Feature

Kitchen Table Talk 4: Art and the Power to Change Community

Eugenia P. Butler

Participants: Eugenia P. Butler, George Herms, Julia Lohmann, Monica Mayer, John O’Brien, and John Outterbridge

Introduction by Leila Hamidi; transcribed and edited by Leila Hamidi.

The Kitchen Table is a project from 1993 in which Eugenia P. Butler invited twenty-six artists from around the world to have conversations with her over a series of eight meals at Art/LA, an annual art fair held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The project was conceived to “ride on the back of the elephant of commerce” and took place in a secret room that was built in the middle of the art fair. Video cameras captured the conversations, which had loose frameworks or themes, and broadcasted them to visitors of the art fair.

The following excerpt is taken from Kitchen Table Talk 4: Art and the Power to Change Community and is the third in a series of four articles that XTRA is publishing from The Kitchen Table series. It is important to note that these edited transcripts are compressed from conversations that are roughly four times as long. Each conversation is so rich with content, dialog, tangents, anecdotes, and life stories that editing them down for print has proved to be a challenging task.

Talk 4, one of the longest talks, covers a particularly wide-ranging and eclectic territory. To see an overview of all eight talks in The Kitchen Table, please visit www.eugeniapbutler. com. To read my original introduction to the series, please see X-TRA 13.3.


EUGENIA P. BUTLER (EB): The beginnings of these talks are always very hard for me. What I thought I’d do this time is continue the conversation we began outside. I was talking about how I met Julia five years ago when she had come to Los Angeles to do a show called “Bon Angeles,” which opened at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. These nine German artists had come to Los Angeles and I thought: “I want to meet them all.” I went to an opening where I knew they would be and said, “I want you all to come to dinner, or else.” So, I did a big dinner in my backyard with a long table and with as many people from Los Angeles that I loved as I could find.

JULIA LOHMANN (JL): It was a big meeting.

EB: It was a big meeting. About two years ago, Julia invited me to take part in a show in Cologne, which was called “Prototype,” where a group of artists in Düsseldorf invited other artists to come and participate. It was about investigating collaboration. To me, it was also about the power of the artist and about taking our own power; not waiting for someone else to choose you, but choosing yourself. In many ways, the impulses of why I’ve done this [The Kitchen Table] is the need for dialogue—the need for connection, need to create a community—in a city whose geography tends to delimit community and also to create global community, because that seems really important now. You’re really a teacher of mine, Julia, because of how you were doing things. I went to Düsseldorf and I saw this group of artists who had done their own museum. Maybe you should talk about this a little bit?

JL: Well, it was 1983 in Düsseldorf and there were many artists of my generation that nobody wanted [to show]… A lot of museum spaces were closed at the time and those that were open wanted big name shows to get the audience. So nobody was interested in us. It was possible at that time to do shows organized by artists; it was very normal. But we said we want another step; we want [to make our own] museum. Actually, we had two ideas. The first idea was that the critics and the museums don’t show the actual art, so they keep people away from what’s going on today. What they show is at least ten or twenty years old, and they try and make people believe it is of their time. That’s not true, and we wanted to correct it. The second is that we wanted to bring artists’ work together; maybe the painters together, or a painter and a musician, as well as writers. First we did it with local artists, then we had two group shows internationally. From time to time our museum is working and sometimes it’s sleeping. It really depends on the artists.

EB: Don’t you have another branch in Brazil, as well?

JL: And a branch in New Zealand. The one in Havana is a foundation.

EB: And is there one in Pakistan, as well?

JL: Yes, I think so, especially in Karachi.

EB: I like a museum that is “I think so” there.

JL: A very special thing about this museum is that it is partly a complete reality and partly pure fiction.

EB: And you did a book about it, yes? I saw a book when I was in Germany about the building of the museum. It’s this very imposing, very architectural building, which doesn’t really exist.

JOHN O’BRIEN (JOB): Vision.

JL: You have to understand that in Germany in the last decade every town got at least two or three big buildings for museums. You could see that nothing would happen in these buildings later on because the money would be gone by then.

