Anyway, without much further ado, here's a slide talk with notes!
The Theoretical Probability of Life in the Heart of Something Inanimate.
Starting out with a dark blue screen:
As a pre-cursor to this talk I thought we'd take a little break and listen to some punch lines/// sound montage:///
“Have you ever noticed that their stuff is SHIT and your shit is Stuff?” George Carlin
“Mawidge. Mawidge is wat bwings us toogeddow today.” Peter Cook, Princess Bride.
“Noah…” “WHAT?” Bill Cosby
“Why you crazy? The fall’ll probably kill ya.” Paul Newman, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
“ If you hadn’t nailed it to the post it would be pushing up the daisies! This, sir, is an Ex-parrot!” John Cleese, Parrot sketch.
“But it’s not against any religion to want to dispose of a pigeon” Tom Leher (singing)
“Bell Telephone doesn’t want your dime, sir. Bell Telephone doesn’t need your dime.” Elaine May
“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.” “Hit It!” Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, Blues Brothers
“You can learn a lot from Lydia!” Groucho Marx (singing), At the Circus.
The best jokes, to me, are the ones that after you've experienced the set up once the punchline sticks in your head forever. They are these verbal triggers, forever the answer in your head to the question posed by a situation you'll find yourself in again and again. Punchlines become a device, a tool, with which to answer the tragicomic world around us. In the face of frustration, the best comedy provide delight.
These are the Cabazon Dinosaurs, Dinny (Diney) and Mr. Rex created by Claude Bell, a retired Knott's Berry Farm sculptor, who are located just west of Palm Springs at the Cabazon exit of Interstate 10.
As you can tell this work still delights people when they come across it. "It'll scare the dickens out of a lot of people driving up over the pass." Bell was quoted in 1970 as saying of the 45-foot (14 m) high, 150-foot (46 m) long Dinny, who was "the first dinosaur in history, so far as I know, to be used as a building." according to Bell.
Dinny was built out of debris left over from the construction of Interstate 10, with a friend teaching Bell ironworking skills as he went. He traded another friend a case of Dr. Pepper to paint the exterior of the sculptures. Originally created to attract people to "Wheel Inn Cafe," the Dinosaurs are now a front to a non-denominational church and museum dedicated to Young Earth Creationism.
And that's what I love- I love the iconoclastic generosity and general non-sequitor nature of a good roadside attraction. I never know exactly what I’m going to find when I go in search of rumored attractions, but be they glorious or pathetically deteriorated, I’ve never been faced with a hopeless cliché. I can't always predict when or where I will find these works, or what I will find they are being used for.
Take, for example, The Beer Can House in Houston, Texas. This is John Milkosvitch standing in front of his creation made from over 39,000 cans of beer drunk mostly by John, his lovely wife Mary, and the couple next door.
“He didn’t think anybody would ever be interested in it. He just loved drinking his beer and just loved being outside and cutting up the beer cans.” Said Mary. There is not a yard, though there are trees enclosed in planters. The dangling can tops make music in the wind, as light dances over the supplemental bottles and bottle caps.
Yes, you can get married there! The Beer Can house is now a landmark, created so that John could get away with never having to mow his lawn or paint his house, and now beloved and protected by it's community. Proceeds from the $2 admission go to supplementing art programs throughout Houston.
Part of why I think Beer Can House succeeds, is that the subject matter is culturally approachable, as are the materials used in the creation of such an obviously time and resource consuming project. We can all imagine what it takes to cover a house in cans. Or, at least we can all imagine how long it must have taken to drink the beer.
Though I love this work by Damien Hirst, I know nothing about diamonds. I would hazard a guess that Hirst also knows very little about gem stones except how much they cost. And yet when this piece is displayed in a gallery, like the Tate Modern in a major retrospective of Hirsts work 2 years ago, viewers read the placard and are duly impressed with the costly sparkliness of it all. The piece is remarkably well crafted, though not by Hirst, and craft is not generally part of the discussion of the work. Hopefully sarcastically, though his titles do tend towards the grandiose, Hirst titled this piece "For the Love of God."
This one of the skulls I made before entering graduate school, along with my collaborator Matthew Causey, which parody's Hirst's work. We call ours "For the Love of Beer," and genuinely this is how our works are appreciated. Maybe 1/100 people who have seen this series understands the parody. What viewers get excited about is that they have experience with the materials, and what brands the materials represent. We get people excited to talk about their experience of this original disposable technology, and it's amazing what associations they have to tell us about bottle caps, and collecting, and skulls, and beer. The questions we most often get are "Did you drink all that beer?" "How much does that thing weigh?" and "How long did that take you?" Never, not once, have I been asked "How much did that cost you to make?"
One of the things I love about working with simple materials and culturally recognizable forms is that my work can be inspiring in its attention to detail.
This is one of a flock of work that I created as my undergraduate thesis utilizing duck decoys and sequins, and was a punchy retort to the pressure I felt at the time to get out of college and into a lasting relationship. I used the symbol of a duck because there is this common misconception that ducks mate for life, when really they mate under duress and threat of drowning, and mostly for convenience. I know this because, much like Aesop, I look to observing animals for metaphorical inspiration. When I need to further my introspective understanding I examine creatures where ever I can find them.
I wasn't raised to think there was a hierarchy between developing an understanding of this...
which is Da Naid by Auguste Rodin, of which there happens to be a version at my nearly local museum, the Maryhill Museum of Art, and an understanding of this...
This is a grizzly bear at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, ripping into a demonstration campsite with gusto.
