Sunday, October 21, 2007

Things i didn't know and why i need a clone

Over the past couple of months I have discovered a whole host of words to describe different interests of mine. Plus there are groups devoted to investigating these things.
Urban archaeology

On that note, I met with a cartographer today to brainstorm ideas for the Eyebeam Eco-Visualization Challenge focused on run off issues in the city. And of course there are a lot of great ideas, if only I could clone myself (I think a lot of my creative friends feel the same way). So in addition to the projects I just haven't had time to write about (the water project which attempts to grow plants based on relative per country water consumption, and visualizing waste in our water through floating accumulations - think sculptural) now we have mapping the flow of water in the city (through street intervention, dance or pathway marking), comparative runoff systems placed on top of the bus shelters (the new ones with the glass roofs, each one would represent the immediate area, half the roof would be as is and half would be with remediation), or umbrellas outfitted as walking catchments.

Maybe someone can just give me lots of money to make these happen (because then I could hire some assistants).


Image courtesy of

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Artist vs. Activist

Would you consider yourself an artist or an activist?

I get asked this question all the time, and I cringe every time I hear it. Why do I have to label myself as either? Which one means you will take me seriously, respect me and my work and maybe consider what I have to say? Both have their negative connotations. Both have their positive connotations.

I thought I had kind of figured it out, but I don't think I have.

I was asked this question at the HighWaterLine wrap party and here is a paraphrase of an answer that I gave.
"I would have to consider myself an artist. I approached this project from an artistic point of view, I considered the aesthetics as equally as important as the message. I also come from an artistic background. I'm not really an activist, I attended my first ever rally of any kind this year, and that's mostly because I knew the people organizing it.
"I was recently on a panel that specifically discussed the role of arts in environmental issues and the challenges in visualizing the difficult information put forth (it's the Eyebeam Eco-Visualization Challenge). We were talking about art and its power to inform and incite. One of the panelists, Michael Mandiberg asked the question 'Why can't art do something?' Historically at the same time that Duchamp was removing the function from items in order to create art, Russian contemporaries were using their art to foment revolution. So why can't art do something?"

Even this answer left me feeling uneasy. It wasn't helped by my friend Ellen Driscoll coming up to "put a fly in the ointment" to say, why do you have to chose between art and activism? Why can they not coexist. I think she and I may need to sit down and hash some of this out in further conversations, because I do agree with her. I think my above answer was the easy way out.

I am equally as influenced by Wangari Maathai as Agnes Denes. Majora Carter instills in me the same inspiration as Joseph Beuys. Shirin Ebadi, Magdalena Abakonwicz, Jane Jacobs and Ernesto Neto. My circle of friends includes artists and activists. And some, who are both. How do we, both the artists and the activists bridge the gap.

Ellen and I joked about coining new phrases such as "action artist" or "active artist" - as in not dead? I asked.

What is wrong in the art world with being an activist? Would I not be taken seriously as an artist? Is there something wrong with being an artist in the activist world? Are you not given due respect for ideas?

I promise you, more to come on this.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Who let them in?

One thing I have to remind myself is that "public art" has inherently, the word "public" in it.

This has been really driven home during the installation of the beacons during the HighWaterLine project. I have placed the beacons in 5 city parks (sorry that I never got to redo Canarsie) spanning the coast of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. Most of the installations were fairly peaceful and a nice opportunity to talk to people about New York City and climate change.

Every one of the installations involved at least one act of "public interaction." At the very first installation in Corlear's Hook Park, a gentleman was looking at the beacon, then knelt down, pulled the beacon out of the ground (it is staked on 4 corners) and removed the flashlight in the base. I was standing about 60 feet away and called out, "would you mind putting that back?" he did so, and quietly tried to restake the beacon, all without saying a word.

When I installed in Battery Park a few people would walk up, and without even pausing to look closely at the beacon, grabbed it and roughly shook it back and forth. Much like you would a snowglobe. I have had a lot of opportunity to ponder this, and cannot for the life of me understand what is the point of this activity. To me it is the equivalent of walking up to a friend, seeing that they are wearing an interesting shirt and then grabbing it and pulling them roughly about as if to see if the shirt is going to fall apart in my hands.

This activity, let's call it snowglobing (sounds vaguely rude), has happened at least once in every installation of the beacons, but the real test was the weekend long installation that just occurred as part of the Dumbo Art Center's Art Under the Bridge Festival. This massive art festival consists of installations, performances and projections and general insanity around Dumbo. There are probably around 20-30,000 people who pass through the area over the weekend. I installed the beacons on Friday afternoon and took them out on Sunday evening. Over the weekend the beacons were more than snowglobed, they were knocked down, moved, emptied, turned over, altered and pieces stolen. I don't even want to consider what might have happened that moved one beacon (and the wet, 20 pound bags of sand) about 10 feet from its original location.

Every time I visited they were in disarray. I was sometimes shocked, but mostly amused with a hint of annoyance. I calmly went about resurrecting them, often with the assistance of some kind onlookers. I should make a point that most people are very respectful of the work and treat it carefully, enjoying it in a non-threatening way and ensuring the work is left in tact for other to also enjoy. This was not the case however when a friend and fellow public artist went to visit the work in Brooklyn Bridge Park during the festival. She was so sickened by the obnoxious treatment (including a parent who watched their child knock it about, eventually toppling it) that she had to leave immediately.

So, not to disparage what is obviously a strong and fairly common urge, but if there is anyone out there who has participated in a snowglobing type of activity, we on the art making side of the fence would love to know more about why this is done...