Friday, August 12, 2011

The Returned Gaze

I spent much of the morning on Saturday measuring and gazing through the windows of Artisan Wine and Beacon Pilates. My main objective was to plot out two points (one in Artisan, one in Beacon Pilates) that would be connnected by a straight line. 
One of the pieces planned for ]twenty-six paces[ will articulate a portion of this invisible line - the portion of the line that pierces the window of each space and reaches the respective end point.

My intention to use a laser to mark the points was thwarted by distance, sun, and lacking an adequate laser.  Ultimately, I think this failing was a boon as it forced me to measure the individual spaces and to observe and measure the relation of the two spaces in relation to one another.  An effective way of knowing a place, too. It also made me realize the point of this entire exercise - the point that is evident in the first 
]twenty-six paces[ video - that I am the metric, and I am the lens.
It's an easy enough thought to grasp, elemental, really to the existence of an artist, but the profound simplicity of such things often evades me. 

Another very simple and obvious thought that struck me as a revelation that day; The direction in which a gaze travels through a window. 
In the case of a store front window, the gaze can go both ways; from inside to the street and from the street to the inside. 
For a project like WOMS, the predominant gaze is from the outside in.  An inherent stasis forms.  Observer, moving through the channel of the street stops and looks.  His gaze is supported by some work or vision.  The view disengages and moves on.

The second floor window, though, is exclusively the conduit of the inside to outside gaze (moments of out-to-in voyuerism aside).  Again, simple and obvious.  But it exemplifies completely the distinction between the two spaces and the activities they support.  Artisan is a retail space, fully dependent on the transparent and accessible nature of the space. Though slower than other stores, this one relies on the fluidity of patronage.  Get in, get goods, go out. 
Beacon Pilates, while still needing to be accessible is a more intimate environment. Slower transition between in and out.  Indeed there is fluidity and movement going on, but it is contained within the space.  It is a contained space.  Contained, and removed, by the stairwell onto which the street level door opens and which carries patrons to it's second floor perch.  It's a space that by the very nature of it's purpose and methodology, demands a certain commitment of time from it's patrons.   It's contained, but not closed off.  The street and it's life is readily viewable through it's windows.  From the inside to the outside. 

Beacon Pilates is not a tourist destination.  It demands more of its clientele.  And the clientele expects more from it.  Artisan Wine Shop, as an establishment is more amenable to the tourist trade.  But there's a sustained culture within its walls and it is sustained by a culture that runs deeper than the basic currency/goods exchange; the mere presence of the kitchen at the back of the store speaks to that notion.

Aspects of the Windows On Main St exhibit also caters to the tourist trade.  It potentially offers the passer-by a commitment free visual treat.  But for me the real value of the exhibit, year to year, is gleaned in the slower, repeated interaction with the work and having a sufficient enough knowledge of a place to recognize how the artwork modified or informed the environment into which it was injected. 
When Karlos Carcamo and I founded the exhibit, then organized it for the first four years, I felt the strength and value of it rest not in what it gave to visitors, but what it potentially could give to residents who know the city so well.  I've stated this frequently in the past, but for me, some of the most successful works featured in WOMS were often imperceptible upon first glance.  Or, if indeed noticeable, the works spoke specifically to the location and its condition that delivered a new understanding (in some cases) or a new experience of a familiar space.
I've said too that I wish that Karlos and I had done more to break the project before we handed it on to someone else, if only to give it the ability to roam free of the constraints implied by the name we gave it.  As we progressed as organizers and curators we were open to the vision of an artist that would reinterpret the exhibit, or what a store front is...or what he/she felt like doing.  We both were ready to break away from simply the store front window space - the most touristic component of the streetscape. 

As organizers - which is a sort of overstatement,  (to our credit and our detriment our level of organization was minimal and "loose."  Enough to get the thing done, but no more infrastructure than necessary to give the artists the opportunity and support to do their thing.) we actively encouraged our selected artists consider all possibilities in conceiving their works.  We both encouraged them to step outside their conventional modes of production, to use this exhibit as an opportunity, not to make a grand statement - unless they wanted such - but to use it as an opportunity to experiment and perhaps grow.  We weren't interested in work that was just plopped into a location, although we gave artists the free reign to do so, if that's what they chose.  We stepped back to let the successes and failures stand or fall on their own.
In ruminating on Artisan Wine and Beacon Pilates, I've thought that we could have better framed the exhibit as a fleeting artist residency.  I think that term, loosely applied, lends an understanding of what is at the heart of at least a part of the exhibit; working with sensitivity in an envrionment and letting that experience shape the work.

It defines my approach in participating as an artist in this year's exhibit: Pierce that store front window and go further.

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