Sunday, November 7, 2010

Underbelly 6: The Experience

There is meaning, expressed in words. And there is experience, which is just that, experience. How do we convey experience from one person to another? Art, you say.

Yes, art.

Here are some words about art.


So, you’re in a strange place. It’s isolated and dark. You don’t know what’s there. You’re on edge. And then you see a creepy-looking figure sitting against the wall. What do you do?

Matt Troy is one of the people who went into The Underbelly Project after it had been sealed up. He went with some police and transit officials (see comment near bottom) and he took some photos, including this one, showing a Mark Jenkins sculpture huddled in front of a Con piece. He remarked that when “vandal squad cops ran into this they drew there wepons and told it to freeze not knowing it was a dummy.” RJ at Vandalog had a similar experience: “Damn you Mark Jenkins! You can’t put a sculpture like that at the end of a darkened hall. I thought it was a person!”

Luna Park (Street Art Photographer)
Stepping into the station was like stepping into a space outside of time. Utterly devoid of light, there was no way to mark the passage of time except for the occasional dull roar of a train in the distance. I had only a flashlight to light my way, yet it only barely cut into the inky blackness of the station. The air was cool and damp. My every step kicked up swirls of the rail dust that blanketed every surface. If it hadn’t been for the reassuring presence of familiar art adorning the walls, I might have quickly succumb to the illusion that I’d arrived amidst the remnants of a forgotten city.
PAC and Workhourse (the curators)

PAC was introduced to the station by an urban explorer, that is, someone seeks out obscure and hidden places in urban environments. He kept coming back to it (from the NYTimes):
The place was pitch black, but standing with a powerful flashlight on a platform, PAC said, he had been able to make out a landscape of several more platforms, each lined with rows of columns, alternating with sunken track beds. The station, about the size of a football field, had clearly never been completed: no track had been laid in those beds, no escalators or staircases met the gaping holes in the platforms, and there was no electricity.

“I would hang out here for hours,” PAC said, enjoying “the solitude of being underground” and the architecture.
PAC introduced Workhorse to the space, and they began planning and dreaming.
But Workhorse said: “There is a certain type of person that the urban art movement has bred that enjoys the adventure as much as the art. Where else do you see a creative person risking themselves legally, financially, physically and creatively?”

In recent years, he said, as the vogue for street art has led to “anything that could possibly appreciate in value being ripped off the street by those looking to cash in,” the old sense of adventure and punk-rock energy has faded. The change isn’t all bad, he said: the runaway market for stars like Banksy has had a nice trickle-down effect for artists like him. But he said he feels strongly that something fundamental has been lost.

PAC and Workhorse saw the Underbelly Project as a way to recapture that feeling and evade the whims of the marketplace. Workhorse called it “an eternal show without a crowd.” (He waved away the idea that there might be something perverse about creating art that normally revels in visibility for an audience of just a few. “We just see it as art, not street art,” he said, adding he had never felt a need to take all his drawings, for example, “and shove them in someone’s face.”)
Us, You and Me

We have to be content with photographs, some videos, and some words. We’re never going down there.

But then that’s how we know most of the art that we know, though photos, perhaps videos, and verbal commentary. The number of people who’ve seen photos of the Mona Lisa is quite large, in the 100s of millions, if not a billion or more. The number who’ve actually seen the painting is rather smaller. And then number who’ve really seen it, smaller still. For one doesn’t really see such a thing by walking past it at an exhibition or even pausing for a minute or three in an art gallery.

So, when we read of The Underbelly Project, and see the photos and videos, what experiences of our own do we call on?

And then there's the arrest experience.

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