Interview with James Voorhies of Bureau for Open Culture

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Opening reception for "Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven" on April 5, 2011 at Bennington College

James Voorhies is the Director and Chief Curator of Bureau for Open Culture (BOC). BOC operates through exhibitions, screenings, performances, and informal discussions that happen in and outside of the gallery space. Working with a variety of collaborators, Voorhies has sought to question the role of institutions in the dissemination of various art practices. I got to know Voorhies when we collaborated on the BOC’s The New Administration of a Fine Arts Education, a conversation series with leading individuals of contemporary art that took place at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio. This spring and summer, BOC will present two projects. Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, from April 5-29th at Bennington College, and I Am Searching for Field Character, presented at Mass MoCA this summer. Incorporating a series of public conversations, performances, installations, workshops and a beer garden, BOC will be bringing artists, writers, designers and thinkers to North Adams, Massachusetts to explore the economic and social character of the cultural laborer. I took this opportunity to talk to him about BOC and his hopes for the future of his organization.



How would you describe the mission of Bureau for Open Culture?

The mission is to reconsider the art exhibition as a new kind of learning site. We don’t necessarily prioritize the gallery as a site for engaging with art or seek to provide an absolute conclusion to the ideas exhibitions raise. To do this, BOC welcomes people from disciplines outside of the usual visual arts⎯landscape architecture, literature, philosophy, design and activism⎯to intermingle. We produce projects that take place in storefronts, gardens, libraries and unused industrial spaces within a wider consideration of the nature of contemporary art and culture.

The exhibitions are made with an awareness of the effect that an art institution⎯as a physical space and a concept⎯has on how art is produced and how people experience it. A lot of my interests in the structural behavior of the art institution come out of watching organizations like Office of Contemporary Art Norway, Shedhalle in Zurich and IASPIS in Stockholm. These are institutions of critique that have taken up the kind investigations of institutions found in artistic practices like those of Michael Asher, Hans Haacke and Andrea Fraser. These institutions were not long ago categorized loosely within a term called “New Institutionalism.” But, I don’t think that term is used so much today.

Using alternative spaces, Bureau for Open Culture tends to mediate more strongly or maybe less didactically between visitors and art. Moving the action out of the gallery is one way we do this, but I also care about what viewers will get out of a connection with a visiting artist or a talk. For example, the collective artist Claire Fontaine participated in the exhibition Descent to Revolution. Part of their contribution to the exhibition was to give a talk related to Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy. I organized a weekly reading group for Lyotard’s book with about 10 to 12 participants who discussed the book, which is really difficult to grasp, alongside images of work by Claire Fontaine. We had participants from all sorts of backgrounds⎯students of philosophy and comparative studies, activists and visual artists. We did this over the course of five to six weeks in a kind of preparation for Claire Fontaine’s visit to Columbus. While we did not devour the book as much as one could, the reading group created an investment and interest in Claire Fontaine. We had an incredible turnout for their talk, a great conversation. The talk took place in an unused storefront space where other projects and actions were occurring during the course of the exhibition. It was late October and the rundown space with its leaking ceiling and lack of heat helped reduce the formal effect of the institution to put audience and artists on closer levels. I really liked the whole experience.

There are also lots of private moments between visiting artists and the community. Those moments, to me, are as important as the public engagement. So, all of this combined is what I mean by rethinking the exhibition as a new kind of learning site.

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Art Tape: Live With / Think About (2011) - Michael Bell-Smith

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Originally via VVORK

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An Interview with READ/WRITE Curators Caitlin Denny and Parker Ito

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Mitch Trale, Analog Environments, 2009

This Thursday night, March 17th, the online curatorial platform Jstchillin.org will celebrate the last year and a half of their programming with a large group exhibition involving all thirty-five of the artists who have developed special projects for the site. Opening at 319 Scholes in Brooklyn, the show, entitled "READ/WRITE," will remain on view until March 30th. Begun in October 2009 by Parker Ito and Caitlin Denny, Jstchillin.org has emerged as one of the most playful and innovative destinations for internet-based art. I interviewed Parker and Caitlin over email in January 2011. This interview appears in the catalog for "READ/WRITE," available for purchase here.


