Dedicated to sifting through the detritus accumulated in my studio life, Studio Debris
It must be in part my starving artist background that has provided me with the drive and enjoyment for finding creative ways to upcycle found materials in my own artwork, as well as fostered a sharp eye for methods with which to keep my own household's footprint as small as possible. Even with the everyday efforts of like-minded citizens, in our emissions-belching, stuff-hungry society, there is always room for improvement; and innovation, risk and creativity are the ingredients for impactful answers.
This is why I was particularly inspired and enraged by UK filmmaker Oliver Hodges' documentary Garbage Warrior; an in-depth piece on the ongoing materials, methods and community-building research by visionary architect and humanitarian aid worker Mike Reynolds, and the struggles he has faced in his quest to innovate sustainable living solutions for our increasingly endangered society.
In engineering his "Earthships", which are fully self-sustaining living solutions suitable for human occupancy in even the most extreme conditions, Reynolds has innovated some seriously forward-thinking construction solutions such as the use of packed-earth tires (as heat conserving core for structural walls) and the use of upcycled glass and plastic bottles as light providers and architectural art. Oh yeah, his housing developments often include built-in agricultural solutions, so that you can save yourself the gasoline you would otherwise spend trucking to and from the grocery store (buying sad, packaged goods that much to the oil companies' delight - have been trucked and flown in from the ends of the earth!)
What infuriated me about the film was the exhaustive struggle that Reynolds faced in obtaining permission to practice the experimental investigations that have paid off in such promising advances. Legal opponents of his work, (which ironically, leaves utility-companies and red-tape-happy contractors pressing their noses up against the glass of his earthships) helped to revoke his state and national architects license for some years in the 1990's. I'll leave it to you to watch the film, but coming up on tax time (as we are all doing here in the U.S.), it pained me to watch most of the scenes involving legislature holdups and bill management as he worked with due diligence to leave room in New Mexico's state law for experimental sustainable housing sub-divisions.
Ultimately, Garbage Warrior is a film worth watching, however riled up it made me. Earthships may not be your idea of a dream home, but there is insight and inspiration to be gained from watching this film, even if just to remember never to let the *man* throw you down for having your own point of view, or to ever subdue your creative fire.
I'm not going to be so presumptous as to present a formal and exhaustive review on the ever-anticipated, ever-harrassed Whitney Biennial. While traipsing my way around Brooklyn last weekend, I overheard a sidewalk conversation that went something like: "Oh yeah, the Biennial...again. They might as well just hold it every year, and forgo the Biennial affectation, as we barely have time to process the last one before the next one smacks us in the face. What it lacks in content it makes up for in hype..." and so on and so forth.
Given the attitude at large, and the admittedly impossible task of pleasing everyone (everyone in the art world, to boot), I've decided post-processing to simply point out the few pieces in this edition that stood out to me amongst the usual chaos, crap and crowd distraction.
Of course, there is an expected and increasing lack of formal, pretty work in favor of multi-media, video and de- or re-constructed debris-happy work. The one "pretty piece" I saw in this edition greeted me on my first stop (as always, floor #4), a perception-shifting wall piece by Isreali-born, New York artist Seth Price.
Realized in the negative space between several glossy pieces of laminated, burled wood, the act of spoon feeding between two figures was not immediately obvious to me in Untitled (2007), which I found very satisfying as the cliché map in my minds eye shifted.
Past that instant gratification, eye-candy intro, what I found compelling enough to spend some serious time with turned out to be video work, which I often lack patience for at crowded shows. My favorite works in the Biennial, videos by the L.A. duo Julia Meltzer and David Thorne, featured (fantastic) Syrian performance artist Rami Farah. Rivetingly upfront and humanly engaging, despite an English subtitled Arabic script of questioning political and quasi-religious content, the pieces I saw rode a fresh line between documentary, monologue and traditional storytelling. I simply could not get up and leave, and I would very much like to visit with this work again.
