Summer Session

Summer Session – Honor our Wrinkles: Fiber, Women, Dykes and Queers

Continuing our labor-themed Summer Session, today we bring you a thoughtful conversation between the artists L.J. Roberts and Sheila Pepe. Roberts asks, “What does it mean to have men who are making work that pertains to being a man—about men, male desire, and masculinity—appropriating traditional women’s work and theory that is grounded in feminism, without much accountability?” This interview was originally published on our sister site Art Practical on February 26, 2015.

L.J. Roberts. Daniel Rosza Lang/Levitsky Singing at the 2013 NYC Dyke March, 2013; single-strand embroidery on cotton; 4 x 8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

L.J. Roberts. Daniel Rosza Lang/Levitsky Singing at the 2013 NYC Dyke March, 2013; single-strand embroidery on cotton; 4 x 8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

L.J. Roberts: Do think your use of abstraction mixed with craft is a strategy that inserts political concerns and agendas into a form that can be accessed by a wider range of people with more avenues for interpretation? If so, my work differs greatly from yours in that way. I thought I worked very literally, but now I’m actually working figuratively, which is not where I saw myself going at all. Perhaps that closes doors on the conversation and creates less of a gateway for multifaceted conversations.

Sheila Pepe: I think we are all working literally, but we are also working to combine layers of literal signs and signals that work as metaphor and analogy. It is what it is—and it points to something else. That’s why I’m thinking again about craft and art. One could say that within the context of art, craft may be queer but only if the latter is understood as a static self-sustaining location, invested in and empowered by its marginality. To this end, there must be an inherent disinterest in becoming part of the larger whole. As a personal quest, this sounds good, but as a political one, it doesn’t: Few people have the luxury of—or interest in—living and/or working in a static state of marginality.

I’m wondering what your political ambitions are for the concepts of queer and craft. What do they look like, in your mind’s eye?

LJR: For me, lately, the politics of craft and queer identity have been revolving around the notions of women and femininity—in terms of concept, visibility, and political gain—academically and even in the market.

In disciplines that have been traditionally practiced by women, like textiles, we’ve seen a group of men—particularly cisgender men—become highly visible, which is quite different than how women working in textiles have been positioned, both historically and contemporarily. Many representations of masculinity in mainstream culture are quite violent, and so to see a man exuding a feminine masculinity—like knitting or crafting, for example—is enticing. Most of these men who position themselves within the realm of queer craft (if we want to use that term) are making work about men, male identity, and male desire (usually toward other men). The valuing of men engaged in textiles is often hyper-gendered and what I call slyly misogynist. For instance, the show Man-Made: Contemporary Male Quilters that recently opened in Los Angeles at the Craft and Folk Art Museum seems to embody a lot of the problems you and I have been talking about, in terms of the intersections of queer identity and craft. It’s a show composed entirely of white cisgender men (queer and straight) who all are making work about being male. It’s convenient to engage in women’s work to accentuate and declare masculinity. I think of these men-who-sew shows as illustrating Sedgwickian Triangles, a dynamic in which men flirt or bond through a woman who acts as a conduit—but in this context, it’s a creative practice that has been historically marginalized that is a catalyst for these homosocial dynamics. These shows have systemic consequences on so many levels, micro and macro.

Read the full interview here.

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Summer Session

Summer Session – Help Desk: Support for Artists

Our first Summer Session theme is labor, and today’s Help Desk advice column answers a tricky question about support, “exposure,” and compensation with some help from Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.). Columnist Bean Gilsdorf notes that “uncompensated exchange can still be ethical.” This article was originally published on May 25, 2015.

Sigmar Polke. Untitled, 1971. Paint on fabric.

Sigmar Polke. $-Bild, 1971; paint on fabric.

I espouse fair labor initiatives like W.A.G.E.* to pay artists. However, my own projects are often un- or under-funded; if a stipend covers a significant portion of my expenses, that seems like a success, even if I take a loss on my own time and labor. As a consequence, I’m unable to pay myself, much less collaborators, contributors, or volunteers. In return, I try to offer sincere thanks and credit lines, as well as social media links. First, how do I navigate this paradox? Am I being a hypocrite? What more could I do to support fellow artists? How will I know if I am taking artists’ energy in exchange for an exploitative promise of “exposure”?

