PICA’s TBA:11: Evidence of Bricks: ALL RIGHT

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“Chante rossingnol, chante toi qui as le couer gai, Tas le coeur a rire, moi je l’ai a pleurer.”
Claire Fontaine

What do I want to say? It’s the first thing the writer has to ask herself when she puts pen to paper or fingers on the keys. And I imagine it’s the first thing the curator asks herself when she begins to think about curating an exhibition like Evidence of Bricks, part of PICA’s Time-Based Art Festival. (The exhibition at Washington High School sees its last day tomorrow, October 30.) I think this is the exhibition that says what artist/curator/educator Kristan Kennedy has wanted to say, in one way or another, every year with the visual arts component of TBA. What I mean to say is that it gets at issues of the political in art, which I think for Kennedy is always present just below the surface of any conversation about art that matters. I may be putting words in her mouth, thoughts in her head, but I’ll take that risk.

I needed a poet to call the image a brick and so I asked Barry Sanders to do just that. And he wrote, “We are not mean: We mean, Duck. Brick by fucking brick, we make meaning. Duck. As bricoleurs of meaning, we simply make our marks and we mean.” Now I am here to start a new movement, called Brickism. Dig it?

This comes from Kennedy’s curator’s essay which is tacked up in a first floor hallway. I think “bricoleur of meaning” may be the most wonderful descriptor of a curator I’ve ever heard, although I know Sanders meant it more broadly than that. But what it says is that when an exhibition works well, as this one does, its parts inform and question and reinforce and tear apart one another in productive and exciting ways.

An almost unrecognizable rendition of The Beatles “Revolution” played on a calliope is the soundtrack for middle-aged women, men in ties and sports jerseys, older gentlemen in suits, hurling stones and chunks of brick, breaking windows in the abandoned Europleasure International Ltd. building in Cristina Lucas’ film, Europleasure International LTD. TOUCH AND GO. The throwers’ demeanors range from matter of fact to mischievous, sneaky, a bit gleeful if worried, angry, and triumphant. One woman has her driver get out and wing a rock at the building while she smiles in the back seat of her car. At first the camera traces each rock and brick shard as it punctures a pane, then shows it fall inside the black gutted shell of the building. The camera lingers on the beauty and magic of the shattered glass shards sparkling, catching the light as they twist in slow motion and fall. Destruction is beautiful, the music moves from calliope to a hopeful thrum. (Finally, the camera returns to the exterior…TOUCH AND GO has been written in black, busted-out panes. I, for one, was annoyed by this literalness (is that a word?).)

Like the exhibition, the film is angry and playful at the same time. And that’s a good thing. If you can’t take Jesse Sugarmann’s Lido (The Pride is Back) as playful (elevating minivans with air mattresses) if pointed commentary on the haplessness and cultural/economic hazards of the American auto industry, if you can’t get in the bounce house of Patrick Rock’s prone pink elephant, Oscar’s Delirium Tremens (even if you have to crawl through its anus to do it), if you can’t take YOUNG HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES’ lite political commentary on the phrase “I feel your pain” in the spirit in which its title offers it WARNING: FOR LAUGHS – NO REDEEMING SOCIAL VALUE, I don’t want to (political) party with you. If Rock’s really letting us know that the party’s over, and I think he is, and I think it is, I think I prefer to keep bouncing while the air is let out of the elephant (or the donkey).

At the same time, the film’s about real violence that’s been done to these people’s lives by global economy, by capitalism. And it’s about little violences we enact to cope. Why I heard that Stevie Wonder song about the ghetto (his word) this morning, I don’t know, but he sang about broken glass everywhere, and I thought about the everyday casualties/everyday violences of the success of global capitalism also highlighted by Mona Vatamanu & Florin Tudor’s Rite of Spring, a film showing street kids in Bucharest lighting piles of poplar fluff on fire. In Kennedy’s statement she mentions the everyday violence of an anti-gay epithet hurled at her brother which led him to remark, something like “sales of bricks are going to be going up” which is to say, the mad as hell may not take it any more. Interesting that she wrote it before [fill in the blank city] had been OCCUPIED.

As Kennedy set the stage for artists to enact their vision here at Washington High School, so Ohad Meromi set a stage for viewers with Rehearsal Sculpture, Act II: Consumption. The sculptural elements in the space were meant to be moved and remixed by the viewers which I think is an interesting way of getting at our sense of personal power vis a vis a work of art as a stand in for any situation we’re presented with. Are you going to pick it up and move it? Do you understand what I’m getting at? Are you going to OCCUPY? A floor below, Occupation/Preoccupation was a room pulled together by a handful of Portland artists and musicians as stage for lecture, performance (notably John Niekrasz’s 12 hour drum solo, “Actions for when one’s father owns the manor house” and Anne Marie Oliver’s lecture on love as inherently and perhaps the only thing that is…anti-political), and physical space for the project Songs in War Time which asked musicians to record songs from countries the US occupies in one way or another. The title of Niekrasz’s work rings truer even today for me as the two blocks downtown in Portland are still occupied in protest against Wall Street. It’s getting colder. Oakland protesters were gassed by the police. Where are the stakes higher? On the streets or in the halls of an abandoned high school given over to art. The fact that Claire Fontaine’s matchstick map of America, U.S.A. (burnt/unburnt), was not burned but doused instead in fire retardant makes a fine metaphor for the power of art, doesn’t it. I want to say it’s about potential, about risk, but in the end I kind of know it’s not going to burn. Which is too bad, at least in this case, because when Claire Fontaine came and gave a fantastic artist talk just before the festival opened, they showed footage of other match wall sculptures burning (those countries in which the financial crisis in Europe began), and it was very powerful, particularly as a smoke invasion of the rest of the art institution in which the burn took place. Art got dirty, smelly, it did some damage…but it was still in the white box. This is why I can’t really take the Occupy Museums thing seriously. In this context too, Kate Gilmore’s “angry” destructive act (having women rip apart a giant pile of clay with their bare hands) feels like a joke. I like her work very much, and know my reaction to it was colored by context.

I read recently, and I wish I could tell you who wrote it, that making revolutionary art will not make a revolution. I had thought to sit in Washington High School and write these final thoughts about Evidence, but the calliope music finally drove me out of there and into the sun. Yes, sun. October 29th and the sun is shining, and it’s actually warm. And then it hit me, the last line of “Revolution” which may have been meant with irony, but with the sun in my face, I took straight up. In her statement, Kennedy says something like “make something or make something happen.” And even though Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson Paulsen’s work was dealing with the violence of the edit to any kind of truth, the title of the piece, Don’t Worry We’ll Fix It sounded less and less ominous to me the more I abstracted it from the particulars of their project, letting it float free in the fall air in the sun. Because that line from “Revolution” that repeated again and again in my head suggested to me that the political power of art for me in the end is embodied in the minds and makings of the artists, that as long as I live in a world where someone is making and thinking about art, I think I can believe, “You know it’s gonna be, all right.”

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