JOB: Wouldn’t you expect that to happen?

JL: Yes, it’s started. So they have these very beautiful buildings…

JOB: …But then the artists will move in and begin to use it as studios. That’s squatting, which is a wonderful tradition, especially in Northern Europe. It will become a great place to have a studio in what used to be the museum that no longer has funds. It’s the same in Italy. They’re going to have these same exact problems. There are these hyper-modern museums that have got the international elite in them. They’ll be able to maintain them as long as there’s a certain economic order, which is already falling apart and crumbling because of the shifts in geopolitical climate. But it’s very interesting because everybody in Italy was speculating: “Gee, what’s going to happen to those? They’ll become the Spaghetti Pasta Museum or the Ferrari Museum.” It will be fun to see if the artists manage to move in first before the Ferrari muffler takes over.

Eugenia P. Butler, <em>The Kitchen Table, Talk 4: Art and the Power to Change Community</em>, ART/LA 93, Los Angeles Convention Center, 1993.

Eugenia P. Butler, The Kitchen Table, Talk 4: Art and the Power to Change Community, ART/LA 93, Los Angeles Convention Center, 1993. Stills from The Kitchen Table Talk hi-8 videos. Courtesy of the Eugenia P. Butler estate. Clockwise, from upper left: george herms and julia lohmann; the group; john outterbridge and John O’brien; Monica Mayer; Outterbridge; Lohmann; Eugenia P. Butler; Lohmann and Butler.

EB: Maybe they should all move in? Maybe that’s more legitimate? Yesterday, I was talking to Felipe Ehrenberg, who squatted a super market in Mexico City. He said he was walking along the streets of Mexico City and then he saw this extraordinary space. He just went in and took it over. And then later there was a fight about it, right Monica?

MONICA MAYER (MM): I don’t know. I thought he actually had permission to do it.

EB: Not at first. In a sense, it astounded me, the audacity. I saw a catalog of his work and there are incredible photographs of this huge studio, of which I was immediately so jealous, and then to learn that he had just occupied it and taken it was very intimidating. And George [Herms], my understanding is that you’ve taken the power many times in terms of the kinds of publications you’ve done. Tell us more, because I don’t know details.

GEORGE HERMS (GH): It’s more about love than power. That’s my weakness. I’ve just always done what I wanted to do. I was taught that you should shoot without fear and shoot your best shot. Don’t wait for the authorities to tell you. Well, this goes back to living theater. Do you know Julian Beck and Judith Malina? In 1964, they had a march in New York up around the Lincoln Center Fountain and Julian got up and said: “Don’t wait for them to tell you it’s okay to write your poems and paint your paintings. Do it now.” So, that’s the spirit of 1964. In 1994, it’s freedom of expression. It’s like saloon doors; every generation kicks those saloon doors open and they swing back shut. When you teach, you have to tell people: “Don’t wait for your chance.” If you’re waiting for the okay or the green light…

EB: You could wait for a long time. And I was just going to move around the table a bit more so we can learn about everyone. One of the many things I love about having John O’Brien as my neighbor is that we are both involved in different kinds of artist-initiated projects. Why don’t you talk about it, John?

JOB: I have been dealing with artist-organized events in the United States and Italy. Each time I do these events where you use community in self-organized capacities, I find there’s an evolution in the way things can be structured. Because I managed to pull off a series of events, I achieved enough credibility where the management at the Brewery [an artists’ loft complex in downtown Los Angeles] allowed me to utilize one of its unoccupied spaces for a period of time. In the past, the duration had been much less, from days to weeks or at the very most, months. This project was structured to be seven months. I wanted to create a structure that allowed for very different kinds of tastes to interact. So, I’m the coordinator and what I did was turn it over to other artist/organizers with only one stipulation: they should include their own work in the show.

[…]

EB: And John [Outterbridge], you were the director of the Watts Center [in Los Angeles].

JOHN OUTTERBRIDGE (JOT): I was.

EB: For twenty years, right?

JOT: No, for about seventeen.

EB: I feel like a TV host right now. But I must say, I know that you’re also our representative for the Sao Paolo Biennale, which is just incredibly wonderful.

