CultureInside, an artist-run web-based artist and art social and professional network, celebrates our first exhibition and competition for "Rooted" that opened on June 25, 2009 at Galerie Clairefontaine, one of the finest galleries specializing in photography in the Luxembourg region. It was a very productive collaboration. We conjoined to engage a topic and stage a competition and exhibition both online at www.cultureinside.com and at the gallery. The genesis of this exhibition is a seed that has been planted in the consciousness of the world that is the world wide web. The artists who participated in the "Rooted" show are from many countries, ethnicities, ages, professional levels of success. This essay and exhibition inaugurates CultureInside's mission to create a creative community, a worldwide creative commons for visual artists.
The show stems from a seed, a kernel, in one relationship shared by two artists, Gila Paris and myself, and that we hope to replicate as a model with other artists around the world.
We called theme of our exhibition - "Rooted". It was an open concept that references --- just about everything: our lives, our work, the purpose of our organization, as well as personal and social concerns. The word "rooted" raises important questions that we all should ask ourselves. Where are we situated? Or not. And if not, why? How can we illustrate the parameters, the dichotomy between nurturing environments where we want to be and those that are not? How can we provide such an environment? How can we resist alienation and find affiliation, collaboration, dialog and support from our community? In the end, can the knowledge we glean from asking those questions turn into pro-active positions, decisions, and strategies.
Many of the artists explored the various meanings of the term in visual terms. But I think that it would be good to discuss some of the basic meanings in this essay. Words offer another perspective.
There are ideas embedded in the word "rooted", the way the roots are embedded in the ground. Besides planting metaphors, being rooted has a logical and essential component. When one talks about rooted, we refer their genealogy, the progeniture. Where they come from. By the same token, rooted can refer to a time reversed cycle of return as in Nietszchean cycle of history, as illustrated in Finnegans wake and Ulysses (Joyce 1939) by James Joyce. The end is the beginning.
Rooted also refers to context, to biological function. In a corollary sense it also refers to rummaging through, to thinking to the base form, to searching deeply.
Gilles Deleuze, a French philosopher from the mid-twentieth century, found that ideas in the unconscious or ideas of politics, freedom, art can exist on a deeper level, a rooted level, and at a propitious time, rise up into the light of air. He used the image of rhizomes, roots which travel underground and send up shoots to the open air, as one of the bases of his social philosophy .
Jürgen Habermas, a modern German philosopher developed the concept of the lifeworld in his social theory. For Habermas, the lifeworld is more or less the "background" environment of competencies, practices, and attitudes representable in terms of one's cognitive horizon. Habermas, whose social theory is grounded in communication, focuses on the lifeworld as consisting of social and cultural meanings. It is the lived realm of informal, culturally-grounded understandings and mutual accommodations. Colonization of the lifeworld by bureaucracies and market-forces is one of his primary concerns . In the end the lifeworld is a lifeboat. A ship that cannot be rooted, it is an autonomous zone. We are artists or lovers of art. These are our lifejackets. Some of our lives would not have much meaning were it not for art and the part it plays in everything we do.
Our beings are rooted within the web of life. The corresponding rootlessness of modern life is the reality. We search for positive spin, for meaning in the midst of chaos, for divine order. When we hear the old jibe, are you a human doing or a human being? We can ask ourselves whether it is possible to separate what we do from who we are?
In France the idea of roots and rootedness was embodied in a work by the noted French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil whose book Enracinement(1943)( translated into English as "The Need for Roots" (1943) attempted to analyze the alienation that was spinning the world of her time out of control. She identified the need for roots, the need for connectedness. Our obligations, to paraphrase her ideas in terms of art, is a total commitment to our roles as artists, to our work. An important point that she made was that any "other" , be it another person, or image, is a reflection of ourselves. The reflection is a mirror. We see our face in the other and that transaction can be a basis of understanding of our joint humanity. When we do not recognize ourselves in the other we make it an object. Martin Buber called the dialog- I and thou versus I and it.
In our search for what is Rooted, as I interpret Weil , we are rooted in the face of the other, because that is the true reflection of our own. The "other" is the mirror. She also engaged the garden as a metaphor, creating a nurturing ecology before there was a modern sense of the word.
Rooted is an archetypal well. There are so many ideas, concepts, from so many disciplines and fields of knowledge that "rooted" becomes a bridge, a nexus, between intersecting and as yet unconnected fields of knowledge.
We are rooted in the ground. We feel, with our feet and hands and yet our eyes scan the horizon. As visual artists our affinity for one sense over the other is clear.
