How to...Create a Cultural District
(and Have it Vanish Into the Morning Mists of Dawn)
My friend Jessica and I attended the latest Taking Place
event on Thursday, and dutifully documented our experiences for PORT. The second person we met was Sam Baldwin Gould. It was just after midnight and intending to be fashionably late (by seven minutes) we arrived at quarter past the hour. Sam was handing out programs which gave viewers instructions on how, exactly, to find the art. Standing under an overpass at 215 SE Morrison street, he looked more like a subversive political agitator than an artist. He gave us a stack of booklets to bring back to a project called Tailgating
occurring out of the back of a powder blue Subaru. One of the Tailgaiting artists, Nat Andreini, was the first person we had met, a few minutes earlier.
Sam Baldwin Gould - Walking Tour of My Old Neighborhood
Sam's piece is an audio walking tour of the area, his old neighborhood, Produce Row. Listening to the CD later, I found it a loving and detailed catalog of his favorite graffiti, parts of buildings that were falling apart in aesthetically striking ways, posters that had been partially torn down leaving swaths of white paper that looked like ghosts. He points out his favorite bright orange dumpster and comments on how its graffiti has changed over the years, mourning the loss of a beautiful Buddha tag that was covered by another tag which he found vulgar and substandard. Sam presents the viewer with his neighborhood as a single piece of art, made not by any one person, but by a community of people. The neighborhood is continually altered by posters being put up or torn down, by the movement of produce trucks, by overlapping graffiti, by everything that occurs. One can simply choose (in a Duchampian way) to see an entire neighborhood as an aesthetic object produced by a collective. Can a neighborhood be a work of art if it is unintentionally produced by a group of people who don't know each other?
We walked back to Tailgating to deliver the stack of programs to Nat. By the time we arrived at the Tailgating project it was well under way. The hatchback was open and the tiny portable barbeque grill was heating up. The hatchback was fully stocked with a cooler full of beer and wieners. We stopped briefly for some conversation. By this time it was close to 12:30.
"So what is your thesis statement in this piece?"
"Um...Come have a cold beer and eat a hotdog with us."
"And how does that help create a cultural district?"
"Well, it's quite convivial."
We posed the issue to those in attendance, sitting in a semi-circle of lawn chairs.
"Do you find this art to be quite convivial?"
(After a long pull on a PBR)
"Yes, quite, it will be even more convivial once the grill heats up."
Later I referred back to their entry in the program:
Tailgating is the dressing room
where we put on our gameface
Please join us.
Nat and R. Scott Porter comprise the duo known only as John Head (a third entity?). Their stated goal is the emulation of the ceremonies of fanaticism as an investigation of persona. Previous projects included a Boyz II Men cover band called Themz II Us.
I'm not sure if it is necessary or possible to analyze or offer insight into this piece, and that seems to be the point. Its aesthetic of lameness is completely unapologetic and incontrovertible. It is a chimerical activity, difficult to understand either as art or as simply a dislocated cultural phenomenon. We were psyching ourselves up for a nonexistant sporting event. Is grilling and drinking beer at the wrong time and place art? If it is, the only aspects of the activity that separate it from the pre-game ceremony we are all familiar with are time and place. That's the point of Taking Place after all. At least you get a hotdog and some conviviality out of it, even if you decide it isn't really art.
To be continued....