Transcript of AS-AP Panel at CAA Conference, February 2009

Posted August 05, 2010 by admin

Transcript of panel discussion, "Mitigating the Obvious Culture and the Search for Broader Humanity: Bridging the Gap Between Us and Them," at the, College Art Association's 97th Annual Conference In Los Angeles, February 25,2009. AS-AP Panel at CAA 2009


David Platzker (Moderator)
Joshua Decter
Edgar Arceneaux
Stephen Saiz
Cindy Bernard

DAVID PLATZKER: Good afternoon. I’m David Platzker. the former project director of Art Spaces Archives Project, or AS-AP.

AS-AP is a nonprofit initiative that was begun in 2003, with a mandate to begin to try to document the history of the avant-garde and alternative movement in the United States from 1950s to the present.

To do this, we have set up a very large-scale online presence with a database. And this is what it looks like [image of AS-AP website]. On this website,, you can go to the survey list, type in the name of an organization -- let’s try ABC No Rio, for example -- and you can discover a wide variety of information about ABC No Rio.

What we are interested in primarily is the archive materials held by these organizations: the raw documentation of the history of these organizations. We have asked institutions to catalog their organization in terms of their archival holdings, their access policies, and a little bit about their organization -- their budgets, their websites and additional organizational details.

When we talk about "spaces," we talk about organizations broadly. Meaning that "spaces" do not necessarily refer to a physical place; it can also define a nightclub, a transient space, a periodical. The word "spaces" should be taken broadly.

Right now, as of 2008, the project is now part of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College. Ann Butler, CCS' Director of Library and Archives, is the new project director as of this past summer.

AS-AP was founded by a consortium of alternative arts organizations, including Bomb Magazine, College Art Association, Franklin Furnace Archive, the New York State Council on the Arts, New York State Artist Workspace Consortium, and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. AS-AP’s funding has come from NYSCA, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Warhol Foundation. And our major activities, beyond just doing this documentation is, we’re also working on best practices and trying to extend the alternative movement to the broadest possible audience, in terms of the archival materials.

We want new scholarship to happen. As you might be aware, the history of alternative movement’s been largely written to date, by members of the alternative movement; we hope to foster a broader reading of it.

Additionally, our goals are to make people recognize if you are part of a nonprofit, that your archival holdings are valuable. The whole notion of the alternative or avant-garde movement is always about going forward, and very rarely retrospective. Which is to say that these spaces rarely look back at their archival materials as anything other than an albatross and stuff that needs to get thrown away. AS-AP’s mission is to prevent this stuff from dissipating into the ether or being put out for recycling.

Today’s panel has a great title, “Mitigating the Obvious Culture in Search for Broader Humanity: Bridging the Gap Between Us & Them.” I’m sorry about the title. [laughter] I wrote it. [laughter] Let me explain. On our panel today is Edgar Arceneaux, Cindy Bernard, Joshua Decter, Stephen Saiz. They each represent an alternative movement or have been part of the avant-garde alternative movement. And they all are somewhat outside of the traditional notions of what is considered to be physical environments. And when I talk about that, I talk about the anti-white cube, as defined by Brian O’Doherty’s 1976 article that appeared in Artforum magazine. And they are also alternative to places like this [image of exterior and interior atrium of The Museum of Modern Art with Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk, 1967, installed], and alternative to places like this [David Zwirner Gallery interior with works by Fred Sandback installed], and what I hope is they’re actually part of this [NASA image of Earth]. The art world is an amazingly small environment, which is reflected when you go out into the hallways here [of CAA Conference].

What I hope that today, the panel members will be talking about is how the projects they are involved in try to mitigate and bridge that gap, that try to take people either out of the white cube or bring them into the white cube, but bring in people that aren’t necessarily thought of as being the obvious targets for indoctrination into the visual arts.

So as I said, AS-AP’s website is and I hope you visit it to learn more about the avant-garde and alternative movement in the United States post 1950.

I want to do is begin by introducing you to Josh Decter, who’s going to be our first panelist.

JOSHUA DECTER: Good afternoon. Is there a lamp here? I may fall asleep under these lighting conditions. [laughter] And, I had to wait thirty minutes to get a Starbucks here at the LA Convention Center, which is, I think, rather unprecedented. Oh, a flashlight? Thanks.

At a CAA conference, it’s hard to know whether to be informal in one’s discourse or to be highly formalized. I’m speaking here in my capacity as director of the Master of Public Art Studies program at USC, and also as a critic and curator.

To a certain extent, I’m going to talk about some of the contradictions and irreconcilable aspects of these different roles, and the idea of transparency as it pertains to engaging in pedagogy about art in public space, and in relation to the public sphere. But I am not going to engage the question of the white cube versus the black cube space, or questions of us versus them. I’ll read from two texts that I have produced. One for the German publication, Texte Zur Kunst, which has been in operation since the early 1990s, and was founded by Isabelle Graw. This text was published in 1992, but might address some of the issues that David has articulated. And then I’ll read from my text that appeared in the inSite_05 catalogue. I’ll also endeavor to communicate my academic work at USC since arriving at the Roski School in 2007, in relation to my process of changing the curriculum and identity of the MPAS Program, so that it focuses on how curators, historians, artists critics and theorists have engaged the complexities of art in public space, in relation to broader public sphere issues.

So, I’ll first read from my 1992 Texte Zur Kunst text, entitled “The Administration of Cultural Resistance.” It begins with a quote from Theodor Adorno’s text “Commitment”: “Works of art which by their existence take the side of the victim of a rationality that subjugates nature, are even in their protest constitutively implicated in the process of rationalization itself. Were they to try to disown it, they would become aesthetically and socially powerless: mere clay. The organizing, unifying principle of each and every work of art is borrowed from that very rationality whose claim to totality seeks to defy.”

Adorno points to contradictions that we continue to be preoccupied with today, such as the politics of art practice, in relation to notions of real-world effectiveness. My text then continues: “If it is still tenable to endorse the notion that a so-called politically confrontational or resistant vanguard culture exists today in the American situation, and if this endorsement carries with it an investment in the socially transformative function and effectiveness of such ‘critical’ visual practices in regard to the conditions of General Culture, then it would seem imperative to pursue an examination of the viability of such interventionist strategies. Questions regarding the function, effect, meaning-production, and reception of those types of visual art production which claim to offer a critically illuminating if not emancipatory analytic engagement with the multiplicity of problems and crises plaguing our society must be posed with regularity, if only to avoid lapsing into a sort of self-congratulatory, self-righteous (whether moral or philosophical) assumption that the ‘good fight’ is being waged in the most correct manner— never taking a moment to reflect critically upon the concrete, material impact or consequences of such endeavors beyond the relatively insular domain of vanguard culture itself. In other words, how can we begin to evaluate the potency of politically engaged art production and art criticism as practices which may or may not have a functional relevance that transgresses the normative institutional boundaries of the cultural vanguard? The issues briefly referred to above are fundamentally connected to the apparatus of cultural institutionalization, which has an identifiable logic, operating to construct a kind of exclusive, endlessly reproducible ensemble of heterogeneous multiple ‘constituencies’ of various, often antagonistic ideological proclivities. The simultaneously blessed and cursed nature of pluralism is here exemplified by how the ‘invisible’ frame of vanguard culture encloses a territory wherein ‘difference’ is cultivated, groomed, and ultimately permitted. Inside the frame, all forms of transgression are encouraged and regularly displayed for public scrutiny; high culture is allowed to perennially manufacture its own regime of apparent subversions. The predominant number of claims of cultural marginalization are made in response to a sense of exclusion from the center or ‘mainstream’; the predetermined condition of general inclusion is essentially guaranteed, although occupying a supposedly ‘dominant’ cultural position (reduced to a market value) is not.”

In any event, perhaps some of my concerns in 1992 are still relevant today in 2009. Now I’ll read from the intro of my text that appears in the Situational Public book that was published as the document of the 2005 inSite_05 exhibition project in San Diego/Tijuana. The text, entitled “Transitory Agencies and Situational Engagements: The Artist as Public Interlocutor,” opens with a number of quotes, including one from Manuel Castells: “We are concerned with the understanding of how cities and societies change on the basis of collective projects and societal conflicts generated through history. Our questions address the issue of how and why the creators challenge the dominants….” My text continues: Where, then, to begin? Perhaps, with some of the many questions generated by Interventions? For instance, at the theoretical, material, dissolution of (b)orders? With the vexing issue of how we might begin to trace the repercussions, the reverberations, of creative acts upon the fabric of cities, upon the imaginations of citizens? Or, prior to that, how it is possible to make a claim for art’s material, symbolic, ideological, political or libidinal viability in relation to mundane life-circumstances? Through the reconsideration of various models of socially responsive practice? With the disappearance of art’s materiality into networked flows of social encounters? Or, the re-distribution of cultural production into the flows of trans-urban environments, through processes of cooperation, collaboration, negotiation, infiltration, and intervention?”

EDGAR ARCENEAUX: So hi, everybody. My name is Edgar Arceneaux. I’m an artist and also the director of the Watts House Project, which we describe as an ongoing collaboration artwork in the shape of a neighborhood redevelopment. Some of you are familiar with my drawing and studio practice; but as long as I’ve been making work for galleries and museums, I’ve been working on the Watts House Project. My involvement with the Watts House Project began in 1996. I’m sort of going to give you an annotated version. So I apologize, for some of you who I recognize were at the Farmlab presentation last Friday; so this is a lot of the same.

The Watts House Project’s goals are divided into two parts. The first one, we’re crudely calling the Renovation Phase, which is the transformation of the interior/exterior, front yard and back yard of all twenty properties within our redevelopment zone, which is located in Watts on East 107th Street surrounding the historic Watts Towers. The way in which this transformation is occuring is through a collaboration between an artist and an architect, with the residents themselves. So again, interior/exterior, front yard, back yard. And we hope to do four properties per year and be done by 2013. Each home is considered its own separate entity, so twenty separate projects. Could ultimately have twenty separate, very different results.

Our second branch is our five essential programs. Do you guys like my little diagram there? I thought it was very cute. But you know, it’s very informative, too. The first one is the Artist in Residency program, which would have both work space, exhibition space, and housing for the artist. The second thing is the Café Project, because at this point, there’s no place for people to have a coffee or a sandwich around, within the adjacency of the towers. The third thing is some type of Social Service. And right now we’re imagining that that might be daycare, but it could turn out to be a book exchange or something else. But that’s something that we need to further articulate, through further conversations with the residents. The fourth thing is an Office Space for us, because right now we’re nomadic by design. We’re occupying the residents’ living rooms and front porches. Which is good because there’s a lot of traditional Mexican families there, so wives stay at home and cook, so we’re generally pretty well fed. And then the fifth and most important element, which is really the bedrock of the project, is our Residential Housing component. And with this, we hope to purchase seven to ten properties within our redevelopment zone, specifically for these five programs, but also for setting up properties for a Lease-to-Own transition. And the hope is that the best way to buttress against the forces of gentrification is through ownership.

So the Renovation phase. We began initially doing work on the ground in 1999. And I’m going to run through these relatively quickly. The aesthetics of the project are really born from the sort of pragmatic necessities of the place. So when we first approached Felix Madrigal, who is there lifting the wheelbarrow of dirt, when we first approached him about doing a project, he said, you know, the thing that he needed the most is a new driveway because—and this is no joke—for more than twenty years, he was getting parking tickets for parking in his own driveway because you’re not allowed to park on an unpaved surface. And because the street is so old, the neighborhood itself is so old, it’s a substandard size, he would also get tickets for parking it out on the street. So we, together, designed a motif that you can kind of see here on the driveway. It’s actually three tower-like forms and then a moon, kind of a sun-type shape towards the top. The great thing about this is that we were able to use local networks, local resources. We had a small amount of money initially, from the LEF Foundation in this early phase of the project, which we actually stretched out, less than $10,000 over five— or four or five projects over, like a four year period of time. And using just his friends, we were able to get the work done in a shorter period of time and for less money than it would normally cost.

We did a project with John Locke High School, where we presented to them motifs from South African painted houses and Spanish colonial tiles, which they morphed together; and then actually drew them, implemented them, and painted them themselves. The third thing, a project we did in 2001, was working with Genaro Alvarez. And the story of Genaro is actually a really great one. When we approached him about doing a project, it was actually a really simple process. Genaro already had an idea of wanting to do kind of a radial sunburst motif on his fence. So we just had to go out and buy the materials. So, about three days later I came back to his house, and half the fence was already built. And I was completely amazed. I was like, “My god, you know, I didn’t realize you knew how to weld.” And he said, “I don’t, I taught myself.” So now going on eight years later, he’s a professional blacksmith; he does it for a living. And he’s our number one fabricator. This thing is cutting on and off, right? Is that a problem? You guys can hear me okay? Alright. So vision and timeline. In 2008, we kicked the Watts House Project off again, where we went back to Felix’s house. But the goal, again, is to do four properties per year. So in 2008, we began two houses, and we’ve started on one and hopefully, we’ll be starting on three more in the coming months of 2009. Our Café Project, we’re starting to pilot that out right now. We’re going to start work on an Office Space. We’re going to be converting a trailer, which Felix Madrigal has given to us. And the Street Maintenance project. Now, again, the street is a substandard size. So when it rains, the street floods because there’s no storm drains on the street. And the city’s been promising for about, you know, twenty years to replace the storm drains and they haven’t actually gotten around to doing it. So we’re piloting another program, and when I get to our supporters page, I’ll talk a little bit more about my partnership with USC. But some of my students are here today, who are actually technically now project coordinators, and they’ve taken up about seven to ten— or maybe between seven and nine tasks now that are related to the project that they’re actually helping to see all the way through, from beginning to end. 2010. 2013, we hope to be done with the remodels. And then through 2018, we hope to continue expanding our programming.

How do we do it? It’s a collaboration between people just like you, who are interested in work of this nature—artists, residents, architects, students, schools and museums, community leaders, people who are locally based. Our resources are the people themselves. Now, I had a conversation with Rick Lowe, who’s actually the founder of the Watts House Project. He co-founded Project Row Houses in Houston. Some of you guys are familiar with this, right? Yeah. Okay. So Project Row Houses in Houston is an artist- drive neighborhood revitalization project, where Rick and a few other artists purchased twenty shotgun styles homes, gutted them out and turned them into exhibition spaces; and then also had this social service component, which was creating housing for single mom and then putting them into school programs. We had talked about the difference between resources and funders, because we were having this conversation, like, Where do we get the money from? And he said something to me which I actually found to be really profound. He said, “You know, you need to draw a distinction between your resources and your funders. And your resources are actually more important than the funders themselves. They’re the people whom the project is for, the people who are volunteering for the project, and then those who are directly affected by the work that you’re doing. Thinking about that concept, I’ve reoriented the way in which we think about the funding structure for the Watts House Project, in that we’re looking not just for people to give us money, but to somehow transition from being a funder into being a resource, and to try to nurture personal relationships with the people who are able to give to the project; and not really draw such a clear distinction between people who are able to give their time and people who are able to give their money, because oftentimes, those are the same people. But technically, our first remodel, going back to Felix’s house, was supported by the Hammer Museum. And technically, I’m an artist in residence with the Hammer. And the funding is coming from that program. Our other partners are ForYourArt, LA>

The selection process right now really is an organic one. Seeing as we don’t really have the money to do all the street, there’s no reason to put people in a line and say, “You’re going to go next.” So basically, as artists and architects become a part of the project, then somehow, my belief, our belief is that the funding will come, too. But generally, it begins with a conversation. So between us right now, we’re working on building our partnership with LACMA, and hopefully, they’ll be taking on two properties at the end of the year. And we’re starting to discuss who the artist and architect would be. Because were planning is, is to try to get every major arts institution in Los Angeles to support at least one property, from the Getty to the Orange County Museum, Santa Monica Museum, and then other institutions that I have relationships with, like the Studio Museum in Harlem, for example.

So why this neighborhood? Amongst these things, I think part of the reason why a project like this is actually able to take root and— How am I doing, time-wise? I have two minutes, okay. Part of the reason why I think a project like this is able to take root is that there’s a type of quadratic for the formula to work. The first thing is, with the Watts House Project, that we had the location to a historical monument, because it lends itself to a certain sort of visibility. And also you would imagine living across the street from an artwork would have some effect upon the way in which you think about the world. The second thing is our proximity to an institution. So yeah, the Watts Towers Arts Center is directly across the street, which adds another level of infrastructure for the work that we’re trying to do. The third thing is that you have to have at least one advocate, one family, someone who believes in what you’re doing and can help to nurture a trust and be a voice for you. And the fourth thing—and this is probably the most important—is that there’s already a tradition which is existing there, and which you’re stepping into. And I always try to be really, really good with explaining that we weren’t a spaceship that dropped in there, but there had already been thirty, forty years of people trying to do work like this, which had failed for various reasons. And we’re trying to make sure that we avoid a lot of those pitfalls.

So again, we went back to Felix’s house, working with partners, like from USC, UCLA, local residents. And this is Felix here again, with one of the designs for the house. We went back to redo the front of the house, which is the first phase—redoing the porch, walkway. And again, all of the work that we did was something which sort of extended from a conversation that Felix and I have been having for about a decade. On top of the work we’re doing at sort of the micro level, on the ground, we’re also doing an urban planning exercise with James Rojas. And some of you guys may know him; he operates the Latino Urban Forum. Some of you guys might know that or get emails from him. This was something that people were doing on the site. These are some of the images that people like to see, right? Paintbrushes in hand. One of the artists that are working on this house—and there’s two of them, Ed Pine Stevens and Tanya Aguiniga—both furniture designers. These are some of her designs that she sent us. We settled on this one and we built it with Genaro, who’s standing there again. And that’s us installing it. So everything we did, we built onsite, within the neighborhood. And again, there’s the lamp installed, the walkway. And there it is, the first light.

From there, the second design phase—and these charrettes now, we’ve sort of moved beyond this point—is to design the living room. Francisco Arias is our architect. These are a few charrettes incorporating photovoltaics. So even though each home is considered to be its own separate entity, we do have some design imperatives. And one of them is to try to get every single house off of the grid, try to install water purification systems for the whole street, as well as some sort of an internet system, so we can help to make communication between the residents and us a little more efficient. We just did a project with Good magazine, where they came and worked on Rosa’s house, which we’re now calling the Flower House. That the gardening project that we did, which is really great. And then wrapping it up, going to the next houses we’re working on with artist Alexandra Grant—some of you may know her work—and the architect Mike Niemann. The Love House, which was totally whacked out when she gave us this proposal; like, this is totally impossible to build. But Moneik and Louis, who live there, they saw it and they, like fell in love with it, so we’re trying to figure out how to make this happen. [laughter] Granted, the size that it is, and the weight, would actually collapse this house. [laughter] So we’re trying to figure out how to work that into it. But in the meantime, Alexandra was wonderful enough to create this Love necklace that you can see here at the bottom, that we just launched as one of our editions. Yeah, so if you guys are interested in coming out, just give me an email. It’s Thanks. [applause]

STEPHEN SAIZ: How you guys doing? My name is Stephen Saiz— I’m the president of the board of directors at Self Help Graphics & Art. I’ve been in that position for about six months and was previously the vice president. I’ve been with the organization since 2005 and we’re kind of going through some turmoil. In 2005, the previous administration got into a little bit of a mismanagement situation—we’ve been around for over thirty-five years—so they actually closed the doors at one point. The board actually approved the closure of the doors. So over the past three years, we’ve been trying to bring back the organization, a resurgence, to redefine who we are and put a stake in the ground, as far as our importance within L.A. But unfortunately, we were kind of thrown a wrench in the plan, and last June we learned that the archdiocese, which actually owned the building, sold it without telling us. So when we found out— We didn’t even have a chance to put a bid on it; we got told after escrow had closed. So after thirty years of being in this facility— We have a year lease to kind of buy some time, but that’s kind of where we’re at as far as us within this building, which we’ve been identified with for the past thirty years.

So here’s a little snapshot of who we are. Our vision is to be the pre-eminent center for Latino art in printmaking, exhibition and training, and to be a resource for young and emerging artists. We’re located in East L.A., right on the corner of Gage and Chavez. And even though we are primarily servicing a Chicano/Latino neighborhood, we are by no means exclusionary to who we work with. We’ve worked with artists from every major continent. And at this point, a significant percentage of artists that we work with, at least on the printmaking side, are not Latino or Chicano. As I mentioned, we were incorporated as a nonprofit in 1972. So from an arts perspective and specifically about nonprofits, we are one of the oldest in the US. Typically, arts nonprofits aren’t as old as we are, so it’s kind of a little disheartening to see kind of the transition that we’re having to go through right now, only because we have been able to sustain ourselves for over thirty-five years. Founded by Sister Karen Boccalero, who was a Franciscan nun, it was started with a few other artists in a garage, initially, in the late sixties, early seventies; moved to Boyle Heights in ’72 and were in a building out there for about six, seven years; and then in 1979, moved to the current building that we’re in right now.

I’d say on an annual basis, we probably serve about 25,000 people, not only that come to our physical facility, but through exhibition programs that run throughout Latin America and the US, so that people actually could become familiar with who we are and see the artwork that we produce. And our major programming includes our printmaking and intaglio programs, our Day of the Dead festival, our digital arts program, our Barrio Mobile program, and our exhibition print program. And I’ll get into a little bit about each of those right now.

So printmaking is our focus of what we do. And this is not only serigraph work, but the old school style of etching, woodblock cuts and linocuts. And within printmaking, we do a number of curated ateliers every year. So these are typically themes that range from landscapes to women to political to anything that the curator decides to bring to the table and present a program to us. And they basically choose the artists, and each artist spends about a week with us to do their edition. Our editions typically run the 100 to 150 range. And the way we work is when the artist comes to work with us, they get an honorarium, as well as get 50% of the prints so they can go and sell to their collectors. We have our own collector base, as well that we sell to. We have fifty ateliers in the series right now, so each series runs between five and ten per edition. We have a significant body of work in our archive. And we partner with the CEMA Foundation at UC Santa Barbara, which is the Center for Ethnic and Multicultural Archiving. And they consider us basically their jewel of their archives. So they have a lot of our institutional records, as well as one of all the prints that we’ve ever done on the serigraph side; and we’re actually starting to incorporate a lot of what’s done in the etching studios, as well, to raise the bar there and bring that into our archives, because it’s not as structured as far as numbering and the oversight that goes on in the serigraph studio.

Our special projects that we also do outside of the ateliers are obviously, our Day of the Dead print, which is an annual festival for us. So for the artist that gets picked for that print, it’s a big deal. And typically, we like to mix it up every year, sometimes picking an artist that nobody’s ever heard of and sometimes bringing back some of our artists that haven’t done one for five, ten years or so.

And then we also pioneered a style of printmaking called monoprinting, where we’re not actually burning anything on the screen, but where artists are actually painting with a paintbrush on the screen. And you run the squeegee once and typically, what you get is a one of one that essentially looks like a painting. It uses a lot more ink, so it’s a little bit more expensive, but we’ve found that we’ve been able to develop a collector base who like the monoprints, as opposed to the serigraphs, because they are one of one. So it’s actually opened up a new market for us, as far as building our collectors and selling prints, which is the predominant way that we actually generate revenue and earn income.

And then we also do a lot of collaborative work. I’ll show the piece later on that Edgar mentioned, in regards to Farmlab. We did a big project with them as a run-up to the election, on political posters. We curated our piece. The other organization was La Casa del Tunel in Tijuana. They curated eight artists, and Farmlab curated eight artists. We printed twelve at our studio and printed twelve down in TJ. So we also do a lot of collaboration work, as well.

And then as I mentioned, we also have a separate etching studio. We have four machines in various sizes. And this is what I think the jewel is, because this is where the open space happens, where artists can come in at any time. Whereas the print studio, the serigraph studio is much more curated and artists are invited, the etching studio is pretty much open to the public on a regular basis. So that’s where people kind of refine their printmaking technique. A lot of them go to the serigraph side, but a lot of them stay with etching and woodblock cuts, and work their way through all the techniques associated with that.

I’m also going to walk you through some of the prints that we’ve done at various times. So this is an Yreina Cervantes piece, which was part of our first ateliers back in 1983. So this piece is over twenty-five years old. And it’s kind of a typical image that you’d see from the Chicana perspective. Moving on to the next piece, which is Gronk, which is one of the artists that we’ve been working with since day one, since we’ve been open. And something you typically don’t see kind of from a Chicano artist, and he’s kind of created a niche for himself in the abstract space. Frank Romero, which is one of the godfathers of Chicano art, works with us a regular basis. Not only monoprinting, but on the serigraph side. Chaz Bojórquez and this piece was done in 1994, one of the godfathers of graffiti artwork, which a lot of people don’t know. So he’s seen a resurgence in what he’s been doing because of what’s going on in the urban art space, whether it’s stickering, political posters, stenciling or graffiti. And then Paul Botello this is a piece that we did two years ago. And this kind of just shows the complexity that we can get into with serigraphs. It’s printed twelve colors, so it’s twelve different runs. And this is a collaborative project that we did with the University of Notre Dame. And a kind of classic image, a Guadalupe image that we did a couple years ago. And then lastly, this is a piece that we did that was part of our collection for the Farmlab collaboration, by Ruben Esparza. So you can see, very timely with what was going on at the time, by combining and bridging the gap between African American and Chicano/Latinos.

So one of our major celebrations, and pretty much what we’re known for on the festival side of what we do at our space is celebrating Day of the Dead. And we actually were the first organization in L.A. to start celebrating Day of the Dead; actually brought the festival, and what the festival means to L.A. And the major components that we do as a run-up to the festival is a month long series of workshops. So a lot of paper flower making, a lot of papier mâché making, printmaking. There’s also a curated exhibition that goes along with our festival. We had two galleries on site that we actually had to consolidate, that we don’t have anymore, due to the space constrictions that we have now with the building. We also do an altar exhibition of curated altars. So bringing in the altar makers, which is what Day of the Dead is about, celebrating the dead, so people that want to honor the dead through these altars. And you can see an example on the bottom right down there.

And then the festival component, which typically is a mix of music, theater, spoken word that goes on through the night. And this past year, just because of the media attention that was surrounding our organization, we estimate about 6,000 people came through to our organization during the ten hour period that we were open. And our parking lot is only about 15,000 square feet, so accommodation-wise, people were spilling out in the streets and it was just a beautiful day. Typically, we start the festival off, as you can see in that top right corner, with a procession leading from Cinco Puntos, which is right at the corner of Evergreen Cemetery, and walking towards Self Help Graphics. And this past year, we had about, I’d say, thirty to forty huge papier mâché masks that you see on the right, a lot of puppetry and so forth. So again, the theatrical side of the celebration and public art.

And the festival, in and of itself, is a living altar, as most of the guests come either dressed up or their face painted and so forth. So it’s a beautiful day celebrating. And you see on the top left how we open up our space and bring in youth, as well as adults to learn the traditional folk art that goes along with the celebration, as well. So again, the paper mâché, flower making, papel picado, that type of stuff.

The next program I want to talk about is Barrio Mobile, which is a program that we’re actually bringing back, we started bringing back last year. And it originally ran from ’75 to ’85, and it was built as a way to engage youth in their community. As opposed to forcing people to come to our space, we actually loaded up that van in the back right there with art supplies and went to public parks, churches, schools, and brought Self Help to them. And last year we were approached by Mayor Villaraigosa, and he was starting a program called Summer Night Lights, which was a program where they kept open parks, open until midnight during the summer, because there were the most at risk parks where traditionally, a lot of gang activity was happening. So by keeping the parks open till midnight, keeping the lights on, keeping the rec centers open, he was able to reduce gang activity in those parks by 17%. And what we did was we took our portable silkscreening machines, invited the kids to bring their own images; we burned screens on the site. They brought their own t-shirts, backpacks, fabric, whatever it was, and we did live silkscreening for them. And it was so popular that most of the parks have invited us back, whether the program continues or not, just because the kids have been asking for it. One of my favorite stories with this is we actually had one young girl who pre-cut some fabric, just square pieces. And we had no idea what she was doing. She was coming back every day, bringing new images. And by the third day she had come back, and she actually was sewing them together and making bags and selling them at school. So there was a whole little entrepreneurial spirit. And that was a goal, to teach kids that silkscreening isn’t this huge complicated process; that with a minimal amount of tools, that you can actually do this stuff at home.

We’ve also started packing up— We have a truck now; not the van, unfortunately. I wish we had a cool van like that. But we’ve been going to a lot of the larger festivals. We participate in the We The People Festival, which was held downtown in the state park, the big state park they have right there in downtown, by Chinatown. And we’ve been kind of commissioned to start building these kids’ corners, as part of these big festivals, because typically, they’ll let kids in for free. So they come to us, we bring in our partners and people that we work with; again, bring in art supplies, doing live silkscreening, arts and crafts, that type of thing to keep the kids busy, and just teaching them different ways of honing their craft.

The next program is the important piece, though we’ve never had some structure around our performances or anything that goes on at the physical space, though we do have an outdoor space, as well as about a 5,000 square foot venue inside. And even though music and theater and performance has never been a structured part of our programming, we actually have a pretty rich history of music and performance at our space. Club Vex ran from the late seventies to the early eighties. It was actually a piece in time that was captured by the Claremont Museum this past summer, in an exhibition called Vexing, that ran for about three to four months. In the nineties— Or actually, going back to Club Vex, I mean, there were bands— It was a punk rock club. There were bands like Black Flag, members of Social Distortion, that actually played at our facility before anybody knew who they were. Major acts from the nineties, such as Ozomatli, performed in our space before anybody knew who they were. And now there’s another organic movement with Skacore, which is a Spanish language version of ska, where in our parking lot, we’ll get about 1500 kids in there, where if you speak to these kids today, they identify their movement with Self Help Graphics. So just showing that kind of by providing access to the community to spaces— Because some of these bands don’t have access to the Hollywood clubs because a lot of their kids that come to these venues are underage, they will never make money, or never even be able to break even, by going to the Hollywood clubs. So they like our space because we give them the freedom. And we want to be able to provide this access and accessibility, as well.

And we also do a lot of various theater, spoken word events throughout the year, a lot of film screenings, and just keeping the space open and accessible to the public. So making sure that we’re not just an art space for artists, but for people to actually access and engage with art. And also as a general discussion and meeting space, as well. Some of the most early meetings of Mental Menudo and some of these kind of core artist discussions. So a gathering place for artists to come in and speak about kind of their craft, kind of how to progress themselves, and just share ideas. And that’s the type of space that we have right now.

