April 1, 2008

A Review, Sort Of...

Here at RE: and the Awkward Alligator, one of the most rewarding things for us is when our work, as if adrift in a cultural ocean, is found washed up in the most unlikely, or maybe just surprising, places. Quite regularly the good people of RE:, like to so many of us out there, search for, or Google, ourselves. Most of the time we just find the the web page you're currently reading. But recently we were rewarded with a review, sort of. Some how one of our Awkward Alligator Cigarette Packs found its way into the ready hands of a Sarah Pinder, who happens to work for Broken Pencil, a Canadian based organization devoted to Zine Culture. Pinder and the good folks at Broken Pencil were kind enough to publish a short review. In the unfortunate event that this review might disappear one day, Pinder's review will provided here in its entirety:

This zine is a case of form being more pleasing than content: a repackaged cigarette case with 9 short poems on mini playing cards nestled within, and an instruction sheet that encourages the reader to add their own mini poems to the box and leave it in a random public place. It's pleasing to shuffle through the sheaf of poem-cards presented here, but many of them are low on concrete images that would make them more memorable. However, finding Curt Bozif's poem, "Untitled," at the bottom of the pack seemed like fate's funny little jab at my jaded reviewer self: what is this thing / yet another miracle / soooo disappointing. (Sarah Pinder)

Though Pinder isn't very generous we appreciate her candor and smile when we think that a Canadian held in her hand a most humbled creation as one of our cigarette packs.

July 25, 2007

McPherson's Madlib!

As I _______ed
The Awkward Alligator, my ________ began to _________. I found myself ________ on the ________. I was ________ with ________. The ________ was ________ and all I could thing was "_________ _________?! As I ________ ________ed my _________, I knew ________ _________.

[Feel free to submit your answers in a comment form below.]

June 14, 2007

When Flanking Strategies Just Aren't Working...

After months of failed talks and aimless diplomacy The Wish Tank has been forced to declare war on the many people and institutions that prove time and again that they desperately seek a well aimed dose of diction. For its initial campaign The Wish Tank's most decorated veteran, Vincent Saint-Simon, decided to train his sights on two (what some would call) "soft targets," The New Yorker magazine and The Library of Congress. Details are sketchy at this time. All we know right now is that both battles are still currently being waged. We'll post reports as soon as we receive them. Until then you can visit The Wish Tank's base of operations page for more details and to keep abreast of further developments. If you would like to do your part for the war effort drop us a line to find out how you can help.

June 5, 2007

Contracts of Participation: A Moral Questionare?

I’m currently taking, you could also say, participating in, a class at Northwestern University: Art-372 Relational Aesthetics, taught by art historian and critic, Lane Relyea. As part of this class, each student was asked to create a blog and post various things on various topics throughout the term. One of the last assignments was to create an on-line participatory “art project,” to look at each other’s projects, and then respond to them using our respective blogs. As I perused through my classmates projects I got to pondering what it actually means to participate. I guess it’s a pretty academic thing to ponder, but seeing that I’m a student, and it’s a college class that’s got me a pondering, I can’t really see how it can be too big an issue.

The dictionary’s definition of participation stresses the notion of being a part of or sharing in something, and the relation of that some thing, that some part, to the sum of parts, to the larger whole to which all the parts belong. The dictionary’s whole thing about wholes and parts and its part about sharing prompted my asking: does participation necessarily require the full disclosure of the whole to its parts? Like when you’re asked to participate in a survey or something, one’s first reaction is usually to ask, who are you asking me all these questions, what’s this all about, to what end, how much information do I need to share in order that I might participate, and sometimes, who else is participating and just how is my participation going to function or change in the hands of those organizing and collecting my input? You wouldn’t want to participate in a game unless you were well informed of the rules. Like voting in an election, wasn’t it a “founding father” who said something like: a democracy can function at its highest capacity only with the participation of an informed public? In many ways participation is mediated by and written on a fabric of morals. You wouldn’t want to participate in rush-our-traffic unless you assumed, dare I say, trusted, that everyone else driving in front of, alongside, and behind you, understood the dynamics of driving a shared highway at 60 mph and was physically capable of doing so. I don’t think it would be hard to argue that drunk drivers operate with compromised morals.

To bring us back to Art-372 I’d like to focus your attention on a project authored by a good friend of mine, for the sake of anonymity we'll call him… Tim. Tim’s project can be viewed on his blog, sovital.

Trusting that you’ve taken the time to read about, for yourself, the many details of his project I won’t waste any time describing them here. Part of what makes his project so provocative is of course the putting-one-over that happens to so many unassuming MySpacers. Tim lures them in by “his” fictitious good looks (I don’t mean it like that, Tim, you’re a good looking dude even in real life), false desire for gay sex, and the little-white-lie that is his love of all things stereotypically gay, and it worked (which I take as another great defense for stereotypes!). What’s more interesting is that Tim’s project comes to be understood as a scam of sorts only after he generously chooses to reveal to us the mischievous social networker that he is. (Tim is, by the way, a gay man in real life, which I guess matters little here, but makes his cultural experiment all the more interesting.)

