From New York: Recipes For An EncounterSeptember 23, 2010
If the title of Recipes for an Encounter suggests a singular engagement, the works in the show—at Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Projects in Long Island City—evince multiple interactions and relationships. The exhibition is an extension of the book Recipes for an Encounter, edited by Berin Golonu, Candice Hopkins, and Marisa Jahn (Western Front Editions, 2009; reviewed in Art Practical 1.11). Curators Golonu and Hopkins assemble Fluxus ephemera, historic and recent work by feminist pioneers, and new work by contemporary artists. The selected artists use procedures to engage viewers or collaborators, or to guide the formation of artworks.
Some of the historical works, which are featured in the first room, solicit specific responses from viewers. Yoko Ono’s vinyl texts prompt viewers to take or imagine an action. They exemplify conceptual art’s efficiency. In Kitchen Piece (1960), Ono instructs the viewer on making a painting by throwing food at a canvas. It sounds simplistic, but imagine the gatherings of participants who have enacted the performance over the past fifty years, like a tradition passed down among artists and enthusiasts. In Ono’s captivating Letter to Nicholas Logsdail (1967), she invites the Lehman Maupin Gallery representative for a visit. After divulging her nervousness, she proceeds to give convoluted directions in reverse that would be nearly impossible to follow. The complications suggest ambivalence about gallery relations; I think many artists can relate to feeling flattered and cagey at the same time.
Joseph Beuys’ Food for Thought (1977) is a long typewritten text that begins with a list of instant or canned foods. Like Beuys’ materially potent sculptures, the text manages to entice and repulse at the same time. By simply reading the words and involuntarily imagining the smells or tastes of, say, “BAKED BEANS,” the viewer is already participating in the artist’s directives.
In other works, artists devised interactions between selected collaborators. Black-and-white photographs document Robert Filliou’s 13 Ways to Use Emmett Williams’ Skull (1963). It was a performance that involved the artist placing various objects, such as what looks to be a bunch of kale, on the balding pate of an unimpressed man. The performers’ straight faces and sober suits heighten the slapstick.
One of the headmasters of a school of relational art coordination, Mierle Laderman Ukeles contributed sketches and photographs of her Snow Workers’ Ballet (2003) project in Japan. A worker drew tidy, annotated drawings of the plows’ movements. The earnestness of the dance’s development—interpretations of themes like “Serpent” and “Romeo and Juliet”—demonstrates a characteristic charm of
procedure-based art: when you invent a procedure, you impose a logic or order on creative action. Applying seriousness to these forms of artistic play is counterintuitively productive. Recipes like these systematize chance and improvisation.
Ukeles’ project succeeds by inspiring workers to coordinate themselves. Though I wanted to see a video of the dance of the plows, none is included. This allows the workers' collaboration to remain the most pertinent interaction.
While Ukeles’ collaborators seemed to approach their project with cheerful efficacy, the participants in Kaprow’s videos have a quasi-religious aura about them. In Videoscores for Activity (1975), wide-eyed participants do things like stare deeply into each other’s eyes while crawling and drooling at a snail’s pace. Once I got past my initial skepticism, I found the combination of abnormal behavior and unflinching steadfastness oddly compelling. It’s as if the participants believe a moral or spiritual truth might be revealed by their conviction alone.
I availed myself to experiencing the creation, display, interpretation or execution of procedures, but Kristina Lee Podesva and Alan McConchie’s project Code Cooking: The 09 F9 Archive (2007) failed to inspire. More like an account of a meme than a recipe per se, the project celebrates how web users staked a claim for digital rights by distributing an antipiracy alphanumeric sequence. Podesva and McConchie respond with three components. They present a goofy, lowbrow video fable about an evil corporate conspiracy to keep the number secret. This seems to be a case of art imitating life, to no consequential effect. The duo also pinned up printouts of the public’s tactics, and taped the number on the front doors. The original acts of rebellious sharing were grassroots, spontaneous, creative, dispersed, savvy, and unwieldy; the artists’ presentation, however, falls short.
While artists like Erwin Wurm continue to explore instruction-based participation as a form, the more recent artists in Recipes for an Encounter utilize procedures as one of many components in their videos, sculptures, and multiples. Noam Toran’s Object for Lonely Men (2001) depicts an apparatus for re-creating scenes in Godard’s Breathless (1960). Steve Shada and Marisa Jahn exhibit a prototypical cook stove for rail commuters. Matt Volla went to mind-bending lengths to establish the rules in Tennis Music/Music Tennis (2010). These art objects and videos are discrete and heterogeneous, thus constituting a more disparate part of the exhibition.
Recipes for an Encounter takes an expansive approach to procedures, including but not limited to practices like participation, performance, and relational art. The show requires an acrobatic viewer, one who interprets alternately with imagination, participation, and critical distance.