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1. Allow events to change you. This provocation begins designer Bruce Mau’s An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.
43. Power to the people. This one concludes it. The manifesto ends at 43 because Mau knew to stop when he ran out of things worth saying. He didn’t shoot for 50 and recycle the same crap. It also stops at 43 because that number provides an obviously unusual place to end, and therefore points us in the direction of more to come — hence An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. He crafts a list that manifests incompletion in order to activate growth in the minds of his readership. Inspired design.
The supporting blurb for this last entry reads: "Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can’t be free agents if we’re not free." And the words elaborating the first entry are as follows: "You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them."
Thursday, February 3, marks the beginning of a bold experiment between the Institute of Contemporary Art at the Maine College of Art and the SPACE Gallery that is engineered to produce the kind of free play that makes art worth taking seriously in the age of empire. Even its acronym is audacious: "TNT," which stands for "Thursday Night Thing" (by way of an obligatory subliminal reference to an AC/DC playlist and the contents of every cartoon villain’s bag of tricks).
On the first Thursday of every month, the ICA/SPACE collaboration will endeavor to put Mau’s manifesto into practice by pushing the growth of the local arts community one crucial step closer to incompletion. Toby Kamps, the new director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at the Maine College of Art who together with the SPACE Gallery conceived the "TNT" initiative, notes that "The collaboration with SPACE Gallery is a natural; they’re right next door to the college, and this event builds on the First Thursday artist talks held in the ICA. We’re trying now to capture all different kinds of audiences, to increase the dynamism of what is happening and pull regional artists into the mix."
The plans are brave and risky, but, in keeping with Mau’s populist tone, there’s nothing avant-garde about it, at least not in the strict sense; it is devised to be an engine behind the construction of forms of art that, in the words of French Fluxus artist Robert Filliou, "are what make life more interesting than art."
26. Don’t enter awards competitions. "I was talking to Bruce Mau about a year ago about how important competition is," Kamps explains, "and much of this comes out of that idea. We’re starting with a stealth launch this week to see who is out there, and to find out what will happen, and then we’ll fine tune it as we learn more about the audience," he says. "The project is a kind of learning feedback situation. We’re doing it all with pocket change, and so we’ll see what kind of energy we can get going. I’ve got a whole list of events I’ve wanted to do for a long time. We’re thinking of a Powerpoint night, in which participants would deliver, say, three-minute dueling Powerpoint presentations. And next fall, I’d like to have an apple taste-off, to get someone who knows their way around an orchard to curate it. DJs giving talks about deconstruction. Competitive T-shirt exhibitions. Breakdancing lessons. Shows consisting of contractor-tape drawings. This Thursday we kick things off with a screening of Bill Morrison’s film Decasia, which to my knowledge has never been shown in Portland. The movie, which is made from decaying, morphing, exploding, solarizing silver nitrate stock, is an astounding visual and aural experiment. We thought that it would be good to supplement this with a table of especially ripe cheeses from Horton’s."
Morrison’s film, a collaboration with composer Michael Gordon, is a virtuoso meditation on dissolution and decay, tracing the breakdown of aged and worn filmic images into their component parts: nitric acid, cotton, and camphor. Film can’t do what this film does. Throughout its sequence these deteriorations become a kind of living index, their repertoire — buckling, burning, darkening, fraying — inventing a rhythm through which to open our perception to the phenomenon of degradation and disincarnation.
Virginia Woolf once wrote an account of an accident in a movie theater, when she watched a menacing black inky shape invade the screen, her mind scrambling to come to terms with the nature of this abstraction before she realized that it was "just" a technical failure. It was of course too late; she’d reveled in watching the power of the moving image unlock itself from the narrative sweep that typically overcodes and neutralizes it, and never again watched film in the same way. Decasia literally lets the screen ferment; fragments of narrative form the tissues of a corpse out of whose surfaces emerge new and uncertain visual forms.
6. Capture accidents. Here Mau tells us: "The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions."
Here’s one: What shock to thought will be catalyzed by the aroma of Camembert and Stilton next to each other and to Morrison’s movie?
"I’d love it if everybody loved it," Kamps says. "But if we had a dedicated small audience I’d be happy. Maybe it isn’t for everyone. But I think it’s fair to call it something like a trust fall. I think if you take the leap you’ll be rewarded."
Chris Thompson teaches at the Maine College of Art. He can be reached at email@example.com
Bill Morrison’s Decasia shows at SPACE, as part of the first "TNT," Feb. 3, following the opening of the Maine College of Art BFA Faculty Exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. Call (207) 828-5600.
Issue Date: February 4 - 10, 2005
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