In an attempt to round up anything that might remotely resemble a point, I’d like to do this, imagine for a moment, Reader, that we’re sitting together and I just raised my index finger, as in a painting by DaVinci. Tim’s project and Relyea’s assignment in general, for me, highlight the inherently presupposed contractual agreements that support all forms of participation. This of course is nothing new. The plot thickens though when the metaphorical handshake between participants becomes even more tenuous, that is, when social contracts are mediated, like now more than ever before, by lines of code; when meaning and fact are free form and aimless—accountability leading back only as far as the history of your browser’s activity—when experience has in many ways been replaced by information, and where good intentions can be hijacked in the name of relational aesthetics. (Don't ask me to cite my sources, this is a blog, not a research paper.)

Without doubt, Tim’s impetus is not malicious, indeed it comes, I feel, from a genuine concern. He feels that there’s a real lack of a pertinent discussion between the members of a group that, however ambivalently, he identifies with, and perhaps telling a tiny fib is a small (moral) price to pay in order to provoke such a discussion among its members, and besides, why would any gay man with half a brain want to talk politics over the internet with another gay man of only average hotness, especially one who’s not single, nor looking, and isn’t really interested in having hot gay sex?

With so much more communication, sharing, accessibility, and in a sense freedom, than ever before, it would make sense that we’d be faced today with the responsibility we're due and the kind of faith required in the social other within such a social context, but I’m not quite sure I've seen either—nor do I see the capacity for such in any near future.

- Curt Bozif

May 27, 2007

Read 'em If You Got 'em: Awkward Alligator Cigarette Packs

For those who have not seen, picked up, or passed along one already, RE: is happy to unveil the Awkward Alligator Cigarette Pack, the most recent brain-child of our constantly fiddling mail-art department in cooperation with The Awkward Alligator literary magazine.

Basically we took about 200+ (they're still in production) spent cig boxes, redesigned their packaging, and filled each and everyone with your short poems, drawings, photos, crayons, and potential for friendship. Recipients of said boxes are strongly encouraged to participate by reading them, passing them along when they're finished, leaving them in other places like bars or bus-stops, adding to them as they see fit, and/or by submitting original work for the next edition of Awkward Alligator Cigarette Packs.

If you'd like to submit work for the next edition of the AA Cigarette Packs or receive your very own in the mail (hopefully with the intention to eventually pass it along), shoot us an e-mail (awkwardalligator@gmail.com) with your submission attached or address to which objects may be sent; we love reading and sending things. Also, if you don't mind, we'd like to ask that you do everything in your power to please take it easy.

May 8, 2007

Interview: Jimmy Wales, creator of Wikipedia.

For the last few months I've been thinking about the relationship between knowledge, information, and wisdom and how the meaning, function, and acquisition of all three might have changed over the last 10 years or so with the proliferation of information technology and user generated source material, etc. I decided to ask the people of Wikipedia for their thoughts on the matter. I was able to get a hold of Mathias Schindler, a member of the Wikimedia Press Team.


Curt Bozif: For starters, briefly describe the inadequacies of information retrieval systems of the past, and how one might see these short-comings eradicated in something like Wikipedia?

Mathias Schindler: Information retrieval systems of the past and present are limited by many factors, including physical space. They are not nescassarily inadequacies but compromises between economics and quality. We still have these compromises today, but Wikis, Wikipedia and other concepts of so-called user generated content offer a different approach for these two aspects.

CB: Thinking culturally, do you see any changes in how meaning is constructed today, as opposed to 10, 20, or 100 years ago? If so, please briefly describe the nature of such changes.

MS: In the case of Wikipedia, we are actually doing more or less the same of what our colleagues at Encyclopaedia Britannica did in the late 18th century. Some tools to accomplish that goal have changed but not the work itself.

CB: Do you see a difference today between having knowledge, that is, being knowledgeable, having information—being an informed person, and having wisdom? Do such distinctions still function? If yes or no, how so exactly?

MS: Yes, there are differences. These distinctions do still function and if you apply that to Wikipedia, there are numerous examples of how people can experience these differences. Encyclopedias are usually very strong at providing information or at least references to information. They also work fine when it comes to introducing a person to a topic he is unfamiliar with or giving him an update of what has happened to a topic he once knew about but lost track. Text formats like encyclopedias won't transfer wisdom.

CB: Do you understand the services provided by Wikimedia to be political in anyway? Critical? Oppositional? If so, in opposition to or critical of what?

