Archive for February, 2010

Week 6 Curatorial Systems

February 27, 2010

Welcome back, friends!
Today we will be stretching everyone’s Western developed brains to consider practices of organization. We are very tied to science in our systems of organization. We use Latin names and speak of groups, families, etc. I will be using some ideas from the book Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads. I am not an expert in museum studies, however one of my best friends is well versed in this area. We have always followed each other’s studies have regular critical discussions often. She loaned me the SAPH text in 2006 and my thoughts have been more abstract ever since. Slicing through the first layer of the book is the organization of subjects as viewed through different societies. We may think that eagles are related to hawks, which are related to falcons, which are related to smaller predatory birds. The Native Americans believed that eagles were related to the sky, which was related to the mountain top, which was related to snow. Who was right? Most westerners say that we use a scientific taxonomic system so ours is the right way. But can you negate the system that the Natives used? Not logically. Science, which is very useful and tied heavily into post enlightened thought, can only support theories proposed to its system. It cannot disprove organizational matters that do not operate in such a way. We have been seeing growth in non-scientific systems in the last century or two through curation. We have seen paintings organized to share specific thoughts and concerns. Museums have been trying various methods over time. We used to use the Wunderkunst idea of display including scenic objects similar to the Native Americans similar to a window in time. We now have curated exhibitions that display 19th Century metal work including opulent vessels displayed with slave shackles.
To fully grasp the idea of organization, we must look back to wunderkunst, wunderkumen, oddities, and cabinets of curiosities. SAPH does well in this area. Royalty loved to collect tokens to remind them of their travels or conquers and display them in their court for others to be impressed by. With science being new, kings, czars and collectors developed their own systems for display. Many small street side museums in Europe still organize in this way. America has it’s share of small private museums as well as oddities like Ripley’s Believe it or Not!
So, can the academic world live with various competing ideologies of organization? Maybe the answer lies in “heritage.” I think that there is a progression of density that is present in all museums. Everything rises to it’s own level. I believe that originally, the original culture dictates the method and content of a display. During time, others may try to adjust this system in the name of modernity, science, even religion. Each factor changes the focus of the display until it finally comes to rest at it’s final level. This happens because any museum can only generate so much income based on what it is they have to display. Here is the point where I get bold and go on a limb: I think that those museums that rise to the top do become tainted from the original design of an object or culture. The more enterprising the museum, the less the display relates to it’s original culture. I will provide two extreme examples for consideration: The Britany Spears Museum (regaling in all of it’s brown paneling and stained ceiling tiles) and the International Village at the Illinois’ State Fair. Consider what each of these places attempt to provide. Consider the budget of the pop star’s hometown museum with that of the Illinois state fair. Finally consider the truth that each provide about their intended subject. Comments are welcome.
Thanks for listening!

My travel Connundrum

February 19, 2010

I will begin with a further explanation of my question that I posed for the class as the idea of entitlement still concerns me. It actually has for a long time. Think back to a place you worked one time where there was a large gap in entitlement between management and labor. I can think of numerous examples in my military career as well as my time in manufacturing where the upper management carried an entitlement. I would stare at them and ask myself what they did in life to constitute more perks than myself.
Before I digress to far, I will pose the long version of my question from last week.
“…Many writers have implied that tourism is a colonial practice with many negative repercussions on the place traveled to, both naturally and anthropologically. The writers use their enlightened status on the subject as justification for their travel. [Lippard was not as harsh on this as previous writers. She does however, comment through a certain lens.] Lippard tells of Tiravanija’s road trip from L.A. to Philidelphia inserting a replacement reading of Robert Frank’s book as opposed to Jack Kerouac’s in an attempt to justify Tiravanija’s trip. Is the “international eye” or enlightenment all that is needed to travel?
This cannot work out logically. If everyone in the world attained an international eye, they could travel. Obviously, this would not be good for the world. It may be an odd comparison but learning Photoshop does not make you an artist. I think that we would be better served if we compared it to the model of the simple food revolution. Instead of having this snooty view on travel, we should invite readers and travelers to learn more. We should accept the fact that it is healthy for humans to get away sometimes and provide them with the facts for more eco/cultural friendly travel. As more people change their current travel ways, they can share with each other and over time, the population as a whole will find it more “civilized” to leave a light footprint when leaving their region.
I think that Kerouac’s book is fine for travel. He may have used a lot of petrol but they slept in the car or with friends. They witnessed or “dug” locals from the windshield and they kept an open mind. Jack will be a friend of Katie and I on our cross-country trek. We too, will be consuming a fair amount of fuel. That is why we are paying close attention to the mileage of the vehicle that we choose. We will also be sleeping in a tent or a car. I really think that America needs to get back to camping. That is a responsible way for families to teach children about impact.
My education on impact came from my youth in Boy Scouts. My favorite part was the camping. My Scoutmasters, and especially camp staff taught me how to leave no trace. In scouting, I also was awarded the Order of the Arrow. This was a ritual loosely based on Native American coming of age rites. By the end of my training, I learned to support myself in the lakes and woods, becoming conscious on every move I made, and leaving no trace of myself when I departed. Later in life, I used many of those same skills as I became a four-wheel-drive enthusiast. The national program attending to this group is called “Tread Lightly.” It is of a similar base as Scouting.
Now, here is where the problem lies: I just laid out an argument about travel justification. I proposed a few ideas to improve the impact of travel. I discussed my thoughts and experience. But it ended up as me justifying my own travel! That is what I am trying to avoid. Now, I may be as arrogant as the writers that I just attacked. Wow. Thanks for staying on until here. I hope you enjoyed the trip. Please share with me your comments so that I can try to work through this.
Tread Lightly!


