Talent” spells things out pretty directly:

That something might stand outside art and report on it, comment on it, editorialize about it in an iconic language of its own – this was, and apparently still is, disorienting. The reason, I submit, is that it instantiates a complication of the modernist dialogue between life and art. Talent suggests that the old binary model has been superseded by a triangulated model whose points are life, art, and entertainment – a competing communication system no less madly self-sustaining, self-referential, and self-celebratory than art. “Showbiz” adds another category that’s neither Art nor Life. p.24

Robbins’s triangulation is an important step to finding new forms and languages for what he calls “imaginative practice” – creative, funny, thoughtful forms of invention that are not art. We at LesiureArts find Robbins incredibly useful [We hope to write more, but being the slackers that we are, this might be as far as we get]. He also writes about inventing experience which he distinguishes from producing culture. This is a welcome relief from all of the talk about cultural production, as invented experience resonates nicely with John Dewey’s aesthetic theory which is in dire need of being read by the legions of curators and artists who are reinventing the wheel of experience based practices.

The LeisureArts modified model.

As we mentioned, the triangulation theory is an important step, but LeisureArts is interested in expanding the terrain of inventive practices and theory to cover a host of other activities that Robbins’s triangle can’t account for. That leads to the above modification. In leisure, we have a broad field of activities that fall in between the various oppositions, some closer to one vertex or the other, but the field itself exists in a kind of equipoise (ideally). Adding leisure to the model allows for the inventiveness of car customizers, tea cozy makers, coat hanger collectors, home cooks, and others to mingle on equal footing with so called “high” forms of culture be it entertainment or art.

David Robbins – The Velvet Grind

Some excerpts:

…the pertinent question is no longer “what infinite variety of materials, strategies, concerns might we include in the context of art?” It isn’t “what might we map onto the coordinates of art?” These were the questions of modernism. The more contemporary question – tomorrow’s question – is “who are we when we pursue a larger field of production, some of which is art?” (p.29)

The maximum site of invention, now, is one that forces the culture of criticality into direct and continuous contact with its strongest and most radical cultural alternative, the culture that thrives despite art’s low regard for it, the culture, ladies and gentleman, that actually expresses respect for lives conventionally led, the culture that doesn’t need art: entertainment. (p.167)

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

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures 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.

& then you disappear – Stephen Wright [Part I] – Apprehension vs. Invisibility

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 12/13/2012

Stephen Wright – & then you disappear

Exhibit A:


The comments above are from a procedural document on the road to obtaining my MFA (2000) and read:

We accept Randall’s outline as an indication of the written trace of his practice. The performative trace of Randall’s practice need not necessarily take form as a gallery exhibition, yet a challenge for Randall remains his resolution of what will constitute our apprehension of his practice.

Exhibit B:

Q. “What is the difference between ignorance and apathy?”

A. I don’t know and I don’t care.

Exhibit C:

Exhibit D:


For (A Broad) Social Practice – A Reply to Daniel Tucker – Bring on the Arty Party

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 12/03/2012

The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest recently launched a blog and this piece caught my eye: Against Social Practice – Daniel Tucker

The title is somewhat misleading as Tucker is not arguing against social practice per se, but the way it is being institutionalized. I also have reservations about the professionalization of social practice, but for very different reasons. He opens with a troubling assertion about the rise of social practice programs and the connection to neoliberalism:

Education in an era of the neoliberalization of capitalism has placed a premium on choice. The opening up of new markets is key to this expanded choice, exemplified in charter school expansion at the primary and secondary level, the growth in distance and online higher education, and newly specialized affective fields like social practice art, social justice, social entrepreneurship and community partnerships in higher education. Realistically, all of these examples produce new choices at the expense of old choices.

What I would note here is that there needs to be a healthy skepticism towards this zero sum assertion. Some new choices may well come at “the expense” of others, but it isn’t necessarily so. More importantly, we need to asses the qualitative dimensions of those choices. It may well be that social practice programs siphon students from say (sympathetic) sculpture programs, but this might also entail opening access to those sculpture programs for students that are a better fit. It may also be that social practice will turn out to be better suited to ask certain types of questions or explore certain types of experience and thus the “expense” incurred by older forms could be justified.

Tucker then worries, “Far from a conservative cry to preserve the past, I am concerned that our educational choices have already been made for us by forces more human and corrupt than any mythical market could concoct.” This begs the question – Have the previous educational choices somehow been exempt from this corrupting influence? If so, how? And if not, Why are we holding social practice programs to a higher standard?

He then moves on to a series of questions and issues that he feels social practice programs need address before winning his support. He acknowledges that these programs might be uniquely situated to foster “specific conversations that deal with the ethics, logistics and aesthetics of organizing people,” yet cautions, “the traditions of art have a lot to teach social practice, as they have mastered the translation of the social into material resolutions that provide necessary and different points of entry into complex ideas.” Maybe. But it is curious that there are so many who feel dissatisfied with this alleged “mastery.” Perhaps he is right that this new academic “market” is merely a neoliberal consumer choice, but that seems implausible. It certainly is cynical to dismiss the apparent desire of these students to find a better home for their curiosity than what the traditional art disciplines offer – are all of them chasing an art world trend? most of them? Or could it be that the arts are not the masters of translation Tucker imagines?

