Artists Unite Issue

January 30, 2006

Catalog Essay, Now:Here:This 2005, by Wendy Newton

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 12:09 am

Art, Politics, And the Power of Presence: A conversation

As Now:Here:This 2005 (NHT) comes to a close and Artists Unite is in the process of creating a new web-based artists magazine and forum which will incorporate NHT in 2006, Peter Ferko and Rosa Naparstek of Artists Unite sat down to put NHT into perspective. What emerged was a picture of a project that elegantly straddles issues of art and politics and that strives to create the kind of artists’ community that artists actually want to be part of.
The conversation, parts of which follow, naturally turned to a discussion of what constitutes community and how artists, even though they are essentially involved in private communication with their individual muses, can participate in the very public process of creating community around a discussion of their artwork and the creative process. As a start to the conversation, Peter brought up Tim Folzenlogen’s entry for this catalogue in which he quips that even with a format like NHT, artists are still making speeches rather than interacting with each other.
RN: People are articulating where they’re at, not making speeches. It’s about being present at a particular time with what you did. By articulating where you’re at at the moment you create the art or later sitting at the computer, you have made the art more alive, given it another layer. Asking people to respond to being present at two different moments creates layers of presence. Community is about authenticity and being present. It’s a critical part of it. It’s the NOW in NHT.
PF: The whole impetus of this project was that my heart, where I am, HERE, isn’t just in this block of apartment buildings where I live, but it’s with all the people I interact with, whether physically, via e-mail, or phone, so HERE is another part of community, and it’s not necessarily physical. It’s real, but it takes many shapes.
RN: What’s interesting to me is learning to work with the diversity of personality
—it’s a form of practice—for me, it’s a form of spiritual practice. Being in community and working with those edges. In art, we’re trying to communicate, not through our
personalities, but through our art. The
language, or writing for NHT, comes closer to our personalities. So we’re working on two tracks. It’s amazing that the dialogue between artists ends up happening as much through the imagery itself as in what we say about the imagery in our statements. It’s more like a subliminal echo rather than direct communication.
PF: For an artist, there is always a part of yourself that you are not showing publicly, but NHT is a place where you can bring that part of yourself to the table—that you wouldn’t necessarily show in a gallery—to be out there in the community with that part of yourself. I think that what we have created is not necessarily a virtual community, whatever that implies, but rather it’s potentially a very real community that exists in this virtual plane. Many of the participants are having very real interactions with each other within the community that happens to meet in this virtual place.
RN: The internet is an incredible tool for organizing, but it does not create one thing that is important for political change, which is being able to be in a room with other people, be real and authentic, and let the interesting stuff emerge. This is the realm of transformative social change, spiritual change. Could NHT be characterized as a movement? Are we all just idiosyncratic? We are talking to each other through our art, but is there something else? If so, what would it be and can it be facilitated, can it create social change?
PF: Artists often like to talk about formal issues… color, shape, oddities of perception. But it feels like at this moment in time it’s really important to address bigger issues with your art because the world is in dire straits. What is the artists’ response to the dire straits? This will always be a quandary, because when you’re talking about doing what you want as an artist, sometimes you will want to address bigger issues, and sometimes you’ll want to play with the color blue. Art does not have to address the topic directly, but in the coming together as a community of artists, the topic can be addressed.
RN: I want to feel part of a movement. Could this movement be “being present?” You have to name it to see it and what it means. What happens if we take that and amp it up? What facilitates our being
present with ourselves and each other, and what political ramifications does that have?
PF: The evolution of the Artists Unite
website and this project in particular will facilitate this discussion. I like the idea that my community, the people who are going to be thinking about what we are doing as artists, is not limited by geography. This conversation can become more real, more explicit, and more well documented. Artists need to be talking about artmaking as well as politics, especially at a time when it’s more common to talk about what gallery might be interested in selling their work.
In an age obsessed with consumerism and the growth mentality of bigger, faster, stronger, more marketable, a project like NHT has real resonance. How do you create a democratic playing field for artists that is open and accessible and not stiflingly restricted by the necessities of the market-place, while at the same time upholding some level of quality and focus? NHT may well be a working model whose time has come.
Wendy Newton is Senior Program Associate at the Trust for Mutual Understanding, a foundation supporting cultural and environmental exchange with Russia and Central and Eastern Europe, and is a contributor to NHT.

One Response to “Catalog Essay, Now:Here:This 2005, by Wendy Newton”

  1. Tim Folzenlogen Says:

    Well, you gotta know I’m a huge fan of NHT.

    But thinking about the above conversation, thinking about NHT, the image that I kept seeing in my mind was the laying out of napkins, next to the plate, placing the fork, knife and spoon just so - like the laying out of the communal table or something.

    It’s all very nice, and clean, and correct - but somehow too nice, and clean, and correct.

    Real life is yelling at the kids, as they knock over the chair - spit and smells, tears and laughter. How to more deeply engage the other? It’s like I want, need, to somehow reach in and squeeze intestines or something.

    This new blog thing is a nice step in that direction.

    Congratualtions and many thanks to all involved.