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).
Greetings from Williamsburg. I am Jude Campbell, today's blog host. I am a Fine Arts student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, beginning my second year of study. A recently retired teacher, I've returned to university as a student for the first time in many years, throwing myself into painting, sculpture and drawing. In the past term I've begun to be interested in the history of art and how artists have engaged with contemporary issues in their cultures. The field school came along as the perfect investigative opportunity, a chance to study and discuss art with others who share my interests, and a chance to experience so much contemporary work firsthand in two venues of world-class importance in the art world. I could hardly say no!
What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about New York so far?
Our New York portion of the field school is rapidly coming to a close; time for a few reflections to date. My reactions to New York have been mixed. Seeing work in the major galleries has been a joy. With even the little I've learned of art history and studio practices in my classes I feel like I see works through a new lens. Many pieces are so large, surfaces so deeply textured, all qualities not possible to capture in photographic representations. Meeting them up close for the first time often packs a powerful punch. Meeting other group members in passing, or later over food and comparing notes on what we loved or what perplexed or intrigued us, is a rare pleasure I've never before experienced.
I have a love/ hate relationship with the experience of New York City. One moment I'm in love, riffing on the speed and abundance, the largest bookstore, the best known names and googaws, every imaginable product, the enlightened use of public spaces like Central Park, the conspicuous glamour and the twenty-four hour grocery stores on every corner. The next minute I'm sickened by the noise, the dirt, the speed, the concentration of materialism, of over-consumption of every possible product under the sun, the feeling that nothing is ever just enough. Life is nothing if not full of contradictions.
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?
I've been looking closely at the work Meat Joy (1964) by American artist Carolee Schneemann. Schneemann is a feminist artist, involved at this period in performance work, often relating to issues of gender identity and sexuality. This work was first presented as a performance at the Festival d'Expression Libre in Paris in 1964. In the piece a group of young women and men, naked but for underwear, come together theatrically in a group, then fall to the ground and writhe together on the floor in gyrations of passionate physical and sexual pleasure. Waiters enter with trays of raw chicken and fish, dropping them amongst the bodies who interact with them, tenderly kissing and caressing the meat. The group moves on to pleasuring in the sensation of paint poured on bodies and rollicking in waves of crumpled paper. The performance is an exuberant, assertive celebration of the pleasures of the flesh.
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?
I had several challenges in finding a way into this work. I related closely with the period of time in which it was produced. I am sixty-four years old, only about ten years younger than Schneemann. I was a feminist and social activist in a similar period, deeply invested in women claiming control of their bodies and sexual pleasure free of the repression of familial, state and religious restrictions. Almost a half century has passed since Meat Joy emerged.
I began thinking a lot about my changing relationship to embodiment, to the realities of the degrading physical flesh, to adaptations to counter ageist assumptions in a youth-obsessed culture about the sexuality of aging flesh. I contemplated an adapted reenactment of Meat Joy relating the fleshly pleasures of aged bodies. Yet this did not seem finally to touch on the deepest point of relation for me. Where I finally found entry was in reflecting upon the context in which it was presented, in Paris, in a culture deeply entrenched in the sexually repressive beliefs of the Roman Catholic church.
I considered my own vehement rejection at the time of the patriarchal structures of the church and what has happened over the ensuing years. I think we categorically gave up on all belief in spirituality, and ultimately threw out the baby with the bathwater. In our youthful conviction we did not consider the importance of other roles of spiritual practice. We could not yet reflect upon the role of connection, comfort, community and service to others in dealing with the vicissitudes of long lives.
I have, over the ensuing years, never returned to an organized church structure, but I have evolved a deeply rooted practice within a tradition of Buddhist meditation. For nearly ten years I have sat in meditation each week with a small group of women. Afterwards we drink tea and laugh and talk in community. We support each other in myriad ways and my soul misses that place when I am away from it. In my piece I worked to give voice to this embodiment. I filmed myself meditating and merged it with images of my group sitting, working to balance the energy of my personal practice as it is integral to and supported by a group presence. While I have a number of other responses I could make to Meat Joy I do not have one that I think would reflect my thinking more effectively at the moment.
After seeing your assigned art work 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 copy of Schneemann's piece I worked with on the computer was different to that at MoMA in two significant ways. The YouTube clip I used was filmed in Paris, whereas the MoMA piece was shot from its first performance in New York, at the Judson Memorial Church. The document contained a few clips of the church and audience, giving it richer context clues. It was interesting for me because I had looked at the history of this church when preparing the Greenwich neighbourhood resource list for our group tour. It's a congregation with a long history of activism on many fronts, including welcoming avant-garde artistic endeavours, fighting for gay rights, and supporting AIDS activism. As well, I had not been able to get a clear understanding of the sound script for the piece at home, but here I listened through several times, even turning my back to the images and listening for the rhythm and content. This careful attention provided a much better insight into how it was married to the performance.
Today’s activity was at the Empire State Building and a studio visit in Brooklyn. 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?
Saturday we visited the Empire State Building in the morning, a wonderful art deco extravaganza. In the afternoon we met with artist Maya Suess, visiting her gallery show and studio space in the Gowanus neighbourhood of Brooklyn, where artists have converted industrial spaces into newly purposed work areas. Maya trained at Simon Fraser University and then moved to New York where she has family. Since 2008 she's been part of the Gowanus Studio Space artists' collective of about fifty people who've converted a large industrial space into studios to accommodate practices ranging from pastel drawing to jewelry making, to printmaking, woodwork and digital media. For a base fee of $160 per month artists have 24 hour access to work space. Additional fees are levied depending on the size and kind of space used. The whole operation is managed by a committee from the collective. In addition to constructing studio spaces to different dimensions inside the warehouse they've also set up substantial printmaking and woodwork shops. It was truly inspiring to see the scope of what they have accomplished together. I am always thinking about how we can create ways to support each other outside our university setting, as we move into establishing our practices.
The whole experience illustrated for me an outstanding model of how to create an artist run work and gallery space for some of the artists working in Surrey, particularly in the north end of the city. Truly wonderful.