A quick memory of a familiar argument frequently hashed out amongst art-minded friends: Which takes precedence: a well-seen image or a well-formed idea? Is an artwork less strong if it has to be followed by an explanation as to what it is or why it exists, or is it better if it is just a plainly stated, obviously well-seen and/or well-executed thing? Sure, we'd love it if all artworks could be both things at all times, but that's art batting in 1000 territory, and how often does it do that?
For some time now, I've become increasingly drawn to something that I can only quantify as open-ended collaborative works. Threads of commonality to the kinds of things that have sparked feverish, I-Should-Have-Thought-of-That! admiration include a willingness to start a conversation around an idea but not control it or its outcome, and a zany confidence in the idea itself that precludes having to offer up full disclosure of contents or contributions (i.e. not having to satisfy an artist-as-omniscient arbiter-of-everything, but to be generously willing to create guidelines in the artwork that allow for both participation and privacy on the part of the collaborators).
Submissions from too hard to keep, a project by Jason Lazarus
Open for submissions throughout all of 2010, Lazarus is collecting images from anyone willing to send fragments from their lives that are too hard to hold onto any longer. From his solicitation for submissions:
I am creating a repository for these images so that they may exist without being destroyed. You may dictate whether the images you submit to the archive are:
1. images not to be shown again, or
2. images that may be exhibited in the future with other submissions to the archive.
The reason you can't live with the photo or photo album I do not need to know...
Images of exes, deceased grandparents, friends or pets, children, or even self-portraits taken during hard moments, the most compelling aspect of Jason's project is that it's so what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Too Hard to Keep is a repository for things that you don't want around you but you also don't want destroyed. To contribute to the project you don't need to offer any narrative or explanation, you can even stipulate that you want the image to remain "publicly private," and Lazarus will scan the back of it and display it on site face-down. The whole idea is almost a complete inversion of the experience of something like, say, Post Secret, in which as a viewer you are privy to someone's actual darkest, silliest or most mundane thoughts, and where you are also a consumer of an endless interior monologue—someone else's. Lazarus has instead created a space where individuals can offer something up rare and raw of themselves and have it not be a spectacle; release is the principal artistic realization and revelation here. I really hope that Jason's project takes off and receives many more submissions; the potential for the project is so big. To view the entire archives of submissions thus far, or to read Jason's guidelines for submission, visit the site.
Images from Week 1 of The California Sleepwalker's Treasure Hunt by Alec Soth
Another project that we've been following with growing curiosity is Alec Soth's California Sleepwalker's Treasure Hunt. Back in April on the Little Brown Mushroom Blog, a crowd-sourcing call was made for people to give tips on where to find condors, hare krishnas, punk hangouts, metal detector enthusiasts as well as, "anything else that fits into this line of thinking" (the actual request list is longer). In his solicitation, Soth promises that for any tip that leads to an actual photograph, that person who provided the lead will receive a reward. The solicitation entry received over 75 replies, mostly from helpful people in-the-know of the exact kinds of spots Soth hinted having an interest in. Since then, a few threaded exchanges have revealed that Soth is not disclosing what generated his scavenger list, why he's doing what he's doing, and that he's entirely comfortable with you not knowing.
Maybe this project will turn into another limited-edition, lo-fi and full-of-punch publication, or maybe it will become something none of us in the cybersphere will ever see. Something that is very appealing in these works that Soth has been engaging in is that they are chock-full of artistic license and liberty for the artist, and have none of the expectation for a highly-polished, or prohibitively expensive (in terms of time as well as money) execution or release. And by dint of his participation in the LBM blog (and in the past with his own, now defunct, blog), Soth gives us occasional glimpses and moments of what a successful working artist is both thinking and doing, allowing us in to see a process that may yield something tangible and "finished" as well as the moments where you're just left to wonder. And that's okay. And part of the point.
Image from Things For Sale That I Will Mail You by David Horvitz
I first came across David Horvitz's work through his website Things For Sale That I Will Mail You. Beguilingly simple, Horvitz's site offers up several conceptual "products" available for purchase via Paypal in which he is willing to perform specific acts related to your purchase.
The product listings range from the exotic ("If you give me $1,626 I will go to the small Okinawan island called Taketomi and send you an envelope filled with star-sand (don't worry, I've been there before, I know where to go). I will send it from there."), to the quixotically quick and intimate ("If you give me $1 I will sit in silence and think about you for one minute. I will send you an email when I start this, and I'll send you another email when I'm done."). Each product listing is also accompanied by a list of those who have contributed to the project thus far, when they contributed, and often, what they received from Horvitz in return for their payment.
Horvitz's offerings on Things For Sale That I Will Mail You read to me like the dreamy meditative acts that I might enact on a daily basis were I paid myself to be a dreamer. What I realize as I consider whether I want to buy a photograph of the sky made just for me that moment, or if I want him to write a letter of apology on my behalf for someone I've wronged, that these products are of the making of many general acts in life that we as Horvitz's consumers might engage in were we not too busy in our workaday lives to set aside time to wonder, reflect, give back and blissfully blank out. When considered in that context, I am beset by two conflicting impulses: to both buy one or several things on Horvitz's site, or to doggedly determine that I will carve out space and time to do things on his list that only require my time and/or thoughtfulness. Send something to someone for free, just because. Apologize to someone that I know I owe an apology to. Think about someone else, and only them, for one whole minute. Horvitz's project is an instruction as well as a caution: you can do these things for and of yourself, or you can pay me to do them for you.
We here at Jen Bekman Projects are also very fond of collaborative art projects that our artists are engaged in, such as nearly every project that Jason Polan has undertaken (his most ambitious project to date underway with his stated goal of drawing Every Person In New York), or the work of someone like Jane Mount, who has been creating artworks of actual people's Ideal bookshelves. We have several for sale here, or you could go directly to Mount's Etsy store and commission an custom ideal bookshelf of your own.
The allure of the collaborative art project is seductive in its simplicity to you as a viewer: in order to become a fully realized object d'art, the artist needs you to be engaged, willing to participate or share a piece of your life, pay a small amount of money for, or otherwise be a willing patron/co-creator in an act that will be a dance between you, the artist, and everyone or no one else.