Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Tuesday Post-script/Alaska Design Forum
Last evening, the Alaska Design Forum, a lecture series that travels from Juneau/Anchorage/Fairbanks and showcases some of the most interesting and accomplished contemporary professionals working in their respective fields (“… a non-profit organization of architects, artists, and designers formed to broaden the range of discussion of the design of the built environment”), presented Barry Bergdoll, MOMA curator and “architectural historian.”
The talks are hosted at the Blue Loon, a local establishment which is a great place to catch movies over dinner while enjoying a beer. I only manage to catch a couple of these gigs each season, but whenever I do it’s always been well worth it. There’s always a sizable crowd present for these events, as being marooned in a cultural wasteland the opportunities to have folks of this caliber come visit is rare, and the artistic fresh meat is enough to keep many of us going. Plus the audience is comprised of a “who’s who” of the local art scene, and I get a chance to catch up with some folks that I normally never cross paths with, save at First Friday art openings.
Bergdoll was an absolute treat to listen to; I often forget the power of a good speaker who is obviously extremely educated and enthused about their field of expertise. Also he was very articulate and in full command of the descriptive terminology necessary to talk about art theory. Usually such language might come across as slightly confusing or even a tad bit academic to the uninitiated, but one of his key motivations is to bridge the divide between not only professionals and the public, and the academic and curating worlds, but he also tasks himself with reaching out to a wider audience and fostering collaborative projects between groups that normally don’t associate with each other. So in that respect, this was an enormously successful presentation that appealed to many in the audience, regardless of their education, occupation or chosen medium.
This is why it is important to keep the juices flowing as an artist and remain open to possibilities that might not at first glance have any bearing on what normally interests you. Constantly exposing yourself to and exploring things that you don’t understand, appreciate, or even like, or are maybe outside your comfort zone, are quite often surprisingly rewarding and unexpected sources of new ideas.
Case in point was an exhibit I dropped in on while back East visiting family; I always make a point of checking out the Albright-Knox museum in Buffalo, New York.
That particular year it was hosting a big exhibit on “Op Art,” which, had I known about in advance, I in all likelihood I would have given the show a pass, as I had zero interest in that genre. Fortunately, despite my most ignorant intentions, I accidentally walked smack into what was one of the top five art shows I’d ever seen; I was blown away at the flood of inspiration that kept me busy furiously scribbling away in my sketchbook for several hours. That is, until some asshole security guard threatened to seize my pencil (after several hours of touring the galleries) and kick me out, as I guess it’s against the rules to openly brandish writing utensils in the presence of expensive collections these days. Idiots. Anyways, this is a perfect example of one’s own biases preventing you from actually learning something new and broadening the ol’ horizons.
So with that pivotal reminder I was really pleased to not only learn a lot about architecture in general, but how advanced technology, particularly “digital fabrication” and “mass customization,” is producing some amazingly powerful possibilities.
One cynically amusing comment and observation made by Bergdoll that stuck with me was how ironic a challenge it is in overcoming the “psychological hurdles” to the concept of pre-fabricated housing, when pretty much everything from the cars we drive, the clothes we wear and, I’d add to some extent, the very food we eat is already factory produced. When taken into context with the eye-opening advancements being made with the use of computerized systems, it becomes obvious that there is indeed a major “paradigm shift” occurring in the field, one which could very well prove to be monumental in its application to current dilemmas facing us culturally, socially and environmentally. The housing crisis extends far beyond the political and economic aspect that is occupying the news today – the real-world ramifications that our species is inflicting on the planet along with ecological disasters facing many countries and regions is one that needs serious attention. And it was uplifting to hear from this presenter how much of a valuable role artists can play in finding practical, functional, morally sound and aesthetically appealing solutions.
Bergdoll also asked some provocative, rhetorical questions, and there were a few interesting comments from the audience afterwards. Though I’ll have to admit it probably wasn’t the classiest confession of mine when, after several black-cherry wheat ales, I told him about his speech called up memories of the notorious “Unibomber.” During Ted Kaczynski’s trial, his one –room Montana cabin was actually uprooted and then carefully trucked over a thousand miles (one of the more surreal images in the entire sequence of events) to be used as evidence at his trial for how insane someone would have to be to live in such a place, especially without running water or electricity (which pretty much describes thousands of Alaskan residents) It was then stored at a warehouse awaiting destruction, to be finally put on display at an exhibition, and endlessly reproduced in other artworks. As a symbol, it’s interesting to see just how deep the class issue is when used for categorizing and stereotyping people based on their shelters, and goes a long way to understanding the resistance of Uniquely Individual & Independent Americans in adopting the concept of mass customization.
And I don’t know how conscious of a decision it was, but the closing image Bergdoll used of a screen capture from the Simpsons illustrated the synthesis of popular culture and “fine arts” - the juxtaposition of that picture as a backdrop to the discussion was a perfect metaphor.