Thursday, June 7, 2007

Reflections and questions about the class projects

1. Erin Reitz –

I would first like to start with Erin Reitz’s work. In her relational piece she asks us to participate in an online blog project. Our interest is piqued when read the first line of the instructional text which says, “Got something dirty to share?” I followed the instructions and plugged in a relatively innocuous sentence with very dirty overtones. After getting my binary code, switching some numbers around as she asks, I received an utterly unintelligible new binary code. The next instruction says simply to submit your result to This was confusing for me for a number of reasons. Was I supposed to re-plug the numbers back in and receive something totally different? Both the code received and the code decoded really had no meaning, at least nothing I could ascertain. My original sentence was – “I like to eat polish sausage.” The code received was - “0100100100100000011011000110100101101011011001010010000001110100011011110010000001100101011000010111010000100000011100000110111101101100011010010111001101101000001000000111001101100001011101010111001101100001011001110110010100101110.” The altered code was – “1011011011011111100100111001011010010100100110101101111110001011100100001101111110011010100111101000101111011111100011111001000010010011100101101000110010010111110111111000110010011110100010101000110010011110100110001001101011010001”
Then the decoded code number 2 read as "∂ fl a fl 9 ê fl a ~ 9 fl è ê R fl R ~ ` R ~ ‹ a —." What does it all mean? Much art today is spoken of as being a variation on a theme, a recoding, and the like. Is she trying to say that in the process of recoding we are actually failing as artists if this is the type of work that we do?

2. Ryan Fenchel –

For my relational aesthetics project I chose to do a Tiravanija style cook-fest. We baked BROWNIES and ate them and talked and had a beautiful, convivial, Relational Aesthetic moment. Ryan Fenchel’s project seemed to be in a similar vein. For his project, he and some friends went to a Mexican restaurant. I could ascertain what he was going for in the work, however, the lack of specificity or elucidation makes it seem a bit problematic. Like my BROWNIE project, was Ryan involved in a relational performance of eating (or attempting to eat, for that matter) with friends? Was the piece performed specifically for the assignment, or did he retrospectively place this specific quotidian event of eating as art, at a latter time? This relational piece also was performed with only a small group of his close friends, whereas, many relational artists will choose to make it an open event, or at least one which allows for future open-endedness. My question to Ryan would be, can you invite me the next time you get a burrito?

3. Steve Nyktas –

For Steve’s project he placed objects/gifts in various public locations. These objects like quarters, pens, and the like were set out in order for others to pick them up. In his statement about the project he seems to feel that this project is ‘art proper.’ However, I question whether the lack of an artistic context – that which would be apparent to the lucky quarter finder – belies the purpose of the project. Does it work given the fact that Steve has posted information about it on his blog, even having photo documentation to boot? Should he leave clues next to the various objects, therefore informing the chance participant that they were being involved in the creation of art? Is it fair to them – the participant, that is – that they are now a part of an open-ended artistic project of which they had no knowledge that they were participating in? It would seem to me that the finding of the objects is such a critical part of the work. In this case, I don’t know if this work should necessarily get the Relational Aesthetics stamp of approval.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Beauty and the Splendor that is BROWNIES

BROWNIES. Yes, BROWNIES are what made my Friday night.

Throughout my investigation of the contemporary movement in art know as Relational Aesthetics, I have found myself, time after again, utterly frustrated and annoyed. I have found their project to be decadent, masturbatory, and worst of all, boring. Still, I’ve wondered whether I just haven’t given this type of work a chance.

I mean, I’ve never had the opportunity to be served Cup O’Noodles (1) by Rirkrit Tiravanija, nor have I ever had sex with Andrea Fraser (2), for that matter. What do I really know of Relational Aesthetics, an art which really requires one to be a participant? To try and broaden my generally fascistic views of art, I decided to take my own attempt in this popular artistic sphere; the solution – BROWNIES.

It was a Friday night, we had nothing to do, so I decided we should all sit around and explore the possibilities of Relational Aesthetics. After some preparatory phone calls, a trip to Humboldt Park and the local Jewel Osco, I had all the necessary ingredients. The seven of us congregated in Paul and Dan’s apartment and got down to business. I briefly explained to them that tonight, unlike every other night we hang out and party was different. The typical goal of getting totally fucked would now be subsumed under the name of art. Sure, getting fucked would be a likely end, but now we had the convenient justification of our puerile actions – namely, Relational Aesthetics.

