Sunday, January 17, 2010

Colonizing History, Culture

Kara Walker, An Army Train, 2005

The first task of the colonizer is to map out the land. To cut it up, make it easier to negotiate.

It's a curious thing that the idea of the colonizer popped into my head yet again at the New Museums' lecture series. The first time was when Kara Walker made a proposition about the painter as the colonizer, the painting the colonized. I didn't contribute to the discussion, but I had very strong feelings about her presentation, specifically because in evolving from the metaphor of a painting as being colonized, nobody brought up, or had the courage to bring up the idea of history, specifically in her work, as what is being colonized -the body that is bought and sold. This makes Walker the colonizer, claiming so boldly what is "hers". Why didn't anyone put this question forward?

And now today I am reminded again, of the colonizers and their "maps" when Hans Ulrich Obrist spoke about "Maps for the 21st Century", spoke about his latest project. Though the idea of the colonizer isn't as heavy and as direct as in Kara's predicament, it's still an interesting angle to see it from. First of all the "Maps" project is customary of Hans Ulrich's process, that is to say it has been mapped-out before, most recently with his "Formulas for Now" book. It all begins with one idea, a minimal idea, this sets off a whole chain of events: idea/minimal guideline -> a call to the top artist -> artist respond -> eventually a show -> then a book, next project. It's seems very complete and contained, which, despite the fact that he did mention some ideas never make it that far an others go on, has a life span and follows a well known route, it is mapped. But does it have to be? (...more on the map, what is a map and what is not, later)



The first map showing the Americas by Martin Waldseemuller, 1507

According to Hans Ulrich Obrist the initial idea for these projects does come from an unmapped terrain, in his introduction he spoke about the Oulipo Group and how their experiments in writing were an inspiration for the way he sets up his curatorial projects. And that he was also interested in this element chance, that sometimes these experiments can fail, see his "Experiment Marathons" project. So why is it starting to feel very mapped out? I wonder if it has anything to do with the "colonizer" aspect. That value is a big part of this picture, that creating culture, or converting culture to value has a lot to do with how far his projects get. So everything has to be mapped out, no unpredictable names in his books. Chance was a lie, it's getting harder for his projects to fail. Museums and publishers bank on this. It all get's checked off rather methodically.

Before I go on I have to say that -if you don't know this already- Hans Ulrich Obrist uber-prolific, it is beyond human the amount of books, projects, shows, events, that he has put-out or helped with or whatever. I heard a rumor that he only sleeps 4 hrs a night- yeah, that kind of a guy. And of this output, I really only know of about a sliver of it. I probably can't even imagine all that has worked on, both realized and unrealized, (see his "Unbuilt Roads" project). I can almost bet that there must be a handful of his projects that shatter my "colonizer/map" thesis here.

None the less, I have to say, that if a curator of the 21st century wants to take the role of the instigator -as if artists no longer have the capacity and power to do so- then he/she should be willing to go as far as an artist to see that these ideas get pushed beyond their expected life, beyond what is on the map. Just as the world asks the artist to be brave and stand outside of their comfort zone-even if it means starvation, so then too an artist can ask the same of curators, critics, and museums. Much like we found the work of Henry Darger - pages and pages of exploration into his world- so should we find of a curator of the 21st century.(Alright, I've already been getting comments that Darger isn't the best example for what I'm trying to say, if there is a better one let me know. Or if it comes to me later, I'll revise this post.)

Henry Darger's Studio, photo by Lerner, 1972

An example of a Hans Ulrich Obrist project that I thought broke the mold was a project that sounded courageous, but not in an overly heroic way like his marathons, but rather courageous in it's simple gesture. His Brutally Early Club is a salon style event that happens all over London- simple as that, the brutal aspect is that it happens at 6:30AM -which I think is great, not because I'm a wanna be morning person, but because I think it's important to get that out of the way, just before going into the studio, not after. Night events have the tendency to drag on, or morph into some dunken dance party. So what of the night artist? Guston and all those Ab-Ex-Men? Simple, they can stay up working all night and come to The Brutally Early club afterward, go home sleep, repeat. Another big plus is the sunrise, when was the last time you saw the sun rise?

“I always have coffee and porridge for breakfast. My breakfast happens very early, at 6.30am, because I wake up early. I founded a club, which is called the Brutally Early Club. It’s basically a breakfast salon for the 21st century where art meets science meets architecture meets literature. The reason why I decided to do my club at 6.30am in different caf├ęs, which are open so early, is because in 21st-century cities it’s become very difficult to improvise. Everybody has a schedule and it becomes really difficult to decide from one day to the next to gather for a meeting. You have to plan it weeks and weeks in advance. It’s so important to have improvisation in cities. Most people are free at 6.30, so that’s the idea of the Brutally Early Club and I have done it ever since I moved to London.”
-from The Q&A: Hans Urich Obrist at MoreIntelligentLife.com.


I noticed on The Brutally Early Club website that they have one in New York City. Anyone know where that is? Or want to establish a New York chapter with me?

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