Nearly every artist I know navigates this ambiguous and complex territory in some way or another. The paradox you experience operates on a tacit, institutionalized presumption—that artists’ work is a “labor of love” and consequently our primary goal is to have that work “exposed” to the world. This logic dictates the primary model of success and failure within the art world (cf. Melanie Gillman’s “If Other Professions Were Paid Like Artists”). It also plays into the affective conditions of being an artist, namely that a legitimate artist should have an obsessive impulse to create that suppresses all other drives (including the ones to pay rent and eat); ergo, if you care about compensation, you must not be a real artist.

To combat conventional thinking, you must advocate for yourself at every opportunity. To start, each time you are offered a gig that doesn’t mention payment up front, you can ask, “Is there a stipend?” Importantly, the act of asking raises awareness of the problem. You can take this further: “Thanks for inviting me to be part of this exhibition. As you may know, I work with collaborators. Is there room in the budget to compensate them for their time and labor?” The answer may be “no,” but you’ll have shined a light on a dark and oft-unspoken issue.

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Summer Session

Summer Session – Life/Work

Today from our friends at Guernica, we bring you an excerpt from a conversation between Jen Delos Reyes, J. Morgan Puett, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles. The former is the founder of Open Engagement, an annual conference “committed to examining how artists, institutions, and publics approach art and social practice”; the latter two are artists who work the everyday—including labors such as chores and childcare—into their practices. This interview was originally published on May 15, 2014.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles. Washing, Tracks, Maintenance – Outside, 1973; Courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles. Washing, Tracks, Maintenance–Outside, 1973; performance at Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut. Courtesy of the Artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.

Jen Delos Reyes: Was there a particular moment in your practice when you made a conscious decision to merge your life and your work as an artist?

J. Morgan Puett: The conscious decision was realized in graduate school. Once out of school, engaged in filming–dwelling–clothing–researching projects, I found that making clothes for people gave me great pleasure. Somewhere along that path I realized that was a way to survive as an artist. Although, in learning the industries, I forgot that pleasure for a time while struggling with capitalism. I thought of my work in the rag trade as a series of conceptual storefront projects; then later I created a long series of research projects and art installations for institutions that were about those (disturbing) experiences in the fashion industry. It was all extremely important to the development of the ideas and methods that permeate everything I do now.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles: I lusted for the freedoms expressed in the work of my art heroes: Jackson Pollock, Marcel Duchamp, Mark Rothko. I wanted that life of the autonomous artist, pushing into the unknown, creating the new. I struggled for many years. Then Jack Ukeles and I had a baby in 1968. My teacher in grad school, seeing my pregnant belly, said—despite my being his best student—“Well, I guess you can’t be an artist.” This gurgling baby was depending on my constant maintenance. I found that my art heroes didn’t change diapers. I tried to split my life in two: half the mother/maintenance worker, and half the artist. Why hadn’t my education prepared me for this? I was in a full crisis. Then, after one and a half years of twirling, an epiphany! If I am the boss of my freedom, if I have this power, then I call maintenance, art; I call necessity, freedom. I can collide these two poles, crash them together. In a quiet rage, in October 1969, I sat down and wrote the Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969! I named Maintenance as Art. Why? Because I say so. The artist must survive. It is art that must change.

Read the full interview here.

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Summer Session

Summer Session – Sofia Leiby: The Drama of Leisure at Devening Projects

For the first part of our Summer Session, we’re thinking about labor, and today we’re also considering its opposite—leisure. Steve Ruiz’s review of Sofia Leiby’s most recent show at Devening Projects + Editions considers the artist’s time: “With so much else in an artist’s life productively structured, purposefully performed, and in general feeling like work, what could be more radical than insisting that the center of an artist’s practice—the work itself—is something else entirely?” This article was originally published on January 15, 2014.

Sophia Leiby. The Drama of Leisure, 2013; installation view, Devening Projects + Editions, Chicago. Courtest of Devening Projects + Editions.

Sophia Leiby. The Drama of Leisure, 2013; installation view, Devening Projects + Editions, Chicago. Courtesy of Devening Projects + Editions.

