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Category Archives: Ideas & Inspiration

Yes, Art Making & Critical Theory Are Forms of Research

Leonardo DaVinci drawing - Five Characters in a Comic Scene, c. 1490

Leonardo DaVinci drawing – Five Characters in a Comic Scene, c. 1490

An editorial posted the other day in the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail, Let’s stop pretending academic artspeak reflects actual research, claims that “Artspeak” does not reflect “actual” research in the arts.  The conventions and validity of the arts are under attack daily at the moment.  As a member of a research institution where my research is art-making, and is occasionally supported by dense writing, I was disheartened to read this uninformed editorial in a major newspaper.

Artspeak is the often satirized form of English that showcases artists’ proclivity to use complex and absurd-sounding words and phrases.  I do appreciate the difficulty of artspeak and acknowledge my complicity.  Yes, when possible and appropriate artists and theorists should write for lay audiences.  However, I also recognize the necessity of Artspeak as a discipline-specific form of writing with its own quirks and peculiarities.  Several authors at Triple Canopy, a New York magazine, did a wonderful analysis of Artspeak calling it “International Art English” in 2002, yet there are many artists and writers like Russel Smith, who likely never had patience for French poststructuralism nor the florid universe of International Art English it helped to spawn.  To the author’s three main points:

The author’s first point is that artists use big words to overcomplicate simple concepts.  The author claims that “performativities of language embody speaking subjects,” is the same as “people of different backgrounds use language differently.”  These sentences are not the same and have different meanings.  To tackle the first part of this mistranslation, the performative aspect of language (or anything else) is different than language itself, language itself being the province of linguists, grammaticians, and even anthropologists.  Performance itself is an important part of the fine arts, as is the performative aspect of words or materials etc–what words materials etc. can do.  Secondly, embodying is an important concept in the fine arts as well;  the fine arts necessarily deal with  identity, the body, and the ways that individuals or materials can express certain ideas in ways that other disciplines do not.  While in other disciplines people “use” language, in the arts language is additionally free to embody speaking subjects or vice versa.  Finally, the word “subjects” is not the same as the word “people”.  A subject is an important concept in the arts—the subject of a painting, a subject as a distinct entity and not necessarily an individual belonging to some specific “people“, as is the case in the authors example simplified sentence.  Admittedly, this is a clunky sentence that could be improved.  Yet, the author’s thesis that complex ideas like embodying and performativity are analogous to simpler words like “use” is nonsense.

As the current president of the United States has gone to great lengths to simplify and dumb down the English language, so too has the populace been somewhat dumbed-down and considered in highly simplistic ways.  Trump’s tweets do indeed have a “performative aspect” and the sooner we recognize this the sooner we understand the performance itself for what it is.  Words mean things yes, but they also do things, and an integral part of the fine arts is a sensitivity to how various media “work us over completely” (Marshall Mcluhan) impacting individuals and culture.  Arts finds itself at the extreme of a spectrum of language complexity, as an embrace of complexity is in part the job of the artist. In a time of oversimplification from our elected leaders, moving toward a greater appreciation of difficult ideas and a greater understanding of the limits of language is a moral imperative.

To the author’s second point, I am not sure who is claiming that “critical theory is a kind of scientific research” in the first place.  This is a straw man argument.  Critical theory is necessarily and deliberately unscientific but it is research.  The fine arts celebrate ambiguity in ways that chemists generally cannot (lest they blow up the lab).  And God forbid critical theorists and artists use the wrong style when using citations!  The authors critique that artists and philosophers have it wrong by using “APA style as opposed to MLA style, for those in the know [emphasis added]” is an appeal to the same kind of discipline-specific elitism he attempts to condemn.

Finally, the author states that “philosophy and art criticism prove nothing…They just advance ideas.”   Scientific theories do not prove anything either.  This is why we call them scientific theories.  “Just” advancing ideas is exactly what artistic as well as scientific research does.  And yes, considering various ideas over the course of a period of time can constitute “actual” research in the truest sense of the word: research is by definition the process of seeking—Middle French recerche, from recercher to go about seeking (merriam-webster)—and not the process of making decrees about “established facts” in the form of science.  When we concede research and ways of knowing to the sciences exclusively we lose our humanity (the Nazis were supported by “established facts” about racial superiority provided by scientific researchers).  Obversely, figures like Leonardo DaVinci demonstrate that ideas may be advanced and strengthened through both artistic and scientific disciplines.  Unbound critical thinkers, artists and philosophers point us toward a greater and fuller understanding of the universe, in all its complicated, seemingly superfluous performative glory.
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Tekhnē solo exhibition in Tallahassee, FL

Joe Hedges
Solo Exhibition
621 Gallery at the Nan Boynton Memorial Gallery
Friday 4 November 2016 5:30 PM
Artist Talk @ 5:30pm
11-04-16 through 12-04-16


works by Joe Hedges

Tekhnē is a Greek word meaning skill.  The evolution of the word technology from “systematic treatment of an art” to “the use of science in industry…to invent useful things or to solve problems” (Merriam-Webster) parallels the industrial revolution’s celebration of processes of creation and replication that were divorced from direct human contact.  Using various technologies to create new media works and oil paintings, Joe Hedges explores ideas about media technology and replication.

The tradition of painting has long been preoccupied with ideas about reality.  From mystical cave paintings to contemporary views of art history and abstraction, humans have intermittently embraced and rejected verisimilitude as evil trick or noble goal.  Today, contemporary artists engaging with ideas about truth and image-making owe a debt to French critical theorist and grad-school seminar favorite Jean Baudrillard.  Baudrillard examined mediated reality, claiming that simulations of reality had become more real than reality itself.  These ideas foreshadowed the internet, an omnipresent force that is no longer considered any less real than one’s physical experience of the world. 

Hedges’ works engage ideas about reality, drawing from the tradition of painting.  In Waves, surrealist Rene Magritte’s painting Clear Ideas is reinterpreted to include a trompe l’oeil Panasonic stereo.  In Monogram, Hedges alludes to a combine (a work that combines painting and sculpture) by Robert Rauschenberg entitled Monogram (1955-1959).  By utilizing the sounds and kinetic movement of parts within a copy machine to create a digital video that is then projected onto the machine itself, Hedges blurs the distinction between tool and product.  Tekhnē features contemporary combines that uses the media of our day: the physical and digital. 

