Three Friends Walk into a Pop-Up Gallery — Marcy Jarreau & Matt Quezada Edition

Marcy & Matt at Cyrcle Exhibit / Photo by Stacy 2012
marcy jarreau & matt quezada at cyrcle exhibit / photo by stacy elaine dacheux / 2012

Stacy Elaine Dacheux: From what I understand, this show “ORGANIZED CHAOS” was conceived of by two artists– David Leavitt and Rabi (aka Cyrcle)– and then pitched to producers instead of a traditional gallery. The producers were Fatima Robinson and Rhea Scott in association with Black Dog Films. Mike Russek was also noted as a co-producer of the show– “helping to fabricate the work through his company 1028 Designs.” Likewise, Hunter Leggitt “collaborated on the gallery build out.” Surely, there were more players and names that went into the production of this particular show, but I’m going to stop here because I think you get the point– reading the press release feels like you are reading the linear notes for an album or the end credits for a film– so many names, so many duties, and so much is going on, it’s hard to know where to focus. I had never heard of Black Dog Films, so I looked it up on the web. This is one section that stood out to me–

“It’s fitting that our foray into the arts sector is producing something that defies the boundaries of an archetypical gallery show (defying boundaries is something we may know a thing about…) What also makes ORGANIZED CHAOS! so quintessentially Black Dog are the collaborations with top creatives from various areas of expertise.” – Black Dog Films

The parenthetical “defying boundaries” part made me feel weird– it’s a pretty arrogant statement. Likewise, on this website, the feeling I got was that Cyrcle is similar to a band or brand that Black Dog represents or presents– I don’t know how much credit should go to Black Dog or how much should go to Cyrcle or if that even matters. It’s all a very confusing blend of street art meets commercialism meets fine art meets MTV meets street art meets commercialism and circling on and on.

“Continuing our industry-unifying crossover between the art, music, and advertising, Black Dog is thrilled to team up with CYRCLE to produce their second solo show, ORGANIZED CHAOS!” – Black Dog Films

Ben, Cyrcle’s manager/gallerist, from our conversation, seemed to insist that despite so many collaborations with other craftsmen & companies, who often, as noted in the press release, built or assisted in making the actual pieces, Leavitt and Rabi were the artists or visionaries of the work. I’m not disputing the truth of this– in fact– I appreciate the mentioning and at least crediting of other artists involved, but I am curious to hear your thoughts on the matter. Do you believe that art in collaboration can be authored entirely by one vision? We can compare this to film or comedy as well, since you two are invested in this type of work.

Matt Quezada: As far as the notion of artistic credit is concerned, I feel that anyone involved in the creation of a piece of any piece of art in any medium is due their fair credit. Why should a piece of wood or oil paint get credit but not an assistant or craftsperson? Film and theatre do this, but even there people fight for and sometimes lose the right to be credited for their work. And while many in the film industry subscribe to the auteur theory (that a film is the product of a single vision), one will notice that most of the masters, old and new, work with the same collaborators time and time again. Scorsese even pays his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, not to take other jobs. It is the opinions, tastes, and ideas of these partners who bolster the initial vision and help realize the final product. And of course, they get credit.

I know Jeff Koons was criticized for this recently by a former assistant, but it only seems fair. Of course, as a film director’s assistant, I am biased. But if Koons is truly the “idea man”, then he should be recognized as such. If he just sat at home with shitty versions of his great ideas, no one would care. It’s the work of the assistants and artists that birth these ideas, so why shouldn’t they receive a measly credit if not a portion of the Christie’s price tag?

As to the Cyrcle event, the most impressive aspect of the show for me was the wood work. Fantastic laser cutting and craftsmanship of the larger block pieces outshone the driving philosophies of the show itself. For me, walking through that tunnel portal was the best part. Second, was seeing the great lamps, and then the wood pieces, but as Marcy and I were discussing, reading the artists’ statement and trying to reconcile the chaos/order, made the whole show feel more disconnected and therefore insubstantial.

matt enters cyrcle entrance / photo by stacy elaine dacheux 2012
matt enters cyrcle entrance / photo by stacy elaine dacheux 2012
Matt (Con.t): Now, while I loved the participatory aspect of the pieces (moving the blocks around, rearranging the images in the grids), the attempts at a larger philosophical point of view just didn’t seem to fit. Bees, flowers, art, artist, chaos, order. It was just all too much. It felt like a big budget Hollywood movie. Trying to fit a little bit of everything and therefore losing any kind of meaningful specificity. Maybe this is the result of being a “produced” art show or maybe the artists are just trying too hard. Oh, Marcy, what was the gallery attendant saying about street art and young kids? And who can create legitimate street art? It seemed like an exclusive attitude to have while promoting a show about participation and the symbiotic relationship of artist and audience.
cyrcle exhibit / photo by stacy elaine dacheux / 2012
cyrcle exhibit / photo by stacy elaine dacheux / 2012

Marcy Jarreau: Re: credit. I’m with Matt. I think people should get their name in the credits. But also credits normally come at the end of the movie and I felt like we got a heavy dose of it when we walked in the door. For me it felt, by layout of the gallery, like I was shown how the sausage was made and then asked to try some– and maybe that made it feel less appetizing.

