Art appreciation can be a deeply personal, transformative experience. The different themes embodied in the work might meet a visitor on a minutely relatable level, or the visitor might have some sort of transcendental realization. Regardless of the magnitude of the emotional response, the discussion of artwork—especially in a casual sense—tends to be superficial. When I’ve gone to various galleries and exhibitions with my friends, the depths of our conversations regarding the art has been limited to a discussion of aesthetics: “I like how the artist…” and “This piece reminds me of…” are phrases that dominate my conversations within such artistic spaces. Talking about our emotions is largely ignored, and we would rather show off our ability to analyze what the artist is trying to say. Some might argue that there is a time and a place for such deeply affecting discussions, yet this interpretation discounts the very real impact that art can have on our everyday lives. Especially regarding the relevant social and political themes of the Stamp Gallery’s current show, Black Maths, these conversations must happen beyond the scope of aesthetic analysis.
I’d like to share my personal reaction to Adam Holofcener’s sound installation, Upresting, as an example. After spending a considerable amount of time with this piece, my emotions have ranged from uncertainty to empowerment. I am uncertain because the sounds of protest do not loop in a predictable pattern, and because I cannot anticipate the chanting or the screaming or the silence, I experience a loss of control. I am at the mercy of the work, and that is personally terrifying. This fear subsided, however, when I discovered the interactive aspect of Upresting: the microphone. I learned that my voice is amplified in the simulated multitudes and that my contribution has an audible (if only fleeting) impact on the sound. My voice became powerful, yet I had to continue to speak lest my voice faded away into the crowd.
For me, experiencing Upresting has given me the opportunity to admit my fears and embrace my voice, yet this personal sentiment is not easily relatable to others. I try to take these emotions home and discuss with my roommates, but often my words are as scattered as my thoughts. People are afraid to engage in these conversations because they fear either their interpretations are wrong or that they won’t be able to present their emotions cohesively. That is not the point of discussion. The point of entering artistic discourse—especially on such a personal level—is to work out the jumble of thoughts and emotions into something more cohesive. The uncertainty we might feel after taking in an art piece isn’t to be avoided, but celebrated. So I urge to engage in the discussion in any manner you like: express yourself creatively, take time to sit and talk with friends, write a blog post.
If a work of art makes a statement that affects you, the least you could do is respond.
Written by Christopher Bugtong
In the wake of last Tuesday’s election and its results, The Stamp Gallery’s exhibit, Black Maths, has become more relevant in processing the emotions and opinions of the Gallery’s audience. The election’s results have left people angry, upset and afraid. But what can these feelings solve? If I can conclude anything from the horrific news of racial tensions on both sides, these feelings solve nothing, these feelings save no one in their rawest forms but these negative emotions can be transformed into mindsets that are productive, mindsets that can produce real change instead of promoting or repeating acts of our past. So, have your conversations about how hurt you feel but don’t turn that hurt into hatred. Instead, use your emotions and turn them into something productive, something progressive.
When people typically think of an art gallery space, I would assume that they think of paintings, prints, sculptures, and the like. The rules are unspoken but evident: no touching, no flash photography, mindfulness of the space. A very present connection between the artist and the art piece is established, and by setting the aforementioned limitations, the exhibitors and curators reveal part of the artistic intent.
So what happens when the artwork and the experience becomes democratized, where the only boundary presented is your imagination? What happens when the visitors in the gallery are invited to not only touch the artwork, but to participate in the process? These are the questions presented to visitors as they experience Paradise Now. Over the past seven weeks, the Stamp Gallery has exhibited a show in which guests have reshaped the topography of the space, embraced the subversion of everyday life, and put themselves on display. Yet this show has meant so much more.
After activating multiple sessions of Paradise Now, I’ve seen a variety of different responses from our visitors. Some boldly push the limits of what they are allowed to do, others are paralyzed by confusion and uncertainty, and still others simply play and give themselves to the experience. Each person’s response is wholly different but equally valuable, giving them a self-understanding with which they are able to leave the space. These emotional and intellectual reactions are not traceable to a single object, but rather to the ethereal moment of experience. The visitors are invited to put themselves into the process, so the relationship is not simply art-informing-viewer, but instead self-informing-art-informing-self.
Despite my praise of the alternative Paradise Now format, I am not discounting the traditional gallery experience. By no means has the Stamp Gallery given up on exhibiting artwork in the conventional sense. Both types of exhibition engage their audiences differently, and both aim to confront the participant with some sort of thoughtful engagement. Some subjects that an art piece might reflect are love, social dissonance, artfulness, etc., but part of what Paradise Now reflects is the audience, and that aspect is the crux of why we were interested in curating this show. This exhibition has been a stark reminder to our University of Maryland viewership that art does not have to be transcendentally significant.
