Sunday, February 15, 2009
Megawords and Art Culture Ethics
I recently picked up a copy of Megawords Magazine, issue #7, that was laying around Space 1026 last First Friday. It’s from 2007, so my review here is a quite a bit outdated.
If you are unfamiliar, Megawords is a Philadelphia freezine. Produced by Dan Murphy and Anthony Smyrski, they record and discuss their interests in a commercially printed venue without commercialization. Quite a few people know of it, however, outside of Mary Tasillo’s Democratic Multiple presentation at Pyramid Atlantic last year, no one ever seems to know of or talk about what’s between its covers. (Maybe that’s why no one seems to notice all their misspellings).
This issue focuses on their typical intersecting interests in graffiti, music, media culture, and art. Structured as a series of interviews, they concentrate on several individuals whose creative foci are as serving as producers for alternative and niche populations. Some of them, such as Steve Powers and Ari Forman, former editors/producers of On The Go magazine, who discuss their struggles with credibility, financial strain, and the ethics of innovation versus selling out, come across as heroes of the contemporary art world at large. For these two, when the choice arrived between financial stability and surrendering creative control, they chose not to surrender.
Others of those they interview pontificate with great arrogance, with an underlying message of we know everything and we don’t care. They stress their rebellious and unique natures, overlooking how that doesn’t really make them any different from the rest of the world. I’m so weary of the “too cool for school” rhetoric. It leaves me hungry for someone with a dose of humility. If I ever encounter such, it will be much more original.
Despite this, some tidbits worthy of consideration do arise from their Q&A formats. Sam Schwartz, former editor of the Philadelphia Independent, provides real insight into journalism and cultural commentary. The artist known as Adams speaks of his work as a guerilla civil and social engineer. And finally, William Pym has some things to say. I was particularly intrigued over his comment, “Art’s got to be disposable. Made out of paper – or, it’s got to have the ability to last centuries. It’s one or the other.”
I am disturbed by his use of the word “disposable.” Why, in our culture of Styrofoam packaging and crowded landfills, did he choose this word? In the interview, he does not differentiate really between disposable paper art and what art that can last for centuries should be made of (could that be the Styrofoam of the art world?). Why didn’t he use the word ephemeral? Or recyclable? Pym goes on to compare art to some sort of spiritual indulgence, evoking the original purpose of indulgences.
If art is some sort of spiritual indulgence for the purchaser, I cannot help but wonder if that makes artists some sort of modern day pilgrim, nun/monk or shaman? If so, it brings another set of questions to mind.
What are artists’ ethical responsibilities to issues of disposability or recyclability? Megawords is printed on paper, which is made from a non-renewable resource – trees – in a time when our nation chops down a forest the size of the state of Pennsylvania every year to supply our paper needs. To give them their due, they encourage their readers to recycle their zine when finished. However, I’d encourage them to go one step further, and print on recycled paper to begin with.
The underlying question seems to be: is contemporary art above an eco-ethical responsibility in its creation? Or is it a worthy sacrifice? Can contemporary art be eco-conscious without being about being eco-conscious?