Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Some may have noticed a small change, if you’ll forgive the expression, in the installation at 208 E. State Street, “Finanz krise/Crise financière/Crisi finanziaria.” An element in the assembly that had been provided by American Arts and Crafts has sold. This was a steel wine bottle holder in the shape of a dog.
I had been anxious about how to approach an installation on the Commons, not wanting to do any “plop art” that paid little or no attention to the specificities of the site. So, I spent a lot of time walking up and down the Commons, attempting to figure out precisely what the aesthetics of this place had to offer me in terms of a visual language. How would I be able to manifest something within the Commons that would be both outside of it (that is, be legible as a difference, however slight) and continuous with it? Which is to say, how could I fit into the Commons, and make something that thinks with the Commons? The relationship between thinking and acting was on my mind, particularly thinking and acting as it related to the marketplace.
At the time, I was reading Hannah Arendt’s Life of the Mind, where she ponders the ways and means to bring thinking out of hiding, to “tease it into manifestation”:
“The best, in fact the only, way I can think of to get a hold of the question is to look for a model, an example of a thinker who was not a professional, who in his person unified two apparently contradictory passions (...) Best suited for this role would be a man who counted himself neither among the many nor among the few, who had no aspiration to be a ruler of men, no claim even to be particularly well fitted by his superior wisdom to act in an advisory capacity to those in power, but not a man who submitted meekly to being ruled either; in brief, a thinker who always remained a man among men, who did not shun the marketplace, who was a citizen among citizens, doing nothing, claiming nothing except what in his opinion every citizen should be and have the right to. Such a man ought to be difficult to find: if he were able to represent for us the actual thinking activity, he would not have left a body of knowledge behind; he would not have cared to write down his thoughts even if, after he was through with thinking, there had been any residue tangible enough to set out in black and white.”
Arendt is of course describing Socrates. I was thinking of another philosopher of the marketplace: “I am Diogenes the Dog. I nuzzle the kind, bark at the greedy, and bite scoundrels.”
Friday, October 2, 2009
“Finanz krise/Crise financière/Crisi finanziaria” is situated in Ithaca’s familiar and agreeable downtown pedestrian mall, The Commons. I often find myself on The Commons on sleepy afternoons, slowly strolling from store to store, lost in a retail daydream. As I stood there this past weekend, carefully studying this newly unveiled work and taking notes, I watched as locals floated past 208 East State Street lost in a similar kind of reverie. These dreamers were unfazed by the sudden appearance of Anthony Graves’ new work in the abandoned store’s display window.
Upon further reflection, I think the installation went undetected for two reasons, the first of which is the work’s resemblance to the other casually arranged window displays that line the Commons’ walkways. In Graves’ version, mock-neon script spells out something on the display wall (it’s difficult to parse without some investigation and the “To Let” didactic) as a sculpted, stylized dog and an unused work lamp peer out at us from atop a small shipping pallet. The display itself is not unattractive, just unremarkable, due to its limited color scheme, familiar visual language, and comparatively spare composition.
But it is not just the familiarity of Graves’ display that makes it so easy to pass by. It is also the display’s explicit advertising of our impulse to overindulge. It is this impulse which we wish to repress, ignore, and conceal, and it is this impulse which has caused our current global financial crisis. One is reminded here of the two definitions of heimlich (as in Freud’s unheimlich or “uncanny”): it is both the familiar and agreeable, and, what is concealed and kept out of sight.
It is these two terms that form the crux of Graves’ intervention. The uncanny is deployed through the work’s conflation of symbols of global and local capital (with Bank of America representing the former and American Crafts representing the latter). The effect is not unlike that moment in which a dream unexpectedly turns into nightmare: it has the power to stop us in our tracks.
— Nathan Townes-Anderson
The merger of red, white, and blue police beacons into the American flag motif enhances the flag's primary purpose as a means of identification and marker of territory ("This spot is American") by heightening its visual impact with lights and motion. This merger also serves to reinforce the supposed ideologies of the United States that are already present in the flag's symbolism on an international scale-- things typically defined "clearly American." Such ideologies include the belief in the rule of law, unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, liberal democracy, legitimized authority, economic success, and acting "for the common good" of all people, among others.
Installed in the Cayuga garage, the flag claims the space (a long vacant commercial space next to an international financial services firm inside a newly constructed seven-story parking garage), not only as American territory, but perhaps as the recent culmination of a long history of developing American ideology.
So, that being said, I believe strongly that the intentions of the artist in creating a piece are unimportant compared to any meaning that is gleaned from a work by its audience. While I may personally think that the beacon flag is representative of one thing more than another, I think its audience could draw many different conclusions, both positive and negative. I hope the installation will facilitate this discussion.