Glowlab: an Open Lab is an exhibit of works-in-progress* largely conceived by a unit of Williamsburg artists called Glowlab, who practice psychogeography and who for two months are practicing it from their base at Art Interactive’s Central Square location. The show certainly demands repeat visits and – gulp – participation; my coverage will therefore be only an occasional dispatch from the field.†
*Where “progress” is a time-based process, usually specifically defined and largely contingent on movement across a landscape (i.e. the classic psychogeography strategy of turning a glass upside down on a map of a city, tracing the rim, and walking that line in real-space),
† and where “field” is one of many Cambridge terrains that the artist’s psychogeographic practices reclaim from politicians, developers, ad men, insurance adjusters, and anyone else whose paycheck comes from a tightly mapped geography of distances and wealth distributions.
Toby Kim Lee invites me to write a story with 100 other people.
Toby Lee has occupied Art Interactive at least every weekend for the past month. When you enter the space from Prospect Street, her neatly organized hub is right there: five shelves holding horizontal rows of Mead composition books – familiar mottled spaces for logging student labors. Each book is already labeled with the same lower-case name, “eugene.”
Lee has also already designated what each participant will fill her book with: a hand-copied version of another author’s tale of the purposeless life of a mostly successful, thirty-something, second-generation American too smart to be fulfilled by his empty, inherited perfectionism, The Colossus of Long Island by Ranbir Sidhu © 2005 (at least that is the story of Sidhu’s so far. I have copied only up to page three. It takes forever to write by hand).
I took one of these books from Open Lab last week. I logged my present location (Cambridge, MA) with Lee, and assumed the obligation to 1. Copy the story over no less than one month’s time, and 2. Eventually return the completed notebook to Lee. I am also, according to the notes in an envelope on the inside cover, supposed to include a letter, drawing, photograph, CV, or DVD that will give readers a sense of who I am and which will act as a personal communication from me to them. The envelope contains generous additional description of the project’s underlying concerns, including a request that I keep various questions in mind when I work my way through the notebook, such as, “how is my relationship to this stranger’s story mediated by my body in the physical act of writing? Any coffee stains I might leave on the pages, or personal photos I might choose to insert, compose proof of the countless miles I log in my own psychic space.
All this is enough to give deep, conceptual performance anxiety to me and my lowly copying. However, such over-prescribed experience is easily ignored. I made my first entry from my couch. Last night, I also copied from my couch, while watching Spike Television’s Ultimate Fighting Championship (it was the compelling conclusion of their season-long reality show). I have copied two paragraphs in bed, and 1.5 pages at my 9-to-5 workplace. In short, my terrain is a deeply sedentary one. To map it, I would use a leaky pen, pressed hard against a page for an hour. I suspect that Lee, obviously a highly lyrical psychogeographer, may be disappointed by my notebook’s humdrum location log.
At the same time, these sessions have been fascinating. For one thing, the story itself is written in an excruciatingly personal first person. I am pleased that I am not the sad sack Sidhu whose diary I am impersonating. Instead, while I am practicing inhabiting his body and spilling his ink, I channel either Steve Martin in the opening scene of “The Jerk,” or, sometimes, Bartleby the Scrivener. Whimsical globe-trotting can be achieved by a variety of means, from simply imagining an Other, to considering the wily routes of transnational shipping when I note that the composition book cover reports, in a single unpunctuated phrase, that the Mead Corporation is in my home state of Dayton, Ohio but the book was Made in China. I have not yet decided which lost landscape I will reclaim with all my copying.
In activity-centered art making, however, the sticky wicket is always documenting experience in a way that doesn’t smack of preciousness. I personally tend to favor non-documentary forms of expression, and then not documenting those non-documentary forms. In fact, I will not be slipping any deliberate summaries of myself in when I mail back my completed Colossus.
“Glowlab: Open Lab” is on view 10/14 until 12/11 at Art Interactive and at various locations around Central Square.
All images are courtesy of the artist and Art Interactive.