Tell us a little bit about yourself—your background, major program of study, reasons for taking this trip, and anything else interesting you want to share (maybe something people might not know about you).
Hi. I go by Andi (although my passport says something else), and I’m a Vancouver/Managua-based photographer and visual artist currently pursuing a BFA in Visual Arts at Simon Fraser University. Having taken Dorothy’s 19th and early 20th Century Art History course at SFU, I was sure that doing a Field School about the hubs of contemporary Western art would be an extremely informative and exciting opportunity for learning and travelling. Plus, a studio course to go with it seemed the best way to keep doing hands-on work when travelling. All in all, it was my desire to experience first hand a part of the “World of Art” that I’m at odds with; I am a firm believer that one must know what one seeks to criticize and potentially subvert.
What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about New York so far?
I thought the Statue of Liberty would be bigger. Grand Central Station met my expectations. Specifics aside, I was pleasantly surprised by the vibrancy of the city—it truly never sleeps. New York’s enormous density resonates with its multiculturalism; it is a place where those who want to be heard are the ones raising their voices (and you bet they have to be loud to counteract the bustling sounds of the city). There seems to be a constant tension between standing out and fitting in that keeps creative minds working and Metro musicians playing. Alas, the levels of pollution and dirtiness did exceed my expectations—you’d think they would’ve figured out a better system for its disposal at this point. Nevertheless, people are kinder than what they are pictured to be and I definitely got more smiles than insults.
Give us some insight into your assigned artwork from the Museum of Modern Art. Who is the artist? When was this work made? What is the content of this work? In what context and as part of what art movement was it made?
Jenny Holzer is a living artist that has been active since the late 1970s and most prominently throughout the 80s and early 90s. She’s the text-based artist per excellence of a generation in New York City concerned with the search and exposal of meaning while balancing the tension between the private and public. Her text-based work includes works on LED, bronze, t-shirts, projections, fortune cookies, souvenirs, billboards and the Internet. She was the first woman to represent the USA in the Venice Biennale in 1990. I was assigned to respond to her Living Series (1980-82), YOU SHOULD LIMIT THE NUMBER OF TIMES… specifically. This work was made as American youth were growing uneasy with the conservative direction the late 1970s was bringing into the new decade. An 8”x10” bronze plaque that blends in with the urban landscape, the artwork touches upon matters of the daily defiance of human nature, diverting from a mainly explicit political content and turning inwards. Working with the idea of language as a vehicle for everyday meaning, the Living Series are connected to the new wave of Conceptual Art of the 1980s.
How did you approach the creative task of responding to this assigned work in studio? What were your challenges as an artist to be in dialogue with the artwork and artist? Would you do anything differently now that you have seen the work in person?
To respond to this work, I focused on Holzer’s use of language and her approach to installation in unexpected but totally commonplace spaces. I created an exchange of intimacy through stamping phrases (in pink) of transition from a girl into a woman, a young adult into an adult, a momma’s girl into a tenant onto un-used transit tickets. The idea was to interrupt someone’s day momentarily with an anonymous gift that nevertheless carried some form of human weight. Surely the biggest challenge was trying to say something that Holzer hadn’t already said in some form, while remaining truthful to what I was sharing with the lucky passerby. In retrospect, I could have been cleaner with the actual stamping, as Holzer’s work has a manufactured quality to it that might have benefited my piece.
After seeing your assigned artwork in person (and any other related art from the same artist or art movement associated with the assigned work), what struck you most, and/or how did the artwork’s form, content, and context shift for you when seeing it?
The plaque is installed with uttermost perfection. On the second floor of the MoMA, it exists without a label, without an explanation, without a spotlight. Placed around the corner from the elevators, there’s no piece in front of it, and most people walking in front of it dismissed it immediately or thought it was just another informative plaque and so dismissed it thereafter; you could say it’s hidden in plain sight. Holzer’s cleverness hasn’t ceased to amaze me. As for other conceptual works previous to her time in the Western art, I was mostly disappointed; the level of abstraction the concepts being addressed rendered many of the works inaccessible to those outside the art world. The power of the ideas were there alright, but an idea that can’t be shared with those who most need it in the world is as good as an inside joke. Luckily, the newer generations are paying attention to conceptual artists with a more encompassing engagement to the world, as in many of the works shown in MoMA’s “Scenes for a New Heritage” exhibition, the Guggenheim’s “Storylines” exhibition, and in the Brooklyn Art Museum’s “Diverse Works: Director’s Choice” exhibition.
Today’s activity was visiting the Solomon R. Guggenheim and the East Village. What were your impressions of this part of New York after learning about it first in the pre-departure classes? What will you take away of the experiences of this day? What are the most memorable moments for you?
Like most of my co-bloggers, I was amazed by the architecture of the Guggenheim—it certainly is a space worth experiencing, simply viewing images of it don’t do justice to Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural achievement. However, unlike most of the students, I truly enjoyed their current exhibition “Storylines.” Tracing the narratives concerning contemporary artists’ practices, the building’s spiral created an approachable survey of artworks relevant to today’s world. I actually believe that it branched out from Western art, illustrating the increasingly globalized culture we are living in. But what I’m certain of is that it represented the gender demographics of contemporary art more accurately than other museums in town: half, if not more, of the artists were female.
As for the East Village, it provided me with a lovely day around a part of town that embraces the aging of the inanimate. Old buildings with walls covered in refreshing ivy (not as much green as I need but closer than several other parts of New York). The amount of commercialized sub-culture was not a pleasant surprise but I have been to Camden in London before and the commodification of punk is old news. Nevertheless, I think that if I had to live in NYC, the East Village would be the place for my rusty, musical, plant-filled apartment (granted money wasn’t a concern, of course).
Andi’s blog on her selection of Works from the Field School will be up and running soon. To check it out and follow visit: www.whatcaughtme.tumblr.com