Glowlounge: July 2003
Glowlounge: July 2003
Location: Red & Black, Williamsburg
Speaker: John J. McGurk, J. Gabriel Lloyd and Meredith Younger of PIPS (Providence Initiative for Psychogeographic Studies)
Participants: Christina Ray, Dave Mandl, Sharilyn Neidhardt, Peter Lasell, Kevin Bray, Kristen, Johnny Hyder, Holly Tavel
Minutes recorded by: Peter Lasell
8:05pm: While people gather, a loose discussion has been going on involving the pursuit and methods of ceramics in Japan. Wilfried Hou je Bek from Social Fiction (whose last name, it is revealed, means 'shut the fuck up' in Dutch) has sent some propaganda about his upcoming projects in Utrecht. His new thing is dot.walk; nobody is entirely clear what it's all about but we are enthusiastic. I did not meet him at the Conflux, so all I can do is interpret people’s reactions. His pieces are based on using computer code to articulate psy-geo walks.
John J and Gabe are introduced as the guest speakers.
(My computer effectively crashes twice, and I have some trouble with my onscreen cursor sliding around out of my control. A few reboots seem to fix the problem.)
Interpol plays over the bar sound system, which seems fitting for this warm Williamsburg evening.
An issue of 'Society & Space' v20, no.5, 2002 is passed around. It appears to be highly technical magazine about environmental planning and urban studies.
Christina is excited about her new blogging backend software for Glowlab called Typepad. Lots of automation, less hassle. As a beta-tester she says its really good stuff... Questions of cost of course arise.
Meredith, the 3rd member of John J and Gabe's group, arrives from Rhode Island -- her train was late. Two other people arrive as well, and people shuffle around into a new configuration. Seats are lost, seats are gained. Introductions begin with little pomp & circumstance. Most people are artists and/or writers and/or therapists and/or dj's and/or chess enthusiasts and/or photographers.
John J begins...
John J passes around some pamphlets about PIPS. As a group they have been around for less than a year, and are interested in expanding what psychogeography can be. His background is in architectural theory, and he was introduced to Situationist thought a while back. He's been thinking about things psychogeographic lately, but admits he's probably been "doing psychogeography" before he really knew about it, via traveling with his family. James Brown's "Its a Mans World" comes on the sound system...
Meredith has been doing ceramics for 10 years, but has been reading more critical theory these days. She is interested in pulling ceramics into a more conceptual field. She mentions dirt sampling, basically sampling the environment and understanding it chemically.
Gabe is influenced by pop culture & design. Lots of trips with his family but nothing as weird as John J. He was more into car design and industrial design in Michigan. After getting frustrated with the shallowness of industrial design (ie, criticism and capitalism) he settled at RISD where he met some new artists. He began to apply his design background/woodwork/metalworking skills. He addresses pop culture as a powerful medium to influence 1000's of people...
Their current main project is the Nomadic Cafe:
The Nomadic Cafe is a project PIPS began to do together at RISD, while they bounced around ideas as to why some things are cool and recognized, and why get some get rejected. They decided that beer and food are good ways to involve people. In an effort to "make something out of nothing", they made a cafe built into a white cube (the "white cube" being that which people associate most with galleries and high art). It facilitates communication in that it is an intriguing object and its something people intrinsically want to know more about. John J has an interest in breaking down the alienation of art through the cube. Free is the hook. Giving food, or an experience, away is a big draw. People are uncomfortable with free. He says the reception has been really great. They set up in various places around the city and have run the cafe about 20 times (mainly in NYC, Providence and Kingston, NY). Gabe is interested in the variety of reactions between serving food on the Lower East Side versus Kingston. The response to food as art is discussed. The cafe's menu of french fries and/or french toast was developed as a sort of political statement during the war. Crepes are also sometimes served. Christina reflects on her experience with the Cafe in the Lower East Side.
Artists who set up shops... Christina addresses artists who set up 'giving' environments in galleries. The Cafe creates a miniature TAZ (temporary autonomous zone), relatively speaking. The Cafe, as an object, can exist in or outside the gallery. Expanding the gallery into the street? Maybe so. Making the gallery not as alienating? Or intellectual? But they attempt to make it enjoyable.
Gabe demonstrates how the Cafe is built, using paper as a model. The Cube folds out, and has a small table that can be set up. Chairs, propane stove, sink with running water. While they'd like to make some changes, it’s working fine for now...although the cube does need some maintenance.