With the advent of the internet, mechanical reproduction as physical replication (generalized copies of an original) gave way to the possibility of digital duplication (exact copies).  As office copy/fax machines become obsolete, virtual reality becomes more accessible, and the long predicted “internet of things” begin to materialize, we are forced again to reconsider the ways objects and art interface with reality. 

dsc_0442dsc_0407img_1461dsc_0527dsc_0451dsc_0448hedges_j-1img_1498img_1471img_1466img_1462Joe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewJoe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewJoe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewJoe Hedges xerographyJoe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewJoe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewJoe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewEmpire of Lightning, 2016
scanner, synthetic cotton, repeat cycle timer, 5-gallon bucket, saltwater
70” x 40” x 12”Joe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewJoe Hedges, solo exhibition at 621 Gallery installation viewimg_1443

Joe Hedges
Artist Statement

My recent oil paintings and new media works are created by scavenging for discarded human-made and natural objects and rearranging them into new configurations.  These decommissioned objects are instilled with a new sense of fantastic function or possibility, as artworks that ask the viewer to consider how our tools and materials shape the world at large.  I am inspired by new philosophies that seek to deemphasize anthropocentric world views in favorite of a more object-oriented perspective.  Motivated by a lifelong interest in collecting thrift-store electronics, I attempt to make visible questions regarding human relationship to technology and the natural world.  How do individuals and groups imbue objects with meaning? What kinds of objects qualify as meaning-containers?  These works attempt to make electronic materials more corporeal as our devices become more networked, more ubiquitous and thus more invisible in the information age.

  1. Photocopy of a Gresorth 9.5 inch Artificial Black Snapper Fake Fish Decoration for Home Party Christmas Display, 2016
    oil on canvas
    16” x 20”
  2. Empire of Lightning, 2016
    scanner, synthetic cotton, repeat cycle timer, 5-gallon bucket, saltwater
    70” x 40” x 12”
  3. Waves (after René Magritte’s Clear Ideas), 2016
    oil on canvas
    36” x 42”
  4. Xerography, 2016
    wood, nails, stereoscopic forestry glasses, iPhone and charger, photocopies, graphite on paper drawings, paper clips, pins, manilla folder
    60” x 20” x 20”
  5. Monogram (after Robert Rauschenberg), 2016
    projection, sound, photocopier, faux wool blanket, faux tire inner tube, latex paint
    7’ x 5’ x 7’
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three scrolls printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood 200cm x 40cm

three scrolls
printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood
200cm x 40cm

at an outdoor flea market

at an outdoor flea market

(Beijing, China)  Months ago I was lucky enough to connect with an artist in China, Xu Fan, like me, a teacher of oil painting at a state university. Tsing Hua University is one of the best universities in China and in Xu Fan they have a highly skilled renderer and educator. We agreed then to try and put together a two-person exhibition; two weeks ago we saw it come to fruition in Beijing.

Xu Fan and I wanted to do a show that would allow me to engage with ideas about painting as it relates to Chinese culture, while subtly drawing attention to the fact that Xu Fan is working in a tradition that comes out of Europe. The resulting exhibition is our attempt at dealing with appropriation and painting history in a self-conscious way. We recognized that it is a bit reductive to suggest that the rectangular canvas of an oil painting in European tradition is akin to a hanging scroll in the Asian tradition. Still, a fundamental challenge of the human intellect is the fact that, as the great Saussure observed, meaning is created through difference. Our hope is that our humble show guides viewers beyond simple cultural comparisons and to more critical consideration of the use of various media technologies across the globe today.  Is that too much?  Oh well.


streets of 798 Art Zone (Dashanzi Art District) in Beijing

streets of 798 Art Zone (Dashanzi Art District) in Beijing

My first experience exhibiting internationally came with its own challenges. In addition to language barriers, I had to figure out how to transport work across the Pacific Ocean economically and/or create works in another place.  In the case of this exhibition I did both, transporting the sail part of the installation from the USA, collecting some materials (electronics) in China to create the rest of it, and fabricating the scrolls in China as well.  I figured this would be a way to more intensely connect with the community where I was showing, as sort of an accelerated mini-residency.

This show would not have been possible without the language and organizational support of my partner Jiemei Lin, who graciously acted as an interpreter and organizer.  When my limited Chinese skills and Xu Fan’s limited English skills frequently failed us we, could continue to work together critically with Mei’s support.  We stayed with Xu Fan and his wife Liu Ming, who also helped coordinate some aspects of the show.  We all worked together to drum up some press as we finished our pieces in the weeks leading up to the exhibition.  If you have ever done a DIY exhibition (or in this case mostly DIY) you understand the amount of work required, but also the reward.

using a laser level during the install.

using a laser level during the install.

I was amazed at both the graciousness of the community and the energy of 798, the Beijing arts district.  I know of no other place in the world with such diversity in fine art.  From wikipedia: “798 Art Zone, or Dashanzi Art District, is a 50-year-old decommissioned military factory buildings with unique architectural style. Located in Dashanzi, Chaoyang District of Beijing, that houses a thriving artistic community.”

One gets the feeling that, for better or for worse, something like 798 could only happen with a bit of big government assistance.  While China is essentially capitalist economically, there is also a great deal of deliberate and controlled city planning of the sort that unfettered capitalism does not easily allow.  Some of these projects result in disastrous displacement, while some of them are magnificent.  From DIY spaces like the gallery we exhibited in, to large spaces showcasing blue chip contemporary artists, 798 is a rare slice of real economic diversity.  In the USA, by contrast, most areas that begin with a concentration of DIY galleries are quickly gentrified to the extent that the small experimental galleries can’t afford to stay.  What you’re left with are either blocks of overpriced restaurants and bars (as is the case in my former neighborhood Over the Rhine in Cincinnati), or enormous commercial galleries that only show artists selling works for millions (as is the case in Chelsea in New York City).  Our show in Beijing was right across the street from a couple larger and more commercial shows I really enjoyed, including beautiful solo shows by Zhang Hui at Long March Space and by Ye Fana at Space Station.  I was really excited to be in an area with such great company.

The show, Telepresence is up at Sishu Gallery (思塾画廊) in 798 Beijing through August 15.

