Sunday, September 21, 2008

Graphic Consciousness in Philadelphia

Walking through Center City recently, carrying a screen, I received an interesting catcall. Usually these make shy, inhibited me uncomfortable, but this particular comment was something I could appreciate. The person, a gentleman selling incense on a corner, yelled, "Yeah baby, you got your silkscreen on!"

As a printmaker, it's things like that that just make me love this city.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Time in Bottles at Pentimenti

Traditionally, reliquaries are containers or vessels that contain items believed to be imbued with magical powers. During the last First Friday, the Graphic Conscience stopped in Pentimenti Gallery, which is presenting Tim Tate, Video Reliquaries, A Look into a Digital Mind, for the month of September.

Tate, a founder of the Washington Glass School, presents a series of digital videos contained in blown glass vessels (see images above, by the Graphic Conscience). The videos impart imagery such as large eyes, burning books, a naked man doing a handstand, or the viewer’s own face. Because of my background, I was particularly intrigued by the video of burning books. It had the feeling of memory, as if this video was the documentation of a significant event a for which preservation was necessary, perhaps to prevent it from happening again.

The images shift or are altered fairly rapidly, allowing viewers to speedily observe, then walk briskly to the next piece. This speed turns what could be very contemplative pieces almost into novelty items. I felt that if the film was shown at a more relaxed speed, more mystery would develop. Viewers will pause longer to observe and consider, creating an envelope of sacred space around them. For it seems to me this is Tate’s intention, to explore how a sense of the sacred can be found and applied to the media of the twenty-first century.

This is probably the most amazing aspect of Tate’s work, to take digital video, which creates a sense of distance between the artist and the viewer, and instill in it a relationship to a greater mystery. It makes me wonder what forms sainthood will take as technology progresses – some time in the future, will miracles happen online? Will the laying of healing hands adjust to allow viewers to simply visit saint’s consecrated websites? Or will the miracle be an even faster connection speed so that we can get online to find ways to get rid of our money?

Also on view at Pentimenti this month is work by Jacob Lunderby, The Smooth and the Striated, till October 18.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sarah Palin on Museums and Librarians

Thanks to Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof of Arblog, and through them Artnet, for posting this article on Sarah Palin. She has a history of trying to ban books, slashing museum funding despite state budget surpluses, and attempted firing of officials who did not agree with her. To read the Artblog article, visit here. To read the Artnet article, visit here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Philagrafika 2010 The Graphic Unconscious

The Graphic Conscience was inspired in part by the theme of the upcoming festival, Philagrafika 2010, the Graphic Unconscious. Around the world, biennials and international festivals are being launched, focusing over and over again on the same artists, the same curators, the same patrons, the same conversations. In the mind, there are several levels of awareness. Since Philagrafika has chosen to explore the unconscious applications of printed matter and contribute to establishing hierarchy in a democratic medium (which sounds more along the lines of ego), the Graphic Conscience will serve as a whisper in their ear, reminding them of printmaking's democratic origins. I have great hopes for Philagrafika, yet I fear that the art world/market will pressure them to get caught up in biennialist politics. This would result in their presenting few new discoveries among the artistic offerings, while simultaneously neglecting the Philadelphia print community that has supported them since their beginnings as the Philadelphia Print Collaborative.

Acting as an unseen presence in the printmaking community and the city of Philadelphia, this project, launched in the egalitarian world of the internet, will serve to discuss and critique the graphic arts and its hybrid forms. In the wake of the Graphic Conscience will appear printed ephemera directing those who discover these remains to this blog. Here they are invited to read, comment, and continue these dialogues.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Memory, Nostalgia, Film and Performance at Nexus

It was a rainy evening that brought the Graphic Conscience to the Crane Arts Building for a pair of Philly Fringe performances presented by “asNEXUS,” at the NEXUS/Foundation for Today’s Art. Despite having a name that conjures the sound of a sneeze, the two pieces presented, assembling minutiae and Wanna Kiss Myself, were hybrids of dance, sound, performance and finally audience participation. Dance and movement are not typically seen as graphic art forms, however, the negative spaces created by bodies in motion and the temporal marks of the human form while holding a pose belie this notion.

assembling minutiae

The first of the two performances, this piece describes itself as “an environment designed to explore the construction of memories…thought by neuroscientists to be a dynamic process reiterated each time a memory is called to mind, as minute aspects inhabit separate spaces in the brain and must journey together to form recognizable images.”

Several video projections created an environment for mullet-haired performer Emily Sweeney’s dance/movements (see above, photo by the Graphic Conscience). Most were projected towards the back walls of the performance space, with one at an angle off to the side. From where I was sitting, this angled projection eventually seemed to work, although I wondered about other parts of the audience. At the beginning of the performance multiple projections seemed gratuitous, but began to make more sense as the piece developed.

This piece evolved through projections of several performers in brightly lit spaces illuminating Sweeney’s movements. As the performance continued, she seemed to wrestle, fuck, embrace or seek some sort of ghost or invisible presence. The projections and the droning tones of the accompanying sound performance appeared to embody memories that continue to haunt Sweeney, something relived but not willingly remembered.

At the end of the performance, Sweeney stood in a column of light, and then returned to the fetal position in which she had begun her movements from. It did not feel that Sweeney’s performance came to any resolution with her ghosts; instead it seemed to suggest relief with having escaped the past.

Wanna Kiss Myself

First presented as a film, Wanna Kiss Myself was shot as a site-specific dance/performance in an emblematic Philadelphia row home. Various dancers move through the narrow hallways, stairways, and barely seventeen-foot wide spaces of typical Philadelphia row home architecture. More than anything, I think I enjoyed the site-specific nature of the piece. Director/dancer J. Makary sporadically retained and covered up the knickknacks and chatchkes that define and clutter up our lives. I actually enjoyed the movements more when the clutter was present; it transformed the adolescent pretentiousness of the piece to something more profound.

I was bothered by her sporadic choices to not reveal – they seemed chosen at random. I kept expecting the dancers to pull away the white sheets or paper that was obscuring the objects, but perhaps Makary chose not to just because that would be too predictable.

Makary’s genius may be her ability to imbue the slightest movements with the tension of a grand plie. The film alternates between this controlled rigidity and then releases of oomph and vigor. At the end of the film, she returns to this tautness then allows it to gently dissipate.

After the film, Makary, accompanied by a vibrating goat, came on stage to do a smartass meta performance with barely-willing audience participation of which the documentation will be on display on Nexus’ website and in its gallery from September 11 till October 3. Makary explains that because something she referred to as the “Trans-National Arts Something Important” was coming to Nexus, they needed something “really good” on display in the gallery for when they came. As comfortable as Makary appears before the camera, her live performance felt a little forced and short.

I see a great future for Makary, but I believe that she needs to develop more ease with a live audience. That said, I am interested to see what the eventual exhibition will evolve into, how it will embody Makary's ability to manipulate friction, subtlety, and ironic wit.