In fact, I kind of thought the mission statement did the same. It was a little grandiose, maybe the backstory was really where the chaos lived . . . but the final product seemed very organized. And not to be demeaning to the artist– but it’s no surprise to me that a younger child was the first person to interact and attempt to change the first piece because the pieces had a children’s toy quality to them. For me, it was an interesting show that was asking me to believe it was more complex, and I wasn’t buying it.

Ah, yes, street art . . . I believe this conversation was between Stacy and Ben (?). The gist, as I understood it, is that anyone who posts something printed from the Internet on an overpass can call themselves a street artist– but Stacy could probably better speak to the larger point he was trying to make.

Now, onto the issue of authoring. I have, in the past, practiced “assisted writing”– I’m not sure what the nomenclature for the process actually is– but I’ll call it that. So, the writer/director is work-shopping a scene between two characters, and he/she individually tells each actor about his/her character and his/her relationship history with the other character– who they are and what they want in this scene. Then the actors begin a scene and play out these wants, which may be a surprise to the scene partner. The idea is that the writer/director can use the parts he/she likes and maybe rewrite from ideas that come up– but, at the end of the day it’s the writer’s property and the actors were tools to him.

I’m not sure if its directly analogous, but in my mind you give credit to the facilitator and thanks to the participants. I mean hey, who do we blame Hitler or the guys who worked with him? A-hey-o!

I’m so sorry.

cyrcle exhibit / 2012
cyrcle exhibit / photo by stacy elaine dacheux / 2012
cyrcle exhibit / 2012
cyrcle exhibit / photo by stacy elaine dacheux / 2012

Stacy: Matt and Marcy, you both bring up so many interesting points. As far as the ORGANIZED CHAOS! gallery show goes, I agree, the craftsmanship of the pieces and the entrance is what I liked the most as well. The wood boxes were so clean, detailed, and pristine. I truly enjoyed unpacking and moving them around. The entrance itself was really fun to walk down and I did feel as though we were entering a hive so to speak, which I appreciated.

Similar to Marcy, I thought the credits/mission statement– large and plastered on the wall near the entrance– did disrupt the feeling of the space / flow of the work for me. I understand this is a common practice in museums, but the space we entered was not a museum. It was not even a formal gallery. It was built especially for this one exhibit– and from what I understand of the press release–to be unconventional.

I think if you are creating an unconventional space for an unconventional show– why not make the main gallery space feel less like a formal gallery and more like an artful experience?– especially since the pieces are so interactive/playful? I guess what I’m saying here is that we were shy about touching the boxes at first because the presentation felt formal– meaning rich– and the prices matched that feeling in the same way that the space did. It all felt expensive because it all was expensive. You generally are not allowed to touch expensive things.

Environment and presentation can really alter the intention and feeling of art– and it also can add necessary or playful commentary on the commercialism of art. I’m thinking of Claes Oldenburg’s “Store” here. In 1961, on the Lower East Side, Oldenburg opened a store which housed his plastered art objects. The space functioned as a gallery would– but was not designed to look like one. It was built to look like a five and dime shop instead. His art objects were crude renderings of actual consumer products– from sandwiches or steaks to lady lingerie and their presentation mirrored how these everyday objects would be presented in real life. The entire store was an artful rendering of an actual store. The environment innately added to the intention of the work.

For whatever it’s worth– my gut tells me that this show had guilt about being a commercially produced show– in the same sense it had guilt about being a street art show. It didn’t embrace a certain ethic– which is what I look for in an artist or artist collective– I want to know where the heart or humor is– and this should come through in the work & presentation or environment– not just the statement. Maybe this is too sentimental of a perspective, but it’s where I’m coming from with this particular exhibit.

I wasn’t sure where the soul of the work lived.

The conversation I had with Ben, the manager/gallerist, was about street art. He told me that there was a lot of baggage when it comes to street art– or was the baggage more about calling this show a street artists’ show? Regardless, I inquired what the baggage of street art was and he explained that anyone can make it and now because it’s popular all these new less-experienced street artists are having shows left and right– diluting the quality or concept of street art. I could be wrong, but my understanding of this sentiment was that for some street artists– the copycats– are not in it for the ethics or lifestyle, but the praise and are exploiting the term “street artists” accordingly to get shows. I don’t know.

