Friday, November 2, 2007

Art, Consciousness--and Buddhism

A wonderfully full day, yesterday, spent mostly in the company of art and artists. The blog entry took up the first couple of hours, recalling that Halloween dinner with artists the night before and our political exchange. Then I worked for a while on the preliminary editing of what will become my next Art of Outrage--the interviews with Sam Durant, the artist who has curated the current Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition, Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas, and with the artist himself, the former Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party. What a thrill! Years after the demise of that revolutionary party, Douglas continues to dedicate his life and work to world-wide activist causes, in pursuit of freedom from want and hunger for peoples everywhere, and freedom from every kind of political oppression.

Then, mid-morning, a telephone interview with Jacqueline Tarry, a New York-based artist who, with her artist-partner and husband, Bradley McCallum, has a current show in Los Angeles entitled Now, Tomorrow and Forever. You'll recognize those words, perhaps, from the infamous 1963 speech by then Alabama Governor George Wallace in which he defiantly rejected court-ordered desegregation in Alabama schools. The Tarry-McCallum team, she African-American, he Anglo, have put together a fascinating show about their personal struggle as an interracial couple, set against the background of the civil rights movement that preceded the revolutionary era of the Black Panthers. Of particular note, a video performance work in which the couple engage in a blood transfusion, one to the other, in a beautifully choreographed ballet of mutual love and trust. (Readers in the Los Angeles area can see the show at Kinkead Contemporary gallery on Washington Boulevard in Culver City.)

Once I had completed the interview with this remarkable artist (unfortunately the other partner, Brad, was in Beijing at the time, awaiting a standby flight to return to the USA,) I finished the writing and recording of my own parts in the next "Art of Outrage" and got the various segments in order, ready to be edited by the trusty Cardozo...

... and got on the 210 freeway for the long drive out to Claremont, where I was booked for a reading from The Real Bush Diaries--the book version of the first year of my earlier blog--to a gathering of art students at the Claremont Graduate School. I have mentioned before that I have been doing readings for local Democratic clubs, as a way of getting the juices flowing for the coming presidential election. It's my chosen way of doing what I can to raise and maintain consciousness about the importance, this time around, of voting in full awareness of the consequences of our vote, and not allowing ourselves to be distracted or bamboozled by the lies, distortions and false promises put out by the politicians and the media.

It was a wonderful evening. Not a huge crowd--just a dozen or so students, but all of them attentive, thoughtful, responsive, tuned in to the intentions of The Bush Diaries. We got some good discussion going, and the session lasted a good deal more than the hour on which I had planned.

I was impressed by the engagement of these young artists. The gallery in which we sat provided space for an installation by a Latino student, one of whose concerns was clearly the issue of immigration. The huge, sculpted form of a toro stood aggressively at the center of the space, gaudily plastered with hundreds of printed posters promoting Latin products, politics (I presume) and causes. Ivan, the artist--sorry, I got no surnames--had also covered one of the large gallery walls with a huge, mural-sized American flag, a tapestry composed of red, white and blue bandanas of the kind worn by immigrant laborers, each one stained with the blood, sweat and tears of their wearers. My inquiry about the piece revealed that Ivan had actually distributed these bandanas--dozens of them--around the campus to those whose labor keeps the school functioning, who work in the kitchens, in the corridors and basements, on the grounds, and had asked them to wear them for a specified period of time. The blood, sweat and tears, then, were a good deal more than "conceptual." They were real. A very moving and imposing piece of art. I wish I had taken a camera with me, so that I could have included a picture of it here. Alas, no such forethought!

Lastly, I was invited by a young woman, Beth, to visit her studio in the warren of graduate student studios on the second floor of the building. I was reminded, once more, of how much I have always loved the art school ambience--the smell of paint, the evidence of work in progress, materials for three-dimensional and other work at every corner... Beth is a painter, who was concerned about some criticism she'd received from faculty and wanted an outside opinion. The painting she wanted me particularly to see was large in scale and still in progress, but still clear enough in the direction it was taking: the lower right corner was a jumble of corporate names and logos, a small mountain of constructed words and images contrasted, in the main area of the painting, with a wispy evocation of natural, Himalayan mountains and the suggestion of Tibetan villages and monasteries. Beth's teacher had cautioned her against getting too strident, too explicitly political. My own take was that the painting was more authentic--an exploration of the artist's own consciousness and process than a political "statement." For me, it worked well.

I was encouraged, anyway, to find so much social and political consciousness amongst these art students. As the author of "The Art of Outrage" I have, of course, a particular bent that way, but I do think that it's a time for creative people to be conscious, in their work as well as in their lives, of what is happening around them. Bravo, then, to these students. I wish them great success. As I repeated on every possibkle occasion in the course of my reading: it's all about consciousness--which is, of course, the great teaching of Buddhism.

1 comment:

They call him James Ure said...

Even thought I have a tiny little room for a "studio space," I still enjoy the smells of paint, fresh canvas and wood.

I also like the look of my paints all strewn around the area. I have a bit of a mess in my space but I'm an abstract/surrealist so it fits well.