Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Public Art or Crime?

I just ran across an interesting article about the German town of Rummelsheim. Know for its cleanliness and organization, the community has recently been faced with an interesting problem. Despite strict laws governing the removal of trash, a toy shrine has existed in defiance to the laws. This toy shrine, described as "kitsch" has won a place in the hearts of many local residents.

So as I reflect on the cultural presentations we hold in our aesthetics class, I can't help but wonder what role order and civic responsibility play in the German aesthetic. When I visited Germany last year, I do remember seeing graffiti. Where does that fit in the aesthetic? Unlike the toy shrine, the graffiti in Germany isn't actually waste. In fact, it was generally more impressive to me in regard to artistry. Here's an example:

I remember my father telling me that you could always tell when you were in a German community while driving in rural Texas. German farmers had the best fences and they would blast and haul stones out of the fields. They always had well maintained irrigation terraces. While riding on the bus in Germany, I watched in amazement as I saw field after field of agricultural precision. It reminded me of David Hockney's landscapes.

I sometimes wish that people in the US had such a drive to interact with their environment with more care and precision. I grew up seeing this as one of frames of reference for public art.

While I love Ant Farm and the Cadillac Ranch, the comparison made me stop to consider my notes regarding the role of cultural aesthetic in such matters.
So what does the difference between US and German public landscape aesthetics indicate about the people? Why is there such a noticeable difference between the two cultures?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Marcel Duchamp and Invented Pseudo Algebra

I have been perplexed with the limitations I still encounter with preparing a document of research that can wholly represent my research and learning that I have encountered in my current degree. I have changed my thesis topic at least once each semester. The topics are all related, but they all have their own beauty and difficulties. I am continually fascinated with the interplay of words. I want to change how they are interpreted by placing them in opposition to each other. In equations, even.
I think about Marcel Duchamp frequently while I get frustrated with my lack of progress. He was often criticized for his lack of visible products. Despite this criticism, it has been said by many that Marcel Duchamp was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. He was born in France in 1887 and became an American citizen in 1955. He lived a rich 81 years. Marcel Duchamp described himself as,"an artist, chess player, cheese dealer, breather, fenêtrier."

Numerous books and articles attempt to interpret Duchamp's artwork and philosophy, but in interviews and his writing, Duchamp only added to the mystery. The interpretations interested him as creations of their own, and as reflections of the interpreter.
A playful man, Duchamp prodded thought about artistic processes and art marketing, not so much with words, but with actions such as dubbing a urinal "art" and naming it Fountain. He produced relatively few artworks as he quickly moved through the avant-garde rhythms of his time.

John Cage said of Marcel Duchamp,"The check. The string he dropped. The Mona Lisa. The musical notes taken out of a hat. The glass. The toy shotgun painting. The things he found. Therefore, everything seen–every object, that is, plus the process of looking at it–is a Duchamp.

He simply found that object, gave it his name. What then did he do? He found that object, gave it his name. Identification. What then shall we do? Shall we call it by his name or by its name? It's not a question of names.

One way to write music: study Duchamp.

Say it's not a Duchamp. Turn it over and it is.

—from ‘Statements Re Duchamp,' see Marcel Duchamp in Perspective, ed. Joseph Masheck, 1975, pp.67-68

Duchamp, whose art career had been built on painting, painted very little after 1912. During this decade Duchamp began working as a librarian in the Bibliotèque Sainte-Geneviève where he earned a living wage and withdrew from painting circles into scholarly realms. He studied math and physics – areas where exciting new discoveries were taking place. The theoretical writings of Henri Poincaré particularly intrigued and inspired Duchamp. Poincaré postulated that the laws believed to govern matter were created solely by the minds that "understood" them and no theory could be considered "true." "The things themselves are not what science can reach..., but only the relations between things. Outside of these relations there is no knowable reality," Poincaré wrote in 1902.

