The Underbelly Project: Hiding in the Light, Painting in the by Dark Jeff Ferrell

In art, history of art, visual arts on August 19, 2014 at 03:03

From: The Underbelly Project: Hiding in the Light, Painting in the by Dark Jeff Ferrell, Rhizomes,

A few years ago, New York City street artist and artiste provocateur PAC was out doing what street artists sometimes do: drinking. As the night wound down and the drinks added up, a guy PAC had met earlier in the evening asked him if he wanted “to go somewhere cool.” PAC soon enough found himself in a cavernous, never completed, long-abandoned New York City subway station, four stories below street level. “I woke up the next morning feeling like I might have dreamt it all,” PAC remembers. But it wasn’t a dream. It was the beginning of what was to become the Underbelly Project. 

IMG_2254In this sense, the Underbelly Project is, if nothing else, some next stumbling step in the evolution of street art and its relation to the gallery world and the “world in general”—kind of like Australian artist Strafe’s stumbling step over and off a subway platform in the middle of the night, in the dark, while painting in the Underbelly. In fact, the trajectory of art culture right up to the Underbelly can itself be seen as a long drunken stumble, replete with thieving, borrowing, occupying, screwing up, and generally mining mistakes and missteps. Looking back from the perspective of the present, from inside art history books and well-mannered museums and galleries, it can seem like it was all straight and honest and clean: new ideas, individual brilliance, a firm march toward beauty or enlightenment or profit. In reality, the whole thing has been more a matter of picking up the scraps, and figuring out ways to make those bits and pieces into something that matters. Dada artist Hannah Hoch recycling the fashion photographs that crowded her little Berlin magazine office in the 1920s into a confrontation with the horrors of World War I, Trinidadians transforming old fifty-five gallon oil drums into Caribbean steel drum music, hip hop pioneers digging through old records, cutting and mixing James Brown yelps and Clyde Stubblefield drum solos to invent a new form of global music and culture—time and again art’s forward momentum has run on what was around, with the only question being what to make of it. Then there’s Kandinsky, Man Ray, Duchamp, Rauschenberg, Pollock, de Kooning—all artists whose breakthrough works, we now know, emerged out of mistakes and misperceptions, out of cracked printing presses and broken picture tubes (Lovelace, 1996). So as I say, it strikes me that mounting a multi-year, international art project in an abandoned subway station four stories underground, sans legality or audience or fresh air, in violation of the norms of contemporary gallery art and artistic profitability, and with no certain prospects as to what it might become, constitutes just one more gorgeous mistake, one more moment of making do with what’s at hand and under foot, one more stumbling step toward…well, toward what?

Read the essay

Reposted with permission from: Rhizomes


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