What do I like, and why do I like it?
That might seem like a really simple question, but I think that particularly in this age where it's easy to "like" something by clicking a button on Facebook, it's really important to analyze what actually draws you to certain things. I dropped out of art school after one year, so I didn't really "properly" learn to do critiques or any of that. Perhaps this is part of why I feel ill at ease when asked to articulate my feelings about a piece beyond knowing that I like it, or don't.
I was made aware of two art projects last week that evoked very different, opposite reactions in me. The first, Murmur Study, an installation by Christopher Baker, elicited a strong negative reaction. The second, Environmentally Unfriendly Monoliths, an installation by Peter Robinson, a strong positive reaction. After some thought, however, I realized that the projects have some things in common, and that some further reflection about my feelings might shed some light on the darkness in my soul -- um, I mean, why I had the initial gut reactions that I had.
So, Murmur Study. Really did not like it at first. I was struck with the feeling that the idea was stale and had been done before. I was reminded of some project or projects I had heard about a few years ago involving projecting text messages onto buildings. I wasted rather a lot of time doing Google searches to locate these projects, to "prove" that this idea was stale, but then I had the revelation that I didn't need proof to explain my feelings. I feel like it's been done. I feel like I've seen all I need to see of this kind of thing, and it doesn't really matter if I can find the evidence or not. This therapy session is about MY FEELINGS.
Anyway. I do understand that this project is slightly different, and furthermore, this particular project is kind of unique among Things I Don't Like because I consider it to be very well-executed. In fact, the more I read/learn about this piece and consider it, the more I believe that it's really been done as well as it possibly could. The use of the thermal printers in particular is the perfect medium to use to highlight the impermanence of the very archive that is being created.
I'm pretty sure I "get" it. I "get" it and it's well done. I just don't like it. It seems like a waste of paper, it feels stale and overdone to me, an artistic question that has already been answered, or perhaps doesn't really need to be answered. I wonder if my reaction has to do with the fact that I come from the world of library science and preservation, and we think about these topics ALL THE TIME. Almost every day I am faced with questions about permanence and impermanence, archiving, making decisions about what's "important" or "relevant," and so a project like this just seems entirely unoriginal to me. Real librarians are dealing with these questions all the time, and it's nothing new.
However, I realize that not everyone is exposed to these questions all of the time, so perhaps for them the installation is a lot more thought-provoking. Context is everything!
So, why do I like Peter Robinson's Environmentally Unfriendly Monolith installation then? It also addresses similar ideas of waste and permanence.
I guess the short and simple answer is: it feels more honest. There is no "deep" and thoughtful artist's statement (that I could find) and so it is entirely likely I am interpreting this very differently from how Robinson intended (although, I believe that that is a big part of what visual art is really about -- the potential disparity between the viewer's experience and the artist's intention -- but that's fodder for another blog entry entirely.)
If you want, you can meditate on the impact humans have on the environment, or ponder for a while the notion of permanence, but it doesn't force you to do that. It's just huge, ridiculously huge stuff made out of a total "waste" material, and it's never going to degrade, like all things made out of this material, after the installation is done. It feels like a great joke, and it invites you to consider certain issues without cramming them down your throat in an overexplanatory way.
I did quite a bit of internet probing and couldn't find too much information about Peter Robinson, but I did find this review of another, similar installation of his, and I think it's insightful and worth a read. Probably because it seems like the reviewer has reached a similar if more elegantly stated conclusion about Robinson as I. Also fodder for further thought, in a different blog entry.
The entry took me a good week to write, but I think forcing myself into this mode of thinking is useful for me. I'd be interested in knowing your thoughts as well.