17 December 2007

Transitory Art


Last evening I journeyed out to Greenpoint to complete a little cycle of destiny (see 12/7/07 for my feelings about destiny [actually, I make a fine and utterly personal distinction between "fate" and "destiny," but that's for another time]), braving freezing winds and the G Train under the strong urge to bring closure to an experiment I didn't set in motion. I'll begin from the beginning.

In late October of last year--when this here 'blog weren't even a twinkle in my typing fingers--I was riding home on the subway one night when I looked up and saw something unusual adhered to the wall across the way from me. It looked about the right proportions to be a postcard, which is of itself not unusual. Before I ever knew a soul in New York, I used to use a sort of guerrilla advertising technique for my shows, propping a postcard for said shows up on every train I rode. (As I made friends, they would tell me they had spotted my littering advertisements on different trains, which is when I knew it was time to stop and just give the things to my friends.) I did not originate this notion. People do it all the time, often with business cards purporting to hold the secret to incredible weight loss and/or increased income from the comfort of your own home. This particular "card," however, looked like nothing more (nor less) than an abstract painting in miniature. Intrigued, I approached it for a closer look.

I was spot-on about its essential nature. There, mounted on fibreglass (which, in turn, was mounted by Velcro to the subway wall) was a miniature oil painting in sworls of red and eggshell. Attached to it was a slip of paper that invited me to take it. With a half a moment of hesitation behind me, the Velcro made its tell-tale sound as I pocketed the painting.

The next day at work, I mentioned my find to a coworker who comes in once a week to balance my boss's books. I knew she was a visual artist, and might appreciate this little project. "That's my friend Lori!" she informed me. Indeed, on the back of the painting was a website for one Lori Hayes, artist, and a note encouraging whomever found the painting to visit and tell the story of their discovery. So I did, making certain to include the strange coincidence of working in the same office as a friend of this artist. Lori got back to me, thanking me and marvelling at the synchronicity. She also informed me that she was hoping to, one day, have a showing of all the found pieces, and would be in touch to ask me if I could loan out #90 (of 100), "River," for that event. I told her that I would of course be thrilled.

I love this kind of interactive creation. Maybe it's just the actor in me, but this kind of project feels to me like the kind of gentle, subtle performance art that builds community. Friend Patrick did something similar not too long ago with his Traveling Muse project. He constructed three masks, paired them with a journal and access to a 'blog and distributed them to myself and Friends Melissa and Kate, with instructions to keep the mask for a month and then pass it along. The idea is (and Patrick will I'm sure correct me if I'm inaccurate) to create something and send it on a journey of influence over different people, with the chance to even track some of that influence, or inspiration. (Oddly enough, Patrick began his project on the Autumnal Equinox, and Lori's spanned from the Summer Solstice to the Winter.) The elements of chance and personal interaction are great inclusions in any work of art. I still occasionally make a paper frog out of whatever postcard I've been handed and leave it conspicuous on a subway seat, just out of that urge to start something with a stranger. Rainer Maria Rilke offered an interesting observation on artistic satisfaction. He said the mother is the only completely fulfilled artist, accomplishing exactly what every artist dreams of: she creates something out of her own being, which goes on to exist in the world completely apart from her.

Last night, approximately a year from the end of Lori's cycle of placing sections of one giant painting on subway cars, she gathered what pieces she may and had a showing of them, as well as the original canvas from which they'd been cut, xeroxed copies of her journal and emails from various recipients, and photographs of each piece in its subway setting before it was taken. Out of one hundred, only four pieces returned to their maker for the night, and of those, only one had its new owner accompany it. I felt pretty conspicuous there, essentially a stranger, but one everyone there suddenly knew as having been a part of the experiment.

In spite of any self-consciousness (suddenly that term doesn't sound negative to me) there were also profound feelings of completion, inclusion and awareness. It reminded me of playing some street games a little over a year ago, the way they made me look at everything without taking any of it for granted. Those can be rare feelings in life in general, in this city in particular. I take great hope from the fact that Art is one of the things that can evoke them.

2 comments:

Melissa said...

I wonder if there isn't something to the fact that the one person who brought it back was an artist himself...
I'm sure other folks where out of the state or what-have-you, but I think it also says something about your nature of supporting art to its completion that You were the one body present with your piece of the (beautiful) experiment.

Jeff Wills said...

Interestingly enough, Mel, it turns out all the other three who at least returned the pieces for the exhibit were artists as well. Though I believe I was the only performance-oriented artist.

So there you go.