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.

Andrew Scott Ross, Vanessa Mayoraz, et al. discuss the term: Outer Regions.

Vanessa Mayoraz, Sarrita Hunn and Andrew Scott Ross summarize.

Diagram 1: The Linear Model

[01:20] Joey Orr on Diagram 1 – the impoverished starting point.

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.

[03:50] Joey Orr describes movement across the complex diagram and others discuss.

[05:45] Joey Orr, et al. place the symposium itself in the framework of movement within this complex diagram. Adelheid Mers discusses her Art World diagram.

Also see: Adelheid Mers’ follow-up on this and other diagrams using a 3-line Matrix.

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.

[02:00] Vanessa Mayoraz describes Diagram 4.

[03:00] In summary: There is no one model…but a realm of possibilities.

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  1. Jean Hess

    I have thoroughly enjoyed this dialogue and only wish I could have made it to the conference. I find it extraordinary that this level of engagement and focus was, and is still is being, achieved. I have one question that I think may be germane.

    How do we overcome what may be very entrenched learned behavior on the part of local and regional institutions and collectors? For example, museums tend to show artists who have been vetted in major art centers; few take a chance on showing artists educated, living and working locally. No matter where they live, collectors usually look to NYC for major purchases. Universities appear to invite artists who live and work in NYC or other major centers to fill visiting artist slots, or give lectures, presumably so they, in turn, can help students make art world connections in the major centers.

    Overall, there appears to be little effort on the part of museums, schools, galleries or state organizations to convince local artists that “making it” locally or regionally can be a legitimate career; they in fact send a clear message that this is not the case at all. Collectors in turn will continue to look elsewhere.

    As long as our key local and regional institutions buy into the prevailing belief system, artists will most likely need to do the same!

  2. Vanessa Mayoraz

    That is a great comment thanks Jean Hess!

    The fact that we, as artists, are prone to look towards the linear model (as mentioned above diagram 1) is directly coming from our education and cultural surrounding. As you mentioned Museums, Schools and Universities as well as collectors are promoting established artists who are living in that linear model. This linear way is reassuring and is labeled as a stable investment, pre-approved by institutions one can rely on.

    That means easier ways to get funding/support, attendance to shows, return of investments or assurance that the artist’s production will be steady for collectors. Right now these are the needs of the museum, state agencies and collectors. How could that change? It seems to me that there are two major directions, either from the top or from the bottom, but then as we have seen with the new models, for the artist it can also come from the side. What I mean is that the same issues that are in play for the artists are in play for the institutions and collectors. The situation is not identical but similar.

    Do we follow an old linear model that is adopted by the majority, don’t question it and keep trying to “make it”? or, do we open our ears and eyes and realize that the solution is more complex with more variation on the theme that we have had imagined before? (Which is the conclusion of our gathering.)

    Could we just apply this to the museum, state agency and collector? Are we supposed to wait for them to decide if it is a valid/viable point of view? They have to answer to parameters that we as artists do too, but theirs are different in size and impact. We make decisions that impact our lives and maybe our family, but theirs impacts a larger community. Therefore very few institutions will do a bold move and start showing and supporting different models without some insurance of success. There is just more at risk.

    This change will not entirely come from the institutions and we should not wait on them. If each of use make a conscious efforts to educate the decision makers as why it is important not only to show successful artists in the linear model and to discuss the idea of what is actually a “successful artist” I believe it will have an impact over time. The ideal is not to show either or, but both.

    We all have a little part to play in it. I don’t think we can expect the heavy institutions such as upper crust NYC museums to easily alter their programing but I do believe that universities/art schools are definitely possible to work with; as they are research environments. They are not makers, their work is to showcase what is important and relevant and it is our job to make it relevant. It will come from us not from them.

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