GROUP: [Applauds]

JOT: Thank you all. I still do not understand how that came about except it’s good fortune.

EB: Well, we celebrate your good fortune.

[…]

JOT: It’s been close to thirty years that I’ve been involved in community arts. I was sort of forced into it in the 1960s because of all the civil rights activity in the streets. And as an artist, I felt that I couldn’t be useful until I participated in activism. I became part of co-ops that confronted the established institutions like major museums that had no doors open to people like myself. I worked in the Pasadena Art Museum when it first moved into the new building. I had the good fortune of meeting people like Richard Serra and his beautiful insanity, you know? Or talking to Robert Rauschenberg. I worked at the Pasadena Art Museum when the biggest Bauhaus exhibit ever to come to this country came there… I was working part time at the museum, and teaching a few classes, but I had become engaged in the kind of organizations that confronted the boards of directors of museums, even at the museum where I worked. After a period of time I joined other artists like Alanzo Davis, David Hammons, John Riddle, many of the artists that worked with Noah Purifoy. Noah Purifoy was an artist who often spoke of art as a tool for social change. I became a part of a school of thought that said art had the power to be anything that it needed to be at a given time. We were active during an era of eradications and assassina- tions. And it was serious business so we pulled away from the formalized thrust and formed our own wedges that had to be refined in places wherever we could work, hooking up with the so-called poverty action councils and committees.

[…]

EB: Were you educated as an artist? How did you come to be an artist?

JOT: Good question. Whatever education is, I got as much of that as I could get. I struggled to stay in school all the time. I went to the American Academy of Art in Chicago and studied commercial art, but what I enjoyed more than the Academy of Art was the Art Institute of Chicago and I used the libraries. But because I grew up in a large family…

EB: How many in your family?

JOT: Eight.

EB: I’m one of eight as well.

JOT: Being the oldest son, I had a lot of responsibilities for helping my younger brothers and sisters stay in school. So there was always a work role for me. I worked for the Chicago Transit Authority as a train operator and studied all the time as best I could and sent money home to my parents in North Carolina. But I think I really started to know myself as an artist before I knew how old I was.

EB: What do you mean by that?

JOT: [Being an artist is] almost like feeling something that doesn’t fit always inside. It has to always come out, right? It’s like knowing that a song is the greatest thing in the world at a given time. It’s like seeing your uncle sit across the table blowing a blues harmonica and not ever wanting him to stop. It’s being close to a father who refused to work for anyone but himself. That was exciting because I used to help him a lot. He collected junk and brought great toys home. He didn’t just collect things. He collected with selectivity, you know? … And my mother was a sensitive, beautiful person who had all these children and did all this washing all the time. She played the most amazing piano when she had time or wrote poetic gestures and shared that with the children. She was the person who first taught me the difference in the weight of a line.

EB: So your learning came all the way through your life.

JOT: You go to school, but then school is right now. The nurturing of sensibilities is part of your life. Wounded with a blessing. Something you cannot avoid.

EB: That’s a marvelous phrase. It’s quite a picture you paint with words.

[…]

EB: Monica, I want to hear a little bit from you. Monica is the person I know the least about. I know that you live in Mexico City. I invited Felipe Ehrenberg to [participate in The Kitchen Table Talks] and he said: “You must call Monica Mayer.” And he said it with such incredible vehemence. I know you’re an artist, and I’m fascinated by what Felipe told me—that you’re a non-market artist and that you and your husband run an artist gallery.

MM: The gallery is in Spanish called Pinto Miraya, which is “We draw the line.” So we decided to draw the line.

EB: And then you also write for the newspapers, yes?

MM: Yes, and we have a radio program. And I come from the only feminist art group in Mexico. There are only two of us. It’s called Black Hands Dust, which is the remedy against the evil eye. We figure it’s hard enough to be a woman, and a woman artist and a feminist, so we protect ourselves. Our work is usually very humorous. We do performances on television and we do mail art stuff. And we do things that aren’t objects necessarily. For me, my work as an artist is not something other, what I write and do on the radio is my work as an artist. In our gallery, we show work that doesn’t fit anywhere else. Recently, we had women artists making saints to pray to. We have contact with a lot of Chicano artists here, but our attitudes are completely different.

