This afternoon I had the pleasure of participating in critique discussion. These Monday meetings are a requirement of our MFA studies and an important component to the development of our individual practice. We are expected to offer constructive feedback, so that the artist might ask questions of themselves, the material choices they make, as well as the conceptual considerations they include or avoid. It's all a very polite dance, codified by the unspoken rules of institutions.
What seems to be missing from these conversations is the inclusion of the experienced- that thing that makes you want to get closer, connects you emotionally and allows for immersion into the fiction. In the throes of the academic we are encouraged to dissect art in such a way to reduce this feelingness, by justifying our aversion or attraction in terms of history, or codes of form and composition. I am convinced that as much as I enjoy discovery through research and highfalutin' dialogue, I believe art making is actually completed through responses that are beyond the intellectual. I hope I will continue to nurture the impulses that occur spontaneously, with or without a bibliography.
(Note to self: Focus on honesty in critiques. Continue to ask questions that reveal my own vulnerabilities.)
Yesterday I had a studio visit with the precisely thoughtful Jeffery Stuker. It was one of those miraculous opportunities where I felt that what I had been thinking about actually connected to a broader notion. In that instant, I didn't feel so alone AND I caught a glimpse that what I'm striving to create might actually happen. As usual, I am feeling cocky and concerned. The ideas are there but the expression is weak...
Rather than fixate on my insecurities, I'll share a bit of tidbits Jeffery shared with me. It's a bit of a hodge podge, but I've attempted to relate these bites to relevant postings.
THE LOTUSEATERS | "In Greek mythology, the lotus-eaters, also referred to as the lotophagi or lotophagusesor lotophages, were a race of people living on an island near North Africa (possibly Djerba) dominated by lotus plants. The lotus fruits and flowers were the primary food of the island and were narcotic, causing the people to sleep in peaceful apathy."MORE...
MICHAEL TAUSSIG |"(born 1940) earned a medical degree from the University of Sydney, received his PhD. in anthropology from the London School of Economics and is a professor at Columbia University and European Graduate School. Although he has published on medical anthropology, he is best known for his engagement with Marx's idea of commodity fetishism, especially in terms of the work of Walter Benjamin." MORE...
In my quest to build a healthy sense of entitlement, I've been requesting important things from my community. As a community-taught artist, the members of this group are so vast and varied that I haven't even met all of them, and, despite this (fictional) barrier, I am completely comfortable in asking for donations. In fact, I have the absolute gall to ask for $12,000! Admittedly that's a tad 'cray', but it would be irresponsible of me, given the continued moral support of the folks I DO know, not to take risks. It's clear that is my job. It's what I've been charged with since birth: to be a rabble-rouser, trouble maker, shyt-starter, hugger, lover, listener, berater, supporter, challenger, enjoyer, creator. I recently discovered that I am going to accomplish two parallel goals through my art making: the inspiration of an international dialogue and service as a public elementary school art teacher. Now, typically when I mention these two elements, global and classroom acclaim, I am met with the words "not," "can't," "no" and "never". My current quest? Getting to "yes", "absolutely", "can" and "soon". BLOWN is an experiment to see if I can use some of the same tools that have beguiled audiences since the beginning of American popular culture to incite questioning. And, if the first of of such questions is "Who the eff do you think you are?", I embrace it wholeheartedly. Please help create what happens...
STUDENT CONTRIBUTION: $3,000.00(Now, for those that don't know I was an illegal studio squatter for two years. With an income less that 8,000 dollars, I haven't had to file a tax return since 2008, and most of my existence up until December 2010 was be hand to mouth. Fortunately, I was an unabashed 'swipe' requester and temporary raw foodist. This $3000 figure, however, is completely imaginary and something that I am planning to confront directly in my next meeting with financial aid. I don't remember ever having 3000 dollars at one time in my life! At least not for longer than 7 days.)
LIVING EXPENSES + MATERIALS : $15,100 + 5,000 = 2,100(I've combined these two categories since, as an Art school student your materials are a huge part of the successful completion of projects/livelihood. At the onset 5,000 dollars feels like a substantial amount to get your practice started. Then you realize that amount is for the academic year (i.e. 2,500/semester) and that camera that ends up changing your whole world? It's 399.00 (with insurance). While one trip to Home Depot costs you 500 dollars, not to mention the printing costs for all the assigned reading runs you about 60 dollars (and it's just week 3) and the iPadthat actually does make you look more 'happening' during studio visits. Most importantly though, getting settled in your apartment is a a bit of a culture shock- especially if your most recent experience has been as a squatter. You need, like, forks and knives and pots and pans and sheets for the bed you just bought and everything... oh and there's the rent and deposit. It's a lot to process in the midst of moving to a new town whose major entertainment seems to be getting to know your classmates. At a bar.)
