What is art? “Art is in the eye of the beholder.” Says the old cliché.
Picture of Félix González-Torres‘ participatory sculptural installation “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) (1991) at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018. A pile of candies wrapped in many-colored cellophane sits against the wall in the corner of a gallery.
In 1991, Félix González-Torres, a minimalist artist, piled 175lbs (12.5 stones) of candy into a corner of the Art Institute of Chicago with the title, Untitled ( Portrait of Ross in LA).One hundred and seventy pounds was Ross Laycock’s healthy weight before he was stricken with HIV and died of AIDS the same year as the exhibition. Ross was Felix’s boyfriend. Felix wanted to convey his loss and start a conversation about HIV/AIDS when no one wanted to talk about it. Museum goers were encouraged to take a piece of candy. In this respect, they were taking a piece of Ross, consuming art made in his memory. Felix Gonalez-Torres left it up to museums to decide if they wanted to replenish the candy or not. This decision is where the art installation speaks to me the most.
The pile is not refilled
The pile of candy diminishes until there is nothing left. Ross, like some of my own friends and family having wasted away until their disease consumed them.
Re-filling the pile
The body is gone, but their memory remains. By making his art installation candy and sharing it with other he shares the memory of Ross with us. Ross Laycock remains in memory, in pictures, and in written word.
Félix González-Torres passed away of AIDS in 1996. His art Installation Untitled (Lover Boys) ideally weighed 355lbs (25 stones) to represent the combined weight of their bodies when they were both healthy.
Untitled (Placebo) weighs 1,000-1,200 (454 – 544 kg) was an attempt to visualize the massive amount of pills the patient had taken in their life.
(Side Note: I made a conscious choice to use the artist’s first name when mentioning him after the first introduction, because his art was deeply personal and centered on self.)
Let’s put this in juxtaposition to Maurizio Cattelan, an absurdist artist, and his famous/infamous installation titled, Comedian. You’re more likely to be familiar with this one as “the banana that was duct taped to a wall” or Art Basal Banana. The banana was sold three times and eaten four times. Two people shelled out $120,0000 for it, another for $150,000 and the fourth ripped it off the wall and ate it, because he was a performance artist and that was his “performance art” of the day. (No, He didn’t discuss it with Maurizio Cattelan beforehand and I wish someone would bring these two together because I can’t decide if it would be an interesting conversation or some completely boring grandstanding on both their parts.)
Art and the rules regarding art are a funny thing. So, what did the people get that paid for their banana art installations? They get to replicate in their own homes, in front of people, and take pictures or videos of it over and over again (at the cost of fresh bananas) because they purchased the legal right to display it as an authentic version of the original.
What happens when an architect asks an artificial intelligence program to design nature-inspired buildings? Lots of curves and monolithic housing complexes that look like giant trees. You also get buildings presented in that ultra-white white that modern architects love so much, but with a draping of green, at least in the few iterations that I saw. Manas Bhatia is an architect in New Delhi, India who wanted to see if the AI imaging tool Midjourney could help him build cities of the future. While the concept art is computer-generated it still took Bhatia hours to find the right words to create text-based writing prompts that generated the kinds of images he wanted. His prompts included words like, bioluminescent material, symbiotic and futuristic towers.
Does this make Manas Bhatia the artist? Or the AI program?
This is a big debate in the art world now and rightly so in my opinion.
Each time we advance the field of technology new rules of social order are formed. We talk about “business ecosystems” and have to clarify buildings as “the built environment” as opposed to things like the “cloud construction” of data networks. A person can no longer define themselves as an “Engineer” without being asked: “What kind of engineer?”
Physical? Electrical? Computer? Or one of the more than dozens of other kinds of engineers?
I predict that we will now need new and more defined roles as artists. Visual Artists (as they were formally known) and not the only ones who work is being invaded by AI. I am first and foremost a writer and I’ve already seen where the future of ‘predictive text” is going. I’ve already seen advertisements for programs that can “write your novel for you.” How do I feel about this as an artist? In a word, hostile. When I’m writing my emails and predictive text makes their suggestions about what word I’m going to use next I will intentionally pick a different word to use as “screw you!”
