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We come to you from San Francisco's Exploratorium, where we met with artist-in-residence Zarouhie Abdalian. For her assignment, she wants you to focus on boundaries and the relationships between the spaces they separate.

Sarah Green then discusses conceptual artist Michael Asher, who asks us to question the invisible boundary that art institutions create.

1. Find two spaces that share a boundary
2. Do something to highlight or alter the relationship between those two spaces
3. Document it in some way and upload using #theartassignment
4. Fame and glory (your work might be in a future episode)

Find out more about The Art Assignment and how to submit your response:
(PBS Digital Intro plays)

Sarah: We are at the Exploratorium today in San Francisco, a fantastic museum of science, art, and human perception.  They have an artist in residence program that brings in all sorts of creative minds to develop projects for the broad public that visits here.  One of those residents is Zarouhie Abdalian, who's originally from New Orleans, but who now lives not too far from here in Oakland.  Her work is minimal, almost invisible in many cases, but even so, she's remarkably good at altering one's experience of a space.  Her subtle interventions have involved a window lined with mylar that quivers at varying frequencies, a vacuum sealed cube with a ringing bell inside, an installation of mirrored surfaces and the sound of voices at the New Orleans African American Museum, and an installation of brass bells on rooftops in downtown Oakland, programmed to ring simultaneously and bring awareness to the city's center.

Zarouhie's work thinks about what happens between a given space and the people who interact with it, making subtle shifts to what is already there.  We're here at the museum before it opens, and we've got to hurry and talk to Zarouhie before it fills with people. 

Zarouhie: I'm Zarouhie Abdalian, and this is your Art Assignment.

(TAA Intro plays)

Zarouhie: The Exploratorium is a place where, as a visitor, you're invited to engage in processes as a way of learning, and it's a place for processes to take place.  These two things were, you know, really exciting and also kind of new for me.  I wanted to try and make a work that would respond to that type of context.  I mean, I purposely choose, like, kind of unremarkable features of sites to work with and unremarkable materials so that the work isn't so far out of the everyday experiences of the viewer that it's only--only art, I guess, in a way. 

You start in this building, it's in Kunst-Werke, which is a museum, and you can kind of hear the sound component when you enter the museum in the staircase, but it's all the way at the top of the staircase, so you faintly hear it in your moving through about three floors and using that stairwell, and when you reach the top of the staircase, you're presented with an open window, a decoy owl, like the kind that you use in your garden to keep away the birds, ostensibly, and the recording, which is a German lead by Schubert, and it's very beautiful soprano singing about longing for the night and then you have this owl, that of course, also flies at night.  It's a little funny 'cause it's a plastic decoy, you know, sitting in this window, the window's open to the panorama, to the outdoor space, you know, to this Berlin view, so you have this view that the owl's sort of guarding it, keeping certain elements of the outside out.

Your assignment is to first find two spaces that share some of boundary, and then do something to highlight or alter the relationship between those two spaces by reconfiguring or activating that place where they meet.  Then, document it in some way and send it in. 

There are so many interesting directions to take this one, but I really like the first idea you had, John, about the horizon line.

John: Yeah, I think the horizon line is like, the ultimate boundary between, you know, land or sea and sky and like, the ultimate human boundary. 

Sarah: Right, and it's represented in so much art.

John: Yeah.

Sarah: But Zarouhie's work is really firmly rooted in minimal and conceptual art in the 60s and 70s and I mean, I immediately thought of artists like Jo Baer whose hard-edge abstract paintings sort of think about the edge, the boundary of the canvas, or Eva Hesse's masterpiece, Hang Up, which can be seen as a meditation on the boundary between painting and sculpture.

John: Ehh, if we're not gonna talk about 19th century landscape painting, which I would really enjoy, but I understand may be not your thing, I was wondering maybe about like, Fracis Alys, that piece, The Green Line, where he went on a walk and spray painted the old armistice line between Israel and Jordan.

Sarah: That's true, but I'm gonna stick to my direction here.  I wanna talk about Michael Asher, because he was really brilliant in sort of bringing out the invisible boundaries that art institutions like museums and galleries create that heavily inform our experience of art.

In 1970, Michael Asher created a work at Pomona College, where reconfigured the galleries into two triangular spaces, joined by a narrow pass-through, and he also removed the doors to the space, leaving it open 24 hours a day.  Technically, there was nothing in the gallery, but your experience was altered dramatically by his intervention, which created a stimulating environment of shifting light, air pressure, and the sound of the street outside.  In 1974, he had another show at Claire Copley Gallery in L.A., for which he removed the partition wall that separated the exhibition space from the office space, exposing the usually hidden day-to-day transactions of the gallery, which is, of course, a commercial business.  While in both cases, the galleries might have looked empty, they were, in fact, full of questioning, thoughts, and prompts.  Asher was associated with an approach called Institutional Critique, which asks us to question the forces that shape the production and consumption of art.  His critical act was the removal of boundaries, prompting visitors to think about the borders, visible and invisible, that instruct and inform our experience of art. 

Zarouhie: Something I've used a lot is this window space of any building as a shared boundary between it and the outside, so any type of threshold like that is a good place to work.  It could be your front door or it could be, you know, some private business and you know, just outside their door.  It could be a boundary that's a little bit less visible, for instance, like a city plaza, you know, a space within a city or a space within a park that maybe one piece of it, you know it has a different use or different people going to it or you know, something interesting that happens there that doesn't happen just right outside, but I think it can also occur within an object itself, like you know, a box has boundaries, you know, and something different might happen inside of a box than what's happening outside of it.  I think when you're thinking about the space, it might be interesting to think about two spaces that maybe have some sort of contested relationship where there's some tension between the space, however you want to define 'tension'.


Um... You can cut some of that out, but...

Sarah: It's good.