Another video that kept me riveted from stem to tip was Javier Téllez' Letter on the Blind For the Use of Those Who See (2007), which debuted at the Biennial. Drawing on an ancient Indian parable (The Blind Men and the Elephant), Téllez presents a compelling case with his depiction of six sight-disabled persons experiencing and describing their first individual encounters with an elephant (who stands mostly patiently in the center of a disused Brooklyn public swimming pool as the sightless explore his leathery skin and foreign sillhouette one by one). The film reminded me of the sheer wonder and preciousness of every new experience, and to appreciate how every being experiences the same thing in a unique way.
Given that, I'm sure that everyone who attended this edition of the Biennial will have their own favorites, opinions and horror stories (mine would have to be a claustrophobic experience in Mika Rotenberg's hairy goat pen when the exits were blocked by line jumpers!) I would look forward to the 2010 edition, but I fear it will be here before I have time to blink!
If you haven't yet made your way over to explore the culinary and boutique delights of Providence's Federal Hill neighborhood, tonight's March installment of Gallery Night is the perfect opportunity.
Students from the prestigious RISD furniture design program will host an opening reception for their revealing show "Sit Down - The Process of Furniture Design" at Gallery Z, from 5-9pm. This exhibit, curated by RISD senior Kallie Weinkle, is a rare opportunity for the public to climb inside of the minds and creative processes behind the future stars of furniture design. With selections created from an array of materials ranging from reclaimed industrial scrap wood to newspaper, the exhibit holds discoveries for every taste.
Gallery Z is located at 259 Atwells Ave. Providence, RI 02903. (401) 454-8844
Just a quickie on the MC recommends circuit today. Ever the last-minute romantic, I hit the Avon Theatre back on V-Day when I saw that Persepolis was on a short run there. I always miss the movies I want to see at the Avon, so I was in a hurry to catch this!
Based upon the brilliant, auto-biographical graphic novel by the ever-sassy Iranian ex-pat Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis is a fantastic example of an artist/animator collaboration that crosses cultural divides like a knife through butter. I was struck pie-eyed by Satrapi's recount of her middle-class Iranian upbringing as an only child during the turbulence of the 1970-80's, even morso by the unexpected familiarity of her depicted struggles with authority and culture.
Of course, in regards to revolution-era Iran, nothing could be further from my safe (yet sullen) upbringing in Regan-era Massachusetts! Regardless, the narrative angle, conveyed through brilliantly stylized animation (by Satrapi's collaborator Vincent Parannoud) bridges the implied cultural divide to draw the viewer into a place and time that must be told. Through suprisingly versatile, black and white design and at times hysterically funny vocal and visual dialogue, Persepolis breathes a familiar and sympathetic spirit into a population and culture that is so often completely misunderstood by outside audiences.
While an English version (featuring the voiceover talents of Geena Davis and Iggy Pop) is forthcoming, I highly recommend catching the original, French language version. With voicing by Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve and Danielle Darriux, you will not regret it.
Sunday inevitably draws hoards of hungry, bed-headed hipsters out of their pleasant, low-rent pads and into the blustery February streets. If you fall into the above category...congratulations! You've made it this far, and if you happen to be brunching in the Wickenden Street area, take a side-trip around the corner from Utrecht Art Supply to visit 5 Traverse Gallery.
The low-hi tech, community-minded collaborative, Tape Art, will be in residence at the laid-back alternative art space until February 15th, creating a constantly evolving aquarium-themed mural that they are simultaneously filming in stop-animation for a bona fide music video. If you are outside of the Providence area, or are too beaten down by winter to get out of the house, you can covertly monitor the whole process from afar via live webcam.
At the gallery, you can gape at the resident artists through the large front windows. However, I suggest you get over yourself and step inside for a bit. Feel the crunch of your feet against the gravel curiously strewn on the tarp-covered floor. Ask James, Michael, or any of the resident Tape Artists about their video project, and catch a few frames of the rough edits. You may feel inspired to add to the collaborative aquarium mural in the back room.
Chances are, you, too will be caught on their webcam feed, so IM your hibernating friends and point them to the site. Smile, wave, and don't forget to grab some Swedish Fish on your way out.
Catch a fish at 5 Traverse Gallery, 5 Traverse Street, Providence, RI 02906. Tape Art will be in residence with Artaquarium until February 15th.