Making all the right moves in the city
Anything emanating from the National Sculpture Factory deserves to be taken seriously, and last weekend the gallery floor at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery was thronged with artists and architects ready to welcome the introduction of the factory's Cork Caucus both seriously and cheerfully.
A project for the European Capital of Culture year, Cork Caucus is described as "an interdisciplinary and collaborative investigation of cultural, political and artistic issues, with a long-term view to developing the critical culture of Cork".
The project is to be achieved through discussion across a range of disciplines "that can potentially transform discourse and concepts into social and cultural change".
This translates into a series of visits to the city between June and July of more than 40 international artists, curators and writers in an interchange programme managed by curators Charles Esche, Annie Fletcher, Art/not art and the sculpture factory, directed by Tara Byrne. As Mary McCarthy, deputy director of Cork 2005 plc, said, "this year isn't all about fireworks", but offers an opportunity to examine how artists are to have a meaningful life in a peripheral place. Byrne explained that the project, rooted in Cork, intends to build on existing strengths and, by establishing art as a socio-political influence, to create a means of precipitating decisions about a changing city.
Hilariously plagued by computer technology from a laptop which seemed to have a mind of its own, the inaugural lecture was given by Vito Acconci, the American crossover artist-architect whose global portfolio challenges notions of structure, texture and function. His career has developed through what might be called transitional epiphanies, beginning as a writer but looking for a place within the art world despite his inability to draw, paint or sculpt.
"Without such words as 'conceptual art' there was no place for me, but I could have vague ideas. And at that time [ circa 1969] art in New York was a kind of non-field field with no characteristics of its own, a place into which elements could be imported."
As an example of early efforts to import the world into his notion of conceptual art, Acconci described, with some humour and self-deprecation (but not dismissively), a piece in which he concealed himself under a platform while masturbating to images provoked by the people walking overhead. This daily eight-hour-long emission (the piece was entitled Seed-Bed) made him quash the need to be physically part of his own work. "The language of the time was that of 'finding oneself', as if the self was something precious to be discovered. But art is always behind the time, and later I thought that perhaps it would be better to import the work into the world: that's what design does, that's what architecture does."
Listening to his work processes and seeing - where the laptop allowed - the images from his international portfolio, there was no mistaking the atmosphere of excited energy he creates around his visionary possibilities; with that awareness came a sense of what all this might - and it is necessary to be very cautious here - mean for Cork.