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.

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