I have heard that, as an artist, if you're not uncomfortable you must be doing something wrong. Unless it's actually the opposite and if you are uncomfortable, you must be doing something wrong... I hope not. Because I have been realizing for awhile now that being uncomfortable is my natural state. But I have been feeling especially raw and anxious ever since #Rank began, and when #Rank ended that feeling has stayed. Bill's and my initial impetus for the #Class show was to examine our own and others' unease with the art market, and now I find I have a new unease to examine. Or perhaps it's all the same unease.
In the lead-up to #Rank this fall, I was reading a mind-opening book that felt very relevant to our project: â€œGirls to the Front â€“ The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution,â€ by Sara Marcus. I was in my early 20s when Riot Grrrl had its moment, in the early 1990s, and as a young feminist I was critical of the movement at that time. I saw all the bands play who were considered part of that scene, and I felt that their blatant displays of sexuality (flashing the crowd, etc.) undercut their feminist message. I also thought it was hypocritical that they made a show of dismissing the whole male half of the species, while simultaneously dating and baiting men. Marcus's book does not dispute either of these points, but it made me realize how much I missed of what Riot Grrrl was about. It was a feminist activist movement devoted to making a safe space for women and girls in a hostile music scene and an even more hostile world. To the extent that I felt I didn't need that space, it was at least in part because I had been luckier than most.
Anyway, reading Marcus's book I found a lot inspiration from the Riot Grrrls for #Rank. First of all, these writers and musicians were attempting to combine their art and their activism as Bill and I have been attempting to do with these projects. And the self-described Riot Grrrls cared much more about being honest and letting their freak flags fly than they did about being or looking cool. And most inspirational, over and over again, in zines and interviews Marcus quotes, I saw the way that these young women consciously decided to take creative risks in their music, their writing and their lives, long before they felt secure in their work or themselves, and to try to be comfortable learning as they went along, in public. â€œThe writers weren't pretending to have all the answers; they were making visible a process of figuring things out.â€ â€¦ â€œ'They claimed the space to be wrong'â€ [a participant remembers]... â€œ'and I found that to be very powerful intellectually.'â€
I know it was just an art show, but #Rank felt fairly high-risk, for Winkleman and the other Seven galleries, for Bill and me, and for all the #Rank participants who gave generously of their time, money & efforts to participate in Miami or from elsewhere. We are so grateful to everyone who joined us to help make this weird thing happen. Bill and I felt enormous responsibilities on the one hand to our hosts at Winkleman and Seven and on the other hand to our participants. In the weeks leading up to #Rank, Bill and I made many decisions intuitively, forging ahead before we had things truly figured out, trusting that at the very least things would get interesting. Our time frame didn't give us much of an option to do it any other way (we were officially offered the forum in mid-to-late September and everyone needed sufficient advance notice to make travel plans), but also it seemed to be in the spirit of the project to wing it--in the smartest possible way. But I still wonder if we did right by everyone who was so generous with us.
We had several semi-articulated goals with #Rank. Here's my initial self-evaluation on what we achieved.
1. We wanted to create a rift in the art-fair space-time continuum, to disrupt and challenge the expectations that visitors to art fairs walk in with. Expressed colloquially, we wanted to fuck with people, but gently enough that they wouldn't close their minds to what we might be saying. I think we did well on this front.
2. We wanted to create a non-hierarchical space that gave a platform to a lot of people who didn't already have one at the fairs to mount weird and interesting events that challenged the premises of the fairs and their environment. Bill's and my mantra has been, ever since #Class, "THIS is not THAT." I think we and all our participants kicked ass at creating something that was not THAT.
3. We wanted to use the atmosphere we created through the setting and projects to foster honest and unguarded group discussions that could go deep enough to examine the problems of the fair and/or market system and perhaps even propose alternatives to it. But we didn't schedule enough time for the discussions to make good on this goal. Bill has accurately described how that happened. I made the argument to him that #Rank would be a stronger project if 1) we didn't curate (that's what the fairs do, to exclusionary, safe and boring effect!) and 2) we didn't have any down time in the space, because most visitors would only come by once and I didn't want them to encounter dead space. Bill initially agreed (for reasons more complicated than I understood at the time), but shortly thereafter began lamenting that we would pay a price for this in our discussions. I feared he was right, but fought to salvage the situation by scheduling some really interesting discussions with really smart people in the time that we still had.
Although every discussion we hosted at #Rank went into fascinating territory, we didn't have enough time for participants (including us) to relax and open up after the initial explorations of our topics, and the fair atmosphere was too loud and distracting for people outside our table (or sometimes those sitting at it!) to hear what was going on. Also, crucially I think, Ed Winkleman and Murat Orozobekov, whose points of view were integral to many of the #class discussions, were performing their other gallery duties. And Bill and I were never able to get past the terrified, anxious state of hosting in unfamiliar territory and managing the logistical aspects of the events to be really great discussion participants.
However, although we are no longer in Miami we can still try to remedy this. We are planning to host an evening discussion at Winkleman Gallery while people's memories are still fresh to explore some of the topics we were only able to graze in Miami. This discussion will be open to all who can come, whether or not they were in Miami. There will be no time limit. We'll try to make it possible for those outside NYC to participate remotely in some capacity. Date TBD. To be continued....