deborah fisher: fuck shit up

I think I need to rename this blog the Deborah Fisher Meta Blog, because here comes another gem: Good art asks relentlessly and obnoxiously for things it can’t have, and then it either goes and gets those things despite everyone and everything saying No! or it dies trying in a delightfully dramatic way. This obnoxiousness, [...]

By Christopher Robbins

Michael Sailstorfer shooting star

I think I need to rename this blog the Deborah Fisher Meta Blog, because here comes another gem:

Good art asks relentlessly and obnoxiously for things it can’t have, and then it either goes and gets those things despite everyone and everything saying No! or it dies trying in a delightfully dramatic way.

This obnoxiousness, this constant asking, is the only thing that makes any one piece of art relevant beyond itself and its narrow little sphere… the further an artist can push that artistic license without collapsing into self-congratulation, the more ecstatic I am going to be as a viewer. (click for more…)

Now, I know my Art-think and -make Guru John Baca would have issues with the “delightfully dramatic way” bit. When I had finished milling the plywood tree back into a sheet of plywood, I left that sheet leaning on the stump (in retrospect a bad decision: I should have left it leaning against the fence like an errant piece of wood from the construction site. And the even worse decision was not at least setting up that photo so I could choose both. But perhaps that just comes from my cynical belief in and genuine fear of the power of after-think and documentation. This way I guess the doc is more true.

But anyway, the plan was to leave the sheet on the stump until summer, and then return the thing to Home Depot for a receipt.

Christopher Robbins plywood stump with the sheet that was its trunk resting on it

But the very first day I left that sheet out, in a fenced but easily scalable grove at the RISD Art Museum, it disappeared. I went for my morning job on a windy and rainy day, and when I went past the Museum, it was gone! 300 hours of cutting and gluing and grinding and sanding, and then sawing (with a rusty two-man saw as well as a chainsaw) and some worrying moments resawing that mess on a big italian bandsaw, and then sanding and epoxy and doubt, and… gone.

There was a tornado warning in Providence that day (really, is that a sign or what?) so I was fantasizing that it had been swept up by the Tornado and shattered into pieces scattered far far away.

Baca was annoyed, “why does it have to have a dramatic ending? Does that make the art better?”

I said, “yes, then it has a better story.”

But, they are not necessarily the same thing.

In the end, Museum security had taken the sheet in in preparation for the Tornado, so it was returned back to its original place, pretty much exactly, as they had my panicked RISD online Classified ad to work from.

I guess the point is: one of my major focuses is on failure, and I’ve been criticized for being disingenuous about this focus. After all, if failure is planned, then it is not a failure.

In this way, I have to wonder about the conceit of the “delightfully dramatic failure”. Does a better failure make it better art, even if it means that things had to be scripted in a very specific way to assure that better failure? But then, why am I assuming that art needs to be “cut loose” at some point, allowed to fail in its “own” way? Whether we are manipulating material, pigment or people, we are manipulating.

Imagine, this made-for-tv (and probably only ever by tv) scenario: a newly-installed and prominent public sculpture is about to fall apart, and if I give it a little shove in the right direction, it will implode in a delightfully dramatic way, whereas if I let it fail on its own it will just sag in a boring fashion.

Does better art mean better spectacle?

Or, in Dirt for Nauru, lets say after a decade I am still unable to raise enough money to get that tug across the Pacific. I could either return the money I had raised (boring) or take the tug out anyway. I know we will have to turn around before we get these, but I’ll film myself fighting with the captain, “we can do this!” “No we can’t!” You’ll see the tug take off, you’ll see the dirt, you’ll see the failure, even though it is entirely expected, and hopefully planned for.

Maybe not a real failure, but more exciting for sure, and what the hell does ‘better art’ mean anyway? (I was taught that “better” is one of those meaningless words we should all avoid. It indicates a scale, but not a content. Better = more, so when you say ‘better art’ you should be specifying what is this better element.)

I guess the lesson for me from this meandering post is: I am not a purist. If you are gonna fail, why not make it fail in an interesting way? And the question it asks me is: is the notion of the life of an artwork delusional? Is letting go just giving up?

(and, also, to never, ever, ever use the term “better art”. and to be fair, I bet Baca didn’t use that term either)

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