Art can be about you, too.
Written by Christopher Bugtong
Paradise Now is truly more than a game. Beneath the fun interactivity of the exhibit lies a profound commentary on humanity. Like everyday life, the gallery offers a broad space where visitors can make decisions based on their circumstances. The game is shockingly liberating: patrons are encouraged to manipulate their horizons however they please. Through that freedom, visitors encounter an accepting environment where wearing a milk carton on your head or screaming through a megaphone is welcomed enthusiastically. In many ways, Paradise Now has created a safe space and a creative habitat.
Ironically, the liberation of game is also one of its constraints. Immersing oneself in Paradise Now is a surrender to limitation: the clock is ticking, self-consciousness is looming, cooperation of a partner is crucial, and the kindness of others is variable. Unless the circumstances are optimal, the freedom of Paradise Now can be its most daunting restriction. In many ways, the paradoxical nature of the game serves as a microcosm for life- choices and the question of free will.
The tension between fate and free will in Paradise Now is a testament to the philosophical, psychological, and creative power of the exhibit. This dimensionality inspired me to reconfigure portions of the score into a poem. The first section of the poem reflects suffocation, while the other savors in release. In the same way that Paradise Now embodies freedom and restraint, so also does my poem represent creativity in the midst of limitations. In life, we also have to stick to the Score, no matter how beautifully vague it may be.
Only At Arms Length: A Reconstruction of the Paradise Now Score
Have you ever closed your mind?
Like a bad habit: stop. scream.repeat.
Down at the ground
when the stages are stacked
Holding onto any moving object
Somethings cannot be learned or granted for your hard work.
Just an infinity of impeccable restraints–
A hunger to know something for certain
How did we get here?
Pick a player
Follow your lead
Face the inward windows
silently now, start to
Fill your body
Foam on top of foam
Only at arms length.
we spend our whole lives
seeking to be individual
define ourselves by
the same skin
grow hair the same way
and teeth that don’t grow back enamel
our eyes know only their position below
our nose between
our ears on either side
perhaps a few color changes
our genetic make-up
has only one brand
we were manufactured in the same factory
outside labels are all the same
so how could we expect that intrinsically
we could be any different
sure there is the effect of wear tear & age
nature versus nurture
the ends held prisoner by the means
but when you excavate the core
put under microscope the reason for doing
the archetypes remain
I wrote this poem a few months ago while thinking about Carl Jung and his idea of the collective unconscious. Simplified, his theory says that our unconscious minds are connected through ancestral memory and experience and that all humans have this in common. This part of our mind is, of course, different from our individual consciousness. What causes me to bring back this idea of the collective unconscious is what I have observed while watching and taking part in Paradise Now‘s games. There is no set rules to this game, yet after a while, patrons seem to know what they are doing and they exhibit this through their lack of knowledge. As the game progresses, patrons develop the same idea: that I must go along with everything in the game or, if I disagree, I change it. We all hold on to this same thought but in dealing with/ executing it, this is when our individual consciousnesses come into play: some people will follow along with where others lead them, others will create their own rules by changing the ones on the whiteboard still others will change their own rules silently. Through my own informal study of behavior, I have found that Paradise Now is not only a game of unequal circumstances and varying objectives, it is also a game of collectivity and observation.
color can’t without light
freedom isn’t in a vacuum.
see the space between us
and know it can grow smaller.
know that wreckage
can be a duet,
are born from cacophony,
and that loneliness
know that your CZs are my fat blueberries
and we are mutually rich.
know that banality will not save us,
only the words you’ve never said:
they are the ones I need to hear.
small phrases, passed gently,
in that little space between us.
loving without romance.
a clementine in six parts.
it is never too beautiful
it is never too fair.
Thank you for beginning your journey to becoming an unlocked player in the game of Paradise Now.
Paradise Now is a game of unequal circumstances and varying objectives that invites unlocked players to alter and redefine the game’s Score by participating in various rounds of the game. The Score is a series of directive actions that happen over each 60 minute round of the game. Unlocked players may alter the Score by navigating the space with their bodily movements, altering the various gaming mechanism at play, and by adding directive phrases to its structure. Although many players may be active in the game simultaneously, every player may choose to fill the role of player 1 or player 2 and respond accordingly to their set of directive actions in the Score throughout each round played. Each round of the game played throughout its occupation of Stamp Gallery in September & October of 2016 will be documented, archived and analyzed by our team, who will compose an accumulative Score. The accumulative Score will represent a collective of player movements found throughout the entirety of the game’s stay at the Stamp. Your participation is highly valued by our team and we hope you enjoy this round of the game.
The Paradise Now team