EB: Now, a couple of other people have said that to me. What is that about?

MM: They’re Americans and we’re Mexicans. It’s a different culture. We’re not a minority. Our struggles are different. One of the problems we’re more interested in now is how we’re going to be relating to this country. Take for example the whole thing about multiculturalism and how it’s hitting us in Mexico. I find Americans are trying to understand Mexicans as Chicanos, and we’re not. We’re a totally different culture although there are things between us in common, definitely, and there’s a common thing between Mexican artists and Chicano artists. I relate very much, for example, to the kinds of attitudes we were talking about with the situation in Germany. I come from a country where doing political art is typical. My grandparents’ artistic generation was the muralists. In my parents’ generation, artists tried to change art completely and they taught us, including Felipe [Ehrenberg], who is one of the teachers of our generation, to find other ways in art, but to do it ourselves. In Mexico, there’s the Diego Rivera Museum, the Tamayo Museum, and the Toledo Museum—not so much because artists have these huge egos, but because they’re also the collectors. They’re the ones that are interested in art so they collect and donate it to their country.

JOB: It’s curious, because, as John said, it’s not that I set out to go and be an activist. I was growing up in Italy and it became inevitable that if you were an active mind, you were suddenly sitting on panels that were saying: “We have to go down to the National Museum and tell them they’re not doing anything right.” Suddenly you were down there and involved in this performance and you were thinking: “Uh oh, which way back?”

JOT: Can I talk about one motivation in my young adulthood that made a dent in my heart? I was very fortunate during the Korean War. Most of the young men and women I trained with went to Korea and many of them did not return at all… As I approached discharge and came back to this country, I came back just as the civil rights movement was starting. The second day that I was in the country again, December 29, 1955, I had on a full uniform. I had calluses on my hand, a big duffle bag over my shoulder and memories; memories, and some pain, too. I got on the segregated bus and I was sent to the back of the bus. I had only been back for two days and the only thing I could think about were great friends who did not come back from Korea. They were White, Brown, Black, and Asian. I sat on the bus and I stared, and I cried. And I was made out of bricks. I had thought at that time that we had so much growing to do and that we were not really human at all. Then there was the Montgomery situation, the bus boycott had started a movement. I became an activist and it was so scary because the Black Panthers were trying to get me to join the organization because I was a weapons specialist.

GH: Oh boy, valuable.

JOT: I knew then the most natural weapon for me was my art. I became an artist.

GH: That’s a blessing that you had that many weapons in your arsenal. I mean, one of the weapons was art… We’ve been trying to dismantle the war machine from before that, from WWII and it’s still going on today. It’s been my goal all along to take those weapons and trade them in for a camera. I don’t know if we have the power to change the community, but there’s a hell of a lot of other things you could do besides blow the shit out of each other.

JOT: You can participate in vision.

[…]

JL: I want to ask you what’s community for you [to O’Brien]? What does it mean?

JOB: I think that the most specific answer that I give tends to be that which I organize as opposed to that which I would like to ideally believe in, which is that my community exists as an ideal aggregation of those who share a similar kind of hope that I have—a similar kind of belief in the poetic underpinnings of everything.

EB: That’s interesting. I think what you’re saying is really beautiful and really admirable and at the same time there’s part of me that rebels against that because we have to include assholes into our community as well.

JOB: You know, what you said is really interesting. I think that there has to be an asshole.

MM: I wish there was only one.

EB: I had lunch with Fran Peavey yesterday. She had written a love letter to George Bush and she said it was one of the hardest things she had done, but also the most powerful. And I thought about that when you were talking, John [O’Brien].

MM: I feel this [group at the table] is less my community than the assholes in my own community.

EB: Really? Now why are we less your community?

MM: This is just a momentary relationship (although hopefully not). My daily struggles against the pro-lifers are not here. The guy who heads the pro-lifers is in Mexico, and they’re the ones, and the government, who censor exhibitions and close them. Those are the ones I have to deal with every day.

