Recently I sat down with Emily Anne Kuriyama, a UCLA student volunteering for artist Fiona Connor, who spent the last two weeks in the lobby of the Hammer Museum creating a crowd-sourced 600-page “alternative” catalogue compendium for the Made in LA exhibition. (When available, I will post a link to the whole massive thing here). Emi was tasked by Fiona to try to figure out how to encapsulate the participation of Mario Ybarra Jr. and Karla Diaz’s de facto art school/community center/participatory art practice Slanguage in the alternative catalogue, so we hunkered down with several sheets of blank legal paper to conduct a spontaneous written interview.
Full disclosure – I work at the Hammer in the Academic Programs department, and I have had the benefit of recently hearing Mario present his project (which is where the quotes originate from), but the thoughts and opinions here are solely my own interpretation and impression of what Slanguage does. Emi has very eloquently expressed some of the questions I have heard again and again from students of art struggling to navigate the many aspects of socially-engaged, instituent practices like Slanguage, and I wanted to share our collective thought processes.
EAK: What did/do you think of Slanguage showing at LAXART? I saw it again yesterday and there were less people there than when I had originally walked through. As an empty space, it seemed more akin to a classroom/school auditorium than when I first visited.
SBY: I think this is a problematic of trying to contain a work like Slanguage in a gallery space, [a work] which is dynamic, durational, organic, and specific to a process that is operational only when activated by what Mario calls a “loose membrane” of relationships. This is a curatorial conundrum. How to keep the space from ossifying?
It is, essentially, a platform for relations to occur, but in a “sample cup size” (in Mario’s words) rather than the “FULL MEAL” provided by the actual Slanguage space.
[drawing of a sample cup and a full meal]
Mario and Karla are both teachers, they run Slanguage as a “de facto art school,” and they view this show as serving several purposes:
1) For their own SLANGUAGE-based students; this is an opportunity to highlight their activities outside of the home base, in a “cool” art space, and that legitimization is important.
2) For all the other art students (too many to host at Slanguage itself); this show demonstrates and models a fluidity of practice that young artists are interested in — [the possibility for] hybridity between pedagogy, facilitation, and object-making that no longer needs to exist in such separate spheres — but can be navigated.
EAK: I think that I’m having some trouble understanding how “legitimization” works in the context of art school outside of “the Academy” (with a capital A sort of thing). Their model(s) of hybridized artistic practices seemed to materialize in their all-over “takeover” of LAXART with murals inside/outside of the structure. The way they hung the work rendered the object-list useless, which was kind of an awesome moment for me, since it sort of epitomized their deconstruction/reconstruction of artistic practice … like the way in which I view this particular showing of work has to take on a different process, because their process for producing work is different. I guess it just seems like they’ve accomplished so much as a group that encouraged hybridity/unity, but there’s still a disjuncture or something in connecting to the sort of structures of the gallery system. That’s not a critique really. It just seemed like that tension was there.
SBY: That tension is definitely there, and it’s infrastructural. Galleries and institutions of art have built all their infrastructure up around collecting, preserving, and exhibiting objects. The methodologies and infrastructures for “showing” a work/process/practices like Slanguage do not exist, so they intervene on those structures and disrupt them. Hence the “takeover.”
Thus, as audience, our viewing methods and critiquing methods must also shift — when work is so contextual and durational we must mine the relationships and all the dynamics in every event, in every process, over the whole period, iteratively. But that is neither realistic nor really possible, so as a viewing public, we must content ourselves with the slice that we experience.
[drawing of slice of pie]
The notion of legitimization in their practice is interesting too — as a perpetually underfunded organization with a tiny space … what they CAN leverage is the power of institutions to bestow cultural capital. The artists fostered through Slanguage are legitimized through Mario and Karla’s ability to attract the opportunities afforded them via institutions of art ~ they can occupy this space internationally, and that increased cultural legitimization then feeds back locally.
I think the fact that Slanguage has shied away from increased formalization, from 501(c)(3) non-profit status, from BOARDS and MISSIONS has allowed them to remain fuzzy, fluid, with undefined edges. They expand and contract organically, they occupy multiple platforms in institutions (education, curatorial, events, exhibitions) and they are not interested in ossifying into a more specific division of programming or practice.
[drawing of Slanguage as multi-dimensional, blobby]
Mario is sometimes asked: “Where does your work begin and Slanguage end?”
And he responds: “Why do you need the answer to that question?”