WORK STUDY: 3,000: (An another imaginary number. So this supposed to equate to 1,500/ semester. I will break it down in terms of my own experience. Firstly you must ask someone how you get a work study job. For some reason I thought that you might be informed as a matter of course via the anxiety riddled conversations that you have with your financial aid advisor. To be sure, I read the multi-page packet that they sent along with with my award letter but was struck with a peculiar strain of the everythingissonewandconfusing virus that I didn't connect with all the information. Fortunately, my tendency towards social nosiness revealed the appropriate conduits to get a job (Thanks Eric Mack!). And so, I've got two jobs: One at the Library at 7 hours a week (11.75/hr) and the other at an elementary schoolat 4.5 hours a week (15.00/hr). Your paperwork isn't usually settled until the end of the first month of classes, so you don't begin clocking in until the 5th week, leaving you 8 weeks of work in the fall semester. Please allow for an arithmetic example: I make 82.25 at the Library (weekly) x 8 = 658.00 + 67.50 (weekly at the elementary school) x 8 = 540.00 for a grand PRE-TAX total of 1,198.00. As you can see I am working from a 302.00 deficit (plus that 3,000 student contribution that I never had- LAWD!) Now, I suppose I could add more hours, but shoot, I could have stayed in NYC to get a full time 15.00/hr job! I think that along with my course load (and that IS why I am here) that this schedule is extremely appropriate.
Ultimately though, what is clear to me about this experience is that the system is a arranged at a deficit. Unless you are independently wealthy (or your parents are) don't be fooled into thinking that the award letter, as bright and shiny as it comes, is enough to see you through. It falls short of the needs that even the school has outlined in almost every case! BUT fear not. Knowledge is power, and these details might be something to consider in your own calculations. I have found this graduate program to be all that I'd hoped and more. I do have to be an active participant in creating an a worthwhile experience, but that, is in fact, what is worthwhile. It's also true that I've spent a fair share of funds on food and drink, but the connections built over beer and hamburgers have been vital to my finding/creating/enjoying/securing a space in New Haven. The ideas are coming at a steady clip and my work is being challenged in thoughtful ways. I would encourage any graduate candidate to take full advantage of being an adult-student. Use your maturity to measure a sense of adventure! (http://recessanalog.org/essays)
About a year ago I went to a panel discussion highlighting monumental projects. Fast forward to the initial months of my MFA and I find myself returning to the concept that a big idea needn't be expressed as a structure. In fact, perhaps the biggest ideas aren't contained by these kinds of boundaries, rather, it's a contagion that spreads through collective consciousness (Mwahahahahahahahaha). Either way you slice it though, I haven't been able to circumnavigate money (AKA "skrilla", "paper", "cheese", "cheddar", "dough", "cream", "rockets", "smackers", "greenbacks", "scratch"...), so I am doing my best to rustle up enough to help fund projects like the one roughly outlined below:
THIRTY NINE POINT FOUR PERCENT* : A Work For Performance by Kenya (Robinson)
“…Out on bond | On the run| Got 10 years on parole | Since you can't say it dog I'ma say it for ya'll…” 1
With over 420 members and an international reputation for showmanship, I propose a unique kind of halftime performance for FAMU’s Marching “100”. With a traditional football field serving as a performance space, I envision an exhibition that is free and open to the public, utilizing a medley of popular music in the trademark style and spectacular movement of the “100”. Marching sets are to be arranged using the facility plans of various U.S. penitentiaries as a reference (see: above) and will also include info-graphic representations of prison population statistics as they relate to individuals of color. Audience members will receive an exhibition brochure with essays from cultural critics, academic luminaries and interviews from current prisoners within the U.S. penal system.A curated selection of images will also be included in the publication. Limited edition prints and objects will be on view at Yale University in spring of 2012.
"The new adjective for the new Marlborough, apparently is 'big'; and there are other ambitious projects in the works, although one cannot avoid the feeling of skepticism about brash, arguably progressive moves when they come from what is still, in a number of ways, an institutional dinosaur. While Marlborough may remain blithely two-faced in this regard, it's also difficult not to like the new programming. After all, here is an organization taking big chances and putting its money where its mouth is. Gladstone, Luhring Augustine, and other established Chelsea galleries have been funding big spectacles for years, but it's rare for an established brand to do an about face with such gusto. While Marlborough's ultimate success with its Chelsea space remains to be seem, if Newsomeis any indication, a lot of good artists will be getting big breaks. And who doesn't like that?"
"Hey Kenya. Kara here. This argument about coonery is as Old as the New Negro movement. See Richard wright vs Zora Hurston. (It) would be great if your list expounded more on the strategies artists have historically taken to navigate the gulf between The Performative and the The Desired (which is inevitably socially responsible/ political) unfortunately it's not a new concern- more a rite of passage for each generation."
