Thursday, September 8, 2011
The first half of Claire Pentecost's article is a sardonic indictment of the museum-gallery-art complex, clearly evoking the themes and imagery of Brian O'Doherty's Inside the White Cube and Robert Smithson's Cultural Confinement. In defining the idea of artistic autonomy as the "special privilege to be free from the demands of utility or any substantive connection to social, political, or economic reality" Pentecost is highlighting the paradoxical cost of achieving autonomy; in producing work that adheres to the rules and requirements of the "clean white room", the artist is, in fact, allowing their output to be subsumed for the social, political, and economic motivations of the host institution. In some ways, the concept of artistic autonomy as a goal seems prescient, as the realization that the reward of autonomy for high performance has only recently begun to gain traction amongst other commercial sectors (as illustrated by RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us).
The crux of Pentecost's argument is that the goal of autonomy is ultimately counterproductive; her use of the automobile as symbol of autonomy, described in opposition to "the inconvenience of coordinating our needs and desires with a larger populace," demonstrates that autonomy‐at least as defined through the lens of institutional validation‐actually leads down the path of solipsism and isolation from society in general.
Pentecost's use of language in "the idea persists that an aesthetic encounter can change consciousness" can be read multiple ways; is she betraying skepticism about the popular notion of the function of art, or is she expressing hope that it truly can be realized in spite of attempts to codify success as freedom from social, political, and economic conditions? Her answer, in the second half of her article, is revealed to be the latter.
Without issuing a manifesto or declaring a Movement, Pentecost effectively outlines an aesthetic that engages the tension between autonomy and participation rather than the requirements of the white cube. In the form of "restructuring participation", she highlights a philosophy of art that is oriented around the bottom-up production and dissemination of knowledge by the unempowered, rather than the embrace and reinforcement of the top-down status quo.
Why would an artist aspire to restructure participation in this way, which inherently requires involvement in the interests of a larger populace, rather than the attainment of their own individual autonomy? The illustrations that Pentecost uses all support at least one of the twin pillars of restructured participation and the distribution of information. Her own Visible Food project, and Natalie Jeremijenko's How Stuff is Made are crowdsourced knowledge bases constructed about commercial processes without the coordinated investment of commercial interest. Nance Klehm's urban agriculture education‐"imparting a vision of abundance where the untrained eye sees generalized green"‐is the closest Pentecost comes to describing her proposed aesthetic in established terms of connoisseurship, but still meets the dual criteria of inviting the local participation for the purpose of spreading knowledge. The Yes Men, while not necessarily involving broad participation from local groups, subvert the information dispersal mechanisms of established commercial media to highlight information that industry and capital prefer to keep hidden. Pentecost suggests that it is through the pursuit of the equalization of information that the aesthetic experience truly can change consciousness. In challenging the "systematic ignorance" that typifies the information age, artists can win autonomy from the "groups who benefit from pervasive opacity and myopia", rather than the appearance of autonomy awarded by an institution.
The Slow Design Principles
The purpose of Carolyn Strauss and Alastair Fuad-Luke's The Slow Design Principles is stated to be an attempt to describe a method of re-imagining the design process in order to achieve the goals of increasing sustainability and environmental responsibility. The mechanism they propose is the use of six "slow" principles for the collection of evidence to evaluate the design process. But how rigorously is the objective defined? What are the criteria against which their evidence is measured? How is the process itself designed to be evaluated?
Some of the works cited by Strauss and Fuad-Luke as examples of the different principles caused me to pose questions that I am not sure they adequately answer in their document. In Franinovic's "Recycled Soundscape", the structure of the project invites people to participate so that "under-observed phenomena of a locality are re-revealed", but are those revelations captured, or does the information simply walk off when the people move on? Is that a desirable goal in and of itself, or is it a missed opportunity to inform the design process? Julia Lohman's sheep stomach lamps in Flock highlight "under-valued" materials that are derived from animals, but how does that relate to the wide variety of animal by-products that are already used in non-obvious ways? Natalie Jeremijenko's How Stuff is Made and Claire Pentecost's currently defunct Visible Foods project are both good examples of projects that seem to be interrogating the hidden production chain behind consumer products, but are they intended to become resources that tie into Slow Design in a systematic way?
Perhaps the issue is that the efficacy of Slow Design principles cannot yet be determined because they are too new and relatively unknown. In contrast to the criticisms and questions I have with the outline of the Slow Design principles, I do think the process could yield valuable results; the Milkota exercise was quite interesting because it highlighted the numerous ways in which the concept of product design can be expanded to include social and environmental impacts in an integral fashion rather than treating those concerns as external to a commercial interest. It will be interesting to see if and how the Slow Design principles are adopted by the emerging class of interaction (or user experience) designers, and if the tenants of Slow Design can be applied to larger industrial projects, such as the design and manufacture of infrastructure or public transportation.