So the challenge that we have moving forward, now that this building won’t be ours for much longer—we’re actually on a one year lease till the end of this year, but currently looking for new space—is that we’ve kind of become identified with this building. So how does that kind of affect us moving forward, and the challenges associated with that? So last October, kind of, the L.A. Times came out with their big arts and history in L.A., and they kind of called out significant periods of time, and we actually made the timeline. But it was the time when we actually moved into this building. So people identify us with this specific building. So we now need to prove that our organization is made up of the artists that are affiliated with our group, and not necessarily just the building. So as we go through the challenges of bringing back a lot of the funders that have been away from us for the past three years, we have some pretty hefty goals ahead of us. We have a million-dollar goal for the end of the year, which we’re already halfway there, with the help of Gloria Molina, who is our county supervisor—we’re in unincorporated L.A., so we’re not part of the city—as well as the California Community Foundation has stepped up and met her challenge of 250,000. We’re speaking to a few other people that are definitely interested. They like the fact that we’ve brought the organization back to fiscal responsibility; we’ve brought a lot of youth onboard, so we’re definitely moving this organization forward, as opposed to keeping it kind of in a stand-still without any progression, any development, any type of changing the programming to identify what the youth want today.

So that’s the basics of it. I wanted to thank you guys. If you’re interested in learning more, I left some pamphlets in the back, that go through a little bit more of our history. You can review our website at; we’re also on MySpace and Facebook.

In the corner is just one last of our major public art pieces, which we actually had to put in the lease that we can take her when we leave, which they actually fought us on, but we actually got it proposed and they actually approved it last week, so in our new space, the Virgin will be coming with us. Thank you. [applause]

PLATZKER: Our last presenter is going to be Cindy Bernard. And while Cindy is presenting, I’m going to put out a stack of information about the various people on the panel, by the door. If you’re interested, please take it.

CINDY BERNARD: I’m going to be moving back and forth between a video and PowerPoint, so bear with me a little bit as I do that, please. Here we go.

I’m Cindy Bernard, the director of SASSAS. I’m also an artist. I’m also the founder of SASSAS. And what I’m going to do is a brief history of the organization. I’m also going to play some video from some of the concerts we’ve produced, just so you can get a sense of what we do.

SASSAS is an organization that supports experimental music practices in Greater Los Angeles. In 1998, I received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, which allowed me the time to organize Angels Gate Dusk, the first of what became the sound. concert series – so it was founded out of my own practice as an artist. The first concert that was titled sound. took place in 1999, and the series was incorporated in 2002 as SASSAS, the Society for the Activation of Social Space through Art and Sound, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

First Sound. Announcement, January 1999

The first concerts were held at Sacred Grounds, a coffeehouse in San Pedro. These early concerts incorporated both the audience of the coffeehouse and the much more fringe audience who came to attend our fringe of the fringe concerts. The founding premises of sound. at Sacred Grounds were facilitating

Solid Eye
sound. at Sacred Grounds, January 17, 1999

new relationships between musicians through organizing unusual improvisations, to guarantee musicians compensation for their labor, and to provide audiences with a comfortable space for focused listening. (This is Solid Eye playing at Sacred Grounds in January, 1999.)


In 2000, the series moved to the Schindler House, the historic residence in West Hollywood. And for a few years, before the 501(c)(3) was formed and we started doing our own fundraising, the series was financially supported by the MAK Center for Art and Architecture. The MAK hosted the concerts for nine years with the final sound. at the Schindler House concert taking place in September 2009. The audience there has been built from around thirty to forty people per concert to approximately 100 to 120 people per concert, which is the capacity at the Schindler House.

Voice of the Bowed Guitar
sound. at the Schindler House, June 17, 2000

The House is a venue that’s particularly well suited to concerts because they fully utilize Schindler’s vision of integrated indoor and outdoor space. It’s a really unique venue. The audience sits outdoors and the musicians are indoors, inside one of the studios of the House. Some of the performances are seated, some aren’t. Performers are encouraged to use the acoustics of the House. It’s a performance environment that has the informality of a House, yet that facilitates an active form of listening and attention. There is no stage, so there’s a non-hierarchical relationship between audience/performers. And we increase the audience for experimental music by combining that music with modernist architecture.

What I’m going to do right now is play you a very brief promotional video that gives you a sense of some of the concerts that we’ve presented at the House. It’s about two minutes long, more or less. And hopefully, it won’t be too loud. We will see.

Stephen Prina
sound. at the Ford Amphitheatre, July 1, 2005

Petra Haden Sings "The Who Sell Out" at the Ford Amphitheatre.

sound. at Glow: Tonalism (collaboration with dublab) July 19-20, 2008

She was paired with Stephen Prina and together they drew 800 people.In 2008, we collaborated with the DJ collective dublab, to produce a free dusk to dawn concert at Santa Monica Pier carousel, as part of the Glow Festival. That drew around 5,000 people over the course of the twelve hour event.

We’re continuing to use strategic partnerships with other organizations in order to expand the audience for the kinds of music we present. Since so much of what we do involves one-of-a-kind collaborations or first time ever kinds of events, we’ve always been diligent about documenting the concerts, both with audio and video.


We came to realize that within the documentation was a way to extend the audience even further, as well as broaden awareness of SASSAS. So the first thing we did was release a couple of Cds – the soundCd series. We’ve released three CDs to date. soundCd no. 1 was released in 2001 and soundCd no. 3 was released in 2007. Although copies have sold internationally, we don’t really believe that we’ve reached much beyond our usual audience with the CDs.

The web based sound. concert archive went public in 2004. These are complete audio recordings, available in two bandwidths and cross-referenced by artist, venue, and year. But again, even though the concerts are now more broadly available, the audience is still likely a core constituency. These are screen shots, because we didn’t know for sure if we were going to have internet access in the room, so— And I also apologize for the sound, by the way, because CAA – thinking they’re a visual arts organization – doesn’t make any accommodation for sound so you always have to make it up as you go along here.

