Sunday, March 27, 2005

Uncomfortability (Panel Discussion) @ PAC/edge

[3/30 - This blog entry has gotten a bit of response. If you read the comments you will see a few comments that I am complaining a lot and that I am not creating dialogue this way. This makes me uncomfortable, and it seem a few of the readers so far are uncomfortable (and maybe they are right about my complaining too much?). What to do? Well, I am adding this intro which makes me a bit more comfortable.

I am also gonna restate here that I really like PAC/edge a lot. It is the only time in Chicago where I can feel sustained energy around performance. I also really like panels and workshops and this year's PAC/edge has taken a nice step to expand those offerings. I also am a big fan of the moderators of the Uncomfortability panel as people and of their performance work? This said I feel a bit more comfortable.

I am also raising these questions: how do we negotiate this uncomfortable diatribish post? isn't it a cliché that people one respond to controversy...does the uncomfortablity have something to do with initiating agency?

I hope you have the facility to handle what uncomfortable statements still lay ahead and will feel un/comfortable to post a response to some of the points I bring up/complain about/compliment/ignore. If you start a conversation elsewhere about the topics I discuss in this blog, feel free to let me know and I would be happy to link you if appropriate.

I am always happy to meet for a tea and further conversation on these topics...if you are comfortable with that.


The first thing that made me uncomfortable at Saturday’s panel discussion on “Uncomfortabilty” at the PAC/edge fest was that panelist Loren Crawford had decided it was ok to bring her young daughter on stage with toys and all during the talk.

The second thing that made me uncomfortable is that everyone on the panel ignored the crashes, flashings, and walking about that the young Miss Crawford was performing and that panel blazed ahead in a rather general, unfocused discussion.

It made me uncomfortable that Loren was obligated to eventually leave with her daughter in tow having little chance to add to the conversation.

It made me uncomfortable that only a small collection of the performing artists from the festival were in the audience.

Again, it made me uncomfortable that the conversation, which was just an hour, was so general and just seemed to get started as time ran out.

It made me uncomfortable that there is a value system being asserted around “uncomfortablilty” but was unacknowledged by the group. It seems these panelists easily accept a system of the-more-uncomfortable-the-better, with the hedge that there are some limits. It seemed that most artists on the panel were interested by and a spend a great deal of time negotiating the point when they start to reach a limit…when their value system of “uncomfortablility” comes in conflict (or anticipated conflict) with those that hold a value system of “comfortablity” (these folks where mentioned as funders in Chicago, and conservatives of various sorts who at times are in the audience). Is it a lingering avant-guard criteria?

It made me uncomfortable that no one suggested that maybe uncomfortability is no longer a sufficient criteria for evaluating art.

I was uncomfortable with the moment when the group quickly agreed to the moderator’s assertion that art can produce change and that uncomfortability encourages change. (I maybe be misquoting that idea but that is what I came away with).

I was uncomfortable with my feeling that Susan Lipman was secretly the puppet master here.

I was uncomfortable with the assertion that people simply need critical skills to understand art. They need specific art-language knowledge-bases, which give the viewers the medium to understand and apply their critical skills. A traveler with a sharp, critically trained mind is still gonna have an uncomfortable time in another country if they do not speak the language.

It was uncomfortable never hearing any suggestions to what some of the possible qualities are for managing uncomfortability. How can it be taught?

I was uncomfortable with the lack of any orienting descriptions of what is an uncomfortable situation. To me a starting formula might be one of dissonance. When two or more things are out of harmony in some way then you have some degree of uncomfortability. Such as when a joint is bent the wrong way, it is uncomfortable. Such as when particular political views are asserted in an art piece then an audience member who is heavily identified with a different view feels uncomfortable.

I was uncomfortable with the assertion that the uncomfortable is fundamentally political. As pointed out above a political frame would be one way of looking at it but in sufficient for understanding how a joint is made uncomfortable.

I was uncomfortable that I had to leave the discussion before it ended.

I was uncomfortable that the talk shifted wildly to the role of art criticism after moving down into the café because they had an art critic there to pick on.

I was uncomfortable that even as the frustration about the lack of dialogue around art in Chicago was raised by panelists that I got no sense that any of these folks were going to attempt to extend the dialogue.

On the other hand, I was comfortable with the talk happening and that it was aware that this was a theme at the PSi conference next week.

I was comfortable that Susan Lipman (PAC Exec. Dir) added some informed comment to the talk.

I was comfortable with the quality and good spirit of the folks gathered for the panel.

Comfortable when Greg Allen, the Director of the Neo-Futurists, kept trying to offer that a quality of “openness’ is something that can be strategically employed in performance.

I was comfortable with an audience member's statement of concern that there wasn't a more politically diverse panel.

I was comfortable with the critic offering humor as a tactic for being uncomfortable.


I would suggest that PAC needs to do more of this and in a less reactive way. If they are going to be Chicago focused then they need to push and id themes that are of issue in Chicago to performers. To some degree they are forced to go through this time of building infrastructure but it would create a much more sharp event if there were ideas behind the show. Not a constricting thing but an interpretation of what is going on which is displayed by the line up choices and some critical writing perhaps.

The suggestion in the panel that Chicago funders don't know want to fund what they say they want to fund came up in the panel. As did some interesting points from Barbara DeGenevieve about a couple failures by AIC to teach Chicago that it is the role of art to create work that at times make people uncomfortable. The suggestion that not taking on this responsibility puts AIC in position of fear that they will lose funding isn’t right. It is the same sense I get from the people PAC was courting for funding at the auction/dinner event last year. The guests had little interest or understanding of the art they were being asked to support. Maybe education is needed, maybe you need a new board, and maybe the intelligent people on the board are just bored and need a more rigorous expression of civic leadership and aesthetic concern from the festival.

