For some time now I've thought about my connection to folk traditions and their antithetical existence to the art market. Why they can never be compatible, in my mind, is due to the commodification of culture and how it changes the purpose and reasons one (or many) would make something. The change comes from a number of avenues; something made for the sake of making is innocent of things like the gallerist that sells it and her or his need to make money to keep a space active, the whims of the art market and its fascinations with certain things at certain moments, the managers of private collections, the curators, etc. All of this, in my mind, influences us in the studio, whether we like to admit it or not. At times it can be an outright rejection of it and we make work stubbornly that does not consider the market or even the history of art, which is equally as bad. Certainly, too, I am being fairly liberal in my transition from folk traditions into talking about art; but I think art is a certain facet of the cultural umbrella of folk traditions. For the sake of this entry, I am going to posit (and revisit later in more detail) that what I am intending to call folk art is an aspect of cultural production that is not sponsored by the state*.
The issue of permanence is incredibly complex and difficult to focus on without bringing up these contextual issues. I'm having a hard time getting to the point here; so I'll attempt to solidify what I'm wanting to say. These ideas started in my studio practice in undergrad because I would use house paint as a cheaper alternative to artist's paints, I used Aquanet that could be purchased for $1.00 at a Walgreens instead of spray fix which could be as much as $10 a can. All of these choices made for the deterioration of the art made at that time. Impermanence to me, now, is integral to my art making and the way that I think about things in the studio: my interest and research into ontology is inextricably linked to time and its passing (along with ideas of the beginning and ending). Ontology's link to folk traditions for me is attempting to capture what is inherently impermenent: a song, a gesture, a creative act like a sign that needed to be made--and the meaning imbedded in the act by its impermanence. I will undoubtedly have to spend more time writing about this as well, because these thoughts are incomplete at best. I also know that I find more meaning in the materials that I use--plants and their ephemeral character are used by their meaning and what ideas they represent; Aquanet was used because it could do the same job of holding charcoal to a piece of paper as its more expensive counterpart (though the long term affects, perhaps, where more costly).
Choosing to make impermanent work, though, is a sort of stance against the art market. Undoubtedly curators and collectors would not purchase something that will need to be repaired within a year (in my case, a lot of the leaves, flowers, and branches are completely unstable and 'shed' automatically). What my conversations with Bob and Bill led me to think about most importantly, though, is that the act of making this work is the act of removing art from the realm of commodity. If I make a work out of simple flour dough, it absolutely will fall apart, even if it is sealed. Works are crumbling in my house as I type this, and that energy of decay is important to my studio practice. Without the commodification of art (or it being difficult to sell some pieces as commodities because of their impermanence, or, in Bill Conger's case, they reject commodification because of their existence as commodity already--torn magazine scraps, towel warmers, etc are all ready commodities) our making becomes closer to this ill-refined concept of a folk tradition or at least a meaningful contribution to a culture that does not participate in its emphasis on consumerism, capitalism, monetary gain, and justifies the worth of everything in terms of money. To be a noncommodificationist, then, is to say that the worth and meaning of art making far exceeds what its commodification can bring, and acknowledges that a work's commodification changes its meaning. It is an open group and anyone is free to join: make work that cannot be a commodity!
I do firmly believe, however, that there is a way for us, the noncommodificationists, to work within the market. I am interested in attempting to work within the system and see how an artist can function within the market while still holding these beliefs, because I do believe it can be done. This is not a stance against galleries, curators, and collectors; it is a stance for a change in the meaning and implications of art making in our society; one that has been embraced before in the history of Arte Povera, Anselm Kiefer, and even in true folk traditions like Tibetan sand mandalas and Navajo medicine wheels. Meaning is in the work made, not in how much it costs or what it can be sold for.
*Here I am referring to a division within culture. If Culture is a division of human existence that tends to encompass the imaginative, semiotic, and creative side of experience within a specific context, I might propose that folk, then, is a subdivision of culture that is inextricably linked to an individual or small group of individuals not acting on behalf of the state or government. Museums, then, are linked to the state in the sense that they are non-profit organizations, which is an affiliation within the state. Galleries, too, are involved with tax and the market in the context of the state. This is extremely problematic, and I will need to revisit this (not to mention finish reading Althusser and other theorists, but I'm going to leave it as an incomplete thought for now. I do realize that I am creating a definition of folk by apophasis which is not productive in the long run. I do, however, feel that the noncommodificationist label above might more closely represent some of the thinking here.
|eye of mercy, 2012|