AARON ZIMMERMAN

"Artist's Chat" NYArts Magazine Vol. 8 N.3 (March 2003) pg. 55.

A dialogue amongst the participants of "Homeland Security"
a group show curated by Aaron Zimmerman at 450 Broadway Gallery, January 2003.





Aaron Zimmerman:
So I curated this thing, on some level, to be a loosely structured gathering of work by American Pop culture savants like ourselves and how we're ineffectual in the face of war's immanence at making the kind of art that changes things. There was alot more to it obviously but, it seems that that point got lost or at least was never addressed in a way that viewers wanted when going to a "POLITICAL" art show. The points made were too much of a stretch. People wanted something really direct. I personally thought that was really boring and lacked imagination but what do I know? I did alot of defending but at this point am willing to concede a failure to have changed anyone's notions of what Homeland Security is. Anyone care to speak to the nature of this failure?

Matt Fisher:
Failure or not, that is up to the viewer. But the idea of the show, 'homeland security.' is such a large notion to grasp, that it would be very hard to have a show/work of art that didn't hit you over the face. the work skidded around this issue, there were no pictures of planes or arabs. The most direct piece was John's. and Superman Sleeps. But even that needed a stretch. But it worked. The show was meant to open a dialogue about artists, mainly young American artist and how we deal with an issue/conflict, that has never been dealt with in American art. There was an Jerry Saltz article last month comparing European art to American and how unpolitical our art is. How overproduced and shallow the ideas are, his case in point was the new work of Tom Sachs. Maybe the show was the start of something new. I know it changed my way of thinking of my own work. So in conclusion, I feel that the show was not a failure, that, in order to understand all that was said one would need to spend more time with the work. It's not that The work didn't communicate this, rather, that it spoke about it by speaking around it. How does when make high political art today? It's hard to say. Never has there been so many 24 hour news channels: FoxNews, CNN, MSNBC, and on and on. What does that leave us with? Trying to talk the issues that these outlets are not. Thus we need to look be on what is in front of us; and, the overall premise of the show allows for this.

John Jodzio:
I felt like my piece was the only thing in that room that even remotely touched on the topic of Homeland Security. And I also noticed that nobody wanted to look at it. Nobody liked it. People want to see Wolfmen and Superman, toys with penises and bright abstractions. Nobody cares about war, the middle east and the threat of chemical warfare. If we did, we would have made work about it. If people cared about it, they would have told us to our faces that the show sucked. Aaron called the show a "failure" because we did not address the topic of Homeland Security in a direct way. I think we did exactly what needed to be done. We had the gallery, the press release, the flyers and the website describing American apathy toward American politics. We called our show Homeland security and made a show with absolutely nothing to do with it. We don't care about politics, we all care that we had a show in New York City. Job well done boys and girls. I think our next show should deal with starvation and Africas overpopulation of AIDS victims. We'll all be wearing a fucking Wolfman suit.

Rob Hart:
I personally don't want to see a show about starvation and Africans overpopulation of AIDS victims I would much rather know people are actually in Africa dealing with the problem rather in a studio making personal work about the problem. I make what I make and yes it could have beenin a show called landscapes and the human body or paintings with rainbows. And the same goes for everybody else. The idea of "Homeland Security" goes way beyond the borders ofour country to me its about me individually protecting me.I see this show as a cross section of who we are as Americans; sort of like the Breakfast Club.

Aaron Z.:
I'm interested in this Breakfast club comparison what is that all about?

Kia Neill:
In terms of the show being a failure: like we didn't already know. Don't get me wrong, the work looked really nice, but we all knew going into this that we don't make political art. Why does Homeland Security have to necessarily refer to 9-11 all the time anyways. Sure this incident brought the idea of better self protection to our minds, making us even more paranoid individuals, but where does the homeland boundary end and foreign territory begin. We are scared of ourselves and scared of each other. I was actually quite intrigued with Matt's piece in the exhibition. I felt his work really captured my idea of homeland security, our fear of the unknown, destroying the unfamiliar instead of trying to understand it. So I guess in the end, even though going into this exhibition I knew none of us really deliberately made political art, I became aware of how these political situations have seeped into our work. Our attitudes and demeanor on life in general has been effected and this comes out through the work we make. Yes, people must look at the show with quite a bit of a stretch, we all know this, but because of this stretch I think a few people might realize the subtle changes in their individual lives and the communities in which they live do to political/worldly happenings. It's not "this doesn't effect me" anymore.

