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The Arts
04.23.08

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Phaedra

THE WAR COMES HOME: Martha Rosler montages images of mayhem with consumer clichés.

Art in Your Face

UC–Santa Cruz conference and Bay Area exhibits want to make art interrupt life—and vice versa

By Maureen Davidson


DUCHAMP and Dada, Bueys and Fluxus, performance/installation/conceptual/guerrilla art, happenings, actions—all decried the staleness and sellouts of art institutions. They brought art into the streets, to the people, to deal with the gritty stuff of real life. Painting was dead, curators were fascists, galleries commodified art. "Vandals! Terrorists! Pornographers!" shouted the institutions, then identified the upstarts as an art movement and immortalized them in catalogs and exhibitions.

That's a coarse history of a century of art protest and absorption—bringing us to the Interventions Festival. UC–Santa Cruz has invited more than 80 international artist-troublemakers with rich credentials and extraordinary résumés to engage the people of the Bay Area in "interventions."

Interrupting folks minding their own business on the street, the bus, the beaches, these artists bring passers-by into the process of co-creating art "using humor, surprise and unusual associations to overturn assumptions about the world."

The festival consists of a month-long series of such art actions at sites throughout the Bay Area, and three exhibitions: at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, the LAB in San Francisco and the Sesnon Gallery on the UCSC campus. The events and shows all build up to a three-day conference, "Intervene! Interrupt! Rethinking Art as Social Practice," at UCSC May 15–17, when the artists intervene on campus or nearby and, of course, participate in scholarly panels discussing this art practice embedded within the social and political realities of daily life.

It has already started. "This Show Needs You" opened April 4 at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. As one of the three exhibitions connected with the festival, the ICA gallery tackles the subject of "art and life."

"We thought about how the artists can meet the audience within their everyday world and engage people in the process of creating," says ICA curator Susan O'Malley. Artists Ted Purves and Susanne Cockrell, for example, invited people to bring lemons from their back yards to the ICA to help create an installation calledLemon Everlasting Backyard Battery.

"Here in this valley that has been a hub of agriculture for hundreds of years," O'Malley explains, "lemon trees thrive to the extent that everyone seems to have a lemon tree in their back yard. Trees overflow, people are forever giving away lemons and sharing lemon recipes."

Walls full of jars of lemons are now exhibited at ICA along with photographs and personal lemon stories and recipes. "We got about a ton, and the exhibition lasts the same amount of time it takes to preserve lemons," O'Malley says. On April 12, the artists led a workshop on preserving all those lemons, and May 2 has been designated by the San Jose City Council as "Lemon Day," when there will be a big lemony picnic, after which participants can take home a jar of lemons.

Picnics and food bring people together, so do weddings. Love artists Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle are engaged in a seven-year performance piece, called the Love Art Laboratory. The real-life partners invite the public to co-create their wedding every year; this year, their fourth of seven whose themes correspond to the seven chakras, is their green wedding.

At SJICA, six mannequins wear Liz and Annie's wedding costumes from the last three weddings—red, orange and yellow—while ephemera and videos from the events are displayed. A reception for the thrice and future brides served as the opening for "This Show Needs You" on April 4. The next day, about 20 people turned up to participate in a "Bridal Sewing Bee."

"Life and art combined as people nibbled from a green buffet, told stories about weddings they'd been in, and brought and sewed personal memorabilia, shells, beads, birdhouses, on costumes," says Annie Sprinkle, a porn star–turned–performance artist whose work is all about love.

The ceremony itself will be a participative event that culminates the conference on May 17. International performance/guerrilla artist, Guillermo Gómez-Peña and others will officiate.

For his part of the ICA show, Dutch artist Michael Smit asks passers-by in public places, "How have you been an artist today?" and posting the answers in the gallery. Believing, along with Joseph Beuys, that "everyone is an artist," Smit is troubled by the delineation between artists/specialists and the "majority of people that call themselves 'not creative.'" He works to help people connect with their own artistic genius.  

"Interruption of Hierarchies," the exhibition at UCSC's Sesnon Gallery, opened last week and runs through May 17. Curator Shelby Graham has worked to upend all norms, turning the space into a video lending library, radio recording studio and "art lounge" featuring an overstuffed sofa with subversive sound-messages. 

Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nobi Talisman offer opportunities to rant for 30 seconds as part of their "Psychological Prosthetics" series, asking accidental collaborators, "Can I interest you in our 30-second rant recorder to activate your outrage?" If no, then, "Would you prefer a bandage to bandage your shame and soothe your apathy?" They'll even design a custom backpack to carry psychological baggage. Their rant machine can be checked out and rants uploaded on a website (www.psychologicalprosthetics.com).

The art lounge features flat-screen video documentations of interventions like that of Jennifer Parker and Tina Takemoto, who arrived in character to protest a show at SFMOMA but were assumed to be part of the installation. Two artists tackle the Iraq war. Martha Rosler's photomontages combine combat images with domestic trivialities. A video game by Joseph DeLappe inserts names of the dead U.S. soldiers in the Iraq war into an online military-funded video war game: "Bringing the Iraq war home to the lounge/living room, to see how people live with it," according to Graham.

THIS SHOW NEEDS YOU runs through May 17 at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, 560 S. First St., San Jose; 408.283.8155. The LEMONFEST! takes place May 2, 5–7pm. Performance Artist LINDA MONTANO performs 'Re-Seeing: Being Blindfolded in California; 7 hours/4 days' on May 6–9, 10am–5pm; she will lead a workshop onMay 10, 2–5pm; $5/$10.


INTERRUPTION OF HIERARCHIES runs through May 17 at the Sesnon Gallery, Porter College, on the UC–Santa Cruz campus, with a reception for the festival on May 16, 6–10pm.


INTERVENE! INTERRUPT! RETHINKING ART AS SOCIAL PRACTICE takes place May 15–17 at UCSC and around Santa Cruz. See [ http://may2008.artintervention.org/ ]http://may2008.artintervention.org.


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