COBLE / RILEY PROJECTS: Watermarks
February 9th- March 30th, 2013
1358 Florida Ave, NE- Washington, DC
From the Press Release:
CONNERSMITH is pleased to present Coble/Riley Projects’ second exhibition with the gallery. Since 2009, Mary Coble (USA/DK) and Blithe Riley (USA) have collaborated on performance-based videos that explore tensions between site-specificity, gesture, narrative, and endurance. In February 2012, Coble/Riley Projects was invited to participate in a month-long Iaspis Residency in Umeå, Sweden. Working on a frozen stretch of sea, Coble and Riley fused video, performance and land art to create “Watermarks.” Dense snow conceals the frozen seascape underneath, acting as a canvas on which the artists make marks and draw. Opaqueness and transparency arise from the simple actions of an unknown figure, who repeatedly uncovers layers of snow, ice, and water to reveal surfaces with varied properties of reflection.
There will be an opening night reception at CONNERSMITH. on Saturday, February 9th from 6 – 8pm.
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Its been a while since I’ve posted something I’ve wanted to share on my website. This year has been marked by a great deal of personal transition that has directly impacted my art practice. Since I got involved with Occupy last fall, I have been continuing to ride the wave of an activist existence that includes actions, discussions, relief work, administrative tasks, writing, meetings, and protests. As I dig deeper into politics, my own ambitions and desires to make art have been muted. I have experienced many degrees of creativity in these spaces, through direct actions, meetings, and collective art making. It has been hard to frame an identity around this work, despite the fact that it has taken up so much of my time. I have anxiety when I am forced to explain myself in a tidy and digestible fashion, in the way we are all pressured to professionalize ourselves under capitalism. What I really want is to be nimble and move freely between circles and kinds of work. Defining success for myself becomes trickier by the day.
Of course the art world has remained close by. OWS has in fact, brought me deeper into its belly than my art practice ever has. I organize with art workers who have careers, some of them quite established. Through Occupy I have met curators, participated in a Bienniale, spoke at multiple universities, and traveled around the world to meet other artists organizing. I have seen all the ways political engagement can bring art world mobility. I have seen the art world extract the power out of the movements by attempts at representation. I have also watched arts organizations put together political shows while paying their culture workers less than a living wage. This has also been part of my politicization.
How does engagement with the art world effect social movements? Are we historicizing ourselves before we make history? Are we keeping ourselves at bay by retreating to the spaces of validation? Of course there is not one answer to any of these questions, but developing methodology and criteria for how we engage with the system seems more and more crucial.
Speaking of bellies and beasts, the latest version of the October journal is out and its all about Occupy. I wrote a small blurb as part of a collaborative text initiated by Greg Sholette. At the time I wrote this, I had just spent two weeks weeks in Berlin, at the 7th Berlin Biennale with Occupy Museums, where the group participated in the Occupy Biennale, a “protest camp” within the institution. It was one of the most intense times I had ever had in an art space–although I doubt that intensity was reflected in what visitors saw. There was so much contradiction within that experience and I left vehemently claiming that the show was destructive to the movements it represented. I felt the ways that the power dynamics of an institution effected the group dynamic of Occupy Museums. I also witnessed the way the Biennale alienated local activists in Berlin, who were largely ignored despite the city’s rich history of social movements.
An artist I met directly asked me, “How could you be part of this?” in other words, “Where are your politics?” My answer was something along the lines of a “free ticket” and the chance to meet other people mobilizing internationally. The last part of course was true, but in retrospect those were individual, not collective motivations. After that experience I decided to leave the Occupy Museums, and reject any further calls to represent OWS within that kind of framework. I felt glad to have a place to put this statement down in writing.
“The real question of the moment is how our movements are represented and packaged by artists and institutions. I believe it’s crucial to be cautious and vigilant about the politics of representation. OWS is in a critical moment. We must achieve long-term sustainability and grow, while keeping our commitment to the reality we want to live in. This means taking responsibility for the representational frames we work within, as well as challenge our framing from the outside. Many of us know that the most exciting creative moments in the public-square occupations are not representable. They have been spontaneous, collective, performative, authorless, and temporary. We must resist the call to re-create these moments for the benefit of cultural institutions that will erase and replace direct experience with symbols. After all, perhaps the most spectacular outcome of the past year is the rejection of cynicism and a renewed belief in the necessity of imagination that pulls ideas out of the sky and creates realities in content and form using whatever medium is necessary.”