[…]

JOB: I tend to be of Monica’s mind when I have to make a specific decision. It’s when I make the poetic decision, when I don’t have to be so specific that I can address other kinds of community. What I said before, I certainly didn’t mean to exclude the assholes, because I count myself to be a prime asshole. It’s sort of like unfortunate that was the way I’ve been. But what I meant to say was not to exclude the assholes, but to exclude the mechanisms that tend to subvert the real liberating influences of fluxually poetic work. And those have specific functions and they have absolutely discernable forms.

EB: I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to understand you right now.

MM: Me too, it’s like [trying to understand] the forces of the market.

JOB: For example, bringing students up in a regime that has them looking at PR and calling them art magazines. That is a specifically identifiable function and form, which is absolutely untrue. I can tell you because I’ve written for them. They call the galleries and say, “John O’Brien is really interested in your show. Do you think you’ll take up some advertising this month?” Now the problem is that becomes a form of real currency among students. Who got written up in Artforum? Did you see the cover of Art in America? Did you read Art Week?

EB: Why is it such a question for you? I don’t understand why it is such a question for you. I feel like I’ve been able in my own life to put it aside instead. It seems really unreal to me. It’s not something that has currency in my life.

MM: Unfortunately, I worry that is the art that is going to stay, that is going to be the vision in history of what is, and what was, good art. We have a lot of artists in Mexico who are doing art that looks like art in American magazines, which is very weird because it has nothing to do with the Mexican consciousness.

EB: But we have no control over what is seen as history. What we do have control over is our moment.

MM: Yes, we do. That’s why I started writing. You put out the ideas and someone believes in them. That’s wonderful. You know?

EB: That’s enough to get me writing.

JOB: You have a byline to community if you’re willing to be subservient to idiot editors. It’s not difficult. One of the projects that I’ve been exploring with various people involved in electronic communications is e-mail. In other words, freeing up reactions to art; not only criticism, not calling it this or that, but just reacting to it, whatever. One of the things about electronic media is that it can be kind of liberating if there’s more access. It would be interesting to set up a model that doesn’t have to do with four magazines. It has to do with one hundred thousand different voices and you have to figure out which one you want to go to.

[…]

JL: I would like to start to question the image of an artist and if it’s so important to have a big name.

MM: In a certain way, yes. I think for example, having a name in Mexico and having a reputation for my series—that’s what you [referring to O’Brien] were talking about earlier.

JOB: Credibility.

JL: But “The Power of Art”; I hated your title for this piece.

EB: Good. Let’s fight about it.

JOB: Not while we’re eating chocolate.

JL: There is nothing connected to power in art.

EB: Well, let me define. To me, when I talk about power, power is that of the humanist. I want to talk about an experience that changed my notion of power. About three or four years ago, I flew to New York to see the Velasquez show. And I came out of the show seeing human beings differently because of the way in which Velasquez dealt with human flesh. I came out of this museum seeing human beings as these incredible, powerful divine flesh machines. I think that we have the power as human beings to effect, to love, to do so much in this short span of time while we’re alive. So the power of art, that’s to me what that phrase means. You can still disagree with me. I would love it if you disagreed with me because we would know more about each other.

JL: No.

GH: But see, the power of art in community, that’s the third part and that’s where I’d like to turn the corner a little bit and [think about] the community’s point of view. Communities have many, many problems, but problem solving requires imagination and artists. What’s the tool? The first tool is imagination. It’s like a muscle. It will atrophy if you don’t use it. And so communities need to accept the fact that they have a resource in artists.

EB: That’s true.

GH: There are two places for artists. They’re either up on a pedestal, these god-like creatures, or else they’re on a funny farm—totally bananas. So in my life I’ve tried to be PTA president at my kid’s school. I’ve tried to be in the community just like the butcher, the plumber, the lawyer.

EB: Good for you.

JOT: Another aspect of that for me is that I see the community at times as an art producer without being aware of the fact that art is being produced.

EB: Talk about that.

