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Reprising Artpart at UB

"The Niagara River Flows North", 2009, by Liz Phillips.

Artpark artist from the old days Richard Tuttle is currently reprising—if such a thing is possible or meaningful—some of the work he did at Artpark in the 1970s.

The Tuttle project is in conjunction with the Artpark in its heyday exhibit at the UB Art Gallery. At a conference in conjunction with the exhibit, Tuttle talked about the current work, some of which was installed on the UB North Campus.

But if you want to actually see this work, you might be disappointed. It might not be there anymore—basically related to an Artpark key idea and principle that art is ephemeral. Here today, gone tomorrow. Artpark art was dismantled and removed at the end of each summer, partly to give the next year’s artists a clean slate to work with. But even more, not to turn Artpark into a museum.

Culture guru Marshall McLuhan said something about once you put art into a museum, it’s dead. Artpark was about art as alive. About art as a process not a product.

(The non-museum aspect of the art also made it easier for people to relate to. It took out some of the pomposity factor.)

So Tuttle may have removed the work already. Or whatever. Some pieces that were up for maybe a few days, maybe a few hours, are gone now.

Art as ephemera was one of the topics of the conference. Another topic was the problematic idea of reprising previous work. Problematic based on the Heraclitean idea that you can’t step into the same stream twice.

(But the reprisal idea particularly arises in the case of work that isn’t there any more, that is, ephemeral art.)

The current work, which isn’t there anymore, or at least some of which isn’t there anymore, is supposedly a remake of Artpark work, which certainly isn’t there anymore, but hardly ever was, in fact, because just after that work was completed, it was vandalized and destroyed. There isn’t even a photo to show what it looked like.

A conceptual model of the current work is on display in the UB exhibit, but there is no guarantee how closely the current model, or work based on the current model, replicates the original work, given the complete lack of documentation on the original, and the artist’s possible and probable further development of his original ideas.

The work has to do with toxicity and purification. The model, a construction of paper and fabric and wood, suggests a kind of screw device. Tuttle said the work is an exploration of a pump, as if to pump contaminated groundwater for purification.

The toxicity and purification idea related to the Artpark site in that the site had been a dumping ground, first for industrial waste from Niagara Falls industries, then for spoils from the construction of the Robert Moses Power Project.

Liz Phillips, who has reprised her Artpark audience-interactive aural piece with updated technology for the Beyond/In Western New York show, talked about how hard it is to step into the same stream. Her piece features Niagara River water sounds triggered by audience movements past and around the piece. Her installation is in the Albright-Knox entryway.

Rodney Taylor @ UB Anderson Gallery

Detail from an untitled 2010 work by Rodney Taylor.

Rodney Taylor’s over-large, bright, colorful works on paper are pieced together to form wall-sized, mixed-media paintings using water-based paint and clay which, as it drys, hardens and flakes off the surface and falls to the floor. This exhibit symbolizes in a very tangible way what might be called the leitmotif of the Beyond/In Western New York show this year: entropy. Loosely brushed trees and ground mass create stark landscapes in profile, the arching limbs and branches standing for the iconic tree of life. In one work a miniscule human form is present, barely visible in the lower left corner of the horizon. The flat matte surface registers all the crepuscular striations indicating the incipient decay of the clay matter. Here is a simulacrum of nature scorned, leafless, gaping open to the sky, yet as unnatural as only a painted tree can be. In the largest work the lower right corner is torn away completely suggesting something conspiratorial to the viewer. The trees serve as arboreal reminders that the life of molecules will out—whatever form they take.

j. tim raymond

The reprising art topic expanded to the idea of reprising Artpark (which was supposed to be permanent, but turned out as ephemeral as the art.) There was lots of talk and thought about this, but not much hope for it.

David Katzive, a consultant to the visual arts program in the early years, talked about some of what would be necessary for such a thing to happen. The first necessity was money. The money matter aside, he had some ideas about where another Artpark might be feasible. Africa, he thought, in one of the huge nature preserve areas. Or Israel, as a common enterprise among Israelis and Palestinians.