Jeff Williams:
First off, before I can address all that has been previously stated, I must go on a tangent of specific proportions. Undermining the admittedly vague conceptual structure of "Homeland" was a permanent installation in the 450 Broadway gallery. An installation by the gallery's owner and benefactor, Abraham, in which 250,000, obviously production centered Ab-Ex drawings were presented in stacks filling a wall of shelving units 16 feet long and 8 feet high. The drawings were offered to the audience as take home souvenirs and for the "Homeland" exhibition the wall acted like an impending doom of memorabilia-I'm being overly dramatic. But seriously, from my experience at Abraham's other gallery: the 473 Broadway Gallery, the shelving unit should be teleported south to his more blue-chip location. At the 473 Gallery i was able to view first hand paintings that were plausible extensions of Abraham's drawings: color saturated, palette knife smear-swirls. And in the back of the exhibition, a small collection of Arthur Danto's wife's art therapy, construction paper collages; where She and Arthur are back in the utopian Garden of Fucking Eden. Now that I have gotten the specifics out of the way, onto the larger scope of things. For me the theme of the exhibition, from the start, was based on the inability of American art to address global, political issues, that exist due to American interaction. Instead American artists cling to a naive innocence that simultaneously perpetuates their standard of living. As "Homeland" artists we offer adolescent academia as a way of bashfully apologizing for an inadequacy we don't quite comprehend. The exhibition title "Homeland Security" is a parody, it makes fun of how language can become a symbol that blocks the multiple layers and subtleties the words may have signified before it became a thing. As a viewer the title of our show probably incites the expectation of a political spectacle. I feel that our "Homeland" offered access to artists who deliberately acknowledge that we are a nation where the majority of experience is mediated, where the mentality is conditioned, where we are constantly misinformed and closed off like Gilligan's Island or some shit. This is nothing new-we are simply artist willing to suck up pride and admit that we are retards (not a medical term). Hopefully we will be worth studying. The main reason Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy do so well overseas is because they offer access into the psychology of America and outsiders remain curious. Were so embarrassed of our nation's international relations that I think we are in perpetual denial. Look at Matt for example, his dialogue failed to mention that the most illustrative of the homeland theme was his own "The Director" painting. He tried to pass the buck to John or Aaron without realizing that it's his own painting hung above the vinyl title for the show.

Matt F:
this is getting vicious. why can't we accept that we were in a politically charged show? I'm not saying that the work was only about the idea of 'homeland security'. of course not. And as it was stated, most of the work was created with other intentions in mind. It was the show that brought it together. this allowed for the audience to the view the work through the lens set up by Aaron thus making the show political. I like this. I am tired of group shows based around loops or nature. And it's nice to see work that isn't labeled with 'gender', 'ethnic', or 'sexuality'. In the context of the show, how all the work fit together will take time to figure out. It's the conditioning of the audience that prevents this show from becoming more. i hope that my observations were not short sided. and as far as talking about my own work, it's something that i avoid. 'the director' was perhaps the most forward piece in the show; thus, i see it as the weakness piece in the show. It was too obvious, too easily political. Is art to spell it all out for the viewer? How about the group shows? When can we trust the viewer to fill in the blanks? .

Jeff W.:
I think that I was saying that we were in a politically charged show, but one that was more interested in negating that fact. I mean all experience right now is in relation to what is currently happening, all works to a point are altered by current events. I think one of the more interesting problems was the title for the show-it is a symbol for our paranoid government and it is almost impossible at first glance to think of the words in a more poetic sense, like the e.e.cummings poem of the same title Aaron presented early on in the shows conception. Right now the phrase "Homeland Security" is almost like shouting fire or some other really specific spectacle, only after our viewers walk up 4 flights of stairs their expectations are unfulfilled, negated, subverted possibly. I think this is a good thing and for better or for worse I know several of our opening audience members were extremely curious on how what the title promised, was present in the work. I will disagree with Matt, I think the show spoke more specifically and was more easily accessed in terms of gender and sexuality-through failed desire. But at the same time I think these issues are intrinsic to the polemic of the show. In short, everything is political to some varying degree. I am assuming that our viewers were hoping for something more than that, something that finally addressed things straight on, but in way that hasn't been done in a while here in the states. The fact that we talked even further around the issue of homeland seemed to frustrate many, leaving them with only their default mechanism for viewing and a thirst for cheap beer.

