Friday, 29 August 2014

Reading Group - Lewis Camnitzer - 19th Aug 2014

Art Academy members Dorothy Massey and Jenny Walden have responded to our recent reading group - 'On the Moral Imperative in Contemporary Art' by Lewis Camnitze:

I would like to thank Jenny for that very important article on Moral/Ethics and Contemporary art by Luis Camnitzer.

Here are the ideas I got from it.

Art is not Ethical only artist are.

Some art is produced to transform artist into commercial and self profiting icons, rather than to create icons to serve cultural enrichment.

If we really want to deal with Ethics in art we will have to anchor all the questions of the art making process: WHAT? WHY? and for WHOM? with a later HOW? On a solid Ethical foundation.

The creation of a strong common ethical ground seems to be more urgent than the development of new packaging codes.

Our work with the unknown makes us researchers, not magicians.

The mystification may sell well but it is unbecoming.

I believe Ethics in art should be taken very seriously as it is in.

Medicine at local and international level. I suggest a week of conferences with people within different areas of art.

Thank you Claire and Maurice to make things happened.

Dorothy Massey.


The idea of the Moral Imperative in Contemporary Art Luis Camnitzer [1]

AA Reading Group 19th August 2014

Moral: relating to the standards of good or bad behaviour, fairness, honesty, etc. that each person believes in, rather than to laws

Ethical: morally right

The idea of the Moral Imperative in Contemporary Art is a written record of the talk given by Luis Camnitzer as part of a panel at the College Art Association meeting in San Francisco in 1989. It is provocative piece as it is laying certain things on the line in terms of art and ethics.

It is perhaps pertinent that Camnitzer’s talk was the year after Damian Hirst, as student at Goldsmith’s organised the Freeze exhibition out of which Hirst and others sold work to Charles Saatchi and the YBAs were ‘born’. It was also at a time when ‘Postmodernism’ was becoming the key topic within art college discourse.

We discussed this in the reading group as part of our key consideration of some challenging aspects from Camnitzer. What he lays on the line is a question of the honesty of art and artists.

Camnitzer suggests that artists are less honest than advertisers in that the artist does manipulate the audience but the artist avoids confronting their own manipulating, because the aesthetics of the work is shrouded in more ‘exclusive’ understanding of and even ‘the mystique’ of composition.

We discussed this difference being made between ethics and aesthetics and the question was raised as to why art might being held to account here, as many forms of work, of social interaction etc. can be seen to involve or come up against compromise. Camnitzer seems to suggest art’s own claims to matter and mean or do something or be distinct (my interpretation here) put such demands upon it. This is compounded then by a propensity to call upon the ‘aesthetic’ to absolve art from further explanation. Morry did remind us of Picasso’s statement that ‘art is the lie that reveals the truth’. (A further topic for the reading group perhaps)

The group discussed this and we debated whether Camnitzer was tough on art and artists here. We talked about work which is immediately compelling and I think we were talking about something having an honesty in and off itself, which is not easily open to explanation.

From Camnitzer, we then identified three ways in which the artist may be dealing with the issues for art, as the question of making art is played out across: ‘what, why, for whom’ and ‘how’?

These ways are: art as: for society; for profit; for self-therapy.

All three may be present in any one motivation to make and the making of art. We talked about artists who may appear to be more evidently driven by a profit motive and ‘make work to sell’ and we talked about the difference, or not, between this in a ‘large sense’ of the ‘celebrity artist’ and the everyday sense of making some sort of living out of one’s work. We talked about the guilt that might accompany making “things that sell”. There might also be a worry that the aesthetic appeal outweighs the ethical intention and ‘empties’ the ‘meaning’ of the work.

Perhaps we’re back where we came in…

We look forward to the next reading group…

Jenny Walden 

[1] Luis Camnitzer (b.1937) is a German-born Uruguayan artist and writer who moved to New York in 1964. He was at the vanguard of 1960s Conceptualism, working primarily in printmaking, sculpture, and installations. Camnitzer’s artwork explores subjects such as social injustice, repression, and institutional critique. His humorous, biting, and often politically charged use of language as art medium has distinguished his practice for over four decades… Though Camnitzer has never left New York, his practice remains intrinsically connected to his homeland and the whole of Latin America. This consistent dedication cements his place as a key figure in shaping debates around ideas of post-Colonialism, Conceptualism, and pedagogy. See http://www.alexandergray.com/artists/luis-camnitzer/ 

