few years ago we did an interview where John told a story
about the writer, Adam Gopnick's psychiatrist. In the story,
Gopnick's doctor ends their final session with the sage
observation that life has many worthwhile aspects. We were
so impressed by the simple profundity of that statement,
we used it as the title of a piece and it became our new
Some time after,
we were invited to curate this show. We had the idea that
our latest collaboration (this exhibition) might be connected
in some fashion to our previous one (the interview). If
in the interview we argued that life indeed has many worthwhile
aspects, the next reasonable question might be: how are
those aspects identified, by whom, and by what method?
That's when Meg
remembered a story by Grace Paley, a writer we both admire.
In the story the main character states, "All that
is necessary for survival of the fittest, it seems, is
an interest in life, good, bad, or peculiar." Agreeing
with that and combining it with our previous motto, we
arrived at the theme of this exhibition.
We believe that
art functions to identify life's many worthwhile aspects.
Art can make stupid things seem important and supposedly
important things seem stupid. We believe the necessary
preliminary condition for art is an interest in life.
We are for an
art that gives the feeling of enhancement and plenitude
where nothing is too much, too foreign, too risky, or too
silly. We are artists and curate art exhibitions as a hedge
against the inartistic states: wariness, exhaustion, timidity
and shame. The works in the exhibition are not linked by
subject matter or method. They are linked by a quality
of joy, by an interest in life, good, bad or peculiar.
We feel the artists in the exhibition more or less agree.
work Holiday is a 35 mm slide projection of eighty
slides, forming an around the world tour -- a dream vacation
with all the rainy days and crummy hotels edited out. The
piece was created from an archive of over five thousand
travel slides, shot by the amateur photographer, Joseph
Shrawder, in the 1950's though the 1980's. From these slides
the artist selected the eighty images that make up the
work. Arrington got the archive from her stepfather, Carl
Shawder, Joseph's son. Shown as a large scale projection,
the piece is an opportunity for the audience to take a
brief vacation with Shrawder as their unseen guide. According
to Arrington, "Vacation slide shows allow the audience
to feel as though they are participants in a holiday albeit,
someone else's. The lights go dim, the clicking of the
projector becomes less apparent and the viewers are offered
the chance to interact with foreign or familiar sites/people
creating new narratives about what they are seeing. The
viewer has the opportunity to transfer their position as
a slide show viewer to other positions in relation to the
projected image. In this instance, the viewer can become
the photographer, or the subjects and in some cases the
In the essay titled "Why
Look at Animals", John Berger examines the centrality
of animals to human life. He argues, "Animals first
entered the human imagination as messengers and promise.
Animals (once) constituted the first circle of what surrounded
man." Though Berger insists that that connection has
been ruptured in contemporary times, the work of Erin Cosgrove
suggests that animals (i.e. house pets) may continue to
serve an oracular function. Cosgrove's work, One Must
Know the Animals: Excerpts From the Great Book of Watching,
is a narrative video that examines the false dichotomies
of good and evil as personified by two cats. The narrator
uses the Great Book of Watching (a fictional reference
to the real, albeit apocryphal and apocalyptic text, Book
of Enoch the Prophet) to document the cats' contrary
natures in hopes of unraveling the mystery of mankind.
The piece uses the method of the naturalist to serve the
ambition of the philosopher. The mystery of life is revealed
in the apparent world, in this case, by two cats wrestling
on the living room rug. Georges Bataille in Theory of
Religion states, "The animal opens before me a
depth that attracts and is familiar to me. In a sense I
know this depth: it is my own. It is farthest removed from
me, that which deserves the name depth, which means precisely
that which is unfathomable to me." There is a good
chance he was a cat lover.
work in the exhibition demonstrates an "interest in life" by
focusing on its most observable and confounding manifestation,
oneself. The piece, Autobiography, is a single channel
video where twenty or so participants perform using Hebron's
written autobiography as their script. Each participant
was given a passage from Hebron's autobiography and asked
to memorize it the best they could. The results are mixed.