Duchamp's own art-science experiments began during his tenure at the library. To make one of his favorite pieces, 3 Standard Stoppages (3 stoppages étalon), one at a time from a height of 1 meter, he dropped three 1-meter lengths of thread onto a prepared canvases. They landed in three random undulating positions. He varnished them into place on the blue-black canvas strips and attached them to glass. Then he cut three wood slats into the shapes of the curved strings, and put all the pieces into a croquet box. Three small leather signs with the title printed in gold were glued to each of the "stoppage" backgrounds. The piece resembles concepts described in Poincaré's School of the Thread, a book on classical mechanics.

The power to name, to tag yourself. Call it what you want to call it.
I was also recently enamored with reading an aesthetics textbook that created analogies in a somewhat algebraic fashion to illustrate several aesthetic philosophies. I was so intrigued by the analogies that I wanted to create diagrams. Here are a few.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Anarchy vs. subversion

Yesterday I told someone (somewhat jokingly) that I advocate subversion, not anarchy. I felt this sinking feeling that I was not adequately informed to make this statement after I had said it. I decided to read about anarchy and subversion to possibly edit my comment upon next encountering the friend with whom I had originally conversed. I came across the following two discoveries:

Many of the anarchy websites I read information from seemed ill-informed/contradictory/naive.
Subversion is a software primarily, and an attempt to undermine systems of power secondarily, according to the search engine I was using.

I did find the following two websites useful for the sake of this conversation:
for anarchy-
for subversion-

I know, I know, subversion is a wiki article, but that's in keeping with the subversion. I thought it was a good starting place. I decided that the subversion I have in mind is not the political subversion that alerts the "powers that be" to come stick me in a box with Ted Koszinski. That's the fuel for anarchy. Remember I said I didn't want that.

When I was in 6th grade, we studied castles in our history class. I forget the context for why we were studying castles, or what we studied after castles, but I remember the castle study for a number of reasons.
We were asked to create a model of a castle. I researched many castles and I finally decided to create a model of the Place de la Bastille. I did not then realize the ironic twist that project would provide for my adult learning.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of the Bastille, here is a bit of the history:

The Bastille was a prison in Paris, known formally as Bastille Saint-Antoine — Number 232, rue Saint-Antoine. The storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 marked the beginning of the French Revolution. The event was commemorated one year later by the Fête de la Fédération. The French national holiday, celebrated annually on July 14, is officially called the Fête Nationale, and commemorates the Fête de la Fédération — but it is commonly known in English as Bastille Day. Bastille (from bastide) is a French word meaning "castle" or "stronghold". In most accounts of French revolutionary history, La Bastille generally refers to the prison in Paris.

The Bastille (little bastion), originally called the Chastel Saint-Antoine, was built between 1370 and 1383 (under kings Charles V and Charles VI) to serve as a fortress for the protection of the city against Anglo-Burgundian forces during the Hundred Years' War. The four-and-a-half-story building, surrounded by its own moat, was located at the eastern main entrance to medieval Paris — overlooking the Faubourg St. Antoine of the Marais quarter, a former swamp. It had eight closely-spaced towers, roughly 77.1 ft. (23.5m) high, which surrounded two courtyards and the armoury. The towers were named as follows:
1. Tour du Coin
2. Tour de la Chapelle
3. Tour du Trésor 4. Tour de la Comte
5. Tour du Puits
6. Tour de la Liberté 7. Tour de la Bertaudière
8. Tour de la Basinière
The outer stone walls, 15 feet (4.5m) thick at the base, were pierced with narrow slits by which the cells were lighted. In early times, the Bastille had entrances on three sides, but after 1580 only one, with a drawbridge over the moat on the side toward the river, which led to outer courts and a second drawbridge, and wound by a defended passage to an outer entrance opposite the Rue des Tournelles. Close beside the Bastille, to the north, rose the Porte Saint-Antoine — approached over the city fossé (ditch) by its own bridge. At the outer end of this bridge was a triumphal arch, built upon the return of Henri II from Poland in 1573. Both the gate and arch were restored for the triumphal entry of Louis XIV in 1667, but the gate (where Etienne Marcel was killed on July 31, 1358), was pulled down in 1674. Until the 17th century, the fort was used both as a castle and for the safekeeping of the royal treasure.

