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Please don’t get me wrong. I do feel indescribable sadness and anger about fellow artists being killed in such a cruel way. I feel hopeless that whatever we are can be erased so easily by such an insane violence. I wouldn’t be alive today if I didn’t have art. If I didn’t have my special relationship to the magical moments in my studio, if I didn’t have the ecstatic joy of feeling connected to total strangers through the evidences of those moments, and if my work didn’t pull me out of my destructive drinking habit, I wouldn’t be alive today.
There are two reasons why my profile picture doesn’t say “I am Charlie Hebdo” — the slogan of support for the magazine Charlie Hebdo. First, as many of my Facebook friends have already pointed out, some of the Charlie Hebdo pieces harshly satirize victims as much as the perpetrators of injustice and inhumanity. My position is that if we lived in a world where opportunities were given equally and everyone was treated equally, it’s probably alright to pick on anyone. I do believe in the power of a simple narrative to shed a light on a mechanism of absurdity.
But we live in a world where a handful of people are monopolizing the power and wealth. I see that as a major premise of our time. It’s the biggest absurdity permeating every level of our lives. Yet, it is the most carefully concealed dynamic of our time. Inequality and injustice is our normal. Racism and white privilege is our horizon line. Satirizing everything equally in this condition, to me, seems to contribute to masking this abnormality. It is an ironic paradox of working in a cultural sphere so thoroughly affected by the hierarchy of money and violence. In particular, attacking Muslims when the West is engaging in devastating colonial wars against Muslim countries, which have resulted in millions of deaths so far, seems to be extremely narrow sighted. Especially when the extreme nature of Islamic nations largely stems from decades of the violent colonial policies of the West. Here is an excellent article on it.
Who Should be Blamed for Muslim Terrorism? by Andre Vltchek
The second reason, I think, is much more important to me. As soon as the event occurred, we were flooded by the mainstream media and world leaders condemning the senseless violence with their blame directly aimed at Islamic extremists, hinting reinforced counter violence and enhanced security measures against Islamic nations. It is obvious that the same people who are engaging in devastating colonial wars of resources for decades are seizing the moment to utilize the tragic deaths to take away more lives and forward their agendas of exploitation and subjugation in the name of freedom and art.
To me the attack in Paris must be seen as a part of the violent excursions being repeated by the Western military interventions. It must be counted as one of the senseless attacks inflicted daily upon the people of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and many other places. These attacks are perpetrated by the people who have been, one way or the other, supported by the Western nations and its allies to destabilize and create failed states of chaos, sufferings and deaths for the interests of the Western corporations and banks. Again, the above article is a good starting point in understanding the colonial history of the Middle East.
I have to stand with people who are losing everything as much as I have to stand up for freedom of speech. These things are not mutually exclusive. Actions to protect free speech must not result in deaths and destruction serving the authoritative order of our time. Those who are already suffering tremendously need more people standing up for their rights to countries, communities, cultures, histories, lands, and their lives. We must face our real enemy hiding behind the voice of free speech.
Here are a few helpful materials to understand the historical background of what we are facing today. Please share them with your friends and your family members:
Reverse Racism by Aamer Rahman
The Crisis of Civilization by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
It’s been a few months since I got back working with paintings after exclusively working on sculptures and drawing for 20 years or so.
It’s exciting to see things, which I learned over the years, being released on the surface becoming layers of a narrative, a presence of its own.
Another painting I just finished a few days ago. The paintings are done on black mat boards, which I bought when I was in graduate school over 20 years ago. I bought a big box of them–a lot of 60 x 40 inch sheets–thinking that I was going to paint on them. But it took a while to get started. Although, the sense of time in studio is weird. I don’t know if its short or long. But I know that I couldn’t have painted this 20 years ago. I’ve seen so many things and I’ve changed so much. But I still go to the studio hoping that I see something special and sometimes I do.
Untitled Painting 002, 40″ x 30″, acrylic, charcoal, enamel and oil, 2014
The two weeks teaching session at Penland was tremendously rewarding on many levels. I am still a little overwhelmed about it… It was eye-opening to see a viable, self sustaining art community filled with great people. It was fascinating to see group efforts by artists and supporters of arts: The ceramic people working together in wood-firing, my class engaging in art discussions, the school raising funds with its auction, work study students filling in the school jobs creating more opportunities to participate and so on and on. It was inspiring to meet interesting people, who are building a network based on sharing, growing together and etc., instead of clinging onto establishments, networking to win approvals and so on. And I felt a good grip and a positive tension in structuring a program where people share ideas and grow together.
