A Dozen Seattle Artists on What They've Discovered Lately
Courtesy of Baer Press and Howard House
The question was: "What breakthrough ideas have you had this year?" It went out by e-mail to about 50 artists in Seattle and beyond. Here are some of the responses.
—Jen Graves, Visual Art Editor
William Powhida, trompe l'oeil artist, creator/manager of alter ego
To answer your question, I don't have breakthrough ideas, I am a breakthrough idea. Still, in my quest to destroy the art world (I haven't forgotten Seattle either: It will burn), I have found my archenemy. I was drinking scotch the other day and leisurely reading the paper when I happened upon a review of Miranda July's new book of short fiction. Next to the "glowing" review was a photograph of the artist and her watery blue eyes. It dawned on me that she is my complete inverse; emotionally vulnerable, gently ironic, and tirelessly experimental. She is in video, film, and performing seemingly everywhere all at once. The photograph made me tremble with fear and start crying uncontrollably. I realized she must be stopped or she will kill me with her feelings. Her vulnerability is like kryptonite to me. This is not cool.
I have been screaming at my assistants to help me understand her, making them watch her movie over and over, read her book, and try to find her objects. How can she be so good without making any objects? Where is the art?! This thought haunts me. She is almost purely an idea, bleeding out of the insular confines of the art world into the margins of popular culture. I can't take it. In order to become the greatest artist ever and transcend the object, I must stop Miranda July. If she succeeds any more, I will have to expand my campaign to destroy culture itself. (Fuck, I need a book deal, a band, and a producer.)
Mary Ann Peters, painter
I said it out loud. I said it in the company of a respected curator. I said that, in general, the form of the art world, with all its attendant intrigues and aesthetic pretenses, is not nearly as interesting as it's cracked up to be. As an artist I always seem to have one foot out the back door, looking for more user-friendly options. Most of the time I pretend the art world is not there.
I didn't say that I get confused by the gestures that are identified as an aesthetic stretch that I remember seeing two decades ago. I was trying to be polite. And there lies the conundrum for art workers with longevity. It's hard to muster up excitement about old ideas touted as new. I'd feel a lot better if everybody admitted that it's just a rehashed, albeit a possibly exceptionally rehashed, idea. Then all the groping for intellectually stimulating commentary about the old new idea could morph into the simple query of why that looks good the second time around. And I wouldn't have to be pissed that the people who should have done their homework didn't.
Claude Zervas, multimedia
I had the idea, while drunk of course, that if I had to sum up Seattle in a single word, I'd use "autoschadenfreude." I thought I had invented the word, but after Googling it later, I find it's already been used in the wild... shoot. However, the available colloquial definitions seem to stress the "malicious pleasure" instead of what I think is more of an unacknowledged pleasure, which would make it more suitable for the Seattle context: i.e., "an illicit pleasure derived from contemplating one's own misfortune," somewhat like "smelling one's own farts and finding them not unpleasant."
Juliette Aristides, painter
Artists, just like other people married to their jobs, tend to search for significance within their work. The unspoken subtext of creating art is the forging of an artist's identity. Artists, like everyone else, want to matter, to make a difference, to last. In the creation of art they often primarily end up forging a person: themselves. It takes a very great person indeed to make art rather than to be made by art.
Jack Daws, multimedia
My grandfather traded a mule for the farm that my father grew up on. He worked hard and he taught my father to trust people. He taught him that people are inherently good. Unfortunately, his experiences taught him something different. He is a good man, but when he looks at the world we live in he is sick with grief. My father did not teach me that people are inherently good. He taught me how to grieve, and then move on, from tragedy to disaster.
I have a tremendous love for the world, but as a result, I live much of my life somewhere between heartbreak and rage. I feel powerless most of the time. Every now and then, I manage to refine those feelings and make a piece of art. It helps, but it will never be enough.
What helps most is going to bed at night, after drinking too much wine, putting my arm around my beautiful wife, and drifting off to sleep. Then I remember that nothing else matters.
Gretchen Bennett, multimedia
I've been thinking about how artmaking just comes out of a daily routine, and the other way around. Which is why I like to work in the streets, and am now exploring space you can dwell in. I was reading Peter Schjeldahl, on Chris Burden (thanks to Scott Lawrimore pointing out this particular New Yorker): "I have in mind Robert Rauschenberg's famous intention 'to act in the gap between' art and life. There isn't a gap. Art is notional. There is always only life and death."
So I think about that as I go about my day, making things and doing the laundry.
Matthew Offenbacher, painter
1. Anti-anti-bourgeois art is now!
2. "Commit theorcide" (Mary Daly).
3. "Yes you love life nature is the source woo woo gal" (graffiti from the Berkeley Hills).
Annie Han, Lead Pencil Studio, multimedia
1. I love Tom Waits. I think that he is uniquely American and great. I would love to see Tom Waits commissioned to compose classical music for a string quartet. I guess I am tired of people complaining that classical music is dead—maybe it needs resuscitation. What does it mean to play classical music in the contemporary world? Why? Should it change? Should the symphony have opening bands?
2. Invite five filmmakers to give lectures about architecture. What are they looking for when they are scouting spaces and places? What are they trying to construct when they build sets for their films? I would like to hear Kim Ki-duk, Wim Wenders, Wong Kar-wai, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet talk about their favorite spaces, landscapes, and buildings.
3. I think Bruce Nauman is great—he seems relentlessly experimenting!
I would like to see a series of monuments created in Seattle for those small moments of the common person that go uncelebrated. A good place to start would be a monument for time lost to TV. Alternately, we could start with monuments for the sadness of hangnails, chapped lips, lost socks, gouging gums with the toothbrush, wine spills, missing the toilet, and dandruff.
But an another note, I've been noticing lately that every place (by that I mean a man-made locality... let's call it a center) seems to be more and more composed of infinite signifiers referencing other centers and perhaps self-referencing its own center.
Bradley Biancardi, painter
It has become impossible for me to determine the value of artworks based on anything FORMAL or INTELLECTUAL. Artwork I encounter that is wedded to an IDEA, a CLEVERNESS, or a SOCIAL or FASHIONABLE relevance usually fails. All of these are hollow indicators. The only thing that matters is that THING that is nonverbal. That THING that changes you physically when inside the art. Unfortunately, very few artists strive for that THING because they are distracted by all of that other CRAP.
Matt Sellars, sculptor
One of my favorite things to do is to look at art. It is a way to get a sense that you have made time stop and that you are given an insight into how someone else views the world. This type of looking takes time—often the type of time that makes museum guards uneasy, like you've moved in to stay. I had an experience this year that was the opposite of this approach to viewing art—I attended my first major art fair. When I first walked into the Miami Basel art fair in the convention center in South Beach, I instantly thought about the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the crate containing the ark is slung into a warehouse containing an extremely improbable number of crates. Six hours later if you had told me that the extremely glossy 32-square-foot photo I was looking at was actually chopped liver, I wouldn't have had any reason not to believe you. I had temporarily lost my ability to experience looking. My attention wandered, and I began to look at fancy people signing checks and looking important.
I was given an oversight of the art world—the kind where, when you don't look directly at something, like a group of stars in the night sky, but to the side, you get a more complete picture. It took me a long time to digest it. I think it is something that every artist should do. I began to see my place in the greater scheme of things. I saw what is on artists' and dealers' minds through the stuff they made and chose to show—shockingly little of it seemed to reflect the terrifying direction that the world is going in. Some of it, however, did reflect the ability of art to stop us dead in our tracks and make us just look and reflect upon the whole of our lives.