(北京市朝阳区酒仙桥2号798艺术区中一街 思塾画廊


my scrolls flanked by Xu Fan's oil paintings

completed installation with my scrolls flanked by Xu Fan’s oil paintings

Exhibition title cards

Exhibition title cards

Exhibition Statement 

Telepresence is a two-person exhibition featuring artists Joe Hedges (Pullman, Washington, USA) and Xu Fan (Beijing, China).  In these works, each artist explores Eastern and Western ideas about art and technology using desperate media and processes.  Xu Fan’s highly-rendered oil paintings in the Renaissance tradition contrast with Hedges’ new media installation and hanging scrolls to pose questions including:  When comparing cultures and civilizations, are there any objective metrics of success?  How does media technology function in different societies and between individuals from different cultures?  How have ideas about physical space changed in a digitally-mediated world?  As communications technology collapses the space between individuals and nations, we forget to remember the oceans between us.

Joe Hedges 

Artist Statement

My work is about media technology.  As such, I often employ materials and processes that call attention to the presence or absence of the human hand.  For this exhibition in Beijing I wanted to challenge myself to create works that fulfill these goals, but that also relate to the rich history of Chinese art and material culture.  This resulted in the creation of one series of three scrolls and one sculptural new media installation.

printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood 200cm x 40cm each

printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood
200cm x 40cm each

Color Fill Red, Color Fill Yellow and Move Tool are three works with the appearance of traditional Chinese scrolls.  However, rather than brushed-on ink of Chinese characters, the scrolls instead present ink-jet printed icons of the tool bar found within the popular image-editing software Adobe Photoshop.  Through calling the viewer’s attention to the function and form of ideographs象形文字 across cultures and epochs, and intentionally confusing the digital space of pixels with physical space of silk and gallery walls, these works engage ideas about the ancient human nexus of communications technology, language and image-making.

Joe Hedges Telepresence electronics, bamboo, plastic tarp, rope 250cm x 150cm x 150cm 2016

Joe Hedges
electronics, bamboo, plastic tarp, rope
250cm x 150cm x 150cm

Telepresence is a work that juxtaposes the form of the ancient Chinese junk-boat sail with a pile of media electronics displaying videos of oceanic scenes.  These objects work together as symbols, suggesting notions of travel, progress and technological obsolescence. Telepresence is the sensation of being somewhere one is not, long the dream of magicians and technologists alike.  Is our so-called digital revolution a triumphant realization of this end, or merely an unprecedented accumulation of consumer goods?

Color Fill Red, Color Fill YellowMove Tool 这系列作品是三张传统书画卷轴,然而,卷轴上的并不是书法或者书画作品,而是设计软件Adobe Photoshop的工具栏。我并没有按照传统使用的毛笔绘制,而是利用矢量设计软件制作了表意上的像素格[1],拼贴出图像。最后我在中国某电商上订购了传统书画定制和装裱,丝绸印刷,完成了我的作品。这系列作品向观众指出了跨越文化和时空的两种象形文字:中文和电脑图标的相似性。利用像素粒和卷轴的效果刻意混淆了实体空间(画廊的墙壁和卷轴)和数字空间(Photoshop的工具栏)的概念。这系列表现了古今视觉传达,余元文字和图像制作中的连结。
Telepresence 这个装置利用一堆废弃家电和过时海洋录影结合现代材料制作的明朝风帆,并置了大明郑和下西洋满载而归的货船与当今游荡在中国海域的废品船的两个看似截然不同的现象。装置利用了视觉符号去表现文化进程中科学技术传播,发展和淘汰过程。Telepresence [2]本身就是一种由科技创造出来的亦真亦梦感受。我们所谓的数字革命,到底是一场人类文明的狂欢,还是仅仅是巨大的商品累积过程?这幅作品重新展示了人们在时间的长河里,那些我们曾拥有的,渴望拥有的,却早已被淘汰和被取代的梦想们。
       [2] Telepresence的中文翻译是思科网真(一种通过结合高清晰度视频、音频和交互式组件,在网络上创建一种独特的”面对面”体验的新型技术);远端临场;远程呈现 —-来自有道翻译
Joe Hedges Color Fill Red printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood 200cm x 40cm

Joe Hedges
Color Fill Red
printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood
200cm x 40cm

Joe Hedges Color Fill Yellow printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood 200cm x 40cm

Joe Hedges
Color Fill Yellow
printed silk, silk brocade and lacquered wood
200cm x 40cm

snack foods popular in 90's China

snack foods popular in 90’s China

with an excited Xu Fan

with an excited Xu Fan

Joe Hedges Telepresence electronics, bamboo, plastic tarp, rope 250cm x 150cm x 150cm 2016

Joe Hedges
electronics, bamboo, plastic tarp, rope
250cm x 150cm x 150cm

putting up a poster outside the gallery in 798 Art Zone (Dashanzi Art District) in Beijing

putting up a poster outside the gallery in 798 Art Zone (Dashanzi Art District) in Beijing

attaching the vinyl sticker

attaching the vinyl sticker

putting up an exhibition poster

putting up an exhibition poster

that moment when you get the art-joke.

that moment when you get the art-joke.

getting it together

getting it together


attendees doing a little post-artist-talk stretch

Xu Fan and 他的太太 in their studio

Xu Fan and 他的太太 in their studio, where I slept and worked while making final preparations for the exhibition.

my loot!

having some electronics delivered to the studio

Mei and Liu Ming with curator Gao Dengke (高登科)

Mei and Liu Ming with curator Gao Dengke (高登科)

rented a van to take all the stuff to the gallery

rented a van to take all the stuff to the gallery

attempting to talk about Hegel in Chinese. Not happening.

after artist talks, attempting to stay with a random discussion about Hegel in Chinese. Not really happening.

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Aliens and Imperialism

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center

I have recently returned from Roswell, NM.  Roswell is a dusty, blue collar desert town with a large hispanic population, a surprising amount of contemporary art and yes…aliens.

