(Thank you, Roger Waters)
Meg wrote to me again, mirroring my thoughts in some uncanny way. Meg is the student from Tyler I am collaborating with through e-mail – I give her all the credit for this since she pointed out that our dialogue was a collaboration. I have decided it is collaborative dialogue. Yes, that’s what I will call it.
This time she showed me her work and talked about the machine:
To give you an idea of what I’ve been working on lately I’ve attached some images. There are mainly two bodies of work that I like to focus on at one time, mostly because I have so many ideas its hard to keep them all together. The one image is from a collaboration I had with a composer I knew where she made a musical composition from my painting and I made my painting from her composition. The other body is a continuing series where I collaborate with graffiti artists. My first solo exhibition will be taking place at the school next week, not my first choice but the space is huge so I’m grateful for it.
I have to tell you that I have been investigating many aspects of what it means to attend an American art college as of late. A few weeks ago I decided to present a series of drawings for a social experiment, where names of homegrown American terrorists were paired with small abstract paintings. All of the names had appeared in two second blurbs on news stations very recently, and thoroughly covered by the New York Times. Not one of my class mates recognized the names, not a single one. And they were very angry. I still have no inclination whether they were mad with me for seemingly accusing them of not knowing, or if they were mad at themselves out of guilt.
The school is a huge machine pumping out students like products on a conveyor belt, the learning structure is standardized, and they use their students for free labor at the end of the semesters. That’s right….at the end of every semester all of the Tyler students must attend a required studio clean up for 4+ hours to return the studios to their original state or grades are with-held. An economy where people desperately need jobs, Temple tries to save a buck in using their students who already pay tuition. I have no problem cleaning up my own mess but this doesn’t seem right.
I worry about continuing to practice art because of this machine. Luckily my other projects have taken me abroad to collaborate with other artists. So far I have worked with graffiti artists twice in Philadelphia, once in Rome Italy, and very recently in Shanghai China. The idea of collaboration interests me very much; I think this is because I have a strong idea about American artists being very selfish and the lack of one American community. This takes some explanation. A few of my friends are from Palestine, Lebanon, Greece, and the Dominican Republic. When they discuss their hometowns, they often talk about how neighbors are very supportive of each other (when families have babies in the Dominican the neighbors will take care of that family for a month, washing laundry, cooking, any kind of chore). In the United States the idea of the American Dream ruins any kind of a unified American community; individuals pursue a better life for themselves not for their neighbors. In fact, any time I’ve ever seen any kind of collaboration it’s been when a disaster has happened (9/11, blizzards..etc.). So any time I get the chance I try to collaborate with other artists; one voice can speak but many can get really loud. Which is exactly why I appreciate your collaboration so much.
I worry about the machine itself. I am a part of this system – at the other end. This occurs to me often and sometimes I feel guilty when I go with the flow and standardize what is unique and cannot be put inside a generic brown paper bag and labelled with a number. I hate roll numbers. They are generic labels. I can never remember them and names are much better. Infact nicknames are even better. Curly, Shaggy, Toothbrush, Psycho etc. I love nicknames. They have personalities.
I do not want to facilitate a machine with a conveyor belt. I want to facilitate people. They are human beings who need to be guided to their own paths. We cannot tell them who to be or what to do. We cannot fill them with our own ideas and our own disappointments – they have their own to deal with as it is. I have noticed that sometimes we (meaning teachers) tend to project our needs, our failings and our ambitions on to our students. It frightens me. And the machine demands everyone to be the same, to be judged in standards and to fulfill requirements based on that standard. How can it possibly work without damaging somebody? Are we equal to the point of standardization? What about genuis and genuine disability? What about learning disabilities and physical disabilities? What about difference of opinion? What about a difference in culture and social backgrounds?
Awareness has a cost. But it doesn’t have to be standardization. It doesn’t have to be conveyor belts and products. In art-schools, the products (students) are brainwashed to make more products (art-work) which has commercial value (great and small) but that is another debate. They are products and investments. As for community – they turn into competitive market shares and all hopes for community are dashed. Some survive this standardization and they struggle on the edges of elite market shares. They live on the hope for more. Even artist collectives and communities are elite systems with closed doors. Only the special ones are let in. And who are these special people? The ones who do well – in other words, the ones who have enough PR and make enough sales and show enough work to galleries who expect good sales. It’s a vicious cycle.
Am I a part of this machine? I don’t know how much or how well I serve this machine god. I just grow weary whenever I think about it. Meg has been kind enough to open this dialogue and for that I am grateful. I have been a student in the US as well, but I was international and I didn’t get too involved in the system I suppose. Or maybe I just didn’t think about it because I was too busy having fun and absorbing what was new to me. I never felt unwanted or inferior or stared at. That was such a relief that I didn’t notice a lot of things. Or maybe it wasn’t important to me then. Whatever the case, now I cannot ignore the thought because I feel responsible.
As for voices – well, there’s always those. And they’re almost always heard but not always understood. I am not an activist but I am a human being. I feel things and I cannot be apathetic and ignorant. I can stay confused though – until I figure it out.