Martha Rossler - Culture Class: Art, Creativity, Urbanism, Part I

Having just moved here from New Orleans and being involved in the struggle for fair housing there, I won’t say I was excited to see it mentioned in this strong warning for artists to be mindful of their place and power in current social structure; yet, I was pleased to see it brought up. It’s this kind of awareness and attention to detail that defines the text at large: Martha Rosler’s writing seems to come from the perspective of someone knowledgeable not only through observation and study, but also having lived the subject matter. Indeed, managing to avoid being New York-centric on such a subject is a strong endorsement of the argument in and of itself; there’s certainly enough there to parse. This is a tough subject to cover without being prohibitively dense, but Rosler manages to do it extraordinarily well.

I think a blunt, to-the-point approach is appropriate here: man, fuck Richard Florida.

 Richard “Dick” Florida, seen here enjoying a cool glass of water like other human people.

Richard “Dick” Florida, seen here enjoying a cool glass of water like other human people.

While I understand that the text at large is an intelligent and informative treatise on urbanization and the artist class’ place within that process, I can’t help but open with the sheer hostility I feel toward the end result, a man whose name alone conjures the image of a sunburned phallus starting bar brawls in a Señor Frog’s. In all seriousness, I think it’s important to consider the kind of damage that can be wrought by someone who looks fair but feels foul, someone who wears the mantle of Neoliberalism while using its tenets as a cudgel to bludgeon the poor and sweep them out of town. A person who divides human beings and their value using tools such as a “gay index” in anything other than a satirical tone should have their intentions and their personage as a whole called into suspicion at the very, very least.

Which is why Rosler’s closing is so perfect. Florida is this problem of artists and gentrification, the product of it wrapped up in shiny packaging. He is what happens when we don’t pay attention and lean too heavily on our collective fancy-free sides. As the artist speaking regretfully about his part in Soho’s gentrification showed on page 09, the politicians, press, and upper class in general will adapt to our whimsy and take full advantage of the money that it attracts. And, in the words of BlackRock CEO and reprehensible bastard Larry Fink,

The two greatest stores of wealth internationally today is contemporary art ... and I don’t mean that as a joke, I mean that as a serious asset class, and two, the other store of wealth today is apartments in Manhattan, apartments in Vancouver, in London.
— Robert Frank, CNBC 2015

Rosler wrote this before such remarks, but she has a clear view of their impending approach.


Stealing Sophie Calle

Anyone who is capable of writing about complicated people fairly and deftly should be celebrated, it being far more difficult than it appears to step back from our own biases, reveal information piecemeal, and give the audience a chance to glean meaning for themselves. Our author, Alyssa Grossman, shows here that her background in both the science of anthropology as well as visual arts and storytelling have been carefully synthesized over the years. This piece, while holistically about Sophie Callie and her career, is greater than the sum of its parts, reading as a thoughtful presentation on ethics and what it means to be an artist interfacing with the sciences and with the world.

I confess that my knowledge of art history, particularly contemporary and 20th century art history, is somewhat limited, and this is my first run-in with Sophie Calle. The text seems to have been designed for a more educated individual, but managed to stay surprisingly accessible considering the subject matter. Thankfully, Grossman’s careful writing dictated information quite well while coloring my opinion just enough in the process. There’s a celebration of sorts for an artist here, while at the same time Calle’s ethics and motives are called into question wholesale. It’s something of a lepidopterist’s quandry: “We’re very pleased you’ve managed to find and categorize all of thesemarvelous butterflies, but did you have to be so rapturous while killing them?”

The time frame of writing is important as to this overarching question. The late teens of the new millennium appear to have all the growing pains of the average teenager heading into their twenties, full of questions, doubt, anxiety. Fear and loathing of and for our predecessors. I see this as a net positive, especially when considering artists like Calle in their early years. While experimentation is generally good, it can and does harm other people, and we must be careful of exposing others to harm while pursing our art. In addition, while all of us do love to wear the fancy hats that come with being an anthropologist, ethnographer, scientist, engineer, or what-have-you, it’s paramount that we not muddy the waters of discovery with our art. If anything, our art should be used as a sieve for these professionals, a way to simplify and render their information potable for the rest of the world to consume.

These are the kind of scholarly questions posited by Grossman (far more eloquently) in the closing of the text. Yet, it’s preceded by an exploration of Calle’s installation, Take Care of Yourself (2007) that reads as very loving and inspired, and I can’t blame her for feeling this way. Calle’s later work is far more fascinating to me, seeming to be curious investigations into experience, thought and memory, into the little stories we tell ourselves and the constructions we attempt to make our lives and narratives fit, into even the perceptions of beauty by the blind. This kind of work is what makes art valuable to me. Because of that value, the closing paragraph of questions is a strong finish to the text, opening up a conversation artists consistently need to have with each other and ourselves about not only creating, but why, for whom, and how we should do so.

1. What was the reaction of “average people” to Calle’s early, salacious work? How would it be perceived by contemporary youth who are very sensitive to their privacy and ownership of it?

2. What began the turning of the tide on artists moving away from “reductive and dichotomoising ‘self/other’ paradigms”?

100 Words (give or take)

Having originally applied for the Fine Arts masters program, I was apprehensive at the prospect of switching to Printmaking. After all, my experience in the field is somewhat limited, having been more an illustrator and painter than anything else, excepting perhaps a carpenter. However, after looking into the program and, day by day, learning more about the tools and techniques available in the field, about how effectively these can be used for communication and education, I became very excited. The thrust of pursuing a masters in the first place was to explore a decidedly environmentalist slant, anyhow; in short, I know what I want to say, I simply need to learn the language.