Catch the Bus

Posted in Inside Scoop by Rise Art on 03rd June 2013

The collective, Concord, who “organizes by feeling” is an art space in Cypress Park, Los Angeles. Their latest project P.S.1010, comes with the cutest Kickstarter video ever, here, as they ask the question: “won’t you come sit next to me?” A. J. Samuels says: YES.

 

What does Concord mean when the collective says its operational agenda is to curate by feeling? It’s unclear, deliberately so, I am told, to allow for the “diversity of positions our collective speaks from.” In practice this means that there seems to be something alchemical in the air of the gorgeous redbrick warehouse near Chinatown, LA, that is home to Concord, which means harmony or a pleasurable chord in music — as well as referring to a particular, now disgraced, plane…

 

“We like both the utopian imagery of that supersonic aircraft — as well, we accept the fact that it failed.” This multiplicity, or a kind of openness and flexibility, underline much of Concord’s output. Their space has grown a reputation in Los Angeles as an exception to the countless artist–run–spaces that seem to rule the art roost there (without the burgeoning, bludgeoning weight of too many commercial galleries that pock–mark NYC or London). “We might be different because we live here — so automatically we play host, like a favourite aunty — at our exhibitions and events we often cook food in our kitchen, welcome folks to sit on the couches, sometimes we even hang in the bedrooms or the trailer.”

 

This emphasis on relationships and community building transforms an art practice into a venue and a project space into a lifestyle. It takes the project out of the usual domain of gallery/admin mode into a fully–fledged piece of art (for lack of a better turn of phrase). Of course this seems strange — where are the objects? It’s not a piece of art, because it is not finished, it is still happening right now. I mean what do we look at? Maybe the gallery itself is the artwork, inhabited by crazy artist/writer/thinkers — and the many different incarnations the gallery takes is the art, the aesthetic presentation of their project. Or perhaps to try and frame this piece of “social practice” in terms of reified art objects is a contradiction — or plain unnecessary.

 

Even so there are many precedents for this type of work, where the art is not so much a painting or sculpture — but rather moments that happen between people. Relational Aesthetics, Nicolas Bourriard’s book about this type of work ran up against a lot of critical flak — and the term has been dismissed as nineties jargon for a curator trying to label the “next thing”. Today the nomenclature, along with institutional sanctioning, is “social practice” — mixing together an artist’s “practice”, seemingly borrowed from doctors, with something more socially motivated.

 

At the current Venice Biennale this type of work was almost entirely absent — although Tino Seghal, who might fit into the “social practice lite” category, did win the Venice prize for best artist, and is also up for this year’s Turner Prize. His pieces are both simple and complex — they usually involve hand picked performers from around the world, mixing in elements of world dance and song, as well as encounters with the audience. If you are lucky, sometimes a performer will come up to you and tell you a story, entertain a brief conversation and leave you thinking. This type of temporary relationship building or moments of human interaction as art is at one end of the “social practice” spectrum. At the other is something much more utilitarian, something activist in stance with real objectives (dismissing the cliché of art as useless, which only applies to the class where uselessness is a virtue).

 

Tania Bruguera who just closed a show at the Queens Museum might hold up this position — the exhibition she co–organized, Arte Util — which roughly translates to useful art — showcased a wide and historical selection of projects that are useful: socially, politically, educationally or relationally. Two of particular note: Ricardo Dominguez’s Transborder Immigrant Tool is a converted cell phone and GPS designed to help immigrants cross the desert border between Mexico and the US — along with maps and locations of water holes. The phone sends fragments of poetry like “the wind is at your back” to help immigrants with their arduous journey. The other piece, slightly less whimsical, is Uni Project, a modular university and library that has popped up both in New York, and in geographies–in–crisis, like Kazakhstan. This pop–up university provides a public setting for education to serve communities that have perhaps been deprived of educational resources.

 

P.S.1010 falls somewhere in the middle, between the lite and activist poles of this medium; the project could have easily been included in the Queens Museum survey. Although P.S.1010 hasn’t happened yet — scheduled to begin in July in conjunction with an exhibition at Good Children Gallery in New Orleans. Concord will convert an old yellow school bus into a mobile laboratory for “researching the connections between art, education and social space.” This project will tour America for three months, connecting with artists, teachers, writers, thinkers and feelers — inviting collaborations, performances and workshops.

 

Concord’s informality is refreshing, as is their openness. “We want to build a community, one that accounts for different points of view, not a stale community of pigeon artists, but like the Panthers, something more inter–communal”. The collective members reflect this approach with artists, writers, filmmakers, architects, designers, chefs, depth psychologists, anarchists and healers all participating in the Concord project. They also organize an international residency program that has hosted artists and an anthropologist from places including Dublin, Berlin and London.

 

The school bus will extend the “lifestyle as art” modality of Concord. The goal, it seems, is to expand the already flourishing community they have in LA and continue their constellational curating with participants from places across North America. They’ll also generate a manual, or as they call it, a “syllabus” publication, that will gather their experiences from on the bus: dreams, relationships, memories, conversations and local knowledge. All aboard.