TIBETAN SAND MANDALA
JOHN BALDESSARI “The Cremation Project” 1970
California conceptual artist John Baldessari is known for plastering the faces of his subjects with colorful dots — an artistic choice that arose out of annoyance. “I just got so tired of looking at these faces [of people at civic events],” Baldessari told NPR. In 1970, the artist had a creative dry spell and no buyers. He took everything he painted from 1953 through 1966 to a morgue and burned it. “And so I said, ‘Well, I’m just going to stop. I have them in my head. I don’t really need them. So I decided I’ll just destroy them,” he explained. He viewed the pyre as an artistic rebirth, and turned to photography and the appropriated pop culture images he’s known for today.
JANINE ANTONI “Lick and Lather” 1993
Janine Antoni’s Lick and Lather saw the artist sculpting several busts of herself out of chocolate and soap. She licked the sweet sculpture to re-mold her image and took the soap bust to the bathtub with her until the water erased its features. “I think it’s a funny thing when you think about the creative process and what we go through when we’re making a work. A lot of times, there’s this element of destruction, that we have to kind of unmake in order to make, and that interests me very much.”
JEAN TINGUELY “Homage to New York” 1960
In 1960, Swiss artist Jean Tinguely (with the help of other artists and engineers like Billy Klüver and Robert Rauschenberg) created a 27-foot-high, self-destructive machine that ruined itself — at MoMA’s sculpture garden and the Las Vegas desert. “An hour and a half later, the suicide-fated machine started flaming and sawing at its mixed-up insides, turned balky despite several judiciously aimed kicks from its creator, got doused betimes by an anxious fireman, and had to be finished… ” Time wrote of the MoMA performance. Viewers were invited to take the remnants of Homage to New York as souvenirs.
MICHAEL LANDY, "Breakdown" 2001
For his 2001 installation Break Down, Young British Artists figure Michael Landy went through the extensive process of cataloguing all his possessions (all 7,227 of them) and then destroyed everything in a vacant London department store. This included his car, clothing, works of art that he created, and works of art by others — including pieces by one very pissed off Tracey Emin. The performance “was an examination of society’s romance with consumerism,” but also “reflect[ed] an emotional break down.” Watch this video.
Jaimie Warren & Matt Roche are contemporary artists who re-imagine the variety show as a collaborative, community-based performance. They came to Utah in May, 2018 and worked with a small group of high school students from the area (including two of mine, Brinley Cummings and Savannah McKenzie)! It was a bizarre, beautiful experience. Special thanks to Jethro Gillespie for making the magic happen. We used the ARTcetera gallery in the Prove Towne Centre mall, which James Rees graciously provided.
How do I help students feel like creative agents in their own worlds, even if they don't identify as artists?
How do I help students embrace the process of making, even if the end result of their work is haphazard, messy, or incomplete?
How do I encourage students to run toward failure? Or to reframe their definitions of failure altogether?
How can I help students reframe the practice of making as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end?
The following excerpt of an interview with Thomas Hirschhorn (being interviewed by Alison Gingeras of Artspace) explores this concept.
AG: From the very beginning through to your most current works, you've used banal and ephemeral materials such as cardboard, packing tape, aluminum foil, Plexiglas. Looking at your vocabulary of materials, it's tempting to project the notion of "precariousness" on your works. These materials are all very cheap; they share a functional role in our society as "wrappings" for commercial merchandise that ultimately becomes the refuse of consumer society. Was the choice of these materials essentially pragmatic? Was it part of the struggle that you wanted to set up in relation to the status quo of the art world?
TH: The issue of the choice of material is political but it's also pragmatic. Joseph Beuys said, "I work with what I've got, what I find around me." In my case, I don't have fat or felt, I don't have sandblasted glass around me; nor am I surrounded by gold and marble. I haven't got a big light box. What I've got around me is some packing tape; there's some aluminum foil in the kitchen and there are cardboard boxes and wood panels downstairs on the street. That makes sense to me: I use the materials around me. These materials have no energetic or spiritual power. They're materials that everyone in the world is familiar with; they're ordinary materials. You don't define their use in advance; they aren't loaded. There's no doubt, no mystery, no surplus-value. I have to like the material I work with, and I have to be patient with it. I have to like it in order not to give it any importance. And I have to be patient with it in order not to give myself importance either.
AG: You can't project a mythology on to them, unlike with Beuys’s use of fat?
TH: These are materials that don't require any explanation of what they are. I wanted to make "poor" art, but not Arte Povera. My work has nothing to do with Arte Povera. Because it's poor art, the materials must be poor too: quite simply, materials that make you think of poverty. To make poor art means to work against a certain idea of richness. To make rich art means to work with established values; it means to work with a definition of quality that other people have made. I want to provide my own definition of quality, of value and richness. I refuse to deal with established definitions. I'm trying to destabilize them. I'm trying to contaminate them with a certain non-valuable aspect of reality. The value system is a security system. It's a system for subjects without courage. You need values to ensure yourself, to enclose yourself in your passivity and anxiety. You need the idea of quality to neutralize your proper freedom: the fact that it's you who decides what's valuable or of worth. People need quality as a kind of ghost who helps you escape the real. To make poor art is a way to fight against this principle. Quality, no! Energy, yes!
This review by Jerry Saltz offers another perspective on Hirschhorn's work.
This article, called "Processing Process: The Event of Making Art" in Studies in Art Education provides some helpful insights as well.
Marcel Duchamp's Boîte-en-valise 1935-1941
When Marcel Duchamp said, “Everything important that I have done can be put into a little suitcase,” in 1952, he wasn’t being self-deprecating. Rather, he was referring to his Boîte-en-Valise, or box-in-a-suitcase, the receptacle containing miniature versions of 70 or so of his artworks that he deemed “important” enough to reproduce and store together for collectors. Between 1935 and 1940, Duchamp created 20 editions of the Boîte, which are now dispersed across museums and private collections. Like a portable museum, the box unfolds to serve as a mini display wall for the diminutive works, which vary slightly between boxes—including combinations of Nude Descending A Staircase (1912), L.H.O.O.Q. (1919), The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915-23), and reproductions of readymades, including dollhouse-size urinals.
The boxes are kept in small, brown leather suitcases. (He later made more versions of Boîtes without valises.) The concept is classic Duchamp, who spent a lifetime flouting the art world’s fixation on originality and authenticity with his readymades, reproductions, and numerous variations of each. But the valise also has deep personal significance, reflecting Duchamp’s itinerant existence for many years. He moved from Paris, to New York, to Buenos Aires, back to Paris, and finally escaped to New York, in 1942, as the Nazis advanced to occupy the French capital.
From ARTSY, 9 Artists Who Turned Suitcases into Works of Art.
Here are some of my pedagogical musings, dabblings, wonderings and wanderings.