Even better is when the email software tells me that my word choices are “unprofessional” because its usually when I’m writing family or friend. If I started writing in a professional manner towards my friends, they would prompt write back asking “What’s wrong?” “Are you okay?’ “Are you mad at me?”
Do you find this auto-text helpful? Yes, or No? I always say “No” and when it prompts the question, “Why is the auto-text not helpful?” I write in the comment box, “Because I’m the fucking writer!”
I know full well my little act of rebellion amounts to nothing. It would take an army of people to answer no and provide the same comment before it ever escalated to the “value” of being seen by human eyes at Microsoft or Google. I use both. I have no loyalty when it comes to corporations. I suppose I could borrow some script kitties to make a bunch of bogus email accounts who all type random emails, click on “No” and comment fill “Because I’m the fucking writer!” but I’ve got bigger endeavors to attend too.
It’s all rather insane, but it’s only a symptom of a larger problem. Welcome to the information war! You’ve already been enlisted. I hope you didn’t think the war/mobilization/whatever you want to call it, in Ukraine was the only war going on now.
Pay attention to how people say things and not just what they say. What do you learn about the person and the message through their word choices?
Listen to politician, advertisements, and everyone else around you. Is what they say and what they mean the same thing? Are they being genuine?
When my son was four, I had him in a bike camp to learn how to ride. One day I arrived to pick him up wearing a stained and wrinkled old shirt because I’d been cleaning all day. When I got there one of the camp counselors quickly came over to me.
“First of all, I like your shirt.” She chirped.
“No you don’t.” I said tersely.
“Yeah, so anyways, your son had a rough day.” She continues.
He approached like he was coming off a battlefield and his side lost; all dusty and bloody, a tear in one pant knee, and his jaw set in a resigned grimace. I stopped listening to the woman. I’m sure the gist was to the effect of “Please don’t get mad and sue us.”
Walking back to the car, I acknowledged to my son that he’d had a rough day and told him I was proud of him. Maybe that wasn’t the day he’d learned to ride a bike, but he’d put in the work and tried.
When it comes to definitions there’s a difference between Nature-led and Nature-inspired. Nature-led means that we learn the rules of nature and work within nature’s framework of systems and organizations. Nature-inspired means that we look to nature for ideas and then go about making our own framework of systems and organizations. One of these could be the key to the survival of the human race. The other could be the key to our eventual annihilation. Am I being too dramatic to say such a thing? Well, we didn’t create the world, but some people are arrogant enough to pretend like we did! Beavers build a dam because it’s their home and they need to set up a successful environment for themselves. They don’t consider their impact on the greater environment at large. Humans are aware of their impact and often continue anyways, even when it negatively impacts the greater environment at large. They are just as disingenuous about saving the planet as the camp counselor pretending to like my nasty old shirt! There is no one country, politician, or corporation that can save us from our own arrogance. We, the collective people who make up our societies have to define our cultures by setting the rules.
We choose through our cultural acceptance or rejection whether a pile of candy in the corner of a museum is art, a banana duct taped to a wall, or an architect’s concept image created through AI software by using words. We also have choose whether we’re willing to buy the messaging from politicians, advertisers, businesses and people around us when they say they are making a commitment to the health and well-being of others and the places we inhabit.
I’m not against technology. I use it and consider it an amazing tool and resource, but it’s different than a hammer or a knife. I don’t have to worry about a hammer assuming implied consent to do or say things on my behalf.
Words matter, art matters, and our understanding of their interpretations matters. We are the rule makers and rule breakers. We decide what is culturally relevant and acceptable. There is a cabal of people who would love to make a job out of doing your thinking for you.
Current Blog Post Schedule: One a month
I need to focus on my books-in-progress: The Nature-led Life, The Nature-Led Society, and my collection of five dark medieval tales (Title TBD).
Reminder: “A Tree” Photo submission is due September 30th. Photos will be featured in a post On October 1st. I currently have eight submissions, but more are always welcome! It could always be split into a Part 1 and Part 2 if we get a lot of submissions. Please provide as a .JPEG or .PNG file, General location (State/Province & Country), your name/the Artist’s name, and a link to your website if you have one. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: September Submission
The Prize: My love and gratitude for participating.
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