Mierle Laderman Ukeles produces environmentally sustainable art. The emergence of words such as green andeco-friendly in our contemporary lexicon is probably due in part to Ukeles’ manifesto on maintenance art in the 1970s. Her recent lecture at the San Francisco Art Institute on May 3, 2010, included a discussion of ideas such as gesture, viewer participation, and intentionality. Ukeles’ lecture established her as not only an artist, but an archaeologist, ethnographer, and excavator of culture.

In her talk, Ukeles drew comparisons between sanitation workers, who occupy a very male-dominated field, and homemakers, who are generally female. This comparison was the beginning of her art practice, which she coined Maintenance Art. It also served as a marker for the evolution of feminist art at large. Ukeles’ Maintenance Art forces the viewer to broaden his or her scope of perception and understanding to a universal spectrum. The artworks Ukeles highlighted during her lecture provided the viewer with an intimate look into how she approached the granular notions of “self” and “other,” extending to the greater symbiotic relationships between the two on a universal scale.

In her work Touch Sanitation (1979-1981), she shook the hands of thousands of sanitation workers and thanked them for their service to New York City. Documenting the workers’ initial animosity, then curiosity, and eventual acceptance of her work, she showed the progression from this particular piece to other more participatory works. Ceremonial Arch Honoring Service Workers in the New Service Economy (1988) consists of an archway fashioned from a collection of gloves and steel pillars donated by New York City agencies.

Originally published to Art Practical for Shotgun Reviews May 2010

The virtually untraceable art collective HUSH has done an excellent job at creating work that is fugitive and fleeting. Contemporary art increasingly entails questioning aspects of consumerism, commoditization, and the prevailing system of values over creating something for our eyes to gaze upon. HUSH’s work—a hybrid of activism and criminal activity—provokes us to see all the aforementioned within a legal construct, yet through an artistic lens. Politics and law serve as their ready-mades. They command our intellect be involved when examining their work and to react with a critical eye.

The surreptitious nature of their art heightens its value without much effort on their part. Based on the economic model of supply and demand, HUSH’s work is priceless. Not only is it unfeasible to sell the output of what they produce, the group takes it a step further and manages to catapult any documentation of their work. It becomes irretrievable and irreproducible.

In reminding us that art does not have to become a commodity, HUSH also calls into question the necessity for a maker. Is identification necessary? Should the public or HUSH followers know these renegade, almost vigilante, artists? I say no. The only individuals who should be privy to their identities are the collaborators themselves. This enigmatic nature makes their work all the more potent and proves a serious challenge to the art world. In some ways, their effective anonymity could herald the demise of the concept of the artist. Yet, I’m sure with their continued efforts to create incendiary work that provokes and thrusts its way into our visual landscapes, they must continue to stay apparitions.

Paradoxically, there is safety for these artists living and working outside the boundaries of the art world. Their activities seem to show us that we are not as free as we would like to think. I’d like to imagine that this clever art collective sits and connives atop some constructed Bentham panopticon, keeping watch.

Originally published to Art Practical for Shotgun Reviews April 2010

With the artist’s reception in a large Budget rental truck, accompanied by a performance piece involving libations and black lights, “Proliferations Part 2” was both provocative and engaging. Viewing the show itself meant being escorted by minivan through a security gate to a roll-up-door storage unit, which was brought down once participants had entered. Viewing works in close proximity not only invoked a strong sense of anticipation, but a participatory aspect to the actual exhibition. “Proliferations Part 2” comes from the curatorial collective OFF Space, which is composed of artist-curators Kathrine Worel, Elyse Hochstadt, and Emmanuelle Namont Kouznetsov. The exhibition included works by Alexis Arnold, Alicia Escott, Michael J. Ryan, and Erica Gagsei. The pieces exhibited were constructed from man-made objects, transformed into organic shapes and forms that were then deliberately set against a wooden backdrop.

With their technologically based pieces, artists David Stein and Peter Foucault utilized this confined location to illustrate the dichotomous nature of excess and lack within a space. Michael Kerbow’s Meat Map simulated a pull-down wall map, thus creating a simulacra of memory based on grammar school geography classes.

In comparison, a viewing of “Proliferations Part 1” at Rhodes & Fletcher Wealth Management offices congruently emphasized the various ways in which environment plays a role in our perception and reading of art. Although no special code was needed, “Part 1” required permission in the form of an appointment to view the works. In “Part 1,” there was a clear distinction between art and venue, whereas “Part 2” drew heavily from the environment to provide the viewer context. Artists from “Part 2” palpably incorporated the environment to have each piece function and become experiential. Although extremely different settings, both sites obligated the viewer to engage in a process of perception and valuation. This engaging was as much a part of the exhibition as the work itself, though that might not have been the original intention. Overall, it would be difficult for a viewer to ignore the environment in these exhibitions, as they are so different from the typical gallery setting we have become so accustomed to.