Keeping Them in Instead of Out-
During the first half of the 17th century, the Cardinal Richelieu (under King Louis XIII) converted the royal fortress into a state prison for the upper class — mainly people who committed high treason or some other kind of offense against either the King or the state (which were considered to be essentially the same). In addition to political prisoners, the Bastille also housed religious prisoners, writers of "seditious" and overtly sexual material, and young rakes held at the request of their families. The very often arbitrary warrant of arrest (known as the lettre de cachet, or letter with the royal seal) made the Bastille fortress one of the darkest symbols of royal despotism, although the conditions of imprisonment were generally quite comfortable. The prisoners could welcome visitors, bring their servants, their furniture, clothes, and books, and the daily ration paid by the state provided them a luxury cuisine. During the reign of Louis XV (1715-1774), the Bastille accommodated more and more ordinary criminals, whose existence there was rather less comfortable. Common prisoners were held within the five- to seven-story towers, each having a room around 4.6 m (15 feet) across and containing various articles of furniture. Thankfully, though, the infamous cachots — the oozing, vermin-infested subterranean cells — were no longer in use by the later half of the 18th century. As the protectors of the Catholic religion, the king's authorities also imprisoned Protestants and freethinkers, and Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) was arrested twice during his youth. In the last decades after 1750, many inmates were committed by their own families as insane or because of some shameful carnal deviation. Among the more prominent convicts of the late 1780s were Latude, a notorious and querulous swindler; the quack and alchemist Count Cagliostro; the diplomat and general Dumouriez, later to be the hero of the French victory in 1792 at Valmy, but finally in 1793 deserting to the Austrian army; the wallpaper manufacturer Reveillon, who was arrested for his own protection after the riots in the Faubourg St. Antoine in April 1789, when the rumour that he intended to cut his workers' salaries claimed more than 300 lives; and the Marquis de Sade, who however was transferred to the lunatic institution at Charenton on July 4, 1789, after he screeched out from the window of his cell to the neighbourhood that "the prisoners were massacred and one should come to help". By this time, the government was already planning to close down and demolish the expensive medieval fortress.

Although it is theorized by some that these utterances by the Marquis de Sade may have inspired the storming of the Bastille ten days later, in fact a far more complex series of events led to the violent insurrection.

Interestingly, Count Alessandro di Cagliostro had been imprisoned in the Bastille because of his purported connection with a royal scandal known as the Affair of the (Diamond) Necklace, a charge for which he was ultimately acquitted. However, since the scandal indirectly involved Marie Antoinette, the wife of King Louis XVI, it is considered by historians to have been one of the precipitating factors in the French Revolution.

I chose the castle that became a prison.
I recall this choice requiring defense when we presented our models, but my argument was that originally, the structure had been intended as a military fortress. The fact that it became a prison was not relevant to the structure.
I disagree with that conclusion now.
Turning into a prison is very relevant to the structure and my current exploration of subversion vs anarchy.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Tagging the metaphor

So if creative processes are my way of making sense of the world, tagging is my metaphor.

Much of my artistic process has been a thinly veiled attempt to get outdoors and get myself off the computer or get my nose out of a book. I crave adventure, even if it's the small scale variety. Also, I find myself drawn to graffiti. The fascination began when I taught public school and my students and I explored the history and techniques involved with graffiti.

