Blogging from the Edge

signals, reports, and creative responses



This field note was filed for the Testing Ground project.

For the past 2 weeks we have visited a myriad of sites and have been challenged to find ways to transpose these experiences into "field notes" for others. This process has been incredibly more difficult than we anticipated in advance.

At the end of this journey we sense that one of the most necessary and creative acts needed right now is for artists to act as creative points of contact with the world- to relay signals from the contemporary moments in which we sense forces that shape the world. A direct, lived experience of a force that shapes the world may take the form of reading an article and sensing the change that it might release, visiting an exhibition that signals deep changes in perception and connection, or visiting places such as Las Vegas or the Nevada Test site.

In the moment that one experiences such world-shaping forces, the act most urgently needed and most challenging to create is the act of mustering and relaying a contemporaneous response.

By that we mean a response that does not simply repeat, out of habit or ignore-ance or fear ... past stories or understandings. Nor does it presume to know how the forces of change encountered will (or "should") play out in the future. Nor does it shut down or turn away from. Neither a moment of despair, nor a moment of utopian vision, a contemporaneous response moves in accord with the forces in the midst of unfolding in order to learn more about them and to make something directly responsive to them. In attempting to make a contemporaneous response, you become response-able to what you come into contact with.

Speakers at the Art + Environment Conference insisted that "going into the field" to gain direct experience and "full-body knowledge" of the land, land use, and environments is an indispensable part of any methodology for researching and conceptualizing artistic responses to environments. This is what we attempted to do with Testing Ground and these Field Notes--and it's what the artists of SITE Santa Fe's biennial Lucky Number 7, were invited to do in 2008.

On Thursday we toured the exhibition at SITE Santa Fe, curated by Lance Fung.
Upon entering the space, we encountered a wall text that read:
process + experimentation + collaboration ---> experience = community

The show includes 25 artists from 16 countries. The curatorial vision was to invite the artists to Santa Fe, for the first time, for a span of one week. They would then return home to formulate ideas for site responsive projects. In June they came back to Santa Fe and created their works, which now make the exhibition and several sites around the city. Walking through the galleries, we were somewhat confused at first: there was no wall text that directly described what the works were about or how to make sense of them. Towards the end our time in the building we discovered an installation of videos made by student documentarians who had been hired to follow the artists throughout their processes. It turned out that what we had been witnessing in the galleries were the end products of a process- and these objects were not the most important part (or the most interesting) to us. The videos documented the artist's contact with local Santa Feans; artists' struggles of grappling to find a point of connection in a foreign landscape, area and history; and the exchanges between the artists and their collaborators. Without this video documentation the artworks would have been nearly impossible to make sense of, but with it, an amazing new approach to making site-responsive work and curatorial missions was allowed to emerge. If responding to experiences of place, over a brief but concentrated span of time, becomes a larger part of contemporary art making, we sense much potential. What gets freed up in this process is that there is no illusion that the work or artists could "know" a place or fully "represent" it. What gets made and materialized instead, is a creative relay, the process of engagement itself. Artists get to make something creative of the very small and particular knowledge that they glean from interacting with new local environments, cultures and peoples- in conjunction with their own local and global knowledges and understandings. This relay becomes the work. The "thing" or object of the artwork itself is subordinated to the process of engagement, "learning," and making-in-relation.

The work that we experienced in the Lucky Number 7 show also reorients the viewer and the locals. It was full of global relays out from Sante Fe to distant cultures and countries. It seemed nearly impossible for the artists in the show to leave their particularly local knowledges and interests out of their works. The show wasn't simply "about" Santa Fe. It was about Santa Fe in relation to a much larger global context. Santa Fe became the facilitator of this process.

For example, one artist, Marti Anson, from Spain hand-built a large, scale model of a flour mill that was being torn down (with much controversy) in Barcelona. He described his work as an "act of faith to save the heritage of his home town". We found it meaningful that the site at which he chose to rebuild his scale model, brick by brick, was within sight of the Spanish Museum for Colonial Art in Santa Fe. His work created his own contemporaneous response to his own process of learning about Santa Fe (which had been violently colonized by Spain).

(See video here.)

As a relay, the piece and the process that Anson activated draws two histories (the Mill in Spain and Santa Fe's colonialization) into relation in a third space of the present. His gesture is neither a repetition nor re-vision of history, nor is it a presumption of what should happen in the future. It is a gesture of bringing all that one can to a new, "foreign," and complex situation--and then responding with work that opens up the present moment to more interpretation and more creative response.


Yearning for a life less ordinary said...

"What becomes possible, thinkable, and doable when we design artworks or informational media in ways that fuse aesthetic experience and new knowledge?"

