Cave Form Calling …
January 28, 2016
Dear Performers + Transcribers –
Margit Galanter and Philip Huang will not be performing tomorrow night at SALTA is Timeless Infinite Light and we wanted to give you more context and insight into this situation as fellow performers. Below are pieces written by Margit, Philip and SALTA + Timeless Infinite Light. Please read them here or in the zine, where they will also be printed. We invite you to participate in our conversations in person or via email (emails listed at the top).
Thank you in advance for your creativity and engagement in the making of artistic community.
SALTA + Timeless Infinite Light
Margit’s artist statement:
There are so many different kinds of caves. This mess that you see one current of here started like the others with a quiet inner voice. Cave Forms materialized through a literal need to feel the edges of space. Wanting channels to open (porousness, inclusivity) even from the power of the hermeticism of caves, to feel the composition of opening and closing, the magical geometry of constellations and its vivid spaces in between. Yonic tonic.
Here, Sonic: an offshoot for a future audio for a sound score showings in March, for the experience, to try something out, to try IT on, for the fuck of it, for a group encounter, to enact a cave. Something like live sculptural gaffe poetics. A joint collusion with Philip Huang.
Recently I became aware of ASMR through Philip. It is an insane form of joy to feel the whispering visuals touch my screen and tickle me with gloves. I can’t quite describe the little death which is part disbelief—part ecstasy. Is this what the internet brings, the thriving that happens with audio, with synesthesic connectivity? Philip is helping Forge the project Cave Forms. We got under. There are a constellation of people whose perspectives are altering a project which, like a whale, is underwater and spouts forth from time-to-time. Mara Poliak, Frances Rosario, and I have been working in the studio at TAC. Asia and I have been dancing in a coastal cove cave. Chani, Avery, and Ryan saw with their apparatuses. Micah dazzled. Sarah, oh Sarah! We brought some people in the room to digest it with us: Elise, Jess, Geana, Denise, Brianna, Renee, Asia, Maureen. I was touched by the forts we made in the Furnace workshop. Julie forged me into performance, through Abby’s invite. It’s a big blob of praxis, perhaps a constellation. The forging is real; the forms change shape, they see themselves.
These days, we merge our sensation and design with our movement and stillness and we are finding our own fascinations. We wonder what it means to not be creative, to practice receiving being seen, even behind the material, even as we emerge. I am trying to get how this material might be read.
And here, now, an EX/peri/ment
We, communards in the ship of art-life
margit, aka puissance
This piece is not present tonight due to curatorial questions and miscommunications that came up around the participation of Philip Huang in Margit Galanter’s work. Philip’s use of provocation and discomfort as a medium has been controversial in various settings—most specifically at a SALTA’s Short and Sweet show in December 2014. Timeless, Infinite Light felt that by having Philip perform in this event, we would be tacitly uninviting people who were hurt and offended by his December performance and would be endorsing work that has perpetuated anti-black racism and ableism, and we also wanted more insight into the process that happened after Short and Sweet. Members of SALTA had conversations with both Philip and Margit about his involvement in her work, the specifics of the work, and ultimately trusted them to promote an environment of respect and care. Due to a series of miscommunications, these questions were addressed with urgency in the days leading up to this event. Despite numerous conversations, the curators and artists involved did not get a chance to come together as a complete group and articulate their views with clarity both amongst themselves and to each other.
This statement presents only a small glimpse into the complexities and ambiguities of the process of collective co-curation, and there will be further public writing about the situation, but for tonight the piece will not be shown.
This brings up many questions about curation and community, including:
What curatorial dialogues should be public?
What does it mean for curation to be in resistance to forms of oppression?
What does it mean to censor artists?
What does it mean to hold relationships and trust authorship?
How do collectives make decisions when there are mixed and different feelings internal to that group?
What kinds of spaces are we seeking to create?
Here is a story.
An artist I greatly admire was asked to speak to a national gathering of gay youth some years back. Excited and honored by the opportunity, he offered to give a copy of his book, a memoir about growing up gay in the south, to every young person in attendance. Hundreds of books, at no cost to the event. The organizers, however, had concerns.
“We’re concerned,” they told my friend, “that your book promotes underaged sex and drug use.”
“Promotes?” my friend said.
“Yes,” they said. “We’re concerned we may be construed as advocating sex and drugs if we give out your book. And our organization is already under attack as it is. We simply can’t be too careful.”