I explained the movement and a few of the key figures as we prepared the meal of the night. I told them how now, mere human interaction such as eating, talking, fucking – when framed as art – actually was art. We cited our respective reservations about this art’s validity as we licked the batter, chuckling and laughing in our convivial setting.

“Fucking?” Dan incredulously quipped. “Seriously? I can just get naked with whomever and, granted I name-drop Derrida and use words like semiotic and phenomenological in my artist statement, I can be considered an artist?”

“Yes, yes you can,” I responded as I spooned up another blob of raw BROWNIE out of the mixing bowl.

We poured the mix into the pan, slipped it into the oven, and put on some Abby Road. Waves of sound coruscated through the room as we sat, reflecting the discourse of the hour. As strange as it seemed, I was beginning to like Relational Aesthetics. Everyone else seemed to like it as well. They loosened up, got giddy, intoxicated with red wine and BROWNIE delight (since we had ate about a third of the mix). People passed CIGARETTES, watching the smoke rise, beautiful as it was in the crepuscular light.

By the end of the album our desert was done. We dug in and ate to surfeit. Inhibitions vanished and we turned into beasts – running around, knocking over furnature, dry-humping legs like feral dogs. Paul and Dan vertically stacked themselves in the doorway to the kitchen, screeching and drooling with rapture. The BROWNIES were a hit!

“We gotta make art…BROWNIES…ART BROWNIES every week!” Mark proclaimed as he puffed his CIGARETTE.

“Wait a minute,” said Dan, “ If eating and talking and fucking and tattooing Cubans (3) is art, then what isn’t art? I mean, granted we use the lingo and talk of ‘open-endedness’ and the like, can’t we then say that everything we do is art? Is the lack of distinction, the lack of setting up binaries of opposing words/definitions/concepts a problem in that the application of the term ‘art’ itself to an all encompassing field without the necessary polar opposite….shit, what was I saying?”

But no one responded. Of those that were still conscious, no one cared. All we did know was that ART BROWNIES were, from this point on, going to be the highlight of our

I had so much fun engaging in this specific project that I want to open it up to the rest of our class. If any of you would like to bake BROWNIES with me sometime in the near future then let me know. Also, I would greatly enjoy hearing about your own personal experiences with baking GOODS in artistic context. Post your experiences as a reply to this blog so I know how it goes.



1. On of Rirkrit Tiravanija’s meals which he has served at one of his gallery openings.
2. In reference to Andrea Fraser’s Untitled (2003) sex video.
3. In reference to Santiago Sierra’s piece, 8-Foot Line Tattooed on Six Remunerated People (1999). http:// sierra01a.jpg&imgrefurl= M:&tbnh=93&tbnw=133&prev =/images%3 Fq%3Dsantiago%2Bsierra%26sv num%3D10%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26safe%3Doff%26client%3Dsafari%26rls%3Den

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Interview with Jason Evans

To hear a different perspective on art, design, and other related issues, I interviewed Jason Evans of GS Design. As the Director of Interactive Services, Jason oversees the efforts of GS Design’s interactive team, ultimately responsible for the successful delivery of all interactive solutions. Throughout his professional career, Jason has provided interactive strategy and design guidance to a wide variety of clients including: Harley-Davidson, Trek Bicycles, Mercury Marine, Brady, US Bancorp, Modine, Bridgestone/Firestone, SRAM, Showtime Networks, Avent, and Briggs & Stratton. He was one of the founding principals of EKG (acquired by GS design in 2004) and previously worked as an interactive designer and information architect at Laughlin/Constable, where he had primary creative responsibilities for web design for national and global brands. Jason has taught interactive design as an adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He also serves on the Professional advisory Board Committees of the Visual Communications and Graphic Design departments at Milwaukee area Technical College, and on the Professional Advisory Committee of The Eisner Advertising Museum.

1. Just to start things out, how would you define the word ‘art’ given the fact that things like web design, live performances, and even an act of human interaction is now often considered art? For you is ‘art’ something very broad and without set boundaries, something which can only be referred to as good or bad, interesting or boring, as opposed to bifurcating the possibilities into categories of art versus non-art?

