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 artistsâ€™ 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 Folzenlogenâ€™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 theyâ€™re at, not making speeches. Itâ€™s about being present at a particular time with what you did. By articulating where youâ€™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. Itâ€™s a critical part of it. Itâ€™s the NOW in NHT.
PF: The whole impetus of this project was that my heart, where I am, HERE, isnâ€™t just in this block of apartment buildings where I live, but itâ€™s with all the people I interact with, whether physically, via e-mail, or phone, so HERE is another part of community, and itâ€™s not necessarily physical. Itâ€™s real, but it takes many shapes.
RN: Whatâ€™s interesting to me is learning to work with the diversity of personality
â€”itâ€™s a form of practiceâ€”for me, itâ€™s a form of spiritual practice. Being in community and working with those edges. In art, weâ€™re trying to communicate, not through our
personalities, but through our art. The
language, or writing for NHT, comes closer to our personalities. So weâ€™re working on two tracks. Itâ€™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. Itâ€™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 tableâ€”that you wouldnâ€™t necessarily show in a galleryâ€”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 itâ€™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 issuesâ€¦ color, shape, oddities of perception. But it feels like at this moment in time itâ€™s really important to address bigger issues with your art because the world is in dire straits. What is the artistsâ€™ response to the dire straits? This will always be a quandary, because when youâ€™re talking about doing what you want as an artist, sometimes you will want to address bigger issues, and sometimes youâ€™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 â€œbeing present?â€ 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 itâ€™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.