Sunday, January 4, 2009

God darn grad school statement

One winter day in Finland I took a walk into a big forest with a mushroom expert. After 15 minutes with my head down following a network of puddles, I looked up and didn't see Miyuki. The sun was about to set for the next 20 hour stretch of night. I couldn't see the edge of the forest where we entered and any sounds I made were instantly absorbed by the trees and moss. I had never been so scared. My sense of direction was confused by my anxiety, so I closed my eyes and spun around until I felt that I was facing the direction I came from. I ran in that direction for only a few seconds and the road appeared. The dehabilitating fear was wonderfully humbling.

The contrast between this fear and all previous fears before caused a realization that I have lived a protected life with a narrow spectrum of experience-- limited by my identity and my urban dwelling. My disorientation seemed unremarkable in the context of the daily lives of the Finnish people I related the story to, and I learned to accept that other people's realities have different extremes. A goal of mine is to be able to work independently from the comfort and stability of controlled situations provided by my nationality and my upbringing in order to interact with realities of extreme contemporary experience and to create my own. In search of these situations I confront the unknown with planned unpreparedness. I seek extremes where I can ask questions and develop work based on the answers. The systems I have developed for inquiry include writing and distribution of surveys, offering free collaboration/pedagogy, and meeting one-on-one with people. My interrogation techniques are designed to unravel people's private and public experience (first to themselves, second to me) in order to get a larger sense of what is happening.

When I arrived in rural Finland last winter for an art residency, I forgot my boots. My unpreparedness forced me into a search that took me into several Finnish homes and provided the unintentional research I needed to begin my project. I believe in the openness of a traveller without the right gear. This vulnerability creates opportunities for me to move within a community and to begin to prove my legitimacy and interest in a place and its people. You might call this my discreet system for free education.

Although I arrived with the least appropriate footwear, I travelled with what I needed to improvise some kind of self-legitimation. I have found that my introductions and inquiries are easier if I look like an authority, so I often make a title for myself that is supported with paperwork and business cards. Assuring people of my employment by an institution or a concept in town or elsewhere helps create an image of me as a person who belongs. I used this system to begin navigating the town of Haukivuori, Finland when I had to search for winter boots to borrow. This necessity created the chance to invite people for a free introductory consultation from one of the staff at my consultation firm in the forest—Future Unincorporated. With business cards and a list of complimentary services, I began to build what became a tight schedule and a full rolodex.

To further legitimize my place in a town, I have often worked to secure, build, or find a space where I can invite the public and can curate a situation that will nurture the kind of intimate conversation that I need for my project. In Finland, I began to wander through fields and forests in search of lightly used building structures that could accommodate the needs of a small corporation. After a few days of searching I found an abandoned well-house that was less than a mile from a major road. With minor renovations like wall paper, unblocking the insulation that was blocking a potential skylight, and creating a new floor, I was able to move my desk and waterpoofed cardboard office equipment into the building. Less than two weeks after my arrival in Finland, I was beginning to accept clients for free introductory consultations. We ate cake and coffee until we couldn't feel our toes or see eachother in the dark afternoon, and I learned about what these Finnish ate for breakfast-- which led to the origin of the foods, the significance of tradition, the impact of globalization, and the state of agriculture in the town. By the end of the consultation I had a sense of what each client saw in the future, and after a few weeks I was a hub for information, gossip, and I felt that I had found a place in the community.

In the past this type of built or found structure and the situation that develops inside of them have become a supplementary parasite (a parasite wouldn't live without the place and the place secretly needs the parasite) to what I find in a town, where I can offer complimentary services as a teacher, collaborator, or consultant. I become professionally adaptive-- I offer services that accent, emphasize, or critique--and always supplement the place.

The first project that could be characterized by its supplemental parasitic qualities was the Infinite Museum, which was located in a shack that I built onto the side of the HVCCA in Peekskill NY. I was inspired by the relationship between idea and failure in the work of architect Le Corbusier, so I wanted to realize one of his ideas that was never totally realized: the museum of unlimited growth.

I proposed an addition to the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art as a gesture to begin a constant outward building process in the spirit of Le Corbusier. I built a canvas covered shack onto the side of the museum building, and that became the Infinite Museum. I hired myself to run an outreach program and began to offer classes throughout the town for youth and seniors that were around themes of attempting failure.
My mysterious presence in the institutions of the town as an interested outsider-- suddenly offering workshops to people who did not ask for them, was grounded by the fact that I was working for the Infinite Museum. In one class for elderly women we built modernist renditions of the home they remembered most fondly, and it was difficult to convince some of my simple intentions, but my briefcase of brochures and business cards with the address of the museum signified my authenticity.

The role of the artist in a highly interactive social practice often seems to be that of a professional organizer with clear motivations and a clearer mode of very directed research, evaluation, and implementation. My sense is that this streamlining makes for sterile and predictable work that is too practical to be magical, and so specific that the audience is denied flexibility in interpretation. I hope to transcend the utilitarian aesthetic I have developed as I have followed in the footsteps of artists, activists and architects who necessarily developed skills to organize and activate the public for political purposes. Now that we have seen the large network of individuals that supported the election of Obama, I want to be part of a new phase of socially interactive artwork that builds on the success of those grass roots tactics using a new language of materials and brave experimentation with aesthetics. A very observant and responsive public is needed to expand on the success of the campaign, and the systems developed in art will become the models for how to do this—but I want to see more radical modes of implementation, and less conservative processes. In a time of political and economic desperation, art can be the thing that reminds people how to be keenly critical of their reality.

My next project will incorporate some of the physical remnants of the American recession to prove that physically and conceptually, when there is a depression, a space is created. Using frozen spaces that have lost their function or purpose due to the global financial crisis—an empty office space, a foreclosed property, or an abandoned construction site—from 4 cities, I will create a community redesign center. The center will be a temporary found or built structure in each town that will act as a design laboratory where the public will be invited to come and reimagine the fortune of the community by suggesting a practical form and use for the empty place. Using architectural modeling as the principal method for idealistic re-landscaping, community members will be led to develop macquettes and drawings for the repurposing of frozen spaces in their town so to stimulate their community. There will also be workshops from local community members with expertise in handicrafts and other practices that maximize resources in creative ways to support a lifestyle that can withstand economic fluctuations.

Many of my projects have been successful, but many of them have been underdeveloped or feel unresolved due to my independence from institutional support. I have many large ideas that I would like to pursue with the support of a grad school community at UCSD. In this type of work, I have often, if not always, been alone in the field. I do most work solitarily in order to maintain my powers of camouflage and nearly silent imposition because I have desired total immersion in new places and communities. However, I would like to pursue larger projects with more human support for the development and critiquing processes as well as more collaboration and feedback in the field. I am interested in continuing to develop projects and systems that are recognized within and outside of the art world, that expose opportunities for people to engage in new types of observation and interaction with their society. While at UCSD I would like to pursue the completion of several of my projects with the help of specific faculty members, each who I feel have a body of work and/or a sensibility that has informed my development as an artist.

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