Foucault believed that our society was guilty of "Ocularcentrism", by placing far too much emphasis on seeing. Philosopher Richard Rorty tried to dismantle vision as the mirror of nature.
To be rooted is live deeper within ourselves. Intuitively, even blindly , using our senses, touch, smell, presence, symbolically crawling the way that toddlers find the world. By doing so we might go slower but know things more completely.
Often putting the eyes downward is a sign of submission, (the "downcast" eye). Often those in subaltern positions were expected to look downward. Doing so forces one to go inward, and live an inward experience. Instead of looking up, when we think of being rooted, when we are being rooted, we are starting from below.
We are not heaven sent, not from above. In economics as well, the question of late for economists has been -are you top down, or bottom-up? They often name it as "trickle-down" Theory. The dichotomy is between helping workers and those at the bottom or giving support, tax breaks, and incentives to those above, in the higher echelons, in the belief that they will re-invest and keep the economy growing.
We start from the earth and from below. And we rise up into the light. We want to create a nurturing environment for artists and their works.
The early peasants, when they rebelled, they engaged in sabotage, because of the sabots, wooden shoes they wore. It started with their feet. They were not rooted. They left the rural areas to find work in the cities. The migration into the cities was part the story of modern progress. Those at the bottom suffered from working under the worst forms of capitalism. The congregation of an artistic and avant-garde environment was a part of this history. Many things have changed, life is better but artists are separated now. The centers of community are gone.
The Situationists, at least in their Romantic and political phase understood that. They believed that changing public space changes consciousness. Public space is a a critical resource of art. Public space is a machine to accomplish certain tasks. It is much more common now to create spaces of peace, reflection and social intercourse than in 1968, when the Situationists participated in the emancipation of Paris for a brief time. We can stop and smell the flowers, be rooted in the sensual and in beauty. We stop to create, to perceive. An art exhibition is a space that is created around the busy machine time structure of a city. In spite of the busy workaday world and the obligations that we have to be a part of that world. It is important to create contemplative areas. We must create environments and ecologies of beauty, sensitivity and sustainability in the future. We have to make plans now.
We must walk forward into the future. If we do not, we will be lost in the past. The future is the integration of technology, the web, the world, our identities as artists and netizens. Do not be left behind.
There is a simplicity and spiritual power of those who grow seeds of creation rooted in the ground, the mind, in the world. Cast a seed into a ground and let a process begin, that is affirming, and deep, blind, voracious, and beautiful.
To root is also what a fan does. A fan is a person that follows and loves an active protagonist, idea, or value. They cheer, applaud, clap. When we root we express approval, especially by clapping: applauding, cheering, clapping. Idioms: give someone a hand.
Perhaps we can visualize our rootedness, our creative process as the opposite of the death process of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. We accept first, we are elated, ecstatic, we are generative, our beingness extends further into new entities. We give birth. We create. We generate.
So we can detect stages in our journey. We seek, delve and eventually find what we planted. We have seeds , bulbs, pots, seedlings ready. We root, we plant, we see, we establish, we hide as we find support underneath the earth. We grow from that depth into the open. That movement is a phase change, into another universe.
We exist as artists to converse with others. The conversation winds around itself in a serpentine Hegelian spiral to create what we call Art history. But the only way to be included is to be publishable and searchable. There is a circular logic that seems to pervade ideas of artistic success.
"As above, so below", is a concept rooted in ancient Hermeticism, meaning that the structures in the macrocosm, the world above, and those of the microcosm, the world below, reflect and mirror each other. The idea works as a metaphor. In human terms, it means that relations at the top and the bottom of an organization and society should be equivalent. It also implies that how you treat anybody is how you treat everybody. Social equality and the reduction of layers between the public and governmental administration has been an issue for all the great political movements of the last century. They all envisioned less structure, but sadly or not, wound up with more. It has been particularly true of the art world. Museums galleries and critics see themselves as a bulwark against bad art. They maintain their power by a network of loosely affiliated experts, people and places united by their desire to maintain their position. There is no middle ground in their view. To them, it is either high or low, great or bad. It often reflects thinking of art as a collectible object and it's price is an index of popularity, authority, and value. A few artists are elevated, glorified, commercialized, sanctified. The rest are kept outside the gates. An art world that accepts the cult of genius or exclusion is not a good start for the cultivation of creativity. It is not an interesting place to participate in or enjoy as well. In my view the art outside the white rooms and sanctified spaces of the traditional art world is as good as in the art in it. On the other hand, this laizzez-faire attitude reinforces the importance of artists taking responsibility for themselves. That is a positive side of the equation. No one has power over an artist who has no need of approval or support from the outside world.
