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Detour: Color Commentator Eleanor LeBeau on Artist Arzu Ozkal #8

Arzu Ozkal ad Eleanor LeBeau perform

THE ENDURANCE PERFORMANCE: DAY TEN

05.14.10

6:55 p.m.

(Arzu and I rehearsed with Meeko Israel, the bongo player, on Thursday night for about 90 minutes, but I didn’t have time to tell you about that.) Arzu and I head to SPACES’ warm, stuffy artist-in-residence quarters. Arzu begins transforming herself into The Actress while I circumnavigate a room, megaphone in hand, reciting my lines, exhausted but pulsating with nervous energy. Arzu emerges from the bathroom in full make-up, wearing lacy pink tights and the A-line white dress she used for her exhibition postcard. With one hand on her stomach, she confides that she’s now getting “really nervous,” although I tell her she appears calm and happy. She dives into a huge bag, pulls out the white grommet-belt and puts it on. “I look like Robin Hood,” she says, softly laughing. “A very retro, Diana Rigg-Avengers kinda Robin Hood,” I say.

7:17 p.m.

Arzu she throws me a coiled rope. I unfurl it and attach myself to her belt with a carabiner. Are we ready to climb mountains? As we test the rope’s resistance. Çigdem Slankard, the videographer, arrives. Arzu calls her “Chi” (spelling?). She retrieves another spool of rope and hands it to Chi, who, concerned about megaphone’s volume, is doing a sound check. Chi and Arzu decide where to attach Chi’s rope to the grommet-belt. I’m not exactly sure what happened next.

7:30 p.m.

Arzu leads Chi and I down the stairs and outside, onto the sidewalk in front of SPACES. The megaphone goes up in the air. Chi disappears. People are staring at us. We walk into the gallery, pushing our way through clusters of chatting people. I watch Arzu. I try to make eye contact with the audience. Baffled and slightly irritated faces stare back me. Arzu hands out the ropes. Some spectators refuse but thirteen accept the invitation to become participants. They have become binary terrorists. Chris Lynn is standing next to me. Then he’s gone. Meeko’s bongo-playing fades in and out. I hear the buzz of conversations. I’m getting tangled in the rope and worry about tripping. I’m worried about speaking too loud and not loud enough.

Next thing I know, Arzu is struggling to pull fifteen people, most of whom have no idea where she intends to go, into her exhibition space. She is slipping, slipping, slipping, slipping, falling on the wooden floor. She tries to get up once, twice, then falls on her knee. I try to help her up, then immediately I wonder if she wants me to do that. Later she will email to say that she has a bruise on her knee, and I will write back that I’m sorry and I hope it doesn’t hurt too much.

Now she’s in the corner of a gallery, facing the audience, her hands splayed on the walls. I stick the megaphone in her face and shout The Propositions. This—shouting in Arzu’s (I mean the Actress’s) face at close range while she’s in a submissive position— is difficult. I’m nauseous. Arzu breaks free and rushes to the opposite side of the gallery. Now she stands facing the wall, her back to the audience, in yet another submissive position. I say my final words and put down the megaphone. Arzu begins unhooking the participants’ ropes. I want her to hurry and release mine. When she does, I leave the space and walk out of the gallery, as we’d rehearsed.

Outside SPACES I take a deep breath. No one is around. I can still hear Meeko’s bongo playing. It goes on longer than we’d rehearsed. It keeps going. I knew it. I knew the ending we’d rehearsed was not the real ending. Liberated from the writer-critic’s gaze—from having to explain how the line produced the dot (in Bourriard’s formulation)—Arzu was free to create. But what was she doing? I fought the impulse to find out. Returning to the gallery was not the right thing to do.

By and by a woman steps out of the gallery. I can’t help myself. I ask her what Arzu is doing. “She’s just sitting on floor, staring into space. No one knows if the performance is over.” I ask the woman if Arzu is facing the audience. “Yes,” she says.

I smile and thank the woman for her information. I’m glad I asked. And glad that I didn’t return to watch Arzu.

11:04 p.m.

Arzu emails:

Gosh! I have a big bruise on my knee I hope we get together soon. We should keep in touch; it was awesome collaborating with you.

