Here’s his submission, with our response following:
Let’s have a REAL Social Show soon please
I agree with much of CU’s take on this show and have to admit two things before I start ranting, one, disclosure of subjectivity: I am inclined to think bad things about this show because I am an artist who was overlooked or excluded from the show (deja vu, starting to feel invisible in my home town) and two, I didn’t see all of the show (I saw all of the S. Main venues and Crosstown but not Marshall or Lusk).
Okay, the rant (not a rant really):
As an artist who regularly works in the arena that I would call “Social Practice” (Hummer Drawing Interviews, Empire State Building Performances, Opposite-Evangelizing, Tea Party Crashing, see cedarnordbye.com) I was disappointed by a pronounced absence of work that manifests the idea of “Social Practice” or performance art or relational art, all which would have seemed like obvious choices for this show. (Bachrun Lo Mele’s Jamaica dispensing, Aviva Ramani, and the Motor City Window Cleaning Company were exceptions). This absence was illustrated by a story related to me by Memphis artist, Richard Lou (who was also overlooked and excluded except as an afterthought, despite his having worked in what could be called “Social Practices” or radical performance art and community activism-art for twenty-plus years). Richard was telling me about how he was asked by Ballet Memphis to suggest some artists who could be part of a panel discussion to take place during Memphis Social, maybe some artists in the show, and the only Memphis artists he could think of who do social-practice work actually weren’t in the show (he and I being two).
“We took the “social turn” before Claire Bishop was cool”
While I agree with and admire your blog entry on the show I have to disagree with your assertion that Memphis already has “Social Practice” going on. I actually find Memphis’ art scene to be surprisingly limited in its social engagement. Traditional painting seems to rule this town. I haven’t seen much “social art” or performance art or any art that blurs the line between art and life or challenges traditional viewing relationships. In the ten years that I’ve lived in Memphis the most pronounced instances of social practice art or interactive art or “relational” art have been mostly five years ago or more. In 2004 I curated a show at Marshall Arts, “Action Packed” that featured a handful of artists (Tommy Foster being a local one) doing performance or showing “performative”work. For a few years John Weeden brought to town some remarkable artists through his Lantana Project (James Clar, Jeremy Deller, etc.). A little ironic that Weeden was so important in bringing this energy to Memphis but didn’t include it in his “Present Tense” show (with the exception of Cat Peña’s important piece). Speaking of Cat, her “Parking Day” was an example of the kind of thing I’m surprised doesn’t happen more here.
You wrote: “Memphis does this “art in odd places” thing regularly,”
“Art in Odd Places” doesn’t just mean scrounging around to find some new dilapidated building to exhibit your oil paintings or photographs. That doesn’t count. For example, Erin Jennings beautiful photographs in the even more beautiful upstairs of Earnestine and Hazel’s doesn’t count as an installation, it counts as pairing some work with an off-the-beaten-track exhibition venue. Despite a city filled with amazing locations, spaces rich with history, politics and ambience, almost nothing I saw anywhere had even the slightest bit of site-specificity. Almost nothing I ever see in this town does.
If I had been involved in Memphis Social I would have recommended that it include Thomasin Durgin’s sculpture garden, Fatima Tuggar, Coriana Close, Cat Peña, Richard Lou, Cedar Nordbye, David Appleby and Craig Leake (who made the documentary “Beyond Babyland”) and Jeremy Deller, and a bunch of out of town artists who might have loved to come to Memphis to make work interacting with the population and addressing some of the pressing needs and concerns of the city.
I hate to say it (and maybe I love to say it too) but I am disappointed in Memphis Social. I wish it had been clearer. I wish it had been called something else. If so, I could have appreciated it for what it was, a great batch of shows, loosely linked by some loose idea of what Memphis is, loosely conceived by some out-of-town dude who maybe talked to a few people in town. Part of why I am disappointed is that I would LOVE to see a show that it could have been, suggested it might be. I desperately crave to see this city energized and activated by art that blurs the line between art and life. It needs it. There are serious, pressing problems and opportunities here that could feed some amazing powerful art. We’ve got out of control gun crime, we’ve got immigration issues, we’ve got segregation, Jim-Crow hangover, we’ve got blight, gentrification, wage-slavery, corporate privilege, educational meltdowns, infant mortality, etc. We’ve also got amazing medical innovation and expertise, grass-roots civil justice, bike-activism, farmer’s markets, literacy projects, Latino cultural center, queer activism, rising murals, greenlines, etc. Artists could play a role in so much of this, artists could be inspired by this and could inspire this.
Our take on your take:
First of all, we’d like to propose a piece: a big flashing red light on a tall pole, maybe on top of an important building like the Pyramid or Kwik Chek. The piece would be called “Was Cedar Excluded From an Exhibition” and any time there’s a show that’s open that doesn’t have Cedar’s work, the light will be flashing. Then we’ll all know. Kickstarter, anyone?
Just kidding Cedar (kind of), love you. But being excluded from a show shouldn’t automatically predispose you to negativity.
On to the topic of Memphis Social -
We also wish for clarity and a different title. A different frame might have changed everything. It sounds like we weren’t the only ones who were thrown off by the word “Social.” We also expected to see a lot more social practice art. If you look closely, you can see that one of the curator’s ideas was to push traditional media into a social role by siting or grouping it in particular ways (maybe we’re giving him too much credit…we’re feeling generous). Was it successful on its own terms? No, probably not. Could it have used a dose of the artists you mentioned, and then some? Yes. We were particularly struck by the fact that Richard Lou didn’t have a major place in the project. It’s also true that the non-traditional spaces and projects that were chosen are the ones that non-Memphians are often smitten by (Ernestine and Hazel’s, jookin) while local gems that aren’t promoted by the tourism industry were overlooked (we like your idea of including Thomasin Durgin’s sculpture garden). Also, so much of the work is downtown, while so much of the art community is…everywhere but downtown. Branching out into neighborhoods could have great.
Our point about taking the social turn had more to do with the way Memphis artists contextualize and show their work in non-traditional ways than with social practice art. It’s true that we’re not swimming in social practice here, but we do think we have a fair amount for an art scene of our size. We, like you, would love to see more. Let’s all make the work we want to see, or curate it in.
And we’re not sure where your point about installation came from. We never mentioned installation. We liked Jennings’ work in that site, and we don’t think anyone would call it an installation. But yes, site-specificity is a nice thing that can happen sometimes and there are great sites here to activate. And we have to disagree with you on this point - showing art in whatever non-white-cube-space you want to does count for something. It might not be an installation and it might not be site-specific (which are two different things) but it does count for something. We like it and we want more of it.
We also like and want more of this conversation. Speak up, Memphis!