After regaining his composure, my friend gave his answer.
“I wouldn’t say it promotes those things,” he said. “I would say it depicts them. My book depicts sex and drug use.”
This was an important distinction, one that the organizers accepted. My friend went on to speak as scheduled, people loved him, but he had a profound realization which he shared with me.
“The true evil in the world,” he said, “is fearful, well-meaning people.”
That’s always stuck with me.
And in my dealings with many, many curators and presenters over the years, I see how true it is. Curators have, like anyone, a sense of self preservation about their endeavors, and want, as we all do, to do what they think is good in the world. But the consequence, when the fearful and well-meaning are gatekeepers in the art world, is often a chilling of the subversive spirit, which is to me a chilling of the creative spirit.
As I see it, there are two false beliefs happening here. The first, as demonstrated above, is the belief that the artist always promotes what he depicts. More fundamental, I would say, is the belief that the artist always depicts his own truth.
It’s easy to see why this happens. We live in a time when autobiographical storytelling is the predominant mode of performance. We have an expectation that when someone stands onstage and talks, he must be speaking from his own experience, he must be representing his own beliefs and reality. He is telling his story. It may be shocking then to remind people that someone might stand onstage and say nothing he actually believes. That, in fact, he is going out of his way to hide, twist, and manipulate his own position. That he is playing a most unfair, unethical, and dishonest game with the audience.
Shocking, isn’t it?
The second false belief is that the presenter always condones the artist’s work. This is a kind of toxic naivete, one which the audience, and the presenters themselves, must be actively and rigorously disabused of. How? Through the repeated, or at least occasional, presentation of work that is tasteless, crude, and vile. Offensive work. Work that no one in their right mind would mistake for the tastes of such an intelligent presenter. Not because such art is inherently valuable, but because regular exposure to offensive, unstomachable, morally revolting art increases our tolerance for the diversity of creative expression. Without offense, no art community can become mature, but will rather stay in an infantile expectation of pleasurable stimuli.
Unfortunately, art spaces are becoming increasingly infantile. They are safe spaces, with every surface padded. Artist Keith Hennessy posed the most succinct critique on the subject:
“Safe space…continues to frame us all as victims or potential victims in need of protection. And victims are always justified in excluding others, or Others. Safe space is the ideology that supports the prison industrial complex.”
I’m not so smart, and the thing about the prison industrial complex is a stretch, but that seems right. Lately, the shows I go to seem less like shows and more like showcases for propaganda. Artists who perform the wrong politics are labeled heretics and cast into deep Siberia.
I should know. I am a heretic. I seem unable to stop talking irreverently about sex and race and violence and rape and abortions and insanity and disability and vaginal farts and pilly semen (which is just semen that’s been left out too long that you roll with your fingers into little balls which you can stick onto your eyeglass frames). I seem unable to stop offending good people. I therefore accept my exile from this community. I accept that there is no longer room for artists like me, or maybe people like me, in the Bay Area. I accept that the fearful and the well-meaning have won.
That evil, with its noble intentions, has won.
So while I applaud SALTA and TIL for asking big questions (“What is radicalism? What is urgency?”), I do wonder, who will be left to answer but the most compliant of artists?
In the pursuit of diversity, must we conform our voices so?
I am concerned as an artist when curators delimit the arc of a piece’s full expression. Caught in the middle of ghosts, karma, and an implicit rule book, Cave Forms was questioned in a manner that did not nurture the work. Art conjures its own terms; in this case new language was drowned out by the reductionism of politix. With Philip, I decided to withdraw from the evening’s event. Cave Forms is subtle and provocatively so, and Philip has brought jewels to its development.
I am appreciative of the effort on all sides to come together in text. Through the writing, something took place which was a new form of listening, one which, had it happened more fully over time, might not have erupted in such clear lines.
To this end, I ask:
How can the radical space of not-knowing and listening that is a part of making art offer tools for new ways of thinking through in a collective process?
I am excited about the practice of “calling in” as a way to produce understanding in overlapping communities — to support cultural shifts through real-time personal interactions. For a brief description, see here: http://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/a-note-on-call-out-culture
May we foster artistic spaces that allow for the complexities of the spirit.
If anyone is interested in having conversation with the Cave, or participating in a public Cave Forms happening, you can contact me directly at: email@example.com