From late 2010 until early 2011, the U.S. artist Janine Antoni participated in an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London, England. The group exhibition was called “Move: Choreographing You.” Most works in the exhibition dealt with the way the human body moves through space. Some pieces involved choreographers engaging the service of professional dancers while others presented sculptural objects the audience could interact with in the gallery space. Antoni’s contribution to the exhibition was a sly one because it was not present in the gallery itself. The only way a gallery attendee could actually experience the piece was if they checked a coat or bag. While the visitor was off viewing the exhibition, the coat check attendant would slip a letter from Antoni into the attendee’s checked item for later discovery. The piece was called Yours truly and it read:
The minute you saw me, you came straight over and then stopped. As if you couldn’t think and move at the same time, it seemed that you’d come to some conclusion because your thoughts started to lead you with such intensity. It was as though you had taken me into your body, I remained still, quietly absorbing my surrender to your desire. You came so close to me that I felt the breeze of your movement on my surface. Swept away by your burning attention, I felt as if I was made for you. I was completed by your presence. Will you carry me in your memory? Or is that too much to ask?
Antoni characterized the piece as a type of intervention, which makes sense. The viewer cannot ask to see the artwork, it happens in spite of whatever their desire may be; you either check your coat or bag and walk out with a piece you never knew you were getting or you don’t. It’s chance, really. And like any other intervention you find yourself suddenly engaged with, you might be pleasantly surprised to encounter this thing, or you might be indifferent, or you might be annoyed that someone has been in your personal belongings without permission. The letter might stimulate a variety of these emotions, but what else does the piece do?
Early in her career Antoni made an artwork as part of a performance that was called Loving Care. Essentially, the performance consisted of Antoni using a bucket of hair dye to paint the floor of a gallery with her own hair. If you watch the PBS series Art 21 interview that Antoni gives, you will see, briefly, documentation of the performance and the aftermath. Antoni sees her work as both a way to understand herself and to create a sense of empathy with her viewer. She says, “My body is the tool for making…the viewer has a body too and can empathize with what I have put myself through to make the artwork.” This is certainly true. If you want proof, show this video to a group of disinterested undergraduates in an art appreciation class and listen for their shocked utterances. Those utterances come as a result of empathy. People sometimes say that her work is “weird” or “crazy” or even “embarrassing” but these feelings are all aroused because the work is both different from the day-to-day experience of their own bodies and the same. Many would never think to paint the floor of a public space with their own hair, but they understand their body enough to empathize with what Antoni is performing on the screen.
Yours truly is strangely different from Antoni’s earlier work, but it is no less empathetic. If you find the letter in your personal belongings, you process your initial emotional response but, after a moment, maybe your mind goes back to the exhibition. Maybe you begin to think about the experiences you had in that space. Maybe you think about the pieces you spent the most time with and the pieces you ignored. And, maybe, you feel a pang of nostalgia because you cannot experience that space anymore. Was there something or someone you shortchanged? Was there someplace else you would rather be? And why is that? There is a bit of an emotional resonance in realizing you have left a space that you can’t return to. We all know that emotion, right?
Of course, if you are going through all these emotions, you might realize that you haven’t really focused on the artwork that you hold in your hand. And you could. I mean, look at it; it’s lovely. “Swept away by your burning attention, I felt as if I was made for you.” If you’ve been in love, you know that feeling. There it is, articulated succinctly. It aches of wanting to be someplace forever, like if you could stop time. Now, you see the immediacy of the artwork that wasn’t there at first glance. Your thoughts oscillate back and forth between the space at hand and the space where you used to be.
In between these spaces is a gap. What can be done with that gap? What can be done in focusing on both the space you were before and the space you are in, right now? How can that shape you moving forward? Maybe you make a little resolution to be a more sensitive viewer in the future. Maybe you make another resolution to feel gratitude for being able to be in that position in the first place. Finally, if you pay close attention, you realize that this experience, in this exact moment, as you are reading or hearing these very words, is yours, truly. Of course it will sweep past you, it always does, but how slight and beautiful is that breeze?
Chair space is both vertical and horizontal. Body is and is not at rest.
“I am vertical
But I would rather be horizontal.”
(There is no in-between space for Plath)
Fabricate in measure spaces to negotiate.
Mint, Columbus, OH
August 2014: The first time I visited Mint, an artist-run gallery and workspace in the south side of Columbus, OH, the “Mint crew” (as I learned to call them) had just received the keys to this former meat-processing factory. The space was hot and dusty; it felt like a beginning of something new. Since then, they have put together group exhibitions and dance parties, as well as provided a new workspace for emerging local artists.
January 2015: Mint was cold, but only because it was freezing outside. I went to see CJ Brazelton, the person who was the first to tell me about Mint (other "crew" members include Maritt Vaessin, Joel Bengson, Ethan Schaefer, Jake Holler… to name a few). I wanted to hear if/how Brazelton sees Mint as a space and practice, perhaps as a threshold, between institutions and their outside.
Note 1: Having nothing to lose, making something from nothing, still reaching the upper echelon. Nevertheless, presenting art and artists that one can relate to. Isn’t this what most institutions are trying to do, especially when faced with demands to make their labor more efficient and productive?
Note 2: A few years ago, I went to see Steven Henry Madoff giving a talk on his book “Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century)” at OSU. He stressed the importance of exploring artistic and educational practices outside the confinements of academia and gave examples of his own experiences of such work(s). In many ways, there was something vampiric about him: it seemed that the tension between the institutions and their outside (if this outside ever truly exists) should be sustained only to serve institutions’ narcissistic self-critique.
Note 3: How, then, to approach Mint?
Note 4: Columbus is, on the official level, trying to promote itself as the artistic hub of Ohio. For example, a few miles north from Mint is Short North, an area labeled as an “arts district” with numerous small galleries and a monthly gallery hop where hundreds of people meander from a gallery/store/bar to the other. Even further north is The Ohio State University (OSU) with its nationally recognized Wexner Center for the Arts and respected MFA program. In downtown, one finds Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD).
Note 5: Alongside this image, Columbus has a strong DYI culture that comprises of musicians, writers, poets, and artists, who do not fit with the Short North type. Mint, together with spaces like Skylab and No Place, exist, somewhere, both in and out of the reach of Columbus’ brand and its institutions, of Madoff’s vampire teeth.
Note 6: How to understand the “as if” that Brazelton discusses, that is, the appearance of an institution inside a formerly abandoned warehouse (as if the graffiti covered walls had swallowed an institution) as a political practice? Here, one could go to Rancière: after all, his take on “as if” presents a radical call for appearance of the part that has no part. However, it would be problematic to equate Mint with Rancière’s poor. After all, Mint is an art gallery, dedicated to contemporary art. However, sometimes, it is also a club, dedicated to alternative dance parties. So, the politics of “as if” is, in this case, a question of the intensity of the shift between these different faces/walls/activities that comprise Mint and its appearance.
Note 7: Contemporary capital has the tendency to flow in places and spaces that are seemingly outside of its circulation. The new entrepreneurship, the one that celebrates pop up stores, community spirit, and human capital, gives this tendency a safe appearance (for example, Restaurant Day reminds us that everyone can produce/sell their work wherever they want. To be together means to consume together).
Note 8: Former factories seem, nowadays, strangely natural spaces for contemporary art. What kind of spaces we still cannot discern, spaces located in the threshold where the “as if” neither affirms nor negates? In Mint’s case, I believe this is not merely about the space itself, but concerns its practices.