© BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

A dissenting opinion about selling Detroit’s public art collection

My initial gut feeling and my enduring general position is that the City of Detroit should sell off its art collection.

Strictly speaking, what the City of Detroit decides to do with its public art collection is none of my business as I’m Canadian. However, the phenomenon of large and valuable public art collections is universal across much of the world. As such there are some common characteristics that I do feel comfortable commenting on.

The problem with large valuable art collections is that they are tombs for the collected works. You the public will ever only see the very tip of the iceberg, even if you attend every exhibit at one of these large institutions during your entire life. A public art institution buying your work is most likely a death sentence for that work, but a nice addition to your pedigree. The worth through this relationship is thus largely removed from reality — conceptual and abstract for the artist and the public. To me, this is the same kind of instability produced through the financial system on perceived worth of bonds, stocks and futures. At some point, for the institution, the physical cost of housing, maintaining and documenting a large amount of work increased the value of a few works and the others depreciate because no one has ever heard of these artists or seen their work.

What selling this collection would do is allow most of this work to see the light of day again. This work could be disseminated across the world, allowing people to see it who would never have been able to see it otherwise. This is great news for the work and the artist(s) who made the work. It is not such great news for the institution that was hoarding it but how does or how should that affect our opinion? I feel it does affect most people’s perspective on this situation but I also think most people do not realize they are associating the art with an institution. An organization’s ambitions are not the same thing as important art works, though I think they want to be and we want somebody to be taking collecting art works seriously on our behalf. That’s cool but if we believe in collecting works we would be disingenuous to deny the collection of collections.

Another benefit would be the absence created by selling off an entire collection as presumably the institution would need to start collecting again. This is a great opportunity for artists and a great opportunity for cultural institution workers. Imagine the activity and spending that would happen that could be spun into economic feel good indicators.

In principle I also like the idea of demonstrating the worth of collecting art by selling it and paying off the debts incurred by business-oriented ideology. I think the US, as with many countries, already gets this idea and accepts the worth of art in society. Sadly, this last point may be a more useful albeit basic lesson for Canadian arts funding models.

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Unsafe Alighting into Audio / Visual Art [New Work]

Alighting: An audio visual textural exploration of the King Street bus lane in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

An Action-Research Collaboration between Christopher Healey & Ryan Price.

Running west on the north side from Mary Street to New St, the King Street dedicated bus lane is a pilot project for the City of Hamilton. Since it’s launch in October 2013 this project has proven to be a source of public debate among business owners, car drivers, transit riders and cyclists who depend on King Street to travel west.

We decided to research this sphere of public discourse through a series of investigations along the entire length of the bus lane. Our methodology consisted of walking the route with a sound recording device, identifying and collecting sounds that were specific to this routes space. Different sections of the route contained different audio environments: the ambient sounds of traffic near Dundurn Street could be defined as light (cars, mopeds, and motor bikes) and heavy traffic (trucks, buses, and tractor trailers), the audio space around Jackson Square was defined by community (sounds of pedestrians, street buskers, children and even a policeman on a horse), the space east of John, while less dense in terms of pedestrians, also contained less voracious audio characteristics in contrast to the Dundurn traffic (simply because it was only two lanes at that point).

After some reflection, our next cycle of research consisted of capturing visuals along the length of the route. What symbols, signs and textual objects could we identify that reflect public opinion and subsequent debate regarding the dedicated bus lane pilot project? To answer this, we captured visual elements of the bus lane itself: the buses, cyclists, vehicular traffic and pedestrians who all share this common space, the storefronts, both occupied and empty and in various states of upkeep, and bus lane propaganda. These images help support an overall narrative of the problematic nature of this street’s community history and uncertain future direction. For example, our research raised the question of who these businesses purporting to be suffering were actually serving — local communities or commuters from the surrounding suburbs?

Now that we had a soundscape and visual data to compare and contrast, we desired more layers to reveal greater insights into this dynamic space. We decided to seek out opinion from both those opposed to the bus lane project and those who support it.
We created another research cycle to repeat the last observation process with our sound recorder and camera while riding the bus along the dedicated transit lane. This resulted in a soundscape that we used as a baseline for the project. This research cycle acts as a constant throughout the entire work and defines the length and undergirds the textual fabric of the work.

Loosely keeping a narrative based on time, location and proximity to the bus lane we have layered our collected sets of audio and visual data into a holistic artwork that explores many of the dynamic and rich variables of this urban space. We observed from the whole of our work in the field and reflection of our collected resources that there are rhythms of traffic, conversations, and foot traffic. Using these elements of a busy urban street we reflected this repeated, familiar codes of traffic sounds and imagery into loops and staggered patterns. We also incorporated the two conversations (as well as some tertiary dialogue from ambient streetscape recordings) about two thirds into the work, giving each some prominent amplification and overlapping the two together to reflect the competing, noisy environment that this space reflects both physically and politically.