The history of artists creating opportunities for themselves is voluminous. Artists seceded from sponsors, patrons, the church and royalty as society became secularized. It is a process that continues as art divorces itself from power. Yet as a species we often seem to seek authority and support (of experts) for our actions. We often need the stamp of approval to tell us what is good.
Most of the important developments in art after the Industrial Revolution were the initiatives of artists, both individual and collectively, outside of institutional frameworks. Why is this important? Although the experimental nature of new living art sometimes does not have the drama of museum exhibitions and exciting commercial galleries, it is where art gestates and begins. The collectives, young groups and groups of young artists, older artists working in obscurity, artists outside western nations struggling to create an identity and voice of their own, despite tremendous impediments. Once they have created an identity and voice will the dialog they seek be answered?
The difficulty in finding freedom to create art work within institutional frameworks is a crux of the problem. Institutionalization of ownership and real estate conflict self identity in our society. Think of the difference between private space and public space. Between private property and public commons. Our spaces are rigidly organized, into grids, blocks, private or excluded areas, as well as accessible public space.
There are common experiences of confusion on the borders of free space and controlled space, which could be a public street, a commercial art gallery, a museum, or on other forms of private property
Visual artists, and perhaps artists of many disciplines have similar problems. We are like undocumented workers. We work because we must. We take any show that comes along and try to make the best of it. Artists find work wherever they can , for money or not. It is what we must do. We are not rooted in anything except culture.
There is a lot of good art and many very good artists out there. The hard part is getting this art to the public. The visual arts need room to grow, artists to converse with others in and out of the studio, dialog and exhibit. Artists can exhibit in the street for free, but most exhibitions, even street exhibitions need resources and support. Exhibitions are productions in themselves. Co-operatively it can be and has been done many times. A few artists working as a team cooperatively have the power of a well-financed museum.
Artists used to make pilgrimages or migrate to cities and artistic communities to find supportive environments in which to grow and prosper. Today the cities and neighborhoods that used to be attractors and magnets for artists have become playgrounds of the wealthy. Artists are pushed further and further from the center into the periphery. The web is changing these dynamics. Culture is opening up to anywhere where there is an internet connections.
Lest we forget, an artist today has many occupations that he or she must master. An artist must take all roles of the manufacturing process. Research and design, the manufacturing process. An artist that wants to sell has to merchandise or commodify their work. The artist has to find venues. An artist has to find a storage facility and depot for work that did not sell. My professor Dr. Graeme Sullivan, changes the process by installing pieces in the street and leaving them to fate. Many years ago a group of artists and myself created a gallery in an abandoned warehouse that we called the Art Dump. One would bring work to the show and let it be destroyed in time.
Artists know that the true nature of art has an experimental, developmental nature. It is a need that has yet to be serviced adequately by cultural institutions. In my mind the need is as important for society at large as it is to the artists. Art pratice has changed from a deeply intuitive product of the imagination to a discipline similar to laboratory research. Dr.Sullivan's book "Art Practice as Research"(2003) is an important work describing the landscape of art the way it is thought, created and exhibited by the working artists of my milieu.
Art policy is an important topic. Art research should be supported. A laissez-faire attitude is not acceptable social policy for the visual arts, It presupposes that the cream will rise to the top. I do not believe that. I believe in a pro-active and activist attitude. Support the arts but also make sure funds go to artists and not institutions.
These are some of the issues we have to work with in creating a virtual creation of an artistic neighborhood and community.
I will use several writers and theorists who condense experience through lenses that seem accurate for the artists life we are living now.
Sociologist Randall Collins in "Sociology of Philosophies"( 2000). writes how genius develops in pockets and groups, eddies and environments. Think of the many accomplished masters of different disciplines who were friends not only as adults but as children ( Bunuel, Dali and Lorca were childhood friends from school). Three of the greatest Spanish artists in their generations in separate disciplines, grew up and went to school together.
Collins discusses how " artists gather, focus their attention for a time on one of their members, who delivers a sustained discourse. The discourse itself builds on elements from the past, affirming and continuing or negating, yes in a Hegelian ascensional spiral into greater or more inclusive knowledge and meaning." Or, to put it more simply; we communicate through experiential ideologies or schools into art , discourse, discussion. This illustrates Collins' theory that intellectual progress is made through the personal interaction of dialog and the support of conversation.
