31 January 2013

framing the site: post scriptum

P.S. The previous post was written as I waited for Ben Woodeson to deliver a lecture on his work. He's the current Ted Randall Chair visiting artist at the School of Art and Design, here at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. He was at Chase's noontime lecture and reflected off it in talking about what is the work? What is not the work? What role does documentation play? Does the documentation become the work? More important perhaps, he talked about teasing, flirting with the audience, providing a random experience and letting the post-catastrophic art be more of the work. When asked about the risks in his work, he said he's risky but not stupid. You can just as easily slip on the ice while going for coffee as be bonked on the head by a twirling plumb line bob.

P.P.S. After Woodeson's lecture, I went to the Collegiate for lasagna, partly so I could finish off yesterday's Times. And there was article by Gia Kourlas on Claude Wampler and her work that mixes visual art and performance, plays with the audience, and how Wampler is trying to give up control.

P.P.P.S. And there was something that I read recently about taking risks and how the simple everyday things are more risky because they could happen any time and the threat of being attacked by terrorists is relatively miniscule.

framing the site

As an library cataloger, I try to put things in pigeon-holes or categories to enable the library user to find our resources. Today's Bergren Forum was presented by Chase Angier who teaches dance at Alfred University. Her talk centered around "Shifting Landscapes: Framing Site Specific Performance." She spoke about guided performance, walking site performance, and immersive frame performance, and would have talked about other things she's working on if they'd given her another hour to talk.

The first work Chase talked about -- "Under the Benign Sky" (Texas Woman's University) -- was done in the atrium of a building. Chase said the empty rectangular space with balconies said Spanish soap operas and romance to her. I thought it looked like a prison. Hmm.

So, pigeon-holing: cataloging and vocabulary control help you find things in a catalog or on the web (more with the former) because we try to avoid unnecessary synonyms and try to use the same form for names of persons and organizations. I wrote the Library of Congress some years ago when they started using "Site-specific installations (Art)" in addition to "Installations (Art)." It seemed to me that the former was not significantly enough different from the latter to make it valuable. That is, all installations are inherently site-specific though some have been reinstalled and look very different. My example at that moment was "Deep Purple" by Tom Burr which was shown in the below-street-level well in front of the Whitney in 2002-2003 but had earlier been shown on the lawn of a German museum. It looked very different against concrete than it did on a lawn. But it was still the same work and it was still installed.

LC's response to my query was to add scope notes:
Installations (Art): Here are entered works on a type of art form in which an entire exhibition space is transformed into a three-dimensional work of art by the arrangement of objects and materials within the space.
Site-specific installations (Art): Here are entered works on art installations created for a specific site that use elements of the site as an integral part of the work of art and are intended to be displayed and viewed only at that site.
LCSH also includes Film ..., Multimedia ..., Sound ..., and Video installations (Art).

Of course, installation is also what happens all the time in museums, that is, a painting or sculpture is placed in a certain way in a gallery. Even an old-master painting will look different, depending on its neighboring works, lighting, gallery style, etc. LCSH has "Museum techniques" and "Museum exhibits" to cover that kind of thing.

At the end of Chase's talk, she talked about how framing was critical. It's true and I'm still thinking about the role of framing in visual art installations. The line between visual and performance art is, of course, blurry. Chase also talked about the ways you can control or cede control of the audience. As she talked about the sound and speed, I was thinking about some of the Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller pieces I've seen that have a timed soundtrack. I don't think there was a chance to pause them but I may be misremembering. Very much controlled experiences in space and time ... though the "Pandemonium" exhibition at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia was not temporally controlled except by the open hours of the museum.

The picture is from Chase's website (linked under her name) and is from the work "Framing Edgewood Farm."