Here's a bit of that history.
Tags, in graffiti writing, are a fairly recent development. A "tag" is the most basic writing of an artist's name in either spray paint, marker, or other often permanent writing/painting tool. A graffiti writer's tag is his or her personalized signature. "Tagging" is often the example given when opponents of graffiti refer to vandalism; the term used to label all acts of graffiti writing (it is by far the most common form of graffiti). Graffiti often has a reputation as being a visible act of a subculture that rebels against authority, although the considerations of the practitioners often diverge and can relate to a wide range of attitudes. It can express a political practice and can form just one tool in an array of resistance techniques. The developments of graffiti art which took place in art galleries and colleges as well as "on the street" or "underground", contributed to the resurfacing in the 1990s of a far more overtly politicized art form in the subvertising, culture jamming or tactical media movements. These movements or styles tend to classify the artists by their relationship to their social and economic contexts, since, in most countries, graffiti art remains illegal in many forms except when using non-permanent paint. Since the 1990's a growing number of artists are switching to temporary paints for a variety of reasons, primarily because is it difficult for the police to apprehend and for the courts to sentence or even convict a person for a protest that is as fleeting and less intrusive than marching in the streets. In some communities, such impermanent works survive longer than works created with permanent paints because the community views the work in the same vein as that of the civil protestor who marches in the street. Protests are finite actions in their duration, but they can have lasting impressions on the "powers that be". In some areas where a number of artist share the impermance ideal, there grows an informal competition. That is, the length of time that a work escapes destruction is related to the amount of respect the work garners in the community. (A crude work that deserves little respect would likely be removed immediately.) The most talented artist might have works last for days.
Artists whose primary object is to assert contol over property and not primarily to create of an expressive work of art (political or otherwise) resist switching to impermanent paints.

These are but a few of the considerations I weighed when I chose the "tag" as my metaphor for artistic and intellectual discovery. Beyond the confines of graffiti, the tag is known as a signification of ownership in many forms. Take for instance, the metadata tag.

We tag web objects to create order, to leave our mark or two cents worth of input to the great information collective. A tag is a keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information (a picture, a map, a blog entry, a video clip etc.), thus describing the item and enabling keyword-based classification and search of information.
Tags are usually chosen informally and personally by item author/creator or by its consumer/viewers/community. Tags are typically used for resources such as computer files, web pages, digital images, and internet bookmarks. For this reason, "tagging" has become associated with the Web 2.0 buzz. Many people associate "tagging" with the idea of the semantic web, however some believe that tagging may not be having a positive effect on the overall drive towards the semantic web. Tag classification, and the concept of connecting sets of tags between web/blog servers, has led to the rise of folksonomy classification over the Internet, the concept of social bookmarking, and other forms of social software. Larger-scale folksonomies tend to address some of the problems of tagging, as astute users of tagging systems will monitor/search the current use of "tag terms" within these systems, and tend to use existing tags in order to easily form connections to related items. In this way, evolving folksonomies define a set of tagging conventions through eventual group consensus, rather than by use of a formalized standard.
Although "tagging" is often promoted as an alternative to organization by a hierarchy of categories, more and more online resources seem to use a hybrid system, where items are organized into broad categories, with finer classification distinctions being made by the use of tags.

Tag is not just the graffiti writer's signature.
It's not just the data you attach to web objects.
It was my favorite game.
It's attached to the inside of my clothing to tell me who the maker was and the outside of my groceries to tell me how much my food will cost.
There are many parts of my life that are tagged.
I can mark my history with the changing meaning of the term.
I photograph tags as a way to illustrate my own personal changes. I can see myself reflected in their chronological evolution. I can hear myself speaking with their words. I can feel myself glow in their colors.
It excites me. The photography is like a game. Sometimes I loose and I get kicked out of the yard.
Sometimes I win and I come home with a cache of images.
I love it when I win.
you're it!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

1-dimensional art

I have mixed feelings this morning. Part of me is excited, part of me is deflated.
My Critical Theory class will meet again tonight. It's an enigma wrapped up in some irony wrapped up in bacon, battered and deep-fried. The course content is very engaging. The professor is sharp witted and well-read. My classmates are all over the map, though. Some of them read the material and have very thoughtful comments, some of them seem to skim the material and come to class to have someone fill in the blanks while they discuss less philosophically challenging subject matter, such as animal art. (and now my SNL reference for today...don't get me started, don't even get me started!) I am frustrated with the direction of the conversations in the course. It's a seminar course, so the students lead a portion of the course...or at least they should be leading a portion, in theory. The two groups that prepared materials to lead the class haven't even been able to lead yet. Thus far, we've met three times. In the course of those three meetings a series of events happened that prompted me to resort to desperate artmaking to try to make sense of my frustrations.
So...it's pretty biblical.