Sharilyn asks what kind of changes they might make if they were to build the cube again. Gabe says the wheels on the bottom need to be better, and they need an improvement for keeping the doors shut -- more ergonomic, to hold things in and keep them from rattling. They have also built a second cube to house tables and chairs.
Christina talks about Swoon, who does street art -- about how people in NYC don’t pay much attention while she’s out working on the streets. Less urban places seem to draw more attention with projects. Holly offers a story about a project she did in Florida, where a neighborhood was "invented" and documented with walks, photographs and field recordings. One of these psychogeographers made up a questionnaire and handed it out in the neighborhood. Older people and families reacted adversely to the project and called the police, being suspicious of anything outside the status quo. Holly’s group found that simply stating that one is an "Artist" is not a very effective defense for doing psychogeographic projects when faced with angry neighbors and/or cops. Sharilyn says that saying "I’m doing a student project" works rather well. To a lot of people 'artist' is synonymous with 'subversive' and possibly with 'terrorist', at least for those on the far right. David says that interacting with people on the street is a matter of sidestepping the idea that the observer is being made fun of.
Were people suspicious of eating the food prepared at the Nomadic Cafe? "Not really," says John J. "People warm up if they see others eating." An underlying theme for PIPS projects is to pull people into an art project without being condescending or high-concept (i.e. positing artists as intellectual/subversive and the observer as anti-intellectual/fearful/conservative). Holly says the noise-parade did a good job of pulling people in at the Psy-Geo-Conflux. David asks if they've tried setting up in wide array of demographic neighborhoods. Mostly Chelsea, LES, and Hell’s Kitchen at ExitArt. "Are you doing it for the homeless?" John J says is a common question they’re asked. "No, we're doing it for everyone," they answer. Aside from some problems making coffee, they haven’t had any issues. They use instant coffee.
Meredith opens up talking about a new project they are working on for a sculpture show in Kingston. She did a chemical analysis of soil around Kingston, then took the samples and put them in 'saggers', with small figures. The pieces were then fired in a kiln. The porcelain figures absorbed the chemicals and toxins from the soil, and changed colors -- blues, greens, browns. The figures were then put back in the site where the soil was taken from with a description of the contents of the soil. Feedback has been pretty positive. Says that they’ve learned a lot about local environments. History of the waterways is a concern. Most colors were subtle, some pinks & purples, chromium turned some of them green. John J says, "Once again it’s a piece that takes people out of the gallery". So there's a connection between the art, the local area, the history of the place. Meredith says she was actually shocked by the levels of lead. The process of testing involved grinding down the dirt to a dry powder and then using a laser to read the chemicals in it. All work was done at the Earth Sciences Department of Brown University, with the help of David Murray.
Talk of the huge power plant going up in Greenpoint comes up, and of EnviroMapper, which has a map that breaks down the country into toxic waste zones. Christina talks about the artist-in-residence at FreshKills, the now closed landfill on Staten Island. She had a great project where she shook garbage truck drivers’ hands. "Simple, powerful gestures"...
John J says they want to "fly under the radar" with their projects, and slowly open people up to discussions. A long-term project is the "Urban Agriculture Unit", a trailer that will be converted into a greenhouse with lights and hydroponics, water filters etc. A mobile agriculture unit that can grow food anywhere. "Sounds like Biosphere," jokes Christina, "except this one will work" says John J. "We'll start with flowers, then move on to other things. Talk of minimizing waste and water usage, and making an efficient closed eco system. They’ve been working on it all summer. They want it to be a living sculpture, a meeting place, etc. Also part of urban redevelopment, as they are building in a refurbished steel yard that is being turned into an artist center in Providence. No name for this cooperative artist project yet.
"Have you applied for grants?" asks Christina. "No, not yet," say Gabe and John J. Christina says that a first project is really a way to show people that you can produce and finish a project. The next projects come together faster and easier, due to familiarity with the system, but also because you have evidence that you can make a finished piece. Funders are concerned with the social relevance of a project, so these pieces really stand out. Green Gorillas’ work in NYC to rejuvenate areas of the city is mentioned. John J talks about working like that to effect social change.
David asks "What do you think is the thing that holds all your projects together?" John J says "They can’t be narrowed down to one thing, but mobility is important." "Nomadicism," Gabe says. "We're still young artists, and one of my best teachers said 'stay loose' because you’ll come back to it and it'll make sense later... so we're just going for it and not analyzing it too much." John J adds "its important for us to reach out to groups who might not be interested in such things."