I tell Arzu that it was awesome collaborating with her, too.

Love at First Site

by

Anonymous, Arzu Ozkal and Eleanor LeBeau

The Scene is outside. Time is unspecified. The Commentator announces the Dramatis Personae.

The Commentator:
The Playwright
The Drummer
The Actress
The Audience
The Gallery
The Color Commentator
The Choreographer
The Rope

The Actress enters the gallery. She holds Ropes embedded with carabiners.

The Commentator:
This is the Actress.
She is a dot.
She holds the Line.
She stands on the Plane.
We are bound, by space, by constraints.
She gives me no further instructions.

The Actress binds the Audience to her. The Commentator watches in silence. When she is ready, the Actress signals Commentator to start speaking again.

The Commentator:
How does she work?
Does she make notes?
Does it happen all in her head?
We agree to email every morning and every night.

The Actress draws the line on a field
Connects the dots that pull at one another
In the scene she draws an audience, the space frames the Play
Dot extends to line, line becomes arc, arcs become figures.
More line, please! More line! I need more line! More line!

The Actress approaches her exhibition space.

The Commentator:
There are lots of oppositions to play with.

The Actress enters the exhibition space.

The Commentator:
She is in love.
We agree to email every morning and every night.

I am a commentator.
So everything I tell you—and everything I do not—is a decision
based on an infinite set of constraints and variables.
She is a binary terrorist
My terror is almost unmanageable.
Objectivity is a myth.
We agree to email every morning and every night.

The Actress dances around the exhibition space, pulling the Audience. She backs into a corner, facing the Audience, and the Commentator shouts at her.

The Commentator:
GIVEN:
AN ARTIST
AN ACTRESS IN SPACE
THREE CONSTRAINTS
A LINE CONNECTING DOTS
AN AUDIENCE
A DANCE
LOVE

The Actresss walks to a wall. When her back is to the audience, the Commentator speaks.

The Commentator:
“Every failure is a masterpiece,” she quotes. “I wonder if this might be the only masterpiece I ever make.”

The Actress disengages the Commentator’s Rope. The Commentator exits the exhibition space and the gallery.

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Detour: Color Commentator Michael Gill on Artist T.R. Ericsson #4

FOUR
He took inspiration from the Swiss-German artist Dieter Roth, Roth, who’s best known for his “biodegradable” works made of food, but who also made artist books and was a master print maker. In the early seventies, Roth paid for a series of ads in the Swiss newspaper Luzerner Stadtanzeige. The ads were short aphorisms, little whispers of meaning all but lost amid the shouting clutter of commercial advertisements and editorial copy.
Rather than a little whisper, though, Ericsson chose to make it a shout—simple, Times New Roman lettering cut from vinyl, but measuring three feet tall and nearly 27 feet in length, dominating a wall of the main gallery.

“It will be a pretty impactful work that relates to feelings I had at the meeting,” Ericsson said. “I was really struck by the power of large scale letters on the wall.”

The phrase he chose: “The sea is a tear.”

That resonated in a personal way because there is some ambiguity there. It’s also about the value of an individual: the sea being a large group of people, a tear being an individual. The question of living a meaningful life sets you asking about who you are.”

“Something I like is asserting the primacy of the individual,” Ericsson continued. “People tend to think backward, not valuing the individual but the universal.
If you are an artist making some kind of public communication—if you haven’t done the work to know who you really are as an individual, then what do you have to offer other people? Being true to oneself is the most important part of living a meaningful life.”

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Detour: Color Commentator Michael Gill on Artist T.R. Ericsson #3

THREE

His first days after the assignment were attended by the same kind of anxiety that for him attends any exhibit, whether it be a tiny part in a group show, or a big solo show. The first task was to figure out his attitude toward the obstacle: whether meaning would be derived from simply spending the time with his wife and daughter, and whether that could be reconciled with his urge to make something or to “be considerate of the viewer.”

Charged simply with living a meaningful life, he says “the irony became that I really did end up spending the last few days intensely and aggressively chewing on a problem. I certainly went all over the place the past few days,” he said.

This involved reading, especially re-visiting books held dear, their pages marked by dog eared corners.

