i think this is the first time I’ve sat still since monday. well, i guess i didn’t sit still much at the conference so maybe since last wednesday? anyways.
I started writing this post on the plane home from one side of the country to the other. so this counts as all those days’ blog posts. because i stayed up all night and i changed a million time zones and it all feels like one big blurry day, ok?
what a lovely conference. it was really more like a family reunion. with people i’ve met and people i haven’t met but know, or feel like i know, or wish i knew. or have art-crushes on.
monday was a malaise. I woke up SO COMPLETELY FREAKED OUT. it was terrible. I felt, “OMG, i’ve come all this way and I haven’t accomplished what I need to accomplish. I haven’t seen everyone. I haven’t talked about my art project. I haven’t understood portland. I haven’t made myself known yet. AND, all my friends are leaving tomorrow and then I’ll be alone and friendless again.” ACK. ALIYA YOU DRIVE YOURSELF CRAZY.
so, luckily, on our way into downtown, Lauren missed the right turn and we were suddenly spit onto the highway on-ramp!! Lauren and Mary were super dissappointed by this but I realized this was the perspective on the city I needed. We were super high up above all the tall buildings and driving really fast and I rolled down the window and stuck my head out and yelled so loudly, “I FEEL GREAT TODAY!! I FEEL GREAT TODAY!!! WHAT A GREAT DAY! WELCOME TO THE BEST DAY EVER!!!” and i cannot tell you how great it felt. my whole outlook was changed. I was ready. ready for the last day, for an amazing last day.
There were a lot of great things but I’m going to focus on two things — 1. the best panel/discussion of the whole conference, and 2. a conversation with a friend at the bar later.
The last panel of the conference was all three main presenters (Mark Dion, Amy Franceschini, and Nils Norman) all in one discussion, being moderated by Nato Thompson, a very hilarious guy who also knew his shit — his art shit his people shit his how-to-have-a-large-group-of-people-all-talk-effectively-or-even-not-so-effectively-but-engagingly-together shit. I really loved it because it was the first point that we had a real engaging discussion and interactivity from the audience, instead of a theory or history lecture.
Nato started with, “So yeah, making coffee on the street corner for people, having an intimate experience with them — it’s not gonna really pay the bills. What are we supposed to do as artists here?” one of the responses pointed to how most grad students aspire to be teaching… other grad students. Kinda a weird cycle? isn’t there some other path we can take that is valid and recognized by mainstream / the paying world?
other great points:
- “Art and Life have finally merged. The only issue is that life sucks.”
- sometimes when everything you do is an “art piece” then it takes away from the authenticity of those experiences. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t living out your art; everything you do is part of your practice, the ideas of your art (praxis) — but not necessarily everything is a project.
- there was a lady there who worked at the CDC, the community development corporation. Her perspective was really interesting and she brought up the good point — when she sees artists acting as experts in situations where she or some other governmental or other organization actually has trained people working and achieving some of the same goals/actions, how is that art? and how can that artist claim that as their “piece”? In a way this point in the discussion felt like an invasion, like this had been this little art bubble where we didn’t have to explain ourselves, and now all of a sudden we did. AND, that is really useful too. Someone responded that artists “go outside of structures that already exist and provide alternate solutions to real problems where they otherwise might be missed by the traditional structures.” At the same time, let’s not reinvent the wheel just to call it art.
- Another elephant brought up during the discussion was the lack of racial diversity, at the conference and in this “field”. the person who brought this up pointed to how we called this a “conference” and it was placed within a college academic environment (to be continued in blog point 2).
- “artists make some sort of thought, process, or dialogue visible. that is what an artist does.”
- all the panel artists denied being a “Social Practice Artist”, which I thought was hilarious. I don’t totally get the resistance to this naming/category. Yes, if this were the Painting Conference, we would still all be very different kinds of painters. but it’s still useful to declare the whole group “Painters”. I am a Social Practice Artist and damn proud of it.
- the lecture ended, brass band led the parade downtown, celebratory conversation, beverages, and goodbyes had by all.
