Artist Project: Jason Ramos on Extra-studio Practice
As an artist, and one who identifies himself as a painter specifically, a lot of the usual can be assumed in regards to many elements of my studio practice. It is a solitary endeavor; a man in a room, making pictures. All the work produced is within the guaranteed context of the studio. Much of the art produced by contemporary artists everywhere is within this studio context– whether it be bad, good or great– and rarely ascends past it. How art gets out, how it jumps to other orbits, how it becomes part of a dialog, conventional wisdom dictates that this mystery is of secondary importance from the artist’s point of view as compared to the production of the actual art.
If the defensive art student posture of “making art for myself” is as disingenuous as I have always maintained that it is, then the logical extension of the truth is to expand the priority of extra-studio contexts from the starting point of the central priority of studio production. From this point, production can continue beyond creating art works to creating a venue, an audience, a dialog, a market, a pedagogy, etc. These contexts, unlike the solitary studio, must include the efforts of others by definition for those contexts to be understood separately from the art they surround. With each new orbit beyond the nucleus of the studio, an artist juxtaposes themselves alongside other artists to create these contexts. The skills and resources required to actualize an audience, a venue, a dialog, etc., are often delegated to non-artist roles, such as director, curator, critic, and so on. An artist who takes on the roles of these titles for him or herself and is cognizant that a byproduct of initiating the associated contexts creates a community, is engaging in what I call extra-studio practice.
On the occasion of the opening reception of the Telephone exhibition at the Torrance Art Museum on May 28th, 2011, a panel discussion took place organized by myself and head TAM curator Max Presneill. The topic and panelist selection is best summed up in Presneill’s own words:
“Artists today, especially here in Los Angeles, are often engaged on multiple fronts as cultural producers. The term Artist/Curator has become prevalent recently as has the Artist/Critic, Artist/Writer, Artist/Collector, etc. What does this mean? How does it impact the producers? And, how is it viewed by our audiences as well as those who focus entirely on one activity? Where do the conflicts of interest lie? How does one manage both activities logistically in one’s busy schedule? These and other related issues are extremely relevant at this point and need a public hearing to clarify positions.”
This subject of hybridity and these questions have personal meaning for both Max and me as we find ourselves engaging in multiple roles in our careers. From my point of view, I see the proliferation of this strategy as an endemic response to the dilemma of finding and/or creating proper contexts for art which is in no small way influenced by the current global economic climate. This strategy is by no means new, although history has attempted to maintain the role of the artist as exclusively primary, despite whatever additional endeavors or identities the artist maintains. There are notable exceptions, such as Hans Hoffman or Joseph Albers, whose roles as educators have become embedded in the narrative of art history. I would contend that many artists of today, in my immediate community, including myself, do not just “moonlight” in these other roles, but regard their extra-studio practice as a broadening of their studio practice and a logical, necessary extension, and a matter of course. For those of us invested in the obligations of art and its demands, to depend solely on the nebulous, outside forces of galleries, curators, critics, universities and museums for validation or context is not a sustainable strategy. By widening the circle around studio practice to include others consolidates resources among artists to help facilitate the creation of dialogs, audiences, venues, communities, markets, curricula, movements, history.
The current prevalence of the extra-studio practice model in my Los Angeles community creates the inevitable appearance of an institutional critique, but from my experience, this tendency begins out of necessity first, and those engaging in it are still more than willing to “play ball” with the established institutions of art.
An example of a non-antagonistic strategy exists with some of the early (as well as current) concepts behind the formation and implementation of the unique artist’s group and exhibition initiative Durden and Ray, of which I am a founding member. The vision guiding Durden and Ray’s foundation and structure was initially conceived of as a “chimerical” mix of existing institutional conventions, including the branding and visual ID of a commercial gallery, the co-operative and democratic structure of an artist’s group, the potential for collaborative works of art in the manner of a collective, the resources and organization to mount and promote exhibitions like a non-profit. This polymorphous quality allows an adaptability in regards to sourcing and actualizing opportunities for the organization, as it answers the desire to be included in the dialogs among these other forms of institutions. The trend here in the LA area seems to lean towards a cooperative relationship between institutionalized and non-institutionalized art organizations, or at the very least an overlapping of personnel. Many of the artist-writers, artist-curators, artist-teachers, and artist-directors are often part of these established institutions in addition to being involved in artist-run and artist-led initiatives and activities. My own role as the assistant curator of the Torrance Art Museum is an example.
I feel it incumbent upon myself to engage in the multiple extra-studio activities discussed in this essay as a logical follow through of my studio practice. Every artist desires to be supported in a way that would afford making studio practice their exclusive priority. The reality for artists that are spellbound by art and its world is an environment where opportunities must be made more than they are waited for. Whether through curating, creating a venue, teaching, writing, organizing, or producing, the recognition by artists today of the power they can exert over art’s various surrounding contexts has resulted in a community in Los Angeles that is consistently built and maintained by the extra-studio practices of artists whose studio practice still remains at the center of their production, or at the very least does not diminish in priority with the adoption of these additional roles.
The critical mass of artist-run and alternative spaces and initiatives operating in Los Angeles today will be gathered together for the Co/Lab event (co-organized by artist-led initiative ARTRA Curatorial, of which I am a part) during the Art Platform Los Angeles fair this fall. This event will be evidence of this current trend, and was specifically formulated to help actualize the community of extra-studio artists and their respective spaces, initiatives and activities.
While notable historical exceptions abound, the conventional process art undergoes from its inception in the studio to its reception by the viewer is frequently seen as falling outside of the artist’s hands. There are no reasons why those very hands cannot be the ones involved in managing that process. But to create these contexts, other art and artists must comprise and be within them. With each larger
circle radiating from the single point of the studio, more resources, cooperation and ideas are required. Though this multi-tasking strategy to being an artist-slashwhatever is not one that every sort of artist will undertake, even they would not deny the benefit of more contexts and stronger community. And one can easily understand this model with a different central priority other than studio production, or arriving at that center from a different role. However it is arrived at, extra-studio practice – the conscious recognition of community arising from assuming additional roles outside of the studio – engenders a level of artist engagement where resources, efforts and results can be maximized. This cooperative agenda has the self-sustaining effect within the studio of inspiring the artists involved with graspable ambitions in regards to audiences, dialogs, venues and much more.
Special thanks to Stephanie Browne and Carrie McILwain for editorial assistance.
Artist-run and alternative spaces and initiatives exhibiting with Co/Lab: