A proposal by Legacy Russell
Ritual, repetition, and reproduction [used to be]...matters of religion; they were practiced in isolated, sacred places. In the modern age, ritual, repetition, and reproduction have become the fate of the entire world, of the entire culture. Everything reproduces itself—capital, commodities, technology, and art.
—Boris Groys, Religion in the Digital Age of Reproduction
OPEN CEREMONY / American Idolatry will explore the processes, imagery, and ideologies surrounding the establishment of ceremony, ritual, and idolatry within a contemporary framework. This project will take place in two parts, linked thematically.
Part one — OPEN CEREMONY — will be showcased by Seth Aylmer and Jose Serrano-McClain of the Brooklyn-based Trust Art, a presenter of commissioned artists’ projects and exhibitions in public spaces.
OPEN CEREMONY, beginning in 2011 and moving into early 2012, will be a durational exhibition featuring the artwork of East Village born and bred artist, curator, and creative producer, Legacy Russell. Russell will spend the year intermittently building site-specific installations (“social shrines”) and points of interactive engagement in and around Lower Manhattan.
The project will be broken up into four “rites”, each of which will be gradually released into the public realm over the coming months. Each rite will aim to experiment with a different facet of public worship and remembrance, as inspired by the cultural and social milieu of the East Village and the Lower East Side.
Built into the landscape of the city streets, these works will become part of a social topography, active as vehicles of creative expression and social engagement and therefore open to contribution, alteration, and feedback from the surrounding communities.
The impact of gentrification within these neighborhoods has become a key component of the larger atmosphere and socio-cultural climate therein. Downtown luminaries and old-timers are often faced with a choice to either adapt to the rapidly changing (social, cultural, economic) landscape, or to flee towards “greener pastures”, resulting in many of the original residents leaving Manhattan and sometimes even New York City altogether in the interest of greater sustainability and improved quality of life. Yet, long-time residents are not always provided the luxury of choice; thus the presence the “old” and “new” results in unprecedented physical juxtapositions of individuals hailing from vastly disparate economic, social, and cultural backgrounds, grappling with the challenges presented in coping with co-existence.
The low-income housing projects that rise up from Avenue D — impenetrable brick masses, separating the increasingly gentrified spaces from a scenic view of the newly tailored East River Park — are glaring representations of these differences, integral reminders of communities there and beyond that are rendered invisible in the commercialized re-versioning of the local terrain.
To act in public and open ceremony is a form of “decolonizing” these sites, temporarily flattening the top-down hierarchies that exist within these rubrics with the simple act of using open space as a site for objects of memory, public and private alike. Such expressions of devotion allow a world undergoing and recovering from the trauma of change and displacement to reclaim agency via sovereign action and creative independence.
To process, to mourn, to dialogue about these fissures is a vital part of tending to the social and cultural wounds that are a product of such shifts. OPEN CEREMONY will at once encourage the public to participate in paying homage to those sites and the histories therein and also to take pause in remembrance, providing space to reflect on the past and envision the future.
How do the walls ornamented with graffiti and murals, the wheat-pasted buildings, the telephone poles strung with shoes, the gatherings within community gardens, the spiritual presence of resilient botanicas and santarias, currently act as sites of creative expression by residents, both old and new? How can an artist re-interpret and build upon this existing visual vernacular, thereby integrating into the current harmonies of the landscape itself?
The hope for this project is that it will contribute to an ongoing dialog, building upon the collective consciousness and visual vernacular of two sites undergoing change.
Part two — American Idolatry — will be presented in the Fall of 2011 by Recession Art, a New York-based “art stimulus” organization dedicated to “helping emerging artists show and sell their work while giving collectors of all incomes an opportunity to buy original work”.
Ranging from the memorializing of those lost in 9/11 to that of the late pop icon Michael Jackson, the public in New York has a tradition of participating in collective gatherings and ceremonies — from concerts to shrine-building, complete with paraphernalia, flowers, and pictures. These signs and symbols function as modern-day relics of memory in their presence within private and public realms, building towards a larger lens through which one can play at reconstructing personal perceptions of oneself and ones notions of the world around them.