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” http://www.ropesonline.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=64:exploring-the-trust-fall&catid=95:challenge-course-elements-and-use&Itemid=64 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.” http://brianholmes.wordpress.com/2007/02/26/%EF%BB%BFextradisciplinary-investigations/
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. http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/mla000318-john-cage-performs-4-33
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.
I was particularly impressed with her assertion that the artists who remain ignorant continue to promote ignorance to the wider public. Though she doesn't name names, there's a hint that this is a condemnation not to be taken lightly. Each example given seems to expand to a global audience, specifically targeting consumption and distribution - everyone is implicated in some way. The final questions she raises can just as easily condemn as reveal, first focusing upon the artwork at hand, and one's own place within its scope ("If autonomy is the object, what do you want to do with your autonomy?"). She describes a difficult, uncomfortable practice, its payoff relying upon whether or not you're optimistic about what we might call "making a difference." It leads me to ask if these institutions that supposedly block knowledge actually exist, or if this assumption is simply a result of the overwhelming number of individuals that succumb to apathy because of the sheer volume of information. Christien Meindertsma's cataloguing of all the uses of a slaughtered pig (TED talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/christien_meindertsma_on_pig_05049.html), indexed and catalogued in a book, is only one example of breaking this information down to bite-sized, beautifully graphic-designed bits - but are we able to direct the audience what action is to be taken from there, without simply depressing them and leading them right back to ignorance and apathy?
SlowLab's principles achieve a level of generalness that allows for almost every example to fit into many categories; for example, Olivier Peyricot's "Slow Rider" is also demands a level of engagement from an audience, reflects upon its constituent components and the history/evolution of transportation. Also, along with this level of generality, much of the examples seem to work beyond elements of design, but in any social practice - be it pedagogy, art, etc. The principle entitled "REFLECT" has much in common with any artwork calling for a certain meditation upon an object and its "memory," an idea expounded upon by Sigfried Giedion in Mechanization Takes Command, as well as Space Time and Architecture. Also, works by artists such as Janet Cardiff often explore how memory and complex histories can be embedded, and then communicated through objects; her piece "To Touch" is a particularly compelling example of this (http://www.cardiffmiller.com/artworks/inst/totouch.html).
However, the generalness of the principles can also lead to a lack of specific direction, particularly in why and how to engage the public. What is the difference between "ENGAGE" and "PARTICIPATE"? Are we communicating to a distinct group of individuals, or are we attempting to engage them in a particular way? Is all participation and engagement useful? Is the simple commodity-consumer relationship considered "participation"? Speaking of the consumer relationship, Katrin Svana Eythorsdottir's "Chandelier" might reflect upon preciousness and ephemerality, but in designing an object destined to fail and produce an even higher speed of consumption seems to go directly against a "slow" design ethic. Perhaps another principle addressing the speed of consumption should also be added?
The Slow Design Principles
In their essay "The Slow Design Principles," Strauss and Fuad-Luke attempt to convey a way of considering social and environmental responsibility while also demonstrating a multi-layered beneficial strategy to negotiating the creation of objects and spaces. Their main totem is the literal slowing down of objects. By various strategies they limit, extrapolate, and introduce reflective consideration to inhibit the current waste-based form of production/consumption.
I found the primary section very thoughtful in that the authors introduce many real-world examples (already implemented and succeeding), while also conveying that not one single strategy is the correct option. Several approaches are cited. One can pare down objects to their cores through interaction and material use in a meta self identification. There can be the expansion of current behaviors by taking known objects and altering how they are situated in the world and how/why we use them. Particularly interesting to myself is the idea of object and a representation of a living being. By bestowing our own experiences and memories upon an object we enrich that object beyond its material form. Designers are asked to also be aware of materiality in the sense of nontraditional materials and processes keeping in mind the social aspect of designed objects and spaces. Community involvement and locational responsibility are also a strong suit of slow-design. One of the most interesting aspects of slow-design is acknowledgement of material life spans. Restriction of material doesn’t have to be a voluminous concern, if one only considers the life of the continuance and durability through reappropriated materials.
Slow design, while obviously concerned with how the object/site is produced and considered also looks into the institution and socio-economic environment in which they exist. By a process of reinvention, consideration (pre, present and post existence) and reconfiguration the objects we make can have a web-like effect on the industries and communities they come in contact with. In conclusion slow design is not some revolution in materials at the forefront of technologies and green innovations of industry. At it’s core lies an approach of thinking about our current options for production and material in regards to sustainability and use management. We have in our possession a set of tools and byproducts that can be used in conjunction with socially responsible actions.
