July 23, 2008

Between Artists: Andrea Bowers and Cathie Opie

The preamble to a Southern California movie-going experience usually includes a commercial for the L.A. Times. For years these spots revolved around different aspects of the movie-making process, including a segment on Foley artists; the people who create the sound effects to go with the action on the screen. After seeing a bunch of celery wrapped in wet burlap being whacked against a padded bench, I will never hear the sound of a fist connecting with a face in the same way again.

Likewise, after participating in two semesters of Andrea Bowers class, "In Conversation," I will never read an interview with an artist with the belief that it is a document of something that actually took place. Because spoken conversations don't include footnotes and often end in a prepositional phrase, one has to look through the polish to have a sense of what actually took place. Because traditional art making practices often involve a high level of manipulation (in private) before presenting the finished object (in the gallery) the artist interview can be polished until the presentation of the self reveals the real thing about as much as a Noh play represents daily life in Japan.

A.R.T. Press recently published a conversation between Andrea and Cathie Opie as part of their ongoing series, Between Artists. In a field where the presentation of the self counts sometimes as much as the quality of the product, one can imagine this being especially true for two successful artists in an field that creates more obstacles than pathways for women. Especially in the early pages, the conversation seems to be played to the microphone as much as it is to each other.

After seeing the show Just Different at the Cobra Museum, I couldn't help but think about some of the similarities between Robert Mapplethorpe and Opie's practice; at one point Opie curated a show of the former's work. Both photographers produced highly formal and aesthetic work that even the most conservative art collector would feel comfortable hanging in their living room. And at the same time both Mapplethorpe and Opie are best known for their more confrontational images of queer sexualities. In reading Andrea and Cathie's conversation, their bifurcated practice can be seen as a manifestation of an interest in things both aesthetic and political, more so than a strategy to both make a statement and pay the bills.

At the same time their conversation made me realize that the world has incredibly changed, as have artists' responses to the world around them. My former classmates have grown up in a world of judgement, retribution, and fear, while my peers of my age who grew up in a world with fewer commodities and more possibilities. It also made me pine for situation that doesn't play to the viewer--or the microphone--but instead speaks to one's internal sense of integrity.

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