20 January 2013

world of joy and suffering

Last night, I watched the film City of Joy. It's not hard to watch Pauline Collins, Patrick Swayze, and Art Malik in a film but the story is tough. The City of Joy is a clinic run by Sister Joan (Collins) in the slums of Calcutta. Patrick Swayze plays Doctor Max who is troubled by his doctoring career and childhood memories. The clinic is targeted by the gang led by the godfather and his son (Malik). The film circles around the fate of a rickshaw runner and his family. The film has a bit of a Hollywood feel but is a heartbreaker and tearjerker with an optimistic ending. Sometimes I wish that I had chosen a life path which was more directly related to helping the needy. At the same time, I recognize that my talent for cataloging and indexing is perhaps more helpful as an income source so that I can donate to American Friends Service Committee or Doctors Without Borders.

City of Joy includes an episode in which a young woman who lives and helps at the clinic is attacked by the gang and her mouth and cheeks are razored. She is patched up by Doctor Max. In today's New York Times, there is an article about a real life case of a young Afghan woman who was axed by her brother because he believed she had run away with a man to whom she was not married. As the title of the article says, the "scars are [the] sole testimony to 'honor' victim's ordeal." What a testimony.

All of these thoughts swirl through my brain and heart and soul as I live in the relative luxury of middle-class America. Sometimes I wonder how we can get from one day to the next.

The picture is from the IMDb page for City of Joy.

P.S. It could be that I was set up by a fine rendition of "We shall overcome" at church on Sabbath morning. Thoughts of Martin Luther King and his legacy.

11 January 2013

conceptual art and subject headings

SACO can be fun and also frustrating. I submitted a proposal for a new subject heading "Grandparents in art" based on Gia Michael's My bitter immortal, her BFA final project in the School of Art and Design at Alfred. The colophon states that "All images for this publication were collected by the artist while traveling in Lebanon and Syria, December 2009 through February 2010." The Editorial Meeting rejected the proposal because "The work cataloged does not depict grandparents in art, but consists of pictures of the places through which the photographer's maternal grandparents passed." But it's the CONCEPT of grandparents and it's art.

But as I was having those thoughts, I remembered a discussion with Lynn El-Hoshy, LC subject specialist now retired, about "Cellphones in art." She was right in that case: it was "Cellphone calls in art," not "Cellphones in art." I was very glad we had the discussion because it clarified for me that, in LCSH, "in art" is literal. That is, the topic is shown in the art, it's pictures of or text about that topic as it appears in art.

But but conceptual art, naturally, doesn't come in literal packages. I still think it's grandparents in art but the LCSH editors indicated that it was just wrong. Sometimes they suggest that something is misdirected and can be revised and resubmitted. I guess I'll just have to publish a picture book of my grandparents. Then, I can resubmit the proposal and, meanwhile, I haven't changed it on the bibliographic record yet.

10 January 2013

Mrs Stevenson and Ada Louise Huxtable

Two great ladies in the arts died in the past few days: Ruth Carter Stevenson and Ada Louise Huxtable.

Mrs Stevenson was the president of the Amon Carter Museum when I worked there in the early 1990s as well as many years before and after. Though I didn't interact with her often, she was aware who I was and would greet me warmly when our paths crossed at the museum. She usually met with staff members every few years. One year, several of us from the library and others were in the conference room for one of these catch-up conversations with Mrs Stevenson. Milan Hughston, my boss, mentioned that he and I would be going to some conference in a colder clime. Mrs Stevenson looked at me and asked if I knew it might be too cold to wear Birkenstocks. I guess she knew who I was and something tell-tale about me. She said it with humor and generosity, which is not to say that she'd be caught wearing Birkenstocks to work.

I don't know what I would have done if I'd worked there the next couple of years after I left. The museum was going into a major construction phase and folks were told they had to wear closed-toe shoes until they moved offsite for a couple years.

The picture of Mrs Stevenson in the Amon Carter Museum galleries is from artdaily. The fellow standing behind her is not identified. There are also wonderful obituaries of Mrs Stevenson on the TCU website and in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. [The fellow behind Mrs Stevenson is Andrew J. Walker, director of the Carter since April 2011.]

