2.22 / Review

From Pennsylvania: Drift

By Christina Linden August 1, 2011

Ultimately arguing that it is time to expand both what art can be and what we can be, art and cultural critic Brian Holmes coined the term eventwork, which he defines as a “fourfold matrix of contemporary social movements” that utilize art, research, media, and organizing.1 The first image Holmes presented to the audience at a July 23, 2011 talk on the subject was of Graciela Carnevale’s 1968 El encierro (The Confinement). The artist chained shut the door of a gallery in Rosario, Argentina with a group of spectators gathered inside waiting for something to happen. Then she left. The group pressed closely together realized they were the something that was happening, and a few hours passed in the closed space. According to Holmes, it was someone on the outside who finally broke a hole in the gallery’s plate-glass storefront window to allow people out. The Confinement was part of the larger art event(work) Tucumán Arde (Tucumán is burning), an action aimed at providing “counter information” to raise awareness, in the wake of brutal repression from the military dictatorship of the Revolución Argentina and under conditions of widespread use of government propaganda, about conditions in the impoverished interior province of Tucumán, Argentina.2 For Holmes, Tucumán Arde represents the most impressive example of eventwork from the 1960s.

Holmes' talk took place at Mildred's Lane, a "complexity" that might also be described as an artists' residence, art school, and social practice project in rural Pennsylvania founded by J. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion.  During the summer months of the last few years, several sessions of talks, workshops, meals, and collaborative art projects have been assembled around themes created by Puett and Dion or other collaborators. The sessions are attended and run by staff, visiting artists, curators, theorists, chefs, and groups of student fellows. On specially ordained “Social Saturdays” the general public is also invited to attend dinners and talks that take place on the grounds and in a renovated barn-cum-lecture hall.

Claire Pentecost and Brian Holmes talk with "Drift" fellows in the barn at Mildred's Lane. Photo: Mildred's Lane, Pennsylvania.

J. Morgan Puett presents to Claire Pentecost, Brian Holmes, and "Drift" fellows in the barn at Mildred's Lane. Photo: Mildred's Lane, Pennsylvania.

The third session of this summer’s season is presented and facilitated by Claire Pentecost and Brian Holmes on the theme of “Drift,” an extension and elaboration on the project and seminar series “Continental Drift,” which they have been leading at sites including 16 Beaver Group in New York; Zagreb, Croatia; and the Midwest for nearly a decade. The focus on maps, territories, and the “scales of our existence” is joined at Mildred’s Lane by an examination of bodies of water that cross boundaries.3 The nearby Delaware River is currently under dire threat of pollution if plans are carried out to use hydraulic fracturing in order to harvest natural gas from underground rock layers. A need to find alternative and domestic sources of energy and a hope for economic revitalization in the region make the plan attractive to some. The action, however, poses not only a local threat of pollution but could also potentially contaminate drinking water for Philadelphia and New York City. Where the economic, environmental, and political ramifications drift—sometimes literally down the river—beyond the scope of the local and across conceptual and physical boundaries, it offers an especially urgent example of a phenomenon that exists at multiple scales: intimate, territorial, national, continental, and global. After running through examples of eventworks more recent than Tucumán Arde, including the Arab Spring and the recent occupations of squares in Wisconsin and Greece, Holmes closed the talk by encouraging the audience to participate in the August 6 Slow Float, organized by the local SkyDog Projects in conjunction with a slew of other organizations, including Mildred’s Lane. During this day of outdoor recreation, art, and political activism, participants will drift down the Delaware in a continuing effort to raise awareness about the value of clean water and the perils of fracking.

Immediately following the talk, artist Silvia Kolbowski stated that it is most important for her to look at the limits of art rather than its expansive possibilities. Preferring to thwart the boundary between artwork and political work, curator Nato Thompson framed his primary questions in terms of manipulation of affect (and therefore power), insisting that this is the key dynamic involved in each. Artist and writer Gregg Bordowitz asked for a consideration of the role of affect in the possibilities of new subject production. No conclusions reached, the questions raised about developing alternative forms of information flow and finding a better articulation of society continued to eddy around the territories and boundaries of art, politics, and life, and the possibilities for a close crowd in a room (or a barn) to find a way to forge new routes without waiting for someone on the outside to throw a rock.

 

 

“Drift” takes place at Mildred’s Lane, in Pennsylvania, through August 7, 2011.

 

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NOTES:

1. Brian Holmes, “Drift,” (lecture, Mildred’s Lane, Beach Lake, PA, July 23, 2011).

2. Luis Camnitzer, “Tucumán arde” in Conceptualism in Latin American Art: Didactics of Liberation (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007), p. 60–72.

3.http://www.mildredslane.com/projects/2011_drift/index.php, accessed July 26, 2011.

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