A man from the audience spoke passionately about the crying need for another Artpark or similar facility or facilities, where people who wouldn’t otherwise experience art would have an opportunity to do so. He said there are people today who never have a cultural experience. He got a round of applause.

But the idea was completely wrong-headed. In the first place, because there is no human experience that is not a cultural experience. What he was saying when he said there are people who never have a cultural experience was that there are people who never have an experience of what he would define as culture. There are people who never have an experience of art as he would define art.

Artpark was not so dogmatic. Art was all over the place. Or condescending. What Artpark was saying was that artists are not a different species. Art is not a different species. So that people who did not call themselves artists could connect with artists and art. People who did not think of themselves as artists could find out that they were.

•   •   •

The final session of the conference featured brief talks by four artists about their work, including two original Artpark artists and two younger artists, followed by a freewheeling panel discussion.

The Artpark artists were Charles Simonds, who made and makes little toy-like dwellings of clay or mud, usually tucked into crevices in rock walls or such, for an imaginary population of little people (the constructions look a little like ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings), and Jody Pinto, who made a second piece at Artpark of timber poles and fabric and organic materials after her first piece, of more inorganic materials, was ruined by a storm, and since her Artpark days has worked on a variety of public art projects.

The younger artists were Milly Chen, who teaches at UB, and showed a video of a kind of lecture tour on bicycles that has been performed here and in China, and Jamie O’Neill, who teaches at Canisius, and showed a video of his mostly hoax, partly (maybe) straight, performance as a business consultant. (Both these artists have video works in the Beyond/In Western New York exhibit, O’Neill at the Burchfield Penney, Chen in the display windows of the Lafayette Hotel, after dusk.)

It was noted and puzzled over that there seemed to be a considerable disparity—a gulf, almost—between the work of the Artpark artists, on the one hand, and the younger artists, on the other. It had to do with more than just the younger artists’ penchant for video and digital technologies—technologies that were in their infancy or embryo in the 1970s. It seemed to have to do with the younger artists’ fundamentally ironic attitudes and outlooks.

As if something vital had been lost. Jody Pinto talked about how so many of the Artpark artists—she was an example—eventually got into areas like city planning, public space improvements, public art. Enterprises plainly and straightforwardly intended to promote the common good, to benefit people. Whereas, Jamie O’Neill was doing hoax presentations.

(One thought back on the idealistic public spiritedness of the 1960s and 1970s, following the Kennedy election, the vigorous and ultimately effective opposition to the Vietnam war, and to Nixon and his perfidies, versus the half-hearted and ultimately ineffective opposition to Bush and his perfidies, and to wars based on bare-faced lies.)

When Jamie O’Neill, partly in self-defense, but more to explain and account for the artist’s oblique methodology at present, pointed out—cogently and astutely—that there are no “people” anymore.

He was alluding in particular to a documentary film about Artpark in the 1970s that had been shown the previous evening, called Artpark People. The phrase was an advertising slogan in the early years that in two words seemed to say much about the people-oriented nature of this art place, the people-oriented nature of the art, and the people who loved the place for the multitudinous and variegated art experiences and events it offered.

O’Neill said the difference between now and then is that now in an age of digital distractions—cellphones and iPhones and iPods—it’s tougher to get people’s attention.

To do it at all, you have to do it one by one. Just as they communicate one by one on their cellphones and iPhones. (When not totally isolated on their iPods.)

So something significant was lost. The collective concept “people.”

On the other hand, consider how much of social/economical/political injury and injustice in this country and the world is based on the collective concept “people.” Implying “us” and “them.” Whereas, really, there are only individuals.

Maybe the ultimate effect of the digital revolution will be that we see each other as individuals. (Maybe even outweighing the proximate effect of universal attention deficit disorder.)

jack foran

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