art, culture, politics, democracy

Poor king CO MA DI cried

Poor king CO MA DI, slyly, with a Cheshire smile that assures himself we can’t possibly be on to him, vainly tries to place himself beyond the past. But, manifesting a noteworthy lack of self recognition, he condemns himself to dwell there.

We imagine him resonantly receding; perhaps loping atop a La Manchan steed, his arms furiously flailing in a vacuous attempt to defame his predecessors. Suddenly his curious costume is snatched by the blade of a wheeling windmill. Away goes Poor king CO MA DI, gracelessly lofted from his regal reverie, up, around, and around, counter clockwise he realizes with a characteristic mixture of anxiety and chagrin. “I must do better at seeing where I am going! How else will I become Emperor?”

As if he had minted the word ungracious, Poor king CO MA DI lingered . . . ‘til the shadows of the doorway barely alighted on their backs as they left the auditorium. He then turned his furrowed face toward confounding the present. “They are all corrupt!” Again with the annoying whine. Attempting to separate himself, as do all pretenders, he fumbles, stumbles, bumbles. “Reminds me of RMN,” someone inaudibly asided.

“Walt Whitman said so!” Poor king mumbles, while numbly succeeding in confounding only himself. He jumps onto the dais. “2.0, 2.0, 2.0!” he chants, as the audience, aghast at seeing the Poor king naked, that is, never expecting such a blatant confirmation of animosity and ineptitude.

“If only I had the right clothes! I would be Emperor!” he screams into the Castilian night. The huge white wheel, as if sensing an irritant attached to itself, whirls faster, its mechanism rumbling, rattling, and convulsing. The ground, the sky, the ground again! “STOP! STOP EVERYTHING I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH!”

Poor king CO MA DI, the size of the font on his campaign posters proclaiming his intense desire for adequacy, but limited by . . . . well, limited. His extraordinary lack of creativity, his bottomless void, all he can think is to try to eradicate the past, where he alone is sinking, little, by exceedingly little.

Into Divine oblivion, Poor king CO MA DI, your timeworn treadmill keeps rolling, in reverse.



I am looking into how to translate English into Akkadian. Any hints or suggestions?

Inconsequential 14: Inconsequential Coin

Inconsequential Coin   c2013   Martin Gantman

Inconsequential Coin                                                           c2013 Martin Gantman


The Whiskey   2014

The Whiskey 2014



West Hollywood City Hall   2014

West Hollywood City Hall 2014



Rosewood Avenue School   2014

Rosewood Avenue School 2014



Sweetzer/Willoughby   2014

Sweetzer/Willoughby 2014



Louis Stern Fine Arts   2014

Louis Stern Fine Arts 2014

The Ephemera(l) Institution


Whenever a project has finished I am, somewhat hesitantly, compelled to look back and view the arc of the project – what direction it took and why. Usually, as in life, a project has so many possible routes; it becomes interesting to speculate on the paths that were not chosen.

For example, I could have spent my entire residency on the history of ephemera. I could have interrogated other aspects of the ICI more deeply, rather than pursuing the nature of such institutions in general. This is not to say that I am at all dissatisfied with my choices, rather there is always a wonder at the wealth of information that surrounds practically any research.

It also turns out that, as with any art(work), there are always varied interpretations of the artist’s intentions and product. Really when one parses any aspect of an institutionalized situation, that probing can be interpreted as a negative critique. I tend to hear that more than I want, and must always look to my motives. But honestly folks, I am just curious, try to fully understand whatever I am looking at, and to see all of its implications.

And then there are the issues I have analyzed whose results are fully debatable. Perhaps I have not fully or mis-understood an area about which I have commented. I admit that is more than a conceivable possibility – and I welcome those occurrences as opportunities to parse a subject even more.

With all that said, it has been extremely interesting to look into the workings of an organization such as the Institute of Cultural Inquiry. It is a creative facility that strives to take a direction that is uncharted. Its projects and its takes on its projects attempt to unveil common assumptions and perceptions about numerous issues, and in so doing, as with any innovative endeavor, finds that most decisions are risk-taking. That is why I always had in the back of my mind a comparison of their entire venture with the process of a singular artwork.

But in addition to its product, the ICI is also a working organization that must deal with the nature of its pandemic, if for no other reason than to communicate to a populace that has developed differently. In fact, the very circumstance of being involved in knowledge production, which embodies information transfer itself, may require such an alteration.