Autonomy, Participation, And
In her essay Autonomy, Participation, And Claire Pentecost attempts to question the role of art and artists in a society that is continually promoting financial and cultural independence. She questions if there is not another form of independence. It may be one not of a single cell but existing more macro in scale; what larger forces (social tissues, organ (systems), and organism) can achieve.
She wonders at one point is the general role of the gallery simply pervasive notion that art is doomed to only reference it’s forefathers (and a very few foremothers) from the 1950’s and 60’s? Is the only option a regurgitation of the same icons and language, resulting in a stifled form of creation and subsequent lack of experience. “So we wonder why what we see in the rooms is so tame and yet construed as innovation even when it replays the innovations that came and went decades ago.”
She then questions the role of the artist in this passing era. There is a new world we are living in, and in a non-participatory fashion at that. Where fundamental questions about where the source of the things we consume, produce and experience both come from but also go after we exhaust them. So it is a role that demands enlistment if you are an artist, “If artists are as ignorant as most people, the structures of participation they offer audiences reproduce existing feelings of paralysis and powerlessness and ultimately contribute to prevailing cynicism about any kind of participation at all.”
She goes on to cite several artists that envelop themselves in the current modes of what we consume and glean, through socio-cultural injection. She also cites the Yes-men as a strategy to undermine the channels that we choose to represent us in facets that we believe require professionals and experts (Media Sources, Politicians, Economists). I think this troupe does and amazing job of subverting these institutions. She goes on to beg the question, “Why don’t more people replicate the strategies of the Yes Men to steal moments of participation in the fortress of power?” and lists several hypotheticals. I believe there is a smaller class of people/artists that can fit into the shoes on the level of the Yes-men. The are variances of defiance that most can participate in that are not so aggressive. Having an objective filter to the media we consume, actively choosing which companies we patronize and support of business of healthy ad campaigns.
I believe most everything about participation, social consciousness, and active voice are imperative to foster a community that evens the level between its richest and the poorest. To make a simplified statement I believe it is the role of artist or activist to lead instances of change (with the help of any comers) and to resist through thoughtful editing of what is oppressive/lacking responsibility.
Autonomy, Participation, And
Claire Pentecost calls in to question our accepted understanding of autonomy as an artist. Her suggestion is that the majority of artists seek to develop their individuality and identity within the white walls of institutionalized gallery spaces in a way such that the perceived state of autonomy is no more than acceptance into that institutionalized group, thus nulling the assumed state of autonomy. The act of autonomy is just participatory in a larger established setting. She then proposes the idea of autonomy as a truly new or separate entity which encourages participation in ways that contribute to a community and work outside of white-wall spaces. Essentially the argument seems to be of “autonomy as status” vs “autonomy as contribution.”
I think it’s an excellent point to consider. The revolt against an established hierarchy in art is nothing new - every movement in art is in some way this very reaction. But artists and, for lack of a better word, technologists are converging more and more, allowing for greater contribution - be it as action or statement - to the world. In this manner the gallery space will naturally give way to public space or personal devices as a location for experience and feedback. It does go back to questioning the artist’s initial approach to art - are you setting out to create an object to be inspected or an experience to for others participate in?
Going back to Jeremijenko & Bratton’s article, it’s easy to reference the “data-smog” works that Bratton speaks of, where these otherwise beautiful works that look as if are interfaces but are really just beautiful displays of information, gallery worthy works. But the whole process can be opened up to participation - where is the data coming from, how is it being parsed, how does the visualization make sense of the data, and who gains from the information the work portrays? If the data is of concern to the artist, how do they address where the work is seen and who it impacts or informs?
I think it’s easy to get caught up in the technology and process of creating informative data work. I know I do it. But addressing some of the simple questions that Pentecost poses at the end of the article are excellent ways to help guide a project before you even start.
“What is the artist participating in and how?
What is the invitation to others and at what point in the process is it issued?
Has the paradigm of the aesthetic encounter been redefined?
What seems to be the objective of the participation: is it to enhance the prestige of an artist or
cultural institution or does it aspire toward a substantive experience for participants in their
What are the possible outcomes of the participation?
Is it likely to change our relationship to participation itself?
If autonomy is the object, what do you want to do with your autonomy?”
