Saturday, June 20, 2009

Art in the Summer

Two bad habits compromise my effectiveness as an academic: overcommitment and denial. The first manifests in my inability to say, "no." Okay. Strike that. Perhaps it has more to do with my willingness to say, "yes." But from whichever direction you come at the problem, I have a tendency to get too involved, or at least more involved than my resources can handle. The other problem, "denial," is usually a coping mechanism for the first. Too much to do? Deadlines looming? Eh, don't worry about it.

These problems are particularly vexing in the summer, when my academic lifestyle loosens up on the scheduled commitments but no less on the expectations of productivity. The oft touted benefits of being a university professor is that you potentially get summers "off." If by "off"you mean I am not teaching classes, I can cop to that. But if by "off" you think I am not advising graduate students, expected to be attending to my own research agenda, or participating in departmental planning, you are wrong. This brief respite from teaching is meant to be a time to catch up on other forms of productivity -- and at my university, teaching comes second in the grand hierarchy of all that matters (to them, anyway).

While there are several career advancing (maintaining?) projects I should be working on, I find myself instead in the midst of a veritable blizzard (would hurricane be more seasonally appropriate?) of artistic projects. I can tweak these to "count" for my professional work, but that is hardly the objective that motivates me to participate. Rather, that drive to creatively express myself that is such a force in my life (all of our lives?) has kicked into high gear and is taking advantage of all the energy I can give it. So here at the end of June are all the artistic outlets I am currently involved with.

First, @Platea is in the middle of its third on-line collaborative arts project. The "Hopes/Dreams/Fears" project collects peoples statements about aspirations and anxieties with plans to broadcast them in the month of July. In Carbondale, I've made a journal that has been passed around at several events. I've entered on-line the text that folks have written in that journal, but I know I will be scanning pages -- the blank page generating such wonderful opportunities for drawings to supplement the statements. Thanks to An Xiao for starting this project and welcoming so many of us to participate.

Second, Christi Nielson of the Inter.Sect artists collective has started a project titled "Secondhand." In this video project, Christi distributes short prompts taken from social networking statements (blog comments, status updates, tweets, etc.), and each of the artists involved produce one or more 12second videos at At three prompts a day for a week, this is getting to be quite a commitment. And, well, not. The number and time for these videos encourages a kind of letting go. Hey, I'm a day and a half into this one and loving it so far!

Third, the BAR Corporation Incubator series has kicked off with Nico Wood and Joe Hassert introducing many of us to the practice of "Space Guiding." Some excellent examples, theorizing, and exercises have led to a plan to generate a series of Space Guides for the SIUC Campus and Carbondale area. What is a space guide? Think of a "zine" that is an unusual guidebook to an area. In three and a half weeks we will be doing a round-robin exchange of our various ways of representing trajectories through the (geographical, emotional, psychological, whimsical) space of Carbondale.

Fourth, in conjunction with BAR Corp, we've finally begun our attempts to flashmob the Thursday Sunset Concerts in Carbondale. Many of us have read about and watched videos of flashmobs but have little experience creating them. So, on this past Thursday, we did a very simple action to learn a thing or two. Some may feel that the "Where's Tom?" flashmob was a failure -- and by some measurements of evaluation, this is true. But we learned a lot and come out of that first experiment with some very clear, very good plans for the next one.

Fifth, tonight and again in conjunction with BAR Corporation, David Hanley-Tejeda is hosting the second annual Exotic Erotic Ball Carbondale. Hopefully this year's will be a little less reliant on XXX porn. Not that I am a prude, but I think the open mic last year taught us a thing or two about what is actually erotic. When Roland Barthes is hotter than Penthouse Forum, I think you've learned a thing or two about stimulating the erogenous zones of the mind. As with last year, again I have made magnets -- my theme this year: erotic fragmentations and isolations of the human torso.

Finally (and this is where denial rears its ugly head again), I am supposed to be working on a solo performance that I am doing at the Conference on Communication and the Environment in a week. "Cross/Walking" is well begun but hardly done. Something tells me that much of my so-called "free" time this week will go to getting this project done. I have to wonder if my resistance to this project isn't in part because it is more directly tied to my professional work. Even when it is fun -- and this is very much a fun show -- if it has that connection to "work," I seem compulsively driven to avoid it.

My own foibles aside, I have to say that I write this blog entry with a certain amount of pride. I live a life filled with art. Collaborative art, at that. I connect both virtually and in "real" life with others doing art. Surely that means this is the life I always wanted. And here, with a requisite pomo self-referential "meta" turn at the end, I note that this blog (begun in the heat of @Platea's earlier collaborative project, "Co-Modify") is its own commitment to art. To Art in the Summer. To embracing this season of slow paced, hot and humid, fecund creativity and productivity. The air is thick with it, and if that sometimes leads to an explosive maelstrom of destruction/creation, I say bring it on.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


In my understanding of the Celtic Cross spread in Tarot card readings, the second to last position (just down from the top of the "staff") indicates the querent's "hopes and fears." In my limited experience reading Tarot (especially for other people) I always really liked this card position. At its simplest level, it left up to interpretation (of context, of the actual card itself) whether a "hope" or a "fear" was indicated. At a deeper level, though, I thought this was one of those profound insights the Tarot is so famous for -- in this case, that what you most hope for might also be what you most fear and vice versa. Or, put another way, that there is a deep connection and meaningful relationship between our fears and our hopes.

This sort of Tarot inspired observation changed my relationship to beings like, say, spiders. From an early age I have been an arachnophobe. Not an extreme arachnophobe, surely, but past a certain size and within a certain proximity, I find myself paralyzed with fear before the eight-legged creepy crawlies. Either despite this fear or because of it, I am also fascinated by spiders. In part, this fascination is like picking at a scab: Does this scare me? Does this? How about this? On one level, it signifies a compulsion to poke at and explore limits, to better understand something I seem unable to control. But I think there is more to it -- fear indicating a kind of fascination, a locus of interest. Either as cause or result of my fear, the spider is for me (and so many others) an archetypal image, a dream symbol. The meaning of "spider" exceeds the materiality of the creatures themselves -- and the fear of them is certainly "non-rational" (if not exactly "irrational").

So, these are the observations I take with me as I enter @Platea's third on-line art project: "hopes/dreams/fears". The project seeks to explore something as innocuous as a social networking status update as a location for recording our hopes, our fears, our dreams. Perhaps that's what they always do. But in this exercise, we gather in both RL and digital social gatherings the h/d/f statements of people such that they might be sutured together in a virtual profile of our collective aspirations and anxieties -- in other words, a map (or perhaps only a brochure) of our dreams.

As with all of these "crowdsourced," on-line art projects, there is an openness to what constitutes a hope, a fear, or a dream. People will offer these statements as they will. My particular interest is in hearing folks address the prompt as if there are no backslashes between the terms -- as if they run together. What is your hope that is also a fear? What is your dream that embodies both elements of desire and anxiety? As the Tarot suggests, before we can predict the future (however loosely) we must address and assess our hopes AND/or fears.

Follow the link above to find out how to contribute your own hopes/dreams/fears. Or, if that seems like too much of a commitment, feel free to leave an h/d/f statement in the comments section below (along with your hometown and a name to call you by) and I will make sure it is submitted. H/d/f statements will be broadcast on the h/d/f facebook page during the month of July, along with other artwork and documentation inspired by the project.