“A few people have donated their bodies to the project to be eaten by mushrooms.” – Jae Rhim Lee, visual artist/designer/researcher.
The College Art Association celebrated its 100th year with more than 5,000 people gathered in downtown LA last Wednesday through Saturday for “the world’s best attended international art conference.” The city’s convention center buzzed with art talk, escalators, iPads, coffee shakes — most of our energy was sustained by the one Starbucks in a mile perimeter — and some stir-craziness at being in sunny 750 Los Angeles where the sessions better be good to keep us (notably the snowbirds) from hitting the beach.
That they were. One of the most exciting reasons to go to the CAA conference is for the new research and artist projects presented (several of which were beamed in by Skype this year). With topics including “Artists in Times of War and Revolution,” “Performance Evaluations,” “Information Visualization as a Research Method in Art History,” and “Mobile Spectatorship in Video/Film Installations,” the discussions and papers brought new insight to some of the programs and initiatives at the Walker involving crossing borders, performing arts/visual arts, online publishing, and audience engagement.
Some artist and curatorial work I’m still thinking about:
Supply Lines: Visions of Global Resource Circulation (2011-2012). An in-depth research project—exhibition and multimedia web platform—that investigates socio-spatial influences impacting perception and control of natural resources. It was initiated by artist/theorist/curator, Ursula Biemann, and the work is produced by artists, geographers, architects, and art historians from numerous cities throughout the world from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, to Eugene, Oregon. Emily Eliza Scott, a scholar and artist currently at Zurich University of the Arts involved as part of the Concept Group for Supply Lines, presented the project in the CAA session, “Investigatory Art 1969–2010: Technological Innovation, Sociability, and Immediate Experience.” Scott cited several inquiries underway. She pointed to photojournalist Uwe Martin’s study of the private sector’s response to the global food crisis by his looking at massive land grabs in the western lowlands of Ethiopia for foreign agricultural investment. And to architect Paulo Tavares’ interest in the geopolitics of frontier zones, particularly in resource extraction infrastructures pillaging the upstream lands of the Amazon Basin. Supply Lines is an amazing example of a collaborative, interdisciplinary, wide-reaching project that will use the web as a research hub in tandem with an exhibition. It is expected to launch in early 2013.
Another Life: The Digitised Personal Archive of Geeta Kapur and Vivan Sundaram. A project led by Asia Art Archive’s researcher, Sabih Ahmad, and presented by him in the CAA session, “Internationalizing the Field: A Discussion of Global Networks for Art Historians.” The archive documents contemporary Indian art since the 1960s through the extensive collections of Delhi-based Geeta Kapur, an art critic and curator, and Vivan Sundaram, one of India’s biggest installation artists. Like many of Asia Art Archive’s recognized projects to document and make accessible research on contemporary Asian art, this digitized collection will provide the public with much material on India’s art scene that would otherwise never be seen—including artwork, writings, lectures, sketches, slides, exhibition catalogues, newspaper clippings. Kapur kept an unpublished manuscript on painter Tyeb Mehta, and saved her correspondence on curated shows. Sundaram filed concept notes of events he organized. And both have hundreds of images of works by artist friends, exhibitions they went to, and photographs of the Indian art community. AAA’s so far digitized nearly 10,000 items/documents/images. In contrast to “the national art history”—knowledge channeled through art historical frameworks constructed by major national institutions, Ahmad emphasized the alternative, or “vernacular” art histories that exist in these personal archives. And that Kapur and Sundaram are known for “paving the way for discursive shifts in Indian art practice” makes this an invaluable and much anticipated resource that I can’t wait to check out.
Jae Rhim Lee’s Infinity Burial Project (2009-present). This one was the most far out of artist projects (and presenter papers) I encountered. Working at the intersection at art, science, and culture, Lee, interested in the environment and the impact our toxic dead bodies have on it, invented this burial suit embedded with edible “infinity” mushrooms that would eat the corpse, and transform it into compostable material. The artist’s proposal was a focus of Abou Farman’s presentation in the CAA Session, “Live Forever: Performance Art in the Changing Museum Culture.” Farman, speaking about artists whose selves (not just their work) completely embody the artistic concept of impermanence or immortality, asked, “Where is today’s afterlife art? … Whatever happened to the afterlife as a public artistic medium?” He situates his interest in post-secular aesthetics in artist works, and artists themselves, pushing the question of how such performative work figures into the logic and structure of art institutions. The Walker recently took up a similar issue with its acquisition of Dahn Vo’s Tombstone for Phùng Vo (2010) that will be installed in the Sculpture Garden until the artist’s father dies and the stone is then shipped to his grave site in Denmark.
OtherIS. This online video database, curatorial platform, and news digest brings visibility to artists from U.S. sanctioned countries: Belarus, Burma, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Zimbabwe. It was presented by curator Sandra Skurvida in the session, “Artists in Times of War and Revolution” organized by the Association for Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World, Iran, and Turkey. Skurvida, insisting on the exemption of art exchanges from economic sanctions, discussed two OtherIs exhibitions/screenings she was involved with last year. TV/Dinner, a series of videos by artists working in the above-mentioned countries, launched at Tania Bruguera’s Immigrant Movement International (Queens, NY) and was then screened in NYC cafes and restaurants that served food from these places. For Iran via Video Current which opened at Thomas Erben Gallery (NY), New York-based Skurvida worked with Tehran-based curator Amirali Ghasemi to each program a selection of videos focusing on Iran, and through the process posed the issue of representation in transnational art production by critically considering the ways in which their projects intersected and diverged.
OMNI-ZonaFranca. A Cuban artist collective committed to engaging with communities in Havana through their work in performance, installation, sound, and poetry. They founded the National Rap Festival, a recurring poetry marathon—Poesia Sin Fin, and a “cosmic-lab” where they regularly meet to collaborate with other artists and activists. They’ve held weekly community nights where action poetry becomes a mechanism of healing, showed each others work in local art spaces, and have set up public interventions amidst people waiting in long lines at public places like bus stops and markets. Founded in the nineties, OMNI-ZonaFranca is one of the few groups in Cuba that have been able to sustain an artistic practice for so long, smartly navigating the law against what the state refers to as “social dangerousness.” In Coco Fusco’s wrap-up for the CAA session, “Breaking Laws in the Name of Art: New Perspectives on Contemporary Latin American Art,” she showed slides listing the kinds of art Cuba accepts and does not accept (for example, does: “evidence of material hardship in order to celebrate the ingenuity of Cubans in face of adversity,” and does not: “critiques of the internal security apparatus”). Despite the restrictions and arrests the OMNI group has dealt with, they continue to take risks with their work. Look forward to knowing more about them.
The experience of artists, art historians, curators, and graduate students coming together to share their work and ideas with each other, and exchange discussion in a critical space outside of our usual contexts (university, museum, gallery, media lab, or elsewhere), is certainly worth the yearly trip. Though I completely crashed on Sunday. For next time: nix the high heels, bring an insulated coffee container, and with the many super compelling presentations to choose from it’s essential to subdue that frantic tension between thoughts of “I’m constantly missing out” and “this could get really good” in order to get anything out of it. And to lay off Twitter to avoid being tempted by updates like “Someone is blasting Joan Jett’s ‘I love Rock and Roll’ in the next session room.”#CAA2012.