Gregory Sholette’s call for a collective response includes writing by himself, Andrew Hemingway, Todd Ayoung, Dan S. Wang, Paul Arsenyev, Rasha Salti, and yours truly. The entire journal includes many thoughts from many other amazing folks. You can buy the full thing here.
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Watermarks, the latest video from Coble/Riley Projects is now screening at Overgarden Contemporary Art Center in Copenhagen. Read a short interview that Mary and I did with each other about the piece.
Watermarks is installed as part of a larger exhibition of Mary’s work. Read more about the exhibition…
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23 minutes, HD, color, stereo.
Watermarks, Video Still.
Interview between Mary Coble & Blithe Riley about the piece.
Mary: I first visited Umeå in 2009 where I was introduced to a climate that was unique to me. Below freezing temperatures, massive snowstorms and very short days led to an experience of physicality that put me in a state of acute sensorial awareness. The consciousness of how I was affected by this extreme climate extended to my perception (or misperception) of how the landscape was also transformed by these extremes. These sensations made a strong impact on me again as we worked on Watermarks in 2012.
Blithe: The process of making Watermarks was strenuous and challenging, but also very special. I too was aware of the way my perception shifted in the environment, especially by working on the ice for long periods. We became hyper- aware of details such as changes in light and color, the wind, temperature, and degrees of snowfall. In addition to collaborating together, we were also collaborating with nature.
Mary: This state of being hyper-aware came at first of necessity. On many days, the ice was covered in snow and it resembled a field that could be easily travelled, while other days melting areas become more prominent and menacing. As we spent more time on the ice I think our awareness became less about our apprehension but more focused around our exploration and awe. Perhaps we sought to reveal the details and our experiences through the video?
Blithe: Definitely. One way we show detail is by playing with different levels of opaqueness and transparency in the piece. For me, the first level of transparency is evident within the simplicity of the action and the act of repetition. The basic action remains a constant, allowing the viewer the space to focus on nuances. There is a constant uncovering and revealing of different surfaces. We are making something visible that is hidden. At the same time, the water itself is a transparent material that appears solid with the reflection of light.
The opaqueness comes back to the figure, the unknown identity and motivation for the action this person enacts. Like you said, there is also the density of the snow and how it hides the surface underneath. This acts as a kind of canvas for us to make marks and draw on.
Mary: I could also frame your thoughts on transparency and opaqueness as part of our exploration of potential meanings, outcomes and motivations. There is a dialogue that takes place between what is or is not revealed, and by a lack of rationalization in the process.
Blithe: Yes, and that is a strategy we use in a lot of our work. We’ve talked about our common interest in exploring mental and physical spaces that reflect an “in-between” state. I think there is an exciting possibility of an action, place, or journey that is unknown or only partially defined. We leave it up to the viewer to fill in the gaps of “why” this action is taking place, or “where” the place that the action is being held in. For me those unknown aspects provoke an imaginary engagement.
Mary: In Watermarks we developed a series of gestures in reaction to the quickly changing conditions on the ice and the information we gathered from residents in the area. I see Watermarks as melding video, performance and land art. It is an edited version of a performance that was created specifically for video, but that was a part of a larger gesture that left a mark in the landscape, which also seemed relevant yet we were the only witnesses.
Blithe: That is something we have talked about as both a source of frustration and excitement. There are two layers to the work that we make—the component that exists in real-time and space that we are often the only audience for, and the piece we construct for video. I think this goes back to the essential nature of our collaboration in general, the conversation between the live and recorded experience.
This piece was made possible by Iaspis Residency Program. Special thanks to Helena Wikstrom, Ake Andersson and Verkligheten. If you would like to preview the piece email beriley [at] gmail [dot] com or mary.coble [at] gmail [dot] com.
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Is effective political protest possible inside arts institutions?
In Fall of 2011, Occupy Museums and several occupy groups from Europe were invited by the curators of the 7th Berlin Biennale (BB7) to use the KunstWerke hall in the city center for the Occupy movement. Those who chose to take part, decided to create an open and participatory international exchange forum for the movement. Since then, hundreds of activists from Germany, Spain, Holland, United States and Egypt, among many others, have been working together to plan for the BB7 and have issued an open call for all occupiers to participate. The hope is to reach a new public who are curious to learn more about our movement, and open up new ideas and possibilities for working together for change on a global scale.