- the dance floor was TOTALLY PACKED at this final party, and it was incredible. There was a dance art piece which involved coordinated dancing in a square but it was awesome, sudden infiltration of the dance floor by 10 lovely ladies in matching gold leotards with sequin hoods (OMG I WANTED TO BE THEM SO BADLY), and then just some amazing dancing. I know it’s lame to blog about something that you can’t even experience vicariously, but really I just loved looking around at all my beautiful hott lady friends dancing away and just being so great.
in sharp contrast to that but located in the same place, I had a conversation with my friend matthew, who I met actually at the last social art conference I was at in NYC last october. I asked how the conference had gone for him and he sighed and said it was kinda hard. He was there this time with his friend and collaborator rick. They produced a comic / ongoing autobiography of Rick’s life as a homeless man for the past 1.5 years in Oakland, CA. It wasn’t really a great weekend for Matthew and Rick in the same way it was for me. Matthew talked about how it was a “conference” and it was in the institution of the school and this contemporary theoretical academic white higher class setting — and that’s what we’re used to seeing here, used to talking about and its comfortable. Rick felt uncomfortable, and uninterested being there. Something I saw for myself was that I totally did not engage with Rick, and when I saw him walking his dogs and being basically the only black guy at the conference, it shook me out of my conferency bubble. Oh yeah, this is just a little little subset of the art world, let alone the world world. And oh yeah, i’m in this comfortable space — not only because I don’t have to defend the kind of art I do to other artists and validate how creating conversations is art, but also because i’m surrounded by people who are like me and who have similar privileges and motivations and backgrounds. Not to say that there wasn’t diversity and different points of view and different struggles that people went through to be there, but it’s in a similar category. Rick said that people didn’t engage with him, even at a conference titled, “Open Engagement”. And he’s right. I am guilty of not reaching out. I didn’t reach out to everyone, but why did I reach out to the ones I did? because they looked “friendly” or because they reached out to me. How am I setting up a situation and an environment around me so that more people can feel open to reaching out to me? or where do I need to breakdown the barriers I put up unknowingly/subconsciously that keep me from reaching out to others — especially people who aren’t like me. who aren’t my close group of artsy friends.
And, how do we socialize at these events? at the bars in the evenings. Where all the best conversations and discussions and analyses of the day’s events happen. Is that an open engaging location for everyone? definitely not.
At the same time, is it ok to retreat to “your group”, places where you don’t have to explain yourself or defend yourself? can everything be open and inclusive? maybe not. maybe this was a time to discuss and analyze among ourselves, and then now we go out in the world. but i guess then the whole conference isn’t practicing what it preaches. praxis. action in line with what you teach and practice.
I’m really glad to have had this conversation at the end of the conference, to put things in perspective and remember what this conference could look like from another point of view.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go to portland, to see so many people I love and adore and respect, to meet new people, to have great engaging conversations, to make future connections, and to challenge my own ideas. thank you to everyone who made it possible for me to be there! Paloma for the amazing home/couch/hospitality/friendliness in a strange city, Amber, Eliza, Mary, Lauren, Hanna, Sergio, Peter, Eric, Cyrus, Natalie, Meg, and a million others. I can’t wait to continue our friendships and collaborations.
And now I’m back home. excited to create new things with people here — to create amazing art projects wherever I go, to be the leader and catalyst for people around me to be self expressed and play and make art and community with me. I’ve already started by spending more time with other people and less time with Aliya’s Lists (which also explains my lack of blogging… sorry…). I’ve been calling people I was anxious to call and talking with them in whole new ways. I’ve been connecting with strangers who call at just the right time, who listen to me so generously. I’ve been sleeping so completely.
goodnight goodnight. tomorrow I will put my project ideas into action, into calendars, into real life! emails and follow ups and business lady time.
Not letting loneliness creep in. Surrounding myself with friends, love, projects, possibilities.
p.s. i’m tearin my heart out here, stayin up late for you, for blogging every day (sort), in may. so show a little comment love maybe? let me know when you think i’m saying bull crap?? maybe i’ll start writing more controversial stuff to get y’all a bit more riled up. enough of this community and communication and friendship whooey.