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Glowlounge: July 2003

Glowlounge: July 2003
Date: 07.30.03
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.

09:07 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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