Art and Place
by Sara Clarke
It’s a little bit difficult to explain to people what my blog is about. Travels With Gloria germinated as a travel blog about art. I’d write about where to find the best Caravaggio paintings in Rome, how to score Coachella tickets, the ethics of travel photography, and whether maha-tourism sites like Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal are worth visiting. In January I took a month off from other kinds of writing, meditated on the fetus of TWG, and somehow she took a left turn and became the blog you see before you. I like where she’s going, but what the hell is this about, anyway?
I tend to tell people that I write a blog about Art and Place. This sounds pretentious, and I’m pretty sure it boils down to writing a blog that isn’t about much of anything. I especially started to feel this way when I was trying to brainstorm posts to write about my trip to Istanbul in February. I spent a lot of that trip exploring Istanbul’s contemporary art scene, which according to the New York Times is Kind Of A Big Deal these days. I saw lots of interesting work, and even more interesting curatorial approaches. And yet a lot of what I saw was not really all that Turkish.
Of course, I saw piles of work by Turkish artists. But what does it mean for art to be Turkish? A lot of the art I saw that was made by Turkish people looked pretty much just like the art that is being made by Americans, or Germans, or Israelis. Just, you know, art. The sort of art that fills galleries all over the world and doesn’t inspire anyone to say, “Wow, look how American/ German/Israeli this art is!” Very little of it — in fact, pretty much NONE of the contemporary works by young Turkish artists that I saw — seemed to be about being Turkish, or what Turkey is today, or to offer a perspective on Turkish history or culture. Which is fine, obviously.
But it made me wonder. Why do I feel compelled to write these posts about people like Keith Haring and Patti Smith in New York, or Nuria Mora in Madrid, or Carrie Brownstein in Portland? What causes those artists to be associated with certain places while there are millions of painters and musicians all over the world who aren’t associated with any particular place at all? Damian Hirst could be from Nebraska or Capetown as easily as he could be from London. Frankly, I’m not even sure he’s from London. Maybe he’s from Glasgow or Manchester. Does it matter?
Maybe the answer is in something the Somalian rapper K’Naan said about Fela Kuti:
Fela was, himself, an African. He was an African in front of Africans, he was an African in front of Europeans, and Americans, and anywhere in the world. He brought himself as a fully African human being who had something to contribute to sound and your mentality of things — without any concealing of any part of his heritage — exposing an entire sound to the world.
Maybe what these artists share is that particular interest in expressing place and their culture to the rest of the world.
Or maybe there’s no answer at all. Maybe it’s all racist bullshit. Maybe this piece is “about” Mexico because it’s about an aspect of Mexican culture that I, a white person and an outsider, recognize:
Maybe I wouldn’t recognize that some other artist is even Mexican at all. Maybe none of the Turkish contemporary art was Turkish enough for me because I don’t know fuck all about what it means to be Turkish. Maybe I’m looking for carpets and Odalisques and Osman Hamdi Bey. Perhaps this blog will find a way to get people thinking about some of these questions, even if I can’t possibly answer them. In the meantime, I plan to continue posting dorky rants about Korean soap operas and how much I want to go to Uzbekistan. So I hope you like that sort of thing.
P.S. Do you guys want to know about Caravaggio paintings and music festivals and whether the Taj Mahal is worth it or what? Because I can do that, too. I think this is a little more interesting, but maybe that would bring in some more traffic. What do you guys think?