Thursday, August 27, 2009

Regional Powerhouses

Last month, I spent an eye-opening couple of days in the corner of the US where NY, MA and VT come together. I was lucky enough to be hosted by Kathleen Forde, Curator, Time-Based Arts for a tour of EMPAC in Troy New York. I then met up with David Persky, ED of Zvi Dance and we attended a performance at Jacob's Pillow. We spent the following day at MassMOCA before returning to NYC in the evening. I came back amazed at the richness of the offerings, and the breadth of resources, to be found in regional cultural centers.

EMPAC is a new space for the research, creation and exhibition/performance of contemporary works with an emphasis on experimental media. The building is a spectacular 220,000 gem housing a concert hall, theater and studios besides research and other facilities. The Center is closely affiliated with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, enjoying funding, technical and other support. Kathleen gave me an extensive tour and introduced me to Hélène Lesterlin, Curator, Dance. EMPAC has an exciting season ahead and much more in the works. I'm looking forward to my return.

At Jacobs Pillow, we attended a performance by the slyly named Groupe Emile Dubois. Picnic dinner on the grounds was delicious in several ways. then into the theater. The work being premiered
was Des Gens Qui Dansent, choreographed by the company's founder Jean-Claude Gallotta. Gallotta's mode is that of dance theater and he has been compared to the late Pina Bausch. I experienced the work as simultaneously deeply moving and deeply intelligent, although not as wry as the Bausch as I treasure.

Next up, MassMOCA. I felt truly spoiled by the offering at this massive institution tucked in the Berkshires. The new "Temple of Lewitt" - 105 of his works installed for 25 years - revealed a variety of technique, form and color that I had not experienced before in relation to the artist. A wide selection of videos by Guy El-Ner was suffused by humor, familial warmth and inventiveness. Having been introduced to his happy family, it was sad to learn through the newest work commissioned by MassMOCA) that he is now divorced. Also commissioned for a large space comparable to the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern, we viewed an interesting sculptural installation by Simon Starling. Last up for the day, was a performance on digital violin by a principal from Bang on a Can, given in a roo filled with three new Anselm Kiefer works. Kiefer is one of my most inspirational figures and the experience was truly transporting. Oh, and the food at the redtaurant was excellent too.

David and I whizzed back to Manhattan exhausted and satiated. It's a wonder what the luxury of space and supportive funding can do for cultural institutions.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Radical Independence is not about Removal

Having just opened the latest show at
BoxoFFICE, called 'A Radical State of Independence', I think it appropriate to make one clarification. In the statement related to the exhibition, I call for us to recognize the fallibility of large institutions, systems and ideologies and their incapacity to provide fully for every individual. I point to the need for the assumption of personal responsibility for one's situation, a radical state of independence. The artists in the related exhibition demonstrate the principle in both their works and the way they go about their individual practices.

What I mean by radical is not the act of disassociating from established frameworks. What is radical is taking full responsibility for oneself while at the same time participating in the bigger picture (politics, markets, institutions). We need to continue to support those ideas and structures that create the framework within which we can achieve what we strive to. A totalitarian state without freedom of speech squashes the artistic impetus. A completely non-functioning art market will not provide a return on artists' efforts. We need to participate in politics, to support institutions, to operate in markets - always ensuring that we stay true to ourselves and our communities.

What is radical also, is giving up blame and unreal expectation. The larger systems we create are just reflections of ourselves and benefit from the same level of understanding and tolerance we seek. And a sense of humor helps too.