[2] Freeze is the title of an art exhibition that took place in July 1988 in an empty London Port Authority building at Surrey Docks Its main organiser was Damien Hirst. It was significant in the subsequent development of the Young British Artists. The YBAs gained greater fame/notoriety in 1997 when Saatchi had the Sensation Exhibition: SENSATION: YOUNG BRITISH ARTISTS FROM THE SAATCHI GALLERY THE ROYAL ACADEMY, LONDON

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Open Crit. Friday 1st August, 2014

Our latest crit was a busy affair, as due to a mix up, four artists presented work instead of the usual three! It was also very well attended by art academy members who were there to contribute but not rpesent, which was great to see.

First up to present his work was Michael Holland, who showed the group some of his huge collection of collage work made from meticulously collecting and curating pieces of everyday ephemera, and who has this to say about the experience:

"Since I've not had a crit since university it was slightly stressful but it turned out fine in the end. I showed some new work, sketches and lots of stuff on paper . The feedback I received was almost completely positive and it felt more like an airing of my work rather than a critique. I rarely show anyone any of my work so it was great to show a group of people a whole load of it all in one go. Since the crit I have been moving forward with it and creating new works in a more loose outdoor style, something that I can't keep to myself, the front of the mill has become my workspace and I have been pasting up compositions on the spaces left by gig posters. Some successful and some not so, but its nice to leave them out in the elements for other people to get involved and possibly collaborate in the same space . 

The airing of my work gave me a different perspective and allowed me to work some things out, test myself and more quickly than I previously thought, move on to the next stage in my meandering development. "




Next up was Hannah Cawthorne, who wanted advice from the group on where next to take the concepts that underpin her abstract photographic work.

"This was my first time showing my work to members of the art academy, and I was strangely nervous and excited beforehand. Everyone was very encouraging and supportive, and said some really insightful things about my work, including some aspects of it that I hadn't really thought about at all. In fact at times it felt like a bit of a therapy session, but in a good way!

Evere since I heard about these crits I've been wanting to do one, because I recognised there was a danger of my art getting a bit stagnant if I didn't branch out and try new things, so that's what I have been doing for the past few months. But then sometimes it's good to get a third opinion on whether you are headed in the right direction, and that's what I hoped the crit would provide. It did do that, and it also pointed me in the direction of several new ways forward, including the amazing opportunity to do a residency at the Mill this Autumn, which I think will be a huge thing for me. So, on balance I think the crit really surpassed my expectations about what it could do for my art practise!"


After a short break for some much need refreshments, the third artist to present was Jared Szpakowski. Jared had a very specific question he hoped the attendees would be able to answer for him, which was whether the film he presented to us was successful in its current state, needed re-doing, or was not working at all. Praise for the piece was pretty universal, and the answer seemed to be that all agreed it worked very well as it was.

The fourth and final artist was Hannah Leighton-Boyce, who wanted to share with the group plans for a recently commissioned artwork.

She explains:
"It was my first time actually attending or presenting at the Art Academy and I wasn't quite sure how it would go as I didn't have much physical work to present, just plans, maps and photos which makes it both harder to get the essence of the work across and therefore for others to feel able to give a response. The work I shared is one that I am currently making in a village north of Manchester called Helmshore. The work called 'The Event of the Thread' has been commissioned by Helmshore Mills Textile Museum but will actually be located in a housing estate above the former Mill in what was the Tenter Fields where woollen cloth was stretched across the land to dry. Essentially, a thread of around 3300 yards in length will retrace the mapped lines of the tenter frames as it is passed by residents creating one sculptural line as it crosses roads, gardens and fences, passes through houses, letterboxes, windows and doors and a temporary memorial to the site, re-connecting different lives and times, private and public, people and place. 
So much of the ‘making’ of this work is about meeting and talking to people, knocking on doors, 'taking the museum' and spinning wheel to the pub, Library, Sports Centre and market to both meet local residents as, without their interest or support, it won't happen. So, although I didn't yet have anything physical to show at the crit, I suppose that is also why I felt I wanted to share the project with the group, discussion is part of the nature of the work. Initially, I think it was hard for people to feel able to respond as I didn’t have any clear questions that needed answering but the conversation created questions and comments that were really helpful and, just the act of sounding out the work, rather than going over ideas in my head really helped to clarify what was important to the work."

And with that, we agreed to call it a day, after another very successful crit!