You hare most likely aware of Roswell’s reputation as a center for extra terrestrial activity, due mostly to the famous news story about a flying saucer landing nearby.  The saucer was the next day identified as a weather balloon (and the government balloon project was later declassified), but as interest in science fiction tales of aliens grew in the 70’s and 80’s, there was an uptick in interest in the “Roswell incident“.  The town’s UFO museum celebrates the incident, attracting a steady stream of curious visitors.  I tend to seek out these kind of places where there exists some confusion and interesting questions regarding fact, belief, and opinion.  Who owns and propagates these narratives?  Who benefits?  These answers are on display downtown Roswell at the UFO Museum (just down the street from the Roswell Museum & Art Center where I recently had a piece included in a group exhibition).

I am a Scully.  But while I maintain a skeptic’s bias, I admit that there are things we cannot explain, and admit that I may be wrong about a lot of things.  What makes me queasy about conspiracy theories, however, is not dogma but the way certain theories and narratives are propagated and commodified over time, and the ways these theories distract from real histories about location and power.

Whether you judge a museum by the quality of exhibit craftsmanship, the consideration of space and flow from room to room, or the social value of artifacts present, the Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center lacks a professional sheen.  To visit, one must embrace the side-show flavor.  And unsurprisingly, visitors readily do, stumbling by the thousands to shell out $10 and leave town with a tee-shirt or something green and plastic.  I may or may not have been one of those people! I want to believe, like everyone else.  And like many I crave an authentic experience of mystery and weirdness.

Mayan CalendarAs residents of a young country, we Americans are especially craving authentic ancient experiences, narratives that construct a sense of place that is deeper or perhaps more palatable than the historical narratives we have.  But unfortunately, we need not rely on aliens to see the results of a wide-scale government cover-up: the truth is out there and the truth is that the establishment of every U.S. town was predicated on an effort to eradicate native cultures.  Perhaps cultural discomfort with this fact is explains why native peoples are frequently the subjects of contemporary alien myths, while the living terrestrial rights of natives are ignored.  Tellingly, even the wikipedia history of Roswell begins with “The first nonindigenous or Hispanic settlers of the area around Roswell were…” as if non-white (or non-green) inhabitants never counted.

A rejection of the presence and success of native cultures pervades nearly every aspect of conspiracy theory lore, manifesting itself lately (and most popularly) as a rejection of the ancient Egyptians facility as architects and engineers, to the denial of the Mayans cultural agency as creators of brilliant astronomical calendars.  All of this essentially perpetuates an unsettling myth:  that the only creatures capable of possessing equal or greater technologies or wisdom to contemporary Americans, now or ever before, are extraterrestrials. Is the maintenance of alien narratives merely an upside-down mechanism by which we may marvel at our own technological feats while denying the accomplishments of other groups?

Aliens’ speed, their command over space and time, their use of riveted metals and steel crafts make them the ultimate poster children of our industrial revolution and imperialist desires.  But the radio silence that pervades the universe may be a sign of a another conflicting narrative: that the human desire for exploration, colonization and ultimately destruction is fortunately quite unique (at least as far as we know as of the time of this writing).  Many species on earth seem content in their respective hospitable zones.  This is not a predilection Europeans or Americans have ever known, and consequently we are not want to accept the embrace of this attitude by others on earth or elsewhere.

IMG_6191Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 21st annual UFO festival costume contest, essentially a comicon like event full of uber-nerds like me.  Contrasted within a large, generic conference hall were a great many alien types on display.  Among my favorite costumes were the conquering and terrifying Predator from the Schwarzenegger movie, characters from the morally binary Star Wars universe and some friendly, bubbly blue or green types from some unnamed benevolent races.  The event was a quirky showcase of ingenuity and featured young and old aliens.  But rather than discovering any evidence of real alien visitors, I left feeling good about human ingenuity and creativity.

Aliens are us.  Rarely are aliens wholly other; more frequently they represent the most terrible and awesome parts of our humanity.  We can project onto them our hopes fears and desires, for peace or destruction, for terror or knowledge.  Perhaps in some distant future, in some galaxy far far away little green men are visiting a museum gift shop to purchase plastic key chains shaped like human heads.  Perhaps too, there’s some gangly green being skeptically pounding away at a thousand-key holographic keyboard into a social media vacuum.  What else can we do but send our signals into the ether?  Existence is the moving of molecules.  If there are other willful movers of molecules in the multiverse, let them share an affinity for creativity, not destruction, for their sake and the sake of their oldest native populations.

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Roswell Museum and Art Center

Roswell Museum and Art Center, new media exhibition as part of New Media New Mexico. Photo from Sara Woodbury

Roswell Museum and Art Center, new media exhibition as part of New Media New Mexico (my piece in the center, essentially a computer with wallpaper). Photo from curator Sara Woodbury

New Media New Mexico Trail

New Media New Mexico Trail

I currently have a piece on display at the Roswell Museum and Art Center in Roswell, NM as part of a group new media exhibition.  The exhibition in Roswell is also part of a larger event,  New Media New Mexico Trail, that includes work from artists around the world in a variety of institutions in the state of New Mexico.  The event is organized by Currents, an international festival of new media art that takes place in Santa Fe.  Last year I had a piece in the Santa Fe festival.  This year when I saw the call for pieces that were subtly “sci-fi” I thought it might be a good fit.

While I don’t identify primarily as a new media artist, I do think contemporary technologies are particularly well-suited to address contemporary issues.  My piece, is about the museum experience itself.  I relied on Google street view technology and photographs from the internet to create an Internet-based interactive installation that was about the museum, despite not having been there in person. Creating the work this way was itself a commentary on the physical vs. digital experience of place.  Displayed on a wall-mounted screen is an image of a nondescript stretch of road in New Mexico.  Above the road exploded pieces of the Roswell Museum & Art Center hover supernaturally in as an unsolvable 3D puzzle. The individual components can be moved by clicking and dragging with a mouse.  Additional pages play with pieces from the museum’s permanent collection, and the whole piece is framed by corrugated metal wallpaper, again representing the tension between simulacra and reality. - New Media New Mexico piece – New Media New Mexico piece

Last weekend I finally visited the town of Roswell and the Roswell Museum and Art Center.   The Roswell Museum and Art Center has an amazing permanent collection of Native art, a collection of some of the world’s first liquid fuel rockets built by engineer Robert H. Goddard, and thankfully for me some temporary exhibitions of progressive contemporary art.  My visit and the exhibition coincided with the weekend of the International UFO Festival.  I wanted to thank curator Sara Woodbury in person, and going to Roswell on this weekend meant I also had the pleasure of meeting her in some pretty great alien face paint!

