Pauli Ochi interviews Uncompromising Tang‘s Editor-in-Chief, Michael Powell: I came across Uncompromising Tang because of Michael Behle’s interview with Erin Rachel Hudak. The concept behind the blog is so simple, smart and necessary. Since ArtBlitz is all about connection I immediately appreciated what the blog was doing and wanted to reach out.
Uncompromising Tang is built upon three basic concepts:
1) Each artist critic must secure the following promise from the artist they review: that he/she will in turn submit a review of another artist’s work and/or current exhibition within one month.
2) No artist may review the work of the person who reviewed them, and no individuals may repeat either as subject or critic within a given one month period. No exhibition space (gallery, museum, website, etc) may be repeated within a given one month period.
3) Posts may include but are not limited to interviews, exhibition reviews, studio vistis, critical essays, photoessays, and video. Variety and surprise are encouraged.
ABLA: What’s your description, elevator pitch if you will, of artoftang.com ?
Uncompromising Tang is simply a stargate or portal connecting artists in the world. We are a digital publisher of conversations between artists, using a pay it forward model to instigate the growth of creative communities. Artists write about those artists closest to them, asking those artists to in turn write about other artists, etc. By talking to artists we know, we eventually come into conversation with those we didn’t know before. There are no permanent contributors, and no singular taste is imposed, so it remains open.
ABLA: Does the site have a home-base of operations?
We are currently running things out of St. Louis, Missouri, USA but the plan is to move back to Los Angeles (Southern California born and bred) within the calendar year. Things are up in the air, which feels great.
ABLA: How did the idea for it come about?
Uncompromising Tang came about as a result of two experiences, or moments of personal clarity. The first was coming out of graduate school and realizing that in a very real physical sense I was losing not just institutional support but my audience—the people who were bearing witness to my practice and who I wanted to make art with and for. And I distinctly remember having a couple formative conversations with some of those people before the world took us back in.
We all kept coming back to one question: “What do we want from art, from making art in the world?” I recently attended a lecture by Alfredo Jaar and he opened his lecture with a similar question that he has thought about throughout his entire career. “How do we make art in a world that is in such a state?” Jaar’s practice speaks for itself, or is at least a phenomenal response. But for me it was more a question of audience. If art and indeed creativity in general, demands a certain level of public-ness, to whom was I going to speak and why? I was in crisis, philosophically as well as emotionally.
In a big way, this crisis had to do with economics and maybe celebrity. I looked around the art world and felt completely disillusioned. I saw an entire field completely obsessed with orientating their lives around ideas and predilections that seemed so antithetical to the motivations that had made me pick up a brush in the first place. Revolutions (even personal ones) have been systematically foregone in favor of a place at court. The dream of money and fame and history (most importantly I wanted to be a part of the latter), which had been such an exciting prospect as a kid, now seemed poisonous, distorted or at least, like Dorian Grey’s infamous painting, to have not faired so well with the passage of time. We all know this story; there is no need to repeat it. But the result of this disillusionment is that I had to rapidly decide for myself the reasons I was making art and what I wanted out of a creatively inclined life.
Like most art-filled nights the evening my friends and I were finally cleaning out our studios we stopped early enough to pick up some groceries, a couple 30 packs of PBR and some wine. Faced with academic eviction for all the right reasons we decided to smoke some meat, prepare various hors d’oeuvres and drink ourselves into the dawn. Like every night with such a blueprint we inevitably began talking about this or that, one man’s practice, another woman’s installations, various inclinations, tastes, and decisions. Poignant points were made and indignant rebuttals were mumbled into mostly empty glasses. And it became fairly obvious between beer five and beer eight that this is what I wanted for the rest of my life, in a very real, very sentimental and very hopeful sort of way. I wanted to talk with these people and make art with them. I wanted my art world to be dedicated to extraordinary conversations with closely connected people, because those were the most illuminating moments, the spaces where we grew as artists, as poets and agents. So the next step was figuring out how to apply an open, inclusive structure or system on top of that hyper-romantic notion. Faced with impending geographic dispersion, we had to figure out an effective way to continue expanding the group while still allowing space for intimacy.
