ArtHERE: Round 2 Juries

ArtHERE: Round 2 Juries

How much faith do we have in the public? When judging what constitutes sufficiently eye-catching art for potential audiences, one of the most difficult tasks is to assess what will sustain their attention. Somewhat problematically, this often involves surmising the level of intelligence and myriad interests of the public. I began to grasp what it was like to reconcile such considerations last week as I joined ZERO1’s Curatorial Assistant Anne Babel and Public Art Producer Justine Topfer to jury submissions for our ArtHERE Round 2 calls.

ArtHERE, commissioned by both ZERO1 and the San Jose Public Art Program, presents an effort for artists to refashion underutilized public spaces into communal, discourse-driven art areas. More specifically, ArtHERE: Silicon Valley is the pilot strand of ArtHERE that will run as part of the 2012 ZERO1 Biennial. The public spaces we have chosen, most of them located in San Jose’s South First Area (SoFA) district, have called for specific pieces that fit into the Biennial’s larger ideological thrust of bridging art and technology. Project proposals were assessed via a number of criteria, including how appropriately artists sought to utilize the physical spaces and how monetarily feasible these projects seemed. Perhaps the most difficult of these criteria, however, was the aspect of participatory audience interactivity. To what extent could these artists find a way to communicate their elaborate ideas to audiences who approach their works with fresh eyes?

After brief jury meetings with Touchstone Climbing Studio and MACLA’s Noche Electrica the day prior, Anne and I headed over to Palo Alto on August 2 to jury submissions with the Palo Alto Arts Center and Pacific Art League. Palo Alto Arts Center’s unique lawn space provided a challenging opportunity for artists to engage with this notion of interactivity. The lawn itself, a large and uninterrupted expanse of greenery, could purely be a space of spectacle.

With this in mind, Nanette Wylde’s augmented reality-based “Diverse Paths” proved to be a thematically rich piece, emphasizing both a crucial physical component and thoughtful audience interaction. In her proposal, Wylde envisions a way in which spectators, prompted by statues of mid-flight birds they see on the lawn, become part of a larger conversation through connecting their smart devices to a posted QR code. This QR code leads users to a live camera view of the site onto which she projects fine art drawings of birds. This, she hopes, will allow spectators to understand the richness of the natural environment that makes up Silicon Valley. The question, of course, of whether the public itself would even respond to such a call – whether this conversation Wylde pictures is really possible in our day and age – became pivotal to the decision-making process.

Likewise, when assessing the submissions to the Pacific Art League, the problem of how we define the public’s capacity to consume art arose once more. Shane Bartlett’s “Singularity”, a mixed media display piece, manipulates the notion of Singularity written about so frequently with regards to Silicon Valley. Like Wylde’s work, “Singularity” allows spectators to scan QR codes with their smartphones to access a website that, in turn, will ignite a larger dialogue of what Bartlett refers to as “curated crowdsourcing”. In his proposal, Bartlett envisions a website in which audience members will post their own videos, write-ups, and photographs that serve as a communal commentary on the Silicon Valley’s rush towards Singularity.

In contrast to this was “Pixilation of Place”, a piece of striking and affecting simplicity. Amidst the Biennial’s many mixed media pieces, “Pixilation”, a series of drawings, exhibits a refreshing return to a more traditional aesthetic vocabulary. Though the potential for audience interaction seemed limited, we postulated that this work could perhaps be more accessible to passersby who seek sensory satisfaction, providing an alternative to the potentially distancing density of “Singularity”.

Are spectators merely passive beings who seek instantaneous, knee-jerk pleasures? Or, rather, should we expect them to grasp intricate thought processes that may not be apparent upon cursory glance? Maybe it’s true that the public is too lazy; perhaps each pedestrian won’t engage in the constructive conversations artists seek to ignite, even if called into these discourses through visual excitement. That said, these juries saw my own breed of cynicism – my belief that it’s better to play it safe with the public – healthily debunked. For better or for worse, Silicon Valley is a space in which myriad ideas come into contact with one another. The public is instrumental to this transmission of ideas. Only through placing trust in the public do we realize that they, in all their eagerness to consume, form the backbone of this dialogue.