One, perhaps only I, may see the Internet era as a mixed bag, as with many if not most technological innovations, but it is here and will remain until supplanted. In fact the Internet, and contemporary electronics in a broader sense, to me is primarily an indicator of how human beings are transitioning, at an accelerating pace, in terms of how we perceive information, communicate it, and, primarily, how we think and behave.

So the ICI must deal with organizational questions and issues around this as well as artistic ones, or not. Honestly and aside, I think individuals are often faced with similar issues. The ICI’s situation in this regard is complex because it is faced not only with archiving but also with accomplishing that task artistically, perhaps even as another ICI project in conformance with its mission. It is also faced with decisions about constructing new product within the Internet as well as outside of it, perhaps including an opportunity to rework previous projects in a different way.  Another potential direction is to use this opportunity for archiving/production to comment on this relatively new institution, the Internet itself, and the effects it is having on the issues that concern the ICI.

And one last superficial observation about the nature of technology and the Internet: contemporary use of the Internet has proceeded from desktop to notebook to telephony to tablet and now to products such as Glass. When one considers how they are going to enter this regime, and this is not to suggest that the ICI has not already taken some steps here, one must keep one eye (pun intended) on the affect product has on how the technology is used, as well as the nature of the communication systems in general.

These are intriguing possibilities that I am fascinated by, and I look forward to seeing their eventual resolution.


The Ephemera(l) Institution

January 11,2014 (Presentation)

Most of what you have seen throughout the ICI tonight is my project, so tonight I am just going to make some very brief comments about process. But before discussing this residency project I did at the ICI the last few months, there are a couple of ancillary issues that I would first like to mention.

About investigatory art:

Investigatory art is a term I use to describe a form of art that is a site of research as well as a site of productivity.

At the panel I co-chaired with Gina Dabrowski at the CAA 2012, we had panelists such as an eco-network, comprised of international artists who feed into a central network that broadcasts violations of eco policy and intrusions into eco-geography around the world. We had a report about a Chinese artist who is studying key words involved in local dialects throughout China, and we heard from an artist based in Germany who is investigation the 200 year old tradition of community gardens in Berlin.

For me investigatory art began, very loosely, with the minimalists whose art related to borders, corners, edges, scale, and space. Then to the conceptualists, like Kosuth and Huebler, whose work presented issues around language in visual terms, for example, juxtaposing dictionary definitions with real objects. Later, Hans Haacke investigated corporations and museum boards of directors and displayed his findings artistically, and more contemporarily Alan Sekula, who recently passed.

They altered the nature of aesthetics by presenting data as art.

As to the difference between investigatory art and other art forms, consider painting, for example. Painting may also include historical background and study, but paint is the primary medium and the artwork is primarily about the eventual image.

In investigatory art research is the artistic medium and the result may easily be the portrayal of just the research itself. At the same time these are not necessarily scholarly projects but artistic works intended to pass on, as usual in art, the observations of the artist to the viewing public.

About being an Associate of the ICI:

Secondly, as to being an Associate of the Institute and performing the inquiry I had decided to undertake, there were moments when I felt a bit uncomfortable, even though the residency was intended to be interactive.

It was never my intention to perform a critique of the ICI, rather just to investigate issues that I was interested in, but in so doing questions arose that caused all of us here at the ICI to have to reconsider long held assumptions – and sometimes to debate those.

Eventually we had some lively and very informative conversations not only about ICI, but about the root inquiry of this investigation. For example, there were discussions held about the meaning of ephemera, the ICI’s use of the term, and also the ICI’s use of the associated materials.

Later there were conversations that dealt more with the ICI’s mission and its future that were more collaborative. At this point, though, the issue for me was whether I was stepping over the line from becoming an investigator toward being simply a participant. It was an issue I had to monitor very closely as I proceeded.

About the project (The Ephemera(l) Institution:

In spite of a long association with the Institute there were still questions and curiosities about ICI I had that I wanted to know more about.

My initial vehicle was the ICI’s use of the word ephemera, which referred, for me, not only to what ephemera actually is and what it means to the ICI, but also, in general, how this term may reference the life and after life of an institution.

I like to think of my investigations as archeologies where, like any onsite dig, one brushes the sand aside to uncover information and truths. That is, the more data one has, the fuller and richer a project becomes.

