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The More the Merrier, but the Deeper the Better

There are too many events for me to keep track of. My Facebook events page, my calendar, my mailboxes are overwrought. I have stacks of printed calendars on my desk that remain unopened from various arts institutions. Such choice, such variety is wonderful on the surface! Why, just this weekend, I have to hit up the LA><ART opening of two solo exhibitions by Kelly Barrie and Terry Chatkupt; Edgar Arceneaux’s opening and dinner at Suzanne Vielmetter (both Saturday at 6pm); and the Fallen Fruit Let Them Eat LACMA event on Sunday. And I will miss three cool-looking events at LACE (especially the interesting Museum of Public Fiction panel) and a friend’s sketch comedy show. And these are just the events in which I feel a real investment, those I am truly interested in and want to attend for my own edification. And these are only the ones I know about.

But with this overabundance of endless panels, participatory artworks, workshops, presentations and performances comes a heavy pressure on limited time, with the reciprocal need to feel a part of the various temporary communities produced by such events.

I know I am not alone in this contemporaneous moment, as colleagues and friends have complained of the same slightly distressing pull on their time. Some are masterful at balancing children, relationships, jobs, friends and art world events – but surely there are others like me who feel constantly overwhelmed. In many ways, we can chalk this up to the increasing ease of information distribution – and thus perhaps overdistribution? I was recently clued into the block of html code that allows one to invite all of one’s friends on Facebook to an event without discriminately selecting each invitee.

Perhaps because of this knowledge, I get the feeling that I am sometimes invited to events not because I am necessarily expected or even desired at the event itself – if I were to go to [cite potentially uncomfortable art event], I would feel out of place. Rather, these forms of distribution are yet another way in which to increase one’s cultural capital – to show that one is active on the scene, out there, working and gathering and networking and advancing one’s creative agenda.

There is nothing necessarily bad about this at all, but I do find myself overwhelmed at times by the reciprocal expectation – ostensibly to enjoy, but also to attend, to be seen at, to expand my own network, to enter new communities, to advance my own creative agenda at such events. This circulatory system of venues, people, organizers, producers, audiences, and artists is an excellent vehicle through which to increase presence and thus capital – and the expansion of synapses within such a system speaks to a dynamic art world and is indicative of current modes of operation.

These events share the “situational characteristics of contemporaneity” defined by Terry Smith as “prioritizing the moment over time, direct experience of multiplicitous complexity over the singular simplicity of distanced reflection.” As Claire Dougherty explains in her introduction to the anthology Situation, “these properties are displayed by a complex network of artworks, projects, events, interventions, happenings, small gestures and spectacular intrusions over time.” There is great slippage between artistic and political concerns that demand engagement, participation, conversation, and pedagogical situations as modes of working, and the importance of the social event to fundraising, marketing, and self-promotion.

Yet, I find myself wondering as I consider the increasing demands on my time – does the frequency and overdistribution of such events present dangers of dilution and a resulting lack of “distanced reflection”? Is there a destabilizing effect on the fragile produced communities of small experimental spaces and oft-marginalized cultural producers? Or, because of the rapid expansion and increasing professionalization of the art world, heightened in Los Angeles because of the presence of half a dozen world-class MFA programs in the immediate vicinity, is there a never-ending capacity to absorb such events? An ever-flowing stream of new art students and new work and new experimental spaces, a constant refreshment of the circulatory system of this event-driven cultural production?

I worry that scholarly reflection and distance will become impossible (or at least, difficult) with such oversaturation, and that too many critical projects simply die away without hardly a peep. I also worry that this lack of distance and criticality inevitably leads to a constant reinvention of the wheel – regurgitated events and concerns that are continually cycled through instead of built up and studied and critiqued. These worries are probably somewhat unfounded, and the proliferation of artists also means a proliferation of engaged critics and writers and publications through which to address such projects. The more the merrier, but the deeper the better. For myself, I must become okay with my own discrimination, and define how I want to function tactically in this swirl of constant production.

Staying Relevant

If you didn’t catch my recent Huffington Post contribution, I wanted to re-post it here. It is a reworking and reapplication of the post below from March 6th. The HuffPo are shortly adding an Arts Page (about time!), and a number of colleagues and friends that I greatly respect have been asked to post to it, so check it out in mid-May. Once June hits and I have a little time again, I will be up and posting again like crazy. With the Open Engagement conference coming up in Portland on May 14-17, the American Association of Museums conference here in LA, and some other social practice-related sideline research I am working on this month, there will be plenty to write about. Stay tuned!

Excerpt:

How Art Museums Are Striving to Stay Relevant for a New Generation

As I’ve been perusing my upcoming spring of various arts-related conferences (both academic and professional), a common question emerges again and again throughout these disparate events: how must art institutions change to re-engage current cultural audiences?

The upcoming American Association of Museums (AAM) conference (happening here in Los Angeles in late May) is called “Museums Without Borders” accompanied by some fuzzy language about “connection, community, cultural identity, and the power of the imagination,” but many of the actual session titles betray an overriding preoccupation: how to get new and younger audiences in interface with museums in innovative, user-generated, participatory ways.

The overwhelming consensus (as evidenced by the alarming aging of audiences to traditional arts venues – like museums, the opera, performing arts) is that younger generations of Americans eschew the largely passive role of audience, and demand participation from their art institutions. A recent article by Diane Ragsdale for the Stanford Social Innovation Review analyzes this trend in detail.

Read the rest of the article on HuffPo.