Some thoughts about the CCCC meeting 3, led by Dawn Dale
Last December 13, we discussed three pre-screened videos, provided by Dawn Dale, who led the discussion. The videos, Dawn emphasized, did not necessarily reflect her beliefs and opinions, and neither did the group agree with everything that was said. So the discussion brought up some important issues that are worth recounting here, and worth remembering for follow ups.
I regret that I didn’t tape Dawn’s recap of the session, which sounded great. I think that I will record some things and/or make notes the next time, so I can provide a more unbiased report. What happens now is, I am afraid, that my report here reflects mostly my own view, especially because I keep thinking about the issues longer, now that I need to write about it! Anyway, I’ll provide some Wikipedia quotes as well, perhaps that will provide some balance.
If anyone wants to add comments please do!
So here I go:
Dawn looked for, and found, videos that in one way or another included art as a potential means to instigate change in the exploitative relationships between humans and the earth that has led to our present global madness.
The third video, a short documentary about the Beehive Collective definitely received the most endorsement from the group, as a practical, art-driven way of raising awareness about specific issues relating to the global crisis by focusing on specific stories and (literally) drawing connections to bigger issues.
Wikipedia: “The Beehive Design Collective is a volunteer-driven non-profit arts organization that uses graphical media as educational tools to communicate stories of resistance to corporate globalization. The purpose of the group, based in Machias, Maine, is to “‘Cross-pollinate the grassroots” by creating collaborative, anti-copyright images that can be used as educational and organizing tools. The most recognizable of these images are large format pen and ink posters, which seek to provide a visual alternative to deconstruction of complicated social and political issues ranging from globalization, free trade, militarism, resource extraction, and biotechnology.”
Art Paradoxes Jennifer Dalton
The second video was Art Paradoxes, a TED Talk by New York artist Jennifer Walton. I really liked this talk, and highly recommend it, if you haven’t seen it yet.
So why did this video not create any discussion in the group? I have my opinion, if you allow me.
To figure this out, I went to Wikipedia first:
Wikipedia: “ Jennifer Dalton is a contemporary artist born in 1967. Dalton is represented by Winkleman Gallery in New York City, where she has exhibited since 2002. She received her Master of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute in 1997.
Dalton’s work has been exhibited in galleries and museums internationally, including the FLAG Art Foundation in New York, the Curator’s Office in Washington, DC, Kunsthalle Wien (Vienna), Contemporary Museum in Baltimore and the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. She was also included in La Superette at Deitch Projects & Participant Inc. and The Cult of Personality: Portraits of Mass Culture at Carriage Trade, both in New York. She has been an artist-in-residence at numerous artist colonies, including the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Vermont Studio Center, Millay Colony for the Arts and the Smack Mellon Studio Residency Program. She was a recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2002.”
So, Walton has a position as an artist in the art-world (commercial representation, (inter)national exposure in exhibitions and artists-in-residencies) that most professional artists who have been through the mill of the BFA and MFA programs in the last forty-something years aspire (or aspired) to, which includes most but not all of the people in the CCCC group.
But wait, there’s more:
Wikipedia: #class was a month-long series of events at Winkleman Gallery in New York that took place between February 20 to March 20, 2010 organized by Dalton and artist William Powhida. #class invited guest artists, critics, academics, dealers, collectors and anyone else who would like to participate to examine the way art is made and seen in our culture and to identify and propose alternatives and/or reforms to the current market system.
So Dalton lives the paradoxes of the art world she talks about in the TED talk: the paradox of an artworld that is exclusive as well as inclusive, the paradox of art that critiques the system but is bought by collectors and the paradox of artists’ lives in which poverty brings forth art and successful artists become rich.
Paradoxes are unreasonable: two opposites cannot logically be true. Yet here they are. Paradoxes are frustrating. Is this why we didn’t discuss this video much?
Jennifer Dalton lives with the frustration of art paradoxes everyday. She has done some interesting projects that provide some alternative methods of showing art (Hennessee Youngman Gallery) but the big question: can the system be changed by those who participate in it, isn’t really answered. Is it perhaps because we won’t accept no as the answer?
It is definitely a question that I would want to re-visit in the CCCC, so I’ll put it in the “Questions looking for answers pile,” where I will also add this pdf file by Ben Davis, that was recommended by Jennifer Dalton:
Ben Davis: 9.5 Theses on Art and Class (Chicago Illinois: Haymarket Books 2013) (Haven’t read it yet, but I like Davis’s writing)
The first video: Daniel Pinchbeck TED talk
Daniel Pinchbeck at TED talk
Paradoxes are unreasonable. Un-reason is frustrating. Why would we want a consciousness that suppresses reason?