Although I don’t quite know how to materialize my feeling yet I feel encouraged and good about how things can be… And at the same time, I painfully realize my own ineffectiveness in cooperating with other artists, people in the arts, and the other community members. It makes me wonder about my role in the arts community.
Bringing out art works to the audience is a group effort. In an ideal world, we the artists’ job might only be making the works. Period. But in reality many of us are involved in the process as a dealer, curator, lighting specialist, photographer, web designer, catalog designer, advertising agent, art shipper, art writer, teacher, and so on. And the multitasking tendency extends to anyone who is involved in the arts. As many of us face economic difficulties, this tendency intensifies. It stands to reason that the people in the arts need a tighter network to be more efficient, more organic, more flexible and more effective.
But I do realize this is not a simple matter. First, artists need plenty of studio time and the solitary moments extending out of the studio to be productive. Any group efforts outside of the making process cuts into this precious time.
Second, with limited venues and opportunities, some of us feel the need to prioritize our networking among key people of influence–curators, established artists, critics, art writers and so on, creating a structure of hierarchy based on the establishments and the art market. The ones who fall through the structure feel the need to compete instead of sharing and cooperating among them.
Third, experiencing art works requires a proper context. We extend ourselves to multitasking not just because of the necessity but quite often it is the easiest and surest way to ensure that the work stay within the optimum context. And we might choose not to work with our community venues with our community friends if we see the venues or the participating artists (in case of group shows) to be an inappropriate match to the work. Or your local venues might exclude you for the same reason.
And finally the fact is that the most of us don’t need art for our immediate lives. And our notion that art can cultivate imagination, art can let us see alternative possibilities or art can ground us to the humanistic values and so on can easily be met with cynicism and skepticism when they turn into practical calls for support for the arts and the artists. Those people, who are struggling to live in your community will politely let you know that the artists are not the only ones with concerns, or they will gently remind you that you can leave the area if you don’t like it.
With my absolute beginner eyes, I imagine what I can do for the art community in my area. And I realize that many of us in our community are already taking initiatives to bring the art experience to our lives. And I realize that one way or the other I have managed to stay a halfhearted participant in some of those efforts. It’s been a very much humbling moment for me.
So how can I be more effective in my community as an artist? Or is it worthwhile at all to consider it if there is any risk of sacrificing my work?
Here, the force of nature enters the discussion: The wife.
I have discussed about this with my wife. It turned out to be one of the most tense, excruciating conversations we’ve had. And it was compounded by the fact that I was away for two weeks to attend the Penland session, leaving her with two children. Her notion that I am doing art for myself and all the justifications I give are self-serving certainly stung me with shock and sadness.
But if I am putting a priority on the way my work comes out regardless of what the community wants–which seems to be the case after all: I don’t take votes from the community members or I don’t even think about my community while I work–I can’t really say with all honesty that what I do in my studio has any merit for my community with certainty. Of course I certainly don’t do anything to harm people or to be disrespectful, but that’s just me trying to be humane like many of us do. I do have wishes and hopes for what my art can do. But I won’t let that be in the way of my creative process. And if there is any inequality and injustice toward artists, it might make more sense to see it as a broader issue of economic injustice and corporate assault against cultural values and the society at large. And any efforts to complain about my local art communities, art market and so on should perhaps be aimed at building my own community. After all, what have I done to even say with confidence that I belong to any of them?
One thing I can do for my community perhaps is to show my appreciation and my gratitude for letting artists get away with what we do. After all, I’m just a weirdo stuck in my studio doing what I like to do: To find my voice.
[spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”]Here are some photos from the dreamy two weeks. It really did happen.[spacer height=”20px”]
It was great to have Nick Schwartz‘s woodfiring class “Painting with Fire” next to our studio. The energy and the excitement of filling the giant kiln with hundreds of clay pieces, which would be firing for days, set the nice tone to the whole environment.
The end of the session auction raised record amount of funds for the school scholarship programs. You can spot my print at the far right.
I couldn’t have done the course without the help of the two awesome assistants Drew Johnson and Rachel Garceau.
