There’s something like six billion people on the planet, so it would seem like an art form engineered to engage strangers would have the potential for a very broad impact. It might—I can’t speak for all six billion of us—but I can say for sure that such work draws its energy from public interaction. And if you happen to be the one interacting with the work, it always somehow seems that it is there just for you.
In The Absolutely Other, a group show of New York based artists curated by Miriam Katz, the work becomes complete with the participation of strangers.
Dave McKenzie’s “It’s a Date” and Nancy Hwang’s “Meet Me at Home” address gallery visitors directly. In McKenzie’s piece a transparent cube sits on a plinth flanked by a pen and tear sheets of paper. The artist invites anyone to fill out the sheet of paper with name and contact info and deposit it in the box. When the exhibition ends McKenzie chooses a name at random, contacts the person, and invites them to dinner. It’s essentially a raffle, but it foregrounds the artist/audience relationship, stuffing it with hope and expectation and even a bit of danger.
Hwang’s phone piece is the perfect mate. A fire engine red phone with no rotary or keys rests on a shelf. Pick it up and it rings; give it a minute and the artist answers. The red phone goes straight to her cell. When I called we had a little chat about McKenzie’s “It’s a Date” and how it stimulates anticipation as opposed to her phone, which generates a more concise sense of instant gratification.
Another piece I’m looking forward to seeing played out is “When I am Reading I am Far Waya” by Hope Hilton. From a short distance it looked familiar to me: a laptop and piles of books on a desk. Sit down at the laptop and again you’re asked for contact details, this time to join in on a book swap. Hilton sends you a short questionnaire about the sort of books you like and then pairs you with another participant. I’ll be sending a book to a sergeant in Iraq. He likes photography; I’m thinking of sending Delillo’s Mao II.
There are four video pieces in the exhibition, each presenting an imaginative and playful interaction with other people. Nancy Hwang records a bird’s eye view of herself on her bed talking with a range of different men and women. Daniel Bozhkov does a hilarious reenactment of Moby Dick based off a chance run in with a stranger who divined secret codes in the book. Einat Amir offers free-use of three characters played by actors, who can be booked for events of anykind. My favorite is the Eteam’s “Land Cruise,” a tale of German farmers on a make believe voyage to New York and Nevada with a stop in Little Texas. The peculiar delight on the faces of the old farmers as they participate in this fantastic journey epitomizes the return on producing such selfless art.
Images: Nancy Hwang, Meet Me at Home, 2006, mixed media. Courtesy Patrick Grenier.