Recently, HFA artists Faheem Haider and Odin Cathcart got to talking and talking and talking, and decided that they needed to put together their thoughts to internet print about their experiences as HFA artists, and their views on art and social engagement, with or without an HFA studio. Here's their first exchange (Faheem posed the first set of questions): questions and answers one to the other, and back, with what's to come waiting in the wings.
HFA abounds with constraints: it's major conceit is that about limits (how much, how little?); which constraint do you think is the most seductive, or problematic for an artist in residence?
Odin: The most immediate and most flippant thing that comes to mind, is getting what you always ask for, what Bukowski used to call air and light and time and space. Life is filled with endless constraints no matter your position or level of creative acumen. It is the norm. Therefore, obtaining any sort of real freedom becomes a kind of terror. For an artist it is terribly seductive to be given space and time to produce. Ideas do not come out of thin air, creativity is born of living in the world and reacting to it, however it is rarely born out of contrived conditions. The artist inherently knows this even though she continuously desires it.The very nature of the question that Simon first imagined was the question that every artist ponders in the abstract as they go about reacting creatively to their own experiences. How much time do I need? How little money can I get by on and still make what I want to make? How much space is enough space? It is also why so few artists who achieve success, in financial terms, remain vibrant. Creative vibrancy requires a fierce discipline and that is a discipline of denial. You must persist under the same constraints that originally bore you ideas or you fear you will be lost. This is the conundrum that HFA rather surreptitiously and as you put it, seductively teases at.Given the nature of life and its inherent constraints, it is sometimes necessary and important for artists to establish their own constraints or be forced into them artificially to see things in new ways. HFA offers up some very simple parameters in the form of a recycled container, shed if you will, that is a mere 6 x 6 x 8 feet in dimension. It’s not insulated or theft proof. It’s not precious or permanent, it’s just enough to keep an artist out of the sun and rain, yet portable enough to place them just about anywhere within public view. Make of it what you will, prison or principality, it doesn’t much matter. What matters is creating.
Faheem: Like you, I take constraints as a given proposition in any context; it's the context and content of those constraints that change over time, and yes, space. The issue, as ever is what XYZ constraint squeezes out of the artist, or better what kind of ABC work can an artist squeeze out of XYZ constraint. As Bono sang, covering Jimi Hendrix' cover of Dylan's original "..the rest is up to you". I do want to push at a constraint that may not be a spatial one, or a temporal one: the moral value, and the all-important status of singleton, singular, work. A piece done, one at a time. It seems more interesting, to me at least, to think that given, say, the 6x6 limit in space that the shed provides one has a choice to make either small work inside or large work outside the shed (say using the shed as a storage space, while still employing the shed as an almost metaphysical conceit). I've done both, but now I'm given to the idea that it may be more interesting, if not totally performative, to use the constraints of the space to make small work, that then gets larger and larger as a conjunctive process is employed to make bigger work out of smaller work. And by conjunctive I don't mean repetitive; I mean adding more views, more ideas, more, indeed, different concepts that together make a work. So, drawings, along with paintings. Writing, poetry that feeds into paintings, and say, animation, and conversation. It's the idea that a denial on one facet of some space may point to myriad other options obtaining as a result of that other denial. It seems to me then that denial just becomes a fount of other practices, as it always does. HFA just makes the conceit of "denial" an issue not of the world, but in the world.
What would HFA be without those constraints? At the limit what would HFA be without a studio?
Odin: Without the constraints of the shed, art practice is really one of three things, traditional studio practice, plein-air or completely conceptual. In a rather strange and somewhat perverse way, HFA is a combination of all three. In the end, from a purely conceptual point of view, HFA isn’t really about the shed or even perhaps the constraints of the shed, but really about a public outing of art practice. We’re well past the days when artists can or should hide away in secret, outside the public eye, toiling away at their craft as if it were some kind of alchemy. It’s that kind of belief system that has helped manifest the art ruin, the so-called art ‘market’ of today.
Faheem: I really enjoy and agree with your response. HFA without a studio would be the art world, as such. Interestingly, HFA with the studio is also the art world as such. It's an open question then whether one should mathematically eliminate the shed as logically unnecessary. My personal view is that--and this connects to my response, above--it depends on how you want to structure your practice. If the shed is dead, as I think it is logically, then why use it? Well, much like a dead god, you let the demands of an objective value die, and you develop your own meaning and your own craft through the spaces and concepts given you. The shed is important because it is like a pencil. And like a pencil, you could make art through other means, but why would you want to? The question isn't just a rhetorical one.
Faheem Haider is an artist, writer, editor and political analyst.
E. Odin Cathcart is a member of Habitat for Artists. He is an artist, writer, independent curator and marketing strategist.
Image courtesy of Faheem Haider
Here we've got some pictures of the first few artists we were in residence at the Philly Flower Show. Our thanks to all the artists who collaborated with us, and with the Hudson Valley Seed Library. The show's up until tomorrow Sunday, March 8th. Do drop by and say "hi" if you're around town.
We're having a blast at the Philly Flower Show working with our partner the Hudson Valley Seed Library. Our thanks to Ken Greene! Our project continues to develop through the work of HFA artists in residence.
This past Saturday's engagement was tremendous, with many more visitors and guests than we'd hoped for. One of those people was HFA friend Brian DiSabatino, hailing from the great state of Delaware. Here below, are many of the pictures he took during our engagement. (Please click on the thumbnail to see a larger pic):
We hope you'll come visit the show if you're able.
All images courtesy: Brian DiSabatino
My name is Faheem Haider, though I prefer to be called Antik. I'm an artist, and a writer, and a member/collaborator of/with Habitat for Artists.
I'd like to offer an unbidden testimonial about why I joined up with HFA. That reason is unitary and utterly complete.
I joined up with HFA because it offers one the opportunity to do something different, the possibility that one might do something more than the norm.
The thing is, the possibility for that something more was, is, and will always be there in whatever ones practice consists in, studio-based or otherwise.
HFA just manifests that possibility in a weird looking shed left out in the world.
The rest is up to you, and me.