August 19, 2012

The Indian Artist Grifters

by Jerome du Bois

Ron Crossguns, who works for the Blackfeet tribe’s oil and gas division has little patience for veneration of the reservation’s land. “They’re just big rocks, nothing more,” Mr. Crossguns said of the mountains. “Don’t try to make them into nothing holy. Jesus Christ put them there for animals to feed on, and for people to hunt on.” --New York Times, 8/16/2012

The Indian Artist grifters continue to shuck the suckers who buy their line of guff. Local enabler Tricia Parker helps us here with her latest yassuh-mastuh review in Phoenix New Times:

In a world where museums ask us to check our hobo bags at the desk, what's surprising is that Postcommodity was invited to bring in a concrete saw to cut a table-size square hole — a portal between worlds — in the exhibition-space floor. The slab stands on end nearby as a sort of trophy representing indigenous intervention in the face of a Western worldview. ASU Art Museum originally commissioned this work in 2009, when Postcommodity cut a neat hole in the floor of ASU Art Museum's Ceramics Research Center (a building that sits atop a prehistoric Hohokam site). That installation included a soundtrack — the collective's performance of a Pee Posh social dance song. For its Sydney show, Postcommodity reworked the soundtrack to include Aboriginal-language speakers from the New South Wales region.

She's writing about "Do You Remember When?", second verse, same as the first, save for the appropriated soundtrack. What's not surprising to me is Ms. Parker's ignorance of earlier excavation "interventions" by artists in exhibition venues. Two examples: Chris Burden's flat-footed "Exposing the Foundations of the Museum" in 1986, and the vicious nihilist Urs Fischer's "You" at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in New York City in 2007. (By the way, Burden repeated his piece in 2008. You can make fools of some of the people all of the time.) Then there's the grinning devil Maurizio Cattelan.

None of these three clowns pretend to be intervening on so-called sacred ground, to create "a portal between worlds." But the artists of Postcommodity do make such a claim. Kade Twist, Cristóbal Martinez, Raven Chacon, and Nathan Young are hucksters, commodifying the fading aura of ancestor worship so they can drum up grants, money, status, and careers. From their website:

Postcommodity are the recipients of grants from the Telluride Institute (2007), American Composers Forum (2008), Arizona Commission on the Arts (2009), Elly Kay Fund (2010), Joan Mitchell Foundation (2010) and Creative Capital (2012).

They sure know how to work it, innit? But buzzwords like Indigenous and First Nations and Native American are empty anthropological categories. All the Indians came from somewhere else, as did everyone except continental Africans. And for over a hundred years Indians have been defined by federal bureaucrats. I wonder how it feels to be reduced to line items in the budget of the Bureau of Indian Affairs? Not bad, I suppose, as long as the checks clear, you have no self-respect, and you don't mind exploiting the long-gone dead.

I've come up with a third version of "Do You Remember When?", which you can read about after the jump, along with my take on their upcoming border piece.

First off, my version wouldn't be square. That's so Judeo-Christian Western Scientific, as these skins would say, and have said. Whatever happened to the sacred circle, the holy hoop? Haven't you guys read Seven Arrows, or Black Elk Speaks, or even Little Big Man? Concrete saws, which were invented by the Clovis People --or was it the Paisley People?-- I always get those two mixed up-- can definitely cut circles.

So here's what I envision: Select the ten biggest Indian casinos --sacred land, of course, by Federal definition. Find the floor space inside each one with the highest foot traffic. Cut a hole right there, seven feet in diameter and about eighteen inches deep. Ten holes, then, opening world-portals all across the land, from sea to shining sea. Make sure to have nice clean red dirt to fill the holes about a foot deep. Mounted on a stainless-steel pole in the center of each circle would be two flat-screen monitors back to back, which would rotate slowly, 24/7, even when the Paul Revere Impersonators are onstage singing "Indian Reservation." As for the content --well, hell, we've got the Kreative Kapital Krew here, innit? All I ask is that every once in awhile each one appears for about a minute or two repeatedly shouting out, "Hey, come back here! Hey, where you goin'? Hey, this is important . . . !"

Now, about that border fence thing. Ms. Parker writes:

Postcommodity's next big conceptual installation is slated for fall 2013 and meets head-on a familiar place, context, and discourse: the Mexican-American border. The project, "Repellent Fence," will involve a hunk of Tohono O'odham Nation's sacred indigenous homeland that intersects the beleaguered border and vinyl "scare eye" balloons, huge versions of the ones that farmers float in fields to repel birds.

Postocommodity hopes people will make an adventure of visiting "Repellent Fence" in person, but the collective will include extensive documentation, including videography and aerial photography.