MS: Wikimedia as a Foundation aims to be neutral when it comes to politics. However, there is a common approach at our services in terms of copyright. Our content is licensed under the GFDL (text) and/or Creative Commons (by-sa and similar for images), so we provide other people with material for their work and we demonstrate that this system can encourage others to share their content. There might be a political message in this approach which might encourage others to apply this to their work as well.

On the other hand, if a political activist group is starting to fact-check their claims and pamphlets by using Wikipedia, illustrating it with Images from Wikimedia Commons and uploading historic texts to Wikisource, that would be something quite useful to the larger society.


Though I appreciated his answers, at the end of the day, I wasn't quite satisfied with what Mathias had to say. So I thought I would go to the source of it all and I contacted the creator of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales. I'm still unsure if this turn bore any fruit either.


Curt Bozif: For starters, briefly describe the inadequacies of information retrieval systems of the past, and how one might see these short-comings eradicated in something like Wikipedia?

Jimmy Wales: I doubt if I have any very clever answer to that. :) I mean, isn't this just obvious. Wikipedia is freely licensed, technology makes it easy to access. Older "information retrieval systems" (what does that mean? such a convoluted phrase!) were mostly proprietary and the technology available to us (books in a library, etc.) were not as convenient.

Like I said, my answer is not very clever.

CB: Thinking culturally, do you see any changes in how meaning is constructed today, as opposed to 10, 20, or 100 years ago? If so, please briefly describe the nature of such changes.

JW: I don't think the phrase "how meaning is constructed" has any coherent meaning. It is a product of confusion at best, or a bankrupt philosophy of knowledge.

Truth consists of correspondence to the facts of reality. That has never changed, and never will. Skeptical fallacies come and go, but reality is still here. :)

CB: Do you see a difference today between having knowledge, that is, being knowledgeable, having information—being an informed person, and having wisdom? Do such distinctions still function? If yes or no, how so exactly?

JW: Yes, of course. Having raw information, or processed knowledge, does not make one wise.

CB: Do you understand the services provided by Wikimedia to be political in anyway? Critical? Oppositional? If so, in opposition to or critical of what?

JW: I am afraid you are using buzzwords in a sense that I would not accept. Still, I will try to answer the question in terms of plain speaking.

Freedom of speech and its corollary in access to knowledge is a fundamental human right. Since Wikimedia stands for those things, it is of course in a very deep sense political. Critical? Oppositional? Only to ignorance and tyranny of the mind in all forms.


Okay, so it didn't seem like Jimmy wanted to play my game either, perhaps he was too busy. But, what do you guys think? Are my thoughts misguided and pedantic or is there something at the heart of these questions? Please advise.


Both interviews were conducted via e-mail on May 7th 2007.