Strauss & Faud-Luke propose slowing down the entire design process in order to fully explore the context and implications of an object. “This process of careful and continuous (self-) questioning challenges the designer to reach for the core of design and her/his role as a designer.” (p. 3) They break the design process into a series of points to contemplate: reveal, expand, reflect, engage, participate, & evolve. Each of these points is a method for the designer to consider or reconsider an object in context of its intended, implied, or perceived use in relation to the entire process involved in its creation, its reflection upon that process, and its reflection upon the user (or the user upon it?).
I can’t help but think that this is what design is supposed to be, and that maybe it’s not a paradigm shift but a call for recognition of wide-spread design practices as “fast”, “rapid”, or “immediate” design. I don’t think that this is a striking new revelation in terms of design process, more so it is a reminder that we as consumers often inform the design process in terms of rapidly changing desires (not necessarily needs), which in turn informs again the consumer, and this cycle of a high output, quick turn around production just becomes the standard as we progress into ever tightening turns of the spiral until it is just design for now. So I will append my previous terms with “now” design.
I am reminded of The Long Now Foundation, a group that is dedicated to spreading the idea of long-term thinking. They have developed a mechanical clock that will run without electricity or maintenance for 10,000 years and a chime mechanism for it which will toll once an hour without ever repeating the same pattern. Included in the assembly is a “rosetta disc” which has engraved upon it every known language as an archive of communication in human history. It is unfortunate that we need such projects to re-inform humanity of the idea of long-term thinking, but we are better to have it than not. So too with the idea of “slow design”, and with a continuation of such thinking and action we may stand more of a chance of understanding all design as “slow design” without the need to emphasize “slow”.
Slow Design - Strauss and Fuad-Luke
In this piece Strauss and Fuad-Luke enumerate the principles of a design ideology which is meant to foster a significant impact on design sustainability. The principles included are very thoughtful and can demonstrably widen a designer's perspective to consider the systemic impact of the objects they create. But overall I feel like creating a list of commandments like this is perhaps a top-down kind of way to create social change. I absolutely acknowledge that they say that they aren't not rules per-se, only guidelines. But I'm slightly wary of when a set of ideas for solving a problem gets a bit slogan-oriented. It could make it more tempting adopt a marketable/fashionable label like "slow" rather than be focused on the systemic problems on hand. The style that the piece is written in reminds me of Andrea Zittel's "raugh" design ideology which I heard her discuss at a talk at the MCA last year. I'm going to have to paraphrase but she explained that she made up rules like "raugh must be comfy" and "raugh must look messy" as both a way to make fun of design ideologies but also to be able to enjoy the kind of Strauss and Faud-Luke might have in creating and implementing a design ideology. As for the examples, it seems like a lot of the objects offered are conecptual works which contain a critique coming from a slow design perspective, yet are not substitutions for everyday design processes and therefore everyday design objects. A modified car which is designed to move slow and doubles as a bench probably isn't going to replace cars, but only make a critical statement about cars. Still, I don't want too sound cynical. If reviewing these bullets creates a wider conceptual net for designers to make objects within than this is all well and good.
Autonomy, Participation, And - Pentecost
In this piece Claire Pentecost critiques and casts suspicion on the percieved autonomy that professionals in the art world supposedly enjoy. She suggests that this autonomy art figures possess may only function and occur within pre-established conventions and spaces where potential trangression or social change can be contained or compartmentalized. This way a power structure can afford critique and free thinking without having it necessarily interrupt the general slow of power within that strucutre. I understand this skepticism and the desire to make students particularly mindful of how convention can curb your efforts even in a field where were have the impression we can do anything. As an example, there was an event at the MCA last night which was framed as an open dialogue between the institution and its audience about diversity and inclusion. But this discussion was built upon the conventions of the panel discussion so that the only distinguished voices in the discussion were ones that the MCA had chosen. Although there was "Q and A" at the end of the event, it felt like a brief concession. The audience raised thoughtful yet critical questions that didn't seem particularly well attented to. Besides an excellent talk/performance by Hennesey Youngman, which did have moments of trangression which would normally never make it to that kind of platform, it could stand as an example of an institution pre-empting critique by placing it in an appropriate and containable context. For an discussion about inclusion, very few seemed to be included.
On the other hand, when thinking critically about the containing-power of convention I'm reminded of the importance of inflexible "stupid" systems that was brought up in the dialogue between Bratton and Jeremijenko last week. We need some degree of convention to establish the flow of communication in the first place. If we abolished it entirely we would even have agreed upon standards like language to begin communication in the first place. But seeing the event last night reminded me of the importance of keeping these conventions wide; to have them only pre-determine communication in the least amount possible. There is an institional way to evaluate institutions as well as a open one, which might try a more open standard of power relations with no enunciated center.