Next, we created an audio/visual work attempting to encapsulate many of the elements that define the community surrounding the bus lane, the inside of a bus, and the civic debate. The video displayed here was created as a real-time process, with both artists sharing the controls of a midi mixing controller, adjusting aspects of the source videos, such as speed, direction, zoom, contrast, saturation, and brightness, among other properties. Our manipulation of the video was done while listening to the soundtrack, making on-the-fly decisions based on the the actions of the the sound, the video, and each other’s actions.

The combination of layering and texturing gradually after establishing a normalized sound environment indicates for the audience a deliberate and composed work that leads to several perspectives which may be shared or not shared. Hopefully there are opportunities of discovery and familiarity embedded in the work for the audience. The artwork itself renders these perspectives in new ways allowing for unconsidered entry points into the issues of the dedicated bus lane pilot project. We’ve attempted to construct the work to peak in activity, noise and movement and eventually crescendo into a combination of all the elements, then concluding with the simple sounds of disembarking from the bus. Or, as the sign says, alighting safely.

 

Christopher Healey

Some thoughts on the art and idea of photography

One of the reasons I choose to pursue a graduate degree right now is to catch up to what the current thinking is about many of the things I have been interested and involved with in the last 20 years. Communications, new media and art are the three big ones. Some of you hear “animated ad banners on a blog” when I say that, but really I am interested in what we think we are doing in these areas and where this thinking comes from.

For example, I read some very compelling arguments about how everything from the 1939 British Monarchy visiting Canada shaped the CBC’s style, to an eccentric French nobleman from 1583 invented the way we use social media today. I have now seen an overview of communications theory that I recognize in the art world. I have researched new media art work and community projects that I never knew existed and push me to deeper into the rabbit hole of my own studio ambitions. I’ve learned new words and have had some great conversations. Sure beats making animated gif ad banners for blogs.
Research at this level is very rigorous and any sloppy or unfounded  aspects of your argument can be met with, at best, derision and mocking to, at worst, expulsion and scowls for life. Good. I mean, we must be paying all this money for exactly this sort of thing, right?
However, it is a good thing to have a blog in these cases so one can just spit out some ideas that 1) have no references or basis in demonstrated fact that appear in a lazy top 10 results on Google 2) are more speculative and initiative than even “East Sweat Sock U” would allow and 3) probably has already been written about by someone, and that someone is probably smarter, a better writer and better looking than me. Certainly slimmer. Not may giant academics out there but I imagine there are a few in Viking countries, but I don’t know why. This is an example of a statement that belongs on a blog rather than in an assignment or conference paper. Maybe.
Anyways. I have had some thoughts about photography since I am in a photography class and am hearing a lot of what photographers are telling about what photography is. Those who know me know I don’t think the experts in any field are the best judges of what they are doing or why. Forest versus the tree thing. Those who come fresh to a scene can see things others can’t, often quickly.
So with that faint justification, I’ll jot down a few thoughts I’ve had about photography recently.

1. There is no such thing as photography

We are not talking about the same thing when we discuss photography. What your grandparents had in the family album is not the same thing you see uploaded to Facebook. What Edward Burtynsky hangs in a gallery is not the same thing as the selfie someone uploads to Twitter, in the same way War and Peace is not the same thing as a stop sign. The technology, uses, functions and underlying philosophies differ so greatly, we may as well refer to anything that arrives through the post office as “mail” as opposed to what it is i.e. a cheque or a book or birthday card. Yet at one point these all arrived as the same thing (mail) through a certain frame (postal service), as do photos through a lens.

2. Imagery is primarily physical

I thought this when learning about what the fashion magazine and advertising industry does when treating photographs of models. I realized that this treatment, which is a controversial topic of oppression by unnatural body proportions, to me makes these models look almost identical, at least without closer and sustained scrutiny. Maybe this is because I am exposed to this imagery in places like grocery store check out lines and highway bulletin boards. I don’t have a TV and I don’t go to shopping malls very often. But for those who do, I think they see a great amount of difference in the subtlest of differences or adjustments. I think their physical proximity to these images shapes their relationship to this certain philosophy of lens and computer graphic work. I also think our brain plasticity is affected by what ever media and environment we are in and so people who buy into this world, which I think is most people where I live, are literally hard-wired for sensitivity to this. Or perhaps they are de-sensitized to it and simply don’t notice that there is no difference.

3. No one cares about digital imagery. Not really.

If you cared about it enough you would print it out, and print it on super fancy archival musuemy paper. If others cared about your work enough then they would do the same. Every image you have out there in the cloud will be gone in a hundred years because that is longer than our best digital archiving technologies allow for. This does not even take into account how current media that somehow may survive will be able to be viewed in the future. Have a gramophone player handy? Or how about a telegram clacking machine? Third party websites are not your fans, guardians or sponsors. They are tenuous apparatuses that at the moment are storing your shit on servers they are paying for. Not only that, but a lot can go wrong with our telecommunications platforms for a variety of economical, political and natural reasons.
Don’t believe me that only physical imagery matters? Think about this: would you rather buy 3am commercial time on your local TV station to present a slideshow of your lens based work or would you rather have show at your local gallery?

