[-empyre-] Humor/Irony and thinking about Steve Kurtz

Renate Terese Ferro rferro at cornell.edu
Tue Feb 14 04:57:50 AEDT 2017

Hi Byon,
You bring up two important features that I think will be major topics this month.  The first I will snip from your last post

I don’t think that the audience generally gets it. That is why the humor and playfulness of it is so crucial. I have a terrible relationship to my audience I think in that I don’t know who they are. This not knowing stems from spending so much of my career so far either doing public workshops or strict gallery shows in niche spaces without much in between. The general public seems to react favorably to the humorous or realteable, like GARRy. There is something concrete to anthropomorphize in a work like GARRy, so it is easy to latch on to. Especially when I program it to follow people. Gallery goers can’t help but have empathy for this pathetic plant/robot hybrid as it slowly struggles to navigate space.

Artist’s working between the realms of Biology and Art have historically had a problem with the public and how their work gets understood.  I am thinking of Steve Kurtz who was a guest here at Cornell several years ago when he was in the midst of an arrest by Homeland Security for what was an art installation he was preparing as part of Critical Art Ensemble for Mass MOCA’s The Interventionists exhibition.
See this clip from a film that artist Lynn Hershman did on Steve:

Kurtz’ project in Food GMO was misinterpreted as biological terrorism.  His home studio/lab of microscopes and biological mediums looked to Homeland Security as the center of a possible cell for bioterrorism.  Though the project was to be highlighted at MassMOCA taken out of  context it became to be understood as something quite different and spun into the imaginary of an unintended “public.”

Curious Byron if anyone has misinterpreted GaRRy in ways that were unexpected?

As for humor, I think it has an immense ability to break down a viewer’s wall of disengagement. When you hit them with something that is humorous and kind of pathetic they become vulnerable to everything else that you embed within the work. They may not get the overarching concept right away, but with time as they start to laugh or empathize with the work, they start to have a deepened relationship with it. I like art that doesn’t build up a wall of “expertise” or excludes, but instead invites them in. With time the hidden meanings are revealed, or at least people are more likely to accept  the underlying concepts because they’ve connected with the piece. It’s like a weird little broken friend.

During Steve’s lecture at Cornell I could not help but remark on the light-hearted laughter that permeated his entire lecture and presentation.  I guess that is how Steve is but given the fact that he was in the middle of a major legal crisis it was a bit jarring for me.

Byron,  I”m curious how you are handling the Estrogen Project.  I would love to know more about that project and if you have links for either would you post them as links?

What a great way to start off our discussion this month and if there are any of our subscribers who may want to comment we would love to hear from you.
Thanks Byron.  Renate

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