In hindsight, I am uncomfortable that Deva Eveland, who is performing a rather uncomfortable performance installation most nights at PAC/edge and who is performing at the PSi conference on "Being Uncomfortable" next week, was not on the panel. It seems to speak to a general unawareness to the installations in particluare by the organizers, and to an ignorance to the kind of themes the artists are engaging in during the festival.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

you do complain an awful lot.

March 28, 2005 10:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How much acknowledgement was there of this being the theme of the upcoming psi conference?

March 28, 2005 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who attended the panel as a guest, I can say that the panel was largely unfocused and unproductive. I actually felt that Lauren Crawford's kid was the best part - watching these artists talking about audience mostly, be her unwilling audience. At one point she flashed Nick Lowe while he was detailing a (quasi) triumph with some citizens concerned with some porn in one of his pieces.

Upon moving downstairs, the panel turned into a dialogue - opening the conversation up into a circle format where panelists and guests where intermingled. This would seemingly offer a potentially rich environment for discussion, but I believe that the dialogue failed, with some of the richest points unmined, passed over to express an new opinion. It was an interesting panel, with interesting points raised, well-versed panelists, and an informed audience. With all of these positive qualities, I would call for a do-over.

March 28, 2005 11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure its the goal of a number of the artists and companies to make people uncomfortable, but is this the goal of PAC/Edge as an overall event? It seems like there is also a competing impulse to market it as something that isn't TOO dangerous, don't be scared off.

March 28, 2005 11:54 AM  
Blogger Erik Fabian said...

Trevor the moderator introduced the topic as relating to the PSi event next week. I believe he and the other moderator Kim are involved or presenting there in some fashion this year. I assume there interest in having this talk was to connect to this larger dialogue as well as try some ideas before hand.

I like the topic myself.

March 28, 2005 12:02 PM  
Blogger Erik Fabian said...

is performance art any scarier than being in the stands during a Bears game?

maybe PAC should market to the tough side of Chicago?

and really PAC/edge has little of the kind of endurance and transgression art that give performance art its rep.

i haven't seen anyone pull anything out of their vagina or cut themselves or masturbate under a floor, etc.

mostly it is oddball theater and dance. which is great too from my point of view because the endurance stuff is just one approach to a broad field and this is a particular time period and you have to question what tactics are appropriate.

March 28, 2005 12:13 PM  
Blogger Erik Fabian said...

and you know this is my point about the competing value systems around being uncomfortable...and you can see the conflict in how money moves in art.

There is this suggested "edge" in the title of PAC/edge that offers the fest as something that maybe discomforting. But then they need to fill seats and get support. can PAC link dollar to the value system of uncomfortablity?

Somewhere an assumption or a request for something more comfortable is raised to PAC and then the conflict begins. PAC chooses to hold their ground and champion ideas or they will compromise. How much they do one or the other defines them.

How much good does a luke warm fest do?

Performance art often relies on scandal to make it's mark, is PAC willing to be scandalous?

Most performance artists don't make much money being scandalous though, so how does PAC sustain itself as a organization and still have its proclaimed edge?

And edgy to who? Who is the PAC audience?

These are the basic questions I think.

The audience question is a big one i think and one of the blurry aspects of the festival. i hope of course the edge isn't assumed to be the same for everyone. i think it could be the role of PAC (as with other cultural institution in Chicago) to start to reveal Chicago's cultural edge and contrast that with the rest of the world. Are we able to should local work and rightfully call ourselves edgy?

PAC could start to decide if this festival is to be edgy to Chicago, to the nation, or to the world.

but again i don't think the festival or performance art is best viewed as simply a scandalous or transgressive action.

March 28, 2005 12:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you know, i do not think you understand what it is to run a festival like pac/edge. first, i should say, i think that pac/edge is great. i see no volunteer issues, and have no beef with how it's run. no more beef than with anything else. a largish festival such as this, with about as small a budget as you can imagine, can hardly be blamed for minor management issues. i have worked in the non-profit arts environment and everything is a major trial. generally, the only hireable staff is young, inexperienced and making roughly 5 bucks an hour 60 hours a week. and pac has a staff of maybe seven people. what do you expect? i think things are going quite well. the athenaeum staff is not pac staff, and is not managed by pac.
can the artists truly complain? free space, free advertising, and a community is building.
anyway, i suppose we disagree. and i wonder where your dismay really comes from.

March 28, 2005 12:44 PM  
Blogger Erik Fabian said...

Feel free to look at my resume in on my main site for my experience. I have actually run a festival for a couple years and presented over a hundred performances in that time. There are differences for sure but I am just saying I do have some credibility here.

I also really like PAC. It seems like people are arriving on the site and just reading this entry right now and getting upset. See the first one I wrote about the event in general.

I suppose my dismay comes from lots of places but never the less I don't think I am trying to be mean or anything. I would love it if you had some specific point about PAC that you want to discuss that you offer them here or else where and let me know that the conversation is going on.

I agree it is hard to put on these kinds of events but I don't think Susan Lipman or her staff are so fragile that my comments on a blog are going to be taken the wrong way.

Thanks for the reply.

March 28, 2005 5:59 PM  

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