Jeff W.:
Dudes: I totally forgot Wallace-he was our example of anything being political, using his non-objective abstract paintings as representative of the status quo, who just want to do their own thing and enjoy it. I was curious how Wallace responded to his work being placed in between teen wolf and superman?

Wallace Mills:
Dudes and Dudette, I think I've spent to much time trying to come up with some witty remarks on the show. (I still have not) I did enjoy the placement of my paintings. I think it challenged my work as well as both performances. I feel that this section of the show gave people the hardest problem. Even Jerry Saltz asked why I was included in this show. I don't think I have any insight yet. I did agree with Rob that I think we could be just like the Breakfast Club. But I'm confused who's who am I Emilio Estevez or Molly Ringwald. I do know. I'm not anyone cool.....

Rob H.:
Molly of course, just as long as i can be Judd nelson catching a peek of your panties.

Aaron Z.:
Jesus Christ. Come out already, both of you!

John J:
I like what I'm hearing. I love the analogy of the breakfast club and the thought of those pink panties makes me hot. I used to go out with a girl that looked a lot like her and I always thought that if I did get the chance to fuck her in the arse that I'd be a much happier man. But back to the politics of dancing. I found Abraham's piece to be a very useful tool in our show. I think that the whole idea of having someone else's art in our show ( a big, huge, take a drawing for 5 bucks) piece of art showed a lot of our own burocracy we live in as everyday people in America. We think we're free, but we're not. There's always someone bigger than us taking something away from us and there's nothing we can do about it. We have also forgot to mention (what I think) to be the best piece in the show was Jeff's" Lobster Cherry Bomb". That thing fucking scared me. If that piece would have been at Mary Boone, she'd have been arrested (again). The thought of having something packed with gun-powder, wick exposed and inviting anyone to light it is the same feeling I get riding a subway thinking anyone could bomb this.

Aaron Z.:
Here is the E.E. Cummings poem that Jeff was speaking of (I actually altered the poem in the form I showed you all. This is the original version):

economic secu
rity" is a cu
rious excu

se
(in

use among pu
rposive pu
nks)for pu

tting the arse
before the torse

Whether it be this poem or the Watchmen by Alan Moore or the radicalizing events of the past year and a half I have been enveloped by the specter of violence,injustice and ignorance in whatever I have consumed in media. I needed desperately to reflect that in something I did as an artist and citizen but I didn't know how.We are ruled by the purposive punks that E.E. talks about. I don't think anyone reading this is in disagreement about that. The form of art's political dialogue is from what I've seen (I'm open to correction on this) still using the anaesthetic mechanisms of past generations. I hated politics and political art growing up because it was essentially colorless, formless, and so involved in theory that I couldn't wrap my barely literate, American public school educated brain around it. I wanted to see the pictures. I didn't want to read the book to understand them. The oneness of an image in all it's stupidity,nonverbalness and ease seemed missing. So I gathered you all together to create an anecdote/poison that could use the image as a forum for discussion about the governments of the world and their activities. Our kind of image is a terrorist act against political art as I have characterized it. Baudrillard wrote in "The Spirit of Terrorism" (2001 Verso), "Terrorism is the act that restores an irreducible singularity to the heart of a system of generalized exchange." If we symbolize all that boring institutional art that requires more theory to apprehend than experience as the mainstream "system of generalized exchange" and the work I gathered in the Homeland Security show as that act that restores an irreducible singularity to the heart of a system..." then we come out winners. Like a bullet in the brain,or a plane in a building, or a child's voice that floors you with it's honesty. But the failure I wanted to get at on this level is that necessity for us to explain our intentions so much just like those boring conceptual/ political fuckers who can't draw worth a crap. So are we winners for using "terrorist methodology" in our work in this context to speak against terrorism as it really exists in the world or are we just swept under the rug because our contradictions and intricacies are unnecessarily complicated nay implicated in paradox? Am I making any sense any more? Shit I'm going to bed. My arse is before my torse.

