Friday, January 06, 2006

Artspeak-ese

Received this overwhelmingly tempting invitation today:

Please join us for the conversation between Franklin
S1rmans, an art critic and an independent curator
teaching at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)
and X4viera Simm0ns, the 2005 Workspace Artist
at Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning (JCAL). The
conversation will take place at JCAL on January 7, 2006
from 5 pm to 7 pm.

In her current residency at JCAL, Xaviera Simmons is taking
portraits of passersby on the street, exploring the relationship
of the transcendental, autonomous subject and the possibility of
its shifting, non fixed cultural positions via the urban (or
imaginary) landscape.

Employing a mobile photo station continuously altered and
adjusted, Simmons invites pedestrians to have their portraits
taken.

The outcome is a series of images transforming the urban streets
into an imaginary landscape in which the sitters transform
themselves, shifting their positions from a passive observer (a
passerby) to an active participant in the portraits. Through
these photographs, Xaviera Simmons visually maps out the inter-
subjective intersections between artist and viewers as well as
the possibility of art in an everyday environment.

In addition, the project that will go on the public view July 1,
2006 engages in a dialogue of a labor exchange as Simmons
handprints and disburses a portrait to her sitters.

The upcoming talk on January 7, 2006 will discuss questions of
the possibility and limits of participatory art practices in a
perspective of art as a labor exchange.

(Italics mine.)

Maybe I'm hypersensitive to this particular example of abuse of the English language, because some friends of mine did a cool-ass project that was, in practical terms, nearly identical to this one. BUT without all the mind-bogglingly stupid rhetoric. Let me try to translate:

exploring the relationship of the transcendental, autonomous subject and the possibility of its shifting, non fixed cultural positions via the urban (or imaginary) landscape = I haven't the damndest idea. What the hell is a "transcendental, autonomous subject?" A PERSON, maybe?
Okay, so. A person's shifting, non fixed (those two terms mean exactly the same thing, right?) cultural positions via--stop again. You can't have a position via anything. The word via stems from the Latin root via, meaning "road, way." You can have a position vis-รก-vis something, meaning 'with respect to; relative to' but to have a position via something implies that you're on the road somewhere, and positions by definition are fixed at a moment in time. Or maybe I'm just blowing smoke. So, anyway, we arrive at the end of the sentence: via the urban (or imaginary) landscape. Huh? Why is an urban landscape imaginary? I mean, all landscapes are imaginary, in point of fact, but somehow I doubt that this particular artist is engaged in an experiment with mystical or metaphysical epistemologies. It just doesn't seem to suit her rhetoric.

Oh! maybe the girl is supplying her own fake landscapes, which may be the meaning of the phrase employing a mobile photo station continuously altered and adjusted.

With this understanding, then, transforming the urban streets into an imaginary landscape in which the sitters transform themselves, shifting their positions from a passive observer (a passerby) to an active participant in the portraits is simplicity itself. It just means that people get their pictures taken. Which she just said, but her artist's statement wasn't long enough.

So then what happens? She visually maps out the inter-subjective intersections between artist and viewers, of course, which I think means that she takes pictures of people. She takes pictures of people getting their pictures taken by her, the artist, that is--which is a crucial aspect, maybe THE crucial aspect, of the whole project; the people getting their pictures taken by an artist, in the street. Crucial. Otherwise how could you have all those inter-subjective intersections?

Then! Oh, then this artist engages in a dialogue of a labor exchange as [she] handprints and disburses a portrait to her sitters, which would seem to indicate that she prints the photos and sells them. Prudent thing to do. That JCAL residency only comes with a $7000 stipend, or maybe $5000, and the space isn't live-in. She's got to pay the rest of her bills somehow.

Finally, as if all this visual mapping and disbursing weren't radical enough, we are treated to a talk about questions of the possibility and limits of participatory art practices in a perspective of art as a labor exchange. Which propounds the earthshattering notion that sometimes you can sell art, sometimes you can't. Sometimes the art is too big and weird and unwieldy to sell, which is why there exist such things as stipends and residencies. Sometimes people don't like their portraits and don't want to pay for them. Sometimes they don't understand your rhetoric. Life as an artist is a bitch.

The truly sad thing is that this travesty of intellectual discourse is taking place at a community center way the fuck out in Queens, which is trying desperately to re-style itself as a progressive cultural institution. The person who wrote this almost certainly speaks English as a second
language, which in no way excuses her. The reason I'm on this mailing list at all is that I applied for the residency last year, desperately hoping not to get it, but to get my work seen by the panel of cutting-edge curators and gallerists they dragged out to Queens for the selection process.

I don't think I'll apply again. The risk is just too great.

6 comments:

HowCumTutor69 said...

I hope that I get to take you on a date some time.

Al.

free said...

I was doing some research to find articles about my work and I came across your "review" of my artist talk and practice. I did not see you there yesturday!!! you are a bit misinformed about things, especially on the fact that I do not charge people for the prints, I give them away at my own cost. I am interested in the act of giving!!

There are many points in your assesement that appear extremly amatur, angry, disgruntled and uninformed!! I, like you, am a hard working, well deserving artist. You should attempt to contact people before making such hasty, harsh critiques.

Xaviera Simmons

serena said...

Sorry your feelings are hurt, Xaviera. I honor you for giving away your work, and I am sure that you do work hard and that your work is lovely. So lovely, I think, that it doesn't need a lot of confusing language to promote it.

Liz said...

Part of what persuaded me to go back to grad school was this exact issue. To get grants and get stuff published, I have to know how to talk about my work and the poets I'm translating in that kind of language - I have to frame it in high-falutin' theory to get the high-falutin' people with money to listen.

elisabeth said...

Re: How to stretch your own canv-ass....I am not an artist (although me mum and 'old man' are) but even I know how to stretch a canvas. Not that I'd be good at it due to a lack of practice, but you would think that SOME things are rather self explanatory. Glad to see that you are well and Serene...

Anonymous said...

Dear Serena & Xaivera,

First of all Xaivera lets just admit it, that introduction to your work was a stinking pile of art shit. With no disrepect to you, that quagmire of an essay is both incomprehensible (that is at least to an Ivy-League educated art consumer like myself), and meaningless (and somewhat manipulative as well). I think Serena summed it up pretty damn well without making any harsh comments about you or your work.
And by the way, if thats the reason you went back to grad school and therefore are making the kind of work you purport to, NEWS FOR YOU: you're not an artist, you're a salesman. My advice is make art for everyone else, not for the people who are paying your rent.

Phil