In Spring of 2011 I participated in MassArt’s MFA Thesis Show III in Bakalar Gallery, installing my microExhibit ‘forensicEvidence’ in The Pooka Lounge. I designed a fold-out postcard that mapped out my art objects on display in the little room toward the front of the gallery space — and I designed the map to spoof on CSI, making my overall installation look like a crime scene, even claiming the gallery offices as a personal, artistic crime lab for my fictional Bureau of cyberSurreal investigation.
I think I just have a thing for Horatio Caine — the overacted, ridiculous character on CSI: Miami portrayed by the utterly brilliant David Caruso. I also love William Shatner, too. Jack Klugman in Quincy. You get the picture.
‘forensicEvidence’ featured an array of pieces, all in various states, I guess, or at least somehow covering little stops along the full continuum of creative expression available to all artists, designers, performers and musicians. Some mediatypes were not covered in the microExhibit. I featured mostly what I consider to be ‘the dead arts’ — those more traditional, object-based creative artifacts that sit on the wall or on a pedestal. These are the kind of works that — at least since my rigorous research, studies and work at Dynamic Media Institute — when I approach these more traditional artworks now, I tend to think, ‘Yeah, but what does it do?’ I think one of the points of fE was to point out this feeling to others, at least those colleagues and gallerygoers that might’ve seen some of the shows, presentation talks and other works I created in the 3+ years I studied at DMI. By comparison, these were definitely the dead remains of projects in my creative streams, these evolving cycles of cybernetic ( one might say ‘cyberSurreal’ ) work final found like roadkill in the gallerySpace.
I will definitely come back to this topic and the major themes I expressed through this microExhibit, but for today I wanted to elaborate more on an object I titled ‘correspondence‘.
Take a look at the map:
Tucked into the corner of the gallery, somewhere between my excerpt from the Laugh Observation Library and disConnections, a simple, plain, manila envelope sat on the beautiful, blonde wooden gallery floor. The envelope is unassuming and could be misconstrued as trash, potentially not actually an intentional part of the show at all. But its definitely marked on the map and was an entirely intentional component to the show.
Through my active work in Gunta Kaza’s ‘Design as Experience‘ at DMI, I almost immediately divined a subconscious thread connecting most of my work, or at least one of the many threads I chose to pick up and follow back into the curled up inner recesses of my psyche. In this particular case, I seemed to have this fetish for containers: bottles, cans, boxes, envelopes — anything you could open and close and potential hide or reveal things with, these metaphors for ‘what’s inside’ seemed to keep coming up as I worked on trusting my instinct and quickly working on a daily basis with physical materials. In fact, I even consider each one of us as human beings to be living, breathing containers — each of us carrying with us certain energies, experiences, memories, issues and other ‘unknowns’ that typically remain hidden in our polite, public lives, but that could spring out at any moment depending on our daily interactions with people, objects and environments in the real world.
But I digress once again.
The envelope contained pieces of paper — about 4 or 5 printed messages, all pertaining to a controversial petition that at one point circulated around the MassArt Graduate social and political circles. I was upset about this petition and didn’t know what to do about the negative, angry energy that seemed to build and fester inside me. The original document was an attempt to oust my department from the MFA Thesis Shows, which I found not only utterly preposterous but extremely offensive and actually quite sad. Here were a group of my supposed peers, right? Near-future fellow MFA candidates that might go on to become university-level professors or potential future leaders in the fine art mileau — and here they were acting in the most ignorant and exclusionary way imaginable. You tend to think of artists as cool and mellow, rather accepting people that fit the typical blueprint of liberal lifestyles and all, but here about 22 of my colleagues suddenly became nothing more than potential assistant manager fodder, utter corporate politicians in every sense of the phrase. It was just so uncool to find out about and it definitely affected my workflow as an artist, designer and student at MassArt. And I couldn’t get out of the maelstrom of negative energy started by this petition in time to really focus on my work and graduate on time.
You know, you can’t just run around screaming in horror about this stuff, right? And you can only complain or try to fix it with the administration so many times. And then you just need to get back to work and express what you feel, what you experience. So, I decided to make a piece about it. And that piece was ‘correspondence’.