Ada Louise Huxtable was the architectural critic at the New York Times when I first started reading architectural criticism. She was thoughtful and spot on, an urbanist and contextualist, opinionated. She taught me how to look at cities and architecture, along with Jane Jacobs and others. I cannot hear "Bruckner Boulevard" without thinking of her book Will they ever finish Bruckner Boulevard?

A recent exchange on Facebook moved The invisible dragon by Dave Hickey up the to-read list. Reading anew about Huxtable has moved her On architecture up the list too.

You can read more about Huxtable in her obituary in the Times by David Dunlap and in an appraisal by Michael Kimmelman, also in the New York Times. The accompanying pictures in each are also wonderful and evocative.

02 January 2013

reading in 2013

The caption for this entry is borrowed from Ross Douthat of the New York Times whose column this past Sunday was entitled "How to read in 2013." He argues that, in this year between the 2012 presidential and 2014 midterm elections, we should consciously read varying opinions. Take out a subscription to a magazine whose politics you don't share, as well as reading that is "outside existing partisan categories entirely." Pretty thoughtful advice and something we got some practice in during the election season this past year.

My sister Carol had recommended a few years ago that I friend a fellow on Facebook that she had discovered in doing her genealogical ramblings. His postings are mostly about quite distant cousins so it was more historically interesting than directly relevant to my near family or even places where we've hung out over the years.

As the 2012 presidential contest heated up in the late summer and into the fall, he started posting items that were strongly in support of Romney and the conservative agenda. Some of them were scary and mind-boggling and sickening ... and informative of what others were thinking. Some of my Facebook friends unfriended folks that supported Romney. Though tempted, I did look at some of the postings from this fellow whose politics I didn't understand, the hatred of Obama and socialism and state-ism that I didn't understand. When he posted a video about how General Motors was about to become China Motors, I added a comment that GM had been buying companies overseas since the 1920s at least. The video disappeared from his feed. That surprised me.

I spent Christmas and most of the week up to New Year's on a round of visits to my older sister Roberta's near Albany, to Amenia for Christmas dinner with Ann and Moira and friends, and then on to Boston for some time with Bill. One night in Boston (actually Cambridge, at the Border Cafe), over dinner with Bill and his sister Martha and Al, I had a rather heated and incredibly enjoyable discussion with Al. He's one of my Facebook friends that unabashedly supported Romney in the election. The main portion of the discussion was over my total opposition to war and the military and his description of it as totally utopian and unrealistic. I'm not sure those were his words but I usually just quietly disagree. Perhaps it was the 1800 margaritas speaking. That's not 1800 margaritas, as in one thousand eight hundred drinks, but 1800 in the sense of aged tequila. We didn't agree in the end but we respect each other and recognize that a one-opinion world would be pretty uninteresting.

My personal suggestion for some interesting reading is Taft 2012 by Jason Heller, one of those treasures I found because I was in a good independent bookstore. I found the book at Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck when I was doing a week of cataloging at Bard in early December. The premise of the book is that President William Howard Taft reawakens in 2012. I'm about halfway through the book and the Taft Party is just getting started. The contrast of the good old progressive Republican party and today's GOP is a good part of the story.

Thinking about independent bookstores, NPR was broadcasting an interview with Ann Patchett (author and owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville) and Ronald Rice (editor of My bookstore) as I drove out of Boston toward home. Patchett was pretty encouraging about the future of independent bookstores but her advice included: don't go to an independent bookstore, find a book, jot down the ISBN, and then order it from Amazon for a few cents of savings. You get what you pay for; you might not have known about that book if you hadn't been in that independent bookstore.

One last thing: Taft by Ann Patchett was on the remainder table at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge. I trust it's OK to pay less than full price at an indie bookstore.

The picture of Taft is from the Wikipedia article on Taft.