"process + experimentation + collaboration ---> experience = community"

I found an article in The New York Times titled Are We Ready to Track Carbon Footprints? by John Tierny. The author considers the use of devices like mood rings, bracelets etc that can be used by individuals to inform other people and themselves about how non-green their carbon footprint might be. The author proposes the idea that if each individual was prompted about how much carbon emission is being produced from their energy usage or the contents of their shopping bag, they will be more actively involved in taking steps to reduce the number of emissions. If somehow our energy bills were able to tell us how much our usage is above/below the social norm, we would be more conscious of our energy usage. The author also considered the use of lights in rooms that turn redder when the cost of electricity is higher so that the occupants would react immediately and turn-off lights and appliances not in use. The fact that personal accessories like bracelets and rings can inform others about our contribution to the climate change and global warming, could act as the ultimate motivation to force us to keep our energy usage in check.
Facebook events have been used to educate communities before.Earth Hour hosted by WWF is an example where the Facebook platform has been used to get people to act simultaneously. The motivation in this case happens to be the fact that a few thousand or so other people, besides you, are involved in the act of switching off lights. It seems that the idea that my effort will be supplemented by and appended to other people's is more reassuring and acts as a motivation.
It is fascinating to see how the community can be used to motivate people to be more considerate of their carbon footprint and how important feedback is so they are aware of their actions. Another organisation called has taken the responsibility to educate people on the internet about the significance of the number 350. This animation explains their process. The number corresponds to the limit of carbon emission(in parts per million) that is appropriate for the environment. The organization makes it a mission to spread enough awareness about 350, so that world organizations would introduce treaties that enforce the limit. New media has allowed the message to be spread much more easily and has provided platforms that have allowed the information to be spread in many formats that include animations, videos, blogs, webisodes etc.

Haya said...

Haya Kramer
When I read process + experimentation + collaboration → experience = community, for some reason Walter Benjamin came to mind. Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” is a well-known essay I have read in many different classes at the New School University. Benjamin writes that advancements in technology have both heightened and destroyed the “aura” and authenticity of a painting, photograph, and or film. An art reproduction, and the evolution of film and photography, has transformed art from a traditional practice to an innovative craft. In the mid-1900’s, mechanical reproduction changed visual arts and entertainment, by exposing art to the cultural masses. By reproducing a work of art it becomes more accessible to all people, and the work of art was no longer just for the viewing pleasure of one class or one culture of people. By reproducing art its’ “exclusivity” was destroyed and the art could be seen in different viewing conditions, making it possible for everyone to become a connoisseur of art, an art critic, and/or an art collector.

Haya said...

Haya Kramer
This idea of experience and experimentation is so vital to all aspects of life - science, knowledge, technology, and art. When a well known and important piece of art is copied and reproduced it’s meaning is forever changed. Some have argued that once a piece of art is reproduced it’s uniqueness, authenticity, and “magical aura” is destroyed. Extreme media, the internet, and digital reproduction has forever affected the way in which art, film, music, and photography is produced, distributed, and consumed by mass society. In recent decades, our society is capable - with current technological advances - of replicating a famous painting, well known song, or acclaimed film to the masses with the click of a mouse. In recent decades artists such as: Julian Schnabel, Damien Hirst, and Jeff Koons have had great success in reproducing and reworking well known works of art. Many of these men have reached icon status and have made names for themselves in the art world, not to mention millions of dollars, by reproducing and reworking well known works of art with a personal, and contemporary twist. In my opinion reproductions have become as much part of the “art experience” as seeing an original piece of art.

Lauren Altman said...

I would like to leave two comments regarding this field note. First, Although art is sometimes best understood through the viewers' depiction of the artist's views, it is also just as important to be able to see the work thought the artist's lense and the process of making the piece-like in the field note's observation of the art not being clear until viewing the video documentation of the artists' struggles to find connections between themselves and collaborators.

In the Lucky Number 7 project, the field note explains how artists incorporated their personal knowledge and experiences into the work and then pushed it into a larger context. I believe that one needs to understand and apply knowledge on a small scale before it is applied on a large scale, and that the two play off of each other. I also think that all of the artists using Santa Fe as the main facilitator is an interesting concept.

Kinsley Stofft said...

What's great about an exhibit like the Lucky # 7 is how well is helps us understand how much an environment can change the way art looks and feels. The emotion giving on the Mill work would be looked at differently if it was in fact put in Spanish Grounds.

Svea said...

Kinsley brings up a really good point. During the live blog, I remember seeing the Chris Drury exhibition called "Mushrooms and Clouds." The exhibit is photographed outside, typing into his whole concept. In the background there are mountains and endless sky. I agree that the environment really plays a role in our interpretation of the art.

sarah erickson said...

process + experimentation + collaboration ---> experience = community
After looking over this particular field note, i began to think about the idea of how one is never truly capable of starting fresh and abandoning any sort of prior knowledge when going into a project. Yet that seems to be of no hinderance, rather it's what makes these artistic endeavors, such as those at Santa Fe, all the more rich and thoughtful. Both direct experience with the location and environment of interest combined with the artists past learnings create a rather aware piece that in effect builds a pretty strong tie between two places that may seem quite different, Spain and Santa Fe for example. What i also found interesting about these site specific projects such as those at Santa Fe, was how site specific they actually are. So much that if they were taken and viewed by the public any where else they may lose meaning through the change of context.

Lena Huang said...

I think its interesting that the traditional and conventional installment of the Santa Fe artists were not the actual focus/concentration of the spectacle. I have seen some exhibition where it shows you a video of the documentation of how it was made and I think it always helps me understand the actual artwork more than just reading some bulletin information. I was wondering if, since these Santa Fe artist are pretty much coming to a new foreign place (even thought it may not be foreign to us) if there were things that you saw in their gallery that you may have perhaps taken for granted in our culture.