We take a break. Beer is acquired. Johnny sits across from me; he will speak next about a project he's working on. The reverb of a Rolling Stones song can be heard across the bar. The day has cooled off, and the wide open windows of Red & Black let a lot of cool air move through the bar. The thing I'm immediately left with from the last presenters is a sense of resentment toward the closed gallery system. As if galleries are the only place where art can take place and be successful. I think art as a form of social action is an important idea to propagate.
I go to the bathroom, admiring the graffiti on the walls and ceilings. Upon my return Christina is talking about how sticker-obsessed people are in this neighborhood, covering everything in stickers and graffiti. Holly talks about the flash mob events that she's been part of a couple of times. Says it was fun, effective, interesting. More are happening around the world, mainly in Europe and other US cities. My computer crashes again. Reboot.
There's some talk of old psychogeography practices versus new ones, and the conversation then drifts into the use and rebuilding of unused public spaces. Johnny begins to speak about his work... He draws on a lot of different interests, especially memories of traveling as a kid. "When in doubt go nomad." He’s started taking photographs of people using wasted spaces (i.e. loading docks, doorways, alleys). Johnny discusses how homeless people go through a lot in their lives where they end up being in a very hard situation but find ways to evolve, "like flowers growing toward sunlight." He’s designing new carts for homeless people which will be given back to them. He mentions the contrast between this activity and his involvement in making "luxury objects" (art) to be exhibited and sold. His photographs and Polaroids are exhibited, but are sold to benefit the construction of the new carts. He is designing the carts with an embedded GPS receiver so that he can keep track of the pieces and people. He'd like to track how they move across the country. He wants to make these carts self-contained survival units. The ethics of tracking the carts and the people are addressed. Will people be told that they are being tracked? Will the carts be used essentially to generate new "content" developed into artwork that will be sold?
Talk continues in a freeform manner about surveillance, art as social action, how to use data that's gathered from pieces or research. An interesting night, and an engaging crowd all in all.
July Glowlounge to feature PIPS
Next week we'll meet with John J. McGurk and J. Gabriel Lloyd of PIPS (Providence Initiative for Psychogeographical Studies), an artistic collaborative pursuing links between art and everyday life. PIPS' latest project is the Nomadic Café, a participatory sculpture in the form of a minimalist cube that was recently presented at the Exit Art Reconstruction Biennial and Psy-Geo-Conflux. The Café becomes a service to the community by providing a place to gather and develop relationships with strangers in the heart of New York. Following is an article by David Allyn about The Nomadic Café which includes an interview with the artists.
Psychogeography and the Nomadic Café in New York City
An event as interesting and diverse as the city that contained it took place May 9-11th in 2003. 156 Rivington Street New York, New York, the location of ABC No Rio, by all accounts was the epicenter. A loose organization of artists, philosophers, architects, and genuine misfits from all over the world converged for the “Psy-Geo-Conflux”. Sponsored by Glowlab, a New York based arts collaborative, the Conflux was a forum for further investigation into the obscure field of psychogeography. Using Rosalind Krauss’ writings as a critical framework, the Providence Initiative for Psychogeographical Studies (PIPS) intends to further advance endeavors of psychogeographers worldwide.
Bryan Zimmerman of The Village Voice offers a simple definition for the term Psychogeography, in his article Public Notice ”Psychogeography is the study of the effects of the geographic environment on the emotions and behaviors of individuals.” Taken straight from the Situationist dictionary, if we understand this working model and use it to define the Psy-Geo-Conflux we miss out on the whole idea of the event. The Psy-Geo-Conflux inhabits that fine space on the fringe of what we perceive as real. Consequently what we perceive can vary as much as humanity itself. Those who understand Psychogeography the best believe they can define it the least. So what exactly happened on the days of May 9-11th in New York? A literal list of events includes a lecture on Kant by author Colette Meacher, an outdoor chess match powered by cell phones by Sharilyn Neidhardt, a “Nomadic Café” brought to the streets of New York by PIPS (Providence Initiative for Psychogeographical Studies), and a noise/junk parade organized by the Brooklyn-based collective Toyshop. These events draw a schizophrenic picture of the Psy-Geo-Conflux but do little in the way of defining it. Christina Ray, festival organizer, claims these events relate in the mere fact that “they’re all about the meaning of living in the city” . Individual perception is at the root of this festival. How we imagine the secondary spaces in our environment and there affect on our subconscious are the issues in this participant take-all festival. The Conflux hosted guided tours of loading docks and back ally ways to highlight the importance of these often forgotten spaces that encompass so much of our landscape. Interaction is a focal component in this pseudo-science study of the city. Walks are taken, photos exchanged, and strangers met.
