Saturday, March 24, 2007

Critical Space

It seems to have been a big art week. More today: we're off to the Getty later this morning. But first, yesterday. We saw "Multiple Vantage Points: Southern California Women Artists, 1980-2006" at the Municipal Gallery, then went on to "Wack!" at the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art--a major revisiting of the feminist art movement that began a half decade ago. More of these at a later date: I plan to address them in my next entry on Artscene Visual Radio in "The Art of Outrage." For now, I have more to say about another exhibit at the Geffen, "Andrea Zittel: Critical Space."

It's a show that should appeal to the Buddhist sensibility, because it's all about mindful living and modesty of means. Amongst the favorite maxims she lists on one prominent section of the gallery wall, try this: "Sometimes if you can't change a situation, you just have to change the way you think about a situation." Than Geoff would not disagree. Or this: "What you own, owns you." Zittel's work hovers comfortably between art and design. It deals, as the title suggests, with space, and the way in which we occupy space in a world where its use is increasingly "critical," with dwindling resources and an exponentially expanding population. (Visit Zittel's A-Z website for a more complete picture of what she is about. You'll be amazed--and perhaps a little humbled.)

With a Quaker craftsman's eye for simplicity and exquisite detail, Zittel creates miniature--but practical--living spaces where every legitimate need is planned and nothing is in excess. One notable piece included in the current show is an entire dwelling that appears to fold up into a single large crate, ready for instant transportation. A combination of advanced, hi-tech design sense and bare-bones modesty, these living and work spaces have the privacy of a monk's cell and the convenience of contemporary utilitarianism. She sees constraint--whether spatial, financial, or practical--as a challenge to the imagination, a form of liberation rather than a constriction. "What makes us feel liberated," she writes--another of those maxims--"is not total freedom but rather living in a set of limitations that we have created and prescribed for ourselves."

Zittel is clearly fascinated with the contingencies of daily living. Nothing is unworthy of her meticulous attention, from cutlery to dish design, from place settings to furniture, from bed and floor coverings to clothes, which she calls "uniforms." These were initially conceived, as the brochure accompanying the exhibit tells us, "as a solution to maximize Zittel's extremely limited resources. In the uniforms one can see both an expression of personal fantasy--unusual combinations of color and material--and a clear evolution of material choices." The dresses, as I understand it, were constructed by the artist out of handy raw materials and were designed as multi-purpose wearables. The term "uniform" seems accurate: their designer elegance covers for the simple, practical necessity of having something distinctive and yet inexpensive to wear in any circumstance--whether hiking in the desert (Zittel's home base is in Joshua Tree) or attending a social function in the New York art world.

I admire the quiet integrity of this artist, and the breadth and consistency of her vision. I admire the fact the she uses her creative faculties to address the realities of the world we live in, and proposes practical solutions to some of our most pressing problems. I admire her ability to combine a highly sophisticated familiarity with design and technology with a pleasing simplicity and a frank utilitarianism. I admire the humor and the appreciation for the small things that make life immediate and pleasurable.

Avoiding, for the most part, the glitz of the contemporary art world despite the attention that is now gives her, she seems more than anything to enjoy doing her work. That, at least, is the impression I get from this engaging exhibition. Pay attention to the small things, she seems to say: the big ones will take care of themselves. Very Buddhist...


Carly said...

Buddhist art and art media are quite interesting among art forms. The simple use of colored sand to create spiritual diagrams is outstanding among notable applications.

One criteria of visual art, the difference between art and ornamentation, and in evaluating what art is, i.e., the effects of the creative process, is to examine the use of the various media in correlation with mental processes. While any material is useful in the hands of a master, some materials have been the choice of masters for centuries for reasons beyond availability and ease of use.

The plastic mediums are supreme in the history of human expression. When it comes to originality of thought, by far, more mind-expanding ideas have been created in the various plastic drawing mediums than any other. This is why drawing is known as the basis of all visual art.

1. Paint, technically, drawing with paint, has achieved the most impressive array of imagination and ideas than all other mediums, without question. At present, painted originality is pouring out in such a way that it promises new ideas more readily than other media. In addition, the future of all media below will continue to be influenced by painting or indeed originate from color drawings.

1a, Graphics - colored drawing by serigraph, lithograph, ink jet, woodblock, intaglio, engraving, etc.

2, Digital media, in a very short time, because it is based on painting essentially, has proven to achieve the next most powerful media of expression, however at this time it has not come close to paint in achievement. The future of holography and virtual reality is the next big direction in visual art and will utilize all the other art mediums.

3. Plastic sculpting materials would be next. A sub-category of these must begin with with wood carving which has achieved the most creatively, casting materials such as metals and plastics, other soft materials, then stone which is high in achieved use, and new technology. The future of digitally produced sculpture is very promising and will be based on painting and drawing.

4. Photography, film, and video, is a plastic medium when manipulated in combination with painting ideas and film techniques. When applied purely the camera is a recording machine and limits the photographer to creating by making choices with what conditions are available to him in any period of time or the setting up of existing things. However, even the advantage of using the element of time was first achieved in the art of sequential painting and timeless images.

5. Mixed media, combining any of the above.

Once we leave the plastic mediums, expression becomes limited. This is due to the fact that the artist is limited to using the physical world and things which already exist. Some work in non-plastic mediums overcome this limitation to some degree by making use of the plastic media, often in combinations for effect, and could not exist without sculpture, painting, and photography. The most creative work in the non-plastic mediums are a result of 1. altering materials, and conditions. 2. using things in innovative combinations. 3. presenting views or new perceptions of what already exists such as lifting things out of context, focusing, or narrowing the point of view. All of these approaches were first developed in painting.

Often the non-plastic mediums are created by and appeal to the analytical mind and the intellect more than the instinctual and intuitive and in a sense are limited by that. Non-plastic modes often employ the other visual art forms of theater, dance, acrobatics, display, scene construction, visual demonstration, etc. in order to offset limitations.

Non-plastic mediums in achievement include:

Photography, film, and video when used un-manipulated.

Assemblage, readymades, collage, found art, rubbings, etc, and combinations of these

Installation, which borrows heavily from all the other mediums and which is often poorly presented as photography. Some consider installation art as display art, scene construction, or demonstration by design.

Events and Happenings, which are actually a recent development in theater.

At the bottom of this list must be the medium of shit, excrement, which expresses only one idea.

In choosing a medium, an artist makes, or is limited to choices. In choosing an artist one makes a choice of, or is limited to the effects his medium produces.

PeterAtLarge said...

Hmmm... an interesting directory. One thought: you seem to think of medium as tool, or weapon of choice. I tend to think of it more as something fluid and interchangeable, like bathwater, perhaps, --something you immerse yourself in, without ever knowing quite what form it will take or what its composition might be in any given circumstance. I love this quote from Yves Bonnefoy, the contemporary French poet: "Poetry is not a USE of language. It's a madness inside language." Cheers, PaL