Along the way the search led through a better understanding of ephemera. It was originally defined as something that lived very briefly and then was gone. Later it was understood more generally as a collection of inactive elements.

I then got into the ICI’s use of ephemeral elements in their pursuit of knowledge production. For example, the Ephemera Kabinett, to my left, is filled with all kinds of remnants. They came to the ICI in innumerable ways and have been selectively used in various ICI projects.

The issue of how ephemeral data was used morphed into an inquiry about the bases of institutions, and their formal and informal constraints. These constraints derive from an organization’s mission and the predilections of their officers, directors, etc. They determine how organizations operate and form the bases of their decision-making. I think now that these constraints are pretty much at the root of determining an organization’s identity.

Later I speculated and wrote about the performative aspects of the ICI; how the entire creation and activity of the ICI could be seen as an artistic performance: performance as art, performance as identity, performance as ephemera. That is, was this ICI project, mine and the organization’s, originally intended as a performance?

As we began to discuss the future, I looked into the ICI as archive.

All that is collected is archive.

All that is preserved is archive.

All that is transitioned is archive.

And, at some point, an organization may simply exist as an archive.

This issue of archive eventually led to the question of digitization. How does the ICI intend to ultimately digitize? For digitization is supposedly the future archive – the thing that is meant to last.

To get there though, begets difficult questions: questions of art, questions of politics, and questions of afterlife. What do we save and how do we save it?

So ultimately the ICI’s interest and my original question, about future, actually merged.

But a thought about the Internet: it is as if, once we are on the Internet we think we have become immortal. The Internet has become cloudy, muddled, perhaps stodgy, and especially commercial. The Internet itself requires change.

And one caution I must mention in terms of the ICI and ephemerality. The ICI also publishes books and other materials that may be considered real product and object.

About the photo and other works I have interjected throughout this ICI facility, they are not artworks per se, merely markers. They are sites of representation and memory; indicators, perhaps, of future transitions of the ICI.

So there was this path that the enquiry took: ephemera to organizational constraints to performance (ephemera(l) to archive (ephemera(l) to future (perhaps digitization) (ephemera(l).

About the interment:

The interment of Matchboxes-in-anotherbox: testimony is not a funeral. It is about transformation. Emblematically, this box and the ashes it contains represent the ephemeral continuity of the ICI and by extension all institutions. This ephemera, or detritus, as you will, will be remembered distinctively by each of you in whatever way you perceive the institution.

The Ephemera(l) Institution


I suspect that you inhabit a sort of endless digital Now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory.  

William Gibson

If I am interpreting William Gibson, the father of contemporary ephemerality, correctly (in the quote above that I have immorally decontexted (sic)), if one locates themselves on the internet, they don’t really need to be concerned about other people’s memories for continuation or extended survival. But even then

The future is there,” Cayce hears herself say, “looking back at us. Trying to make sense of the fiction we will have become. And from where they are, the past behind us will look nothing at all like the past we imagine behind us now.”  

William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

judgements made about continuance, preservation, even about the ephemeral now, can become confounded within the eddy of evolving cultural reorganizations and reinterpretations, unavoidable misinformation and lack of clarity, continually shifting points-of-view, and unfortunate decisions made as to what an archive should include and how it is expressed. Thus the organization, the institution, along with its nebulous and malleable, yet essential constraints, will continue in name and perhaps only with its intention hopefully intact and conveyed. The archive of everything-and-nothing-significant speaks directly to this incomprehensible future, leaving only the record in place, the elements, perhaps even a hint or mere suggestion of a method, that may be used by whomever in the future has the momentary platform for making a decision, an observation, even a semi-conscious slip of the future’s tongue.

This is not to suggest that the future is of any overt concern to this institution or that its archive is of necessary importance to its activities. But as I have stated previously I believe that an institution eventually morphs into an archive and its ultimate archive will be a record of its success relative to its original and conceivably evolved mission. Perhaps, though, I have misunderstood and there is really no intention behind this organization, the Institute, save to express the desires, even whims, of its inhabitants – that the archive will simply display the record of human activities conducted under its virtual umbrella – its “focus” on the use of ‘visual technologies’ related to various aspects of cultural production – or lack thereof. In this vein, is there any importance to what is sent into the future? To how the project is virtually perceived? Or will its potentially forthcoming virtual iteration merely be a vehicle toward continuing its mission unencumbered – intentionally oblivious of its material past?

