|Catalogue, Casual Ceremony, Bill Arning, White Columns, NYC, 1991, pp. 2, 11, 13, 16, 18.|
Do our lives in their totality have meaning, or is it only moments of crises or triumph that deserve to be remembered? Is it possible in art to conceive of a way out of the imposed hierarchy between moments, that allows only a tiny fraction of our already limited life span to be given value? Is ther a way out of privileging certain activities (in an artist's case the moment of inspiration) over others (cleaning up afterward) when both types of activities are in reality inseperable?
The intersection of art and everyday life has been the subject of regular investigation for much of recent art history. But the investigation is far from complete.
Casual Ceremony makes the case for the importance of unseen efforts. If one thousand people manage to wake up in the morning and make coffee, eat breakfast, shower and leave the house, that is a tremendous feat. Although that action occurs on my block every morning, that effort is unseen. It is missing from cultural consciousness because each unit of the massive effort sees their meager struggle as unworthy of comment or memorialization. Visualize that as a sculpture. What is the relative value of that unseen effort versus the single shopkeeper that foils a would-be robber or the off duty cop who delivers a baby on the L train? The fufilling of unremarkable necessities may have no news value, but what is its proper cultural importance? The "major " events of our lives have associated ceremonies, graduations, weddings, funerals. What is the appropriate way to celebrate successfully negotiating one's walk to work or cleaning the bathroom, not just once but every day?
The artists in Casual Ceremony use a few different stratgies to initiate a dialogue between art and everyday life. Through visual art they have discovered ways of raising the quotidian to the realm of the mythic and poetic.
There exists one problematic difference between the artist-viewer relationship and normal human relationships. In dealing with otheres as one does with both friends and strangers in daily life, one assumes that we are equals, who must negotiate to arrive at a mutually agreeable decision. In the artis-viewer, everything is hierarchical. Either the artis is seen as divine shaman, revealing mystic truths, of whose presence we mere mortals are unworthy, or the artist is seen as the paid entertainer, the clown who will do whatever is needed to keep the public (and the moneyed classes) coming back for more. Neither role in its inherent inequality is particularly conducive to meaningful communication. Ben Kinmont Attemtps to create a artist-viewer relationship that has the same reality and value as those we know fro home and work, based on trust and mutual respect and accommodation. During this exhibition, Kinmont will leave invitations, stamped on paper plates at White Columns. Anyone can call him up and arrange a time to go to the artist's house for a breakfast of waffles. The sculpture, "Waffles for an Opening", is defined as the interaction between artist and viewer. "Opening" in the case not only refers to the traditional first night of an art show, but also the opening of a conversation, the beginning of an interpersonal relationship.
One must negotiate a mutually agreeable time. He is trusting you to come into his home. You are trusting him to do you no harm by his cooking. At the end of the meal, the plate is signed by both artist and guest, not as an independent artwork, but as documentation of having had the interaction. The viewer must make a relatively minor effort to instigate the activity (making the phone call, arranging a time) and the more demanding leap of faith required to complete the activity (trusting a stranger, eating with him, considering your mutual activity as art). This expansion of traditional limits of sculpture, which may be considered an extension of Joseph Beuys' idea of consideraing social activity or change as sculpture, may be the most racdical and effective practice in this exhibition toward finding an effective way toward deemphasizing the boundary between art and life.
As part of the continual investigation of the intersection of art and life, many artists have invented new forms that have no relationship to the traditional materials, forms or locations of past art. This history is part of the cultural landscape in which these eight artists in casual ceremony are working, but there are both good and bad aspects of our current historical relation to that history.
Attempt to asserta hierarchy which privileges artifacts of the everday on the grounds of "realness" over the transformed or created object are bound to fail, since realness is in itself not a virtue. Bringing in street objects and detritus is no longer transgressive, its dada gestural punch having dissipated in the 74 years since Duchamps's Fountain. To continue to do so appears primarily to repeatedly highlight the overwhelming aetheticizing power of the art-viewing space, the history of scatter art has been so thoroughly digested at this point that its initial radical, formal innovations of investigating a new location has become a device one may use to whatever ends one chooses, as one may choose to paint, sculpt or photograph.
The artists in Casual Ceremony are making their work in full awareness of the above conditions. I do not believe the importance of these artists' work lies in their questioning of traditional artforms. Those innovations are too easily digested to be of lasting import. Their rethinking of attitudes toward art and life, and the focusing of attention of the undervalued missing matter and lost times of our lives is much more profound.