Since I'm not able to decisively identity the 'strategies artists have historically taken to navigate the gulf between The Performative and the The Desired', I am getting my research on... Please feel free to contribute to the conversation.
"Miss Hurston seems to have no desire whatever to move in the direction of serious fiction. (pp. 22, 25)
Miss Hurston can write; but her prose is cloaked in that facile sensuality that has dogged Negro expression since the days of Phillis Wheatley. Her dialogue [in Their Eyes Were Watching God] manages to catch the psychological movements of the Negro folk-mind in their pure simplicity, but that's as far as it goes.
Miss Hurston voluntarily continues in her novel the tradition which was forced upon the Negro in the theater,..." RICHARD WRIGHT
COON: Pejorative term to describe behavior that is seen as unbecoming of African-Americans. -Urban Dictionary
Recently, I was charged with coonery. This notion made me consider a number of factors within my performance work that may contribute to this view. I do not deny coonery. I have found that, as a form, performance practitioners often engage in behavior which exaggerates personal physical attributes (coonery) to great visual effect. Nudity, masochism and slapstick have all figured prominently in the performance 'canon' and I find it interesting that my inclusion of these kinds sensational techniques is relegated to such restrictive interpretations. But, it's my job to give thoughtful comments about my work considered review. In thinking about 'the coon', 'the sambo', 'the mammy' and/or 'the sapphire' I recognize myself in all of these forms. My normal facial expressions read fairly stereotypically- I've got a broad flat nose, a toothy grin (with gap), the whites of my eyes are a bright white and my hair is a nappy mass radiating all directions. And this is my default state. I hadn't thought to consider the formal attributes of my appearance and how they might affect the performances I elect to be a part of, but all this coon-talk brings these elements into sharp focus. And so, I 've come up with a listing that any black performance artist might want to use as a reference as to avoid the coon-stamp. I myself have elected to ignore and accept these rules of engagement in equal measure. I encourage my colleagues to do the same.
Do not smile.
Facial expressions should not vary more than 10% from a relaxed/resting position.
Do not include bright colors of any kind (especially: RED, YELLOW and GREEN).
Never include an umbrella in a performance work.
Gloves and bow ties are similarly banned.
Skin must not be darker than a brown paper bag.
(Women) Hair must not be radiating from the head, unless you are Esperanza Spalding (or bear a close resemblance).
So, during the critique of TWO GIRLS FROM LITTLE ROCK one of my classmates likened my efforts to Lorraine O'Grady. Now, while I am definitely inspired by her work, I disagreed with the assessment and thought that there might be a wider range of artists that could serve as reference points. Inevitably, a conversation about my work will include the suggestion that I take a look at some black female artist. What is disappointing is that these responses feel more like a knee-jerk response rather than a thoughtfully considered comment. In fact, the relationship is often tenuous and seems to be motivated by our most apparent connection- a black identity.
I am challenging myself as I am challenging my peers to think beyond the surface and push towards a fuller context of references. Fortunately, the same classmate who posited Ms. O'Grady returned with a more populated listing that's really got me thinking...
"Ms. Bloom, who was born in 1951, belongs to a generation of artists, including Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince, who shared a mission to expose the subliminal ideologies of modern visual culture. They were ambivalent about both high and low art, but they produced works of impressive visual glamour."MORE
Still from Breathless, 1960
"A pioneer of the French new wave, Jean-Luc Godardhas had an incalculable effect on modern cinema that refuses to wane. Before directing, Godard was an ethnology student and a critic for Cahiers du cinéma, and his approach to filmmaking reflects his interest in how cinematic form intertwines with social reality. His groundbreaking debut feature, Breathless—his first and last mainstream success—is, of course, essential Godard: its strategy of merging high (Mozart) and low (American crime thrillers) culture has been mimicked by generations of filmmakers. As the sixties progressed, Godard’s output became increasingly radical, both aesthetically (A Woman Is a Woman, Contempt, Band of Outsiders) and politically (Masculin féminin, Pierrot le fou), until by 1968 he had forsworn commercial cinema altogether, forming a leftist filmmaking collective (the Dziga Vertov Group) and making such films as Tout va bien. Today Godard remains our greatest lyricist on historical trauma, religion, and the legacy of cinema."MORE
Yesterday evening I had my first informal critique. Although first year students have an end-of-year review in mid November, we've decided, as a class, to host a few intermediary critique sessions to gain feedback. A very rough presentation of my project is provided below. Please feel free to respond with your thoughts.
“Two Little Girls From Little Rock” in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Dir. Howard Hawks. Prod. Sol C. Siegel. By Anita Loos. Adapt. Charles Lederer. Perf. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. 20th Century Fox, 1953. DVD.