I know by now that children are most receptive to art in general, especially interactive art, so I was not surprised in watching visitors interact with the piece within the museum gallery.  Adults generally tend to be dissuaded by the challenge of confronting new things, whereas children light up:  “Hey Mom, Dad is making the museum!”  I heard a kid call out as his father fumbled with the mouse.  Adults also have strict ideas about what should and should not be in a museum, which is why I appreciate the museum’s willingness to include a piece that is essentially a computer displaying a website.

In the late nineties, the internet was still a kind of wild-west for nerds and young people who had grown up playing video games in the 1980‘s. The idea of what a website was or could be was still evolving. The full potential of the internet as a personal creative tool was never realized, or at least was never popularized or accepted. Could the internet have developed into primarily a tool of self-expression and art-making rather than a behemoth of competing corporate interests like Google and Facebook?  Perhaps all media are destined to become tools of the powerful.  For me, creating internet art as contemporary art subverts both the expectations about what a website and the internet should do, as well as expectations about what can and cannot be included in a gallery or museum.  Furthermore, using technologies like Google Street View in ways they are not intended play with our ideas about presence, experience and internet as commodified information delivery system.  Having visited the museum in person, I can say with confidence that Google Street View does not even approximate the actual experience of being in a place, particularly a place like Roswell.  Telepresence is not presence, despite the best efforts of silicon valley to sell us augmented experiences as such; the heat, the voices, the atmosphere is all missing.  Like any place, Roswell should be experienced if you have the means to travel.

From the wonderful postmodern mash-up of rocketry history and native American art on display at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, to a salon-style wall-to-ceiling warehouse sized showcase of nearly fifty years of artists in residence at the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, one gets the sense that compared to its population, there is a surprisingly disproportionate amount of creativity on display in Roswell, NM.  I am even forced to concede that the UFO lore the town has embraced, while not terribly convincing for an empirical rationalist like me, is extremely entertaining and creative.

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Indigenous Knowledge

“As a birthplace of agriculture and the towns and cities that followed, America is ancient, not a “new world.”
– Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States

make-shift Native American shrine to Captain Jack and the Modoc peoples at Captain Jack's Stronghold

make-shift Native American shrine to Captain Jack and the Modoc peoples at Captain Jack’s Stronghold

“Unwalking” has always been an integral component of my own practice.  The role of contemporary artist is increasingly unraveler and challenger of prevailing views.  Last week I found myself with a Signal Fire group in and around the Klamath river basin. The Klamath Mountains are “an exceptionally rich storehouse of evolutionary stories, one of the rare places where past and present have not been severed as sharply as in most of North America, where glaciation, desertification, urbanization and other ecological upheavals have been muted by a combination of rugged terrain and relatively benign climate.” (- David Rains Wallace The Klamath Knot)  As such the area contains a fascinating epistemology, where the creation and maintenance of knowledge and myths are continually contested, a locus of ecology, humanity and history.  In short, the Klamath is perfect place for a journey framed by critical inquiry, for an “unwalking”, to use Signal Fire’s neologism.

Over the last few years I worked to create possibilities for artists in the Cincinnati, OH area.  In an urban environment I had the pleasure of being embedded with a group of creative people with whom I curated exhibitions in unconventional spaces, executed public art projects, ran galleries, etc.  I finally feel (in large part through my participation in a Signal Fire trip) as though I have finally made some connections out here in the Northwest, both to an artist community and the land.  There are strong reasons young professionals and–I daresay–“hipsters” are moving to places like Seattle and Portland.  As the last area of the country to be invaded by Europeans, individuals in the Northwest tend to more strongly reject the extraction logic that pervades the industrial midwest.  Furthermore, there are more acres under federal protection, urban spaces and wildernesses exist in unlikely proximity, there’s a stronger (or more palpable) Native American presence.  And there’s great coffee.

Among the most affecting and memorable discussions during my week in the Klamath region (Southern Oregon and Northern California) with Signal Fire were those concerning the ongoing struggles of Natives.  During a week long journey my compatriots and I read ancient Klamath and Modoc myths, essays about termination, challenges to westward expansion narratives, extraction logic and other cheery reminders of the continuing influence of colonialist and neocolonialist attitudes, led by the inimitable Ryan Pierce, an intellectual, skilled outdoorsman, successful painter and admitted understated monotone like me.

Ka’ila Farrell Smith

Our second guide, Ka’ila Farrell‐Smith, is of Modoc decent.  Sharing a visit to her ancestral homeland was especially important for me, in part because her presence and insights helped to add a level of intimacy and gravitas to stories that are often presented as Wild West fantasy.  The National Park Service, through its mastery of engaging interpretative signage, is great at relaying the drama of history as distant past; unfortunately this expertise sometimes results in severing of narratives that extend into the present.

We also spent an afternoon with contemporary artist Natalie Ball, who is Modoc (Natalie is winning everything right now and beginning graduate school at Yale in the fall).  I am confident I was in the presence of a rising art star, if there is such a thing.  She told me she moved back to the site of the former Modoc reservation and had two kids there as “an act of resistance”.  The idea that having kids could be an act of resistance has really stuck with me, a stark reminder that my own privilege permeates every aspect of my existence, from having kids to where I chose to live.

Contemporary Artist Natalie M Ball

Contemporary Artist Natalie M Ball

Many are surprised to learn of the recentness of the egregious injustices that Native Americans have faced.  (white people, I can feel your eyes glossing over.  Swallow your privilege and read on!  We can do it!).  Natives are often painted as the “vanishing race”, once living in tee-pees but now nonexistent.  The vanishing race narrative creates conceptual cover enabling governments and citizens to ignore–or more often willfully eliminate—the rights of native peoples by rejecting their present-day concerns and even their claims to existence.  The United States official policy of termination was implemented in the 1950’s and sought to eliminate the remaining American reservations by forcefully assimilating natives across the country (yes, that’s actually the word used: termination).  In 1954, the Klamath Tribes, including the Modoc, were terminated.  This policy was not formally abandoned until 1988, leaving countless tribes today still seeking some recognition (or more accurately re-recognition) and accompanying rights from the federal government.  This process is known as restoration.