Sofia Leiby‘s first solo exhibition in Chicago, titled The Drama of Leisure, consists of fourteen paintings and three runs of screen prints. Now on view at Devening Projects + Editions, Leiby’s paintings and drawings are clearly influenced by her experience as a printmaker. In most works, the artist paints as if the brush were a thick, wet crayon, and she sketches and fills with rapid marks more casual than expressive, each mark nearly uniform in width. Like her screen prints, the paintings (both those on canvas and paper) are built in colliding layers of shapes that often echo the painting’s edge, dodging it around the gutters, and which respond to earlier shapes below. There are differences and exceptions in the artist’s process—one painting, The Steps (2013), is far more painterly, while another, Untitled (2013), incorporates paper cutting and collage—but these basic formal traits unite the close-hung work. Closer examination reveals Leiby’s repetition of shapes across works, a recurrence that seeds a visual history through the show and gives a glimpse into the order of the works’ making.

This emphasis on process causes Leiby’s paintings to vibrate between the highly subjective territory normally associated with abstract painting and its near antithesis: the more distant and mechanical product of a conceptual system, with works bearing significance according to their point or path of origin. Taken individually, the presence of the artist’s hand, the suggestibility of her shapes, and the restraint with which they are worked suggest the former; taken together, they lean hard toward the latter, and are tipped further by the show’s title and accompanying statement.

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Summer Session

Summer Session – Inside the Artist’s Studio, Part 5: Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman

Today’s essay, written by our new executive director Michele Carlson for our sister publication Art Practical, summarizes Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman’s labor collaborating on Living Condition, a project that “synthesizes hours of interviews, footage, and research” to explore crime, public perception, and capital punishment. This article was originally published on June 26, 2014.

Dee Hibbert-Jones (left) and Nomi Talisman in their studio. Photo: Michele Carlson.

Dee Hibbert-Jones (left) and Nomi Talisman in their studio. Photo: Michele Carlson.

Just off the hustle of 24th Street in San Francisco’s Mission district, multimedia artists and collaborators Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman juggle life. And not just their own. Their studio is in the front room of a large blue Victorian where they live, work, and raise their 5-year-old son. He has tasked them with the grave duty of saving a beloved and recently decapitated Wonder Woman action figure they picked up at a garage sale. Such a mundane domestic scene makes for a sharp contrast with the families profiled in Hibbert-Jones and Talisman’s current project Living Condition, which the pair have been working on at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) as the second annual Community Engagement Artists-in-Residence.

Living Condition both tells and reimages the experiences of those who have, or have had, family members on death row. What began as a series of short animated portraits has flowered into a feature-length film and an interactive component. The latter part is the focus for Hibbert-Jones and Talisman’s YBCA residency. Told in the voices of those impacted by their relative’s experience with capital punishment, and set visually by Hibbert-Jones and Talisman, the stories in Living Condition are heartbreaking and confounding in equal measure. Hibbert-Jones tells of the son of an interviewee “who literally grew up and was stabbed when he was 12, he was shot when he was 14, he was stabbed when he was 16, and then shot again in the head when he was 18. And only the last one was intentional. The rest were accidents.” She continues, “Im sorry but thats not a reality I know anything about. Its so far away from how I hope our son will grow up.”

Read the full article here.

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Summer Session

Summer Session: Rug of War

Today from our friends at REORIENT, we bring you an excerpt from Elnaz Bokharachi’s consideration of Afghan War Rugs: The Modern Art of Central Asia at the Scotsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. In keeping with our Summer Session theme of labor, the author discusses weaving, production, and the impact of war on both. This article was originally published on September 21, 2015.

L-R: a 1998 war rug from Baghlan showing a map of Afghanistan (acquired in Peshawar), a 1994 rug from western Afghanistan (also acquired in Peshawar), and a 2004 rug (acquired in Kabul). Image courtesy of REORIENT.

L-R: a 1998 war rug from Baghlan showing a map of Afghanistan (acquired in Peshawar), a 1994 rug from western Afghanistan (also acquired in Peshawar), and a 2004 rug (acquired in Kabul). Courtesy of REORIENT.

