being and acting
aint like you. All you can do is think what you
would have done if you had done it. Not me. I can do
it. I can act."
Flannery O'Connor The violent bear it away
It would seem history
has chosen action over thought. Between 'to do' and 'to be'
it is preferable 'to do.' (Nike even demands it of us). Being
is acceptable only when an active state. This is referred to
in mystical as well as political thought, whether it be Sun
Tzu, the Buddha, Clausewitz or the U.N. The difficulty lies
always in deciding at which point participation begins. Are
we participants as we stand outside and merely observe? The
images inundating us -whether from Baghdad or Hollywood - apparently
ask only that we see them. But that may not be the case. If
it is only to see then we are all the perfect voyeurs, since
all of us might echo Chauncey Gardener when he stated blankly
"I like to watch." And we do. We like to watch. But that watching
may not be as passive as implied. We might participate in ways
that surprise us as the experience of what we see, what we are
watching, is transformed by our experience of watching it.
transformation that occurs when an object is observed is a matter
for physicists. The re-manifestation of an idea, an object and
an individual in the process of observation and interaction
has been the subject of the artist since at least the beginning
of the twentieth century. The imposition of a plastic reality
into the gallery (and quickly outside it) has been the stamp
of Modernism. From urinals to self-destructing machines, it
seemed the Modernist agenda was set on bringing more and more
of the interactivity of the world into the gallery. It was the
Modernist triumph that introduced a level of reality into art
that could previously only be implied, hinted at or simulated.
This newfound reality was quick to grasp the hands and bodies
of not just artists but of their audience. By the time
Modernism had been laid to rest (again and again) it was all
but expected of the artist to physically involve the audience.
While the implied
passivity of the pre-Modernist audience is clearly a misunderstanding
-any true experience of art of the past makes this clear- many
Contemporary artists invoke an interaction far beyond the relationship
of maker to observer. The Modernist imposition of reality has
been absorbed so completely that art that does not demand of
the viewer a counter action is often dismissed as passé.
This interactivity, this demand that 'I' participate, coupled
with the demand of the artist that 'You" participate to make
the art has, inevitably, a democratizing capacity that both
excites and charms our democracy-crazed world. The public clamors
for participation and is happy to be seen participating. But
is this really democracy? The artist giveth and the artist taketh
away. If not democracy, it is at the very least a challenge
by artists to be and to do so actively. "Without you,"
they explain, "it isn't art." Pull this lever, push this button,
enter this space, because if you don't, the event that is the
art doesn't occur. We do not see 'art,' we see 'art-ing.'
It is the demand that we, the participants in this art experience,
make a gerund of both ourselves and the work of the artist.
It is in this sense that it gives the participant an active
role, perhaps not a role between equals, but a part that we
can play in a theater that is made for us but incomplete without
All the work
in Noun/Verb demands an action of the viewer. The audience
must physically act upon the piece in a variety of ways. The
focus of the work is what is seen as well as what is experienced
by the interaction of the viewer with the work.
Miyamoto's "Metamorphosis" invites us in. The large, soft
form beckons us with sound and moving images. In the tradition
of the Japanese home, it requests we take our shoes off. This
gesture implies at once a humility and an intimacy that we must
return, as a shared experience. Once we have taken our shoes
off we can enter the warm embryonic space where Makiko invites
us to experience a moment away from all that exists outside.
It becomes at once sensual and devoid of the physical, a place
to simultaneously lose one's body and become completely aware
of it. The overriding sense of life, in its biological and physical
aspect is countered by its opposite: a sense of comforting warmth,
not unlike a pleasant death.
Anderson's work challenges us to be childish. The cuteness
of each piece and the anonymity of the furniture describe a
world of cartoon-like simplicity, where all is decided clearly
beforehand. Your body and who that makes you, your gender and
your place, are all decided. The small playful voices coming
form the amorphous megaphones placed throughout call to us but
say familiar yet strangely out of place phrases. This, we understand,
is what it means to 'be a girl.' It is simple and funny but
our smile wears off as we feel that the joke is a troubling
indictment of a verdict cast for charges that are brought up
outside the courtroom.
If it is warm and
challenging in Miyamoto's and Anderson's world,
Nick DePirro's "Big Ball of Ouch" warns of the opposite
possibility. Approaching the "Big Ball" it seems to warn itself
against us, simultaneously inviting us to come closer. Infused
with a Wile E. Coyote sense of the absurd, it challenges the
viewer to experience the comic as real, and the real as comic.
Erickson the realm of childhood has long worked as a metaphor
for the perils of adult life. Nostalgia is tinged with a yearning
to embrace and disregard the past, as technology is understood
to be in its infantile state.
Action is the troubling
question of our time. Whether or not we choose to act against
or for, to intervene or encourage, to support or suppress, these
are the questions we are confronted with each waking day. The
passivity that our time has so aggressively fought against has
been laid to rest and those who opt for it are, like those who
do not write history, the losers. The future is to those who
act, we are told. The question for each of us is simple. Are
we taking action or merely acting?