Introduction to Knocking On Bricks | Kim Abeles 2007

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Untangling the complexity of Knocking on Bricks is dependent on the order of the viewing. The action or process speaks in several modes of language about art, the role of the artist and institutions, and back again to the value of all three. 


Mean Girls

Part of the spirit of this project is mean-spirited. Like the girls of the cult film, Heathers, curators Shoshana Brand and xtine created false correspondence that taunted the unsuspecting.  Imagine writing to institutions and large corporations with absurd, yet socially engaged proposals, and understanding from the start that rejection is the center of the concept. Brand and xtine's idea begins as a prank percolated through an understanding of bureaucratic systems, and the way art institutions, governments, and corporations function. 


The Etiquette of Complaint Recovery

If you send a letter of complaint, or in this case, a project proposal, to any institutional body, you can expect a return letter that is simultaneously courteous and disingenuous. The procedure speaks clearly of a society bent on training half the population to cordially respond to the other halves’ complaints.  The corporatization of all institutions has created a veritable charm school of polite persons trained to systematically produce empathy with responses like, "I understand your frustration."

Knocking on Bricks exploits corporate etiquette. The piece responds to the corruption in the art, corporate, and governmental spheres that counter the very meaning of art.

So, Brand and xtine write letters of inquiry with outlandish proposals for college courses, exhibitions, and public projects that clearly will not fly. If the proposals had been made within a corporation, people would be fired. Corporations have a limited ability to think creatively due to the consideration of the bottom line and the fear of the ramifications of risk.  This being the case, how do we think it is possible for anything creative to come out when everything – even art  and education – are run on a corporate model?  These two artists are projecting the experiment toward art and educational institutions and corporate America.  Let's be frank here. The corporate model adopted by institutions creates a cesspool of corruption and greed. Only someone who just had a long vacation would think that good art can surface on its own from this capitalist atmosphere.

Enter next, a lively gaggle of artworks that artists from around the globe have completed as the next step in the evolution of the proposals submitted by Brand and xtine. The artists weren't told about the game being played on the periphery of their art making.  And does this matter?


The Birth of Ideas in a You-Tube World

Conceptualism created an Alvin Toffler/Future Shock-style acceleration of idea formation. Attend a meeting for a project, ad campaign or public artwork, and everyone around the table eventually adds a special idea to the mix.  After all, a conceptual idea doesn’t need to be engineered, but merely…expressed.

In this world of infinite expression, thousands of ideas spin round many times over.  Someone like me prefers to think of ideas as muse-sent or to think the magically creative comes from someplace sacred. Intuition is looking for its place in a world that accepted post-modernism as a fashion statement.


The Artist in a World

She is the only one who likes her art. Her parents don’t understand it but they are sympathetic about her efforts.  If something good “happens” for her work, friends (if they are artists) are jealous and hate her until the show comes down or the grant money dries up. Seven men with really expensive shoes converted her studio building into condos.  Someone recognized her at a museum walk-through lately, lavished her with compliments, and then realized he had mistaken her for another artist. Her work sells well at fundraising auctions. She can tell who her friends are because they still hang out with her even when she is in an experimental stage with her art. She is always a finalist, and never gets the grant. 


The Generation of Ideas

Knocking on Bricks evolved as an intuitive idea.  It brings to fore the importance of process and chance. Ideas come from:

Other ideas (seen personally or through institutions)
• Inside oneself (as in dreams or epiphanies)
• Materials (ranging from body excretions to industrial detritus)
• Political or social motivations (these are sometimes misrepresented by the style
• Process (where Knocking on Bricks is located).

Artists stumble into ideas through an occurrence akin to a paper cut.  Knocking on Bricks, with its wily twists and turns, stimulates artists to make new work or to draw from their repertoire a new context for their projects. It presents a way to generate art.

Thematic exhibitions, in themselves, direct the language of art making.  Twenty years ago, the theme-based art show, (rather than a stylistic focus) gained momentum along with artworks made from non-traditional materials and/or conceptual content.  The result of these shows is art derived from curatorial direction.  Is curatorial direction also guided by the art making, or is it more accurate to say that curators have become artists in themselves, clever with shows that might illuminate a bigger idea for citizens to follow?

When I received the CD about this project in order to proceed in writing about it, I looked carefully at the jpegs, before I continued to the text files. This dictated my impression of the project; in this way, the visual was not an illustration to the conceptual, but the substance of the idea.  It may be that this is an interactive project based in text, but all the elements steer the boat toward a sensory experience.  By presenting ideas for bird watching classes or to decorate mailboxes for the homeless encampments, the visual is emphasized to infinity. In writing and poetry, some of the best gifts are experienced through the senses.

Many of these ideas are hilarious. The proposal to the state government suggests that Arnold Schwarzenegger and his political team can improve their stature among Californians by hugging wild animals for a photo op. You can imagine employees who read any of these proposals, surely passed them around the drinking fountain and photocopied them for their families’ entertainment.  In this scenario, the proposal becomes artwork, becomes folklore. You could also imagine that the request written to Verizon to offer free cell phones for the homeless could become a clever ad campaign.


Willing Suspension of Disbelief

All the "resulting" artworks could be manifested on their own without the proposal letters attached to them.  So what is the connective tissue for all this?  The result is a profound, empathetic discussion about the creative gesture.  What emerges from this project are artworks based on proposals that were assumed never to have a life, and artworks based purely on the thematic nature of an idea.

The artist is hard pressed to explain a project that has not been fully manifested.  It is easier to picture something that has been done before, perhaps in another city or country, but at least something seen before. Chances or risks are dangerous.  People could lose their jobs!  Leaders in places of power might be replaced some day!  Nothing is solid and sure! 

In the conceptual structure of Knocking on Bricks, Artists vs. Institutions the artists are protected from the corporate structure that surrounds most art making.  The artists are unaware in this case of the dare that surrounds the absurd proposals. These are artworks observed in the nature of their own communication and aesthetic, because they were created or presented with a strange naiveté to the broader drama that had spawned them in the first place.

"Last Gesture", by Shoshana Brand, Kunming, China, 2005.
A detail from an interventionist public art project, in which a whole block in Wen Ling Road was painted fluorescent pink.

"Tada", by Shoshana Brand, Kunming, China, 2005.
A detail from an interventionist public art project, in which a whole block in Wen Ling Road was painted fluorescent pink.


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