Captain Jack's Stronghold, now within the Lava Beds National Monument. In this natural maze-like fortress of lava rocks, a small group of Modoc natives held their ground for many months, despite being outnumbered 10 to 1.

Captain Jack’s Stronghold, now within the Lava Beds National Monument. In this natural maze-like fortress of lava rocks, a small group of Modoc natives held their ground for many months, despite being outnumbered 10 to 1.

Fortunately the Klamath Tribes achieved restoration in 1986 and began to “develop a full scope of programs which provide necessary services to Tribal members and the community.” (  But water rights, land rights and other challenges remain.  Central to the Klamath Tribes fight is the removal of dams along the Klamath river, which currently prevent the salmon from swimming their ancient journey upstream.  A great many expensive studies have been carried out by western scientists in the last few years, and the results are in: fish need water!  After some years of ignoring the issue and some bizarre solutions (such as fish canons that shoot the fish upstream), the dams on the Klamath are finally scheduled to be removed.  It is impossible to understate the importance of salmon in the hearts of Klamath peoples where myth, ecology, economy and history are intertwined.

*  *  *

I have never (and probably will never) describe my creative methodology as “social practice”, a term that contemporary artists now frequently use to indicate that an art practice is a form of social engagement, community engagement, social justice, etc.).  Perhaps there is some truth to the claim that the art world has become too insular and too self-congratulatory–only in a blatantly anti-social contemporary art world could the term social practice gain traction.  But art is intrinsically social.  We need not reject static media in order to embrace social commentary or community engagement.  Lest I fall further into a rabbit hole of semantics, all of this is to say that like most artists, I do aspire to create socially relevant work. I generally do so by dealing with ideas about social knowledge itself.

I recently heard the election-year political landscape described as “post-truth”.  Like many others I find myself yearning for approaches to knowing and learning that can transcend the truthiness of contemporary media and social media discourse.

Indigenous Knowledge represents the accumulated experience, wisdom and know-how unique to cultures, societies, and/or communities of people, living in an intimate relationship of balance and harmony with their local environments.  These cultures have roots that extend into history beyond the advent of colonialism.  They stand apart as distinctive bodies of knowledge, which have evolved over many generations with their particular ecosystem, and define the social and natural relationships with those environments.  They are based within their own philosophical and cognitive system, and serve as the basis for community-level decision making in areas pertaining to governance, food security, human and animal health, childhood, development and education, natural resource management, and other vital socio-economic activities.”
– The Canadian International Development Agency’s definition of Indigenous Knowledge (as quoted by Priscilla Settee’s in an essay Indigenous Knowledge as the Basis for Our Future).

Knowledge is not neutral.  This is a proposition that, although true, has splintered groups into dangerously ideological factions (see Karl Manheim’s Ideology & Utopia).  The long project of enlightenment rationalism and western imperialism bears out a tough truth: western knowledge is created and groomed in such a way as to advance the rights of some and diminish the rights of others.  Despite our brilliant insights into the nature of the universe, knowing in the western tradition continues to fail to engender support for the most basic tenets of environmental stewardship and social harmony.  As the prospect of global climate catastrophe approaches inevitability, perhaps we should look more closely at the wisdom of the ancients, so often common-sense principles that came so naturally to native peoples.  In this may we find a call, not for westward expansion but for contraction.  Not for extraction but for restoration.

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Uncharted: The Impressionist Takeover and Media Dominos

Claude_Monet, Impression, soleil levant

Claude_Monet, Impression, soleil levant

I recently read a book about big data called Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture by Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel. The book details the creation and potential uses of an algorithm the authors created to determine the frequency of particular words occurring in books over the last few hundred years. Although the book had plenty of diversions and digressions, it did make the point that big data can be used to determine certain trends from world history. Here is a chart I created, for example, that records the frequency of appearance (and allegedly, correlational popularity) of particular artists: Monet, Manet, Bouguereau, Renoir and DaVinci. There are some major problems with how these charts work, most glaringly the fact that authors may refer to Monet as Claude Monet, while referring to Leonardo DaVinci as simply DaVinci. There is no way to correct for this. However, if we can assume that the likelihood of using an artists full name is equivalent and independent of historical period and the particular artist, this chart is of some use and interest:

Adolphe-William Bouguereau, The Birth of Venus, Oil on Canvas, 1879

Adolphe-William Bouguereau, The Birth of Venus, Oil on Canvas, 1879

Monet fought his way (mostly post-humously) from Paris salon outcast to archetype of painter in the western imagination. This happened just after oil painters like William Adolphe Bouguereau achieved a technical mastery that sucked some of the soul out of representational oil painting, and during (not coincidentally in my opinion) the advent of photography. This makes me wonder if there might be some larger sociological effect that we might apply to other forms of media to make predictions about the legacies of particular artists?  Perhaps we can look at artists operating with incredibly high technological precision, and then at alternative approaches by their contemporaries.

For example, I believe we have just had the good fortune to live through the golden age of western popular music, and we are now experiencing a moment of uncertain consensus regarding the cultural memory of particular bands and performers. Recording engineers and software have achieved sonic mastery–frequency curve perfection. Again, this may mean the media has been essentially exhausted of possibility and will be pushed to the margins, in the way representational oil painting was pushed to the margins by photography, film, et cetera.  I think we can assume that the sonically perfect but emotionally vapid music of the early 2000’s will be remembered like the paintings of Bouguereau, while the sonically and conceptually hazy works of The Beatles and Nirvana will endure.

While I’m not a technological determinist (and I know this is too teleological) I have begun to think pretty broadly about media technology, and it’s hard not no notice patterns.  Perhaps Hollywood is next?  Hmm…those superhero movies look pretty amazing!  Just as buzz about virtual reality is growing…

You can make your own chart (and your own predictions) here.

For a quick overview about Monet, Bouguereau, aesthetics and popular taste check out this post by Rachel Van Wylen.

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Joe Hedges | CICA

Source: Joe Hedges | CICA


They used my image for the exhibition flier.


That’s my work on the right.