For seven days American Idolatry will transform the Invisible Dog Art Center in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn into a house of worship. Throughout the week the public will be invited to view artworks, performances, and partake in evening educational programming, as curated by Legacy Russell and a diverse team of up-and-coming artists, academics, and cultural producers — the future of creative America.
Artists of American Idolatry will make use of physical action, installation, and experimentation to assert spaces of shrine-like religious artifice that, though constructed, will strive to function as “real” sites of idolatry, worship, and remembrance of America and its rich socio-cultural histories. Artists will be asked to reflect on what the notion of “America” and American identity means to them, as influenced by pop culture aesthetic and contemporary politic.
Commissions will be made through an open call for artists of all backgrounds, media, and genre. Reviewed by exhibition curator Legacy Russell and the curatorial board of Recession Art, artists will be selected on the strength of their submitted materials. Whether displayed independently or as part of a greater assemblage, shrines take a multitude of forms, and material objects are socio-cultural unifiers and signifiers—they hold memories, they have the capacity to provoke emotion, and they imbue one with a sense of belonging, a sense of history.
Though never entirely permanent, the presence of these things often trumps their monetary worth, representing triumphs, losses, moments of realization. In claiming them one endows them with some patterned fiction of magic, providing the ordinary action of organizing ones lipsticks, entering a security code to quiet an alarm system, arranging a meal to present to guests, or pinning a photograph to the wall, with an undeniable alchemy. Shrine-building can also assist in orienting oneself politically: putting flags in windows, bumper stickers on cars, and purchasing presidential memorabilia to mark the turn of a particular moment in history. One mirrors these beliefs in physical action, ones body responding in a ritual of routine to the world—kissing the rearview mirror at a stoplight, locking eyes when toasting glasses, blowing out candles, knocking on wood—these actions signify the existence of a ritualized rubric of belief and faith within the otherwise banal everyday. Thus, a shrine and the motions that accompany its presence are not only a portrait of their maker, but also a reflection of the complex global culture surrounding us.
To make art is a version of shrine-building and, to make a shrine, no matter how simple, is to make art—not for profit, but as a gift. It is an act of spinning the banal into the beautiful, the insecure into that which is stable again.
It is an act of patterning the world in an effort to make greater sense of it, making it over as a safe, secure, controllable space, and claiming it as ones own.
Shrine-building materializes, beautifies, and secures the universe that surrounds us, thereby performing symbiotically as public representations of both justice and beauty in a world so frequently sullied and grayed by the aims of commercial capital.
OPEN CEREMONY will be presented throughout 2011 by Trust Art and will feature newly commissioned work by artist Legacy Russell.
American Idolatry will be presented in the Fall of 2011 by Recession Art.
CHERYL (Will Ruin Your Life), Shanks and Thanks, November 2008
Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich, Keep On Keeping On of It, 2009
For more information about Trust Art, and updates on OPEN CEREMONY, please visit http://www.trustart.org.
For updates and more information about Recession Art, as well as to learn more about the Fall 2011 open artist call for American Idolatry, please visit http://www.recessionartshows.com .
To learn more about The Invisible Dog Art Center, please visit http://www.theinvisibledog.org .
These exhibitions will be led by artist, curator, and creative producer Legacy Russell (ContactProject.net, The Bruce High Quality Foundation). For more information, please check in at http://www.legacyrussell.com and www.contactproject.net in the coming months.
Legacy Russell (LEGACY) is a writer, artist, and curator. She has worked at and produced programs for The Bruce High Quality Foundation, Creative Time, the Brooklyn Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. Legacy is one-third of the curatorial production team Limited Time Only. In September 2011, she was appointed as Art Editor of BOMB Magazine’s renowned online journal, BOMBlog, where she has since stayed on as a Contributing Editor. Outside of BOMB, her work can be found in a variety of publications: DIS, Canteen, The Well & Often Reader, Exit Strata, The Society Pages, Guernica, berfrois, and beyond. A candidate for an MRes of Visual Culture at Goldsmiths University, her creative and academic work explores mourning, remembrance, iconography, and idolatry within the public realm. Her most recent performance, “The Initiation”, debuted December 2012 as a commission for The Museum of Arts and Design in New York.