My foremost concern though is with the limitations he sets out for the field of social practice. Obviously we all bring competing agendas into this discussion around such a burgeoning field. But I feel Tucker’s questions, as interesting as they may be, are symptomatic of a deep desire to prescribe an intellectualist and activist agenda for social practice:

Can it retain the gains of the past movements for educational representation while moving beyond representation to a politics of redistribution? Can it respect truly complex social world from which it borrows and in which it intervenes without relegating the social to an image—a fixed commodified version of the everyday? Can it experiment with social relations in a way that builds new insights into what we can do together that acknowledge the inherently political nature of that act, while also proposing (socially or materially) ways to work through inadequate politics of the past?

I have argued again and again that there may well be incredible opportunities to address these sorts of questions in social practice programs, but it would be a mistake to desire to limit ourselves to them. There certainly are, and will continue to be, people who have no interest in such questions. They may not have any interest in antagonism as a social form, maybe they want to make people happy- gasp! I hope we can reserve a place for fun, sweetness, and love amid all the smashing of capitalists. I don’t like the idea of a litmus test or the obligation to make every walk a dérive. The “the old academy” Tucker invokes certainly has its strengths, but one of its biggest shortcomings is the narrow band of  human experience it has focused on – the intellectual. There is more to being human than being book/theory “smart.” And rather than settle for the truly “false choices” of exploring the world from different positions along that narrow band, I argue for a social practice filled with activists and intellectuals, but also party people, hippies, malcontents, and maybe even a few capitalists. In short, I argue for the social practice program that many in the academy and the critical establishment fear.

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

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures 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.”

Addendum to: Who counts, or should count, as a “meaning maker?” – The problem with “cultural production.”

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 11/14/2012

Socially engaged art at UCSD provides food for thought in La Jolla – Will Bowen

The article above is quite timely given my recent post – Who counts, or should count, as a “meaning maker?” – The problem with “cultural production.” It illustrates some of the issues I raised in that post (and many others) and might be interesting to break down. I will acknowledge at the outset that this article no doubt presents a caricature of surely more nuanced and complicated thinking by the people cited. The quotes presented though are in no way outliers – there is an academic orthodoxy around social practice (and art in general) and this material is emblematic.

First we have Michelle Hyun offering her definition of socially engaged art:

“Art that is made from the social mediation of social relations. It’s closer to real-life experience than regular art and often has a protest or politic aspect to it.”

The first part of the definition is puzzling in that all art involves the mediation of social relations. So it must be that it is social mediation of those relations that is essential, but I’m not particularly clear on what that even means. In the second part, she makes a claim that it is also “closer” to real life than “regular” art and this begs the questions – does painting or sculpture exist in real life? closer in content? closer in form? and what is “regular” art?

Next we have the author of the article providing a definition:

“…socially engaged art is work that has a social meaning, purpose, or motivation, and is meant to call attention to some facts about society or encourage a change in perspective or behavior. Socially engaged art can be anything from text, poetics, image, performance, theater, film, activity or demonstration, etc.”

This really doesn’t clear much up – As we still can’t seem to eliminate painting, or at least, didactic painting given that socially engaged art can be “image” and given that painting certainly has “social meaning” and “purpose, or motivation.” If we leave it here, socially engaged art is starting to sound like a new name for activist, or political art.

Next up is Mariana Wardwell:

“Socially-engaged art is inbred by a political-economic condition and it acts to intervene in, displace, and dislocate the political environment where it is produced.”

I love this definition as it embodies many of the clichés of contemporary art education. As I mentioned in the above linked post, in many corners of academe we find an incessant call to do things like “intervene in, displace, and dislocate.” The hegemonic noose is tightening around the definition of socially engaged art (or social practice) with every new paragraph in the article.

Ricardo Dominguez:

“To be effective, socially-engaged art must have a bit of ‘toxicity’ about it, meaning that it cannot be easily digested, assimilated, or appropriated by the dominant political structures. It must make them a little sick!”

Now that its aims have been sufficiently circumscribed, we move on to having its methods penned in as well. The only way to be “effective” is apparently to re-employ the strategies of the avant garde, something which was supposed to be out of fashion and or/critiqued into oblivion. Few artists and critics today openly advocate a return to that model of art making, yet it permeates much of what they say and do – their rhetoric betrays them. Notice here though that we find the ambition scaled back and maybe this is the thing that distinguishes the contemporary sensibility from the old avant garde. No longer is the aim to shock but merely “make them a little sick.”

In using the ideas offered so far, it appears that art projects cannot be “socially engaged” if they: are convivial, lack overt political content, disdain critique, embrace “the political environment where it is produced,” or otherwise fail to be properly radical in ambition.

Here, the author is quoting Nato Thompson:

“Living as Form (The Nomadic Version) is an opportunity to cast a wide net and ask: How do we make sense of this work? and in turn, How do we make sense of the world we find ourselves in? ‘Living as Form (The Nomadic Version)’ will provide a broad look at a vast array of practices that appear with increasing regularity in fields ranging from theater to activism, and urban planning to visual art.

Again as I point out in Who counts, or should count, as a “meaning maker?” – The problem with “cultural production.”, there are indeed a “vast array of practices” out in the world, but they are not to be found exclusively in art or its academic cousins. The fields cited here fall pretty neatly within the confines of the education industrial complex and leave out diverse practices and constituencies. It would be instructive to find out who the “we” is mentioned in the two questions above – especially this question –  “How do we make sense of the world we find ourselves in?” It appears the “we” speaks of activists/intellectuals/artists of a particular stripe which is fine, but for a field with such grandiose ambition, it seems important to make sure to acknowledge that this is a very small, and rarefied “we.”