Well, I’ll give this a shot. But please, I’m by no means an intellectual, nor am I very effective at explaining positions.

At any rate …

I would define ‘art’ as an expression of originality and creativity that manifests itself in some tangible form, that creates an emotional connection with the viewer. Art is a culmination of varying degrees of talent, skill, execution and craftsmanship.

That said, I do believe ‘art’ is broad and without boundaries, wholly subjective, and something which can only be referred to as good or bad.

2. So in light of this, would you classify things like a lamp from IKEA, a conversation at a Starbucks, or a website like as ‘art’?

Perhaps. I would classify things – not necessarily created with the express intention of being ‘art’ – as being worthy of labeled “works of art”. The classic lines and absolute aesthetic balance of the Ferrari 250 GTO is true sculpture – a work of ‘art’ indeed. The flawless function, impeccable craftsmanship and elegant design simplicity of the Bell & Ross Vintage 126 Automatic wristwatch is also a ‘work of art’. In each of these instances, the emotional connection created by these tangible items transcends their intended purposes – to provide transport and tell time – and in turn inspires awe and absolute appreciate for the human ability to create beauty. In my opinion, that qualifies as art. Others may find that ridiculous.

Can a lamp at IKEA be classified as art? Perhaps. An extemporaneous conversation between two random people at Starbucks? I’d have a harder time accepting that. A conversation between two characters in Shakespeare? Yes. A porn web site? In my opinion, absolutely not. A web site that creates a user experience that delights and surprises, perhaps combining a moving musical score, striking visuals, and a captivating interface – perhaps.

So the point is, I truly believe art is subjective. There is plenty of stuff hanging in ‘art’ galleries that think is crappy art, and would frankly have a hard time even labeling as art. But others might wholly disagree. And that’s there prerogative. Neither of us is right or wrong.

3. For a question more specific to your field, what are some personal traits that help make a good designer? Do you think that the level of ones education or the specific place one received that education is important?

Beyond the obvious aesthetic qualifications, good designers are good salespeople. They have the ability to communicate rationale for design solutions – to persuade others that their design solutions work. Good designers fully recognize the economic value of design, and approach design opportunities with a focus on achieving clearly defined business or communication results. Good designers love research and learning – they are curious about the world.

Education certainly has its place. But a degree by no means guarantees a job, nor is even a requirement. In the design world, you are first and foremost hired based on your portfolio – what can you actually do. The piece of paper saying you’ve graduated from such and such school is meaningless if your work is no good. And believe me, the majority of design graduates who finish with a design degree are, by no means, good designers. That said, education may help people create a solid portfolio, and teach both practical, technical skills, and useful analytical skills. However, at the end of the day, one’s level of education RARELY correlates with one’s earning potential in this industry. Talent, hard work, and social connections are far more important.

4. In Richard Florida’s essay Cities and the Creative Class he points out some major factors about cities which he believes contribute to generating a large group of creative people. He has constructed various indexes like The Bohemian Index and The Gay Index (see note 1) that he, backed with extensive data, shows to be significant factors. What are your thoughts on this? Would you agree that the nature of cities – that is, their more liberal, tolerant, open attitude compounded by a preference for weak ties between individuals (see note 2, or for the full text see note 3)– is the major factor in explaining why cities, especially the ones which exemplify these things, are such a hothouse for the ‘creative class’?

I suppose I agree with this. Although I probably look at it slightly more simple terms – cities typically offer more culturally diverse opportunities that attract educated, creative people. I love the vast selection of social options – restaurants, bars, etc.; “cultural venues” – art galleries, museums, etc.; the socio-economic and ethnically diverse population; shopping choices, interesting housing options, etc., that cities provide. I just think cities are more interesting places to live. I realize that probably not a great answer.


1. features/2001/0205.florida.html
2. Granovetter
3. SI110/readings/ In_Out_and_Beyond/ Granovetter.pdf

Friday, May 4, 2007

Louis Maldonado: It's All About Things

Upon walking into the recent Louis Maldonado show at ThreeWalls, I immediately noticed the door, one made of a blue tarp and some other dumpster-dived material; a harbinger of the show I was about to enter. The door set the tone and clued me in that I was not about to witness a highly commercial gallery space. In fact, ThreeWalls is a non-for-profit gallery, one that is known for showing emerging artists who – due to the often unsalable nature of their work – need a space to show outside of the traditional commercial gallery scene. Louis’ show, Barter Days, is a branch of his ongoing project known as It’s All About Things. This traveling shantytown of ‘things’ is an artistic performance/exhibition involving the artist, the ‘things,’ and human interaction itself – through the act of bartering – as its essential elements.