JOT: For example, a construction site is a performance piece going on as an act of necessity. A young gang member will come and deface a public property and there’s language on the wall. There’s writing on the wall. An opposing gang member will come by and eradicate that. So we look at a process that affects the surface that sometimes gets to be visually very exciting. And nobody talks about it as art or says that it is art. It was an act of the community’s debris and fall out, socially, politically, and economically… Art that we respond to visually as artists is happening around us all the time. We respond to it simply because it’s our nature. It is being produced all the time by the act of society, that whole process of making society a pulsating thing.

EB: Which it is.

JOT: Yeah, it is.

MM: What I might come back to is art education for children, which I promote very much. It’s not just so they become cultured and know about all these artists, but precisely because learning to develop their imagination and creativity is as important as having physical education classes. I don’t know what arts education is here, but they’ve eradicated it completely from the schools in Mexico.

EB: Same here, as well.

MM: And I think there’s a political motive [to having] people that don’t think. Some people are lucky not to lose that given the education system.

JOT: Precisely. What you’ve said is that art has a way of nurturing individuals. It builds individuals and sometimes individual dispositions simply don’t fit into the program.

EB: Most of the time they don’t.

JOT: And I think that this is why art as an educational act is so important to children. Because it gives to the child the power of self, the power of vision. They’ve already got the ability to trust. Children do have that in a very beautiful way and they don’t have a problem examining and using a mistake. And they’re prime artists, naturally.

GH: Two-year-olds are natural sculptors.

JOT: Good grief.

GH: To every material.

EB: Do you have a two-year-old?

GH: I’ve had several. Yes, I’ve studied under every one of them.

EB: Well, along with that, when you talked before, Julia, I thought about something you said when I was in Germany that delighted me and shocked me. You said, “I’m thinking about not being an artist any longer.”

JL: Did I say that?

EB: It was so curious to me because I was so excited by what you were doing. I was enlivened with so much hope to see you making this wonderful work and being successful when I was at a point of feeling very disempowered and unsuccessful myself. And so I thought what a fascinating [thing to say]… It shook me. It was like a Zen statement. But it’s also about walking away from constantly questioning who you are. Do you remember saying that at all?

JL: I don’t remember saying it. Although I think it’s important from time to time to step back and look at what you’re doing and make a decision, to reflect. It’s a question that I’ve had before. Maybe it’s not all that important to have a name for an artist…

JOB: This is not directly pertinent to the discussion, but I’m really convinced that when all of these people that have been trained in art school get out, they’re going to become these wonderful generalists if it all works out well. They’ll be doing weird things like figuring out how to rig up retrofitting lighting systems in houses that no longer have walls. There’s not going to be a place for them in the “art world” if it continues to be a hegemonic power. But on the other hand, it will be really interesting to see what they do. They seem to have an amazing degree of flexibility in the way they think about things. So they may start saying, “I’m not interested in selling a painting for ten thousand dollars, but I really want to figure out how to get this place colorful,” or whatever other weird problems come up. I hope that the historical task of somehow accumulating a culture’s identity continues and that those people will have a special possibility.

MM: You know, the definition of “What is an artist?” has a lot to do with this. I find that very often I’m trying to come to terms with everything I do as part of my artwork. Because it’s very wearing, you know? Am I a writer, or am I a gallery organizer, or am I what? People don’t take you seriously as an artist if you do many things. But if a doctor writes and a doctor runs a hospital, he’s still a serious professional.

JL: This is all the twentieth century.

JOB: They somehow identify the specialized function of art as being a specialized activity, and they’re two different things.

GH: Well, ostriches are very specialized. They put their head in the sand. That’s a very specialized activity. I come from an era when people got up and they wrote a poem or they painted a painting or they made a film and it was all just called works, and there were no names. Everyone was just called “Man.” “Hey, Man, what’s happening?” And it was a meritocracy. It didn’t matter your sexual preference or anything. It was the talent that came out of the instrument. So I was very blessed. I was tutored by poets and painters. I think that can come again, and it will probably be electronic.

EB: I don’t know. I still think there’s an incredible power to the handmade object or human as human beings.

MM: I wonder about that. I think that you’re still working with your hand in a way when you’re working with electronic media.

