During my portrait painting period, when I was busy not painting portraits about my Jewish heritage or culture, and busy not painting portraits about my Latin heritage or culture, I thought that I was not an Identity artist. Yet zooming out on my career, I have come to see that my work has always been about identity. My painted portraits weren’t about my personal ethnic identity, but they were about our California identity as the diverse people of a dynamic nation-state. Through Robots, Video Installations, Avatars, and Social Practice I have explored and expressed less common yet fundamental identities. And I hope I have empowered others to express their own identity in in my more recent Framework Projects.
Speech in 2017
The current president has made so many of us aware of the preciousness and fragility of free speech, a free press, and the freedom of information. But speech has always been fragile. The previous president also suppressed Internet speech and freedom at many turns. Tehran & Salman Rushdie. Beijing & Ai Weiwei. Moscow & Nadya Tolokonnikova. Washington DC & Chelsea Manning. Governments rarely appreciate loud voices.
Sometimes it is the loud voice of an Ai or Tolokonnikova. Sometimes it is the more personal voice of a Gay Man who wants to practice a Christian faith that rejects half of his identity, or a Drag Queen who wants to have a presence on Facebook even though her identity is a violation of Facebook’s terms of service.
In the Realm of the Object
In the past I made art objects. Once upon a time my big insight was that paintings didn’t have to be rectangles. I explored an Ellsworth Kellyverse of shaped canvas that seemed at once to speak to the nature of the subject, and to resonate with architectural interiors as ground.
From Painting and Printmaking I moved to Installation works. These works were not objects in a commodity sense, it’s pretty hard to “collect” an artwork that’s comprised of 3,000 pounds of black and white sand. Or 10,000 laserprinted pages of names. Yet they were still material. In the case of thousands of pounds of sand, or thousands of pages of names, deeply material.
Eventually I began to work in virtual worlds. First as a VR Performance Artist, later as a VR Public Artist, and later still as a VR Social Practice Artist. For me the exploration of VR Performance Art was novel and interesting. The early works claimed a presence and legitimacy of the avatar body as a body. The seeds were already sewn for a deeper investigation of Identity. For the claiming of an avatar identity as a real identity. A real identity worthy of being afforded civil rights.
As my early VR Performance Art works segued into Public Art and then Social Practice they became ever less about me. Where once I choreographed every detail of participants and the design of sets and wardrobe, eventually I came to return these choices to the participants.
First through virtual institutions like Medici University, and later through RL institutions like Runaway University and RL curatorial projects like Shame Wrapped in Repulsion, these Framework Projects became more about empowering others to express their identity.
I am currently working on the Forgiveness Kit. It will be an edition of 78 glass bottles, each containing the necessary ingredients for a person to make their life right again. I intend this to be the last object-based work of my career.
This week I am writing the proposal for The Janus Drawing Portfolio, a project I will submit for Rhiannon Aarons’ upcoming Pissed Off exhibition. The Janus Drawing Portfolio would be performed live at the opening. The work creates a series of diptychs. For each pair, I and one of the attendees, or two attendees, will each create two Automatic Drawings, one while both partners meditate on anger & frustration and the second as we meditate on joy & human fulfillment.
From 2009-2015 I focused on avatar works. In the past 2 years I’ve focused again on the material realm. Here in 2017 I’ve launched another VR Framework Project, Medici University’s College of Avatar Architecture & Virtual Urban Planning, an experiment in the group creation of livable architectures and walkable cities. I anticipate new Framework Projects in the 2nd half of 2017 and into 2018 and beyond. In 2020 I will be campaigning for Kim Kardashian for president of the United States.