Thursday, December 15, 2005

Industry of the Ordinary's book release @ The Museum of Contemporary Photography

I just attended the book release for Industry of the Ordinary's new book "Textbook: notes around the margins" at the Museum of Contemporary Photography. It consisted of a couple of performative actions, a panel discussion and book signing.

I enjoyed the brief panel discussion more than any other in recent memory. The panel consisted of a moderator, several contributors to the book, and Matt Wilson and Adam Brooks (who make up Industry of the Ordinary).

For context, the book consists of images of actions by Industry of the Ordinary and then responses by folks who are not necessarily connected or aware of the art world. Only one responder seemed some how invested in the art dialogue and the panelists would refer to their self-perceived distance from the art world during the talk

The moderator guided the talk by postulating general criticisms about contemporary art and them asking the panelist to reflect. Simple but very difficult questions where put out like (I paraphrase...) "Is the work successful?" and "What is artistic about political art?". A couple longer discussions came up about the artist's right to claim authority over the meaning of their work and the place of documentation in relationship to live performance.

There was a full crowd with a number of artists present and the air of the discussion was quite combative at times, which I liked. I liked that people were engaged...the audience didn't wait for the discussion to open up and include them, at a certain point they just jumped in. It seemed to me that some of the artists in the room had a really hard time hearing non-artist articulate definitions and responses to art and one comment particularly aggressively accused the panel of speaking in dated ways about art...from a visual perception point of view, I believe. The panelist seemed pretty capable of handling themselves.

The two performance actions were as t-shirt give-away/photo opp and then a sing along.

The first 100 people to arrive tonight received a Industry of the Ordinary t-shirt with their logo on back and, in front, some kind of mid-eastern looking script with the caption "vote for me" under it in English. (Today is the day of the vote for parliament in Iraq.) Before the panel, everyone in a t-shirt gathered around a photographed as a group. During the panel talk, it was interesting to see the room of branded audience members watching and asking questions. I wonder if that feels reassuring or disturbing.

The panel ended with the introduction of two singers and the audience being invited to sing along once we had the words down. The singers were choral style and somewhat physically striking in that the man was rather tall and loomed behind his partner. The lyrics were "You are shit and you know it" (I believe, I might have it slightly wrong but you get the gist) and they were repeated over and over. After a time a number of the audience started to participate.

It was an interesting shift in meaning when the audience joined in, going from the accused to the accusers and realizing that was the only option being presented to escape the accusation of the singers. Industry of the Ordinary seems to really like implicating their audience and creating situations where the audience then questions their participation. Often it is a bit of a hustle where you quickly offered a deal and, you know, they seem like nice enough fellows. A kind of dry wit is also an element of Industry of the Ordinary actions.

I sat out of the singing but happily and rather ignorantly took the shirt and stood to be photographed. I don't always want to play these games but I think the sharpness of the way Industry of the Ordinary sets them up is impressive.

The panel discussion revealed an interesting aspect of Industry of the Ordinary's work to me as well. By bringing together this group, they created a counterpoint of dialogue to the ambiguous actions that they perform. I kept thinking of the dropping a rock in a pool of water and the vacuum that is briefly created and then filled. Normally the vacuum they create is left silent but tonight they tried filling it with voices.

I thought that it was meaningful and obviously provocative event.

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You can here excerpts from a discussion I had with Matt Wilson a few months ago by clicking the "dialogues " link.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I managed to see the panel discussion but little else of the event, so I'll comment on that. The main thing I came away thinking about was populism in art and in lefty politics (perhaps highlighted by the Congress hotel strike I passed through going to and from the event). I wish the panelists would have been introduced in terms of who they were and how they came to the project rather than just this is bill, this is jon, etc...this may have been a conscious strategy, but given that the moderator forgot to introduce Adam Brooks, for me there was a whole period of uneccessary confusion about who the panelists were. I think this was intesified by the fact that although they weren't visual art people, it wasn't exactly a random cross section of society either, so it seemed plausible at first that they might just be fellow students and professors. (And one did seem to maybe be a literature professor?)

I also enjoyed the contentiousness of the discussion, and the way people just launched into it, even if I mostly disagreed with them. After the panel I talked to someone that thought the discussion was kind of begging this response and I think I agree--so many of the moderator's questions boiled down to "is this art effective?," and of course the panelists are going to politely agree. I think it took people who were disconnected from the project to address the difficulties the moderator was bringing up about art and politics. When the questions did start coming in though, it made me consider how rare and needed Industry of the Ordinary's kind of populism is. Hearing the peevish questions from the leftier-than-thou political artist, the snooty oh-so postmodern intellectual, and the conversation about whether they are morally implicated if the book advances their careers led me to wonder if this is why so many ordinary people tend to distrust art and vote Republican?

--Deva

December 16, 2005 11:56 AM  

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