Rug weaving amongst the Iranian peoples dates back thousands of years. Although the exact provenance is unknown, the Pazyryk Carpet, woven in the fourth century B.C., and excavated from the grave of a Scythian nobleman in the Altai Mountains of Siberia in 1949, is widely recognized as the earliest known pile-woven carpet. The Iranian peoples have long been amongst the pioneers of carpet weaving, and today, hand-woven rugs from the Persianate world are still renowned for their uniqueness in design, color, size, and weave, with each culture having its own particular patterns and styles. The representation of Persian gardens, some of the most recurring and sophisticated designs in Persian carpets and rugs, celebrated for their combination of rich colors, singular border motifs, and floral patterns, are but one example. Striving to symbolize heaven on earth—paradise (derived from the Avestan pairi-daeza)—the Persian garden is depicted in the chahar bagh (lit. “four gardens”) style. Although numerous examples of such carpets have been exhibited in museums around the world, one of the most famous, namely that of the Sassanian Emperor Khosrow I (r. 531–571 A.D.), described in detail by the Persian historian Tabari, did not survive the Arab conquest of Iran. That is not to say, though, that all carpets from the region deal with the divine; there are indeed some that portray much more worldly images.

Claire C. Carter, curator of the Scotsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, recently exhibited forty-one rugs from Afghanistan featuring images of tanks, grenades, helicopters, and soldiers, amongst others, in a variety of colorful rugs differing in style and scale. Originally organized and curated by Enrico Mascelloni and Annemarie Sawkins, Afghan War Rugs: The Modern Art of Central Asia—previously on view at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum in Milwaukee and Florida’s Boca Raton Museum of Art—was a narration of the story of a people who did away with traditional patterns and motifs to instead unfold a story of violence and conflict.

Read the full article here.

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Summer Session

Summer Session – #Hashtags: Culture, Class and the New Economy

The first theme in our Summer Session series is labor, and today we’re revisiting Anuradha Vikram’s essay on the so-called creative economy and its effects: “The mythology of the creative economy explains much of why San Franciscans who have pioneered this approach to work are under-invested in the arts despite some apparent affinities. Why support artists with your hard-earned income when you are fully convinced you are an artist yourself, and a more valuable one?” This article was originally published on January 27, 2014.

Stephanie Syjuco. Bedazzle a Tech Bus (I Mock Up Your Ideas): John Gourley "Gringo" Bus, 2014. Digital image. Submission to Mission Local's "Bedazzle a Tech Bus" Call for Entries.

Stephanie Syjuco. Bedazzle a Tech Bus (I Mock Up Your Ideas): John Gourley “Gringo” Bus, 2014. Digital image. Submission to Mission Local’s “Bedazzle a Tech Bus” Call for Entries.

#access #technology #gentrification #class #labor #place

The recent election of Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York was hailed by many as a sign that the trend of economic displacement in major American urban centers was coming to an end. De Blasio ran on a progressive platform of government that serves the neediest, rather than campaign donors, and won handily on that message despite the city’s twelve prior years of wealth consolidation under billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg. Even de Blasio’s art credentials are more populist than those of his philanthropist predecessor, whose namesake corporation appears on the donor boards of several major institutions in the city. While many have greeted his inauguration with a level of optimism not seen since President Obama’s first term, far fewer have raised the necessary question of what exactly defines the problems and the solutions we hope he will seek. Using current discussions of gentrification, shifting labor conditions, and the role of the arts in creativity and culture, I will attempt to do this here.

Artist Martha Rosler’s recent book, Culture Class (2013), is a herculean attempt to frame the scope and the terms of the gentrification debate as it concerns artists and other laborers in the new “creative economy.” Her critique centers on the influential theories of Richard Florida, whose Rise of the Creative Class (2002) is credited with establishing that term. Rosler gained prominence in the 1970s as a conceptual photographer and video artist deconstructing the implicit social conditioning conveyed by popular images in works such as The Bowery in Two Descriptive Systems (1974-75) and House Beautiful: Bringing the War Back Home (1967-72). Her extensively researched book identifies other theorists of urban renewal, addressing their perspectives from race, gender, and class angles. Her discussion of Florida’s legacy outlines how his acolytes in business, education, and urban planning have promoted an idea of contemporary white-collar labor as a creative pursuit while promoting investment in the arts as a benefit to property values. As such, wage laborers are encouraged to consider themselves engaged in fulfilling acts of creativity rather than trading their labor for compensation. Artists are supported and valued for their ability to revitalize buildings and neighborhoods rather than for their contributions to the breadth of human experience.

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