The most successful outreach that we’ve done, in terms of reaching larger audiences for our programming, is our YouTube archive, started in 2007. What you’re looking at right now is our front page on YouTube. Because the documentation is situated within a mainstream site, it really allows us to broaden the audience. There’s everything on our site from noise to pop to jazz to twentieth century composers, and that breeds a lot of cross-pollination between the different types of music. There’s a ten minute limitation on YouTube, as you probably already know. So we have full concerts split into many, many parts, as well as concert excerpts. The most popular concert on the site is Petra Haden Sings "The Who Sell Out". Petra’s performance of I Can See For Miles has received 43,638 hits as of February 2009. If you think about the realm of experimental music, it’s pretty amazing. And if you really think about the fact that they come into our site for Who song and then see the other "weird" stuff, it’s an interesting thing to have happening. Of course, we also have concerts that don’t receive as many hits. And probably the least number of hits we’ve received is twenty-five for any one video.

The comments section in the YouTube videos encapsulate this us/them issue that David was referring to. So I thought what I would do is show you a couple of the videos that are on the site, just very brief excerpts. And then I’ll read you the, let’s say, really derogatory remarks that we sometimes get.

So the first thing I’m going to do is show you a really brief excerpt from Petra Haden Sings "The Who Sell Out." [clip plays] So it’s a ten woman a capella choir. So you get the idea. These are just some comments, mostly from hard-core Who fans. “It’s just not my thing. Rachel Fuller does great Who covers, and so does Eddie Vedder. But this just hurts. All Who fans like myself, who sing their music, have a bit, okay, a lot, of petty resentment about non-addicts covering their stuff. She’s talented, but not a died in the wool Who head. It’s just too Mills College crack night for me.” Tranchera responds, “Well, she covered the whole album using the eight track and her own voice. It seems pretty died in the wool to me. It’s not very Who-y, sure, but it’s still respectable.” Bricklane Betty responds, “Well, I’m aware of the genius that went into the disk and it kills me with envy, but from what I gathered, it was a friend or a brother who was the original addicted Who head, not her.” Then Jwhat01 says, “Yes, she had never heard the record before, didn’t even know about it. Mike Watt had to convince her to do it, but it was a very good job. I bought the album. But you could tell she did not get the essence of it. It was cool, but she ain’t no Who head.”

So moving on to another very different type of concert that’s represented in the archive, and I have to say, one that has generated some of the most interesting discussion. That's James Tenney’s performance of John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. And I’ll play about a minute of it. The conversation being generated by Sonatas and Interludes goes something like this. oscarlazzarino says, “In case you didn’t notice, this is noise, not music.” David1337 replies, “Music equals organized sound, this is organized sound.” oscarlazzarino replies, “Music equals rhythm plus harmony plus melody plus structure plus form plus texture. It takes more than a few organized sounds to make music.” gargantuan13 says, “Then I guess tribal drumming isn’t music, because there isn’t melody. And I guess Gregorian chant isn’t music, since there is no harmony. Is a bird singing music? There are textures at work in this piece, and strange and dissonant they may be, but there are harmonies, too. Music isn’t as definable as you seem to think. If it was, we would be in a sad existence.” And then chubsofire says, “Music is defined as organized sound and silence over time. Nothing more or less. This is a definition no one can argue over.” And one last comment in that same conversation. Bonbonchason says, “Music equals sounds good, sounds great to my ears. You Cage haters need to lighten up.”

One final excerpt. This is from a concert titled Noisy Night which consisted of eight noise artists doing different improvisational combinations. I’m going to cut it off because I know we’re going to run out of time. But needless to say, Gabe Serbian of Locust is waiting to come in with a really great drum bit there. So let me read you a couple of the comments this video has generated. And this is actually one of the only times that I've intervened in the comments on YouTube, but I sort of felt we had to say something. So llacour87 writes, “This is the stupidest shit I have ever seen. This isn’t music, this isn’t even art. It’s fucking retarded.” replied, “SASSAS always errs on the side of inclusion with our video comments, and this is an example. I’m always amazed by people who dismiss the labor of others in such rude terms. It’s easy to judge, much harder to think about the work and what it’s actually doing, how it might be challenging narrow ideas about art and music.” mypulsereverberates then says—I love this—“This is the first noise I’ve ever truly heard and I fucking loved it. Thank you for putting this up. I don’t mean to be weird, but what are a few good noise bands?” And then another brief thread. MarioSpeedWagon writes, “Sigh. You people disgust me more than the mainstream sheep. Just because it’s something no one has done before doesn’t mean it’s good. And I love how you try to make it seem like this is a piece of art. This is nothing. There is nothing to think about because nothing is happening.” And then someone replies, “More than the mainstream sheep? Who are you to say what is and isn’t art? Are you a god? And besides, it says in the title, Noisy Night III. It’s also improv. What could you possibly want from these people? Do they owe you something? I realize this comment is about five months late, but that doesn’t matter.” And then mypulsereverberates says, “It’s not my kind of thing, but this is much more than nothing. It’s just not your cup of tea. There is substance to this; it’s just very, very weird.” Having looked at these comments, of course, SASSAS thought, "Maybe we do have to do some educating in order to help our audience out with some of our programming". So we’ve started two new initiatives, one of which is called soundShoppe. soundShoppes are free open jams targeted to musicians, with the goal of bridging the gap between experimental musicians and musicians working with more traditional forms. They happen about once a month at the Center for the Arts at Eagle Rock.

In addition, for the general public, we’ve started an initiative called Make It, Install It, Perform It: Listen that we hope will provide an education about experimental arts practices in general. It’s a series of four workshops that are going to be at the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock. The description reads, “Learn about the intersection of visual art and experimental sound through the work of four prominent Los Angeles based artists, Steven Roden, Nina Waisman, Carole Kim, and Rick Potts, as they guide you through the construction of one or more of their key works. Topics include non-traditional instrument building, improvisation, theory, collaboration and performance, and workshops designed to enhance the understanding of experimental practices for novices and pros alike.”

For more information on any of this, you can go to our website, which I unfortunately, I don’t have in the PowerPoint, but it’s, S-A-S-S-A-S. Thank you very much.

PLATZKER: So we have ten minutes left before we’re evicted from this room. And I have a couple of questions for the panel, but I think I’m only going to ask one, and hopefully, you guys have some questions for them, as well. But one big question is for Josh. In my introduction I showed an image of Museum of Modern Art's installation of Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk, in your presentation you showed the same work installed outdoors. Do you want to talk at all about the difference between seeing something plopped in a museum and plopped outside? And grab the microphone and --

DECTER: Not really. I don’t want to talk about “plopping” anything, really. I think the binary construction of your inside/outside question in relation to various subgenres of public art, or the broader question of art in the public sphere, is largely inconsequential at this point in history. I think it would be more interesting to talk about the relationship of so-called grassroots, bottom-up practices, in relation to practices that emerge from traditional institutional or educational contexts. Edgar’s Watts project represents a migration or negotiation between various kinds of artistic communities and cultural enclaves (e.g., on the one hand, the contemporary art world, and on the other, a specific community and a grassroots effort to work with those residents). In my capacity as an educator, I’m interested in offering platforms that will provide graduate students with an opportunity to navigate and negotiate through these cultural and ideological complexities.

