Thursday, September 8, 2011

Benjamin Keddy: Reading Response 2 & 3: The Slow Design Principles / Autonomy, Participation, And

Reading Response 2: The Slow Design Principles

In their discussion of "The Slow Design Principles", Carolyn Strauss and Alastair Faud-Luke, encourage a greater consciousness of the potential impact of the individual on the greater social ethos. Implicit in its name, the "slow" movement positions its socially progressive approach as a contemplative response to the excess and waste that stands as the myopic standard in the Western capitalist mode of production. The approach of slow design as "predicated on slowing the metabolism, of people, resources and flows" promotes social activism through while embracing the following six design principles: Reveal, Expand, Reflect, Engage, Participate, and Evolve. These principles motivate the designer to explore channels of production that promote a heightened social awareness and positive attitudes toward environmental sustainability.

The text is contextually related to the Jeremijenko and Bratton reading as extension of the discourse about creative production as a tool for both social development and action. The reading sights the work of other practitioner’s who exemplify adherence to specific principles as they embrace the ideological premise of this movement. As was the case when formulating a response to Situated Advocacy: Suspicious Images, Latent Interfaces, while I personally agree with the movement to build a higher social consciousness of environmental issues that The Slow Design Principles supports, both articles strike me as a somewhat self-congratulatory as “how we do it right, and how you can to” approaches to combining creative production and environmental activism. Through the discussion of the work produced by the designers that adhere to these guiding principles, Strauss and Faud-Luke promote the conceptual exploration of these ideals as design successes without inviting significant critique of the aesthetic and conceptual validity of the work. This then becomes more a discussion of the process, and principles involved in creative production rather than a discussion of the product itself. Although they are discussing “design” rather than “art” (two terms that obviously cannot be used interchangeably), some of the descriptions, while successfully conveying the socio-political premise of the work, seem to lack the critical depth needed to justify the work as artistically relevant. The essence of the writing is that of “essential practice” that presumes that adherence to the guiding principles as itself crucial to the creative integrity of the work.

To exemplify this point, I consider one of the examples that the authors have included in their discussion of the “Engage”(ment) principle— the design of Human Chair by Martin Ruiz de Azua. Ruiz de Azua constructs a “human chair” out of human participants whom choreographically sit “on each other's knees, propped one on top of the other in friendship and fragile dependency”. While it seems clear that the point of the “collective minimalism” inherent in this group activity is to depict a particular symbiotic element of social unity, I find the description of the product as a “precious gift of immaterial substance to our over-material world” that the text describes it be as sententious. While promoting a concept of collective support as a positive social ideal, the work strikes me having no more creative integrity than the “trust fall” that many of us have perhaps experienced in our youth at summer camp. The text offers little discussion of this work beyond that of social engagement, “amity and fun” – elements that are perhaps imperative as a foundation of cooperative social discourse, but do not engender a nuanced discussion of artistic merit.

Reading Response 3: "Autonomy, Participation, And"

Claire Pentecost explores the notion of a “shared autonomy” as a mode of creative production that contrasts the historically accepted norms if institutional artistic exhibition in her article entitled "Autonomy, Participation, And". She argues that the current the protocol for exhibiting in our established museums, galleries, and other institutional exhibition venues employ amounts to a restriction of creativity, that challenges the definition of autonomous artistic production, with the both an ideological and physical compartmentalization relative to form of work that the artist produces. If creative production can be encapsulated by the object, created by an individual (as is regularly the case in painting or sculpture) it possesses the formula required to be more readily accepted as work that can be easily exhibited by the institution. It has taken the form of work that can be easily digested by an expectant audience who, through the conventions developed through the historical rise of our artistic institutions, are already conditioned to make sense of this work through the limits of the creative product. In a critical commentary on the confined mode of production that an association with such institutions mandates, Pentecost states “Our work will be called autonomous. The autonomy in question refers to the perceived freedom of the forms we have used, and the alleged freedom of the motive ideas justifying those forms. It is their special privilege to be free from the demands of utility or any substantive connection to social, political, or economic reality, which are deemed dreary by comparison. Conditions notwithstanding, it is part of our job to express or perform freedom as it is tacitly defined and valorized by our culture”

Her position describes the freedom of autonomy as a myth that we as artists readily embrace “because in every way we are starved for validation”. I agree with this position entirely. In the context of explaining the problem of institutional acceptance, I also agree that “what may or may not be up for reinvention in the process are the terms of the encounter and the constitutive definition of aesthetic” but also feel that, beyond her examples of the shared autonomy that seems to support the premise of her position, she has not adequately explained what this definition new of aesthetic should be. As socially and environmentally laudable as the work of Salvation Jane or the Yes Men may be, what defines them as artists? Relative to the Yes Men’s brand of activism, do their interventions amount to political theater, performance art, both, or neither? How does the answer associate them as artists? Is an artist any free-thinking person mobilized to social activism in their production? In terms of what is produced and how, is there a cut off? Has the definition of “artist” been diluted through its ongoing historical re-definition to still be relevant? Is this terminology a relic of an artistic legacy that should be abandoned for something more nuanced, or should it be so ubiquitous as to be applied to any practice that includes a creative way of problem solving as part of its product?

In reference to the AD502 course I am taking entitled, Extradisciplinary Explorations, Brain Holmes refers to the course title in the context of modern art as an “ambition to carry out rigorous investigations on terrains as far away from art as finance, biotech, geography, urbanism, psychiatry, the electromagnetic spectrum, etc., to bring forth on those terrains the ‘free play of the faculties’ and the intersubjective experimentation that are characteristic of modern art.”

This perspective seems to suggest that “intersubjective experimentation” can be taken as the product itself. Under this assumption the experimental process can be as much the product of the artform. But then are there specific attributes to the process that define it as such. John Cage’s 4”33” silent piano piece is much about the the process of spanning time in relativity to the object of established value with a consciousness of negative space and our traditional acceptance of music as a linear movement.

Written by Cage as a silent musical piece, it was not produced through the collective of a "shared autonomy". Although this well know work was afforded the luxury of a venue as a musical form in the abstract, it at the time it was created hardly conformed to the conventions most accepted by the institution. In performing the piece on the traffic median in Harvard Square, Cambridge Cage becomes a participant in a shared autonomy as a listener, sharing the same experience as the audience member greeted by the spontaneity of ambient street noise.

Although Cage was admittedly a lover of noise, he has written much the value of silence- a nod to the activist spirit and the slow movement with a consciousness of the need to reclaim the the absence of space that exists between things in our sound saturated modern society.

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