Daniel Pinchbeck argues for nurturing an intuitive, non-rational part of our brain that has been suppressed for centuries. Here in the West, we have tried to stamp out irrationality by embracing empirical science and technological progress throughout the Renaissance, the 17th century Age of Reason and the Enlightenment. There have, of course, been protests: Pinchbeck mentions a pushback to rationalism in 19th century, Romanticism, that reverberated in the 60’s counter movement that he experienced as a child of hippie parents.
Pinchbeck’s basic message is that science cannot explain everything in life. We need to re-integrate intuitive irrational experiences into modern human consciousness. Art can play a role in this process because it allows us to step back and reconsider the systems we are part of. He suggests that the energy and creativity that is at present poured into the creation of an exciting, thrilling art world should be re-purposed for a re-integration of art into life which would help to obtain and maintain a biological, ecological integrity of the planet.
So far, so good, but our group’s lengthy discussion of Pinchbeck’s TED talk was focused mostly on his talk of psychedelic experiences, that for him seemed if not necessary, at least extremely helpful for a change of consciousness. As I’d never heard of him, I checked his background in Wikipedia: “Daniel Pinchbeck (born 15 June 1966) is an American author living in New York’s East Village. He is the author of Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway Books, 2002), 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (Tarcher/Penguin, 2006), and Notes from the Edge Time (Tarcher/Penguin, 2010).”
Most of the people in this CCCC group can remember the sixties or the seventies, and this may well be why it triggered stories of personal experiences, from paganism, witchery, shamanism and hallucinations to drug use and loss of the self in Nature.
Personally, I am hugely wary of such experiences, even though, over the years, much of my reading and writing in art and philosophy has been focused on the human longing to submit to some larger order outside of oneself (and the role landscape painting plays in this desire). To connect to a perfect order in which there is no lack, is a deeply human want and is perhaps the ultimate motivator for change. While we should never dismiss or ignore such desires we should always examine them for the pernicious illusionary ways of fulfillment they can create.
Amateur philosopher Tom Swiss wrote a blog post on “Why Daniel Pinchbeck needs a smack upside his head” in 2010:
Swiss writes: “The hazards of cults, superstitions, delusions, hypocrisy, and manipulation are very real. A peek behind the scenes of both ancient traditions and the modern cults of personality around self-help gurus and peddlers of enlightenment-lite, is an unpleasant but necessary requirement for spiritual health.”
To draw attention to criticism of the psychedelic hippie culture of our past, I remembered recently posting on the RIA Facebook page an interview with film maker Adam Curtis “Is the Art World Responsible for Trump? Filmmaker Adam Curtis on Why Self-Expression Is Tearing Society Apart.” by Loney Abrams in Artspace.
If you haven’t seen this, I highly recommend it. https://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/qa/adam-curtis-hypernormalisation-interview-54468
The interviewer asks:
Towards the beginning of HyperNormalisation you talk about a shift that happened in the ‘70s when artists detached from reality and retreated into themselves to mine content for their work. Your argument is that this kind of individualistic self-expression is antithetical to political change. How so?
Read the interview to find Curtis’s answer to this question.
You can also watch his fascinating film Hypernormalisation, on Youtube
I agree with Curtis that the danger of detaching from reality and finding “freedom” in an imaginary space that is free from the bounds of nature, is that it can become a goal in itself. Such highly individualistic cultivation of the self, leads to self-expression, which is the “central dominant ideology of modern capitalism,” Curtis warns. Artists focusing on self-expression are feeding the monster rather than pulling it down. He writes: “Because the more people come to believe that self-expression is the end of everything, is the ultimate goal, the more the modern system of power becomes stronger, not weaker.”
I don’t mean to put a damper on the frank and intense revelations of spiritual, mystical experiences that were brought into the CCCC discussion. There is a need to imagine a state without want, but we must return to the natural world where we realize its impossibility. Esoteric, spiritual experiences then, rather than become a goal in itself, could be re-purposed for societal change and provide dream-images of interconnectedness between equally free/un-free subjects.
Does the urgency of our current endangered existence allow us to spend much time imagining? Such an imagining means a stepping out of ordinary life to re-consider life on a much deeper level than the everyday. It may seem frivolous when the planet is burning, but as romantic as this sounds, for some artists this is not a matter of choice, but compulsion. And we probably should be grateful for that.
So Art remains as a way of imagining a new order.