Documenters Flip the Free Radical Script

Live/Work 42’s window

by Tori Pelz

Tonight marks  Avenue for the Arts’ 10th annual Free Radical event in which storefronts and apartments in downtown Grand Rapids turn into pop-up art galleries. In an interesting new twist to this tried and true event, the role of a documenter has been added to the ranks of the people who make it happen, the artists and curators. It’s a smart way to share the work load of marketing, creating general buzz, and hopefully adding critical discourse. It’s also an acknowledgment that makers aren’t always the best advocates and/or critics of their own work—as evidenced by the many hilarious artist statements many of us were privy to this past month.

Documenters are encouraged to “flip the script,” to pursue less traditional avenues of documentation. This means that we may indeed see documentations not of the work but of other aspects of the event. Word is that a “Who wore it best?” column is coming to Avenue of the Arts. (Bring it, Ms. Emma Higgins.)

We can only hope that as our art scene is evolving in Grand Rapids, that our methods of documenting also evolve. If we can think of documenting as more than a straight-forward declaration that “this thing happened,” we might start to engage in the act of analysis, and even interpretation. Photography has been the go-to documentation tool of choice, yet there area few problems with this approach. We’ve all experienced, even participated in, viewing an artwork through a camera lens instead of really looking at the physical surface. We watched the snapshot scavenger hunt at ArtPrize as viewers feverishly captured images of countless artwork, as if to scrawl “I was here” at the various sites. Photos have replaced memories. And thanks to Instagram, now we can chose from 1 of 10 filters for those memories. Perhaps this dependency on images to remember for us is a striving for objectivity? Perhaps we don’t trust our eyes and our memories because of what they’ll self-select? Or in the case with Instagram, there could be an urge to remember in a different light? Either way, a small flat image is certainly more digestible than the thing itself that occupies the same space and time as our physical selves.

This whole dilemma of the authenticity of reproductions is fascinating—especially in the digital age when the real is often indistinguishable from the reproduction. There will always be a place for the still image in arts reporting, but it serves, or I should say, should serve as a reference point for further engagement. What excited me about meeting with other documenters for the event was hearing the range of approaches that include viewer participation, performance, or offer a physical souvenir. This deviation from a more passive, removed documentation mirrors the growing demand in the art world for a participatory experience. A demand frought with its own set of issues. Nonetheless, it’s good to see Grand Rapids engaging the public and art in fresh ways.

This is where I give full disclosure and insert my own shameless plug as a documenter for Live/Work 42’s exhibit, “Muscle Memory.”  Curated by Hyun Yoo and AJ Paschka, it’s a pretty dreamy little space that highlights fine craft objects. Come down on the 2nd for your own documentation swag, your very own “Muscle Memory” ‘zine.

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