I continue to think about AS220, specifically about what it means to create and support work in a defiantly non-critical environment. AS220 is, of course, not the only space that fosters, first and for most, the creative impulse but it’s the closest experience I’ve had with such a place. As I might have mentioned, anyone can exhibit in its gallery–you need only sign up. It’s a fiercely democratic position, one touted with great pride. In a conversation with Founding Director (and artist) Umberto Crenca, he said “We don’t decide who’s talented and who isn’t. We create the opportunity for talent to exhibit itself.”
Immersed in this environment, I was surprised to find myself both elated by the vision and connected to the very criticality such a vision eschews. I am interested in curatorial visions, and perhaps especially as an artist rely on outside validation/reproach. What happens when you take that authority away? It’s an interesting experiment and, based on the dirth of energy around AS220, it works. (How much its success has to do with its specific socio-geographical context within Providence is also worth considering). So what is it about critical dialogues that I am so married to? Why does it have such a significant (and yes, reciprocal) relationship to art?
I always consider the relationship between what one makes and what was made before. No doubt this stems from a difficulty relating an aesthetic experience (i.e. the experience one has beholding/apprehending a work of art) to others. In trying to relate such an experience, I look for shared footholds which can be discussed–tangible, objective land lines by which a shared appreciation of meaning and consensus can be achieved. It is a pleasurable discourse for me, one inextricably bound to my more abstract appreciation of art. While I don’t think anyone would begrudge me that enjoyment, it often leads to judgement, whereupon it is decided that this is good vs. that which is bad–a kind of map making which would discount certain efforts while celebrating others. A preferential hierarchy emerges from such a discussion. The value of one project is ensured as another is devalued–as though the work of cultural capital were a zero sum game. These preferences influence others to follow suite or rebel against the expectations therein defined; both actions reinforce the stability of our aforementioned hierarchy. Defining preferences this way seems ultimately complicit with and nourishing to an economic market, because the work preferred can be assigned a value in league with its status as an ideal object. From here, the value is further supported as the object is institutionalized into the canon of museums. Suddenly, thinking of critical dialogue in this way, it seems to produce an exponentially convinced scaffold of aesthetic lineage.
Perhaps a non-critical openness is the most unconventional, iconoclastic position. Perhaps it provides an interesting upturning of what has so far been taken for granted. I’m only not sure of this: then what? And it is really possible to let criticality go? How do we create a common ground (a shared mythology) without it?