Thursday, October 29, 2009

B(ack)LOG: Joan Jonas @ MIT

MIT VAP October 05, 2009
City as Stage, City as Process

I attended Joan Jonas' lecture without previous knowledge ... so, rather than hearing a contemporary explication on cities and performance from Jonas, I experienced a sort of personal history as illustrated by a few videos from her earlier public-space performance.

The first film even felt more like a documentation than a statement. The intensity of daylight combined with the personal drama to create an almost macabre circus-like feeling - which grabbed me more as abstract presentation than as commentary. One of the women performing tasks, like banging wood together, was smiling the whole time. Her personality coming through the performance emphasized the collaborative nature of choreographed performance. Even though at times the performers were cogs of a living, kinetic sculpture, they were not trying to be faceless; each person was more than some illustrative stooge.

Her next film emphasized the impromptu nature of performance. The film began with herself, another performer, and a videographer. Jonas had brought along some props to experiment with in the space of the street. The two women were joined by a playful passer-by, and then left just as easily. I think I had a hard time taking the performances seriously because I perceived no specific narrative or goal; I felt like more of an omniscient jocular bystander than a seriously minded, affected critic. Monty Python definitely came to mind during both screenings.

The Q&A after Jonas’ presentation revealed some critical elements of public performance.

One topic touched on by different questions was that of community. The audience was made up and collected by Jonas. She pointed out that the artist needs to build up excitement; those watching were usually friends of friends and friends of the performers. Putting out physical media to advertise is important, though not more so than creating a receptive body with actual warm bodies. Jonas also asserted several times her feeling of collective ownership over the city, “it was our city and we could do what we wanted to there.” The concept of the city as OURS and not THEIRS becomes important perhaps because that situational ownership and familiarity provides the safe space for such performances. I felt afterwards both re-inspired to work collaboratively and reminded of the importance of allowing myself to feel possession over a place Sand-Lot style.

Another topic Jonas addressed was how she chose the spaces. While my notes are slightly incoherent regarding who said what ... it seems she was interested in empty spaces that specifically did not have many people walking through. It’s as though cities, due to the proclivity of structural growth and the undulation between heavy or decreased traffic, have holes with unusual, empty spaces. Those holes, they function as spaces for artists to fill. Are these unintentional holes necessary? What happens when they are institutionally created? And are they a context necessary for good art? Is there a necessary amount of felt neglect for a “hole” to draw her in as a space for performance? The un-intentional artist spaces of Jonas’ lecture are certainly different from Christoph Schäfer’s carefully (and sort of institutionalized) latte-zones of creative context. What would Jonas do if a large space were provided to her by way of an arts initiative? Or by a for-profit company? And to what degree do these things matter?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mike Bonanno of the Yes Men.

Last night, Mike Bonanno of the Yes Men gave a surprisingly impassioned presentation at MIT's B.Auditorium. Surprising, because he was admittedly unprepared; surprising, because I hadn't realized the social motivation and impact of his group's work; impassioned, because he clearly cares greatly about the efforts and actions he and his many collaborators are making towards global awareness for environment and ethics. Thanks VAP for another great evening.

(More reflections and notes from the lecture to be posted at a later date.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Yet another reminder for MIT's VAP Monday Night Lecture Series - Get Stoked!

This Monday, October 26th IS:
Propaganda City
presented by Mike Bonnano of The YES MEN!!!
(note the different location for the Oct.26th lecture!)

Current Event: The Leadership Campaign

This evening members and supporters of the Leadership Campaign are holding their first sleep-out in front of the State House. Tomorrow morning, they will lobby the legislature and Governor Patrick to support a bill that would engage the state on the road to 100% clean energy in 10 years.

For more information, visit their site (, read up about climate action at the 350 site (, and/or participate in The Leadership Campaign's rallies by looking for sleep-out information on their Participate page.

Go Team Go.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bikes & Riders: New Work in Progress

(The above was posted earlier, but has been reworked and will continue to be re-worked until the focus is clarified.)