Loving this write up from the CICA museum (Czong Institute for Contemporary Art) in South Korea describing a recent exhibition in which I was a participant:

New media art utilizes new media technology to create art. As the term “new” in new media art indicates how such art changes relatively with “newness,” new media art has constantly incorporated technologies considered “new” at the moment. The reason that new media artists are interested in new media technology is that contemporary artists look for their materials and subject matters in their daily lives, and they use these to express their realities. New media technologies are not only tools for work, but they also contain crucial features that may subvert philosophical concepts of “Art” and artworks. In addition, new media, including video, social media, the Internet, and smartphones, have become essential tools for communication these days, and have opened up new possibilities for communication between artists and the audience.

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Virtual Reality Exhibition Opening

This is pretty amazing. A 360 virtual reality video recording of a group exhibition in Boston the other night. That’s mine and Jiemei Lin’s video, A Curious Inventory on the TV screen. Nicely dressed dude stops watching at 0:25, but I like to think that’s the point in the loop where he began.  🙂

Click the screen and move the view around with your mouse cursor.

Interdisciplinary, at Washington Street Gallery in Somerville, MA, presented by  Jurors Heather Balchunas, Dan Dez, Sean Hilts and Anna Schindelar.

As resolution goes up and costs come down, it will be interesting to see how this technology effects traditional brick and mortar events in the realms of art and entertainment. I can imagine some exciting (and “disruptive”) art applications.  2016 is going to be a big year for virtual reality.

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Hold Your Ground: Fugitive Artists in a Gentrifying Cincinnati

As interest in urban living continues to take hold in Cincinnati and those once-neglected pockets of the city attract the gaze of developers, the future of unique do-it-yourself places has become uncertain.

Brighton, photo by Nick Swartsell

I thought a lot about this article, Disappearing DIY.  

For the last fifteen years I have subsisted on meager album sales, singing at weddings, freelance web-design, painting commissions, and anything I could get my hands on that would prevent me from working a desk job or retail.  But unlike many members of the “creative class”, DIY was never the end game for me.  Doing It Yourself was always a means to ensure that at some point in the future I would be able to Do It Myself but with Support From Others.  Let’s call it DIY-SFO (incidentally also a flight from Diyarbakır, Turkey to San Fransisco, USA).

Somehow this has essentially worked out twice for me: first a major label recording contract, then a job offer as an art professor.  Being in the right place at the right time has had a lot to do with this–I was helped by getting involved with a growing energetic community of creators in Cincinnati, Ohio.  We created opportunities for each other.

But I also acknowledge that these goals are in some ways counter to the DIY spirit in Cincinnati.  The CityBeat article mentions the well known long running DIY gallery Semantics, which recently closed its doors after more than 200 exhibitions “without selling a single piece of art or charging admission.”  This of course is a point of pride for a defiantly noncommercial space–idealistic DIY Cincinnatians had carved out spaces that were seemingly not beholden to the forces of capital.  But for DIY to work people have to stay.  And for artists to stay, there needs to be some sense of stability and support.  As a mid-sized rust belt city, Cincinnati, has few serious contemporary art collectors.  Consequently, other than the few existing commercial art galleries, the art scene is so underground, conceptual and so awesomely weird it has been described as fugitive.  Unlike cities like New York and Los Angeles, where artists enjoy constant exposure to big name artists and galleries, artists in Cincinnati (and musicians) distill the influence of these places virtually and indirectly while drawing from locale lore, often supported by many surrounding major arts institutions and non-profits to create works and events that are wholly unique.

Unfortunately, these DIY spaces are disappearing.  This is my first-hand account of the rapid transition of Over-the-Rhine, followed by some ways I believe contemporary artists can maintain a presence in Cincinnati.

Installation view of exhibition curated by myself and Kate Tepe at the recently closed Harvest Gallery in Over-the-Rhine. Jacket by Samantha Dorgan.

Installation view of exhibition curated by myself and Kate Tepe at the recently closed Harvest Gallery in Over-the-Rhine. Jacket by Samantha Dorgan.



Across the street was a crack house.  My car was consistently broken into and she was purse-punched in the face by a sidewalk stranger.  About ten years ago my sister and I convinced each other to move out of the suburbs and into an illegal warehouse in the heart of Over the Rhine, the notoriously dangerous (more so at the time) predominantly black (more so at the time) ghetto of Cincinnati.  My momentarily-popular alternative rock band was floundering and I was looking for ways to redefine myself as an up-and-coming visual artist.  I re-enrolled in college to study painting, grew a beard that made me look like both Charles Manson and Jim Henson, and moved to the cavernous, partially abandoned former brewery adjacent to the post-apocalyptic landscape of Tinderbox, an underground event and party space.  In 2007 most of the stories coming out of Over-the-Rhine were of neglected buildings (tinderboxes) catching fire and shootings–by both gangs and police.

Still, I came to enjoy certain aspects of punk rock ghetto bohemia and the second floor of the warehouse felt like an impenetrable fortress, far from the banality of suburbia.  One of my favorite summer pastimes became sitting on the roof watching white men in nice cars stop nearby to purchase drugs and prostitutes.  Where were they from?  Did their families know?  At school and at holiday dinners I had stories of my perpetually stoned warehouse mates, ariel acrobats practicing in the common areas and occasional inspector raids that would force us to scramble and hide our mattresses in what looked like a contemporary art installation about sleep and sex.

Screenshot 2015-12-18 16.30.39

with Michael Hirst. Former artist studio in a recently purchased building.

While I didn’t immediately connect with any social group, these adventures were credentialing among the anarchists and craftspeople in the neighborhood: I was a real artist, living in poverty but focused on my craft, while peers spent their evenings working at pizza shops and department stores.  Like a lot of artists at that time, I had moved to Over-the-Rhine in large part because it was cheap.

Today, the neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine is barely recognizable.  On the weekends hoards of middle class khakis come buying hand crafted beard conditioner (now even accountants could be mistaken for Jim Henson or Charles Manson) or shirts emblazoned with the letters OTR or Cincinnati.

A couple summers ago I was sitting with a friend outside a new restaurant on what is one of the most economically diverse blocks in the country.  We watched four kids remove a box of discarded donuts from a trash can and begin hurling them at white people in white clothes on the other side of the street.  That moment revealed a perfect distillation of the problems that will continue to face gentrifying neighborhoods; the donuts were artisanal (and thus overpriced), wastefully discarded, and the kids were clearly within and without the neo-Portlandia that grew up tentacles around them almost overnight, and by the next day had transmorphed into a kraken of tour groups and restaurants serving faux mexican and faux pan asian foods.  In short, Over-the-Rhine has been gentrified and I was left asking if I was a witness or a participant.