Matt F.:
i was glad to hear what we all thought of the show as I didn't get a chance to talk about it. I got this email from a friend of mine, and I thought it was well written and that it talks not about the show, but the idea of what is political art: from Vic Colaizzi: Well, "political art" seems to me one more easily categorized mode, part of our situation in which everything is "always already" known, as they like to say. All forms of dissent are pre-approved and available to you at a reasonable price. So one may ask, "Why would anyone want to take part in something, a category, already known?" Well, the answer is for the same reason that I want to be a color/gesture landscape derived abstract painter. Because the quality of this always already knowing is inaccurate, indeed perverted, because the knowing is in the context of a blithe, flippant journalism. Therefore political art, just like abstract painting, is an expression of hope, the hope of a) fulfilling yourself and b) touching another person.But because of this rampant cynicism, an art that attempts to mean what it says and say what it means is also in itself political, no matter what its subject matter. It is an active contradiction of the presumed impossibility of the genuine. Yes yes of course meaning is slippery and there is no absolute transparency, but that is a strength, not a fatal flaw. Now as to the particular form of this political art, it also is vastly open, and subdivided into additional always already known categories, which, for the same reason as above, are open and valid. Yeah that's right, valid. That means not just bemused postmodern tolerance, but engagement and belief. This is the test for art making and art evaluating. Now to get even more politically specific (in 2003), I think political art, (and let's face it, that means left-wing liberal politics) is particularly urgent now, not just because of a republican in the White House or in Congress, but because of the equally Democratic and Republic pervasive attitudes of tolerance of compromised ideals, what adults like to call the "real world." In other words, the rampant commercialism and materialism and conformity with which I am also complicit.What would really be cool is right-wing political art. How about that? Some sort of installation with caves made of brown packing tape addressing itself to the folly of taxing stock dividends.By the way, materialism, a.k.a. commodity-ism, is really immaterialism, because it is a response to the illusory value created by advertising and the mindset.

Jeff W.:
Matty, This is something a friend just emailed you? Is his email language always like this? I am amazed and don't really buy it. Are the: "By the way...," and the "yeah that's right valid" supposed to be sarcasm or is this a flow thing. Does he talk like this, is he Italian? I think its you Matt, I think you got yourself a little journalist pen name and your having a good time. It was good to read, nice change of pace from the breakfast fags.

Aaron, I think that you are talking about opposite extremes maybe? The semantic, logical, western conceptual artist and more intuitive, subjective visual language, of an esoteric pop artist. Are both so incomprehensible that nothing is gained without additional, outside information? Kind of like patriotism and religious fanaticism. And the necessity to explain intensions comes down to the idea of genius. How badly do you want the audience and history to know that you are one, bad-ass nerd. It's a struggle, especially if you work a shit job and your immediate community is a bunch of breakfast club fags. You will be tempted to allow access into your genius. Luckily none of that shit happened for our show. The exhibition as a whole was in a gray area between the pompous nerds and the Juxtapoz extreme-artists, we weren't totally image and we sure as hell didn't explain shit. And as far as genius goes, not one of us has even used the present forum to highlight their own work. fuck the whole winners or failures thing-we played well and confused a lot of friends. And John-everyone who talked to me really dug your painting, I don't want to throw off your theory-I mean I don't like it- but you were the most consistent compliment, not even fucking around.

Aaron Z.:
Yea, You're right Jeff. Thanks for parsing out my late night, doubt ridden ramblings. John I agree with Jeff your piece was really great and you're artist statement is one of the funniest I've ever read.. Rob and Wallace I hope you 2 work out your homoerotic Molly Ringwald fantasies. Jeff called you all fags because he's jealous. That's all for us. We gotta wrap it up. Thanks for participating everyone.