The Never-Ending Process Of Jumping Over
I find it interesting that two printmaking conferences and the competitive exhibition of the American Print Alliance have selected similar titles and themes for their conferences. Boarder Crossings, The Southern Graphics Council conference at the University of Texas Austin and Crossing Boundaries hosted by Portland State University, Portland Oregon and In On or Over the Edge by the American Print Alliance. What is the significance, at this time, for investigating this theme and what are the important conceptual issues underlying borders for artist? In a century of social, political and aesthetic upheaval in which most boundaries seem to have been breached what is the meaning and significance of crossing a boundary? Is it a modern art cliché or is it an outgrowth of time counting, moving from the 20th to the 21st century. Is crossing a boundary positive or is it imperialistic? Are the boundaries personal journeys of disorientation so the artist can see the society through new eyes? Are the boundaries related to the avant-garde and the artist genius establishing new aesthetic territory by breaking through established perceptions. What is the effect of digital culture on facilitating the erasure of borders and boundaries. Are the boundary being crossed political? Are the real boundaries in visual art outside the established commercial and institutional framework of mainstream visual culture.
This paper attempts to provide a reading on the nature of boundaries and my flawed psychic opinion on where the boundaries might lie.
1. The Nature of Boundaries
Boundaries and borders seem to have multiple lives. Boundaries, which have been erased surface to be redrawn and erased again. Boundaries seem to have the ability once crossed over to reappear in a new form in a new place. Crossing over is more of a continual process than a direction in time and space. The problem with boundaries is they are not a two dimensional construction that divides areas but the fuel for a social system.
Crossing boundaries is not the clean logical two-dimensional move of a chess player or a line drawn on a map. Crossing a boundary sets off a whirlwind of commotion creating a million turbulent eddies whose feedback rearranges the world in new, non-linear and unimaginable ways. The act of crossing boundaries sets in motion a chaotic system that is not logical, incremental or predictable. To cross a boundary is to possibly unleash a social avalanche beyond the control of politics, art, science or religion. Boundary crossing is the fuel that drives our dynamic social system. Simply think of race in America and the civil right struggle and of every boundary crossed toward equity we have seen that new barriers have circled around us.
2. The March of Isms
Milan Kundera poses the traditional view of boundaries and art in his novel -----. An image of the great artists of the first half of the 20th century walking down a road. Each striding along at his own speed but each a part of the advance guard discovering new territory for visual and creative exploration. But as decades go by the inheritors of the avant guard, contemporary artists, reach the day when there is seemingly nothing left to be discovered. Kundera poses the image of these artists reaching a village where they stand in a square with no place to go. They have lost their forward direction and they mill around the village square waiting. Waiting for gallery owners, critics and curators to tell them which past discoveries to rediscover. This engaging image positions artists in a world where there is no forward direction. The boundaries are false commercial facades, paper boundaries, to be burst through to draw attention to ego and the marketing of art.
3. If you can't march you can meander
Lucy Lippard points the artist in a new direction and away from the linear march of "isms" She envisions an art that crosses the boundary between aesthetics and community. An art that comes from the outside, from those left out and from the bottom up. She sees artists in a more modest position one in which art strives for local context and cultural authenticity. This idea asks for art to come from the fabric of community and for art to be made within the context of community, time and place. It asks artists to facilitate, listen and collaborate. The artist in the village square no longer follows the pretensions march toward the front but instead ambles down locale streets and find and utilize art and artistic process to revitalize.
This new direction and its boundaries are defined in the work of artist such as Joseph Beuys, Amalia Mesa-Bains, Flix Gonzalez-Torres and David Hammons. Hammons point out the pragmatism, materialism, and combativeness, which is the hallmark of the dominant Anglo mainstream commercial culture. They all believe that art provides a revitalizing process for individuals, communities and society. They reject the commercial ego-based aesthetics of mainstream art production and seek to reinvent art making based on community, values and action. Amalia Mesa-Bains compares Chicano art to the mainstream saying, "Chicano art is based on respecting the family and your community, I don't see a lot of love and passion in the work I see in the Museums."
Beuys reflects, "Only art is capable of dismantling the repressive effects of our senile social system that continues to totter along the death line.----- I am not a teacher who tells his students only to think. I say act: do something, I ask for a result."
