York Chang, deeper into the rabbit hole
Entirely quoting in this post from York Chang. Capturing the artist as author, or giving a maker space to dig a hole… enjoy.
I’m often told that these projects are the inverse of purely poetic gestures, which find their way to the poetic through a strategy of reduction and purification, while projects like second life and the Visceral Realists rely more on the density and weight of complexity- say, the difference between haiku and literary fiction. The projects ask for significant investment from a viewer, which not everyone is able to spare, so it’s incredibly gratifying to see the scribed evidence of your experience. A friend (and the hardest-working artist I know) Tony De Los Reyes remarked recently that with each of my projects, we are going deeper into the rabbit hole- Geoff, I think you’re down here in the rabbit hole with us. Let me spend some time looking at your Note for a day, and I’ll try to show you around a bit- point out where the potions for shrinking and growing are, and where the cheshire cat likes to sit and grin his biggest.
Ps. I agree, the LA Times review of the project was interesting and provocative- the best reviews are like that and go beyond simple boosterism. I think any critic, particularly one as sophisticated as Mizota, is bound to have complicated, uneasy feelings about what she articulately observed to be a “supremely ambivalent” project. I have always been deeply and uncompromisingly committed to ambivalence, to covering all my bases, to taking multiple positions simultaneously. And you’re absolutely right, the best part is that Mizota heard the facsimile of a tree falling, cut down some real trees, added water, ink, time and thought, and made a genuine newspaper review of a fictional sound.
York Chang or not?
Viewers spend their time in the project space questioning what to believe as fact, and what to see as illusion. It’s understandable, given the great lengths which artists, gallerists, and curators go to to cultivate an objective voice in the presentation of work. There is certainly a game being played here with the blurring of that voice, and a pervasive reliance on unreliable narrators. But there is no intention to make the fool of the viewer, as posited by Sharon Mizota in her review. The project’s ideal viewer is not gullible, but one who celebrates the creativity inherently possible in uncertainty. The question of whether something is fact or fiction is not the central question of second life, just as it matters relatively little that a work of literary fiction had some factual basis. Roberto Bolano’s book Savage Detectives may or may not have been based on the exploits of his true-life poetry group called the infrarealists, but the book presents multiple essential truths. Similarly, the archival logic running through the project, the “archive fever” if you will, serves as the support upon which a narrative can take shape and form. Now, I do admit to reveling a bit in the creative credit that accrues when people mistake the pre-existing state of things for a wonderfully wrought fiction, but I would be happiest to achieve a brief moment of suspended disbelief where we can imagine together that an intriguing fictional state of things is factual, and begin an exploration of that moment.
Although a “hall of mirrors,” as Mizota put it, is an entirely apt metaphor for the project, I sought to use the multiple textual surfaces of the project to achieve an effect more akin to the shimmering of a tumbling, glittering diamond, integrating the various elements, components, and expectations of the exhibition construct into multiple and complex relations with each other.
That being said, you ask in your note when and where the deception begins, and I want to give you a straight answer. Deception begins with desire- you deceive in order to obtain what is desired, and you are deceived because you desire to believe. And in the end, believing, of course, is art.
The title of the show was taken from the text of the James Norrell testimonial (see below), which preceded the virtual reality phenomenom by 24 years. However, now that you mention it, there does seem to be a striking confluence of concepts bridging this gap in time and these two different worlds, where the Artist Actualization Services’ practice of appropriating and “playing” multiple identities can be viewed as a precursor or sorts to the avatar lives “played” by the residents/users of the virtual world. Either its a surprising coincidence, or Linden Labs, who created the virtual world of Second Life in 2003, were students of 1970’s Los Angeles art history.
The use of photographs in the project is not about questioning the veracity of photographs, which have already been eviscerated by digital manipulation and ubiquitous practices of recontextualization; rather, it takes the lack of veracity as a given, and jumps into the abyss of uncertainty- taking full advantage of the fuzziness of memory, and the creative possibilities that arise in the gaps that appear when things are seen from a historical distance. In the Doppelgänger piece, a single, grainy, modestly-sized archival photograph, installed just above the didactic, suggests that years ago, Artist Actualization Services members may have played a visual parlor game with photographs- and what is most interesting is not whether an artist actually played a visual game, but how the interpretive logic of a reconstructed historical event functions to seduce a viewer to excavate this history, and to play the visual game today.
End, York Chang quote.
A thought from me: York seems to tell us that James Norell (and I suppose his group the Artist Actualization Services) exists or existed in the time. I just doubt this. I mean, I suppose… but this sounds unlike York’s practice. On the other hand, AAS and the project are absolutely perfect. I can imagine nothing smarter than to make invisible work by appropriating the identity of other artists. Trickery and collusion. “Smoking mirrors!” As I heard a caller on talk radio misterm it one day.
My mind quickly lets go of this enticing problem of real versus artistic creation and turns to the truly vexing problem of how I understand history in total. I know my own history to be doubtful – once I step away from an experience I begin to tell myself stories about it and so obliterate any real memory. I take notes, but these are an imperfect and subjective tool. Other people have their own points of view. If you engage with personal snapshots then your own mind’s eye pictured memories quickly get swept away by those artificial ones.
Is this a dilemma or simply the way we work? Is history stories that I tell myself? And if so, then might I look at the story that I’m telling and get clues to why I might choose that particular one? And can I extend this understanding outward to the larger culture?
I’ve always thought that there is a lot of room for belief in life. I think the facts of our existence, our individual histories and our group life – our culture – require this.
Have fun in the August blue sky heat. Right now I see flies circling in the shade of the balcony. There’s history for you. (And I wonder what the flies think?)
Two musics to leave you with:
And then one music for saying goodbye:
Have a good time, Skatalites with Doreen Shaffer
Part one, York Chang: York Chang or not