‘correspondence’ was my attempt to provide a fair and equal written and documented counterpoint to the petition. I mean, if I couldn’t resolve these matters post-petition with my 22 colleagues, why wouldn’t I either write my own petition or maybe just produce other similarly official documents in an answer to the request set up in the petition? If I put my written, emotional reactions to the petition inside the manila envelope and left it on the floor of my microExhibit like some sort of unimportant debris ( as, I guess, they indeed were ) would anybody even notice? Would anyone pick up the envelope and read my thoughts and reactions to the petition? And if they did, would they be the parents, friends, colleagues and faculty of my 22 colleagues involved in these political antics?
I’ve noticed that, besides this return to the container as a material vocabulary in my personal expressive works, I also tend to leverage actual tension whenever possible. I think its part of the natural humorist in me, at least that’s my retrospective assessment at this point. But in order for comedy to succeed — even if the very content of that comedy is more on the side of black humor — in order for comedy to succeed you need to set up tension for the audience. The tension is just one part of a 3 part system called ‘The Benign Violation Theory‘. And in this case the tension came readymade in the total chance Duchampian sense of the word. I seem to figure out a timely tension to tap and then, at times, use that tension to my advantage. And that’s what I was trying to do here with ‘correspondence’, although the actual inspiration for the project work was anything but funny to me.
I think at one point I wanted to write a letter to George. Later on, toward the end of the semester I just needed to let it all go. But I feel that the matters of this petition and the fact that the readymade tension and the social segmentation between each department at MassArt, well, it was never fully addressed to my liking. There was no resolution to any of it. And that’s why I don’t feel bad at all to candidly talk about my work like this. To let you know the real story. I mean, I probably won’t name names or anything, at least not in this post, but I’m pretty tempted to at least list out the initials of each and every one of the graduates that signed that petition.
But back to the work.
I’ll admit, this piece was thrown in as an afterthought. And if you think about it, not a lot of time or energy goes into putting a big, cartoonish manila envelope with written secret messages in it on the floor of a gallery. But in this case, its the thought that counts. And the setup.
I don’t really know if anyone read the contents of ‘correspondence’, but I certainly hope so. I hope it caused a little anxiety, some return tension back atchya, that sorta thing, right? And I hope it might’ve made a few of the 22 start to think about the real people on the DMI side of the fence that innocently thought we could show with our colleagues with no controversy, politics or emotional repercussions. I mean, we all paid the same entry fee, right? And we might take different classes, but that’s no excuse to be so utterly insensate. I thought people came to creativity with a sense of empathy and a need to understand ‘the others’ in the world.
There was one morning that I arrived at The Pooka Lounge — I needed to troubleshoot my ‘bottled laughter’ prototype on a regular basis throughout the weeklong course of the show — I got to the gallery, entered my area, and it seemed the envelope was gone. Was it confiscated? Neatly tucked away, perhaps? Maybe somebody felt remorse or shame or who knows what. But anyhow, I found it pushed up inside the information kiosk of my Laugh Observation Library piece, so either someone thought it was misplaced garbage or they wanted to hide the evidence of the petition and my reactions to it.
I didn’t get the chance to sit in a hidden corner and watch if people picked up the envelope during the opening or the length of the show. I only have that one bit of proof that someone moved it, hid it away. I wonder sometimes if my imaginative flights of conditional ‘what ifs’ might be more important to my process than the actual forsenic evidence I would’ve accumulated with a webCam capture of the show. I think I put together certain projects just to help discover what the important questions are. To build out certain stories and scenarios in my mind as a way to run through the possibilities. It might be the experience designer in me coming out in projects like this, projects that run somewhere between participatory performance art and concept. A clever plant or maybe a trap. At the very least, a lure, an invitation, a provocation.
Anyone wanting to read up further on this and any of my other projects can pick up my thesis from Blurb. Its called ‘confounded: future fetish design performance for human advocacy‘ and I think by continuing my writing, by reflecting further on the work and research I’ve done, I am actually beginning to better understand my thesis and what I originally set out to do with my work at DMI.