Circuitous Circulation of Art

Art, like many things in life, can be viewed frequently as a continuous coil or perhaps even a mobius strip. I say this after a review of Ray Johnson and the documentary How to Draw a Bunny, visiting the WC gallery and listening to Stephen Perkins speak on the subject, and then attending a convocation, luncheon, and two question and answer sessions featuring renowned curator, Mary Jane Jacob (I had already read about an interview and four articles she had contributed to).

Ray Johnson was a rather enigmatic artist, but I feel as though I can relate to him in many ways. Ray seems to have been of the mindset that he would do whatever he felt was appropriate no matter what others thought and I often feel that way too. I understand what it is like for people to be familiar with someone's ideas without giving the originator credit. I think that it was smart of Ray to keep control of his art by not allowing anyone to nail him down to a certain location or concept for too long. It seems like Ray also did a lot of things that were not only original, wonderful contributions to the world, but he also seems to have been poking fun at people and their inability to see or be original simultaneously. I have to say, I have often felt like that is the best way to handle the world and feelings of spleen or "world weariness."

Maybe things really are just a joke when you figure out how to do what you need and want to and everyone else who hasn't figured that out is still criticizing you. That is pretty comical and probably more common than most realize. I also feel like I often act very differently according to context so that people are really confused when they observe me in another situation than they are used to. I think Ray really capitalized on that so that no one person really got everything that was in his head... Even though that seems a bit lonely and tragic, I think it is beautiful. Just like the controversy over his death. People still don't know how he made money or supported himself, or even what he ate, but he left a legacy with mail art and communication like no one else had done before him. Mail art and communicating the way he did, getting into the Museum of Modern Art through the archives, cutting his works into small pieces and asking others to "add something and pass it on" was a very circular process just like his negotiation over art processes. That makes sense considering the fact that his own death was quite possibly an elaborately planned piece (the best performance of his life) complete with all the clues to inform others about the kind of circle that he had formed with his life, the number 13, the river, communication, etc. I think that becoming your art is probably the best way to die and while in some ways his end seems tragic, I think it is ultimately more meaningful and important that way.

I think the WC Gallery is a very interesting and intimate space. It raises many thoughts about curating, main stream art, and alternative gallery spaces. Perkins also has a very informed perspective on Ray Johnson, corresponded with the man, continues his own mail art, and is pretty interesting in his own right. For me, this trip really bridged the gap between the concepts I soaked up about Ray Johnson and the information that relates more directly to curating and everything that Mary Jane Jacob spoke about at convocation.

I am still considering Mary Jane Jacob's words after interacting with her at lunch and question and answer sessions, but I do find a lot of her ideas and approach to curating thought-provoking. Her ideas help us be conscious of the fact that it is very important to question the manner in which art is delivered to the public and to analyze how it is received. Individuals like Jacob are important because they remind us that conventions and standards do not always serve the best interest of everyone and they need to be challenged when they are not adequately meeting the needs of changing times. It is fortunate that we were able to hear her perspective as she continues to contribute to the dialogue that exists in today's art world. If alternative spaces allow artists, curators, and their audience to communicate more effectively they will certainly continue to be implemented in a manner that benefits communities like those Jacob spoke of in places like Charleston.

As for me, I will continue to consider her words, and she has definitely impacted the way I am thinking about the upcoming projects I have been planning in the Campus Center Gallery and in other venues. She has also confirmed many of my beliefs about collaboration and prompted me to be more active in seeking involvement of others in the space. I hope a great many students will benefit from spaces on campus even though they are not all traditional gallery spaces. Jacob has also helped me think about how someone like myself can and should collaborate with peers directly while in the campus environment and expand that experience into the world beyond undergraduate degrees. Besides her explanation of the importance of experience and the mutual risk involved for artists and curators, I also responded to her notion of fluidity in the sense that it is most important today to be open-minded and ready to change your path and thoughts to take advantage of ever-changing opportunities. I also liked the notions contained in her visuals that explain the steps of successful collaboration as observation, co-generation, action, and integration. I think that helps put it into perspective as art is a process and cooperation with others takes time, but can accomplish more than individual efforts. Thus, cooperation or collaboration is cyclical as this diagram just as some of the Buddhist ideas that MJJ applies curating (she refers to concentric circles herself about some of these topics), as well as the processes of making and displaying art.

On a basic level, the loose narrative concepts of my project are also representative of this circular concept in life. The encompassing stages of life: renewal, advancement and struggle, and death. These represent the very basis of metaphors for life and its events and hopefully I encapsulate those in my music videos as I continue to adapt these stories with the footage that I have begun to shoot and edit. I hope my music and videos convey these concepts to some degree when they are finished, but also that they can be viewed in any order and still make sense, sort of like a lot of Native American mythology and narratives that take advantage of circular motifs and structures. Anyway, that is what I think I have learned this week and what I will attempt to apply to my project as I continue to mix my songs, add vocals and shoot video.

"If what you got is what you need, hell, then I don't want to hear the rest." ~ Big Wreck




  1. Thought-provoking is the best way to describe Mrs Jacob's lecture. Her works does indeed challenges us to see beyond the "white cube" and to make venues for ourselves to show our work. Yes it may be very hard but after going to see the WC Gallery, I think there is nothing wrong with making space no matter how or where it may be located instead, the problem would be with not doing anything. After all, everything and anything can be art depending on how you define it.

  2. Reflecting back, collaboration has been integral to all your projects and more so all the time. MJJ thinks of her curatorial work as a collaborative process but that isn't always the case with all curators. There is always a power dynamic and who has the final say. The curator? The funder? The artist(s)? The public?