Monday, June 4, 2007

Questioning Relational Aesthetics

As the class comes to an end there has been a lot of intriguing projects from my classmates. Together they present a nice collective of interests and ideas that deal with relational aesthetics, and to see all of the projects you can find links here.

I want to ask a few questions about some that I found really engaging. The first one is take one/ leave one by
YiRan Liu. It can be found at This is the project I am most familiar with, and I have seen it from conception to its current state. In the project, YiRan leaves postcards with a short story she’s collected with a space for someone to respond with their own story on the other half and send it back to her. Some questions I have for YiRan deal with the reliance on participation for the project to fully function. In her explanation of her project on her site, she explains the influence of the penny cups you find at checkout counters. But it made me wonder, what happens to the penny cup when nobody leaves one? It sits there sad and empty and some poor soul gets 98 cents back to carry around. If no one sends YiRan stories, does the site become sad and empty? YiRan has done some things to counteract this problem, such as directly probing people for stories, making the postcards accessible and even paying the postage to encourage sending. YiRan's role as both an editor and publisher of these heartfelt, emotional and sometimes funny stories she collects, by whatever means, is enough for me to enjoy the project, but for it to really be relational, do people need to relate back? How much can we rely on the kindness (or interest) of strangers?

Another project I enjoyed was [placed] by Steve Nyktas, which can be found here. Like YiRan’s postcards, Steve leaves a small gift in the world. But unlike take one/ leave one, [placed] asks for nothing in return. Here there is no exchange witnessed, only the probability of an exchange. Like one of our class discussions on Rirkrit, I feel like Steve’s piece uses both of Andrea Fraser’s models of a post-commodity artwork we read in her essay. It utilizes both the service and readymade models we discussed in class. I would like to know, does it seem to lean one direction over the other? You had this object that is simply placed out in the world, but it enters with a hope of being used. Steve plays the role as an enabler more than an instigator, and how does that relate to the service model Fraser discussed? How does Steve’s role as a passive-provider affect the work in respect to our discussions on relational aesthetics?

Part of the reason why it has taken me so long to post these questions is because I’ve been spending time on Eric Mika’s site Vertical Manufactory, which is a “participatory infrastructure for quick, communal, mouse-drawn sketches” or “an open stack of interleaved sketches.” After some Googling and talking with a friend, I found out more about what interleaving entails. I was told that it involves allowing data to be missing but to still receive everything to improve performance. I like the idea that by allowing me to regulate the amount of information I can determine the quality of the image for my own taste. If I want, I can even vandalize the image, or improve it depending on the viewpoint. It reminds me of a DIY version of Rudolf Stingel’s Celotex installation (Untitled, 2007) that was at the MCA. They both have a completely open system that is limited by an awkward and clumsy material. However, Eric’s piece is able to give control to the viewer about how they want it to be seen. It made me think, what does given that power and control do for my experience? What does the project gain from the DIY, personalized aspect of a collective drawing? I am also curious, how do the clumsy tools work for and against the work? I find myself getting frustrated, and limited. I don’t really think I can make a compelling composition with simple paint tools, but somehow I like looking at the collective. But, I also know that we're all in it together with these awkward "brushes" and it seems to level the playing field of the art work that can be created.

These three projects show a wide variety of different perspectives on relational aesthetics. I’ve appreciated looking at all of the projects, and I wish you all luck.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Better than an Andrea Zittel pod

Design That Solves Problems for the World’s Poor

The New York Times ran an article today on the exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York that features inventions designed to help the world's poor move out of poverty. I think I'd like more relational aesthetic projects if they were more like this one. Not that I completely hate Andrea Zittel's shelters, but couldn't they be a little more useful? You can read the entire article here. And I also suggest watching the video here.

On another note, no one thought of a water wheel before?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Rockefeller Rothko is now the ultimate luxury object

You can read Slate's version here, but the best line is, "Before the sale, the picture was reportedly shopped to potential buyers, with the added enticement of short loans, presumably to see if its hot pinks and yellows clashed with the bedroom furniture."

