Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Shape of Things

Its all about geometry. The Eucledian stuff you learn in high school. All visual art, whether its public art, or gallery work, requires that you take a drawing that fills a sheet of paper, and expand it to fill a wall, while keeping it exactly the same. Rahmaan Statik Barnes told me and another gallery visitor this while explaining the origin of the name Polytechnic at his design group’s gallery show closing. Polytechnic, coming from West African drumming, requires that you think about things in terms a rhythm where it is full of different sounds, but it blends to create music, without losing its distinctiveness. Academics have framed this problem in terms of politics of singularity, or how to think of things in terms of pluralism, or multiplicity. Wall art, monumental art, is fundamentally a problem of geometry. It visually constructs modes to think about the ongoing problem of representation.

However, wall art is not an unproblematic solution. Talking to REIS, a young graffiti artist, and Jon Laidacker, a lead muralist, both explained to me the way that constructing objects of scale involves difficult issues of geometry. REIS explained that its easy having a sketch, but when you try to put if on a wall a figure can have one arm half the length of the other. Laidacker, in showing me a mock up of the “How Philly Moves” mural articulated how one set of figures had to be three stories tall, while others had to be six stories tall to conform to the shape of the Airport Parking Lot. JJ Tiziou in discussing the compositional challenges of “How Philly Moves” pointed out that every organizational move, shifting a figure to the left or right, or scaling one figure up or down twenty-percent transformed the entire tableau, and risked making another figure’s face “fall into a hole.”

In a sense, the spatial translation issues that public artists face is similar to the challenges we encounter as political theorists or simply political dreamers—how to transform concerns that seem aesthetically and conceptually sounds into a public space that is beyond our control, often unwieldly, requiring shape shifting and alterations that force intentional acts of imagination. The discipline practiced by artists like REIS, Statik, Laidacker, and Tiziou in mentally shifting frames, materially going through processes of trial and error to find something that makes sense to public eyes, are techn├ęs that could be applied to good use in political invention proper.

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