Mobile Terrorist Video Unit – this weekend


Keep an eye out during Ithaca Festival.  A band of video artists is on the prowl committing drive-by projections on various public facades around town.

For more info and updates, see the facebook page.

If you see something, say something.
Log on and leave a comment.  Let us know what you saw and what you think.


Ithaca’s Earth Art Legacy

Robert Smithson's "Ithaca Mirror Trail" 1969

Robert Smithson's "Ithaca Mirror Trail" 1969

I’m a bit late getting to this post, but I didn’t want to miss a chance for conversation about the subject of Wylie Schwartz’s engaging recent article in the Ithaca Times, “Art of the Earth” about the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Art show, which happened here in Ithaca.  While the questions raised by taking the art out of the museum and the impact of using elements of the natural environment as the materials are still being explored and felt in the art world, I was also interested thinking about the impact this event had on Ithaca as an arts town.

Was this event a bit of a hit and run?  Something that happened to Ithaca that we have not fully integrated into our artistic and town history?  People are quick to metion Andy Goldsworthy’s work in Ithaca but, as he says, his work is about time and impermenanace.  Busting away from traditions,  not so much.   What I think about is not in the Eco or Earth subject matter, but the moment of shattering traditions and preconceptions about the confines of what and where is art.  As we all come out of our burrows at the start of spring and the start of a new administration, squinting in the light, what is possible now?  How do we reconsider what art is and can be now in Ithaca?  I don’t have much of a clue, but I have the sense that it doesn’t involve a wall.

What else are you thinking about this anniversary?

public art: not for the fainthearted

The architect Peter Eisenman, the artist Mark Dion, and the architect/city planner Nicole Blumner have all spoken at Cornell within the past couple of weeks, and I somehow happened to hear them all. Though it wasn’t the primary focus of their talks, all three had strong words to say about public art and its challenges, especially here in the U.S.

On February 17, Eisenman spoke at Sage Chapel about the Holocaust memorial he designed for Berlin. He had initially started working on it with the sculptor Richard Serra, but Serra ended up backing out (Eisenman recounted this in a rather humorous way…) because the large and intimidating Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who was *extremely* involved in the project, wanted to make changes to their concept. Eisenman is used to working with clients practically as collaborators, so Kohl’s input wasn’t too big an issue for him. And a Holocaust memorial is always a high profile proposition, especially in Germany. Nevertheless, Eisenman marveled that the chancellor of Germany himself and so many other people in the country’s government make public art and memorials such a priority in general. He recalled being greeted on the street by various ministers, and said that would never happen to him in Washington. When Eisenman showed pictures of the completed project, which I found stunning (and even more interesting after hearing him describe his intentions, actually), I swear the first thing I thought was: “Holy crap, somebody could get really hurt on that.”

How very American of me. I doubt that this beautiful array of stone blocks, which, as Eisenman intends, can be a site for immediate human experiences and interactions of many sorts, would ever make it off the drawing board over here. Public officials would be too afraid of the inevitable cascade of lawsuits as various sort of behaviors, fun and otherwise, went down amid these stark, angular, hard, and probably slippery-when-wet forms. Eisenman didn’t address this issues of litigation and liability in his talk. I wanted to ask but didn’t get a chance, and was surprised no one else did.

My growing suspicions about the slow-to-sue Germans were goosed by Nicole Blumner’s talk, on Feb. 27, which was a comparison of German and U.S. interim land use. She defined interim uses as legal (i.e., squatting wouldn’t count), intended as temporary, and ones that “activate” a site–so, not a parking lot or a storage area. In Germany such uses have included an indoor skateboarding area, artist studios, art and performance spaces, community gardens, nightclubs, and festival grounds. The issue of liability came up right away during the q&a, and Blumner admitted that the litigiousness of U.S. society is one, but by no means the only obstacle in developing interim uses for vacant land and buildings here. But to give an example of how devil-may-care the German citizenry is, she described in some detail a horrifyingly dangerous playground she went to with her child while she was over there. It sounded fantastic to me.

Mark Dion raised the issue of public art unprovoked at a talk after his funny and visually entrancing (for all you collectors, hoarders, birders, general nature nerds, categorizers, and filers out there) slide lecture at the Johnson Museum on the 26th. He basically said he hates doing public art projects, and for reasons that sounded reasonable to me: there’s no funding and because public art in this country is almost always decided upon by members of community boards and city councils and attendees to their meetings rather than by special art commissions of art professionals or artists, you can’t do anything interesting, because anything interesting will always be seen by someone as offensive or dangerous (I paraphrase). Michael Kammen, author of the new book Visual Shock and a Cornell American cultural history professor, was also at the talk, and he told the story of the infamous Robert Motherwell mural at the JFK Federal Building in Boston, which was protested for about a year because one of the papers leaked the untruth that it was meant to represent the president’s head on impact of his assassin(s) bullet(s). But the project was completed and eventually most people decided they really liked it, especially since it really wasn’t a depiction of anything, being abstract. Other anecdotes followed about museums resorting to draping sheath over sculptural nudes and other measures taken to protect the delicate American psyche.

Anyway, all this got me thinking even more about public art possibilities in Ithaca. I would love to hear if anyone has any thoughts, including practical procedural ideas, for how to clear the path for exciting new uses of available spaces in Ithaca, especially the vacant indoor spaces downtown. How can we get everyone involved without ending up with art that’s too safe, in every sense of the word, or (much worse!) with no new public art at all?

Poster Boy

Poster Boy is an anonymous NYC artist who uses existing subway ads to create instant collages that comment on consumerism, politics, the media, celebrity and are sometimes just juvenile gross-out jokes or clever plays on words.  I like his work best when it’s smart, funny and cutting:



Also a recent collage he made for a magazine cover commenting on the assault on Gaza using a current news photo and Goya paintings:


Of course, he brings to mind Banksy, who I also enjoy, but whose visual style doesn’t always appeal to me.  And I love that Poster Boy is taking these commercial posters that corporations have paid for and turning them into commentary.

Public Art

Just listened online to Tish Pearlman’s interview with Patty Phillips, Chair of the Cornell Art Department.  What struck me most in their half-hour discussion was the exchange about public art.  Patty speaks about the questions that make for good public art and the way that avoiding these questions can result in “disappointing public art.”    Phillips feels that engaging public art is all about the content: does the work address the site (historically, physically, socially) or “what it means to be a public citizen” or how we as individuals relate to public space?  She mentions Creative Time and The Public Art Fund as examples of organizations supporting/creating strong public art.

Work chosen to offend no one also inspires no one.  The most interesting public work poses questions, opens dialog and need not make stark, polarizing declarations in order to do so.  We have nothing to fear from the public examination of the issues we struggle with as a community.  How is Ithaca’s public art serving our community?  Some people may enjoy being photographed with the metal horse on the Commons, but are they talking about it?

Here are some (non-controversial) recent public works that I found charming/whimsical/thought-provoking:

Pulse Park by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer - Madison Square Park, NYC

Pulse Park by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer - Madison Square Park, NYC

More info on this project

More videos of this work