I’ll return to yet another post for another angle on this – Common Culture – Paul Willis Some key quotes in case you don’t care to follow the link:

“In general the arts establishment connives to keep alive the myth of the special, creative individual artist holding out against  passive mass consumerism, so helping to maintain a self-interested view of elite creativity…Against this we insist that there is a vibrant symbolic life and symbolic creativity in everyday life, everyday activity and expression – even if it is sometimes invisible, looked down on or spurned.”

“There can be a final unwillingness and limit even in subversive or alternative movements towards an arts democracy. They may have escaped the physical institutions and academies, but not always their conventionswe don’t want to start where ‘art’ thinks is ‘here’, from within its perspectives, definitions and institutions.[emphasis mine]“

“Ordinary people have not needed an avant-gardism to remind them of rupture. What they have needed but never received is better and freer materials for building security and coherence in their lives.”

Who counts, or should count, as a “meaning maker?” – The problem with “cultural production.” – One side of of a facebook conversation on art and culture

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 11/12/2012

An addendum to this post is now here.

[The following is my end of a multi-participant and mutli-themed conversation. I did not include the names or comments of others (save for a few unattributed quotations) as I did not ask for their permission. The content is essentially unedited.]

*** – The language I prefer to use in describing what you call “antiquated infrastructure” is more in line with Sholette (and Baudrillard). Perhaps art is an exploded star (maybe in the 60s) and like astronomical ones, what we are seeing now is just the last light to reach us from that “long gone” event…

“the madness of making things matter” is a really lovely phrase although I wonder a bit about who you see engaged in such a thing. As you probably know I am quite skeptical about folks that utilize the label “cultural producers” being engaged much in making things matter. Or rather to whom and for whom does it matter?

I feel like despite your half-hearted attempt to leave art behind (at least as you hint at in the comments here), you still want to reserve a place for some sort of special individual (or collective). Someone who stands out as a “meaning maker” or “cultural producer,” thus merely shifting the dynastic reigns to a newly labelled vanguard.

Oh ***, I know you don’t care one whit what my “point” is, but I appreciate you pretending to. It is true that a certain kind of skepticism is my disposition, and that skepticism generally finds its manifestation at (perceived) claims of specialness, elitism, etc. I support radically democratic culture making (pretty sure you do too) and thus find the term ‘cultural producers’ a bit weird. Who is *not* a cultural producer? Who *doesn’t* “make meaning?” I guess radical inclusivity is my point and thus the idea that critics (radical or otherwise) should be writing about activist art true enough, but why do we keep limiting ourselves to the most obvious forms of meaning making, and while obvious, also the least accessible to vast segments of the population?

So again when you say:
“That is why I use the phrase “cultural producers” only as a way to imply forms of culture making outside the tight constraints of an art infrastructure.”

I have to wonder why, given your curatorial history, it seems you want to look outside the art *infrastructure*, but not outside *art* (or activism when you stretch a bit). It gives the distinct impression that “cultural producer” is just a euphemism for smart art/activist types, but does not appear to include car customizers, church knitting circles and the like. I mean if we’re really looking at culture, not *intellectual* culture, not *urban* culture, not *activist* culture, etc. Why does everything done in the name of cultural production feel so constrained?

There is indeed an “entire other universe” being ignored (but not necessarily the one you speak of) and my “point” is to be vigilant in calling that out.

I am certainly not against being interested in one thing over another either. The reason I spout off (aside from having no life) on these issues periodically is that there is a HUGE disconnect in the art world between what people say they support and what they *actually* support. I mean your **** show didn’t cast a wide net (at least from where I sit). It explored a well worn groove, an interesting one, but very few surprises (of course I’m also guilty of considering the title too literally – wanting something beyond its aim, hoping to have seen an exhibition of people living creatively, whose lives explore the art of living more than the art of living (as art)). Time and again, curators claim to be interested in everyday life, the ordinary, cultural production, etc. – yet whenever they put an event together art/activist types are almost all they include (unless one of the artist/activist types brings in some non-art person). So if the statement were everyday life – as interpreted by artist intellectuals, or cultural production as generated by artist intellectuals or others they deem interesting, or *** – as practiced by art/activist types, then it would at least be honest…

So, what *do* I want?

…more grandmothers, more South Dakotans, more gearheads, more fan fiction writers, more karaoke queens, more street performers, more Sunday painters, more NASCAR fans, more tailgating, more collectors (of barf bags, not art), more gardeners (not “radical” ones), more lipdub dreamers, more Civil War re-enactors, more whirlygig makers, more surfers, more conservatives, more stand-up comics, more DJs (not Spooky!!!!), more roadside Americana, more people who have never been to college, more fiddlers, more people who have never left their hometown, more taxidermists, more people who don’t give a shit about art aside from liking pretty pictures, more of all the crazy, delightful people making (and doing things) that mean something, more folks engaged in, as you put it, “the madness of making things matter.”

Not only would critics of art from other disciplines be interesting so too would artists. One of the reasons I gave up on undergraduate art education was that everybody was busy making stuff without any foundation to drive it – except art. They were all living in an art school bubble (not unlike a Fox News bubble). Making art completely within the framework of art and only questioning it within its own terms.

Sure there were other courses than studio ones, but they were those dumbed down “math for artists” sorts of classes. I would love an art world in which there was no such thing as an undergraduate art degree. Art created from a vantage point of something in the world other than art would be so much healthier and relevant than the inbred mess we have now.