The most recent portraits, pictured above, are my new angle into this project. In painting the first two images, I realized that what makes the character of the bike really has to do with the rider. I am still interested in the intimacy between person and inanimate object ... but for now, I am looking at overall companion presentation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

MONDAY NIGHT: Antoni Muntadas at MIT

The next two listings for MIT's VAP Monday Night Lecture Series look pretty exciting:

Monday, October 19th: Public City presented by Antoni Muntadas
Monday, October 26th: Propaganda City presented by Mike Bonnano of The YES MEN!!!
(note the different location for the Oct.26th lecture!)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

TONIGHT: Screening in Providence, RI

Tonight in Providence is another free event coordinated by Pixilerations (in conjunction with the First Works 2009 Festival) and hosted by Magic Lantern Cinema at the Cable Car Cinema. The screening of various new videos from around the world begins at 9:30 PM. WOOT!

For more information about the event, including bios about the participating artists, visit the following Pixilerations site:

Monday, October 5, 2009

TONIGHT: Lecture @ MIT

This evening at 7:00 there is a lecture at MIT entitled, "Performative City." The lecture is part of MIT's Visual Arts Program Monday Night series, "City as Stage, City as Process." Check out the following site for more info:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

MIT VAP Lectures: Factory City / Christoph Schäfer

Here some of my notes from Christoph Schäfer’s lecture on Monday, September 28th. The lecture was part of the Monday Night Lecture Series held by MIT's VAP. Learn more at their site:


Before the show began, I saw the open spiral-bound, cream-paper 18x11” sketchbook covered in consistently scrawled handwriting. I’m not sure why that image gave me good premonitions, but I settled into my chair and merrily awaited the talk.

That good vibe was rewarded when the Liev Schreiber-esc man in dark-rimmed glasses with carefully wet-coiffed hair and camel-colored suite sat down in front of me and a fellow attendee ... and shook my hand in introduction. Why not, I thought. I introduced myself. He knew my neighbor; interestingly, he assumed that I was the man’s wife. Already the night was off to an engaged and community-oriented start.

Schäfer began his presentation by commenting on Die Stadt (als) unsere Fabrik, and read aloud from his mighty sketchbook. The initial topic was coffee culture in urban spaces. He showed us slides of his sketchbook pages, one after another, which combined with his narrating to became an informed sort of visual associative ramble. His idea: coffee shops invite people to participate in and do specific kinds of creative and intellectual work. Eventually, after using coffee culture as an example in that way of creating a context into which one can bring one’s creativity, he asserted that the city is a factory for ideas.

He then commented on the city also as an accumulation of differences. He detailed a sort of drawn social history of urbanization via illustrated metaphor and rudimentary diagrams. Schäfer wondered why people like to take walks in complicated urban designs; he illuminated the relationship between the German words for thickness and poetry; he brought up many other questions and linguistic relationships in order to describe and address the history of urban cultures.

Schäfer also spent a good deal of time describing a recent collaborative project in Hamburg entitled, “Park Fiction.” The short version is, in note-form: Good-spirit-desires -> networking -> lectures/ public informing about social issues and not just tree-hugging -> screenings -> public tours “self-learning process”, which is bringing more attention and people to the area LEAD TO actualization of the original goal. Not only is there now a park, but there is an empowered community. You can learn more about this project at:

Here are some TAKE HOME POINTS & QUESTIONS from the evening:
1) Importance of playfulness
2) Importance of idea diagramming/ visual thinking
3) Importance of community engagement.
4) Does engagement as a citizen require an investment or long-term commitment to any specific area?
5) How long do you have to live somewhere in order to engage?
6) Should more artists view engaging NOT as asking permission to provide a public artwork, but rather as putting his or her creative powers to use as an initiator of public projects (I can’t remember now if this was my idea or his. ...)

Here are some extra-credit STYLE POINTS as an avid lover of presentations:

1) His drawing style reminded me of both of Ralph Steadman and of several New Yorker artists.

2) Schäfer’s presentation style was informative, educated, and not least of all, witty. A favorite moment of mine was when he showed slide with a single, drawn line representing a scale with two numbers on it: a zero, and a one-hundred, both with percentage signs. Having brought that image before the audience in it’s projected, and therefore large, format, he then went over and pointed at our current location on the scale with regard to urban revolution. Ha. Nice use of the PPT system : ) Get it? Power POINT?

3) He interrupted his own lecture to take a sip from a white cup with black lid and red straw to hydrate and issue a satisfied “mm”. A man who can experience joy is one to learn from indeed. In that moment he was a little like Robert Irwin during the documentary when it depicts him drinking soda in his car.