Saturday, March 27, 2010


dear friends, blog readers, and followers,

I've been creating several designs for clothing (t-shirts and hoodies) in the past few weeks, some relating to art projects of mine (such as iconographs), some relating to teaching (such as critique), and some just for fun.

for this venture I am using a print-on-demand online service called redbubble. this company allows one to upload and sell their designs from their online store. each piece is printed upon order, and delivered within 10 business days (though I got my first samples in less than a week). they use the color palette and sizes from American Apparel, so the quality is good and the colors vivid.

t-shirts cost about US$25 each (order three or more and shipping is free); the profit margin at this point is minimum for me (about $3 per shirt), but if you'd like to support and promote this site, please consider purchasing one - link below (please note that there are many color choices for logo, even more so for fabrics, apparel choices, logo positioning, etc, as well as other designs to choose from).

when your t-shirt arrive, make a picture of yourself wearing it and I will post it on this blog.

I thank you for following this blog, reading and providing feedback =-)



click here to visit my store

Sunday, March 21, 2010

e-terview with Joseph Ravens

there are many words I could use to describe Joseph Ravens, an artist and a human being of many facets. his work, and his work ethics, as well as his joi de vivre, are truly inspiring, a rare combination of committed integrity with heart-felt lightness. his technology-enhanced performances have been shown and toured around the world. his credentials are too extensive and intense to list, to say the least (please visit his site for more information, at the end of this entry). we recently had the opportunity to spend some time together in Chicago; what follows is a series of questions exchange a few weeks after that. in his own words.

your art practice combines elements of performance art, theater and dance, sprinkled with technology. how would you best describe what you do?

This is an interesting question because I often have to describe what I do . Unlike other mediums and disciplines, telling someone you’re a performance artist is usually followed by puzzled looks and a bunch of questions. I have several answers based on my cursory assessment of that person's artistic knowledge. Funny, I’m sometimes wrong and totally talk down to people, describing my work in simplistic terms and then they say, ‘oh, you mean you’re a performance artist, like Abramović or Barney or something…’, and I feel like a fool. Actually, your question uses similar language that I use to describe myself. I love the phrase, ‘sprinkled with technology’ – can I steal that from you? It’s very accurate. Historically, performance art has been difficult to define. Frankly, it’s one of the allures – the limitless unrestrained nature of the medium. I happen to have a theater and dance background so those elements and skill-sets are certainly a part of my performances. But I prefer to identify myself as a visual artist because I apply visual art aesthetics to time-based creations. The structures and narratives present in theater and dance I find problematic and limiting. I really do straddle disciplines and sometimes one artistic genre is better suited as a vehicle for my thoughts or ideas. I present in galleries, theaters, dance spaces, and non-traditional environments.

The semantics surrounding performance art are really interesting – the medium is so enigmatic. Performance (without the ‘art’) is being used the most (I think) in the United States. Live Art is used a lot in England. Art Actions, Art Performance, Behavioral Art…there are so many terms used to define the practice. Performance is becoming very popular again. A lot of sculptors and painters and artists from established mediums are making performances or performance is part of their process. Also galleries and Biennales are encorporating performance. Perhaps one of the reasons Performance is becoming popular again is that Roselee Goldberg (along with Marina Abromović) started the (somewhat elitist) Performa Biennale in New York. As we all know, though, boundaries between artistic disciplines are becoming fewer and far between – and not only in visual art. Hybrid, multimedia, multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary, however you want to put it – the parameters are more elastic now than they have ever been. I’m getting off the topic. In reply to your original question: When my aunt asks me what I do I tell her I’m an actor, director, or playwright. When the average person off the street asks me what I do I say I’m an artist. When an artist asks me what I do I say that my work is a hybrid of visual art, dance, and theater.

'AIR POCKET(S)' by Joseph Ravens
Postsovkhoz4 International Symposium: MOKS, Mooste, Estonia 2004

which particular piece of yours would you say exemplifies your practice?

As is the case with most artists, my practice is constantly changing and evolving. I also have a short attention span and an adventurous spirit, so I am constantly interested in fresh approaches or perspectives. I think I’m particularly diverse – sometimes writing plays and other times making dances or fiber-based installations. But I would have to say my performance, RAVENOUS, is most characteristic of my style. I made this piece as my MFA thesis at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). When I moved to Chicago I changed my name to Ravens without really considering the bird or what it represented. The word ‘ravens’ is actually part of my original longer Germanic surname - I shortened it for ease and memorability. When I did start researching the Raven – especially the role of the bird in various mythologies – I found we had a lot in common. So the work came from a really personal place. It also incorporated a lot of ideas and skills that I acquired as a student at SAIC. It was something of a re-birth and it embodied a lot of the aesthetics that I continue to embrace: sculptural movement, large scale fiber-based installation, poetic text, abstract narrative, clean minimalist style, illusion, seduction, and even a ‘sprinkling of technology’.

