As I look at this residency, I am completely overwhelmed by the volume of work to which I have been given an introduction. Not only have I been shown and taught new ways of thinking (at times with resistance on my part), I have begun to think critically about my own work and the work I am in contact with every day. Through the deluge of information and data, ideas and counterpoints, I’ve seen a pattern of interest begin to emerge. There are several main areas of growth I’ve experienced over this residency and many new ideas have begun to form in my mind.
The most specific change in my thinking has to do with avant-garde artists and their place in art. Many times I have wrestled with the ‘weirdoes’, always returning feeling defeated. I have discounted their work or only understood them from my current perspective and not through the lenses of the time and place in which they themselves existed. Duchamp, Picasso and Renoir all opened my eyes to the changes they effected on their time and ours. Their work to change perception and move the status quo was lost on me, and as we walked through the way they shifted value from the visual aesthetic to the pointed (and sometimes uncomfortable) idea was like seeing for the first time. I know this may seem juvenile, but it has completely turned my understanding of art in its head. For the first time, I see these artists as leaders in thought and I understand a part of what they were communicating and why they did it. For example, I always thought Duchamp and Manet were simply trying to call academic art absurd and flying in the face of any skill whatsoever. Through the course, I see that the, especially Duchamp and others like Manet, Renoir, Picasso, Rauschenberg and others were fighting to instigate a radical shift from the object or medium itself to the concept they denoted. This is summed up so well by Duchamp, said he wanted “to put art back in the service of the mind.” It was a push away from the hieratic academic art and a shove toward art as concept – a different form to transmitting ideas and raising questions. These ideas were reinforced Thierry de Duve’s artist talk.
Another shift in thinking happened in Critical Theory. It pertained to the idea of performance and performance as art. Stuart helped us to understand the idea of creating art being a performance in itself. No longer is art confined to a space on the wall of a gallery or within a private collection; art now stands on stages, it is appropriated and shared digitally, it is communicated by the body, by speech and by shock, surprise or absurdity. Art is performative and happens within the space we allow it to inhabit. This way of opening up our definition and hard edges of “Art” creates an opportunity to see and experience art in places. If we call it art, it is art to whomever shares our definition. This is very hard to stomach as someone who has spent their career trying to define and categorize genres, movements and mediums. I’m changing my perception and opening up the borders, even if the work baffles, startles, repulses, offends or confuses me. If nothing else, Critical Theory taught me to approach any work of art with an open mind; to kick the tires and look under the hood of the work and let it effect me before passing my judgments. An example of changed perception of work for me was in the Cremaster series. When we first viewed the piece, I rejected it wholly, but as I started to think through the themes and spend time with the work, I began to understand the power of symbols and found myself appreciating the work, even if I didn’t ‘like’ it.
My faculty and peer critiques were equally as enlightening as Critical Theory. I came in to the program having done the best I could to make sense of who I was as an artist and as a person. I feel that I learned more about my work in a single day of heavy critique and discussion than I had in a year of actually creating the work itself. I was given name after name of artists to look at and work to consider. Among the artists suggested to me, Liz Deschenes, Sigmar Polke, Christopher Williams, and Gerhard Richter, Jeff Wall, Michael Asher and Matt Saunders. I was asked the tough questions: “What do you think you are saying with this?” “Why did you make these images?”. If I’m being honest, these questions were really very difficult to answer. I had to really introspect and be honest with myself. Most everyone critiquing my work felt it to be at its zenith. Everyone asked,‘”So where do you go from here?” and I really didn’t have an answer. I’ve since begun to feel my work pulling me strongly in three directions. I will use this semester to explore both directions. The best advice I got was to find out what it was that interested me and ‘build walls’ around that idea. By focusing very closely on one thing, I will be more able to dive deep. The rules that I make for myself actually empower me to make formal decisions based on my concept.
While I was at the residency, I was so saturated with other people’s ideas that I didn’t have time to research the artists I was being told to look up properly. Once I’ve gotten home, I’ve re-listened to the crits I had and realized that I really have little interest in doing abstract painting myself. I saw and was with so many people doing painting that I think I felt it was something I was supposed to do. I’m interested in using existing media and my environments as my ‘paint’, so this is the path that I will follow.
The three directions that I am currently entertaining are each very different. I am working on figuring out the common denominators and exploring whether a synthesis of several of these directions may prove fruitful. First, I am interested in movies and films, especially the films with which most people share a common experience. I’m interested in abstracting them past recognition and/or taking key elements of the movies and removing them to shatter the sense of familiarity we have to the movies. As suggested in crits, I am going to work on as many methods of doing this as possible. Second, I am interested in the idea of spaces. The work of Andreas Gursky, Joel Sternfield, Hiroshi Sugimoto and my mentor, Brian Ulrich have all stuck with me in the way that spaces are elevated and exude depth and form while giving an eerie sense of time and place. I have already started spending time in the spaces that interested me and researching others. Third, I am very interested in the idea of ‘the man in the shadows’. This may seem like it is coming from out of nowhere, but I can’t seem to shake the idea, so I’m pursing it to see if it goes anywhere. The idea that in movies, books, and that we fear the shadow of someone is a very interesting idea to me. Obviously it was widely used in film noir, but there is a phenomenon where people will actually experience a fleeting glimpse of the shadow of a man on a cloudy day or where a shadow shouldn’t be. In the accounts, the man is almost always wearing a brimmed hat. This is extremely fascinating to me – it may go nowhere, but my guess would be that it would be a theme I may explore in one of the other two ideas.
All things considered, I am very happy (and exhausted) at the end of this residency. Several weeks later, I am still unpacking and understanding the information and insights given to me. I am more motivated to really attack my work than I have been in a very long time.