Constructing personal spaces

Creating Spaces

When you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back; the more one comes to know them, the more one seeds them with the invisible crop of memories and associations that will be waiting for you when you come back, while new places offer up new thoughts, new possibilities. (Solnit, 13)

My current work is a continuous attempt at representing the world as I remember and imagine it to be. It is about the places I have been and the places I wish to inhabit, with plenty of diversions along the way. There is the hope that the experience of the work translates into a similar or new personal meaning for people who engage with it.

To that end, I am interested in creating new personal spaces in our world. Spaces where people can explore. Spaces where people can meditate. Spaces where people can play. Spaces to feel safe in. To bring the mountain vista to the gallery space, the forest trail to the sidewalk, and in so doing create a new kind of interconnected space. I see my work simultaneously running counter to and parallel to Bourriaud’s relational aesthetics. In opposition, I am often using representational elements from my experience; In parallel, I create concrete conditions of possible ways of being. My central concern is not representation, but creation of worlds or, more accurately, their fragments. In order to explore ways of making meaning, I will look at artists creating dream spaces in sculpture, digital media, and hybrid forms.

This idea of making concrete interventions is central to Bourriaud’s argument in support of relational aesthetics. The primary concern of the work “is not a matter of representing angelic worlds, but of producing the conditions thereof.” (Bourriaud, 83) So, rather than giving someone an image of this or another world, we are attempting to create that world in our present space. This creation may be small or temporary, but its existence as a real way of being is nevertheless significant.

What, then, are these angelic worlds?

The angelic worlds that Bourriaud relates are not necessarily the ones I am interested in (or ones I would consider angelic). Perhaps it is better to consider them as alternative worlds, or dream worlds. They are places “where reality and dream form a whole.” (Bachelard, 23) I want the interstitial elements that I create to allow people “to recapture the naïve wonder we used to feel when we found a nest,” to become comfortable dreaming in their daily lives (Bachelard, 93). Different manifestations of these dream-worlds include the man-machine hybrid, technologically-mediated nature, and my interest,

The spaces for reflection and discovery I aim to create are modeled around the spaces where I reflect on and discover the world. They are landscapes and cities of my imagination. They are pieces of music that play over and over in my head, and the places where I learned them.

These, for me, are dreams of interconnectedness and liminal spaces. Dreams of being simultaneously apart from and in touch with the world. I want to create scenarios where we can see the other world and reach out to touch it, experiencing the journey without going far.

I walk often, as it is how I generally form the strongest association with a place. It is not merely that I am walking, or the place that I am in, but the engagement of all senses with that place. The physical exertion needed to climb a mountain bolsters the view in validating its summit. Wandering and discovery are important themes in my work, even as the landscapes themselves are transposed/mediated, made into objects and made portable.

As I wander, I sometimes dream of occupying Bachelard’s image of rootedness and interconnectedness, “the undergrounds of legendary fortified castles, where mysterious passages that run under the enclosing walls, the ramparts and the moat put the heart of the castle into communication with the distant forest” (Bachelard, 20). Not of leaving the world behind, but being in a vast interconnected state. Of being at home, and simultaneously everywhere.

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Chen Qiulin: A memory of place

Chen Qiulin at the Hammer

My brother was in town a few weeks ago and we stopped by the Hammer to check out the work by Chen Qiulin. Chen’s work is obliquely documentary; recording some of the now-submerged cities and valleys of Sichuan, China through video of narratives enacted on the condemned landscapes.

Of primary interest to me in Chen’s work is how she presents the landscape as defining the events within it. Collapsing industrial buildings tower over people, shaping the actions they may take. It seems as if all they can do is wander through the landscape, searching for each other, searching for meaning in their actions. Indeed, they can do nothing to shape the land around them, or to prevent its disappearance. And we can only watch as they progress down a linear path.

I wonder how software and installation can be used to represent landscapes as charged as these, how they can engage viewers in ritual similar to those enacted by the actors/demonstrators in Qiulin’s work. Can we guide people through the environment as effectively as the bride and groom in Qiulin’s videos? Perhaps we need some sense of inevitability in our work; to see an the next step coming, even as we aren’t sure of what it is.