Joseph Ravens in ‘Ravenous’

is there one particular sequence or process you employ in your creative endeavors? what are the usual steps between conception and implementation?

Oh gosh. I often joke about starting a company called “Cart-Before-the-Horse Productions”. For the past 10 years or so I’ve felt that my process is backwards. When applying for festivals or grants I manifest ideas – often thoroughly researching and developing the ideas but never implementing them. If and when the opportunity presents itself, I then bring that Idea into being. I have a love/hate relationship to the idea of artist as inventor – a mad scientist toying with his creations in a studio cluttered with materials. I want to be that kind of artist, but it’s really not possible or realistic. I have a general idea and then I usually schedule a fairly short and organized production period – often the month before the exhibition. When I do create a work, though, I really think about it becoming part of a repertoire – a body of work that I can mount and re-mount. I also think about how it travels, since travel is a vital part of my practice. I’m very practical. I think about impact and portability. I think a lot about how I can make something large out of something that is small, lightweight, and easy to carry. That’s what drew me to inflatable objects. When I do create solo works, the video camera is essential to the process. I set up the camera and use the remote to record myself. Then I create or choreograph and view the tape at regular intervals to tweak and shape the work. I hunger for feedback, especially as a solo artist, but it’s a luxury I rarely have the pleasure of.

Joseph Ravens in ‘Is My Liver Showing?’ at Midway Studios, Boston, MA

how much, or how little do your life experiences permeate your art practice? if your body is the medium, what message does this body engender?

Sex and seduction, materialism and vanity are ever present concerns for me as a hyper-aware, hyper-sensitive gay man navigating an agist, beauty-obsessed culture. I think by body and the exposure of my body stem from this place. On a more aesthetic level, and in a dancerly sort of way, I simply find beauty in the human form. I’m very interested in anatomical details. In my most recent work, Kattywampus, I choreographed an entire section for my shoulderblades. Whenever I present this piece I try to drop body fat so that my ribs and shoulderblades are more obvious. I really see my body as the material – as the sculpture. I pay a lot of attention to negative space – the air between my limbs, etc. I am very influenced by Butoh – a Japanese artform that embraces a certain physical intensity. My bald head and physical presence is also meant to be something mannequin like, neutral – I like to present myself as something otherworldly – something decidedly ‘other’ while still allowing the viewer access to my internal struggle. In that way, my presence in performance is usually not me as the artist–creator, but, rather, a persona. But this isn’t often the case. I have text-based autobiographical pieces (a lá Holly Houghes) that I rarely perform. I have been focused on working internationally and, in an attempt to create work that is globally universal, my images and ideas have become sort of hyper or meta…less specific or personal. So my life experiences don’t frequently make their way directly into my work and text is seldomly used anymore. I am not interested in any sort of politics or overt message in my work. I aim for something more poetic, lyrical, and abstract.

Joseph Ravens in ‘Rigamarole’ (a version of ‘Kattywampus’)
Open Festival, Beijing, China 2009

what project are you currently touring? what future projects do you have in the works?

I’m touring 'Security System' and 'Kattywampus'. I often collaborate with Marianne Kim and we are developing two new works – a new inflatable performance installation series that will deal with urban navagation, and the second in a series of ‘rooms’ inspired by the Japanese video game, Katamari. ‘Room One’ was the bedroom and the next room will be the dining room.

I have two personal projects that I haven’t really started but they are rattling around in my skull. I’m very interested in queens – royal women. I’d like to write some monologues or make some videos with transgender male-to-female performers embodying famous queens throughout history. They, of course, would be abstract and idiosyncratic. Perhaps I’m the various queens. I’m curious about keeping it sort of period in style and look but present the videos like a vlog – within an obviously anachronistic technology framework.

I’m also interested in starting a vlog about my inherent ‘wantitis’ - the affliction of always wanting to spend money on something new. An obvious comment on materialism and consumerism, I’m really looking at this habit and how to overcome it – all in front of the public eye.

