Saturday, March 31, 2012

Twinkle Fingers Are No Way To Decide A Death Match, or: Why I Won The Flux Factory Art & Occupy Debate

I couldn't find a picture of my Deathmatch opponents, so I tried to approximate the best I could (I imagine Hrag is Master)

This past week Paddy Johnson of Artfagcity, Hrag Vartanian of Hyperallergic, the artist Bill Powhida, and I were invited to debate the topic of the art community's place within the Occupy Wall Street movement. The debate was hosted by Flux Factory and organized and moderated by Douglas Paulson & Christina Vassallo. The debate is now available as podcasts. As I told my fellow panelists, the debate format made this the single most enjoyable panel I've ever been on. It helped that I know and like everyone else on the panel, respect their work and opinions, but I really enjoyed that there was no pretense at agreement, no impulse to reach a consensus. It made for a fun night of arguing with a group who all enjoy arguing. Perhaps because it was billed as a "Deathmatch" I swore like a sailor (or maybe because I always swear a lot), so by that metric I clearly won the debate (except the method actually used: twinkle fingers).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Freedom Towers and Political Fear

David Childs presenting his "Freedom Tower" design (2006); Occupy Wall Street protester being bodily removed (2011)

Recently I was asked to contribute a piece for a group show in Hong Kong about the "ways objects produce space." Rather than contribute a sculpture and hope for some sort of latter-day phenomenological experience between ‘object’ and ‘subject’ however, I decided to revisit an urban design project that I had not worked on for over a decade. In addition to recreations of three architectural counter-proposals I originally showed in March of 2001, I added a fourth that has been gestating for almost a decade, but has suddenly taken on new relevance. I proposed building nine “Freedom Towers” arranged in a tight grid formation and completely occupying the available open space of Tiananmen Square. I wrote a post for Rhizome about the entire project, but in review my thoughts I returned to a video of talk I attended by David Childs, the Chief Architect of SOM's "Freedom Tower." Child's 2007 talk was called "Building and Fear", and while the fear he was addressing in his talk was the fear of terrorism  - a fear he calls "anti-urban" - it is interesting to note that he reports that the push to close of the streets surrounding the New York Stock Exchange began before 9/11. My project is concerned with an older fear that has been shaping of cities, the fear of political protest. A fear I might call anti-civil. Modernity is city life. Civilization and civility both draw their meaning from the same place, the ways we have learned to behave by living together in cities. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Comic Books are Dead III: Moebius Is Dead

Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project (2003): Moebius, The Incal (1981)
(Part I and Part II)

When I was in grade school I fell in love with the comic book art of Moebius. I was sad to hear he died. As an artist myself I think a lot about my first loves, Moebius was one of them. When I talk with parents who have children who like to draw and are curious how to foster their "talent" I tell them to find art the boy or girl will enjoy copying. I usually suggest Calvin and Hobbes, because Bill Watterson's drawings are actually very advanced, with sketchy traces of cross-sectional contour and other old master devices for describing 3D forms and spaces. For the children of my friends and acquaintances, Watterson it is a safe bet, the subject mater is tame, no one is going to get mad at me. No one is getting fucked by a dog-headed villain or dropped from a thousand foot drop and shot at for sport.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Seeing Red: Fabian Protests

George Washington on Wall Street; and an OWSer who didn't get the memo

I'm aware that, due to the Tea Bagger's tricornered pinheads, looking at OWS in relation to George Washington's Continental army is a mixed metaphor of sorts. And while I am more than happy to cede the Boston Tea Party to the Neoliberals, Libertarians and their flock of rasist retirees, the OWS movement, and its admires, would do well to consider the lessons of the long war of attrition that followed that initial tax revolt. According to the historian Joseph Ellis: "Washington did not believe he was weak, and he thought of the Continental army as a projection of himself." Clearly OWS movement has no reason to imagine itself as weak, it imagines itself as a projection of the 99%, but like Washington, there seems to be an urge for symmetrical confrontation: to shut down the G8, to demand that the Whitney Biennial cease and desist, and to call for a general strike on May 1st. Like Washington however, OWS can't win frontal assaults, they need to make what Ellis calls, a "Fabian Choice."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thoughts on Triple Canopy's Open Letter to Kevin Kelly

Episode IV: A New Heap - Robert Smithson, Heap of Language (1966): Star Wars, Opening Crawl (1977)
"You remember, right? “Star Wars: A New Heap,” by John Powers, that elaborate Smithson-inspired disquisition on the relationship between Star Wars and Minimalist sculpture. Apparently sci-fi is the internet’s main artery, because we’ve never gotten more unique hits for any article." An Open Letter to Kevin Kelly - Triple Canopy
While no one has asked my opinion, but because it opens with a reference to the essay I wrote for them about Star Wars (and the very favorable review Kelly posted about it on his blog), and since I at least correspond with all the players (pretty sure the open letter was written by Colby Chamberlain) I felt I have the right to chime in. I take issue with the idea that What Technology Wants is war, but also with countering Kelly' observations on technology with a 40 year old quote. Triple Canopy's position feels dogmatic to me. Bending a knee to canon while ignoring what is happening all around us. Cassandra vs Pollyanna is a false choice. Things are bad - our problems are very real. But as Kevin Kelly points out to those who say we can't go on as we are: We never do.