Clickbait. Swiss artist/critic Thomas Hirschhorn does not hate your art. He just does not love it either. Or does he?! And should it matter? What makes any art (un)engaging?! The 2021 ¡Energía = Sí! ¡Calidad = No! workshop at Bombas Gens Museum in Valencia challenged the current algorithms for art production, valuation and appreciation by inviting anyone to judge anything if they volunteer a personal art piece for collective judgement as well. Tag, you’re it!
THE PROCESS. It was Agatha Christie meets X Factor. Strangers gather in a room. Everyone brings a concealed talent/weapon. One by one they take the stage, make their move, take their shot. Once all the art crimes have been committed, the trial begins. Each a suspect, a juror, and a judge. Does this art piece have energy?! Yes or No?! No alibis accepted! Once the verdict is reached, all state personal reasons for voting yes or no. Wow, the spirit of enforced vulnerability: to expose one’s work (and by extension, one’s self) to judgement in close proximity while having to share your opinion about others to their face… What a bold exercise in taking community personally! As if Twitter was never invented and we still had to own the emotional power of our words.
I had three reasons to sign up.
1) As a media instructor at the Academy of Art University (San Francisco) and International Fashion Academy (Paris), I work with students preparing to enter the highly competitive creative industries. I’m always looking for ways to help them re-define success.
2) As a journalist, I have covered biennales, including five assignments for Forbes magazine. Talking about “art” to an audience primarily/presumably interested in monetization has been a challenge. My first story was from 2017 Kathmandu Triennale in Nepal, still under the earthquake rubble. What’s art got to do with it?! The learning curve can get vertical.
3) I enjoy a few artistic practices. Yet I never identified as an artist. Having exhibited and performed elsewhere, I still somehow felt that a deal breaker in claiming the moniker was the purchase of one’s work. I needed a new way to think and talk about my own creative processes.
I went twice with two different offerings for the group critique:
DAY ONE: YES & NO
I chose a piece I felt was most art-like: a collage from a series The Greenest Grass. Years ago I spent days working on it and loved the result so much I had it framed. The peer group responded with a YES. My ego was elated. Thomas Hirschhorn said NO. My ego was crushed. The discussion made it evident that most yes votes were rooted in politeness, not taste or insight. Why did it matter to me then?! What preferential authority had I given the facilitator over the participants?! I felt myself disagreeing with both the unarticulated/inarticulate acceptance and substantiated rejection. Ultimately, external opinion could not sway my experience of this artwork. Its energy was mine. It (em)powered me. Or is all art meant to be public?! The day’s few answers flooded my mind and heart with questions I welcomed home.
DAY TWO: NO & YES
I chose a piece that felt the least “professional”: two pages from a diary I kept during the coronavirus lockdown in March and April 2020. “I know what you did last lockdown“. Loose thoughts and random scraps of paper, it was a way to track the slow-moving global catastrophe. The peer group responded with a NO. My ego was crushed. Thomas Hirschhorn said YES. My ego was elated. What do you call a déjà vu in reverse?! Sure, it is a dinosaur sticker and a frame from a stamp. LOL. Could text be a language barrier in art? Could an individual experience of a collective event be unique / unrelatable? Must all art exude energy or is energy in the eye of the beholder? Is an artist worth their oeuvre or does every hit/miss upend their (self)worth? If we are not to judge the book by its cover, can we judge a diary by two pages? More questions not for TikTok.
In the weeks and months since the workshop I kept reflecting back on the experience. It was humbling and liberating at once. To not shy away from evaluation, but also not to get hooked on evaluation. Is that the Zen of art ‘n self criticism?! I mostly kept coming back to the pieces of other participants. I spend a lot of time in museums, galleries, studios. Overtime, it blurs. However, I recalled these artworks and performances so vividly, because I had to be fully present and truly open to them, to witness them in the moment. Was this exchange not enough? Such familiar concepts: NOT and ENOUGH.
Not: a willful annihilation, an intuitive protest, or a mindful balance?
Enough: a starting point, equivalent of a zero, or an (un)attainable goal?
Who gets to define and enforce not/enough in art? In life? How often we accept this judgement from others? How often we inflict it upon ourselves? Do we wear it as an ill-fitting pauper’s crown or a deceptively feelgood tiara? What happens if I take it off? If I strip myself of both the NOT and the ENOUGH?! If I can honor my creative experiences and creative expressions of others? What if, after all, I too am … an artist?! Gracias, Thomas & Bombas Gens.
Here is my drawing to summarize the ¡Energía = Sí! ¡Calidad = No! workshop:
“By Thomas Hirschhorn: Portrait of Me as an Artist, 2022”
P.S. Now, how does one franchise this workshop? Asking for a friend 😉
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