Friday, November 20, 2009

Research, research, research!

I'm apparently on a world-wind tour of the southeast. I went to bed at 2 a.m. and woke up at 6 a.m. in Durham, had breakfast in Chapel Hill, lunch in Raleigh, dinner in Charleston and now posting this at 3 a.m. in Atlanta. I'm afraid to sleep lest I wake up in Shanghai. 

Despite the hours of travel, it was a most productive night and day. I was supposed to have dinner with Barron last night but after gathering a trove of material from Ann and the library, I needed to sit with it and mentally sort. I stayed up until two in the morning playing with the layout again (Remember - "Scripts are never done, they're just abandoned before shooting".) What I am most concerned with at this point in the game is conversation. I've been re-reading the bios of all the individuals and trying to find out who would be talking to whom in this visual fact based fictional narrative. This line of logic may sound silly, but it's important because ultimately what we're trying to do here is tell a story - one that makes sense to the audience. Though they may not be aware of that on the conscious level, the subconscious will be more than happy to inform them that something is wrong. Once that happens they get stuck in a mental loop trying to figure out what doesn't click instead of diving in and engaging the piece. But more than that, it needs to make sense to me. If it doesn't, the execution becomes a hair-pulling chore because you find yourself trying to illustrate Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky.

The most productive part of the day was my meeting with Kim Cumber at the state archives in Raleigh. This wonderful woman runs the photographic collection and adeptly supplemented my collection of grainy thumbnail portraits with higher-res images. She also alerted me to images of significant scenes and suggested a couple other people (I was in need of more women to profile). I will submit the names to the historians tomorrow via e-mail and see if they pass muster. Thank you, Kim!

Kim Cumber

Before departing Raleigh, I made it a point to stop by the Credit Union building (it was only a few blocks from the state archives). During my meeting with the suits, Michael Spink told me about a commissioned sculpture they had in the lobby and I wanted to see it. The piece is about 40 feet long and ten feet high.

Nice, huh? I was surprised to see who the artists were, but shouldn't have been. Tom Stanley chairs the fine art department at Winthrop University and has been a highly regarded artist and curator for some time now. If I'm not mistaken, I met Shaun Cassidy at McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte. I believe he was an artist in residence there the year after I left and faintly remember having a conversation with him while he was installing a piece on their front lawn. This is the label on the piece:

While looking at the piece, I was struck by a budding rationale behind the credit union's willingness to step in and fund the SOG's missing history project. They get it. What? The importance of funding and displaying art in the public sphere. This subject was on my mind because less that two weeks ago, Mark Sloan, the director of the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art in Charleston, asked me to speak to a political science class about the issue of censorship (gee, I wonder why?). A day later, one of the students, Tiffany Cox, was writing a paper for a philosophy of aesthetics course and wanted to know my take on whether art should be publicly funded and whether these institutions should have some form of censorship. My response:

"I'’ve always found this debate rather ridiculous from a habitability standpoint. The question always seems to pit commerce against culture in the shortfall while ignoring the obvious long-term reality that culture in the form of the arts has a positive influence on commerce. One only has to look at what many consider to be the most vibrant cities and communities to see that the common denominator is the aesthetic values they have chosen to embrace and exploit. If benefits are to be enjoyed by all, then all should share the burden. The only real decision left to be made is how much public financing is enough and into whose hands this responsibility is entrusted. Those placed in charge of a public art policy need to be well schooled in the internal and external needs of the community and insulated enough to place co-operative need above individual desire.

As for the issue of censorship, though a victim, I wholeheartedly believe that any institution - public or private - has the right to censor material they deem motivationally questionable. This opinion, however, is based on the utopian ideal that any elected or self anointed gatekeeper of aesthetic virtue have sense enough to understand that if the work in question displays any ability to ask meaningful questions, then it should have the opportunity to do so."

Apparently, the Local Government Federal Credit Union agrees with me. I can only hope that other institutions and local governments see the benefit and get on board soon.

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