For the purpose of these interrogations, the Museum has developed a series of questions for exhibiting contemporary artists in an attempt to enliven and explore the discourse between the artist and the institution – with specific focus on site, interpretation, relevance, process, and sources.
Michael Conti, whose Don Quixote-inspired absurdist and tragicomic video installation Slapstick is on view in the New Media nook until Sunday, May 20th, joins us for a candid Q&A:
Q: Does your work belong in a traditional museum setting?
Michael Conti (MC): Yes.
Q: Do you think your work gains credibility by being displayed in a traditional museum setting?
Q: Can you describe the “ideal venue” for your work?
MC: I have shown my work in many different venues, including film festivals, gallery and museum spaces, café’s, artist run spaces, people’s living rooms, books and the web. The only criteria that I can think of for an “ideal” space would be one where the viewer had enough time and mental space to engage with the work. The space certainly changes how the work is viewed. The viewer will certainly see the work with a badge of credibility when viewed in a museum, but that is not always ideal either. If you take a work and place it in the ivory tower, sometimes people will automatically assume that the meaning is beyond them. I create work to be engaged with on many different levels.
Q: Do you see your work as self-centered or do you consider the viewer when you create a works of art? In other words, does the viewer matter?
MC: Yes to the self-centered part and No to considering the viewer until the very end. In the initial stages of a piece, I don’t consider the audience at all. My process is very much playing around with ideas or mediums. I try to make something that I can live with. I am my own harshest critic. When I get to a final cut of a video piece, I might shorten or lengthen it for a particular audience. If it’s going to show on the web, the shorter the better. If it is in a gallery setting I might let it run a little bit more. In a film festival I also want to keep it short, considering that the audience is looking at a lot of different work and may bore easily.
Q: What is the ultimate cliché attributed to your work?
MC: I’m not sure how to answer that.
Q: Do you ever feel “misunderstood?
MC: Sure, all the time. I think everyone does. But I don’t feel misunderstood so much when it comes to my art. I try to make work that allows the viewer to finish the piece with their own interpretation. So if someone interprets my work as a commentary on global warming, I’m ok with that. Even if that was the furthest thing from my mind when I made the piece.
Q: Why should people pay attention to your work? What makes you different?
MC:That’s a really big question. Should I start selling myself here? OK, here goes. I’m a storyteller. Story telling exists at the core of every art form from crafts to dance to writing to digital art and theater. This is a big generalization, but I think it’s true 90% of the time. Every artist is telling their own particular story in their individual way. People will always want more stories.
My stories are unique to me. I’m from Alaska. I’m a white guy American of Italian and German decent. I’m a teacher and a contemporary artist. I’m a single father raising two daughters. These attributes combine to form my individual story.
I’m interested in outdoor activities as a metaphor for the struggle that people face within themselves day to day. Some of my work is about individual and cultural identity. Other works deal in the intersection of humans and the wild landscape. I make art in the hope that audiences feel their own experiences and conflicts through my idiosyncratic stories.
Q: Does your art engage with societal issues/controversies/trends?
MC: Yes. Some of my work engages with political issue, such as European colonialism with respect to the Alaska Native culture. I am interested in personal and cultural identity.
Q: Do you consider it among the responsibilities of an artist to provide commentary on society at large? Why or why not?
MC: No. I wouldn’t say that an artist has any responsibility to do anything but make the art they were born to make. Often the audience or critics unfairly place agendas on what an artist should or shouldn’t do. I’m against that.
Q: What is the most indispensable item in your studio?
MC: A Camera
Q: Have you ever taken a major risk within your practice? What was the outcome?
MC: I think that dedicating your life to the arts is a major risk. Every time I show my work I’m taking a risk. I feel it in my chest and in my gut when I stand beside my work. I’m often filled with doubt.
Within my practice – yes. Dealing with race and culture is a touchy issue. A white artist trying to open a dialogue that deals with the aftermath of hundreds of years of oppression, colonialism and slavery, that’s a tough thing to do.
Q: Some people fail to connect with contemporary art because there are no set rules or criteria – beauty for example – to determine merit. As is often said, “anything goes.” When working on a piece, how do you tell if it is successful? Do you have your own criteria that you measure against?
MC: I ask myself:
Is the story sound?
Does it communicate something?
Does it look cool?
Is it the best I can do in terms of craftsmanship?
If it’s a work that rejects craftsmanship, does that make sense to do so or am I just being lazy?
Does it work on several levels?
Could I show it to my family and non-art friends as well as art-informed viewers and stand by it?
Do kids find it interesting?
Do the technical aspects (color, value, composition, sound, texture, etc.) serve the idea?
Does the chosen medium serve the idea?
Is the work ambiguous, or open to viewer interpretation?
And if I answer yes to at least half of those questions, it’s ready for the world.
Also, if I can sit in my studio and look at the work for at least a half hour and not get bored, it’s probably ok.
Q: If you were asked to cite your sources, whatever they may be, what would be on your list?
MC: I’m not sure there’s anything that isn’t a source, but I’ll just make a list and see where it goes.
Logos, advertising, typography and graphic design.
Sports of all kinds- esp. hockey, dog mushing, baseball and football.
Daniel Joseph Martinez
The entire history of art from cave paintings to present
People of all strata in society
*Dear reader, you too can “grill” the artists by posting your own questions in the
comments section. Your question(s) may appear in the next feature of KNOW/NOW.