4. If you call yourself a photographer, then the imagery you make is already pre-defined.

I’ve previously made this same argument about calling yourself an artist. Just use a camera as a tool to get somewhere else, and stop worrying about an audience. Unless you want to be a commercial success, then by all means call yourself a photographer and tell people who’re looking at it that this is, indeed, photography. But if you want critical success, then you need the confidence to wait for others to label what you do.
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It’s in the BAG: Barton Art Gallery project space finally opens next week

I have a small, enclosed front porch with it’s own lighting and electrical outlet. It’s almost perfect to maintain a small gallery space so that’s what I have been threatening to do.

So, now I am. The space is still not finished and has a whack of drywall leaning on one side. I’ve been waiting for our cheap and (very slow) renovations to stop but I don’t think they will before I leave Hamilton. Sometimes, you just gotta say “fuck it” and go ahead with a project – this kind of public declaration essentially forces you to carry through with your threat of art. Sometimes it takes me years to demonstrate I was serious (and usually right) about something and the BAG Project Space is such a something.

So, no time like the present. After agonizing for a year about how I am going to work with and work around the long vertical windows on the west, east and north walls I finally came up with a practical, cheap solution that is easy to implement and just as easy to remove and without damage to the space before we sell the house: white fabric over the walls. It sure beats my previous plan to have a series of drywall panels with wooden frames hanging from the ceiling by hinges.

The 6 sheets of drywall leaning against the west wall are not going anywhere but with a white sheet draped over that, it will transform into a respectable plinth. Hey, it’s my project space and I can do whatever I want.

So the first exhibit “slower: advice for the economy” (a projection about the industrial skyscape) opens up next week on Friday the 13th from 6-9pm. Yes, I am aware of the symbolism of both sets of numbers. For local readers, you will also no doubt recognize that my gallery is open during the exact hours of the ArtCrawl.  You will also note that I live in a poor, some would say “scary”, area of downtown Hamilton not know for arts and culture. Well, consider this new gallery space as a response to that – I’ve criticized designated areas for arts and culture in a city before. Now I believe independence for an artist is the most desirable goal to achieve – more than funding.  No, I don’t believe in the BS that anti-arts advocates spout about not funding the arts. I believe the arts should be so integrated and integral as part of our society that we would have trouble even distinguishing where support ends and begins.

So. I have a humble and independent space for exhibiting a series of exhibits by others and myself. I have some really exciting ideas to materialize in this space, and in many way culminates my work about and in Hamilton over these three years. I have not listed the address because I want to encourage people to explore this community in order to find. I want people to explore this community because that is the way to improve any neighbourhood – go walk through it. Lots of people out walking through a place is a very powerful device. I know many people will probably not bother coming to find it at all, especially if I keep the exhibition hours the same as ArtCrawl and I don’t pander to the usual agencies for promotion. I don’t care if anyone shows up or not – I care about the projects and the documentation. The reason we were able to buy a house here was because of the negative impressions people have of this area – and they don’t come here so the houses were affordable. Why should I now conduct my business on my estate grounds with any different formula?

However, I care if the local community here engages with the projects. I do care about people coming here to engage with the projects too. This space is simply part of this neighbourhood though the act of a pop up art space should be universal.

Contained therein this act and through this upcoming series of projects is my final dialogue with Hamilton.

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The next level evoluntionary stage of artists

There are a lot of artists out there. Some people say anyone can be an artist – all you have to do is try hard enough. Other people say whatever you happen to be doing can be art, if you do it well enough. Artists without art school say labour is the defining element of being an artist, and artists with degrees and diplomas will lament all of the above and write about it as their differential. People with little or no empathy for the arts will simply shrug and mumble something about the free market dictating who are artists.

They’ll probably also complain that no one paints like the old masters anymore.

Reminds me of when internets was taking over during the 90’s and Architects and Engineers where shocked – SHOCKED – that their professional designation was being co-opted by fly by night IT school. Instead of taking 6 years to become an Architect, you could become an “Information Architect” or “Software Engineer” in six months. You still can, but becoming an artist is even easier and more exploited (Hello sandwich artists).

So being an artist is simply not enough to distinguish the top of the industry anymore. The industry as we fantasize about it is gone (if it really ever existed at all), and all that is left is a series of merchants selling marketing to this dream of a profession – and that’s fine. I waive my claim of being an artist and leave the fields of this empire of dirt burnt sienna to the political and social mob that chases wall space, status and art supplies with fervor and passion.

I abandon this title of being an artist because I want to be more – I want to evolve to the next stage of being an artist: media.

Media artists is not a new concept and most of you will be familiar with it. However, I am not talking about being a media artist, which is still bound to place and time but rather becoming Media.

Ai Wei Wei has done it. So has Damien Hirst and Banksy. All of their work, and the artists themselves, could disappear tomorrow and it would not affect their influence for most of us. They transcend place and time and manipulate our very mediums of communication with whatever art in whatever way they wish.

That’s pretty bad ass and just obtuse, obscurantist enough and without immediate practical merit (“How do I buy and sell this?”) that it should work as a mechanism to keep the art barbarians outside the gate and provide a historical measurable to strive for.

I want to become media.

This post is follow up to two previous musings about media and artists: Great art is 1% substance and 99% media ~and~ Reject being called an artist – when making art, be a somebody