Outer Regions: Complex Models
Here we present the final essay in our series reports from the “Outer Regions: Roundtables and Public Panel Discussion,” a two-day event held at East Tennessee State University with funding support from the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, March 1-3, 2013. The symposium was organized by Vanessa Mayoraz and Andrew Ross to explore the ramifications, and potential benefits, of artistic practice outside of major metropolitan art centers. The roundtable participants included panelists Emma Balazs (Columbia University), Sarrita Hunn (Temporary Art Review), Adelheid Mers (The School of the Art Institute of Chicago), Joey Orr (Emory University) and ETSU faculty and students.
On the final day of the sympoisum, the participants began to diagram the results of their discussions. Each of the four diagrams are represented below with related audio and follow-up descriptions by the organizers and four panelists.
Diagram 1: The Linear Model
Adelheid Mers: This is the cliché – and the traditional idea still presented by gate keepers – we are no longer interested in supporting.
It goes like this: Coming from anywhere, the artist (genius, solitary worker, in need of a studio if a visual artist) needs to move to an urban center at some point, accepting initial hardship, to find inspiration and be discovered for a market (and for the attendant discourse) by a gate keeper.
Sarrita Hunn: This first diagram shows a straight line from “JC” aka Johnson City, where East Tennessee State University is located, to “NY” or New York City. This represents what is the assumed linear path for artistic success. It is the thought that you have not really “made it” until you have an exhibition in New York City or that in order to have the chance to be a successful artist you must live in the five boroughs.
This is not only a limited but incredibly problematic view of artistic opportunity and success. Through developing new diagrams and ways of thinking about artistic possibilities we hoped to explode this limited model.
Joey Orr: I was interested in this very linear and sort of impoverished model due to a clarification that happened on the first day. When speaking about social media and digital platforms, there is a sense in which this can be read as “leveling the playing field.” Not only is this not true in the literal sense of art market realities, but it underscores a kind of false goal. One of the things our gathering was invested in was that it’s not always best (or possible) for any of us for a myriad of reasons (economic, artistic, personal, even political) to inhabit particular geographies. The point of the discussion was to tend to the complicated and overlapping networks that we can explore and begin to map in a way that creates a greater spectrum of variance and engagement.
Diagram 2: Mindset
Adelheid Mers: The first idea to be exploded was what it might mean to be creative in various environments. Taking recourse to Flusser’s “Exile and Creativity,” modes of perceptivity were explored that evolve under different circumstances.
Sarrita Hunn: We found it helpful to use this diagram to think about the effect of new experiences and places on a person’s “aesthetic” state. In one example, the first few months of an MFA program may make one feel as though they are in ‘exile’ – in an over stimulated “hyperesthetic” state – that makes it difficult to focus and make work. However, if one is able to continue through that experience and become comfortable enough in the situation to be productive, they may harbour the “creative’”state of a migrant, or at least the “aesthetic” state of the “immigrant” who is at once comfortable with their environment but never completely “at home.”
As we were generally referring to people and specific situations in relation to this diagram, we chose to change the first state “native” to “origin,” as a less confusing term in regards to anyone person’s ‘state’ more than their literal ‘statehood’ or nationality. Also, the “origin” of any one ‘travel’ can re-occur for people multiple times. In fact, it may be that people can even inhabit various states at the same time depending on the situation at hand. This complexity was further explored in our next diagram.
Joey Orr: The most important point of this early diagram, for me, was that it enabled us to use Flusser’s ideas as an actual “working” theory. In other words, the drawing enabled us to conceive our discourse spatially, and thus mutually.
Diagram 3: Complex Model
Adelheid Mers: On day 1, our discussion had explored three main axes: Practice, Place and Movement.
The endpoints of the Practice axis were marked by the market on one end and by site on the other.
Place moved from real to virtual.
Movement was flanked by mobility (having means) and motility (being ready).
Sarrita Hunn: If Diagram 2 can be thought of as the path of one’s “mindset” and represents the User/Immigrant (as represented in the right side of this image) then this Diagram might be thought of the field of possibility/potential through which the person/”mindset” may inhabit.
We began with 3 axes in which to plot our Diagram of possibilities (meant as a clear expansion of the first diagram). The first axis was “Practice” which ran from a “Commodity/Market” model to a “Sited/Service” model. The second axis was “Movement” which ran from “Mobility”, or actual movement, to “Motility” or the potential for movement. The final axis was “Place” which ran from “actual” (geo, real, root, archive, deep) to the “virtual” (web, float, simultaneity, surface, broad).
Our initial observation was that once these axes were organized they could easily be split between left side, which characterized “individual” activities and the right side, which characterized “collective” activities. We next began to hypothesize what phenomenon might exist between each of these axis. Between the “commodity/market” and “mobility” axis, for example, you may see the results of globalisation in form of homogenization. However, “mobility” may also create a greater need for “actual/real” action…that may eventually (move far away from the virtual) effecting a very specific place.
If one can imagine now the “Immigrant/User”/diagram oscillating through this field of possibility then it becomes possibility to start to discuss one’s artistic experience outside of a linear model (JC<>NYC). This was especially helpful when trying to summarize the thematic discussions held at each of the four roundtables that included: WWW (the world wide web), Local Production, Altered Institutions and Radical Habits.
Diagram 4: Complex Model veering towards 3D (side view?)
Adelheid Mers: As we were fleshing out Diagram 3, it became apparent that the degree of complexity it allowed us to tackle required spatial thinking beyond the two dimensional plane. Modes of movement through the space were imagined, too.
Sarrita Hunn: Even as the complexity of Diagram 3 increased it began to have limitations in terms of how each of the areas might interact and/or be related. After some discussion, a final diagram was created which imagines the 3 axes in 3D space. Here the PLACE and PRACTICE axes are seen on top and bottom with each potential 3rd axis illustrated with its own plane.
Joey Orr: The best thing about having different people posit different models was to think the same challenge by way of different spatial relationships. This was the implicit challenge of the entire conference, actually. How might occupying different positions along an expanded spectrum enable us to practice our part in discourse.