Psychogeography may have officially spawned from walks or “Derives” taken by French post Freudian avant-garde movements like Surrealism and Lettrism. More formally the International Situationists under the direction of Guy Debord popularized the term psychogeography as a format for the reinvention of public space. For the Situationists the streets were the theater and life was the play. The same radical theory of subversive interaction with environment holds true for today’s psychogeographers, the distinction being the role of technology. PDA’s, laptops, cell-phones, GPS systems, and minidisks are all tools of today’s psychogeographers. These technologically advanced tools are utilized to better understand the role of technology and environment. The Surveillance Camera Players, a surveillance awareness group that stage plays for surveillance cameras, illustrate how today’s psychogeographers use and subvert technology. During the Psy-Geo-Conflux they gave tours of notable surveillance cameras in the city and staged performances. This technological shift embraced by modern psychogeographers has been the catalyst for the rebirth of philosophies seemingly lost to history.
“The Nomadic Café” is a work of particular interest for the complex nature of its existence. On loan for the Psy-Geo-Conflux from the Exit Art Biennial, The Nomadic Café serves up a pleasant quagmire for the viewer. One wonders if the work is performance, social satire, object art, or just really fantastic French toast. Brought to the streets of New York in the form of two perfect white Formica cubes on wheels (one 36” the other 26”), The Nomadic Café transforms itself into a fully functional self-contained kitchen, two tables, and seating for eight. Following this seemingly impossible transformation, the people of PIPS are happy to offer the viewer a selection from the limited but adequate menu. Undertones of passive politics can be inferred with French toast being the special for the duration of the Psy-Geo-Conflux. Other menu items include fresh sliced fruit, coffee, tea, and ice-cold water. The distinguishing factor that sets this café on wheels apart from the hotdog vendors is price. Everything is on the house, and as described by one PIPS member “when the food is gone, The Nomadic Café is too.” In a review of the Exit Art Biannual Roberta Smith described The Nomadic Cafe as “Intelligent and reminiscent of Andréa Zittel” .
The works complexity is reflected in the interactions with the viewer. Upon greeting the café a moment pause is notable, the viewer is in a brief state of bewilderment. It is just this pause that allows the people from PIPS to capitalize. “Hi, welcome to The Nomadic Café”, with these words the work begins to unfold for the viewer who is now a participant. Communication and interaction are core convictions of this piece. Faces burst with delight upon discovery of the works intention. Just as the cubes transform so does the viewer. This quintessential shift in subject, I feel, breaks down historic distinctions in contemporary art, therefore generating pure experience for both viewer and artist.
Interview with PIPS members John J. McGurk and J Gabriel Lloyd:
Could you explain the function of The Nomadic Café?
JJM: The fundamental goals of the Nomadic Café are directed towards the dual purposes of critique and construction. In other words, critique is important, but one should also recognize the possibilities for creative construction in every action. Certain barriers of alienation exist that limit human contact and isolate the individual. Nowhere is this more present than in New York, in the city, street conversation with strangers, unheard of. The great part about the café is to experience conversation in Hell’s kitchen one day and the Lower East Side the next.
JGL: I think it’s important to acknowledge that the function is not serving food or being a work of “art”. The cubes are objects that facilitate a dialogue about anything and everything between strangers in NYC. Having an object that is, by society’s terms, “functional” allows a hook for people to catch onto and create a conversation.
How do you see the role of utility differing from function?
JJM: The Nomadic Café’s utility doesn’t lie in the novelty of café on wheels but in its use in the community. It provides a context for conversation at the table; four strangers sit down at a table on the street and exchange numbers at the end of the encounter. I feel the work is trying to put force back into language. The media dissolves language, the language of revolution is currently splashed on every billboard and magazine ad, so language ends up not saying any thing, its contracted dialog and devalues communicating.
JGL: In NYC the language is always very loud. JohnJ and I often talk about how language is pushed upon everyone so much and all of the time in NYC. The café allows for a quiet rest from it all, and I think that is a huge thing in making the piece special. We don’t impress any viewpoints upon people and we are not like, “Look at ME!” We stand on the street and greet curious looks with “Welcome to the Nomadic Café.”
How does the Nomadic Café conform to the role of medium?