I think it’s important, working within an institution like USC, to provide an increasingly porous context in which these negotiations and can evolve. And I think that within this so-called new economy (which, of course, is not really that new), that new kinds of negotiations have to be formed. So I’m more interested in talking about this kind of issue, than whether a Barnett Newman is outside or inside.


PLATZKER: Okay, questions from the audience?

MAN: This is for Edgar. Could you talk a little bit about how the Watts House Project started? Did if come from sort of your direct work at CalArts or--?

ARCENEAUX: No, the story is that it started in 1996, which Rick Lowe was invited to participate in an exhibition at MOCA called Uncommon Sense, that Julie Lazar ad Tom Finkelpearl had curated. So I don’t know if you know this project that Mel Chin did called The Name of the Place, where he was working on these behind the scenes performances on the TV show Melrose Place, doing stuff in the set design, and then turned the objects into part of the show. So the show consisted of of practices that traditionally existed outside of the museum context. So I met Rick when I was an undergrad, just by chance, and I got involved with the project. And then took over as director in 1999.

MAN: And I have a second part to that question. How do you go about approaching the people to renovate their houses? And what is their general reaction? Do you find that because they’re…

ARCENEAUX: I don’t know, what would yours be? I mean, you know, they don’t have to give me money. [laughs] So I mean, you know, I think everybody would do a back flip for that. I mean, the way in which it starts off, at least first for me, conceptually, is that I don’t shun that I’m actually going to be invading people’s space and cause some sense of abrasion from the very sort of get-go. So approaching people to give them anything, I mean generally, makes people suspicious just because, you know, the most expensive thing in the world is probably free. And everything comes attached with something. So as we conceptualize the project for folks, we try to get them to understand that the remodel part is really just kind of the wind in the sails for what’s the larger project, which is for us to continually nurture the space, where there’s continual activity, either be it on the homes themselves, or programmatic, or universities or students coming down and trying to produce things, or artists—any sort of practitioners. That we’re really trying to nurture the space for that kind of continual activity. And we start off first with the properties, and then we sort of branch out from there.

MAN: This is a question for Edgar, and perhaps the others. I mean, it may actually be irrelevant to your practice. But I’m curious about where the art is. And I don’t mean that as a, you know, “Where’s the art in this?” But where is it not? Do you conceive of projects, [background noise] the rebuilding projects with the Watts House Project as where the art is? Or is the art in the conversation? Is this part of the art of your project?

ARCENEAUX: I mean, ultimately, it’s in the approach. And it’s in the method by which you go about turning something which is abstract into a material form. I mean, I do draw a distinction between the process by which we go about making work and then the actual objects that exist afterwards. So I mean, forefronting the process of the activity of turning something abstract into an actual physical shape, for me, that’s— for us, we try to put the emphasis on that part. So ultimately, you then are confronted with issues of representation, because then you go, Well, how is it that I’m able to transmit this experience? And I can’t really tell you, necessarily, how to handle the representation part, other than to say maybe try not to represent it at all, but to figure out some way of expressing what it is you are doing through some kind of analogy or through some sort of parallel presentation. So I’m not necessarily doing that with the PowerPoint. But for me to try to describe to you what it is that we’re actually doing there on the site is something which— You would understand it if you were there. Or you would understand it through analogy. But it’s something which, you know, again, the work resides in the moment.

WOMAN: I see these kinds of things as an extension of being an artist. [inaudible] little private little realm in your studio, whereas these projects extend art out into the community and give artists a chance to become responsible participants in community based projects. And I think it’s a great way. It speaks highly of culture and art, and also of responsibility. I think these projects are really great to do in college and even in high school, where you have a community relating all together with artists and working for the betterment of greater society, not just their own link to their own little studio.

ARCENEAUX: Yeah. I mean, that’s true. And we appreciate the compliment, I’m sure. But I mean, no artist works in a vacuum. All the work that we make holds its relevancy or is irrelevant because it exists within a larger discourse. And that discourse is something which informs all the decisions that we make. So to be able to make the transition from making something that’s sort of an object which is generated by one person or something which is generated by three— For me, the difference is not so significant, because it’s still existing within this discursive space.

WOMAN: And the art essentially comes out of a set of relations that you’re facilitating, whether it be— Or say[?] the art essentially comes from the set of relations that you’re facilitating, whether it be the set of relations that are set in operation through the work that you produce, or the set of relations that are set in operation through the kinds of relationships that you facilitate. And they’re intimately related to each other [inaudible].

ARCENEAUX: I mean, one is organizational and then one of them is for intra- relation— I don’t know, I don’t know what the opposite of organizational would be, but —

WOMAN: I like that.

ARCENEAUX: Yeah? Intra-relational? I just made that up. [laughter] Patent pending, so don’t anybody use that.

SAIZ: Yeah, I mean, just going back to both questions. I mean, for us, we’ve gone through a lot of transitions, and to a certain extent, Self Help has become, for some artists, help self, as far as using us as a platform to get to somewhere else. But for us, it’s— to me, the art is in, like what you said in the back was, keeping the space open. Keeping it open for the people that need the access to it, for people that don’t have studio space, the people that don’t have access to bigger venues or the platform to create art. And identifying the youth and younger adults that maybe don’t know that they’re artists yet. And by bringing them in to coming in for a music event, but then them getting interested and becoming a volunteer and— I mean, we basically right now have only two full-time staff members and everything else is volunteer efforts. So by keeping that open and keeping that and fostering that community activity, is where I see the art is at.

DAVID PLATZKER: I want to thank you all for attending the panel. I’m sure our panelists can hang out for a little while longer, and you’re welcome to come up and ask them questions. By the front door you’ll find there are two handouts; please take them. Please check out our websites; they’re all listed on the paperwork. Thank you.