And don’t bother telling me how art education has changed, how people read from urban planning, architecture, etc. The professionalization of art, the specialization, still has a very tight grip. Look at how successful Claire Bishop has been at having people take seriously her efforts to reign in social practice, to bring it back to the fold, to let all the old ideas and frameworks be the starting point – criticality being the greatest bugaboo. Oh how the art world LOVES its criticality! Looking to other academic disiciplines, is fine (as **** suggests) but let’s not confine ourselves to academia.

Surely we can hope for a more interesting and diverse art world than one dependent on academic experts, one that includes pleasure (not “jouissance”), one that thrives in places like Galveston, TX, or Butte, MT, one that thrives outside cities, one that ordinary people (ordinary people are the sort of people that wouldn’t ask “what is an *ordinary* person?”) want to see, one that doesn’t always have to interrogate, deconstruct, critique, or examine, one that is radically inclusive, democratic, local, and in which critics are one, very small part.

Some social practice thinking out loud inspired by Edward Mooney and first posted on facebook

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 11/01/2012

This is just a quick reaction to reading Edward Mooney’s Lost Intimacy in American Thought. Mooney is actually writing mostly about philosophy but it is easy to extrapolate his thinking to art. The quotes below are from him (except the Cavell). Extensive notes from Lost Intimacy will find their way into subsequent posts soon-ish and I might even riff on it and social practice a bit more…

Social practice fails, or undermines its potency precisely to the degree that is a public gesture and thus Claire Bishop is right that such practices are inadequate, but wrong to think that it can succeed in the terms she sets for it…it is the ability to enter convivial relationships that give social practices their power and that ability will not be found in DISCOURSE, but “…in a heartfelt acknowledgement of multiple and mutual dependencies enacted in intimate contexts of exchange far from public forums of legalistic or philosophical debate.”

Perhaps social practice needs to embrace “pushing back poetically” against critics like Bishop, those cynical skeptics…while it is certainly possible (and easy) to critique and engage the conceptual shortcomings of her work, you simply can’t argue your way to victory…the skeptic’s failure is not a failure of knowledge or argumentation (although it sort of is with Bishop), but a failure “of affirmation, or acknowledgment – a failure of love.” At some point you either take a leap of faith or you don’t.

“To live in the face of doubt, eyes happily shut, would be to fall in love with the world. For if there is a correct blindness, only love has it. And if you find that you have fallen in love with the world, then you would be ill-advised to offer an argument of its worth.” – Stanley Cavell

Perhaps rather than refute, one should simply set aside. “Pushing back poetically is not pushing with argument or doctrine but with simple lines and longer narratives.” To this I would also add pushing with embodiment, experience, and ecstasy.

This is a much more hyperbolic approach to the same theme.

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

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures 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.

Introduction to 127 Prince – The journal that never really was

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 09/12/2012

[As I mentioned before, 127 Prince was a journal intended to deal with “the art of social practice and the social practice of art.” 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. This is the introduction I wrote for it.]

“Try to see it my way, Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong.
While you see it your way”
-The Beatles

In all honesty, I find journals, in the academic sense, mostly boring. If by calling this thing a journal we mean a peer reviewed and scholarly contribution to the professional field of art, count me out. Or maybe I mean if that is all it is, if the only sense of journal we embody is the academic one, then like Bartleby, I would prefer not to…

If however, we mean by journal a record of observations, a place for inquiry, a venue for conversation, or what the art set now calls a “platform,” then by all means, please include me. My dear friend Ben Schaafsma (now deceased) had a blog called Center for Working Things Out. That economically describes my ambitions for this enterprise.

So what is it I’d like to be working out? First, I’d like to release aesthetics from the stranglehold of art discourse and philosophy, to explore as widely as possible, and to think about what a truly inclusive, democratic approach to aesthetics might look like. To take advantage of the tools Katya Mandoki and Yuriko Saito have provided for coming to terms with everyday aesthetics. It is worth quoting from Mandoki’s Everyday Aesthetics at length to give a richer sense of my ambition:

“We will consequently have to veer 180 degrees the traditional approach to aesthetics by focusing not on the aesthetic effects of social practices such as art, fashion, or design, but on the social effects of aesthetic practices performed throughout a wide array of social institutions such as the family, the school, religion, the State, prison. The nature of specific aesthetic practices within each of these institutions is precisely the question that prosaics [her word for the aesthetics of daily life] will have to answer. The purpose is, thus, to study aesthetics not as the effect of art and beauty, but as constitutive of social effects.”

Secondly, I’d love to keep the messiness of the human condition front and center, not the sort of messiness proponents of agonistic models of art and community champion, but the simple messiness of embodied human experience. I’d especially like to challenge what I call the theoretical fundamentalists and those who worship at the altar of intellectual criticality, and the aforementioned agonistes to loosen up, to have some fun, to remember that they eat, have sex, laugh, and cry. These things are rooted in the body, but so are the soaring scholastic temples they build in the intellectual aether, and forgetting that repeats the follies of Cartesianism that so many feminist scholars have pointed out. This isn’t about being anti-intellectual, or against criticality per se, it’s about trying to find some balance in a field that is mercilessly anti-sentimental, and seemingly obsessed with critical forms of avant-garde-ism that try to adopt the coolest pose possible, to avoid, as Carl Wilson puts it, being taken in and missing that this often means refusing an invitation out. I’d like to think about the benefits and drawbacks of cultural criticism based not in revealing hidden complicity or finding theoretical flaws and inconsistencies, but that begin, quoting Grant Kester, “with a passionate attachment to a thing: a sense that the practice you’re writing about matters in some way and isn’t just a specimen awaiting dissection on the examination table of your intellect.”