I love zoos and Natural History Museums. I love them because they, like roadside attractions, are just waiting to surprise me with what I can observe with them. Instead of dictating "this is what you have to notice. This is how you have to appreciate. This is what you have to see," I generally find I'm seeing far more than is meant to be there, and I feel encouraged, in zoos and natural history museums, to apply this ambiguous guidance to myself and create new ideas.
This is Large Mammal Hall at the Natural History Museum in Kennsington. In this picture it's somehow splendidly lit- every time I've been it's been overcast and dark, and there are these enormous sea creatures suspended all around you as you traverse this narrow gallery. The sheer size of the daunting sculptures is ominous, but what is more disturbing is they sway, ever so gently, and seem like they could turn any moment and whomp you.
This image is of Richard Ellis working on the blue whale model that hung in the Smithsonian until 2002. You can see by the scale how unexpectedly overwhelming this piece must have been, especially before the work was surrounded by anything else, like murals or exhibits.
Hanging Dioramas, for example the blue whale pictured here, have always reminded me of something much more commonly seen at birthday parties.
Pinatas are fantastic to make. They're made mostly of cardboard, wheat paste paper mache and are covered in cheap paper. They are a fast and dirty medium, and...
They are sneaky, unexpected and funny. Pinatas are semi-sacrificial objects, built with love and attention to be smashed open to reveal presents and tokens of appreciation. You never know what is in a pinata, and its purpose is to be bashed to bits so that you can find out.
Pinata's shouldn't be confused with effigies, but often are.
This is an effigy of Lance Armstrong, meant to be lit on fire to punish the cheater in abstentia. Effigies are a very effective catharsis tool used all over the world to provide community release
But here's Elmo! Elmo wants to be smashed open just for you! Elmo wants to shower you with gifts! If you love Elmo hang him from the ceiling and hit him with a baseball bat as hard as you possibly can!
I enjoy adding purpose and function to my creations. I came up in a craft school, where always tucked neatly into our conceptual art practices there was also a clever use of hinges and hardware.
I've always had a hang up in bonding with highly conceptual art. The concepts never seem to be functional- they aren't often expanding my understanding of something, they are just continuing to repeat the set up to the joke without coming back with a zinger of a response. And yet, completed as they are they don't allow for me to expand much upon their given, television static like chatter.
Case in Point
Here's Mr. Hirst again!
"The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of the Living" sounds like a very deep work of art, and maybe it is. It certainly was a very expensive piece for other people to make after Hirst had conceptualized it. But as a piece it bothers me on a couple of levels. I don't like the 3 part division, and of course it offends me on an animal conservation level.
But most of all I hate the open mouth of the shark. Tiger sharks don't swim with their mouth open. I know the shark is supposed to look like it's charging, but instead it looks like it's in dental pain for all eternity. The work is rotting within the tank, looking decrepit and pathetic. As a scientific specimen it would have been retired years ago.
Luckily, there are plenty of excellent parodies of this work
So when I came to commenting on conceptual art I didn't feel the obligation to be direct in my allusion. There are plenty of other people who have already taken care of that for me.
Parody, Puns, Wit- these are what I feel are civilized ways to deal with societal frustration. Take an oppositional idea, tinker with it until it gives way from being frustrating to being consumable and palatable. That's what comedy is for, and in my opinion this is what art is for.
And, heavens, have I found graduate school frustrating. Getting together in small groups to look at practice works hung on carpet walls, not with the attitude of building a better, more functional alternative, but instead with judgement calls on the worthiness of theoretical meaning, and the authenticity of personal expression seems like a waste of time. Basically, I have never had a critique which encouraged me as much as someone handing me a better screw or a baggie full of bottle caps. Critique encourages insecurity, especially when we then break into critical theory groups to rip on our betters for their personal foibles.
And when we often do so it's with immature name calling and pigeon holing. For example, Here's an Alcoholic Jism-flinger.
A racially clueless red pants obsessed 2nd rate painter.
Here is a kiddie rapist.
These generalizations say nothing about the artistic gifts that have been given to us by these challenged but seemingly inadvertently benevolent dead white men. We spend our time ripping on them, beating up on each other, and depreciating ourselves in a practice that I find to be extremely frustrating.
Art could be more about having fun! About getting to the punchline, and having the tension of expectations be released into the air with flying specs of sparkling debris. About spending time with strange, out of place objects, swirling around in space, making you question reality and anticipate generosity.
So, I present to you art meant to be bashed, intended to be destroyed. I present to you
Or "the Theoretical Probability of Life in the Heart of Something Inanimate"
The installation in Room 310 is there for your, you, you art students and faculty you, this week only for your contemplative enjoyment, much like the dioramas in a natural history museum. The shark pinatas shall swirl around your head (as little blue memories of sardines circle the walls). I encourage you to spend quiet time with them, to watch as they orient themselves slowly on their hardware, like paper compasses adjusting to some artisitc magnetic field.
And then I encourage you, even more strongly, to come watch them be anihlated for your benefit, and in celebration of finally getting away from an academic paradigm that is too critical of itself, takes it's creations far too seriously, and passes judgement too often on the artists and the artists self-indulgent self-analysis rather than on the beauty and generosity of offered works..
I present to you paper tiger leopard sharks of love! A reminder of the unpredictability of delight which will hopefully stick in your craw as a sucker-punchline memory of how awesome pinatas are and how welcoming art can be.
And now I would like to thank my Cat Shark"
(On screen will be a long list of people I'm actually thanking, next to this image of my cat.)
I just read the whole thing aloud and it clocked in at just under 13 minutes without breaks for chuckles.
And there it is, mostly! Feel free to leave comments!