Originally published to Art Practical for Shotgun Reviews March 2010

Photos from Proliferations-Part 2

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As I stood in the middle of the gallery floor watching the real-time projection of a performance in the ‘hole’, I heard someone say, “Only in San Francisco”.   I thought to myself, “Really”?  There must be other places with similar takes on conceptual and performative art in all parts of the world but I did find the observation rather interesting in that San Francisco does seems to nurture all types of conceptual art as evidenced by the 100 Performances.

The way in which people react to art, especially, conceptual art is a mixed bag.  It’s not the run-of-the-mill eye candy art you see when you go to a museum or a gallery.  It’s also created with various media people may be unfamiliar with or never really known.  Seriously, I thought to myself, as I stood there watching and listening, “You can use a speaker to produce sound and that’s art?”.  The quick after thought of, “Yes, folks.  That’s art”.  The sheer beauty of experimental art is that it doesn’t care if it’s disliked, liked, or loved.  It’s a way of combining all the senses to challenge the viewer.  You are not only seeing but experiencing as well.  There is a strong sense of engagement and that’s one of the rare gifts this exhibition gave its viewers.

The fundamental commonality seems to be the reaction of the viewer.  The reaction itself is art.  An artist is an artist if there’s someone around to view the art.  Right?  I guess that’s a slippery slope because art is art is art.  Yet, conceptual art seems to rely on a viewer and, in some cases, a participant.  In any case, I found myself hankering for some experimental art and glad I got my fill at 100 Performances.  Sure hope this becomes an annual gig.  We shall see.

I’ve been promising myself that I would keep to my art writings and dedicate time to those artist heroes I’ve stored in the large unorganized art bin in my mind.  For the longest time, I’ve been out of commission for reasons not even known to me.  In any case, I digress, as always…

One of the Filipina artists I’ve discovered over the years is Stepanie Syjuco.  Her work, seriously, had a profound effect on the way I view highly conceptual and communal based art.  Syjuco definitely has a way of injecting a healthful dose sociological and cultural issues within her work to make the viewer question the way in which one consumes and perceives ‘other’.  For the scope of this entry, I’ve chosen to focus on one of her Counterfeit Crochet Project, which started in 2006 is an ongoing endeavor.

The characteristics and themes most prominent in her work are ideas of the Black Market and the “Hello Kitty” effect, which a term Syjuco coined whilst working on her master’s thesis in Art Practice from Stanford Univeristy.  For the most part, the consumer is sold, provided a product for consumption, for use, yet the process in which this very product is produced goes through the hands of an individual that may not have the income or even pragmatic use for it (i.e., a handbag, piece of clothing, etc.).  It’s been a wild ride of adventures of Syjuco as she teaches and exhibits across the country.  This amazing artist will definitely have you pondering the goods you purchase but also, much more importantly, contemplating your role on a much more global scale…

Originally Posted: March 15, 2008

Opening night – Thursday, February 7, 2008

The minute I walked into Matt Borruso’s show, Full Spectrum Aura, at the Steve Wolf Gallery, I became surprisingly nostalgic.  I was reminded of two former classmates who resembled the subjects of Magenta and Turtleneck.  At first glance, one may be struck by the vibrant and elaborate color palette as I was.  It certainly takes deftness and a breadth of experience to use shrill and arresting colors to capture flesh tones and highlights of the face (i.e., the glimmer captured in a pair of sad eyes) the way Borruso has done with his portraits.

As I studied the relationship between colors, I was impressed with Borruso’s desire to utilize and experiment with Josef Albers’s theory on color (as he mentioned in his artist statement).  The heavily bagged eyes, the overly pouty lips that look as though they’ve been licked to avoid dryness, and the shine of an oily bulbous nose are the details that make his paintings oddly captivating.  His interpretation of portraiture provokes the viewer to take into account how one understands ideas of beauty and ugliness.  Although the colors may seem a bit garish at first glance, this is what draws you in.  The blank stare of these clear blue, sleepy eyes had me thinking past the grotesque features Burruso insists we hide or vanquish through various types of cosmetic procedures or measures.  All which we can correct is what we’ve been conditioned to accept as unsightly and unacceptable (i.e., Turtleneck girl’s 5 o’clock shadow or Young Man Fancy’s gargantuan buck teeth).  The colors serve as an unusual disguise to cover up what repulses and opposes our sense of beauty.  Yet this is exactly how Borruso’s paintings and drawings succeed.  They are remnants of our past experiences with something, someone, maybe even ourselves that we have found hideous but in some strange way, you like staring and leering at what you’re not.  Or, perhaps, there’s a bit discomfort because you may be looking at your own imperfections.  If you are anything like me, you start feeling guilty for staring and desire to stop but are unable to do so.  Burruso’s graphite drawings are just as, if not equally, engaging.  You are first attracted to the intricate rendering but within a split-second, you focus on some of the more uncommon facial characteristics of these young subjects and wonder if you should be looking at all.  No pun intended but that’s the beauty behind Burruso’s work.  In looking at more of his work via his blogspot, you will find other portrait oddities.

You will want to check out the threads on the boy in Purple Suede Lederhosen, which serves as yet another testament to Burroso’s expertise and skill in color and use of light perfectly in all the right places.

Originally Posted: February 08, 2008