Wednesday, September 17, 2008
memories and the city
About 6 months ago I started a conversation with the folks over at AIR about curating/organizing a show - of what, well, that wasn't really defined at all. I had a few ideas, nothing incredibly specific, rather just the desire to try my hand at putting on a show. So I thought about it for a while and they bugged me about it on and off, but it was slow going. I started coming up with ideas when I was working on the Carnegie International, and two of my ideas ended up coming together and really fitting into each other.
I had started out being interested in installation art and creating something site specific. In talking about it at one point with my older brother Dan (whatup Dan!) I had started talking about the idea of one big installation with a bunch of artists, with individual parts done by each artist that would all be part of a big single piece/end result.
I had also had an idea for a while - since senior year of college when I was writing about idealized Renaissance cities - about exploring the nature of the city within a the context of an installation. At first I had been thinking of that as art that seemed, to me, to be about the city, and thought of asking artists I knew to send paintings/prints - people like friends of Dan's I had met in LA (Joshua Aster, Frank Ryan) and others I had met working on the International (Björn Meyer-Ebrecht). But I was leaning away from a strictly conventional art show, and further compelled in that direction by Bob over at AIR.
What I came up with was a sort of combination of the two - the element of the city I wanted to embrace would come in the interaction between the installed elements. Rather than try to explain it all like this, I figured I'd just include here the "statement" that I made available at the show (its not that long, only about a page single spaced, but this format makes it look a little lengthy. If you're not into reading it all, scroll down for the pictures/video):
In 2007 a pivotal moment in human history was quietly reached – the urban population of the world surpassed that of the rural population. The majority of the world now finds sustenance not by hunting and gathering, not through agriculture, but through commerce. Goods are shipped into cities and the waste is shipped out afterwards. For the first time in our history, the majority lives at the end of the production line. We are no longer devoted to perfecting one particular step in that chain. Instead those steps are taken for granted, and our existence consists of the daily ephemera of city life. Yet for many, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Katrina in New Orleans, and the aftermath of the war in Iraq, the cities where they made their homes no longer exist anywhere but in memory. And for millions more around the world their cities are ephemeral, emerging in the unused space between commercial developments, in post-industrial spaces, even between the borders of countries – constantly moving and changing. Even if the city is not changed physically the nature of the city can change dramatically over time. In his memoir, Istanbul: Memory and the City, Orhan Pamuk speculates: "Why were we born in this particular corner of the world, on this particular date? These families into which we were born, these countries and cities to which the lottery of life has assigned us – they expect love from us, and in the end we do love them from the bottom of our hearts; but did we perhaps deserve better? I sometimes think myself unlucky to have been born in an aging and impoverished city buried under the ashes of a ruined empire. But a voice inside me always insists this was really a piece of luck." It is in this variegated array of urban experience that I find an interesting issue, particularly in the case of Pittsburgh. In this, our two hundred and fiftieth year as a city, we are not sure of our identity. No longer are we a city built on the back of hard labor – we are labeled, diversely, as a center for medical research, a center for technology, a center of the arts, a college town, a sports town. How do those labels affect us? Do they change our identity, or do we create these labels ourselves? What does placing the letters UPMC on the US Steel building really do? Pittsburgh, like the Istanbul in Pamuk’s memoirs, is no longer the center of a thriving, in our case, industrial empire. Yet in the ongoing renewal there is opportunity. Within the continually changing fabric of the city I see inspiration. Just as Brunelleschi drew inspiration from his competitors in quattrocento Florence, or Baudelaire found inspiration in the cafés of 19th century Paris, the city provided inspiration for this show – but in this case it is a defining element of all cities – the continual fluctuation of the urban landscape. Simultaneously, cities experience nearly unstoppable growth – structures leaping up, covering one building with another, obscuring a familiar skyline with new architecture – and quiet disappearances, edifices degenerating into squalor, familiar buildings torn down to make way for the new. It is in this process of thrusting diverse ideas of space together to interact as they may, whether the brainchild of an architect, mayor, pope, king, urban planner, or governmental regime, that many of the most interesting elements of urban life arise. That is my goal for the exhibition space at AIR – to function as a microcosm of an urban fabric in which a select group of artists is essentially turned loose to install. Each artist will either simultaneously, or separately, make an incursion into the space, working with the available landscape as it changes over the duration of the exhibition. In Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Kublai Khan sits in one of his gardens speaking with a young traveler – the pioneering Marco Polo. Knowing his empire will soon end, the emperor finds himself diverted by the tales of the many cities that Marco Polo has visited. Yet with each passing narrative, it becomes clearer that the enigmatic cities Marco Polo describes are really all manifestations of his memories of Venice, his place of birth. More than just remembering his hometown, Marco Polo is examining himself in its context.
Just to clarify, the tiled wall and floor pieces and the window piece are by me, the diamond shaped painting that goes from the wall to the floor between the windows is by Dan Cummings, the three rolls of "wallpaper" are by Jesse Brown, the hanging plaster "dreadlocks" and the flies are by Bill Rodgers and the films in the room with my window piece are by Seán Boylan. The final piece in the show is a film by Ian Wolfson called "Hjónaband." Unfortunately, timing and technical problems conspired to prevent me being able to show it at the opening, but it was showing for a couple days. However, because of the nature of the exhibition space, being also a working printshop, the space where the film was showing quickly became needed for the daily functions of the shop, so I don't have any images of it in situ. However, the film is available to be viewed online:
Seán's film, "The Star Who Lost his Smile," can be viewed online as well, at: http://www.parliamentbrigade.com/star.html
Coming soon - a video walkthrough of the show, as well as more specific posts on my pieces and possibly others.