Not exactly about relational aesthetics, but I thought it was funny.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Interview with Kate Bingaman-Burt

Kate Bingaman-Burt is an artist and Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Mississippi State University. Her current project Obsessive Consumption is currently on exhibit at Fraction Workspace until June 1, 2007.

In this recent interview Kate talks about why Obsessive Consumption isn't that obsessive anymore, and how her work can attract all kinds of consumers.

Carrie MacQuaid:
Do you ever get tired of being obsessed with your own consumption? When do you think you'll be able to get a pedicure and just enjoy it?

Kate Bingaman-Burt: I really don't. I don't even really think of it as being obsessive anymore. I think the process of documenting my purchases actually makes me more aware of being awake instead of passively consuming. To answer your question about getting a pedicure and enjoying it...I think that if I didn't document the purchase and the experience, I would just forget the experience. I enjoyed my pedicure (and other purchases) more because I drew it/photographed etc. I remembered the incident. I don't really see what I do as a form of punishment, but as being awake and aware. Society is being dulled by all of the advertisements and products that constantly assault us. I am choosing to personalize my consumption. Maybe even exhibiting a little bit of control over the constant influx of technology and consumer goods.

CM: Can you tell me more about your favorite and least favorite purchases?

KBB: That is tough...most favorite circle around sentimental reasons...our wedding rings and our dog. I don't have too many least favorite...probably just boring, everyday stuff (which most of my purchases are) like gas, toothpaste etc.

CM: A lot of your work deals with contradictions, (repulsion/attraction) what are some other contradictions you're interested in?

KBB: I like high-tech vs low-tech. mass produced vs diy (which I guess both of those examples are the same). cute vs creepy. high design vs. vernacular design.

CM: I feel like your work is very cathartic, what have you gained yourself from doing this project? What do you hope others to gain?

KBB: Well, I have been doing Obsessive Consumption in one way or another for over five years now...I guess the one thing that I have gained is an outlet to explore different ideas and medias underneath the umbrella of Obsessive Consumption. I am not just limited to being a photographer or illustrator or designer or seamstress or publisher, but I can freely flow from one media to the other. Whatever means necessary. Whatever works for the idea that I want to execute. That is pretty liberating.

As far as what I want others to gain. hmmm. Just to think a bit more about what they are consuming and why. I don't want to preach, I just want to make aware. I like the fact that a mall crazy teenager can be attracted to my work as well as someone who is totally anti-consumerism.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Obsessive Consumption

If debt-diet guru Suze Orman and entrepreneurial queen Martha Stewart had a love child, it would be Kate Bingaman-Burt.

In her current installation, Obsessive Consumption, at Fraction Workspace her debt consumes two large storefront windows. Steps from trendy shops and restaurants of Wicker Park, Bingaman-Burt’s hand-drawn credit card statements fill a space reserved for stylish mannequins selling expensive clothing a few blocks away. This public art space has two looming oversized statements from Chase and Target hanging in the window, and below are two pillows screen-printed in credit card logos with a bed of smaller credit card bills. Bright pink painted bling and dollar signs cover the walls and hand-made pennant flags are strung across the window. It’s bright, gaudy and loud, but somehow being in debt has never looked nicer.

Obsessive Consumption is Bingaman-Burt’s ongoing project chronicling her love/hate relationship with debt and all the things related, including shopping, credit cards, celebrity, marketing and advertising. As a graduate student at University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2002, she began documenting all of her purchases and created her own brand to package and promote the process. This brand became Obsessive Consumption. While the documentation of every purchase ended on April 22, 2004, Bingaman-Burt continues Obsessive Consumption with various other works.

The project has two parts now, as exhibitions like the one at Fraction Workspace and as an online store at At the online store, people can purchase everything from stuffed dollar sign pillows to a $4 zine of her daily purchase drawings. She also sells her credit card statement drawings, each cleverly priced as their minimum balance due. The store is filled with stuff. On her website she says, “I like STUFF and I like to make STUFF and I like to take pictures of where I make STUFF and where my STUFF resides.” The same kind of stuff people needlessly buy is in her store.