Bill Arning 1991
When Bill Arning asked that I write a short piece about art and everyday life, I readily agreed and sat down to compose my 400-500 words. Just as I finished it he called back to say that there was now more room and that the essay could be expanded to 1000-1200 words. Rather than rewrite what I had already finished, I approached Bill with the idea that some one who is not an artist should be given the catalogue space to write about art and everyday life. What follows is the outcome. I would like to note, however, that in creating this diptych essay with Kevin, who lives on the west coast and works for a software company, I learned not to underestimate both the non-art community and the possibility for reciprocity.
Please begin by approaching the idea that every man and everywoman is an artis. When you wash the dishes and make dinner, you receive stimuli and shape it into an idea, a moment where you chose to be aware of some things and not of others. The malleable nature of this moment is its sculptural nature, determined by your expectations, fears and loves.
To speak of the moment as malleable is also to say that everyman and everywoman is a sculpture, a social creation shaped by forces both elusive and specific. Here the self and the other cacillate between being distinct and one, between difference and sameness. At this moment, I am both for you and of you.
To chose to make an art piece for a gallery, or a written work for a catalogue, is to focus one's attention on the moment at hand with the intention of producing a seperate object. The intention is also to share such a creation in a discourse of separateness, a time and place (which is a sculpture of its own) away fro the fluctuations and phenomena of everyday life. This seperateness is nominal and is evidence of our need to understand and have a feeling of privilege.
Yet when one brings something associated with everyday life into an area of separateness, the feeling is usually one of dislocation, an unwelcome rejoining of the self and an other. For example, imagin the feelings of a brick layer who comes into a gallery and sees a Carl Andre brick piece on th floor. His response may be one of amusement and speculation as to its worth, but he is likely to feel (at least) a moment's irritation and probably a distancing of himself from those who do appreciate the sculpture: that is, from those who understand its discourse of separateness and are willing to support it.
But if he can approach the sculpture as a human effort to open up the possibilites of his own medium, or life, then this dissolution can also be seen as a means to empower his life into action and understanding. At this moment the joining of art and everyday life can provide a method of effecting change and seeing our relation to others.
Ben Kinmont, November 1991
Take the artist who derives his materials and concerns from the wider community. To whom is this artist speaking? This, seems to me, is the first question.
It is difficult to imagine an artist exclusively concerned with the outside world. To do so would be to work within an artistic vacuum. So: our artist's attempted dialogue is, at the very least, partly with the art world rather than with the world from which the materials were taken. To the extent that our artis ignores the community from which his or her materials were drawn, is he or she a thief?
To the extent that our artis attempts earnestly to engage the world outside the art community, is he or she naive?
The gap between the two communities is wide; the artist will almost certainly be ignored by the rabble. Even the sophisticate, if alone in the back of a taxi, echoes the taxi drivers muttered befuddlement and annoyance as they pass yet another corporate sculpture devoid of any concession to our mere humanity. If our two taxi-bound friends notice at all, they watch the art piece stare back at them with a look of inscrutable superiority. Why does this artis want to speak with, or rather, to us? Who asked this self-appointed something-or-other to improve our lives? Who cares what an artist thinks, anyway?
And what are we to make of such naivety?
Another related question: what can the artist say to the members of the art communtiy about the world outside it? Too often, I fear, art reutedly about the everyday world, serves no other purpose that ot reassure the art world of its superiority to those outside its own enclave. This is a particularly slick form of hypocrisy, meretriciousness, viciousness of spirit. This is the primary risk.
We might say this:
To the extent that an art piece is self-referential or appropriates solely for its own purposes, it is solipistic, onanistic, vain, and the artist a lackey to those he or she flatters.
To the extent that an art piece attempts to engage the wider public, it is patronizing, didactic, and the artis lacking in self-awareness.
The artist is caught in a trap. The artist's only hope: awareness of the risks, and boldness in following his or her vision despite them. The extent and complexity of the risks involved are the pitfalls, and therefore the measures, of the scope of the scope of an artist's vision and the importance of the endeavor undertaken. To scramble or leap or float out of the trap and over the pitfalls, to bridge the gap between the two worlds would, it seems to me, be a remarkable, redeeming achievement.
Kevin O'Halloran, November 1991