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Actions, Conversations and Intersections

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Twenty Years of Explosive Graphics by        Center for the Study of Political Graphics

Installation consisting of a working printer by        The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest

Cup Thoughts by        Nicola Atkinson Does Fly

Barnsdall Arts Center ,
Jan 24, 2010 - Apr 18, 2010
Los Angeles, CA, USA

Luck of the crowd: Review of Actions, Conversations and Intersections
by Rodrigo Marti

Within the ‘historical area’, there were fourteen projects. On the patio, was a native plant nursery by the Theodore Payne Foundation providing educational resources on botany and an array of local plant species. Several projects operated by setting different participatory guidelines within the exhibition setting, a set tea time, a custom plate exchange, a group drawing: a set of particular actions, pulling, throwing, printing, dancing etc. but it was the ability of certain projects to activate critical, active or bodily ‘zones’ at once which proved to be the most rewarding and contextually relevant. The immense project by Suzanne Lacy and the Otis Public Practice program took on a whole town within its frame of vision. This yearlong project developed relationships and art practices for and with the community of Laton, in the San Joaquin valley located within the agricultural area of central California. The collaborative project was instigated by over a dozen students and teachers, involved an array of specialists from several fields and culminated in a one night procession down Main St. with food, music and projections in March, 2009. Their presence in the gallery came as a multipart video installation with a room size re-creation of a typical Laton faí§ade bringing the small community, its inhabitants and snippets of the artist’s own reflections into the gallery.

Two ‘schools’ were included in the show, The Finishing School and The Public School. Within the ‘historical area’ The Finishing School installed their ‘Wetlab’. The project's simple presentation was comprised of a handful of images, some take-home flyers and an example of a disruptive sound device. The work was one facet of a larger project elaborated fully on the group’s website, where a description explains the work as “a multi-initiative project that addresses the growing concern over peak water through intervention, praxis, coalition, and activism” (Finishing School website). The project's strong content was equal to the installation's ability to bring much needed levity to the ‘historical area’, albeit through an initial jolt. Their DIY alarm device, when exposed to water played a recording of your choice, the group’s example recording being a shock inducing yelp, taking a classic prankster form to presumably leave targeted water abusers with a few laughs and a hard to miss message. The other school on the roster, The Public School is an alternative ‘school’ platform with several international chapters. They function with a simple online structure giving people the opportunity to suggest courses (academic and skill share) and letting the public join any given course. Within the ‘action space’ the group held three classes around the topic of ‘Ambivalence’ while connected via Skype to their downtown LA cohorts in Chinatown.

These projects seem to stand out with their compatibility to the exhibition's strength in activating not only concerns within the artistic field but also operating within other areas, many times functioning as a satellite to a strict art world standard. Working in culture, be it politically, environmentally, anthropologically, in rural contexts, or as NGOs, these projects are able to maintain a certain level of integrity between these disparate concerns giving them due relevance as cultural production and critical action.

In the introduction to her anthology Participation author Claire Bishop narrows in on “activation, authorship, community - as the most frequently cited motivations for almost all artistic attempts to encourage participation in art since the 1960s” (Bishop 2006, 12). There are many today who question the validity of artistic practices functioning within a participatory ethos. I find it hard not to see such positions questioning such nebulous terms as ‘participatory art’ not to be based around a rigid dependence on the archaic myth of individual artistic genius. Some of the field's inner tensions have been conveyed through an essay-based exchange between art history scholars Bishop, from the UK and the North American, Grant Kester, perhaps shedding some light on the differing approaches at work at AC&I. Instigated by Bishop’s 2004 article in October, ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’, where she concentrated on two artist's works - Rirkrit Tiravanija and Liam Gillick - as Relational Aesthetics projects, Bishop is critical of the underlying “rhetoric of democracy and emancipation” (Bishop 2006, 61) found in the work. Notions, she points out, that have long been used to frame similar historical work, think Fluxus, Dada, Joseph Beuys etc.. Though thoroughly compelling and informative, Bishop's arguments tend to fall on a narrow theoretical crutch. In his response to a later essay, Grant Kester rebutted “In addition to naturalizing deconstructive interpretation as the only appropriate metric for aesthetic experience, this approach places the artist in a position of ethical oversight, unveiling or revealing the contingency of systems of meaning that the viewer would otherwise submit to without thinking” (Kester 2006). Shedding light on the ethical and participatory dimension of all cultural production as understood by Umberto Eco’s ‘Open artwork’.

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