Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In Memory

During Marc Fishers visit a few weeks ago I learned of the passing of one of my favorite teachers, Micheal Piazza. Micheal was an incredibley generous and one of the most genuine people I have ever met. He was genuinely interested in his students. Our class size was small and we would get together and just talk sometimes we talked about art, sometimes we talked about politics, mostly we talked about life. He is one of the first teachers I had that gave us his phone number, If you ever need anything, anything at all please call he said, Im here to help you. Micheal was the first socially engaged artist I had as a teacher. Our class hardly ever meet in the classroom, we would rather explore the city and find places to talk. We met in cafes, We once went to the Chicago Board of Trade. He also brought Temporary Services to my sculpture class in 1999. Through his work with incarcarated youth and the developmentally disabled. Micheal taught me that artists could do more than just show in a gallery, they could make a significant contribution to community.

Something Inspirational...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Reality Check.

At the beginning of my first year of graduate school we met as a class and then walked around to everyones studios. Each person had a turn to briefly describe what they were working on. At this time, I had just begun to create my food cart project. I started that project for several reasons. First of all I had been working in the service industry for over 14 years. My customer service job at the time was Ticket agent and Bar Tender /Concession Attendent, Laurelhurst Theater. Through making a food cart, I was interested in somehow connecting my art to my life. My original idea for the cart was that art should provide a service to people. I told the class that I believed that traditional galleries were inaccessible and I wanted to create this public gallery that was part food cart to reach a wider audience. Everyone had something to say to this statement. People began to ask questions like so, since art should provide a service to people are you saying that it doesnt already? Are you saying that art is not important? Are you saying that art is not transformative? And then the implied question, so uhh... why are you in graduate school then?
These were questions I had already been thinking about. At this point I was 30 years old, I had been out of a BFA program for seven years, I had been making and showing work for the last 5 years. I had the experience of having shows that none of my friends came to, and shows that alot of my friends came to. I had only sold work to friends. The reality was that I wasnt making any money off this selling art thing, I put alot of money into projects and never saw anything back. I even recieved a bad review for my last show in the Oregonian. Art was a labor of love. The fact is that being an artist was not easy but, duh everyone knows that. So why was I in graduate school and was art important/ transformative? I don't think art is important or transformative all of the time. Saying that it is, is like putting it (art) up on this pedestal and giving it to much power. Its just like Coco Fusco said, most people are concerned with getting by paying bills etc. Most people dont have the time or luxury to think about art. And as someone that has worked up to 5 jobs at a time with no health insurance in order to get by, that's something I understand. Why was I in graduate school? I was in graduate school to experiment with some new ways of working as well as to figure some answers to questions that had been thinking about, as well as to meet all of the amazing and wonderful artists I have met through this program. (MFA students Im talking about you, teachers, Im talking about you and Monday Night Visiting Artists, well you have been nice too)
As that year went by and the project started to develop, my thinking began to shift about it. I liked the idea of exchanging a snack for a drawing as opposed to having shows by my trained artist friends, which was my original intent. The drawings became a way to remember the people I had met through the project and allowed other participants to see what people had created previously. The snack bar also became a popcorn and coffee stand because I could give them away without having to have a health department license for my stand. As I did the snack bar out in public a few times I realized that it had become closer to my life. It had merged into a combination of my last two jobs, Portland Childrens Museum Studio Guide and Laurelhurst theater, Snack Bar Attendant. At the museum, I made clay creations with children who came through the studio- I would offer children a chunk of clay and show them examples of what the children had made in our clay gallery. Snack Bar served popcorn and coffee like I did at the Laurelhurst. The interesting part about Snack Bar is the drawings that people exchange. I really dont like writing or even talking about my work because I think it makes my work sound important and pretentious, I dont think my work is important or interesting. The truth is that Im dreadfully boring and my ideas are not that interesting or even original. The MOST has an Amazingly Awesome food cart, A few other people are already doing pie projects. What I enjoy about doing projects in public is that alot of people can make an interesting drawing, and many people have stories to tell which are alot more interesting and unique than anything I could ever think of. Im not saying that I want to use other peoples ideas for my own benefit as an artist. For along time I made work in a studio or in my basement- I hated going to the studio it meant sitting by myself for hours on end- it was lonely. Working in public allows me to meet and connect and have conversations with other people. It gives me a reason to work.
People have been asking me about the snack bar. Was it a failed project? Why hasn't it appeared since the summer? NO, I will be doing it more this spring- when I am not working seven days a week and the weather is more pleasant.