Street art, to me, has a certain egalitarian ethic, and maybe this is why Ben said the use of the word carries baggage– although the Cyrcle artists received initial notoriety for their street art– this specific show is more of a produced show than a street art show in terms of ethics and intentions. Money is confusing the authorship, heart, and motivation. Commercialism here is not out of irony and it’s not out of play– it’s almost corporate– like a film produced by a film production company.

cyrcle exhibit / photo by stacy elaine dacheux / 2012
marcy & matt at the cyrcle exhibit / photo by stacy elaine dacheux / 2012

Matt: Here’s my next bit, hope it makes sense and isn’t too rambly: Completely agree about the lack of cohesion amongst the work, the exhibition presentation and the central message. But this tends to be my gripe with a lot of street/pop-art. So much of it seems devoted to the aesthetic and the attitude with no clear ideological bedrock. But maybe that’s the doing of the poseurs, diluting the message of the movement. Or is it simply a reflection of the times? (forgive the broad generalizations here)

I hadn’t heard about Oldenburg’s “Store”, but as art moves more and more into the participatory it will be interesting to see how artists invite the audience to interact with their work. Clearly, leaving pieces on a wall or a pedestal is not begging for the public to put their grubby mitts on ’em.I don’t know if I particularly like participatory art. I’m shy and don’t have a reckless nature, so I tend to like the traditional artist/work/audience relationship. But inarguably, that’s the direction in which we are headed.

Beck’s sheet music album is a perfect example of this. People are in love with the concept, but I’m such a fuddy-duddy and can’t play an instrument, so I would prefer to hear a simple album by the man. And then NPR played versions of the songs and they were just wonderful. Beck was interviewed in the piece and stated that he’s heard embellishments and other musical flourishes in the interpretations that he’d never considered and loves. He believes the individual musicians are making the songs better. So, the experiment worked. But, how is this different from any other cover of any other song of his?

There’s a recent lecture given by Brian Eno about the future of music and creative arts. He mentions that the notion of a singular artistic voice only really dates back to the creation of the symphonic orchestra. And he suspects that we are already moving back into the realm of artistic circles of influence– this writer influences this painter, this musician influences this filmmaker. As recently as the Beat Movement we can see evidence of this, which is fitting as William Burroughs speaks to the notion of a collaboration between two bringing about a third mind and work that neither individual could have birthed on their own.

However, I still can’t shake the curmudgeonly feeling that this modern shift towards interactivity is feeding into the solipsism of the Millennials– “I have to play a part in this otherwise I’m not interested.” The artist now has to give explicit instruction to become engaged. Drunk Uncle griping, I know. Why fight progress, though? As with anything, if the work (original or not) is unique and substantial it will stand out from the chaff. Right?

Hope that wasn’t too much of a tangent.

Marcy: See, I am more destructive and reckless than Matt. I have no problem playing with someone else’s art. But, and I’ll probably keep this short because it’s redundant, if you are going to invite me to interact with a piece, I’d prefer to just go for it. I felt like the explanation of how other people had changed the art kind of ruined it for me. I used to have an improv teacher in high school, Dinah Toups, who said “Give an idea, take away a 1000.” and I felt that a little with this exhibit. It was just a bit too front-loaded to be as fun as interesting as it could have. I’d much prefer to see a follow up on the audience interactions than be told of them in the gallery.
cyrcle exhibit / stacy elaine dacheux / 2012
marcy & matt dissecting the cyrcle exhibit / photo by stacy elaine dacheux / 2012

Stacy: Marcy, I love the idea of a follow-up on art and audience interactions– I think this is what participatory art does at its finest– it values an exchange– or the art is in the connection between artist and audience — the transmission — more so than just the object itself. I’m thinking here about Marina Abramovic and the emotionality exchanged in her work– how valuable and moving that is.

I love the quote you shared with us on simplicity and ideas. When I stop to think about the artists I admire, most of them are working with basic principles for the audience to then interpret or tug on as they see fit– participatory or not– the heart of the idea is usually intuitive, not directed. This is my preference. A less aggressive approach. As far as ORGANIZED CHAOS! is concerned, I wish them only the best– this meditation on intention/presentation is the most important aspect of the show I walked away with in relation to my own craft and pitfalls to consider.

That said, all in all, I agree with Matt– it’s an interesting and fuzzy time to be making art– much is diluted in terms of movements, concepts, or ethics– for the sake of being relevant, hip, making a few bucks, or both. In a way, I suppose, it’s not too unlike what Ben suggested– except all art (not just street art) carries baggage that no one really wants to claim. The baggage has something to do with history and identity– how to define and see yourself outside or inside a movement as it unravels and how to be your own contribution– how to not exploit or if exploiting how to do it with a fine jest. I think Marcy’s UCB improv ethic of “don’t think” has a palpable importance here. Time, in a strange and beautiful way, will always do the thinking for us.

Thank you both so much for seeing this show with me. I value your insights so very much.

Marcy is an improviser, actor, and writer from Louisiana. She moved to NYC in ’05 and studied long-form improv at both the Upright Citizens Brigade and The Magnet theaters. Now, she lives in Los Angeles and is a member of UCB Harold team Cooper. Marcy loves puppies and the color blue.

Matt Quezada is a native Angelino working as a director’s assistant, screenwriter, and sometimes actor. His short films have played in various international film festivals. Feel free to follow him on Twitter and Instagram (@themattyq).

Stacy Elaine Dacheux is the proprietor of this website. She enjoys seeing shows with Marcy & Matt– and hopes to have more adventures with them soon.


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