The second experience that led to Uncompromising Tang was one of honesty-or a lack thereof. The question of honesty in art, in artistic practice, is pressing for many of us, but I think institutional honestly has always bothered me. If what I wanted out of the experience of art was the experience of collusion, communication, and elucidation (an experience, even a partial one, of life illuminated in some fashion), then the idea that any institution could provide me with an honest or interesting experience of artists’ ideas or concerns felt ridiculous. I would walk into a gallery or museum and somehow feel elated and cheated all at once. Call it a lack of contestation, call it contextual drought, call it what you want. No one thing is to blame, really, least of all the artists or the color white. But one of the things I loved most about those bleary booze filled nights was my total access to the artists themselves, the personal acknowledgments of intentions, trials, tribulations, and successes. My experience of art with other artists was an intimate one, one of ideas, and one that makes strolling through a museum pale in comparison. Again, this was not any museum’s fault; I had just found a higher grade of crack. That was the selfish addict’s premise: How to create a space for total strangers, the public, to come in contact with art in the most intimate possible way? How do I give strangers access to artists that only their closest comrades have? I want this for myself and for you.
At this time I began thinking about the pros and cons of social networks and about the Internet and I wanted to make sure that whatever network of conversations arose, the Internet remained merely a record keeper. I wanted everyone’s conversations to be actual and physical. So I got one of my friends, Lyndon Barrois Jr., an artist I respect beyond belief, to be my Editor, and together we asked all of our closest and most inspiring artists friends to do something altruistic. We asked them to have a critical conversation with a close artist friend whom they respected and to submit a record of that to us, with the caveat that their friends in turn write about yet other artists, etc. So what we get is a central portal from which to view a potentially huge volume of art in a very intimate mental space. And the best part is that what at the micro level feels initially like a chance for self-promotion actually manifests at the macro-level as a self-sustaining ever-expanding network. People are beginning to discover—one conversation at a time—the giant creative communities that they are already a part of by mapping them on Uncompromising Tang.
I’ve always felt that the artist to artist dialogue is really the most honest and engaging, so kudos to you for giving it a contemporary platform. If you could bring about a conversation between any two artists, living or dead, who would it be?
That’s the hardest question! I mean, the pairings are absolutely endless, but given the hypothetical, fantastical nature of the premise Ill just choose two of my dream teams. I would love to instigate a conversation either between Jochen Gerz (alive) and Marcel Broodthaers (dead) or Bas Jan Ader (missing) and Guido van der Werve (alive). I am hesitant, of course, all of them being/having been canonically established European men (whom are certainly celebrated enough) but that is the honest answer nonetheless. I just think that they would be wonderfully lucid conversations on sincerity, which is a huge concern of mine. True sincerity is very brave and something I find in all of their practices in various forms/stages.
Upcoming interviews you are most excited about? Any LA artists? If not we’ll instigate some for you!
In the next few weeks we will be publishing a post on Santiago Echeverry by Desiree D’Alessandro. Both are Tampa-based New Media artists that do some amazing work. Excited for that. As far as LA artists go, we will be publishing a post by Jennifer Vanderpool soon, which will be epic. If artists you know and love want to be a part of what we are doing, tell them to shoot us an email and we can make something happen. We need all the participation, sharing and support we can get.
Outside of the site, on a completely personal level I am very excited about the Lew Thomas show that is going to be opening at Cherry and Martin as well as the Joel Kyack show currently up at Francois Ghebaly’s new space. Also, a new all-women collective Manual History Machines just put up what I hear is an impressive two-part show at the Curators Lab at FOCA and Claremont Graduate University. (Shout out—if any of you are interested in writing a post we want to hear from you!) Hopefully I will get back to LA soon so I can see all of that.
What are some of your favorite art web sites to visit?
I like anything that gives space to emerging artists, or keeps the definition of art/access to it as broad and open as possible. Booooooom.com is great, and I love what they have done with the Booooooom Network (we want to join!). I also like Brain Pickings, Notcot.org (which allows user submitted posts) and Hyperallergic, which just started a series this month that is eerily similar to our own. UbuWeb is a must (of course). Weirdly (but also not weird) if one plays the “Salt-N-Pepa” Pandora Radio Station with literally any of the videos on UbuWeb, everything syncs up perfectly every time. It’s one of life’s little miracles. It is an almost perfect marriage of content and form and an instant party, which is of course always the goal right?