Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reading responses - Art Work // Destroying Public Harmony

Temporary Services - "This is Our Real Job"

"Where are the large-scale ideas that depend upon American ingenuity rather than competition? When did funding the arts and the people that make them become optional? Why is visual art, which can be understood as a basic foundation for human communication, not funded as an integral part of our lives as Americans? Why don’t we think being an artist is a “real job”?" (3).

Perhaps one of the larger parts of the problem - justifying the existence of art/artists - stems from a fundamental disagreement of how the arts function, and who they serve.  Temporary Services identifies its role as primarily communicative - and though it is difficult to argue with that, I can't help but feel that this is far too general to serve as any real primary definition; there are tons of capitalist sectors that currently also serve that need, perhaps even more efficiently and easily - and with the spirit of capitalist competition in mind.  Art is not an "easy" read, and demands much more of its audience.  The reality show "Art Star" provides an easy-to-swallow missive, beamed directly into the home:

"Want to be an artist? Join a reality show and viciously compete for the title of “Art Star” while having your every move be documented for six weeks in the hopes that your witty bon mots and camera-friendly pretty face will result in a one-time cash bonus" (3).

I can't help but wonder if, ultimately, much of the solution remains obscured because of a crisis in imagination - there seems to be an impossibility of imagining any type of system not based upon competition, or a system where the competition is not fouled up by corruption, blind ignorance, prejudice, or inequity.  Temporary Services blame the entire capitalist system, but a dismantling of the status quo may prove a much greater challenge as even just regulating or adjusting the current system has proven nearly impossible.  So much of the art that is chosen for international viewing are based on a "wow" factor that demands an obscene amount of money to create (take, for example, "Gloria," by Allora & Calzadilla, officially sponsored by Hugo Boss)- and more than that, the process of choosing these artists is largely opaque.  Contribution for the pavilion "goes directly to support the U.S. gymnasts and runners performing in Venice" (official word from the website).  The entire pavilion is built upon a celebration of an opaque, elitist competition system supporting yet another (arguably completely corrupt) competition system, devoid of any real "awareness raising" or missive from actual U.S. citizens.  And while this is, perhaps, not the goal, it doesn't seem unreasonable that the representative art in an international art venue should somehow service those that it represents, not actively obscure them.


Doina Petrescu - "How to Reclaim the Common?"

The thesis throughout this essay concerns the Eastern European (and particularly Romanian) crisis in the devalued and disappearing "common," that is, the public space provided for citizens.  Privatization of public lands, after communism, became the norm.  Petrescu argues that this act is also a destruction of the concept of the common and community.  The idea of community shrunk to the scale of family and close friends, the only real "safe" zone.  The struggle now becomes one of influencing psychology; questions revolve around the changing of cultural and psychological habits in order to influence the creation of community support and activism that has disappeared since during, and since Ceausescu's totalitarian regime.

While this article concerns Romania, this is a well-worn crisis explored in the post-modern Western world as well, particularly in urban environments.  One needs to look no further than Chicago's Loop in order to explore how public is constantly in battle with the privatized, capitalist space; however, the existence of these spaces is much sneakier than in Eastern Europe, because of corporate funding, advertising, etc.  While the park system is largely thought to be "public," every corner of Millennium Park is branded with corporate funding - there are restrictions in all parks concerning what you can and cannot bring in with you and the times you can use it.  Even more important, however, is the tenuous control the public has over these lands.  When Chicago was in the running for the Olympics, the proposal included the building of facilities some of Chicago's parks, essentially converting public lands into private ones (it's assumed that these corporate-funded facilities would then be converted into privatized condos, fitness facilities, etc.).  Occupy protestors have been arrested because their permit for public assembly expired.

Because we know and expect these restrictions on public land usage, it signals how we continue to bend and constrict our conceptions of what public and community mean in the urban environment - our "public" spaces have all become first and foremost commercial spaces.  If you are not a consumer, you are loitering, and subject to removal.  When community is nothing more than a roving hoard of distracted shoppers, how can we even begin to conceptualize real common space?

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