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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Art of Picking a Lock

I showed this interview with Lucas Murgida in my Advanced Studio class:

Lucas Murgida at 667 Shotwell from Chris Sollars on Vimeo.

Part of the function of the class is to get people comfortable talking about their work. While an artist doesn't need to be able to talk about their work to make good work, it's certainly a useful skill. One big stumbling block is that many students, I think, equate talking about their work with betraying their work. Or at the very least, converting their work into a kind of linguistic flatulence. Everything that's solid melts into air. Artspeak wafts in nebulous little puffs of verbiage, unmoored from earth, from sense, from art -- even sometimes from grammar.

The appeal, to me, of the way Murgida talks about his work is how concrete he is. He's picked* something very tangible -- a vocation, namely locksmithing -- and plumbed it for its metaphors. So ideas have objective correlatives. He doesn't skimp on "ideas," it's just that the ideas flow naturally from events and actions. He's one of those conceptual artists whose artwork seems to be equally composed of the art activity itself, and the tale that's related afterward: as if the function of art is to live out a good story to tell. At which point talking about your art is just storytelling.

The other reason for showing it to the class -- which is intended to provide some professional tools for the students, to help them maintain their art practice after leaving school -- is the neat transubstantiation between work and life Murgida performs. Unless they're working in some "art industry," like advertising or game design, most artists are going to end up balancing the work that pays the bills with the work they want to be doing independently, outside of any immediate compensation. Through an act of choice, and repeated acts of attention, Murgida hasn't acquired a day job to subsidize his art practice: he's turned his day job into his art practice. It's a big leap, but it makes me think of the novels of John Berger -- who's always seemed to have a sensitivity towards the types of work his characters do, understanding how the particulars of one's employment often shape the way you look at the world. It would seem to be a fairly obvious insight: that a person's work often provides the raw materials for a person's worldview. But contemporary culture is so alienated from the notion of sensible work, that the employment of fictional characters is often backgrounded as an afterthought or a purgatory, attached to -- but distinct from -- the "real life" that's being lived off the clock.

Here's a friend, Steve Lambert (whose own work is full of the same sort of genial-yet-sharp humor that Murgida uses), talking about his experience going through a Murgida workshop:

Thanks to Joseph del Pesco for leading me, link-wise, to Murgida's work.

*no pun intended

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