Last August while in Berlin I stopped by one of my favorite art galleries - the Deutsche+Guggenheim. The current show happened to be a commissioned body of work by Gabriel Orozco: Asterisms. Later, the Guggenheim in New York also exhibited the show, resulting in a less-than-desirable review in the NY Times by Ken Johnson.
"The transformation of detritus into art and chaos into order resonates, for example, with ancient alchemical procedures in which the processing of low-value stuff into priceless material is supposed to have the magical effect of advancing undeveloped souls toward higher orders of consciousness. But any such flights of interpretive fancy are left for viewers to supply, since Mr. Orozco has not framed the project in ways that would connect it to psychological or spiritual spheres. Imaginative liftoff stalls at ground level." - Ken Johnson, Swimming to Shore
While I somewhat agree with Johnson's assessment, I had a very different experience. Instead of consciously ascending to the top floor of the Gugg in NY expecting to see Art, I locked up my borrowed bike on Unter den Linden, wandered into a familiar yet foreign place, floated through the room of found objects, then drank a cappuccino in the gift shop and tried to read German fashion magazines. Not that the experience was trivial, but I just wasn't making it more than it needed to be.
When I first moved to San Francisco I taught 'found art' classes to children. While I've taken some art classes and had been making art in a printshop in Bilbao for the previous year, I didn't think I was the most qualified. I founded my curriculum in my knowledge of the Duchamp's ready-mades, Dadaism and the cultural theory of Adorno (not that my students ever had any idea, but there was a reason behind the cutting and pasting, the de/re-construction). I was helping those kids relearn what art making was - creation (through critical thinking) - instead of fearing it (like I sometimes did and often still do). We would think about context and connections, but mostly I just wanted them create without fear. To get to a place other then wherever they were. And accept that, enjoy it if they could.
Back to Asterisms. When I wandered into the gallery I wasn't thinking about anything. I was present and able to look at each object, and everything all together, without any preconceived notions. But of course I was thinking about something, and of course I had preconceived notions - these things can't really be erased... they are sometimes just firing off in your subconscious until they resurface again. Like now, I think about that show and how real it felt. All those things just sat there waiting to be reckoned with. If they hadn't been collected and assessed and transported by Orozco and his team, they'd still be sitting on the beach in Mexico or hanging out in a baseball field in New York. But instead they were laid out in this art gallery in Berlin and I was there, too, looking at them. Or walking around them. Or maybe thinking about them and where they had been before they were in that new place. Being objects they are simply used. Nature, man-made materials, human remains, whatever the substance--they are inanimate. Or at least we don't know them to think or talk or move around on their own. And that is what I liked most about the exhibit: I was able to see objects as objects regardless of their origin without being told the context. I got to create the context. I got to reconstruct what I wanted them to be. I liked the colors. I liked that I could just look deep into something and see things and imagine and enjoy the pleasure of it. And I'm sure I thought about consumption and culture and decay, but I mostly remember looking into the colors.
I'm glad Johnson mentioned the video “Whale After Waves” (2012). I stood there for a while watching the sea gulls. I stared at the video and thought about how I've been in many planes and have landed in all these places and someday I'll be in the ground, landed forever, as we all will be, and that will be that. And maybe a part of me will have an interesting color and be displayed by some future artist that collects things. And that is ok. It's not anything more than what it is.
(On the note of collecting, my flatmate has a blog about things he collects. It's pretty funny.)