It is related to the modernism v postmodernism dissonance that creates the creepy background music for our melodrama.
(imagine the pipe organ here...and pardon the double entendre)
Why snake tree? The tree of knowledge, fall from grace story is topical (to me, at least) when discussing the historical development of aesthetics theories. The idea of biblical truth, truth in aesthetic experience, and the belief in an absolute truth all came together for me in the form of an embellished handbag. It's a representation of the fork in the road. Utopia or dystopia? So hard to choose...My pastor called me Lillith when I was a teenager.
As with my eagle post, I may add more here later, but for now this is as far as I'm going.
I saw the bag with the four empty trees and I had to find forbidden fruit and a snake. I just needed that to be my expression of the revelation I had in reading critical theory and becoming aware of my awareness and the levels of awareness that are only partially perceptible by me of my classmates. What isn't said in conversation is just as important as what is said.
This is my way. I use art as a way to work out ideas. To practice my developing philosophies. It was cathartic when I was an angst filled youth. Now creating art is something else for me. It's a conversation with myself that I have loudly enough to enable those within earshot to eavesdrop. I don't often seek to speak directly to others. If my work speaks to you, it's because we share a common language, a dialog begins. We can invite others, too. I recognize that my work incorporates the work of others directly in the form of appropriation, but even when I don't intend to draw from ideas, it happens anyway. I live in a media saturated world. My chances for creating in a vacuum died with the snake and the tree. I happily create meta-art instead. Nobody can make an unoriginal piece of art in the linear 3-D paradigm I know.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Metacognition, etc.

Well, I've been conversing with an old friend about the blog, and I thought that sharing our conversation would be useful. She and I met in high school and parted ways soon after. We found each other again recently on MySpace. It's been really fun getting to visit again, and she has been a great conversation starter. I love it when the whole "thinking about thinking" process happens this naturally. 

Here's the conversation, re-posted with Brandy's permission. (Thank you, Brandy!)
Brandy said:
“Ok, so I voted on your other blog, but I couldn't comment because I don't have a google account. So what exactly are you doing? I DID read the blog, but I couldn't quite decipher it. Could you explain it to me?”

To which I relpied:
“Well, I'm trying to make an autobiographical blog about discovering what arts-based research really is. The book I'm reading, "Seeing Red" is actually a PhD dissertation, but it's a fictional novel, too. There are many people that are using blogs for their graduate research now. This art-based research is a way to incorporate artistic process, (like taking pictures, drawing, painting, or writing fiction) into the research method. I promise the blog will make more sense as time goes by. I hate that you have to have a google account to comment, though. Sorry about that. That's why I have the survey, so everyone can participate.
Your profile is fascinating…
That is some arts-based research on identity. I could not figure out whom I was talking to for a minute. Very cool!
Talk to you soon,

…And then she said:
“Research on identity? Yeah, if you do any of that, let me know. I'm kind of in one of those "I'm in search of myself, have you seen me" phases right now. (If you can consider 10 years a "phase" hmmm.) Thank god I don't REALLY take myself too seriously...at least not for more than a few minutes or so, else I'd be completely crazy (instead of just mostly.)

So I'm not really sure what arts-based research is. I know that you defined it for me in the last message, but I've never been good with definitions. Can you give me an example? I have tried to figure it out, but I'm like that little Asian guy from Karate Kid. I can think with right brain. OK. I can think with left-brain OK. Try to put two together. Get squish, just like grape.

I promise that if you actually go to the trouble to chew it up and regurgitate it, I will create a google account and make semi-intelligent comments on the other blog. :-)

Until then,
The Brandopticon”