This particular exhibition of her work highlights her most recent endeavor in hand-drawing each of her four credit card statements each month. She began with six cards, but has since paid off two. She plans to continue drawing them every month until they are paid off. At around $13,500 of debt, she is about halfway towards her goal, coming from nearly $26,000 in credit card debt just three years ago. Her drawings give life and a human touch to a document that is typically never handled by a person until it reaches the post office. They show a slowed down process to a document that is usually treated without any care or consideration.

Other works include her daily drawings, where she draws one item she buys everyday. These are available to purchase individually, but she also sells a sleekly packaged zine of them at the exhibition. The drawings show her everyday purchases in a quickly drawn style that seems to reflect the compulsive nature of consumption. They feature items like a copy of Teen Vogue’s prom edition, to which Bingaman-Burt points out that has been neither teen nor going to prom in over 10 years. With very few items over $10, they seem to be mostly impulse buys, the type of things you’d find at checkout counters.

This was very surprising after seeing thousands of dollars of credit card debt. In a recent interview, Bingaman-Burt commented on the subject, “I almost think that some are disappointed when they realize that I don't spend my paycheck on pixie sticks and carnival cruises. My consumption is boring. Your consumption is boring.” However, Obsessive Consumption doesn’t come across as boring, it comes off full of energy. The saturated colors, the flags, the giant diamonds, giant credit card statements bombard the viewer with the urge to shop. The walls say, “What did you buy today?” assuming that everyone has bought something already. If you haven’t bought anything today, then you’re obviously missing out. They also seem to mimic McDonald’s old slogan, “Have you had your break today?” These slogans urge people to buy and consume.

In her statement, Bingaman-Burt says, “Obsessive Consumption is about making the mundane special,” which is obvious in her work. The credit cards become special because Bingaman-Burt takes the time to meticulously recreate them. It’s as if she took the time to draw a portrait for each item for her daily purchase drawings, and now they will exist longer than a fast food sandwich or pair of shoes ever could.

In her statement she also explains that she’s interested in the grotesque irony that revolves around consumption. She’s simultaneously repulsed and fascinated with consumer culture. Her website states that, “(Obsessive Consumption) wants to eat the entire bag of candy and enjoy the sickness that it feels and hour later.” However, her own consumption is boring, like she said. She leads a rather frugal lifestyle without a lot of flashy items. Her sunglasses are from Walgreens, not Barneys. She eats at Wendy’s, not Spiaggia. In the world of consumers, she probably has some of the least repulsive spending habits. She drew her receipts for the week of April 8, 2007 for the show, and only accumulated 16 receipts. That’s what many people have for just two days. Instead of being a display of excessive spending, it becomes an excessive display of modest spending. But even the bright colors, bold writing and flags aren’t enough to be repulsive; it just makes people want to spend more. It doesn’t seem excessive, because this bombardment is so everyday. Rather, the repulsion comes from the sudden realization that all the debt is from the accumulation of mundane purchases.

What becomes even more interesting is her intense guilt over her spending habits. This becomes a display of the complex emotions that occur with spending and debt. In her statement she explains, “I do this as penance for my sins.” Though she no longer spends money on credit, she still feels guilt over the smallest purchases. The caption of a daily purchase drawing of sunglasses reads, “I have a problem,” since she already owns a few pairs of sunglasses. If owning multiple pairs of inexpensive sunglasses is a problem, then it’s hard to imagine what really excessive spenders feel. On May 10, 2007 she treats herself to a pedicure and the caption says, “end of the school year pedicure. Shhh... I have never ever had one before.” She seems to feel bad over many of her purchases.

This project seems to become less about a critique of everyone’s obsessive consumption, and more focused on her obsession with her own consumption. Either way it gauges interest on many levels, and drives the viewer to think about how and why we consume.

Saturday, April 28, 2007