Marianne Kim and Joseph Ravens in ‘Room One’ at Arizona State University 2008

click here to visit Joseph Ravens' website

click here to see some recent work

Thursday, March 4, 2010

big journeys begin with a single step

the title for this blog comes from a fortune cookie I got at a restaurant last night. that day had an early, fueled by coffee, with too many activities and few breaks in between. by the time I sat down to eat dinner with a friend we were both pretty spent (his excuse a jet leg)...

lately I've been thinking about my life, how I've gotten here, where I will be going next, et cetera... much like this blog, life begins with a single step, going out on a limb: the first time we open our eyes, or say the first word, kiss someone, leave home, quit that job, click the camera shutter... all a risk. all a roll of the dice. impulsive and instinctual decisions with potentially little regard for outcomes or consequences...

that nagging question, of having regrets (or not) is always looming. but it really is irrelevant. we are responsible for our actions. while we might have done something else if we knew then what we know now, ultimately the decision made is always right. because it is a done deal. because it propels us to be where we are today, right now.

the secret is to love the now.

so today, finally, I went back to the Susanne Hilberry Gallery, a place I had not returned since my last visit and subsequent blog entry. I felt torn between really wanting to see Scott Hocking's exhibition, but not wanting to go there, in case I did not like the work. I was also haunted by my own thoughts, that were expressed in this blog, about practicing and critiquing the art community I belong.

Scott and I met maybe a few years ago, and often run into one another at art events and functions. but we have only talked once, for a long period of time, at a fancy dress party at the Entenmann's (actually he spoke most of the time and I listened, along with others, so it was a group situation, not a dialogue). perhaps my drawn mustache (and the ever flowing drinks I had consumed) allowed me not to be as shy as I usually am with people I do not know, but know about. what impressed me about Scott was his knowledge and passion about this area (and his work). such passion, that for a place, is somewhat foreign to me. not because I do not like this area, but because I am not a person to get attached to places in general I usually get attached to people and things, and mostly attached to things and people and places I hope to experience some time in the near future). I also enjoyed listening to his stories about his explorations, which, quite frankly, I usually find extremely boring (specially if eventual images are to be attached to such stories). but Scott had/has a way with words that keeps you engaged, because they can stand on their own.

I had heard from more than one trusted source that his exhibition was quite wonderful, but was a bit suspicious of people's kindness. as some of us experienced in a recent public lecture in a large local institution - that was almost as large as the artist's ego that spoke there (though the institution is to no fault), sometimes someone's reputation, allure, and past glories supersede their current achievements and lack of charisma (but of course it could be that we can only appreciate such art and artists in a more personal level, or in retrospect). I feared that the same would take place here.

one article I recently read from a link uploaded on Facebook dealt with the subject of artists becoming critics in smaller communities, and the ensuing problems with that, which related to one of my own concerns in writing from/about Detroit and its art scene... the author's recommendation was that one should only write about art that they deemed good or great.

so here we are. I have to honestly say that I think Scott Hocking's exhibition moved me (not to tears, but to that simultaneous raise of one eyebrow and one corner of the mouth, when you are wonderfully and quietly swept off your feet, so to speak). I felt that his images managed to combine an aesthetic rigor with a critical concern that I normally find lacking in much contemporary photography. what i mean by this is that his images could be simply looked at and appreciated for the formal choices they possess, such as composition, quality of light, balance, and visual dialogue within the grids. but thematically and conceptually they relevantly transcended their subject matter. some of his images reminded me of the sCRIPT series by my much missed and beloved mentor Dr. Gordon P. Bleach, whose untimely death took place in 1999. I believe their concern for architecture and space as reliquaries for memories are very much in tune.

the photographing of dilapidated and decaying structures are usually elementary choices that beginning shutter-bugs undertake (I have been involved with fine art photography in one form or another since 1992, and have seem tons of projects under this category). but Scott's work is far from that, though I am sure he is aware and critical of that too. his manipulations into these spaces, or what I perceived as manipulations, bring forth the placement of our culture in Time (with the big T), as well as that of other cultures in relation to our times (small t). pointedly, like photography, our existence in this planet is as quick as a flash of light, our present glories are our future ruins.

when I looked at Scott's images I felt that they meant to become markers of our time and Time, as if to say, to future generations, that these things, these buildings, these places, once mattered to a lot of us (even as ruins). his works began to function as a reinforcement, a memorial, removed of schmalzy nostalgia, quietly, like a giant that has fallen or is in repose (but not necessarily a mythologized wounded warrior). I felt the excitement I assumed he feels when making his works. I was transported back to that party, when I heard him speaking of frozen basements, illegal hockey practices, and unsuspecting encounters with a stranger's passing, and became inspired by his practice, even if my understanding of it was only from speech (his), not sight (mine).

which brings me back to the beginning of this post, a first step of sorts. the last time I was at the Susanne Hilberry Gallery I was trying to find a gift for myself, a replacement for my own birthday party (that never took place), but left empty-handed. and today, which happens to be Scott Hocking's birthday, I have found my own gift.

which image did I choose? if you get invited to my next birthday party you will see it hanging in my house ;-)