June 30, 2010

Unpredictable Glamour

courtesy of SFMOMA

On  June 17th I attended the Now Playing event at the museum, a night which promised an experience of the museum “animated by artists and creative luminaries.” That luminescence appeared in many forms: floral synasthesia, well drinks, a really strong showing by local sartorialists, and of course the programming itself. The show included a “screening of Bay Area art documentaries, from the 1990s and early 2000s” and a musical performance by the conceptual band presented by Chris Johanson, The 17th& Capps.

The performance in the atrium effected an uncanny transformation of the museum space. There was a massive projection of that evening’s moon on the wall stage right. That space had previously been filled with the accumulated tweets of patrons that evening. Instead of the expected motley crew of tourists and locals flitting from the coat check to the information desk, dozens of people crowded in with cocktails to hear the music. The architecture felt renewed in a way.

Something like this intervention into the gallery or museum space is suggested by Jennifer A. Gonzalez in her talk on Felix Gonzalez-Torres, which appears in full as part of the “75 Reasons To Live” video collection. She refers to the piece “Untitled,” the work on paper which all museum-goers are free to take away with them. You’ll like her talk, check it out!

Brion has mentioned Gonzalez-Torres’ piece Untitled (Golden) a couple times on the blog so far, and that’s another piece in the museum which evokes these kinds of interventions.  Untitled (Golden) intensifies the drama of what is decidedly no longer a static space for mutely demonstrating works of art. It privileges the dazzle and glamour of contemporary commodity life. Perhaps most importantly it acts upon the person walking through it in a direct and profound way.  Untitled (Golden) alters the museum map, puts itself in the path of the viewer’s expectations as they walk through the art museum.

But of course the museum, gallery, or institutional art space isn’t the only or always the stage for action. Another piece shown that evening, “I Am The Resurrection” by Cliff Hengst , demonstrates a different kind of intervention: it aims at transforming public space, not private. We see Hengst walking somewhat aimlessly around the 16th Street BART station, dressed in a white robe that suggests the image of Jesus, and a bright red wig. The soundtrack preserves what sounds like or is a recording of the actually fiery street preachers who can often be found on the plazas near both the 16th Street and 24th Street BART stations. I like to think that Hengst provides a viable alternative to the rhetoric of Jesus brandishing the flaming clubs of the apocalypse. This resurrection is open, flirty, enigmatic; non-proscriptive, this is a Jesus you can get with after hours.

In a similar way, structurally, that Untitled (Golden) puts itself in one’s path, Resurrection reorganizes the semiotics of the neighborhood in a profound way. The spectacular image of Hengst on the BART plaza is difficult for the neighbors to decode, and thus provokes a range of interpretations.  If you asked a museum docent to tell you about Untitled (Golden), she would probably have recourse to the language of art history or wall text to describe what you were experiencing. In the scene of I Am The Resurrection, there is only the person behind the camera, an obscure oracle full of puns and duplicity.

It’s kind of funny although finally it makes sense that BART figures as a geographical anchor for so many kinds of public intervention. You might remember in my first post here at Open Space I mentioned seeing Kit Robinson, a poet associated with Bay Area L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry. Another of those poets, Ron Silliman, delivered a legendary reading of his long poem Ketjak at the Powell Street Station in 1978. A contemporary report by Steve Benson describes that the  “rapture of the occasion sprang from the access to a shared awareness of being there, the significance of this then ready to be begun, again at any moment.” Of course, not having been there, it’s hard to say whether this reading took place closer to MUNI.

As much as the contours of the city have changed due to massive gentrification, in other words, shared transportation hubs remain one among many viable psychogeographical structures for bringing art into the public space. And although the three works I’ve mentioned here (a sculpture in a museum, a video of a live performance shown in a museum, and a live performance with no direct documentation) have very different shapes and meanings, they all relate to cultivating a space for unpredictable interactions in the space of the city. Unpredictable interactions with unpredictable results.

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