vanity and sensational-ism

I’m testing the line between the earnest need for recognition and the desire for adulation. Somewhere packed in that already narrow borderland is something about the difference between stimulation and entertainment.

Peng and I talked about what incites real change, change for the better. My complaint was/is that I can’t see that anything is affected for the good by what I do as an artist. As he and I spoke, it became clear that I should set my quandary up in terms of an experiment. It’s been a long time since I’ve done this…

  • I suppose I need a definition for ‘good’;
  • I think I should probably identify ‘what is happening that I want to change’ (arrogance!);
  • Then, I guess I should look at the work I’ve made to see how it’s directed at the problem – if at all;
  • I’ll likely need to figure out who sees my work;
  • And, finally, I ought to design a way to collect information from viewers.

I installed new work, Public Speaking (Open It and See What’s Inside…), for thinking making living at the University of Minnesota’s Katherine E. Nash Gallery. The variables of the piece… A cheap plastic table that’s ‘of the building’, a 22″ display, a brown leather brief case, a 12:30 video, 50 sheets of inscribed paper, 6 pencils, and a legal pad.

Public Speaking (Open It and See What's Inside...)
Public Speaking (Open It and See What’s Inside…)

One of the things I like about Félix González Torres’ work is the way he generously invites the audience into his work. But, as much as I like people and am warm in actuality, intellectually, the notion of ‘people’ always puts me on edge, and so in my work it’s all silence and reading and closed books and locked briefcases and caustic language.

But this Nash show has me curious… One of the overwhelming experiences of my life, overwhelming in the sense that it happens over and over and over again, is feeling like I have to figure things out as I go along, like, very little is explained before hand and that instructions – when present – are always a little bit cryptic. Part of me says that that’s true for everyone at some point or another, but the other part of me, the louder, more certain part of me, says, actually, there are people who get guidance from day one and throughout their lives, that there’s a sense of entitlement to the world that some people have that I just don’t have. It’s that experience I’m recreating, and I’m curious about what people will do when presented with a situation and an opportunity to do something about it but without directions as to what, exactly, can or should be done.

The video in the installation re-tells the portion of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man wherein the narrator re-delivers his high school graduation speech to his town’s elders. I’ve kept text peripheral to the speech, but I’ve replaced the text of the speech with video of a hand (my hand) writing the names of historically significant African American men, men who I think of as intellectual ‘grandfathers’. The installed briefcase stands in for the briefcase the narrator is awarded after giving the speech. My briefcase contains ‘certificates’ with the names of the ‘grandfathers’ and their undergraduate colleges and the words of the men who attend the battle royal that precedes Ellison’s narrator’s speech.

The briefcase is closed. Who will open it? Will someone close it and lock it? The movie is tediously slow. Who will watch it? And the legal pad is blank. Who will write on it? What will they write?

Vanity/Sensational-ism: Part of me wishes I would just give in and use slick materials for a piece like this. You know, shock and awe. It doesn’t really beckon, and actually, it might be a little off-putting. But the other part of me, the quieter, more certain part of me, says, actually, change takes place at the lower frequencies.

(And, who knows but that, on these lower frequencies…)