Occupy Museums will be one of the groups attending BB7. We see this as a risky experiment between activists, governments, and cultural institutions which offer exposure and connectivity. The risk is co-optation of our movement’s grassroots power, the potential reward is international collective actions and solidarity. In preparation for BB7, we feel that input from the wider movement is essential. We want to collaborate, combine the collective knowledge of Occupy Wall Street and local artists, to create a platform for both meaningful critique and participation.
Please join us for an open forum to explore some of the following questions:
- Is effective political protest possible inside the arts institution?
- How does co-optation work, and can its dynamics be flipped in our favor?
- Is political art neither political nor art?
- What are the pros and cons of international mobility within the arts?
- Is Occupy Museums, or other arts groups, co-opting Occupy Wall Street?
- Who are our role models, those who have engaged in effective institutional change? What are the historical precedents can we look to as we approach this event?
- What are some of the ways other Occupy groups are effectively working with institutions?
We hope you will join us.
Contact or questions: occupymuseums [at] gmail.com
Open Call From Berlin Biennale:
Invitation to visitors – Join us! – Even before the Biennale starts!
We call on all people who are outraged by current social global conditions, struggling, hoping for change, to take part in our actions and meetings. Let’s organize ourselves and shape our own future, decide about our destiny.
Help our logistics team with physical support and donations of materials. Submit ideas for actions, presentations or workshops. http://berlin.theglobalsquare.org/
Contact: Join the Berlin Biennale mailing list by writing an email to email@example.com
Groupware is being used for sharing of info, dates, news and tasks regarding the organization of the BB7. You can add yourself as a user here: http://biennale.theoccupyproject.org/user/register
The Living Theater:
The Living Theater will also be participating in the BB7 and they have offered to assist OWS groups to develop videos for Berlin. From May to June the Living Theater in NYC will provide theater space for the creation of videos that document OWS performances, process and who we are. The goal is to have these videos be part of BB7 and projected in the Occupied ghetto of the KunstWerke.
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Coble/Riley projects is thrilled to be able to spend a month making new work in the wintry north through the Iaspis Residency Program.
Where we are going:
Umeå is about 600 km north of Stockholm and about 400 km south of the Arctic Circle. In February the average temperature ranges from 12-25 F, there is roughly three-hours of daylight and A LOT of snow! During the residency we will also have a studio at the Umeå Academy of Fine Arts where we have been invited to give an artist talk and do studio visits with students.
What we’ll be making:
We don’t know yet! Since our work is often built out of our experiences on-site, we tend not to go into new situations with a over determined plan. Part of our collaborative process is about creating as we go, remaining open to the environments we encounter and people we meet. Please join us during this process by following us on facebook and at our website where you can also see our past work. We’ll be blogging!
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REFLECTIONS ON MY INVOLVEMENT IN THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT (First of Many)
In September 2011, I joined the Occupy Wall Street movement. Since then, what started out as a curiosity has turned into a much larger commitment. It has felt like the most important place for me to be. The movement has offered a place to find solidarity and build change in a way the previously hadn’t felt possible.
Below is a little overview on some of the work that I have been involved with in Occupy Wall Street. Note: these reflections are strictly my own.
My entry into the OWS was through the Arts & Culture working group (A&C). As an artist, I was looking to further the conversation that was happening around economic injustice in Occupy Wall Street into the realm of the art world. However I found that the majority of the conversations happening within the A&C were around creating art shows, or using Liberty Park as a curatorial space. This is not how I wanted to participate. As an artist that doesn’t necessarily make overtly political work, I was more interested in building solidarity among artists, who represent an exploited workforce.
One of the best things about OWS is that the process easily facilitates the formation of new groups and it is very easy to enter the movement and start something new! After a few Arts and Culture meetings I was able to propose the formation of the Arts & Labor working group, and got a few A&C members to join me in helping its formation.
The first few meetings were small, and a mix of people from A&C, and others I directly recruited to be part of the conversation. Among those were members of W.A.G.E (Working Artists for the Greater Economy) who has been working on pressuring non-profits and museums to pay artist fees (similar to CARFAC in Canada) since 2003. Greg Sholette also came to an early meeting, providing some historical context by sharing resources on past movements of artists organizing around labor Issues in New York City. Also around this time, a larger meeting was called in the Occupy Movement to talk about the role of the arts in OWS. I attended that meeting, and announced the Arts & Labor working group, and from there the group exploded. From that point forward, it took on a life of its own.