Few recite the script verbatim, and many interject their
own memories and interpretations. The steady stream of
readers develops and completes the text and perpetually
reassigns the "I" of the author.
In one sense Hebron's
work celebrates the inherent narcissism of the art making
process. Everyone becomes Hebron. In another sense however,
it demolishes the idea of a unitary self. Seemingly anyone
can play the artist. The author becomes both everyone and
no one in particular.
Usually when someone
says, "that's life", what they mean is we are
chained to the dreary status quo, so stop complaining.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there are those among us
who are seemingly unhinged enough to qualify as dreamers.
Dreamers are the subject of Jen Liu's work. The piece titled, Super
BAND JWS, imagines a super rock group that includes
the preacher/cult leader Jim Jones, David Bowie (as Ziggy
Stardust) and Frank Lloyd Wright. The three members are
connected in the artist's view by their utopian fantasies
be they horrid, vain or simply unlikely.
of the three is made by uniting them in a series of band/album/gig
posters where the typical information is replaced with
quotes from Jones' sermons, Bowie's lyrics or the writings
of Frank Lloyd Wright. In one poster, the group bears a
striking resemblance to the innovative German band Kraftwerk,
and in another to the group, The Monkees. The far
flung madness of the posters is accompanied by a karaoke
video, which includes a generically bad synthesized "cover" of
the David Bowie classic, "Ziggy Stardust." The lyrics translated
by Liu into Esperanto scroll past an image of a building
being alternately covered in snow and engulfed in flames.
The building itself is a sort of bad imitation of Wright's Falling
Water combined with elements of the buildings in Jonestown,
Jones' cult community in Guyana, South America. During
the exhibition Liu will organize a performance with the
assistance of several local bands. The original lyrics
of their songs will be replaced by texts from Jim Jones'
sermons, which tend to be faith-healing mixed with civil-rights
Unless you have
been personally socked in the jaw, most people fail to
realize actually how hard a punch must land before your
knees buckle and you lose consciousness. Similarly, few
people know it, but it takes a formidable blow before you
see the stars so commonly depicted in cartoons. This lack
of a scientifically informed understanding of violence
is surprising considering the ubiquity of grotesque violence
in the daily news. You can literally get the shit kicked
out of you, but few of us understand the mechanics of the
procedure. Jennifer Nelson attempts to provide this understanding
in her work, A Guide to the Kinesthetic Understanding
of the News.
is a performance (during the opening reception) where the
artist gives a lecture about the "kinesthetic understanding
of the news - a kind of choreographic understanding of
the bodies affected by violence." While the artist lectures
in a quiet and instructive tone a model will undramatically
and systematically read through the news, trying to learn
the choreography of the bodies the news photographs depict.
The activities of the artist and model will be simultaneously
recorded by a small group of professional photographers
equipped with constantly flashing cameras.
work is perhaps the most apropos and least explicable piece
in the exhibition. At the time of this writing we have
no idea what she will do or if in fact she will do anything
at all. We know that her works tend to be process oriented,
site specific and generally require that the audience complete
the work. In keeping with that strategy, Nogle will use
the period of the exhibition to gather results, which may
or may not form the work. It is equally possible that the
procedure will yield some sort of "something" as
it is possible it will result in nothing at all. As is
typical for such uncharted adventures Nogle's procedure
has already caused some consternation for all concerned.
That indeed is life and we say yes to it.
John Baldessari and Meg Cranston
is an artist and a Professor of Art at UCLA. Meg Cranston
is an artist, writer and a Professor of Art and Art Criticism
at Otis College of Art and Design.
title, An Interest in Life, originates from a short
story by Grace Paley of the same name, in which it is stated,"All
that is really necessary for survival of the fittest, it
seems, is an interest in life, good, bad or peculiar." Here
we find art that is hopeful with an energetic sense of
the absurd. Several women artists from the west coast will
use performance, sculpture and photography to "tweek" everyday
objects and situations. What the artworks share is a liveliness
that avoids art world hermeticism and encourages understanding
through their plain spoken nature.