In Qiulin’s video, we follow the actors as they walk the path of their fate. In games, we may need a guide to help us, perhaps we are one of the many men carrying peonies to the lake, and so instinctively stay with the group. In an environment, we can limit pathways, like presenting viewers with a staircase leading up to an unknown plane. At what point do these constraints become meaningful, and how do they shape the narrative for the viewer?

This issue of imbuing work with substantive meaning or context is one I will be tackling in future writings. Simply using a dataset to create an image does not make the image about that data. A higher level of transformation is occurring in successful work, a level which I am trying to reach in my own practice.

Online Art as Public Art

While walking with Rebecca earlier today, I began thinking about how online art should be funded. Only some models of funding the material arts (painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.) can effectively translate to work that exists online. Websites can’t really be sold to patrons in the way a painting can; there is no value added in owning the domain name, and limiting access to the domain defeats the point of it being online. Grants for the creation of new work can obviously be applied to work that exists online. Corporate sponsorship is another option, although I find it generally unfit for funding personal work (since you have to promote the company’s agenda). What struck me as the most obvious and probably far-fetched method of funding online art is by designating it as public art.

Online art is inherently public art. It exists on the internet, that virtual space is where many people spend the majority of their time (Dangerous words in there; this ain’t journalism). Just as we beautify the public spaces we walk past on our way to work, we should beautify the virtual space that we visit in between trips to productive/useful web sites and applications. It’s not that we always notice the park or sculpture on our way to the office, but that we have the option to stop and appreciate it.

The obvious challenge in all of this is knowing who should fund public works in a space so public it operates largely without regulation. Internet service providers could fund unique works. 2% of their expenses could go enhancing the quality of the content they provide access to. Wouldn’t you feel better knowing that AT&T or Comcast actually cares about the things they’re bringing in to your home (not in an anti-net-neutrality way)? Maybe cities should promote the online work of their residents. Physical-world tie-ins bind the content of the online works to a specific place, making the work more meaningful when you visit the city. I would be happier to run across more engaging personal content online that encourages me to visit a new city than to see a Mark Di Suvero sculpture when I get there. Or perhaps an independent entity should be formed, a branch of the NEA (miserably underfunded as it is) or UNESCO.

Yeah, making the work is not about money. However, if making artwork for the internet (or anywhere) began to at least fund itself, it would make thinking about money less critical. Right now, everything is decidedly about indirect revenue streams. I have a day-job making commercial stuff for the internet as a result of spending my free time making my own work. The money I make allows me to pay to keep my personal sites up. Just imagine the quality of work people could produce if they didn’t need to hold down a day-job.

Systematic Landscapes at the de Young

systematic landscapes
When I returned to San Francisco after the winter holidays, I went to see Maya Lin’s Systematic Landscapes at the de Young Museum. The museum was packed, but fortunately the crowds were mostly interested in Yves Saint-Laurent (which after viewing, it turned out, I was mostly uninterested in).

Lin’s recent work represents landscape data rather than the landscape itself. It is a transformation of scientific viewing into artistic viewing. The direct observation of the world is done through mechanical, sonic, or digital means by non-human systems. Lin translates this information–the landscape as it is perceived by machines–into a new set of drawings or scaled-down landscape structures, allowing us to move around and inhabit the data. The work still looks very digital, but the transcription has an obvious human hand, and the bumps in the data are smoothed to the point where the analog feel of a landscape is restored.

reliquaries
After meandering through Lin’s constructions, I made my way through many of the other galleries at the museum. I was really happy to run into a lot of work by Al Farrow, whose reliquary series I first encountered at 21C in Louisville a week prior. Farrow constructs iconic religious structures from ammunition and weaponry. The structures themselves are beautiful, and the obvious subtext of religiously-sanctioned violence makes the work challenging without being didactic.

Systematic Landscapes was on view at the de Young museum October 25, 2008 – January 18, 2009. It traveled to be there, so there is a chance it will travel to a city near you in the future.

View more photos taken at The de Young Museum on Flickr.