CityBeat's cover story on disappearing DIY spaces.

CityBeat’s cover story on disappearing DIY spaces.

This story is not unusual.  The beginning of Over-the-Rhine’s transformation was fueled not by city-sponsored condo development projects but by idealistic artists and residents moving the needle, before the bigger conversations about race, the ethics of displacement.  Public art works and street events were happening, stores were opening and closing but then opening again.  Community organizers were organizing and rallying and running DIY galleries showing works made of cheese or about cheese or were simply consuming cheese at openings and everything was wonderfully weird.  The mayor would even stop by my regular Tuesday gig at a bar on main street and i felt for the first time like I was a part of a creative community and by extension part of the entire city of Cincinnati.

In a personal move that paralleled the small community uptick in opportunities for creative people, my sister and I moved from the warehouse (motivated in no small part by an upstairs suicide, the arrest of our landlord and police intervention in enforcing the housing code) and into a “real” apartment closer to downtown.  I didn’t leave my heart in Over-the-Rhine, but I had a great time leaving a mark: after a four year stint that included two years in graduate school, a year running a gallery and a semi-secret art collaborative, being involved with a not secret experimental curatorial collaborative, creating several murals, a few months ago I finally moved out and away to the state of Washington.  The rent for my last apartment immediately increased several hundred dollars.

Just a few weeks before we moved, my partner and I were attempting to take a walk but were unsettled by the crowds.  It’s hard to know how to feel about it all.  I know that economic growth is good for the city at large, but that the good is not distributed evenly.  I also know that the neighborhood had changed to the extent that the reasons that drew artists there in the first place–cheap rent, grit, diversity, the possibility of weirdness, and (believe it or not) quiet–were gone.  Large areas of Over the Rhine have “turned the corner” (to use the white colloquialism) from black community and bohemian artist hide out to a kind of small-batch hand-crafted weekend tourist Disneyland.

* * *

What happens next?  There is no rallying cry to Keep Cincinnati Weird.  Cincinnati has slogans Ohio Against the World (which was co-opted by sports enthusiasts) and OTR (which, according to some is basically a gentrified version of Over-the-Rhine that neglects the moniker’s significance).  While Ohio Against the World once stood for DIY and OTR was once a hipster insignia, for better or for worse both are now for everyone.

Can we identify ways that progressive contemporary artists can participate in the new urban economy/community without selling their souls?  In the absence of collectors and a gallery system that could commodify works, are there ways more artists could be more supported in their individual pursuits? 

opening of Amiable Strangers at Boom Gallery

opening of Amiable Strangers at Boom Gallery, with Jenny Ustick‘s drawings


Instead of waiting for Cincinnatians to become interested in exhibition openings, one way artists are bringing contemporary art to the masses i is through pop-up exhibitions and events in non-conventional spaces supported by local businesses and non-profits.  Curatorial collective Near*By (of which I am a member) has a mission to “bring art to pluralistic audiences”.  In November of 2014 we staged a pop-up exhibition of light based art at new craft brewery Rhinegeist that drew hundreds of people–artists and beer drinkers and artist beer drinkers.  The success of the event was due to word of mouth buzz about Near*By at a time when Rhinegeist’s visibility in the neighborhood was peaking.  Beer drinkers wanted to get a look at the inside of the historic former Christian Moerlein bottling plant.  What better time to do it than during a light-art show?

Photo-Nov-20-8-36-59-PMGroups like Pop-Up Cincy have garnered ongoing support to do non-commercial contemporary art events and happenings in store-fronts, streets etc.  Pop-Up Cincy (spearheaded by related group Modern Makers) is always looking for artists to show in the Clifton area.  As far as I know there is no group like this in Over-the-Rhine.

Artworks Cincinnati, while best known for representational rainbow colored murals featuring portraits of diverse people created by diverse groups of apprentices, also accepts proposals for more progressive kinds of projects including temporary installations and performances.

21C is an amazing model of ways businesses can leverage contemporary art to thrive.  Granted, it was founded by millionaire art collectors from Lousiville, but this model could work on any level.  Pizza Shop with contemporary art gallery?  I could see it.

Like Williamsburg in brooklyn and other gentrifying neighborhoods I guess it’s inevitable that artists will be forced to find other places to gather.  However, a dispersed network could be a good thing–there’s much more to Cincinnati than the city center.  I had some success running Boom Gallery with friends in Norwood, where there is still some inexpensive space to be utilized and close proximity to Xavier University.

I Work Hard For My Money November 28th, 2015 - January 3rd, 2016 at Wave Pool Gallery

By Lauren DiCioccio
I Work Hard For My Money – on view November 28th, 2015 – January 3rd, 2016 at Wave Pool Gallery

Husband and wife team Geoffrey and Calcagno Cullen (or Skip and Cal) recently opened Wave Pool gallery in Camp Washington and it is thriving, bringing in contemporary artists from all over through a residency program, and hosting community events as well as compelling exhibitions.  Unlike many previous galleries in Cincinnati, in a show of commitment the Wave Pool owners bought the building, an amazing old firehouse.  The current exhibition, up through January 3rd, is in fact about the “association between art and capital”.  Work on right by artist Lauren DiCioccio.

Ultimately, Cincinnati artists will need to continue self-organizing to help each other out.  In order for self-organization to result in maintaining the presence of contemporary artists, artists could also be more proactive about turning young professionals into supporters and collectors.  I would love to see something like the Chicago Artist Coalition happen in Cincinnati.  Their mission is to “build a sustainable marketplace for entrepreneurial artists and creatives.” One way they do so is through a collectors circle program, that builds interest in artists through studio visits etc.

This is something of a sign off.  With it I must acknowledge some hypocrisy–I am now about as far away from Cincinnati as possible while remaining in the lower forty eight.  I must also acknowledge that to the most radical DIY Cincinnati scenesters this pragmatism may seem like compromise.  Indeed, without balancing the needs of artists with the demands of a rapidly growing inner city, artist communities will be rolled over and discarded across America.

I look forward to coming back to participate in exhibitions as Cincinnati artists continue to fight for the visibility of contemporary arts  Godspeed artists.  May your pigs fly with authenticity, whatever that means.

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