Finally, I want to put love and “common” aspirations back in the mix. I would love for my mom to be able to read this journal, but given the field we’re staking out, I realize this is probably not realistic. The very language I’m utilizing to champion the vernacular and the everyday is not a language she speaks. So maybe this journal is not for my mom [to read], but it is for her. It’s my salvo in appreciation of my mom and the members of her garden club that have staked out (literally) a piece of the world for conversing, sharing, and creating. They are engaged in something very much like what the art world calls “social practice” and yet also something very different. What they do might not be as “cool” as Rirkit Tiravinija’s The Land, but I think what they do is awesome, So, yes, let’s be a little less cool and a little more awesome, or let’s at least create a space for both. Let’s try to find a mode for working things out.

Claire Bishop – The Humpty Dumpty Approach to Aesthetics and Ethics

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures 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.

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

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures 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.

Open Engagement 2012, or a drop out drops in

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 05/22/2012

What follows is a wholly incomplete account of my time in Portland during the Open Engagement conference. It may or may not be accurate or completely truthful. It is dedicated to my fellow travelers, and is especially dedicated to Abby (it may not be poetry per se, but still…):


Public sculpture near lecture hall.


eclipse watchers on the sidewalks

early dusk hummingbird escape

a graceful old farmhouse scratched by divorce and chicken feet

yakuza drinks with a Port Townsend farmer I swear keeps talking about gynecology (but is not)

an old friend rant, like falling from a bar stool – “ham and cheese sandwiches in my pocket!”

Cheerful Tortoise

beards and spectacles

aggressively unfashionable lesbians

fashionably unaggressive  straight dudes

bloody mary truth serum

portable wardrobe sidewalk disintegration

confiscated fake id with threats of boyfriend reprisal

tales of mutton served to unsuspecting family members

Grain and Gristle

red velvet cake with herbaceous Italian dessert wine

crazy i-talian farmstand bitches

Native American salmon fisherman breaking down his catch over beer (I open one for him as his hands are slimy from the work)


opening remarks missed due to hangover

pickled beets greens mint soft boiled egg

bamboo mat is magic carpet then hiding place

alka seltzer + alka seltzer plus cold medicine

they talk and talk of social practice yet the farmer’s market overshadows

Woodsman Tavern

stacking veggie filled Rubbermaid totes for Gathering Together Farm

iced coffee in the rain

old haunts with new friends

new haunts with old friends

honey basil tequila lime

driving a Toyota Tacoma

lunch in the grass

radicchio feta hazelnuts

crows by the dozen carrying on as crows do

pea shoots and potatoes

drunk Florida women yelling from a car (see also i-talians)

deviled egg w/anchovy

anchovy butter w/cauliflower

cauliflower w/smoked almonds

almonds coated in salty sweet cocoa

Obama classmate from Hawaii describes him in a way that makes me like him

Robo Taco throat slash confusion

Ted Purves as phantom limb

Stephen Wright as mushroom shaman

who is sleeping with their grad students/who is not?

much note taking and unasked questions

I left it all with a heavy heart and a French goodbye (thanks Sal)…

Notes taken in real time – ORD layover

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 04/26/2012

Luck breaking on all sides
Sunglasses hanging from your shirt
Wedding in St Simons Island
IT geeks
Sales reps
Road warriors of all stripes
All the beauty of wine
Piano soundtrack to throngs trudging from gate to gate
Hearty laugher has learned to never let them buy her drinks
They can only talk business, trade war stories
The subtle blush of her smile
She shields herself while eating chicken salad
Financial analyst
He’s kind of desperate,  in sales
“Small world”
Old guard woman engaging the young looker
From the east side of Cleveland
Party girls to one side, heavy and earnest
Silent suits on either side of me
Custom phone enclosures, a flea market aesthetic
“I always cross my fingers that I get upgraded”
He tries so hard but if ever ham fisted described someone he would be it
Again the piano asserts its presence
6oz malbec is so terribly sad shifting to stand earnestly by the Amsterdam lovely
HMS host Fernando has multiply pierced ear with several diamonds
Pale leg exposed between tights and Tom’s shoes
“Oh you’re a delight”
Gold purse tattooed wrist
The faux elegance of black shirts and black pants
“I want to have my last hurrah in Vegas”
Lady sliding in vomit grabs plenty of attention
They just can’t help fawning over her –
the Cleveland beauty, not the vomit disaster
On my way out I urge her to ignore the marriage cynics, to gamble everything, to have her heart broken or find enduring joy
My lack of a wedding band gave her pause but she thanked me for my optimism…

Tagged with:

Gregory Sholette – Curator’s Disease – Edward Tiryakian – Existential Phenomenology

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 04/02/2012

On one level, I love Sholette’s book Dark Matter, but at a much deeper level I find it infuriating. While it does hint at a profound re-evaluation of art/politics and at shedding light on “dark matter” it ultimately treats dark matter with curator’s disease…that is it serves as a vague intellectual theme used to illustrate a preordained vision- in this case the rather conventional celebration of the heroic artistic avant garde – rather than as a radical foil to academic triumphalism. Stephen Wright and Alexander Koch are doing much less conventional work addressing so called “dark matter.” Having said that, I’m still thankful the book exists and talks intelligently about some great folks.

Coincidentally, while revisiting Sholette, I discovered this quote from Edward Tiryakian describing existential phenomenology in Stanford Lyman’s A Sociology of the Absurd (1970):

“…[it] seeks to elucidate the existential nature of social structures by uncovering the surface institutional phenomena of the everyday, accepted world; by probing the subterranean, non-institutional social depths concealed from public gaze, by interpreting the dialectic between the institutional and non-institutional.”