Collins questions our assumptions and asks what these confluences of friendship and education have in common. From my perspective it is networks. Places and spaces to communicate.
Collins posited these premises :
1) Individuals feel solidarity with one another; they imagine themselves to be members of a common undertaking.
2) They are infused with emotional energy, a feeling of exhilaration, achievement and enthusiasm which induces initiative.
3) Membership generates collective symbols. The "lenses through which we see," the "very structure of consciousness". Symbols are the moral repository of the group and, hence, are assigned sacred qualities that must be defended and reinforced.
Another authority on these experiences of membership, bonding, closeness in groups is Victor Turner.
Liminality (from the Latin word limen, meaning "a threshold" is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective, conscious state of being on the "threshold" of or between two different existential planes, as defined in neurological psychology (a "liminal state") and in the anthropological theories of ritual by such writers as Arnold van Gennep, Victor Turner, and others.In the anthropological theories, a ritual, especially a rite of passage, involves some change to the participants, especially their social status.
"The liminal state is characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. One's sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation. Liminality is a period of transition where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed - a situation which can lead to new perspectives."
During the liminal stage, normally accepted differences between the participants, such as social class, are often de-emphasized or ignored. A social structure of communitas forms: one based on common humanity and equality rather than recognized hierarchy.
Art exhibitions are liminal. Art creates an experience within the individual that is new and yet ambiguous. This is also an aspect of liminality.
Hakim Bey and autonomous zones.
Bey describes the socio-political tactic of creating temporary spaces that elude formal structures of control. The essay uses various examples from history and philosophy, all of which suggest that the best way to create a non-hierarchical system of social relationships is to concentrate on the present and on releasing one's own mind from the controlling mechanisms that have been imposed on it.
In the formation of a TAZ, Bey argues, information becomes a key tool that sneaks into the cracks of formal procedures. A new territory of the moment is created that is on the boundary line of established regions. Any attempt at permanence that goes beyond the moment deteriorates to a structured system that inevitably stifles individual creativity. It is this chance at creativity that is real empowerment.
My belief is that many of the developments and progress in art has been the result of independent artists, curators and artists, self- initiated, self-funded for the greater part. Often without the support of public, institutions or experts. Sometimes institutions in authority actively opposed artist initiatives. The Whitney Museum, for instance, was started as an artist club by Sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1915. It had a library, cafeteria, exercise rooms, exhibition space. Tenth Street co-op galleries, Six Gallery. It was a free association of artists, an artists' club. -Impressionists , salon des refusees, fluxus, CoLab.
The list is long. Some people might complain that they never heard of these events or groups. History is written by the victors, and art history is written from an institutional point of view. Artists in the process of making history rarely write it. The web and web-based art groups have possibility of changing this equation. When I would want to organize a show in the era before the web, I would have to petition the magazines to place my call in their articles. Self-publishing via the web has opened up opportunities for all artists.
Cultureinside, is a worldwide web based artist-run association. It is a free art organization with an open membership. Anyone can join. We have members of CultureInside from 83 countries. These artists have joined us looking for moral support and community. We are attempting to create an online version of artistic neighborhood. They still exist somewhere in the great cities and some towns, but why can't we all participate in the great dialog.
CultureInside is rooted in new culture of the web. That means we are a group of artists that meets, connects, collaborates online. We are learning how to create a community that is not always connected to a grounded space. There are other groups out there as well as Cultureinside, that are attempting to fill the need of artists to affiliate and to show their work. There have been accusations from a few critics that the artistic level of such groups are generally low. I hope the quality of the "Rooted" exhibition from the general membership of our group will disabuse those critics and silence them.
We want to help artists help themselves to create exhibition opportunities, join with other artists and inform the public about their work. We want to create the virtual equivalent of a Parisian or Williamsburgh cafe, where artists can meet and connect. Places where the energy is crackling and projects take root. That is the purpose of CultureInside. We are among other things, rooted in the art world. We are rooted in visual art as a worldwide phenomenon of cultural production, a concerted intellectual and emotional activity that transcends any gender, ethnicity, class or position. All are welcome. An artists unique difference and individual voice attracts attention and success in this brave new world. The virtual must connect with the real world. The Brick and mortar world. That is why we support and want to produce physical exhibitions of art.
These need to be recognized and we need to find like members of our community who feel as we do. In numbers there is strength. In numbers there is structure. In structure we can find the rootedness we seek.