November 23, 2014

I contain Multitudes

When I was a grad student now so many years ago, a gallery owner/art dealer was touring the art school's studios, long before such a practice was the fashion, the days of robbing cradles was soon to come. She offered a sly critique. Knowing that my background included architecture in the narrative, she said: "I don't see architecture in your paintings."

Where is the architecture, indeed? Does it need to be expressed when it is integral within me?

By that time, architecture constituted ten years of my life: an education, apprenticeship, practice and licensure. At such depths, architecture is more than rectilinear formalism or some such other popular indication of its' existence. Painting has been described as a two dimensional relationship to the viewer and sculpture a three dimensional one, architecture is a four dimensional movement as a person moving processionally outside and inside a constructed experience. Architecture as taught in the university is about the integration of a mountain of data using skill and wisdom to abstract this data into parti and schema and then into a interrelated systemic complex in concert. Medicine mirrors this in reverse in the way we see the human body as an abstraction of various systems, nervous, digestive, muscular, skeletal, immune, etcetera. So, what is the formal indication of architecture, when you hold these descriptors in mind? Whatever it is, it is not a simple one.

The expression of identity is a popular touchstone in contemporary art. The problem with much of this celebration of identity today is the overwhelming tendency towards simplistic reduction. Reduction in and of itself isn't a problem when it is a crystallization of facets into a singularity that bears the overtones of the multitude within the singularization. But this is rare phenomena. When it occurs, such as the popular characterization of epochs, the Victorian era for example, much of the countervailing narratives are concealed in the popular understanding of the nature of that segment of history. Such reductions are useful at large scales when we hold the exceptions at abeyance, understanding the work such intellectual instruments are meant to perform in a certain context. Much of the work of higher education is about raising the awareness about the crudity of these large scale abstractions, thus creating the possibility of creating better ones while maintaining an awareness -hopefully- of the violence any such abstraction does to countervailing narratives. Unfortunately, our universities often fail to achieve the latter objective.

Who am I? I'm an artist. A painter. Is that a reduction to some ears? Then I'm an artist who paints. I am an architect, to be sure. I was determined to secure a license so as to drive a piton into the cliff of my first stage of education before I moved on to the second stage, an art education proper. Before that, I was a sailor. I was a fleet sailor who steamed in the Pacific and Indian Oceans for five years. Before that, I was a "military brat", my father was first in the Army, then in the Air Force. We lived in various military bases around the world: Philippines, New Mexico, Panama and Las Vegas being only part of a longer list. Add to this... litany, I'm bi-racial. My Filipino grandfather sent his kids to Madrid to study, my father (born in Texas, raised in Missouri) was stationed in Torrejón air base when he met my mother and there in Madrid I was born.

All the preceding was what I was.

After all this, what am I... who am I, exactly?

Are we only what we were? Are we merely the sum of who we were? Am I a Mestizo+Spaniard+Military Brat+Sailor+Californian+Architect+Artist+Painter+New Yorker? Each and all of us are aggregates. But this is so static, so linear, so... arithmetical. Are we mere sumations? Are we so constrained by our past? Then how could be, in so many different identities, anyone at all?

What if we are instead, algebraic? What if who we were can be altered, can be dynamically altered, by who we will be? "Who am I?" becomes modified into "Who am I now?". And now? And now? And now? Are who we are at any given instant, a variable whose value is contested by an algebraic equilibrium between who we were and who we will be?

Posted by Dennis at November 23, 2014 10:48 PM

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