Art Worker – WAGE – Artistic Labor

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 03/21/2011

Abigail Satinsky’s recent post on Bad at Sports Protest culture: Wisconsin and WAGE and recently seeing a group called “Artists Call for Workers Rights” has me thinking again about the idea of the art “worker” and artistic “labor.” Could anyone tell me what these terms even mean? They get thrown around quite a bit as if there is some self-evident justification for their use or understanding of what they are supposed to mean. Maybe if I used other terms my confusion will be more evident – Does juggler worker or juggling labor make immediate sense? Or hike worker/hiking labor? Pinball worker/labor? Bird watching worker/labor?

Obviously there are many activities that people enjoy without monetary compensation. They often have to have jobs to support undertaking them. Yet again and again, I see artists singling themselves out as engaged in some sort of special endeavor. Calling themselves “workers,” calling their activity “labor” in some honorific sense. In the interview Satinsky cites conducted by Nato Thompson with W.A.G.E., Thompson does at least ask why just artists, but W.A.G.E will have none of it – apparently having fully accepted the capitalist paradigm, self-interest reigns. “What do we need?” is the motivating impulse. They complain about artists having to “cobble together a living” and assure us that “The dream [of state funding of artists] is alive and well” in a perfectly self absorbed art cocoon. Why not state funding for jugglers? For hikers? The answer seems to be that artists are special, providing a uniquely meritorious “service” to the world if only the world would recognize that. And in the cavalier dismissal of social capital, it appears that the only real recognition an artist can receive is in the form of monetary compensation.

In my more snide moments I think yes, go ahead W.A.G.E., go ahead art workers, join the calls for a General Strike in solidarity with the labor protests in Wisconsin (the second line of thought in Satinsky’s piece). Let the resounding fury of artistic labor “withheld” be felt across the nation. Deny us Bruce High Quality Foundation’s self-indulgent Teach 4 Amerika tour. Refuse to publish the next issue of the e-flux journal. Teach the world a lesson…except that lesson is already established, which is that the art world this whole discussion takes place in, the art world that clamors for criticality and “radical” action will not be missed much by the people who live outside of it and the problem for its advocates is that most people do…I am quite sure that transit workers, nurses, firefighters, garbage collectors, and teachers will be missed a bit more and thus their cries of economic injustice are not met with my same skeptical ears.

More on this theme here and here.

More Tailgating, Less Curating.

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 02/27/2010

More Tailgating, Less Curating. – a little something for Bad at Sports.

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Art Work Redux – Temporary Services – Basic Income vs. Workfare

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 02/22/2010

There is much to like in this interview with Temporary Services. They do a good bit to qualify their ambition for their recent project Art Work, but the message is still muddled to me. They clearly have larger ambitions for economic justice than establishing what they consider just compensation for artists, but likely due to speaking from their personal experience the larger ambition seems to lose its way.

I certainly support the rehabilitation of  their art-centric focus expressed here:

“Our concern is about creating a new language and methodology around art *and other creative fields* that sees this output as essential to the daily life of humans.”


“In general, we want to get rid of the idea of work for everyone. We believe that people from all fields can work together in order to create an environment that takes care of everyone and is not dependent on the outdated model of Capitalism. ”

My concern is that there isn’t much “new language” used in discussing these ideas. They seem to speak in pretty conventional leftist terms – especially around the idea of exploitation. They’re absolutely right that the commercial gallery system limits how “art can be conceived,” but this is true of any art context of which the commercial is just one.  That is what makes it a context in the first place. It is only by accepting the primacy of that context and its measures of success that these arguments have weight. The charge of exploitation is a complicated matter. There are a VAST number of artists supporting themselves fully or partially in commercial galleries. Maybe they mean commercial galleries in Chelsea or other Art Forum/frieze sorts of galleries? There are artists thriving in commercial galleries in Mobile, AL – Taos, NM – Galveston, TX – Brunswick, GA  – and many other ‘off the map’ locations. Additionally, there are many Chelsea artists who don’t feel exploited at all (some of whom have only marginal economic success with their work). Are we to know better than they do whether they are “exploited?” Certainly Temporary Services has provided rich documentation of many who do feel exploited, but let’s not pretend it is anything other than a polemic (yet one I am very sympathetic to).

When asked to imagine what working full time outside an art/commerce model, we get into the muddiest waters with regard to larger notions of economic justice/freedom. They look to the Works Progress Administration which I think is good in that it was not exclusively for artists, but I offer the counter-example of a Basic Income/Participation Income model as that does not emphasize the productivist values of work and employment. Work should not be the organizing principle of society which is what I thought Temporary Services was getting at in mentioning getting rid of the idea of work.

We need less work, less labor, and more emphasis on generating wealth outside of an economic rubric. I think we’re basically on the same page here, but they focus on the plight of artists far more than I care for. In fact, I rarely see anyone lament the sorry state of arts funding other than arts professionals and wannabes. It makes one pause to see a group (here I am not speaking specifically about TS) proclaim over and over how important what they do is, yet decry the fact that no one else seems to recognize this. Maybe that should tell them a bit about how much value they actually offer. If I were to be concerned about one group being justly compensated for what they do, it would be stay at home moms or adult caregivers, not artists. This singling out, of course, is pointless though.

