it IS art

A couple of weeks ago in But Is It Art  I wrote about a group of people who “scaled the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge and replaced the American flags with bleached out white ones.”    The artists/perpetrators did not identify themselves or provide any information beyond the act itself.

Two German artists recently took credit for the act, and provided credible evidence substantiating the claim.  The NY Times reported that:

Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke, say the flags — with hand-stitched stars and stripes, all white — had nothing to do with terrorism. In a series of phone interviews, they explained that they only wanted to celebrate “the beauty of public space” and the great American bridge whose German-born engineer, John Roebling, died in 1869 on July 22, the day the white flags appeared….Mr. Wermke then cited a remark by Philippe Petit, the French high-wire artist, whom the two Germans admire. Mr. Petit walked a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center almost exactly 40 years ago.

Why did you do it? he was asked.

“There is no why,” he responded.
German Artists Say They Put White Flags on Brooklyn Bridge NY Times 8-12-14

Apparently they underestimated the fear many New Yorker’s would likely have to all this.  The Times reports, they had conducted similar projects in other places around the world  “and they claimed to be somewhat taken aback by the reception here.”

ap7408070220_custom-172d42bddf850e1d90ed5c7011546e0cb3321d91-s4-c85[1]While this seems to me some combination of disingenuousness and sloppy post-conceptual art making, the crux, for my purposes, is Matthias Wermke’s recounting of  Petit’s remark “There is no why”.

However difficult to define art may be, the impossible ideas of “art for art’s sake” and a non-utilitarian utilitarianism, are likely to be part of any discussion about art and its embodiments.

Recently, in an interview promoting his newest book Creativity: the perfect crime Philippe Petit revised his earlier remark somewhat:

To be able to create fully, it’s maybe fine that you learn the rules, but you have to forget and to rebel against those rules. … In a bank heist, you steal, you rob, you take away. In an illegal high-wire walk, you bring forth, you inspire, you give a gift — the gift of beauty and inspiration. … The big difference is, you don’t take, you give.

I’m guessing something like this was the “why” behind Leinkauf and Wermke’s’ bridge installation.  Given their admiration for Philippe Petit and his close connection with New York and the World Trade Center, it’s ironic they missed the inevitable associations their audience would make.

 

 

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But Is It Art?

6bd67e94[1]Last week, a group of people scaled the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge and replaced the American flags with bleached out white ones.  Many people have many theories about who did this and why.  Certainly, some kind of terrorist explanation comes to mind – a dry run to expose security protocols perhaps.  But also among the many speculative explanations was that this was in some way art.

Deputy Police Commissioner John Miller said the incident had “no particular nexus” to terrorism or politics.

“This may be somebody’s art project or an attempt to make some sort of statement, but at this time it’s not clear what that statement is,” Miller told a packed news briefing at police headquarters.  NYPD Sees Art, Not Terror, in Brooklyn Bridge Flag Swap Bloomberg 7-25-14

Of course this would be of the Conceptual or Post-Conceptual variety that I discussed in my previous post.

Even so, how can art be indistinguishable from terrorism?  Even in the throes of Dada, the avant-garde, the Theater of Cruelty starting almost 100 years ago, the audience knew it was an audience and the artist knew she was an artist.  Certainly the creators of these productions meant to break down the barriers between audience and artist, but the barriers were there to be broken down.

By the time we get to 1966, John Cage says to Stanely Kauffmann,

What is happening in this century, whether you accept it or not, is that more and more there is no gap between art and life.

Art is famously impossible to define.  It is the institutions of art that clue viewers, listeners, smellers, tasters, touchers that the experience before them should be understood as art.  Heidegger describes the function of both art and technology  as the revealing of Being. But just as technology is “nothing technological”, art is nothing artistic.  Both are a function of the revealing Heidegger discussed, each dependent on a different understanding of Being.

This increasing invisibility of art recalls for me, in this context, the projects Stranger Vision and Invisible by Heather Dewey-Hagborg I discussed in my last post.  In the first she constructs “family resemblance” sculptures from DNA she acquired in random places.  In the second, she developed a pair of aerosol sprays to eliminate and mask any remaining DNA from a surface.

Indeed, news reports indicate that DNA Evidence Found At Scene Of Brooklyn Bridge White Flag Stunt Gothamist 7-25.

Perhaps the NYPD could find Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Vision technology useful.  Perhaps the artists/perpetrators could have benefited from her Invisible technology.

There is no Luminol spray to show trace evidence of art.  Perhaps that could be Dewey-Hagborg’s next project.