Gonzalez-Torres said, "I don't want people to feel...I want the public to be informed, moved to action. Feeling is too easy."
These artists have a belief in the intuitive creative potential of what Hammonds refers to as everyday people and the ability of art to fundamentally revitalize the way these individuals perceive and act in their communities.
Rimbaud, Jim Morrison, Jeff Koonz and Christian Boltanski: Boundaries of the Self.
In 1960 my family moved to Fountain Street in Alexandria, Virginia, Our front yard lined up to Jim Morrison's back yard. Morrison became friends with my older brother and he introduced my brother to the French poet Rimbaud. What Morrison tried to live, Rimbaud proposed in his letter to Paul Demeny in 1871 while writing about his cycle of poems The Illumination. He proposed that "the poet makes himself a visionary through a long prodigious and rational disordering of all the senses. Every form of love, suffering, of madness: he searches for himself, he consumes all the poisons in him and keeps only the quintessence. Ineffable torture in which he will need all his faith and superhuman strength, the great criminal, the great sickness, the accursed,--the supreme savant! For he arrives at the unknown." What began as a deep artistic searching ends up as pop psychedelics. What began as a creative methodology to cross the restrictive boundaries of bourgeois, classical and romantic perception that confined Rimbaud ends a hundred years latter in a shallow bath as egotism. The myth of revolution, individualism and experientialism is co-opted and sold back to us as style and even academic disciple.
The personal is so quickly co-opted by the commercial that the self has little time to apply methodologies of self-discovery, it's easier to buy the book. Our personalities are products sold back to us as style devoid of depth or experience. It is the nature of our society to expose/exploit and objectify; from political attacks on Clintons sex life to the Jerry Springer show the border between the private, the personal and the public has been moved on stage. Today the pronouncement that stands for truth cannot be told unless it is broadcast to a mass and indifferent audience. Jeff Koons brilliantly turns the tables and sells his vacuous self image back to the commercial art world as high art. Who is Cindy Sherman? and Who is Adrian Piper? They make personal idenity fluid, ever changing, calling the triad of qualities that make up individual personally into question memory, heritage and experience. Boltanski completely separates the individual from their identity leaving us only a portrait with out background. While working with Boltanski on a project for the Kemper Museum he said "we all die twice- once when we actually die and once when no one on earth recognizes our photograph." All that is left is glamour without substance, a face with no connections to community, or society. Where does one go from here? Fortunately the next generation of artists will discover boundaries concerning identity where others only see an unsolvable dead-end, perhaps even the end of the human condition as we have known it.
The relationship between new media and the present creative landscape in which we create is that new media's aesthetics are not based on avante-garde or absolute models, but are based on possibility, opportunity, function, malleability, cloning, variation, animation and collaboration. New Media allows the artist to move all studio gestures into print and community both locale and global. New media is it the universal solvent that erases all borders? Wipes away all traditional disciples? New Media certainly provides artists the possibility of combining opposites simultaneously allowing an artwork to exist as object and to be communicated as image. A work can be both original and an infinite copy. The image is never finished and can always be updated, recontextualized, reconsidered and reproduced. New media is marked by the ability to move between ideas and aesthetics. It is this ability to change, morph, communicate and collaborate that for me is the limit of limitlessness. The virtual is the conceptual/philosophical difference between past aesthetic development and the shifting target of the present. Are we now in a land without borders?
If I start with a simple figure drawing on a sheet of notebook paper, the image when scanned can be resized and reworked to become collage material for a mixed media painting. The images become a thumbnail on a web site, a photographic positive transferred to an etching plate, a litho stone or silkscreen. During a community art project the image is again re-configured and printed out and installed as a billboard. It becomes an exhibition announcement, a birthday card, or an Absolute Vodka ad. The digital life of the image insures its existence as resource, information, and data, common chatter, animation, extruded sculptural form, commercial, community or art communication. New media is not bound by traditional aesthetic boundaries, but is brain culture, a synapse of possibilities and functions.
6. How I play this tune
My own studio work is the culmination of these inquiries, my work concerns working with communities outside the mainstream of art institutions, exploring ideas concerning self and personal identity, it concerns my hand, my gesture and the poetry of the personal studio narrative and multiple uses of new digital technology.