Through that process he settled on the idea of presenting a text that would impart meaning. The idea is not dissimilar to some of Ericsson’s past works, including a piece called “Thanksgiving”—a black granite slab, etched with the word-for-word transcription of a letter his mother had written him in 1993, describing a family thanksgiving dinner held in his absence, after he had moved to New York. Thanksgiving was exhibited at the Cleveland Sculpture Center in 2008.

“I wanted it to fit with the other work I am doing,” Ericsson said. “The question of branding and having a recognizable identity is really important in our culture.”

In choosing to represent his week of living a meaningful life via an object, he’s able to both offer meaning, and satisfy his urge to give viewers something to look at. He raises a follow-up set of questions: Can an artist be satisfied with the meaning inherent in his life without making art? Or is the manufactured object the manifestation of that meaning?

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Detour: Color Commentator Michael Gill on Artist T.R. Ericsson #2

TWO

The challenge to an artist –to live a meaningful life for the next seven days–is weighty with underlying assumptions: It assumes that a meaningful life can be lived. It assumes that one set of choices may be more meaningful than another, and that anyone could know which set of choices that might be. It also assumes that such a meaningful life would be a departure from what the artist had been doing all along.

“When I saw staring back at me, this assignment to live a meaningful life, what initially strikes me is the absurdity of it,” Ericsson says. “It just became such a broad and vague a notion, a completely conceptual notion. If you are asked to behave meaningfully, it’s borderline angering. What does that mean, really? I’m a working artist, give me a task and I’ll do it.”

The Ericsson’s challenge can’t help but resonate in these galleries, with Spaces’ recent shift from object-oriented work to the searching, conceptual presentations of the current season. It’s something he addressed directly in musing about it. “The conceptual thing does make me uncomfortable. I have chosen to make a living by making art. It’s all I’ve ever done. My father always told me don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make a living as an artist. But how do you turn the conceptual into a commodity?”

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Detour: Color Commentator Eleanor LeBeau on Artist Arzu Ozkal #7

THE ENDURANCE PERFORMANCE: DAY EIGHT

05.11.10

11:22 p.m.

Countdown: 45 hours to show time! At 6:22 p.m. I arrive at SPACES for performance rehearsal, script in hand. The Collaborator and I have rewritten four drafts. Actually s/he writes. I critique. S/he rewrites. An adorable Welsh Corgi-Beagle-Jack Russell Terrier greets me at the door. His shiny, wet nose has sawdust stuck to it. There’s a baby in a stroller. Three studio assistants, one perched on a ladder, are painting a wall. Tangled ropes and bicycles and assistants whizzing past, oh my. I step on oozing paint tubes.

Arzu immediately introduces me to her filmmaker friend, Çigdem Slankard, who will be videotaping “Love at first site” on Friday night. Arzu has been doing student crits all day at Oberlin but is energetic and anxious to begin rehearsal. The cute dog follows us, tail wagging. His name is Alphonso. Arzu is his human.

What follows, though, I cannot tell you, except to say that Arzu danced while I read a script. She also directed. Her goal tonight was to coordinate her choreography with my words. We ran through the script ten times, trying different things. Arzu grappled with two prop malfunctions, too. One prop was easily fixed, although the other will require considerable work tomorrow. Arzu must go to Home Depot tomorrow and then work, work, work. “This is all happening so fast that I just have to make a decision and go with it,” she says, wiping her brow. “There’s no time to second-guess.” I nod my head and laugh in agreement. (There’s no time for editing, either.)

About 8:40 p.m., we take a break and hit Kan Zaman on W. 25th St. We share hummus and fries. Our conversation careens from matters of the heart to bongos. Two dudes lounging at a nearby table suck on a hookah. We hear gurgling water but don’t smell anything. Can you tell I am rushed? (Sorry, no time for pictures.)

We return to SPACES for a few more run-throughs. We decide to end for the night. Untangling ropes, Arzu exclaims, “Sometimes I don’t want to be an artist anymore!” I laugh. “Sometimes I don’t want to be a writer, either,” I tell her.

We agree tomorrow at 6 p.m. for our final rehearsal.

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