This evening marks the opening reception for Detour at SPACES Gallery. The exhibit presents the work of five artists rerouted by an obstruction. One week ago, the artists met to discuss their practices and share their areas of comfort and discomfort. By the end of the evening, each was assigned an obstacle by his or her peers. Their challenge was to create work for the exhibit while dealing with the assigned obstacle, all the while paired with a documentarian who would provide "color commentary" on the process. OhioAuthority arts writer and critic Eleanor LeBeau was asked to participate; beginning today we'll share her blogs - originally published on SPACES' website - documenting the experience of artist Arzu Ozkal. Join SPACES tonight 6pm to 9pm for the opening reception of Detour, and check back with OhioAuthority to read LeBeau's take on the experience.
Composed on May 7, 2010 about 10:09 a.m.
THE ENDURANCE PERFORMANCE: DAY ONE
When French art critic and curator Nicolas Bourriard famously described a work of art as “a dot on a line,” what he meant was that a great deal of thought, research, planning and labor precedes the realization of a painting, document or performance. The public only gets to see the dot. Most of the time, the critic only gets to see the dot. Detour is a rare but much-needed chance for the critic and the public to see the line - and then the dot.
Arzu Ozkal and I were the first participants to arrive at Detour’s meeting of five artists and five critics (pictured above). Christopher Lynn, SPACES’ genial director, introduced us. Arzu rushed from Oberlin College, where she teaches studio and new media art. I came from a nine-hour shift at my day job, headquartered somewhere in Ohio City, which shall remain unnamed for confidentiality reasons. Arzu grabs a beer from the spread of refreshments Chris has laid out for us. I grab an oatmeal cookie (bad girl) to go with the coffee I brought along. Behind us, multidisciplinary artist Bruce Edwards peels a tangerine. I comment on the refreshing smell. Bruce offers me a slice. I eat it, grateful for the gesture. Participants trickle in and soon the room’s abuzz.
Excited by the smart conversation, I’m losing track of time. Using their websites as jumping-off points, the five artists brief us on their practices. I’m intrigued by all, but most intrigued by Arzu’s work. The Turkish-born artist uses videos, websites, public interventions and performances to explore the “concept of the body” (as she puts it) and its “relation to social and political discourses.” Yes! She’s been reading Michel Foucault and probably the work of Amelia Jones, a prominent scholar of performance art. Yes! Chris asks the artists and writers to pair up. I immediately turn to Arzu. She nods. I’m thrilled.
During a break I discover that Arzu has met the subject of my very long master’s thesis: James Luna (Luiseño), a performance-installation artist whose body — and its “relation to social and political discourses”—is a main component of his work. Arzu’s eyes brighten when I mention Luna. “He’s one of my favorite artists,” she says. Arzu met Luna when she was a graduate student at SUNY Buffalo. She had a studio visit with him and, inevitably, he was intrigued by her work.
We’re still in the process of choosing the obstacles for each artist. The conversation is electric. Ideas are swirling around the room. Arzu is fairly quiet throughout the process, mainly sitting back and observing. The artists are struggling to impose obstacles on each other. “Are we supposed to make each other miserable?” someone asks.
“Well, I wouldn’t rule out misery, as long as it’s not misery for misery’s sake,” Chris replies.
We come to Arzu. There’s talk about asking her to work in a gallery space, since she’s never done that. Her artworks are performances on the streets of Buffalo, websites like “A Daily Media Diary of Turkey” and videos posted on the Internet. Chris suggests we might ask her to become an “insider,” since many of her projects deal with her being an “outsider.” Earlier, Arzu told us that she came to the U.S. as a “quasi-Middle-Easterner” right after 9/11, and her work began to deal with this identity as a “foreigner.” Chris also notes that she tends to take a passive role in her public interventions/performances. In Unattended Body, Arzu sat silent and motionless on black-topped strip-mall parking lots and grassy patches next to bank buildings, her videographer waiting to capture a passerby’s confused stare. Her venues are public spaces. Her audience — though often unwitting — is the public.
The group decides. She gets more obstructions than the other artists:
1) Be active
2) Stage something
3) Bring an audience
I feel confident that she can rise to the task. I also feel guilty because I suggested she try more than one. Will she later thank me or curse my name?
Excited but weary-eyed, Arzu and I agree to email the next day. Tomorrow we both work day jobs, but make plans to meet on Friday.
Image courtesy of Brandon Juhasz.