Drew came up with a really cool ceramic piece during the session.
Rachel working on her installation.
We got to be friends quick, through art.
Alberto Careaga worked on his mini clay installation and photo projection experiments (photo by Alberto)
John Riggi working on his big Astro Turf tapestry.
Dustin Farnsworth‘s monumental piece at the Penland Gallery. Truly enjoyed visiting his studio.
Enee Abelman utilized the studio concrete floor in narrating a beautiful stop motion clip.
A wonderful piece I came across by Sibley Barlow while I was taking a walk through various studios. According to its catalogue, Penland “offers 98 one- or two-week workshops in books and paper, clay, drawing and painting, glass, iron, metals, photography, printmaking, textiles, wood, and other media.” While I stayed, there were 200 students in various studios working in different fields. It was great to walk around and see what was going on…
Here is a shot from our studio. It’s probably from the last day–the tearful, last discussion session. I’d like to thank all of the artists–Enee Abelman, Red Behnke, Audrey Bell, Dustin Farnsworth, Kinsey Fitzgerald, Rachel Garceau, Mitch Gathings, Drew Johnson, Mila Kagan, Christine Kuhn, Bri Larson, Joe Lee, Rachel Meginnes, Laura Peery, John Riggi and Marita Torbick–for making the class very special and very much worthwhile. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much for those who came to see the show in Southampton. And thanks to all the people who have worked so hard to make it happen, the show turned out to be splendid. Here are some images from the show.[spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”]#74, painted resin, 24 1/2 x 24 1/2 x 57 inches, 2010-13[spacer height=”20px”]#74, painted resin, 24 1/2 x 24 1/2 x 57 inches, 2010-13[spacer height=”20px”]#74 (detail), painted resin, 24 1/2 x 24 1/2 x 57 inches, 2010-13[spacer height=”20px”]#74, painted resin, 24 1/2 x 24 1/2 x 57 inches, 2010-13[spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”]A piece by Claire Watson, what would the ancestors say (detail), 2013-14, leather gloves, thread, 32 x 48 inches[spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”]#81, 2011-2013, painted resin, 24 x 54 x 25 inches[spacer height=”20px”]#81, 2011-2013, painted resin, 24 x 54 x 25 inches[spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”]Off the Block[spacer height=”20px”]An exhibition of work
by NYFA Fellows curated by NYFA director of program and curator David C. Terry[spacer height=”20px”]Opening Reception:
Saturday, June 28, 5:00 PM[spacer height=”20px”]Exhibition Dates: June 26 – July 20, 2014
Location: Southampton Center
25 Jobs Lane, Southampton, NY 11968[spacer height=”20px”]Gallery Hours: 12:00 -6:00 PM on Thursday, 12:00-8:00 PM Friday and Saturday; 12:00-5:00 PM on Sunday.Participating Artists[spacer height=”20px”]Hiroyuki Hamada[spacer height=”20px”]About NYFA
NYFA’s Artists’ Fellowships, awarded in fifteen different disciplines over a three-year period are $7,000 cash awards made to individual originating artists living and working in the state of New York for unrestricted use. Artists’ Fellowships are not project grants but are intended to fund an artist’s vision or voice, regardless of the level of his or her artistic development.[spacer height=”20px”]NYFA’s Curatorial Services offer organizations, corporations, and individuals the opportunity to integrate contemporary art into their offices, headquarters, or homes. Over the past forty years, NYFA has established lasting relationships with thousands of visual, literary, and performing artists working in all disciplines and styles. NYFA’s in house curator will help potential collectors forge similar, and equally positive, relationships with current or former Fellows. Whether large or small, permanent or temporary, for a courtyard or office, NYFA’s curators will work with you and your organization to ensure you receive the absolute best work for your space and needs. Please click here for a list of NYFA Curatorial projects. For information contact David Terry at email@example.com.[spacer height=”20px”]New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) was founded in 1971 to empower artists at critical stages in their creative lives. Each year we provide over $1 million in cash grants to individuals and small organizations. Artspire, our fiscal sponsorship program, is the largest and most established in the country and helps artists and organizations raise and manage over $3.5 million annually. Our NYFA Learning programs provide thousands of artists with professional development training and our website, NYFA.org, received over 1.5 million unique visitors last year and has information about more than 9,000 opportunities and resources available to artists in all disciplines.