JJM: The whole point is not to conform. What I’m looking for are objects to contain movement, fluidity of experience through The Nomadic Café. The Exit Art Biennial illustrates this fluidity through the evolution of a story. Most objects in the show were constructed during the show and continue in a state of flux, denying the categorization of finished product or commodity. In the same vein I feel The Nomadic Café is one small experiment in the field of architecture or sculpture or neither or both.
JGL: Yeah, but I think that the café conforms to certain cues in order to make its point and have a sense of humor. White Formica to cover the cube is not exactly a walk in the park when we tried to put it on the cube. We could have just painted it, but it was important to acknowledge the use of that material in kitchens and make use of that material for our piece to establish a little link. JohnJ is very right when he says that we are not trying to conform, but I do think that we try to have certain things in the Nomadic Café that speak of specific medium.
How do you see psychogeography informing your project?
JJM: Permanent structure is stifling yet unavoidable. Psychogeography is an avenue to explore real life immediacy, unmediated. The Situationists coined “architecture of action”, that dealt with the fluidity of experience. The Nomadic Café through action strives to create its own story or myth. It allows people to step out of the realm of the norm much like random walks taken by psychogeographers.
JGL: And to help people simply be aware of the everyday. I would hope that it is an avenue for integration of art into life that the Russian constructivists began to talk about almost a hundred years ago now. Psychogeography has the benefit of technology to help it integrate further.
Rosalind Krauss’ “A Voyage on the North Sea”
Seemingly ripped directly from the pages of Krauss’ text is the experience of the Psy-Geo-Conflux and more specifically, The Nomadic Café. Differential specificity is the ideology behind the movement of the modern psychogeographer. Picking up where the Situationists left off, psychogeographers of today reinvent the urban experience while embracing the same technologies that attempt to dissolve our culture into meaningless images and empty experiences. The path is steep and treacherous but with every undirected stroll through the city the psychogeographers of today, aim to put meaning back into everyday life by rediscovering lost space and conversation in our modern urban environment.
It hardly seems fair to use Greenberg as a model for the idea of “medium” in context of modern psychogeography. Krauss does a fine job of expressing the link between the idea of Greenburgian “medium” and medium pertaining to modern topics including what she calls the “international fashion of installation ”. Psychogeography fails to assign itself any distinguishing characteristics pertaining to medium. Cartographers become philosophers, sculptures become street preachers, and ordinary people transform into artists.
Rosalind Krauss gives philosophical testimony in her text “A Voyage on the North Sea” on behalf of The Nomadic Café in the context of the Psy-Geo-Conflux. She states “autonomy and the notion that there was something proper or specific to a medium were already under attack – this gave a glittering theoretical pedigree to practices of rampant impurity – like Fluxus or Situationist detournement (subversive appropriation) – that had long since been underway .” Much of Krauss’ text supports ideas implemented during the Psy-Geo-Conflux.
The statement “architecture or sculpture or both or neither ” fits so comfortable with The Nomadic Café that it almost seems as Marcel Broodthaers himself could be imagined serving French toast in it at his “Museum of Modern Art”. Artwork that contains a contradiction in meaning or purpose is generally viewed as incomplete or unresolved. The Nomadic Café finds refuge in this contradiction with Krauss’s post-structural text. PIPS use of the outmoded minimalist cube as transformed by The Nomadic Cafe into a functional café is a tremendous contradiction of impact. Proudly if not spitefully PIPS smirks at the big white object in the gallery. Only out side the white wash gallery does the piece unveil its utility. So intentional is the contradiction at The Nomadic Café that the people of PIPS use satire to address the performative aspect of serving food. Tuxedoes and a full chefs outfit is the attire worn by the members of PIPS during the performance of the Café. This over the top costuming simply adds to the bewilderment had by all who encounter The Nomadic Café and enhances the total experience of the piece.
The Psy-Geo-Conflux demands a lot from those who participate. With The Nomadic Café hard work is rewarded with pure experience, something outside the realm of capital culture. Rosalind Krauss makes a strong case for fluidity as the future of art. In its existence, The Nomadic Café is physical proof that there is support for Krauss’s argument.
Krauss, Rosalind: “A Voyage on the North Sea” Thames and Hudson, New York, NY. 2000
Roberta Smith: New York Times, “A Space Reborn, With a Show That’s Never Finished”, Friday April 4rth, 2003
Debord, Guy: “Situation International”, edited by Tom McDonough, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. 2002
Zimmerman, Bryan “Psychogeographers Navigate New York City’s Changing Landscape”, Village Voice, May 7-13, 2003
McGurk, John J. & J. Gabriel Lloyd interview by David Allyn May 19, 2003