EB: I’m not saying that the electronic media has less power, necessarily. But in my experience, I find that the things that hold me the longest and take me the furthest are usually handmade objects. There is a deep primitive primeval magic for me in the way we take our own two hands and we make something of it that can transport another human being, that can make a spiritual transaction and remind us that there’s more than this.

MM: But you’re separating the brain and the hand again and I don’t think it’s true.

EB: How am I separating?

[…]

GH: It doesn’t have to be either/or.

EB: No, it doesn’t have to be either/or, absolutely. Thank you, George. Whoa, I climbed out of that hole.

JOT: Yes, I think it doesn’t have to be either/or. Everybody has hands, but everybody does not utilize their hands in the same way. And I think great hands have unique minds attached to them that indicate to them what they might do… When we’re at play, that’s when we do precisely what we want to do; that’s when we are completely human. I think that children create a great example of the importance of creativity through the way they create laws that corral this whole concept of play. This is why artists sometimes are written down because they’re these people who seem not to be at work.

[…]

MM: I don’t take it seriously because I have so much fun doing the things I do. I wouldn’t give it up. I was thinking about what you were saying about not being an artist anymore. I sometimes go through it. Because it’s very difficult, because I have to work at something else, because it’s not recognized. I get treated much better when I’m thought of as a writer or an art critic than as an artist. As an artist it’s not very easy.

JL: No, I know.

[…]

JOT: I used to feel very sad at times when someone would come up to me and say, “Are you still doing art?”

GH: Get a job.

JOT: Especially when I was working for so long for the city and not with a monstrous salary… Most of my days started at around six o’clock in the morning. A lot of times I would go there so early to make sure that the grounds were all squared away before the public would start to come… And one morning in particular I got there early and I saw down by the Watts Towers a black blanket lying in the sidewalk. I don’t see too well sometimes and it was early, so I walked down there and there was a lone woman lying on the sidewalk nude, and the dew was on her from the night and everything. She seemed dead. And I thought, should I touch her? I didn’t know. You know what I mean? Then I [saw that] she seemed to be breathing. I woke her up and got her up. Here is a young woman who was about twenty-seven years old who is a junkie and she is strung out and she lives in the streets and she’s brilliant, right?… I called up whatever service I could to get her to the hospital. And while we waited, she told me some stories. That was the kind of drama that I will never forget.

These kinds of things gave me an opportunity to examine myself. I mean, how brave am I as I live in the world? How much can I subject myself to [in order to] survive? How many stories can I hear from somebody like this that tell me all the time that the whole notion of how we live is very hard?

EB: I think that’s really central, John. I think that how we live is ultimately our art and is our power and is how we communicate and is how we learn from each other and it is how we teach. And I think that’s a really wonderful note to call this to a close. Because I think that ultimately is our power; our human power. Thank you all so very much.
Eugenia P. Butler was a Los Angeles-based artist who played a formative but often overlooked role in the Conceptual art movement. Her early text-based works, such as Negative Space Hole and A Congruent Reality, were conceived of as invisible sculptures that prompted the activation of the viewer’s imagination to complete the piece. Aside from an eight-year pause in art making, when she moved to South America to raise her daughter and study shamanism, Butler had a prolific career that spanned over forty years. After returning to the United States in the early eighties, Butler resumed her studio practice with a focus on physical objects, including drawings, paintings, sculpture, and furniture. Beginning in 1993 with The Kitchen Table Talks, Eugenia also developed public dialogues as part of her practice. She was an integral member of the Los Angeles art community and a mentor to many young artists.

Leila Hamidi is an artist and writer living in Los Angeles. She was profoundly influenced by her mentor, Eugenia P. Butler, who impressed upon her the value of collaboration and a deep curiosity for all disciplines. Her interests outside of fine arts have lead to positions with Taschen Books and the Los Angeles-based architecture firm Johnston Marklee. She is currently working as a project assistant for Pacific Standard Time, a Getty initiative to explore the postwar art history of Los Angeles through a network of over sixty partner museums and institutions that will culminate in a series of citywide exhibits starting October 2011.