TS says, “but we could do this exclusively if we were actually paid well for what we do. We have to have other jobs.”  To this I say yes, welcome to the real world where people routinely get paid to do something they don’t like in order to facilitate pursuing things they actually enjoy. There are plenty of car customizers, gardeners, jugglers, SCA types, etc. that would love to be freed from the obligation to work. I support this fully, but rather than the WPA, or selecting artists for special treatment due to their self-perceived value to society, we need to rethink fundamental assumptions about work and leisure. While I applaud the effort and dedication Temporary Services brings to exploring ideas around art and economics, I can’t help but be disappointed at how easily the discussion falls into the trap of productivist, and often elitist thinking.

Related material here.

Draft of a manifesto written in defense of a group of people that did not ask for my defense, using words they would not use and engaging people they ignore.

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 01/19/2010

[descending into Mobile, AL – turbulence – warming sunlight a pale stripe against a cloud tundra]

The resistance to being theorized, examined, abstracted…isn’t this a basic sort of dignity?

We are not your intellectual playthings. Perhaps you see something publishable, a critical opportunity, but we reject your representation and demand our autonomy. We might not have read your recent darlings (Rancière, Agamben, etc.), but you have not lived our lives either. We refuse to meet on your terms within your own idioms – prejudged by your theoretical dogmas.

While you wring hands over what it all means, we are trying to change the world, build relationships and communities. Are we naive? Possibly. We prefer a world of naive dreamers to cynical observers. Keep your beloved “criticality.” Hold it close to your heart and tell us what you feel. We are friends, not “colleagues” and we choose to embrace humane values and each other. We offer a different vision. Against the professional hegemony of academic intellectualism we offer – trust, love, sentiment, passion, egalitarianism and sincerity.

We won’t live our lives in “quotes” and think being thought silly is preferable to the safety (and cowardice) of the knowing wink. In short, we reject the antiseptic posturing of the theoretical class. We welcome the messiness of lived human experience – all the stuff that resists intellectual appropriation and is routinely dismissed as petty, mundane, insignificant.

We are gamblers, believing in the value of risking everything for the sake of our “foolish” dreams and schemes.

Feel free to stand aside and critique yourself into a corner, into passivity, but save your elitist judgments for your fellow bibliographic temple builders…your heartless (and gutless) intellectual fundamentalism is not welcome here.

Art Work – Leisure

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 12/02/2009

UPDATE: More here.

These comments pertain to the recent release of Art Work by Temporary Services. They apply to the project as a whole, but a link to them was left on Julia Bryan-Wilson’s essay “Art Versus Work” as it is a central organizing essay. I apologize in advance for the scatter-shot nature of the response. I level these criticisms and objections with great admiration of, and humility toward,  Art Work, its organizers, and its contributors even if I don’t always maintain that tone.

Anything but work: Call Me a Slacker – NEVER a Worker.

“My father taught me to work; he did not teach me to love it. I never did like to work, and I don’t deny it. I’d rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh – anything but work.” – Abraham Lincoln

Julia Bryan-Wilson does an admirable job presenting a historical overview and theoretical foundation for those who embrace the notion of the artist as worker. What leaves me a bit cold, not just in her piece, but in Art Work as a whole, is the lack of any substantive dissent from this notion. At the very least, a sketch of some counter-theorizations, and a survey of key figures advocating against the valorization of work and labor would be useful. The slackers, quitters, idlers, loafers, drop outs, and leisure theorists have their own history, many providing a scathing critique of the lefts embrace of the proletarianization of human activity. I, being one of these good for nothings myself, hope to provide just such a sketch, but it will remain just a sketch as anything more would feel too much like work, and I’d rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh…

On work, labor, and old man Marx

“I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused
by the belief that work is virtuous…” – Bertrand Russell

Julia Bryan-Wilson writes, “Drawing on Marx’s theoretical work, and prompted by a desire to make art legitimate, necessary, and meaningful, artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries tried to erode the distinction between art and labor by insisting that their actions, and the products of those actions, were indeed work.” The idea that calling what you do “work” makes it “legitimate” or “meaningful” is the crux of the problem I have with much of what one finds in Art Work. This sort of thinking is everywhere on the left and Marx does in fact provide the theoretical mirror in which many self-identified “cultural workers” (I always shudder at this phrase) see themselves. Jean Baudrillard, the still mostly Marxist incarnation of which Bryan-Wilson cites, moved very quickly into a position not easily integrated within her piece or this newspaper as a whole. In his book The Mirror of Production he writes “The critical theory of the mode of production does not touch the principle of production.” That is to say that Marxist analysis too readily embraces the terms of the debate and therefore provides a mere functional critique, one that Baudrillard might note, “…deciphers the functioning of the system of political economy; but at the same time it reproduces it as model.”

Like Baudrillard I see a certain kind of of Marxist theoretical fundamentalism at work here. Art, like everything else in life apparently, becomes just another form of work. The proponents of artist unions and art workers appear to see labor and production everywhere and thus we find ourselves talking of wages, compensation, and professional practices. Let’s keep in mind though that just as the id, ego, and superego are organizing myths of psychoanalysis, Marxism has its own myths. Mapping the world using these specialized tools is certainly useful in certain contexts, but I’d just like to keep in mind that they are specialized, very partial, and historically bound views and that they are maps after all. Or to return to Baudrillard in reference to Marxism:

“Historical materialism, dialectics, modes of production, labor power – through these concepts Marxist theory has sought to shatter the abstract universality of the concepts of bourgeois thought…Yet Marxism in turn universalizes them with a ‘critical’ imperialism as ferocious as the other’s.”

