Listening and Editing

Today was the Westside Arts District’s monthly art walk. The idea of editing, of an artist’s choices and selections, reoccurred throughout the lectures today. How do we go about making connections? How do we name what we do?Artists respond to other artists’ work, to readings and theory, to their own situation, to winding paths of research. Anywhere along these paths can be moments of engagement that feed into the construction of a piece of art or a body of work.

At one point Nancy VanDevender talked about where the ‘art’ ends up being in a project – for one person it may be the tape on the back or the laying out of an installation rather than the installation itself. Neither of these aspects are the artist’s intended site of the art. Perhaps the pieces failed to reach the audience in that original sense, but what can be gleaned from the energy that did occur? (Risk and failure – we’ll get back to that in a future post.)

Robin Bernat (of Poem 88) mentioned the film The Five Obstructions, in which Lars von Trier has Jørgen Leth re-make his (Leth’s) 1967 film “The Perfect Human” under five different constraints. The results are disparate, disconcerting, and wondrous. I saw the film for the first time in Grady’s graphic design class in undergrad. Our initial design projects (all made out of hand-cut paper) had many constraints on color, shape, and scope. Even as we would complain (at first), these restrictions forced us to think more creatively and thoroughly about the projects before us. Pages of thumbnails still did not cover all of the permutations or combinations to be had with just these few elements. Limiting the pool of options (a set of restrictions, but without a sense of scarceness), working with the constraints, allows unexpected choices and connections to be made. Since the scope is smaller, the ‘problem’ is more tangible.

The lecture/conversation at Poem 88 with Blake Williams, who has made films for Flux Projects, brought up the issues surrounding how the boundaries around creative disciplines are defined. Are his films documentary? Art? Journalism? Editorials? What would each of these labels imply? How do his choices and editing (of audio, of lighting, of scenes) create the ‘story’ of the film? At first he denied having any kind of editorial content in the films, but perhaps his desire to show the ‘beauty’ of the scene concedes at least a touch of a value judgment. (We didn’t slog through the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment for nothing, right?) The sympathetic response of one artist to another artist’s work – like a musician reinterpreting a musical piece – a poetic expression and response, as Donna Mintz brought up in her lecture.

The Flux films act as advocates for these artists and their projects. William’s comment about having very harsh initial gut judgments of contemporary art, yet slowly coming to terms with the work as you talk to the artist or learn more about the piece’s history, really resonated with me. These films help introduce the process and intent of the projects to the greater public – very much in line with Flux Projects’ mission. An anecdote: even after reading around, I could not figure out how to approach the current show at the Contemporary (Hutchins/Heward).  In talking with Stuart he gave me a point of entry to the works: what if they are meditations on states of being? How can the slump of this object communicate something a person feels? One of the possible paths came into focus.

The sounds in William’s pieces create a sensitive and meditative space, like the dislocation of a poem. In her discussion at Sandler Hudson, Mintz related her giant paper, paint, and graphite constructions to poem-space. Her pieces drew from all kinds of sources (lines of poetry, a hike, the Sagrada Família, the cloisters, Gregorian Chants) connecting and remaking these diverse mental/physical spaces with found materials. Again, while the surface is engaging in itself, this additional knowledge of the piece provides even more engagement. (And, of course, I could still interpret it in a completely different way if I so chose!)

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