Maldonado uses the word ‘things,’ in reference to his work, to set it in contradistinction to the traditional phrase ‘a work of art.’ This is because he is trying to (a) question the value of art objects/commodities, and (b) reference/name-drop Heidegger, the utterly unintelligible philosopher turned Nazi, as a means of backing up his ideas. This was a cleaver, if not genius move of Maldonado’s part. That is, seeing as how hardly anyone has ever read Heidegger – yet his name is still ubiquitously referenced within the discourse of intelligentsia – it provides a convenient platform to contextualize his work, without bothering to question its validity. One can simply bypass thought, as one must when reading Heidegger, and enjoy the work in all its un-commodifiable glory. Before I get into details about the show, let me backtrack and set the work in context to a tradition in recent art, one known as Relational Aesthetics.

Since the 1950's artists have tried to undermine the traditionally accepted system in which art had become a valued commodity; something given high status, then bought and sold within the ‘evil’ capitalistic system, just like pair of Nike's or an IPOD. Its roots can be found in Dada and the readymade, works of ‘art’ that required little or no skill and certainly made no pretense about being valuable or important. As this tradition continued, many artists made work which – based on its shoddy, craft-store aesthetic – helped further undermine the supposed ‘great import’ of art. Artists in this vein denied the historical notions of the ‘transcendent masterpiece,’ doing so by making work that could never be confused with a thought out, labor-intensive work. There were the attempts of many conceptualists at completely eliminating the art object, resorting to live performance or some other ephemeral, non-commodifiable 'artwork.'

In the work of Louis Maldonado we, once again, see an artist that has championed this tradition. Louis has successfully eliminated the notion of art as masterpiece or valued object by replacing it, instead, with stuff you'd find at a garage sale. To quote the ThreeWalls website, "Maldonado contrasts the inflated value of objects at auction with objects available through barter, challenging the value system placed on objects by a culture consumed with accumulation and collection." Yes, that is exactly what he does in this show. By putting cheaply made, poorly painted, utterly banal pieces of art on the wall, one certainly has no inclination to acquire them (at least not for money).

That is the beauty of the art and the barter itself; the utter worthlessness of the art objects, within Maldonado’s show, isn’t apparent because it is under the aegis of subversive/leftist/anti-capitalist argot, while never demanding a monetary loss on the barteree’s part. Within this context, one hardly questions whether or not ‘the barter’ and the non-for-profit setting was a convenient solution to a problem of artistic indolence or inadequacy. Maldonado is able to insidiously justify the creation of mere ‘things’ by donning the postmodern cloak of authority. It is a process in which the un-valuable and unsalable are alchemically transmuted into intellectual gold.

Given the lack of monetary commitment and the possibility of a dumping one’s black velvet Elvis, bartering with Maldonado almost seems appealing. Interestingly, Maldonado offers other ways to acquire his stuff, without having to give up an excellent piece of assembly-line kitsch. For example, he even allows one to sing a song in exchange for one of his works. Why not? Karaoke is the quintessential form of bad, boring, unfortunately ubiquitous music. Why not sing "Stairway to Heaven" for this 'hotel painting?' It makes perfect sense.

Once the items are bartered, the acquired art will enter Maldonado's permanent collection, which, not surprisingly, is a nook revealed by a hole in a piece of plywood. Other things that he has bartered for include a physics paper, a set of someone's house keys, and a sweatshop scarf ostensibly made by a land-mine victim. By making trades such as these, Maldonado has shown that art is no longer just an object of craft or an idea - it is literally everything! To quote Maldonado, “When someone walks in that door, that is art” (in reference to the tarpaulin door). Objects, ideas, exchanges, interactions - art is now incredibly empowered via its intangible ubiquity. When art is tautological by definition, who cares about purchasing art objects at Christie’s? You can have art just by sitting at your local Starbucks and having a tête-à-tête with your friend. I think Maldonado should advertise his future shows by saying on the postcard:

“Don’t come. Art is everything. Get a coffee with a friend cause it is probably more interesting than my show!”