“…Thus, to be logical the concept of history must itself be regarded as historical, turn back on itself…Instead, in Marxism history is transhistoricized: it redoubles on itself and is universalized.”

“As soon as they [critical concepts] are constituted as universal they cease to be analytical and the religion of meaning begins [or what we called theoretical fundamentalism].”

Giles Gunn, not writing specifically about Marxism puts it this way, “Theory of this sort is always in danger of reifying itself – or, what amounts to the same thing, of treating everything it touches as mere epiphenomena of its own idioms. [emphasis mine]” So where does that leave us? What does employing these terms do? It seems many contributors here find them liberating. I feel it gives too much ground, too readily cedes a particular view of what is important about what artists do. I’m not sure that Baudrillard doesn’t have this one right:

“Failing to conceive of a mode of social wealth other than that founded on labor and production, Marxism no longer furnishes in the long run a real alternative to capitalism.”


“And in this Marxism assists in the cunning of capital. It convinces men [sic] that they are alienated by the sale of their labor power, thus censoring the much more radical hypothesis that they might be alienated as labor power, as the ‘inalienable’ power of creating value by their labor. [entire quote in italics in the original]”

I see in Bryan-Wilson’s apparent acceptance of Marx a failure of imagination of sorts, one that leads us reductively to seeing the world through a narrow, economic prism. Much like the psychoanalyst sees libidinal drives and frustrated sexuality in everything from their morning coffee to flower arrangements, many in Art Work, see money, labor, and production everywhere. This strikes me as unhealthy and teeters dangerously close to the history of conceptual imperialism employed by Western ethnographers when they interpreted other cultures through their own cultural matrix and mistook this reading as transcription rather than translation. Baudrillard, again in The Mirror of Production is helpful here:

“…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.”


“In the kindest yet most radical way the world has ever seen, they have placed these objects [so called primitive art] in a museum by implanting them in an esthetic category. But these objects are not art at all. 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.”

If we substitute “esthetic” with “economic” it should become clear why this is pertinent. By seeing something that looks like what the West calls economic exchange or labor and calling it such, we miss the opportunity to observe something deeply challenging to the very premise of economy, value, and work. To extrapolate then, we should think long and hard about how readily we want to place art within the conceptual spreadsheet of capitalist vocabulary, or as Baudrillard would say, its mirror – Marxist vocabulary.

Art work or Art leisure?

“…with art-relaxing art comes to you with a greater simplicity clearness beauty reality feelingness and life.” – Gilbert and George

“…there is no art without laziness.” – Mladen Stilinovic

Leisure, Joseph Pieper, the “intellectual worker,” and de-proletarianization

“Leisure has had a bad press. For the puritan it is the source of vice; for the egalitarian a sign of privilege. The Marxist regards leisure as the unjust surplus, enjoyed by the few at the expense of the many.” – Roger Scruton

“Work does not make you rich; it only makes you bent over.” – Russian proverb

One doesn’t have to look very far to find alternatives to the worship of work. Josef Pieper’s book Leisure, The Basis of Culture provides a road map to rethinking many of the founding assumptions of Art Work. Tackling head on what he calls the culture of “total work,” Pieper argues for leisure as an organizing principle for culture. He is especially scornful of the notion of the “intellectual worker” from which the easy leap to “art worker” should be obvious. He writes, “…the takeover…of intellectual action…and its exclusive possession by the realm of ‘total work’…the most recent phase of a whole series of conquests made by the ‘imperial figure’ of the ‘Worker.’ And the concepts of intellectual worker and intellectual work…make the fact of that conquest especially clear and especially challenging to our times.”

He goes on to provide a historical summary of how the idea of effort, work, and labor came to be equated with knowing and how this transformation omitted the very basis of intellectus, the passive, listening, visionary, effortless dimension of knowing at the expense of ratio, the mostly discursive, active form. As he describes it, many in this publication seem to have followed this same path of over-valuing effort and difficulty. So in Art Work it becomes clear that “…not only the wage earner, the hand-worker, and the proletarian are workers; even the learned man, the student, are workers; they too are drawn into the social system and its distribution of labor. the intellectual worker…is a functionary in the total world of work, he may be called a ‘specialist,’ he is still a functionary…nobody is granted a ‘free zone’ of intellectual activity…” In this I sense a sad resignation to proletarianization, but what if we sought rather de-proletarianization?

Pieper defines being proletarian as “being bound to the working-process.” This he argues leads one to become a “spiritually impoverished functionary” – and it is this that rings loudly when I see one embrace the term art worker. For once again it seems like a failure of imagination, a spiritual failure (knowing full well how unfashionable that must seem) to adopt, if even tactically, the rhetoric of total work, or “to fall into line as ready functionaries for the collective working-state.” What is the alternative? Rather than expanding the reach of work, its colonization of existence, its imperial nature, perhaps it is better to tame it, refuse it (to the extent one can), and most easily, reject its measures. As Pieper says de-proletarianization “would consist in making available for the working person a meaningful kind of activity that is not work – in other words, by opening up an area of true leisure.”


Another prism through which to read all of this is through the “paradoxes of slackerdom” – an online conference I co-organized with Stephen Wright here. In its own way that (international) conversation stands as a kind of rejoinder to this one, or at least a necessary supplement. I urge those who have found their way here to look not only at it, but at the legions of lazy sods, slackers,  and others that reject work altogether as the (only) measure of human worthiness – those that seek  to define their lives relative to, and in, leisure – what Paul Willis calls “the hidden continent of the informal.”