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I’ve been depressed lately. In the squished flat sense of the word. Not only the effect of foreshortened days and frozen nights. Not merely the effect of reading tomes the size of Bibles without the good news (that’s a Don Nickles reference). Not only the exercise of shoveling more of the same snow everyday in hopes that the sidewalk will be passable and the driveway will be drivable. Not merely the defeated struggle to retain the Bush Foundation Artist Fellowships (there was a struggle, I’m sure) — although I must say that certainly resembles some sort of final straw.

But it’s two words: Community and Participation. Like an Acme Anvil.

It’s a shame, because we all know there is a bunch of people we get along/associate/fit together with — if not admire or identify with — that is larger than our group of friends. And it’s great to do things with them. But the truth is (here’s the truth) of course responding to one’s community, involving ones community, is important. But the call to do so is done out of ignorance, misunderstanding, or apathy, if not downright devious manipulation.  I do not serve at your command, any of you. And no, of course, I am not entirely independent.

Aw man, this is just another symptom of our seeming inability to find a way to support the work of artists in a fair and thorough way. How can you tell what’s worth supporting if you’ve got money or work in a foundation with money? If you want to support good work you have to define it. And no one is defining what good work is. Are they? Enlighten me if they are.

So there’s a reflexive and defensive maneuver to fall back on criteria that are relevant to other areas of life, most often commercial. For example, work that clearly and effectively serves a community. The gymnastics of which when applied to the creation of live performance tend to leave definitions of quality in the toilet.

Or sometimes you support the work of a particular demographic, which seems to be less visible now, except for that cloud of mutability: emerging.

In any case, what happens is that in order to support something you like you have to justify it to the world via some criteria other than it is something you like. Because that would return us to the frivolous fripperies of a patronage system. And lord knows nothing good came of that.

Instead we are encouraged to become self-sustaining with a long term vision. Which is like telling a plumber to work on intestines.

Participation, coming out of my slogging through Relational Aesthetics as well as the collection of theories with the P word title, is I think, an artist’s reaction to this bludgeoning system of anti-patronage. Low-fi doesn’t need funding (although somehow them artists still need food), participation often means others can do the work and think of it as fun. There’s more here, of course, including the way money seeps in to distort the image. And the few very famous getting pretty rich.

But when the forces of power are structured such that these terms become criteria rather than characteristics, well, it mushes me. And there is what might be called a quiet rage hovering out there. I could reach out and pluck its elbow and without hesitation it would come sit by my side and keep me warm, firing all sorts of intensive action. But its company leaves me empty. Rage does not snuggle or kiss, and I’m just too big a fan of Good Touch.

So in response I’ve been reading Baudrillard. A light touch and a glancing one, a place you can leave of your own volition. It provides no warmth, but it is an open door — a brightly lit aperture at least — where you can take your mind undisgraced and imagine the Better.

Communication is too slow; it is an effect of slowness, working through contact and speech. Looking is much faster; it is the medium of the media, the most rapid one. Everything must come into play instantaneously. We never communicate. In the to-and-fro of communication, the instantaneity of looking, light and seduction is already lost.


  1. I recommend reading as much Curtis White as possible, particularly “The Middle Mind.”

    I can lend it to you if you want.

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