George Herms is recognized—along with Ed Kienholz, Wallace Berman, and Bruce Conner—as a leading figure of California Assemblage. Coming out of the Beat Generation of the 1950s, his work is a poetry of found objects that combines aged, stained, and rusted detritus, always rubber stamped with the four letters, L-O-V-E (the E printed backwards). His early works, which date from 1957 and after, are in museums and private collections. Today, Herms continues to produce innovative work, from installations to sculpture to wall pieces. His collages will be featured in an exhibition at Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica from December 3, 2011 to January 14, 2012. Herms will also be featured in corresponding Pacific Standard Time museum exhibitions, including “Greetings from L.A.: Artists and Publics 1945–1980” at the Getty Research Institute. Edited exerpt from: http://www.craigkrullgallery.com.

Julia Lohmann was born in Dorsten, Germany, and studied at the Staatliche Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf, Germany, between 1971 and 1978, with Professors Joseph Beuys and Erwin Heerich. She lives in Berlin and Düsseldorf, where she was active in the local arts community in the 1980s and 1990s. Since that time, her work and exhibitions have been increasingly international in scope. Recently, she was an artist in residence at the Cité International des Arts, Paris, and at Centre D’Art-Marnay Art Centre, France, as well as visiting professor at the College of Contemporary Art, Tianjin, China. Recent exhibitions include: “Time Place Person,” Shanghai Xuhui Art Museum; “Back Off China” (with Marcel Hardung), Stadmuseum Hattingen, Germany; and “The Great Pan is Dead,” Museum für Europäische Gartenkunst, Düsseldorf, Germany. Edited excerpt from: http://julialohmann.com.

Monica Mayer is an independent cultural agent. Her practice includes the production of art (performance art and digital art), its analysis (she has published several books and had a weekly journal column for twenty years), teaching, and cultural activism. With Maris Bustamante she founded the feminist group Polvo de Gallina Negra in 1983. Since 1989, Mayer and Victor Lerma have directed the Pinto mi Raya art project, which carries out actions and performances aimed at the Mexican art system. It is one of the most important archives in contemporary art in Mexico. Since 2009, Mayer has directed the Permanent Feminist Art Workshop.

John O’Brien, who was born in Sagamihara, Japan, into a military family, works as an artist in sculpture (studio and public art), installation, and drawing. He creates site-specific artworks for gallery exhibitions and public sites. He recently completed public art projects for several libraries and parks in the greater Los Angeles area, including the Lorcan O’Herlihy Habitat 825 in West Hollywood and the urban plaza at Judge John Aiso Street in downtown Los Angeles. O’Brien has an MFA from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles; an AA.BB. from the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma, Rome; Magistero from the Istituto Statale D’Arte di Urbino, Urbino; and Master Printer from the Calcografia Nazionale (National Etching Institute), Rome, for drawing and printmaking. Aside from his work as an artist and educator, he has been involved in curating and organizing art events (since 1989) and art writing (since 1984). He considers these activities to be part of his overall participation in the arts and views this task as both disseminating and clarifying ideas and concepts embedded in the contemporary arts paradigm. Edited excerpt from: http://theoffendingadam.com/author/bendallobrien/.

John Outterbridge
is widely acknowledged as a sculptor and installation artist affiliated with California Assemblage, but he is equally well known for his work as a community organizer, particularly as the director of the Watts Towers Arts Center from 1975 to 1992. Outterbridge has been highly influential for generations of artists, both for his sensitive approach to materials and his commitment to activism. He was born in 1933 and moved to Los Angeles in 1963, after completing art school in Chicago. In Los Angeles, Outterbridge began a socially inflected sculptural practice, using ordinary and found objects as the basis for his work. His creative community of important African American artists in the city included Melvin Edwards, Senga Nengudi, Noah Purifoy, Bettye Saar, and David Hammons, among others. He collaborated with multiple communities throughout the city. His contributions to the city’s cultural landscape extended beyond his studio practice, and in the 1970s he became focused on advocating for African Americans and African American culture in Watts. Edited excerpt from LA><ART press release.

Further Reading