May 3, 2007

Review: Luis Maldonado at Three Walls

Behind, beneath, above, and in front of, a flourish of scrap plywood, plastic tarps, collaged paper floor tiles, and a karaoke machine, is positioned an exchange of things between real persons. Immediately upon entering the space it’s easy to get the feeling one's just unwittingly entered the set of some low budget game show or the next postulate for realty on TV, due in part, but not completely, to the fact that before one can think, one’s already being addressed by the artist-host (standing no more than a few feet away) whose voice is amplified by the karaoke machine that doubles for a loud speaker. “So let’s meet our game show host, Luis Maldonado, and our lucky contestant, so what’s your name?” “Uh, my name is _____, I’m a student, uh… 20 something, I live in Chicago.” “Great!" Welcome! So let me tell ya what I’m doing…!”1
Born out of his MFA theses (SUNY Purchase College, 2005), It’s All About Things Chicago: Barter Days—A New Type of Auction House, is Maldonado’s most recent attempt to display the insertion of his art objects into the system of exchange we call bartering. Throughout the month long exhibition people are invited to join in the fun and barter almost anything, including song & dance performances, with Maldonado for his art objects (small landscape and abstract paintings, political drawings, dioramas, and miniature protest signs). Resembling a peddler or a circus ringmaster, and using such phrases as “and over here we have… and over there you’ll find…” Maldonado introduces his shtick as he gives a tour of the environment he’s constructed inside the Three Walls gallery. Surrounding the main viewing space is a video room, research room, collector’s private viewing room, and of course, a lounge. Eventually, it’s learned that the bartered objects that Maldonado collects are archived, and that someday in the future he plans to exhibit them alongside his original art works.
     “I’ll take Marx for $100.” “That which things, in an exchange relation, through their qualities, satisfy.” (ping… ) “What are human needs?!” An exchange of any kind presupposes the following scenario: two subjects encounter one another, each in possession of a different thing, i.e. of qualitatively different use-values. Each thing, by circumstance, is of no use to the subject who possesses it and therefore is of a surplus use-value to them. Each subject, like all good subjects, is unfortunately still in possession of many unsatisfied human needs. Luckily though, and by pure accident, each subject sees across from them, another subject who’s in possession of the exact thing that will satisfy at least some of the other’s needs, and because both things are of a surplus use-value to the subjects who possess them, an exchange between them is viable. “Cha-ching!” (I’m not quite sure what the proverbial sound for a successful barter would be, but maybe… “High-Five!” or “Deal!”)
     Of course what’s missing in Maldonado’s work is that whole part about human needs and the satisfaction of which things should represent. Does this consequently deflate the project, reducing whatever “realness” that it had going for it, to simply another gesture towards, or sign for, a real barter exchange? I’m not quite sure, at least not completely. If I were forced to make the argument that human needs and their satisfaction were indeed at play in Maldonado’s bartering, it would probably sound something like this: Maldonado’s need was to authenticate and make more current his art work by extending it out into the realm of the everyday and its relational aesthetics while at the same time attempting to insert the everyday into his artistic practice. In this kind of symbolic economy the everyday paradoxically seems to function like "the exotic" of years ago anytime it gets close to the rhetoric of the art world today; and weirdly enough, such close proximity of one to the other, seems only to make stronger the distinction between both.
     The need and satisfaction on the part of the public/viewer/participant is much harder to locate. Here I think it would be helpful if we’d all just admit that if Maldonado were an actor, his performance as a painter and draftsman would be the best example of an actor who’s “phoning it in.” The only thing of any aesthetic quality of which Maldonado had to offer for barter was his little dioramas. One would be hard pressed to convince me that anyone’s bartering was motivated by the aesthetic beauty found in his art objects or that the artist himself was aspiring for some kind of aesthetic anything, which should lead one to figure that his art objects where to function simply as un-qualified generic signs for art as such. We’ll return to the implications of ‘art as an idea’ later.
     Moving on, obviously Maldonado’s skill as a painter is not at stake here, nor is his aesthetics. What’s motivating the exchange on the side of the public/viewer/participant, could quite simply be boredom, ADD, or the narcissistically perverse desire to watch themselves exhibited as art, all quite easily satisfied by the kind surplus-enjoyment that comes from direct participation in something like contemporary art, where one’s surplus stuff, indeed one’s self, can magically be transformed into cultural artifacts worthy of our attention, where you’re allowed to indulge in the cloudy vision of your at-one-time stuff collecting dust in Maldonado’s cramped New York apartment, or possibly, in the future, in some distinguished museum collection.
     “Art Analogies for $1000.” (ping, ping, ping… Today’s Daily Double) “I’ll bet my plastic woodpecker lawn ornament and this button I just found in my pocket.” “Content is to form as ______ is to practice?” (suspenseful pause) “What is… theory?” It’s All About Things bet’s everything on the wager that when Maldonado barters one thing for another, what happens is not simply the exchange of things between hands, but also ideas between minds. I get the sense that Maldonado doesn’t care what he gets in exchange for his paintings. Though he talks about being emotionally touched by receiving some things, like a copy of someone’s PhD thesis, a set of keys, a story, a song & dance performance, or someone else’s art, he admitted that he sometimes barters for whatever people happen to find in their pocket or purse. When asked why he chooses to only barter his art work and not other things (maybe of use to someone) his answer was not unlike “because that’s just the way I chose to go about it.” In this kind of economy meaning seems restricted only to the formal act of the blind exchange of one anything for another anything, of intrinsically surplus this for intrinsically surplus that. How cool is this trade, not very.
There is of course one other thing that could potentially be motivating an exchange with Maldonado, that being, the things that have drawn people to art for centuries, the want for a new perspective onand the reframing of the perennial questions posed bythe world that surrounds each of us. But, at the end of the day, It’s All About Things never seems to question its own answers; all of what exactly is about things and just what kind of things is all of it about? In the hands of a better artist, It’s All About Things, would (one would hope) move one to ponder the way context and circumstance determines how value accidentally finds itself embedded in some things while not in others, the differences between need and desire (why we exchange in the first place) and how both can be suggested, subscribed, and indoctrinated through ideology, and the mediating role of money and its effects on the subjects of a capitalist exchange (where is the discussion about bartering as an alternative, and to what?). Lastly, in exchange for my attention I would want in return from this better artist, some kind of nod to the economic context that allows for such a surplus of stuff and for the exhibition of the going-through-the-motions of an event, that in many parts of the world, is born out of a necessity, instead of between quotation marks.

1All quotes in this review have been paraphrased.

- Curt Bozif

Luis Maldonado's exhibition, It's All About Things Chicago: Barter Days—A New Type of Auction House
, was on view at Three Walls from March 2nd to the 31st, 2007.