Christian Smith in the ICI garden where he begins to build a portable darkroom that he’ll use for his contribution to the ICI’s current long-term project – With Everything But the Monkey Head: theorizing art’s untheorizable processes. Christian will be working behind the scenes for most of May, eventually cobbling together, in addition to the outdoor darkroom, a large format camera which he’ll use to create wet plate photographic images from century-old techniques. Watch for his ‘formal’ Monkey Head residency (as we affectionately call the project) where he’ll share his unique research with the public—this event to occur sometime in June of this year.
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A very special welcome to VIR Jamie Knight who will be digging into the ICI’s extensive ‘AIDS archive’ of documents and ephemera created during our 20+ years of AIDS activism. I will be very curious to see how he uses this material to unpack, as he terms it, our… cultural amnesia created by decades of “wounded attachments.”
It’s been over 2 decades since I was invited to give my ‘response’ to the AIDS pandemic and its impact on the field of art history. The black hole at the center of my ‘assessment’ (pictured above) represents a deep and painful feeling of loss that has not abated over the years. In fact, the feelings it elicits seem even more stinging today. When I look at this image-text, after many years of deep storage, the large and imposing ‘black sun’ in its center is unable to hold any weight against the small dedication in the lower right corner. Those two words were added, no doubt, as a personal postscript; their small size reminds us of the etiquette surrounding public displays of private grief. Today, we know that with AIDS, all grief is public and political. By 1995, that visual whisper would become the opening salvo to the clarion call of all our AIDS activism.
for Rory … we’ll keep repeating your name
Our AIDS activism was born out of a raw, numbing grief, was weaned on disillusionment, and eventually became codified into a few long-term projects that were, and are still, fueled by a kind of melancholic compulsion-to-repeat.
I look forward to finding out.
For those of us who are part of artist-run organizations, the last decade has been a difficult one. Like everyone else, we have suffered from an economic downturn brought on by a decade of war-spending and greedy banking ventures. More dismaying, though, has been the conservative turn and overall diminishment of artistic energy in ‘the art world.’ A recent article by Holland Cotter in the New York Times (1/19/14) summarized my own feelings of helplessness brought on by what he called ‘the gallery industrial complex.’ He bemoans the fact that in this “caste-system,” attitude is often mistaken for ideas, art writing has become ‘describe-the-strokes’ advertising, and museums have forgotten their “role as public institutions that change our habits of thinking and seeing.” He wonders why even art schools seem content to accommodate the general art economy that leaves their students indentured to creditors and to the art market where they are unable to venture into realms of creative activity that defy classification of art at all – the usual territory of the art world.
Pretty depressing stuff. But Mr. Cotter also knows his art history. There will come a time when “the art industry decides to liquidate its overvalued assets and leave.” And what then?
Artists, the first and last stakeholders, will have themselves to fall back on. They’ll learn to organize and agitate for what they need, to let City Hall know, in no uncertain terms, that they’re there. They’ll learn to organize, not just on special occasions, but all the time. They’ll learn that art and politics are inseparable, and both can be anything and everything. They’ll learn to bring art back from the brink of inconsequence.
As someone long on questions and short on answers, let me ask: Why not start now?
So, as another year begins, I’ve traded in my depression for my dusty combat boots. I know what I have to do.
To all the hundreds of artists I’ve had the great pleasure to meet and work with over the years, I hope you’ll join me in the fight…
…to bring art back from the brink of inconsequence.