If the institution were to make a decision to eliminate its materiality (close its material archive) and step, less burdened, into the digital morass, it must make a decision as to whether to completely eliminate, even referentially, its historic archive or to, in some manner, carry it into the future. To select the latter option suggests that it must then begin a process of decision-making relative to how its archive is to serve its future, which almost unavoidably, as with anyone unfortunately weighted with concerns about their legacy,  must include a discussion about how the institution would prefer its past; aesthetics, creativity, relevance, et al, be understood. Decisions about priority, about what is carried forward and in what manner, how that is accessed, how it relates to contiguous and non-contiguous items and issues, and the mission, are elementary examples of questions that must be raised when there is no longer a materiality with which to engage.

Previously, in line with most definitions and understandings, I have discussed ephemerality in terms of the past and the present, but it appears that, relative to the present, there is also an ephemeral future: a virtual space that can only be contemplated, a glance seen as a fleeting possibility, then evanescently gone.

The Ephemera(l) Institution

Prepping the Cracks

Damn it! I thought I was done with this. But you know what happens. Suddenly, at a time when you might be preparing the walls for the final coat, there is a thought, a glimmer, and then the realization that one might not have completely attended to everything.  As if something was left, perhaps on a shelf neglected, like a familiar book.

A major constituent of the Institute’s output is publishing. Several extensive volumes and a number of smaller editions, about which I have too little space to discuss save to mention that they all expand upon institutional predilections, have been completed within the relatively recent past. This operative component does not comfortably fit within the schema of the archival constraint. Rather, it is an example of production – from what the Institute likes to term its “space for creation.” Obviously not a dedicated space, it is a depiction of one way in which the Institute sees itself.  The books are obviously cataloged but they are also disseminated, co-existing with the institution from a space external to the archival notion. And the creating, including the space, is an action rather than a sign of captured memorabilia.

Thus the phrase, space for creation, evokes another comprehensive aspect of this institution, the performative space. This is not simply a space for performance, but also incorporates a performative comprehension – the activity of collaborating, the process of creating, and the accomplishment of producing.

This is complicated. The concept of the performative notion includes not only the space for functioning, as in physical, mental, perceptual, but also the overshadowing net of the performative idea. Everything can be seen as included within this performance. The creation of an institution, of a physical space, an archive, an ephemeral notion, a collaborational enticement and stimulus, a product(ion) all occur within this performative determinant.

Even I, in this role as an excavator, one who will take a spade, plunge it into this dense terrain of fertile knowledge aided by the thrust of a heavy foot, lift, very carefully, a shovelful of complex artistic notions, and slowly sift them through – well, you get it – or perhaps just a spoonful at a time in the archeological manner – very carefully; who has come to give air to this particular institutional design, perhaps to unwittingly expose arcane cracks, am just a player within this unfolding performative chronicle. Mind you, not as the passive Shakespearean stand-in in an open-ended play, as in life, but as an active collaborator, mindful, and wary, of the somewhat malleable institutional constraints that exquisitely encircle me.

The Ephemera(l) Institution 12

The Archive as Ephemera(l)

As soon as one mentions the word archive, similar to the issue with ephemera and detritus, mental and physical optics once again begin to blur. Eyes cross. Hands hesitatingly reach toward heads as if not wanting to offend the itchiness that isn’t actually there. Derrida, along with Freud, is partially responsible for this particular linguistic debacle – in addition to the Internet (the Internet being this era’s ultimate container of everything disseminated). Though one has long acknowledged the arduous use of words for communicating, one suffers, once again, at not being able to comfortably use a word whose meaning (a word one usually attempts to avoid at all costs) one thought held long accepted agreement. On the other hand, when you have just finished a Pynchon, almost everything else, including Derrida, suddenly becomes intelligible.  Even archive, and the repression of archive as archive, makes complete sense.

It appears that an archive is generally accepted as a collection or catalog of something that can be qualified or labeled. But how does that relate to an Ephemera Kabinett, which is, loosely, an agglomeration of memorabilia unsystematically delivered to the Institute from almost anyone. Or the Earth Kabinett, which contains soils samples, or possibly muck, from any old place that happened to feel passionately significant to someone in the moment. How does one scrupulously label such assemblages? Or even The AIDS Chronicles that specifically, though not conceptually, references one word.