Twist describes the installation as straddling the border like a Band-Aid. "That border fence is a huge wound that keeps people from realizing the ground beneath their feet."

Martínez offers a different analogy. "Our repellent border fence is on two different time scales. Our fence is like water. Rather than divide, it connects."

I wonder what realizing the ground beneath their feet means. And Martinez's analogy is incoherent. What they want to make isn't even a fence, just forty big balloons spaced along the border. But that's the way these guys talk, and write. To quote from their website, and if you fall asleep don't blame me:

Postcommodity’s art functions as a shared Indigenous lens and voice to engage and respond to the contemporary realities of globalism and neoliberalism. The collective seeks to move Indigenous discourse beyond exhausted dichotomies of "White" versus Indigenous and increasingly esoteric notions of de-facto political sovereignty, to more relevant and pressing issues pertaining to the assaultive manifestations of the global market and its supporting institutions, public perceptions, beliefs, and individual actions that comprise the ever-expanding, decentralized, multinational, multiracial and multiethnic colonizing force that is defining the 21st Century through ever increasing velocities and complex forms of violence. Postcommodity works to forge new Indigenous metaphors capable of rationalizing our shared experiences within this increasingly challenging contemporary environment; promote a constructive discourse that challenges the social, political and economic processes that are destabilizing communities and geographies; and connect Indigenous narratives of cultural self-determination with the broader public sphere.

Reading this crap is like slogging through a swamp choked with cattails. It stinks of academia, and it's lies, anyway, since these four Indian artists are mining the exhausted dichotomies for all they're worth.

Ms. Parker concludes:

The collective wanted "Repellent Fence," originally conceived in 2006, to be its first project.

"It's bizarre to invest that much time and effort into a project that's so ephemeral and vulnerable in one of the remote places in the Western Hemisphere," says Twist. "It will be exciting to be outside of the election year rhetoric — new Mexican leadership, possible new U.S. leadership," he trails off before adding, "At the end of the day, they're just balloons filled with air."

As are these four guys.

Now, I swear on a stack of piki that I didn't know about this 2006 project when I wrote "The Loser Tribe" in 2007, which included this section:

[Quoting the catalog for the exhibition Remix, when Steven Yazzie was still a member of Postcommodity] Yazzie, who just returned from London, says he has joined a new collective, called "Post Commodity," with Cherokee artist Kade Twist and video artist Nathan Young (Pawnee/Delaware/Kiowa).

"We went to the Czech Republic," Yazzie said, "and it was an interesting experience. We were near the border with Austria and doing an installation in a small village that had to do with border issues, like that the ones we have here with Mexican immigration and how the Tohono O'odham nation (straddles) the border in southern Arizona."

Questions of immigration and borders aren't just a U.S. issue, but something that resonates around the world.

Earlier in the article, we read this:

"We're looking for international exposure," Yazzie said, "so I don't think Santa Fe is going to work for me." [end of quote from catalog]

[Me] Yeah? Well, Steve, you sipping chocolate and nibbling sacher torte in Europe and calling it art isn't going to work for me. There aren't any political border issues between Austria and the Czech Republic. They're both members of the European Union. Citizens of both nations, and twenty-some others, are zipping back and forth every day, no problem. So your installation was both cosmetic and artificial, and all about the perfumed stink of Continental cachet. You should have been honest and called it a vacation.

It would have been a lot more real, a lot more challenging and even transgressive for you and your two buddies to foreground your installation in the other place you mentioned (you remember the Other, don't you, brother?): the borders between the US, the Tohono O'odham, and Mexico. A complicated firecracker nexus of three nations. Of course, it would have been hot and dirty and dangerous, with not a single good restaurant in a fifty-mile radius, and you three amigos would have probably got your asses handed to you by coyotes hustling illegals. . . . I picture you trying to explain to them that you're making Art, man! Ah, but it's just a dream. . . .[end of section]

These pretentious pretenders to significance want to focus on one of the most contentious issues of our time, a nexus of law versus crime, race-gaming versus human dignity, individualism versus collectivism, honest work versus extortion, national sovereignty versus criminal trespass, and lift up helium balloons as, what? an invitation to dialogue? Don't be blowing smoke up my teepee, Tonto. The coyotes and the illegals sneaking into our land don't give a stale tamale about migration patterns, context, and discourse. They want to destroy the United States of America.

You arrogant assholes.

And I believe the only people who will make an adventure of visiting "Repellent Fence" in person will be carrying rifles to bring down those big tempting targets.

Posted by Jerome at August 19, 2012 09:00 PM | TrackBack
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