Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Epicenter

Is Culver City really the “epicenter” of the Los Angeles art scene as popular consensus would lead us to believe? Visiting in mid February might not be at the height of the art season, but being big time shouldn't require a season, it means you're always on. I always thought that being in the epicenter of anything would be some sort of galvanizing experience, like sitting next to Jay-Z and Beyonce when Kanye stole the mike from Taylor swift and begun his famous diatribe. The epicenter should be exhilarating.

Then something has got to be wrong. How can the epicenter of the “Contemporary” art scene be contemporary if its not in step with more than a little semblance of a contemporary narrative? Don't get me wrong, there are a few galleries that are definitely taking the challenge seriously like Honor Frasier, LAXART, and Cherry & Martin. But gauging from the larger Culver city gallery scene, art production is still stuck in a very well done version of what we've already seen over and over again. What's left is an intellectualized, clean, and possibly well-sellable surface made by some-thing rather than some-one.

As far as human qualities go, Empathy seems to possibly be the most indispensable, not just because its a hot research topic in the sciences recently, but because it seems to be one of the most crucial pathways for being a fully functioning human. What's miraculous about the empathetic capacity is its ability to deeply feel something, to internalize the external, and to live it with almost as much, if not the same, intensity as the person on the other end. What's even more miraculous is that the other person doesn't even have to be there in front of you. They could just write you a story about some fictitious character and have you read it, and through simple little marks on a page you could be balling your eyes out.

The 20th century saw some ethically dubious capitalization of empathy as advertising figured out the equation and was shortly thereafter manipulating our hearts and fears in order to sell us something. And to most people that just feels dirty and wrong. Art capitalized on this sacred equation as well, and became what we call Kitsch; the formulaic production of art. What's scary is that empathy is so strong that even while watching a movie we know is formulaic and Kitsch we can still be brought to tears because we cant override our own system. That's how strong empathy is.

Which is of course why we are now so distrustful of not only our own emotions, but also any art which outrightly expresses emotion or personal narrative. This leads us back to Culver City where much of everything you see negotiates out dangerous emotion opting instead for a safer version of art that looks and operates like how one thinks art should be. What I was left craving for after visiting Culver City was not only the element of risk, the negotiation of kitsch, something about what it is to live in 2012, but also something personal. I wanted something a little grittier, something a little less sellable, but ten times more interesting. Granted, this is the commercial art scene and everyone has to pay rent, but the world is already filled with beautiful and clean objects with no trace of a human hand, why would I want another?

-Pete Hickok

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