February 16, 2010

The road nears. I feel like it is calling me. There is a deep need inside of me to drive. I spend my days trying to save fuel and resources so that I can splurge two to three times a year on a road trip. In my mind, I am calculating my own carbon offsets. Sometimes, I justify my meager travel with a higher cause- a search for meaning in my life as well as others. Is this right? I find this underlying entitlement to travel, almost an arrogance in the writers on the subject. There is a feeling that we should stay home as to not rob natives of their own progress while allowing the intellectually elite a free pass to travel while telling us how bad it is. Now, I feel like I am falling into that hypocritical area that I wanted to avoid.
Lippard says that one could travel under the concept of an international eye. That statement seems pretty leftist as I am having trouble comparing it for a possible defense. If Rirkrit Tiravanija can travel to the United States and drive across the country for art’s sake, are we still showing an international eye if a National Geographic photographer travels for the sake of education to others? I am not defending high-impact travelers by any means. Despite fuel consumption, Kerouac traveled to experience a variety of simple poetic scenes that most people failed to appreciate. Lippard seems to disregard his travels for lack of an international eye [art].
Does intention or time make travel justified? Podell & Stephens (Who needs a road?) originally set out on a testosterone filled journey in 1965 to circumvent the globe leaving a world record never to be broken. (It was arguably broken this century.) Instead, after bombings, burglaries, breakdowns, floods, fires, sandstorms, stonings, diseases, deaths, wars and romantic entanglements they brought a wealth of international cultural/political awareness to the people. Similarly, Kerouac’s original intentions fell short (by three years) of what it was he was researching, not until afterward did he decide to write the “the story of his life…[to] write it as it happened” giving us one of Americas greatest stories of the Beat Era. In defense of Jack, “digging” is now a performance art. Appreciation for simple acts in time can be regarded as art, therefore falling under the international eye.
But, here lies the problem with art for art’s sake and the international eye concerning the justifiability of travel: Underground Tourism. This has been of great interest to me from trekking up and down the Mississippi River for the last twenty years of my life. I learned all of the local lore concerning the sites and non-sites. I was later an unofficial tour guide for our Sculpture Association sharing “local” stories with visiting artists. I became extremely interested when I read Nick Kaye and learned of the idea of intersticial connections in a city. Similar to watching COPS, Chicago has a “ride with a cop” tour that a friend went on. Underground tourism, like undiscovered cultures, survive until someone finds them and “Disneyfies” it. They are not in the international eye, or the art eye until after the fact. Lippard lists this as genuine travel. Therefore, it IS possible to travel without the ends being pre-justified.

Get your Kicks

February 5, 2010

5 Feb 10

All right, jump in and put on your seatbelts, we have a great project coming up. Esteemed artist, Katie Flower and I are planning a collaborative project that will hopefully contribute to a series of artworks concerning travel and markers in America. I have been reading Who needs a road?, the story of a group of writers of a travel magazine in the Seventies, that decided to circumvent the globe in a Landcruiser. Also on my reading list some months ago was Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. If you have not read this, it is a man and his son traveling in search of the apex of modernity. (I won’t ruin it for you.) At about the same time, I read Kerouac’s unedited On the Road.

Katie and I have had many conversations relating to what has been lost in modernity. In America, we are unable to stick with what works. We constantly have to replace X with the higher tech Y.  Both being from the St. Louis area, we began talking about the infamous Route 66. Through the filter of our Tourism and Culture, class we began discussing the idea of the marker and what shelf life it holds. We had been talking about the “Mother Road” for a few weeks when we questioned the nostalgia that it brings up for most Americans and began sharing stories from our own areas of “supposed” markers on Rte. 66 and the reality that remains today. For example, there is a classic steak & seafood joint that popped up in the highway’s heyday that is still a stop for road-tripping motorist near my last residence. They do not have seafood anymore and they stopped serving steak as well. Actually, the only food that you can get there is chicken wings on Monday night and the steakhouse looks more like a place to get your ass kicked than one to enjoy a refreshing glass of iced tea. Katie mentioned old drive-ins that for some reason are still marked but are parking lots or cornfields now. After hours of related stories we decided that we must make a “modernist” road trip on this former vein of America to see for ourselves what is actually there worthy of a marker.

Planning for the piece has already begun. We will spend one day on a shake-down from Chicago to St. Louis receiving blessings from our friends. Once in the metro, we will pack our tent, sleeping bags and supplies to head on out the highway. We will be documenting with video, stills, and audio and journals. We will have a person shooting video for most of the trip while we drive and choose sites. If a sight is no longer there, we will speak with locals to identify a replacement for the site no matter how off the wall. It could be where thier ’59 Buick broke down in college. Sites that are somewhat there, we plan to adapt to it’s original use. If there was a drive in theatre, we will park in the lot, and watch a movie on a portable DVD player. If the restaurant building is still there, we will sit on the property and eat. There are many, many variables to this piece and will change as it goes. As it stands, on Spring Break, we will depart Chicago, and drive to Los Angeles (in hopefully 5.5 days) and record all of our experiences. We are purchasing a Route 66 travel guide; vintage 1976, and use it as a basis for meanderings. We will also be posting our stories on this blog as well as our Facebook accounts for friends and family to follow. We are still working out transportation between three possibilities: Drive convertible Ford Mustang and have someone return it later as we fly back, or drive a rental car and fly back, or purchase a cheap automobile, drive to L.A., back to Nevada, having my friend sell the car after we fly back home. Sound crazy? It’s not like were are circumventing the globe! (which has not been completed by automobile in the last 35 years). Check out Katie’s blog next week for more details!

Thanks for reading.