So I replied:
“Why are you so hard on yourself? It's not just a simple thing you're overlooking. I've had whole semester long courses on research, and I still don't fully get it. Here's what I know so far:
Research is divided into two categories loosely- quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research deals with numbers, measurable outcomes...quantities. Qualitative research deals with the human element, interviews, self-analysis...the "qualities" of the information give the research its content. Speaking very generally, quantitative research is considered more valuable to universities and publications since it has "hard facts" associated with its outcomes. Qualitative research is "softer" in other words it is less respected by the scientific method folks. In a university, this makes up a large majority of research reviewers on some campuses. While this is changing to some extent, (particularly in some European countries and Canada), the field of art education, as well as many other fields, still like to see statistical data (especially in the form of graphs) as analysis for research data.
So arts-based research is a fairly new qualitative research methodology on the scene, with only a few decades under its belt. A handful of graduate students have used arts-based research to inform their thesis/dissertation. Art educators have criticized arts based research for being neither good research nor good art. As there is a lack of a large body of work to analyze, this statement is often based on reading/viewing one or two "far-out" dissertations that don't have good professional committee members to guide the student's research in a rigorous manner (yes, I believe that there is a rigorous methodology to arts-based research, I just couldn't give you the specifics about that right now...still working on how to say it...). Yes, there are really crappy arts-based research pieces out there, but there's crappy research of all kinds, in every category (think about junk science!). I am thinking about it as a research methodology because I still create art. It's an important part of how I figure out the world. I even think of my myspace profile as art. I look at my friends' profiles as forms of art, too. I think that how we've all designed our profiles is a form of autobiography that can't be expressed in other ways. We create a representation of ourselves using the technology at hand. It is a place we feel free to be expressive in ways we wouldn't/couldn't necessarily do in a face-to-face setting due to the physical limitations of those interactions.
I am interested in using this degree of separation, this digital safety net, as a way to help visitors to my blog (and later visitors to my wiki) feel comfortable expressing a wider array of reflections and thoughts. I have a hunch those visitors that might not tell me something in person might tell me on a blog. I also think that being able to link to pictures or upload images/songs/hyperlink to other websites is an important new way we are communicating. I can paste links in a blog post to help visitors discover more contexts about a topic without having to worry about overwhelming them with content. Click on the link...or don't if you don't want/feel like it. You know what I mean?
So for me, the project uses my own twist on arts-based research. The text, images, and other media will serve as a way to lead me to greater understanding. Just like in quantitative research, a huge survey could tell you a lot about what a specific group, I'm hoping that the blog helps tell me a lot about myself and others that I wouldn't get from just interviewing people or sending them a survey.
So does that help you understand where I'm coming from a little better?

I was wondering would you mind if I re-post this exchange between us on the blog? I think that it might help other people understand what it's all about better. You have valuable questions, they make me think about what I'm doing and help me explain myself better. Let me know how you feel about a re-post.

Also, thank you for engaging me in real conversation. I get hung up on silly surveys and small diversions sometimes on myspace. It's not often I get to talk to someone in depth. I feel like we're getting to meet all over again.
Hope to talk to you soon,


So she replied:
“Ok, I totally understand now. The thing that has always kind of bothered me about quantitative research is that it takes so long to really get to the heart of an issue because you can really only measure one control at a time, so your conclusion usually ends with something like, "Further research will need to be done to eliminate the possibility of...." so then you're waiting for someone to pick up where you left off with your numbers.

I've read several thesis (theses?) that don't do this; they try to wrap it all up in their own research so as to give a "definite" result to their incomplete work. Anyone who has any kind of logical mind, however, can look at the study and say, "Yeah, but he or she didn't rule out this possibility or that possibility." They just take the numbers and use them to mean whatever they want them to at the time. This garbage usually ends up on the news as facts, I guess because the majority of people want an answer NOW - even a wrong answer - instead of waiting till sometime in the future.

I don't really know what the faults are of qualitative research, but I would think that in the area of art, what are they hoping to achieve with quantitative? I can't call myself even a semi-expert on art, but it would seem to me that the majority of art is subjective, so how can you measure that? Like I said, I'm speaking from a high school art student perspective, but that's just what it seems like to me.

So are you also using Myspace in your research, or is it all going to come off of your blog?

Yeah, I don't mind if you repost. It has been equally awesome to me to be able to discuss interesting things with someone. But the surveys are awesome too. Your responses always crack me up. I feel more comfortable talking in depth with someone that I know has the ability to laugh at themselves and everything around them. So yeah, a repost is cool, I hope it helps!