The next few meetings were between 40 and 60 people. There was a lot of conversation around exploitation of arts workers and, calling a general strike, and ways to draw artists to the movement. (You can find meeting minutes here) There was a desire to do something for the next day of action, which was November 17th. We decided that we would hold a General Assembly in Chelsea, a symbolic center of the art market in New York. We called it Occupy Lunch.
On November 17th 2011, on a city-wide day of action Arts & Labor held our first action, Occupy Lunch. The event took the form of a General Assembly on the High Line using the people’s mic. Over fifty arts workers came on their lunch break and spoke out about the working conditions and overall exploitation of arts workers. We handed out sandwiches and drank hot Chai. In the GA, people talked about how much money they make, how much debt they have, and the system that keeps them complacent. I found it empowering to hear from so many voices and to feel a sense of solidarity.
For more about Arts & Labor is up to currently: http://artsandlabor.org
At the same time as I started organizing with Arts and Labor, I participated in the first call to action of Occupy Museums, and soon thereafter joined that group as well. Occupy Museums is an action group that targets cultural institutions (largely museums) and calls them out for their relationships to corporate wealth and greed. Early on, Occupy Museums formed a partnership with the Sotheby’s art handlers, Teamsters local 814, who have been locked out of their jobs since August 2011. Occupy Museums has supported the union by protesting in front of Sotheby’s, but also organizing actions at MoMA that target board members who also play a role in auction house.
The strategy of Occupy Museums actions is to bring the General Assembly and people’s mic to the doors of the museum. This format is open ended and fluid, anyone can join and speak at anytime. Occupy Museums also opens up creativity for the structure of the GA. Past actions have included poetry and manifestos, dance, and singing in the GA. We have held discussions on philanthropy, called out conflicts of interest from board members and philanthropists, and envisioned ways the museum could better serve the people. Click here for a list of past actions.
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Since September 2011, I have been an active participant in the Occupy Wall Street movement. My energy is mainly focused on two groups, OWS Arts & Labor and Occupy Museums.
Occupy Museums Statement:
Art and culture are part of the commons. Art is not a luxury item.
However, many art and cultural museums are currently run by and for the 1%. Economic interests dictate what art is accessible, successful, and desirable. Institutions often have board members who are part of the 1%. Galleries and museums increasingly operate as profit-driven business. In this system, money and power define what is art, and what is not. This system is cutting into the livelihoods of artists and art workers, and has emaciated the breadth of art available to the public.
Occupy Museums seeks to occupy our art galleries, museums and cultural institutions with the ideas, values, histories and art of the 99%. Like our government, which no longer represents the people, museums have sold out to the highest bidder. We are a direct action group within the Occupy Wall Street movement. We bring attention to the most glaring problems within the current system and imagine alternatives. At Occupy Wall Street, we are taking the steps toward a future where our cultural commons are truly shared not hoarded by the few.
For more information on Occupy Museums visit: http://occupymuseums.org/
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Arts & Labor is a working group founded in conjunction with the New York General Assembly for #occupywallstreet. We are artists and interns, writers and educators, art handlers and designers, administrators, curators, assistants, and students. We are all art workers and members of the 99%.
Arts & Labor is dedicated to exposing and rectifying economic inequalities and exploitative working conditions in our fields through direct action and educational initiatives. By forging coalitions, fighting for fair labor practices, and reimagining the structures and institutions that frame our work, Arts & Labor aims to achieve parity for every member ofthe 99%
For recent Arts & Labor events, meeting times, and actions visit http://artsandlabor.org
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Project for Waffleshop Billboard, Pittsburgh, PA
Reading is Another form of Height is a quote by Frank O’Conner.
Reading is Another Form of Height is a text-based piece for a billboard and accompanying postcard. A reflection on narrative, the text on the billboard—a quote by the author Frank O’Connor— refers to the mental space of distancing and reflection of a reader, while the postcard refers to the physical dependence on time and geography.
In much of my work, I am interested in the tension between the feeling of freedom and autonomy and the systems of control that are constantly at play in daily life.