The Institute, rather than suppressing archive to achieve archive, does a 180. It espouses archive, promotes it, embraces it and, in so doing, becomes archive. And this concept is not to be glossed: an institution, constructed by its constraints, becomes a container, and that container, among other things, becomes an archive – a site of memory.

Its propensity toward archiving frames the ephemera(l) atmosphere that conditions the Institute. And it is the accomplishment of this collectivity that recycles to activate the beauty (in the sense of how wonderful that such a thing could happen) of such collections that the Institute contains – like taking detritus to the dump out of which arises some resurrected agenda lauded for its societal beneficence, or as in a reframing of 60’s natural beauty (in which case however the acceptance of certain styles of body hair were never fully embraced).

Similarly, if one stops to take a close reading of each individual archive housed within the Institute, there is an excellent opportunity that one will unfortunately pass aimlessly through their forest of institutional collusion. In this institution the archive is situated as a place of past that leads, more particularly, to one of future. And though we very carefully strived to avoid commingling the ideas of ephemera and memory, this is still the issue that first beguiled us. It is in memory that the life of a defunct institution resides and, in this case, it is the archive, what the archive represented, what the archive promised, and what the archive, now physically absent, in interpretation revealed that gives us the key to the existence of post Institute coherence.

The Ephemera(l) Institution 11

The Performative

There is another possibility – or at least an additional enterprise that is operative within the constraints of the ephemera(l) institution. Suppose, for just this moment, that the entire undertaking: the walls, the books, the sometimes disquieting sculptural works that may be on display, the brain logo (Think People!), the website, the informative or elusive projects, is created specifically in order to set the stage for one ultra-long, lightly-scripted performance.

The players, sometimes with fore knowledge and others unwittingly, gather in the act of establishing this possibly felonious and nearly inconspicuous creation of the imaginary institution. Think of the institution as a stage set. The players coming and going “thinking of Michelangelo” (please forgive me) while the organization catalogs the participation, the events, the writings – all in the service of the play – and even more so, the realization of art. Even I, sitting here considering this circumstance, am an actor participating in the accomplishment of this theatrical moment.

Let’s momentarily accept, for the sake of this conjectural archeology, that this assumption has merit. If so, there is much to consider. For one, there exist many seriously produced works of art, literature, etc. that are accomplished within the confines of the organization – and under the guise of the institution. Does the camouflaged pretext of the institution mitigate the authority of these works?

Additionally, the reputation of the organization commands the visit of many spectators who look to the originality and uniqueness of the institution for additional knowledge and inspiration.  Does the unknown deceit of the organization’s overriding intention condition the material, and more importantly the message, gleaned from such visitation?

And most important, how do we approach the institution itself: the idea, the method, and the philosophical constraints? Has it become duplicitous?

I, diabolically, am going to leave these questions to you. It is not my mission to go in that direction. Moreover, to be fair, above I have cast the purported enterprise, I suppose for dramatic effect, as nefarious. There is certainly no evidence that suggests that sort of intent, and the scenario obviously does not have to be analyzed or viewed from that perspective.

But within the fanciful presumption of this theory, there lies an important comment about my personal focus, the ephemera(l) nature of the institution. While I know very little about the theory of theater, I feel fairly comfortable in presuming that live performance comes incredibly close to the original definition of ephemeron, a singular occurrence that rapidly disappears.

Heretofore I have focused on the interior elements of the institution, the materials it uses and the philosophy behind its constraints, as well as a view toward the nature of the institution once its physical body is no longer extant. But here there is another, intermediate, phase in this biology, the idea of an operational ephemeron. Ok, you may not see, as I do, the phenomenal possibilities in this discovery. After all it is I who, for about six weeks now, has been attempting to get a handle on this notion, ephemera(l) institution, while being distracted by detritus of all ilk.

But here we have it distinctly before us, if the tent is ephemeral then everything inside the tent must be as well; the whole thing, the tent, the philosophy, the material contents. If I were to take any element from inside this tent, ephemera(l) or not, I would be removing it from its context, the institution itself. That action would render moot any analysis of this particular element. At the same time the tent would not be affected by any singular or even multiple changes since it is the tent, the performative notion, that at the same time determines and is independent of the nature of whatever is inside.

In such a situation we are all props.