The experience of running an online platform for art, like Jstchillin, has its own set of challenges and advantages, in terms of the flexibility of display, a potential for a large, diverse audience, serendipitous reception and circulation. I’m wondering if you can talk more about your experience with Jstchillin, and how this may have lead to some of the key themes in READ/WRITE.

Caitlin Denny: JstChillin started with ambitious goals, and now we're seeing it all come together even better than we had imagined. It’s been somewhat surreal to reflect on the process, people and conditions of the project. It had originally been a Rhizome proposal that got rejected called "Cosmos" that included a small group of friends, some of whom are a part of JstChillin. I wanted to keep going with the project even after we got rejected, and it seemed Parker was the only one on the same page as me. We developed our ideas and mission for the project very loosely when we made "An Essay About Chillin'", a screen capture movie of a staged AIM conversation. After that, we started our now year and a half long exhibition on our site called "Serial Chillers In Paradise" which is what we have become most well known for. We were fans of surf clubs and the like, but wanted to do something more immersive that would almost abolish the body yet make one hyper aware of their own physicality. We chose to let the artists take over our site every two weeks instead of using a blog-like style to highlight work. We weren't interested in highlighting just any art we liked at the moment, we were interested in commissioning new works made especially for our site. This, I think, stands us apart from a lot of other online exhibition sites. We also wanted to create a seemingly naive and simple charisma to our project that over time would unfold the complexities of our digital condition. I think we've been successful so far. Reading Brian Droitcour's essay on us, first published on Rhizome's blog, made me realize that we had accomplished something, whether people liked it or not. I was somewhat blind, and probably still am, to who our audience is. I imagine it is mainly people involved in an online art community of sorts, but I frequently get hints and clues to other worlds of people who see the site. I like this ambiguity, that's what the internet is to me. I don't want to know facts or numbers, I want to keep the internet wild and mysterious… but it seems now we are getting closer and closer to the limits of the internet. I've felt these changes in my own surfing and online time - it is harder to discover the vast net terrain more than ever. Not that there isn't anything to discover, but the way I surf the net is so much different, and so much more boring, than I ever used to. I am definitely more in the Tim Berners-Lee camp than the Tim O'Reilly camp - the web was made as a read/write vehicle, a vast anonymous space for interaction and discovery. With Web 2.0, the enchantment of the net is slowly disintegrating. We need the Jim Henson of the internet to step up and tell us what's up.





Parker Ito: JstChillin is always framed as a curatorial project. I feel kind of weird saying that at times. It's more like a performance of curating. For me, it's just about hanging out online and looking at what people are doing and it's really hard to know who's seeing what, but at least with our site people can sorta respond and be like "I really like so and so's project." A lot of the Surf Club era artists used, and still use Delicious to spread stuff they're excited about, or get out the word about a new project. JstChillin in my mind is an extension of that. It is a crazy ambitious project, a year and half exhibition, that is kinda insane now that I think about. Reflecting on the project now, I don't really know what to say, it's a really overwhelming feeling. The themes for the show occurred very naturally. This show will never live up to the beauty of my daily interaction with people online, it's just an opening paragraph in a really really long essay. There's a lot of power to be harnessed.

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Compression Study #2 (Untitled) (2007) - Paul B. Davis

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Passengers (2010-Ongoing) - Riley Harmon

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Originally via we make money not art

Thanks to Riley Harmon for the screengrabs

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uh duh yeah (2010) - BFFA3AE

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Dynamite (2010) - Ben Coonley

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(Don't Want A) Piece of Me - Britney Spears & Joan Jonas (2008) - New Sound Karaoke

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Dirty Water Creamaster Caraoke (2011) - C&C Karaoke Factory

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My Way (2009) - Amie Siegel

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Treating Youtube as an archive, a series of video and photo-based works that appropriate amateur images posted online, reconstructing how image posting and “response”—and the online communities dedicated to their propagation— performs the mass-identified narrative of individualism that capitalism proposes. The "My Way" videos cathect issues of gender-specificity, sexual orientation, race, globalization and marketing within the larger codings of belonging and isolation, sameness and difference this vast aggregation of online video documents evokes.

-- FROM THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT

On view through April 4 at PS1 as part of "The Talent Show"

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