Artists vs. Institutions

Statement by Shoshana Brand and xtine


KNOCKING ON BRICKS, Artists vs. Institutions is an interventionist art project that challenges common beliefs, probes social issues, and empowers the voices of international artists. The project has manifested itself as a gallery exhibit and a website. In this multi-layered project, the authors play various roles as writers, curators, publishers and art creators.

First we composed absurd proposal letters and mailed them to different national institutions and well-known public personas. Shortly after the expected rejection letters arrived, we extended ourselves into an individual creation of two-dimensional artwork. Our next step was mentoring, curating and promoting a group of visual artists to create artwork addressing the absurd proposals, which had already been rejected. The final step includes essays written by well-known visual artists, commenting on the topic of rejection and personal success in the art arena.

Artists regularly send proposals to anonymous institutions, in the hope of fitting their work into the context of specific community domains and impersonal administrators and curators. Inherit to this process is the letter of rejection, which is usually a form letter, equally anonymous to the artist as the institution itself. While this process is the artists’ burden, and does not keep her from continuing her efforts and finding letters of acceptance in other places, it is certainly not the highlight of any artists’ career.

KNOCKING ON BRICKS subverts the dynamic force of creation in the face of rejection. We deliberately chose to empower ourselves by writing towards decisive refusals, and once our proposal was delivered we visited our mailbox daily in hopes of finding a letter of rejection. We received one rejection letter after another, some sent only one week after we mailed our proposal. Should we consider it a success or failure? Was it the result of an unusual talent or merely blind luck? We were amazed to find throughout the process of writing, deliverance and anticipation that we transcended the aching concept of rejection by transforming it into a work of art.

Gina Rymarcsuk, OCR: Ladies We Have a Steady Decline, 2006. 7 x 18 in.  Archival inkjet print

We have included several of the proposal letters and rejection letters in both the gallery exhibit and the website. The letters raise several themes that resonate with local artists, in Los Angeles, as well as international artists. They bear upon public campaigns, classes available at community college extension programs, artists’ abilities to find work after graduation, and social issues such as the lack of communication between the needy and their surrounding community. Proposals based upon these themes were sent to a senator, mayor, governor, zoo, a telephone company, and community colleges. In the proposals for public projects, the letters offered absurd requests within controversial territories. By writing outrageous proposals, we indirectly pointed to the realities of these social topics. For example, by requesting that Verizon give free cell phones to the homeless persons in Los Angeles, it goes unstated that the homeless, first and foremost need homes and the reader wonders if Verizon would be interested in helping the homeless population or if Verizon has a plan for community outreach.

While waiting for the rejection letters to arrive, we began our dialog with twelve artists of various backgrounds to create two-dimensional works of art echoing the proposals’ themes. Our daily communication with the artists who reside in the United States, China, Israel, Canada, the Netherlands and United Kingdom, was done through the Internet, phone calls, standard mail, and some meetings. At this point in the process, our roles changed from artists who submitted proposals to anonymous institutions, to administrators who orchestrated artists from all over the world.

In the standard process of commissioning artists works, the merit of the artwork and the artists themselves are often lost. In KNOCKING ON BRICKS, Artist vs. Institutions we attempted to create a new method of group collaboration and interaction. Contributing artists to this project created new works to specifically address the themes we had developed in our proposals, but the letters that we sent were kept from the artists’ vision until the final draft of the book had been developed. We believed that the themes we addressed would be universally understood and were interested in the many representations of these ideas produced by the contributing artists. Although we had preconceived notions of which media might best fit particular proposals, it was only through a dynamic dialog with each individual artist that we realized how their work would illustrate ours.

Gina Rymarcsuk, The Librarians, 2006. 18 x 18 in. Archival inkjet print

Our approach during this process was to befriend the artists and provide editorial feedback when needed. The artists were given free rein to express their own voices and employ the medium they habitually used, but at the same time they were guided as members of an art group to share a communal concept. Throughout the whole process we were friends and colleagues and not administrators.

KNOCKING ON BRICKS, Artists vs. Institutions began as an abstract concept with the hope of becoming a publication and exhibition. We proposed to decorate mailboxes for the homeless and display them in downtown L.A. We offered to teach college students how to master their ability to multi-task while parking their vehicle on a crowded city street. We suggested new techniques in a future political campaign and called to involve adorable zoo animals in the process. The artists in our project have not displayed their artwork in downtown L.A, the zoo or the city college, but their imagination went beyond all institutional parameters. If a rejected art proposal is manifested within the digital realm but not in three dimensions, is it considered rejected or accepted? How far can a rejection letter draw an enthusiastic artist?

At the time of writing this statement, we have not proposed the project to a financial institution and are asking ourselves, “Where does KNOCKING ON BRICKS fit in the continuum of art? Who will define acceptance or rejection in our future?”

KNOCKING ON BRICKS, Artists vs. Institutions blends the boundaries between the wide array of methods of art commissions, between the process of creation and acknowledgement, and between powerful institutions and individual artists. Ultimately, this project was a cathartic collaboration between artists who have been and will continue to be accepted and rejected by social institutions all over the world.

©2006 Shoshana Brand and xtine. Los Angeles, CA

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