The project of those involved within the Relational Aesthetics discourse is fascinating and full of potential. Literally, they can never run out of material, seeing as how everything is art. Still, I have my doubts as to the necessity of the movement in reference to what it is trying to undermine. One problem that I see with this exhibition is the fact that, even though this work is supposed to be set in opposition to the modern world of consumption, temporary contracts, the planned obsolescence of goods; it seems to actually support it and bolster up its trend-geared, myopic ethos by being just another typical, commonplace, trendy exhibition. It seems that every ten years there is the new, hip, conceptual movement that tries to denigrate all previous forms of art that – just like the latest techno-gadget commodity – will be irrelevant once it is surpassed. Do these Relational artists realize their own future obsolescence? Is it all part of the plan? These are the important questions for the upcoming artistic trendsetters like Maldonado. Actually, maybe that is why he quotes Heidegger in the first place – that is, so we don’t ask such questions. Perhaps the best way of approaching work like this is just to turn off our brain, as in the case of reading Heidegger, so that we can appreciate it for what it really is, a bunch of ‘things.’

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Rirkrit Tiravanija and the Banality of Boring Art

Rirkrit Tiravanija’s work is about pushing artistic boundaries, blurring the distinctions between the viewer and the art-making participant, bringing art down to earth, into a convivial space of human interaction. He is setting his work in contradistinction to the formal, sterile, authoritarian structure, present in museums and much of the art world. He is perhaps best known for works in which, within the gallery space, he prepares food and then feeds it to his audience – things like Pad Thai, Vegetable Curry, or even Cup O’Noodles. This work is part of a greater trend within contemporary art in which the art draws attention to, or literally is, some aspect of daily life.

As interesting as this may be in concept, in its form, it seems banal at best. It blurs the boundaries of art so much that it makes everything art – it is tautological and, as any logician with tell you, tautologies are meaningless. If Rirkrit is trying so hard to undermine the historical traditions of what art is and how it is supposed to be experienced, why show it in a gallery at all? Why have an artist at all? If convivial interaction is all one needs to experience art, then why not just go to the local Starbucks and chill with a friend, or, for that matter, why not get drunk at the local dive bar?

Although I’ve never first-hand experienced his work, I am quite certain that my Friday night will always be more interesting than one of his shows. What he should do instead is simply place a sign outside of any random bar in town that reads, “Art Making in Progress.” If all he cares about is the exchange between people, then why have a gallery show, why call himself an artist, when really, he is just the mediator of an experience which anyone and everyone does on a daily basis?

Good art teaches us about human nature, the human experience, but does so in a way that is also interesting and profound. Tiravanija’s work is one-dimensional. Artists have been pointing to the experience of daily life long before he came on the scene. One of the single greatest examples of this is in James Joyce’s Ulysses. This book deals with daily life but not in a way to trivialize it. It reveals the heroic in the everyday, the beauty and transcendence of the quotidian – however, as with all good literature, this is not explicitly stated, it is revealed via Joyce’s literary genius, his technical virtuosity. Much of contemporary art and especially work within the vein of Relational Aesthetics tries to eschew these ‘outdated,’ ostensibly fascistic notions of the transcendent, the genius, the Romantic hero.

If you trace the recent history of art and the world itself, one notices that once man climbed to the top of Maslow’s Pyramid, once Positivism and the subsequent demystification of the world took place, it didn’t seem important or relevant to make work with such lofty airs. Since people don’t believe in anything anymore, why make art that seems meaningful? Why make art, which through its attention to technique, would belie its creator’s belief that it was indeed meaningless? Work done by artists, like those of the aesthetic ethos of Joyce, believe in art’s ability to point to or reveal profound truths about humanity – they show, not tell, letting the one experiencing the work take away what they can glean. As Stephen proclaims in Portrait of the Artist, the goal of an artist should be "transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life." Next to the work of someone like Joyce, Picasso, or El Greco for that matter, Tiravanija’s work looks utterly vacuous and banal. What’s more, by the tautological way it is defined, it would be, in the words of Wittgenstein, mere “nonsense.”