My intent is not to go all political on you, dear reader. My purpose is to discuss placeness because, lord knows, we all need it. The Occupy Movement is only a few months old and, yet, the participants have found a place in our minds and hearts. They are, as are we, the unhappy 99% of humans who are negatively impacted by an unchecked capitalist system-on-steroids that is destroying the very way of life it was intended to empower. My recollection is that the wealthy 1% used to provide many structures and amenities for the rest of us, maybe to keep our eyes focused off what else they were doing. But there is no pretense now for those who are able to steal away with all the limited assets on the planet, right under our noses, leaving nothing. Thanks for nothing. Hey, 1%, remember history and what happened to people like you in the Russian Revolution or La Grande Revolution, or all other overthrown repressive regimes and robber-baron-run countries eventually? The Occupy people are, at this moment, polite.
Shifting gears a bit, arslocii recently went to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to view an exhibit called Here. Intriguing topic for us, especially when the promo for the show starts with, “What is the role of “place” in art?” The intent was to explore the differences generated by regional influences and how those resultant expressions fit into the larger artworld, or, as they refer to it, Cultural Globalism. Funny, that many of the pieces in the show expressed a similar stance to the Occupiers’ own: representations, mostly explanations, of being “outsider.” And there were even artists in Here. who built makeshift shelters, so that we viewers started to confuse this prettied-up display with the real one happening two blocks away at Philadelphia City Hall. Being an artist myself, I can’t deny that the artists represented in Here. have genuine feelings or meaningful thoughts and, possibly, diplomas to prove that they paid their dues in art training programs in their specific regions of the country, but … I will answer the question of globalism versus regionalism – it all looks pretty much the same to me. It is more of the same “painted word,” even more so than what Tom Wolfe ridiculed nearly forty years ago. The artwork, as Wolfe writes, merely illustrates the text, “for Modern Art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text.”
If I was spun around, blindfolded and set down in the gallery at Here., I would not be able to get any sense of place from it; no place as to where I am, no place as to where these works originated, and, certainly, no place within most of the works. Art, this art, whether regional or not, is not global, it is personal, the opposite of universal – to the point of masturbation, and – dare I say? – hooey. Generally, the artist statements are more well-fashioned than the works on display, and the works just seem like the necessary infill for the otherwise empty wall spaces between statements.
As with all things, there are exceptions; interestingly, the digital photographs by two separate artists – Scott Hocking and Tim Portlock – have a similar sensibility in their Photoshopped surrealistic prints.
These, the flattest, most illusionistic and unreal pieces in the exhibit have more placeness than all the others put in a bag and shaken, including videos, objects, paintings, constructions, installations, etc. Sadly, what we have mostly discovered is that art shows with themes such as this often display what the artist-participants would do for any venue and, rather, the statement is crafted to speak to the theme or grant.
The artists, Hocking and Portlock, have rendered post-apocalyptic visions of two decayed cities, Detroit and Philadelphia, places with a soulless soul that illustrate, as artwork is wont to do, a sense of location, loss and betrayal – plus beauty. The human condition. Much like the Occupy sitters have done in real time.
But here sits Here., and my mind wanders to outside the gallery. Where is the here here? So much of it in this show is terribly narrative, literal, uber-personal or inaccessible except for the spelled-out printed word on the walls. Art, at its very nature, should be place-making. But in this show, of all shows, which defines itself as a repository of place, Here. is mostly just a definer of place for “art,” as gallery. Nothing more. Better, it should be called I Am Here, because it seems just another extension of the usual Twitter/Facebook fascination with self than anything else. The Occupy movement has expressed itself as being here and being heard, and despite its message being a bit expansive and difficult to be slogan-ized (the point, I imagine), it has presence: physical, social and political. It is here and now and it tries to create a dialogue. Where is Here.?
P.S. As of last night, the Occupiers have been dispersed and, now, there is no here there either.