Public art yes no

Sometimes going to a bad presentation could be insightful regardless of me not enjoying it that much. When I sat at the Richmond City Hall to see Instant Coffee artist collective (ic) talk about their work I went through that experience. The Lulu art in the city lecture series has had some amazing speakers in the past and some not so great. Jinhan Ko, ic’s Vancouver man seems to me like one of the worst.

As it happened, not all five artists who make the group core could make it on the scheduled in advance event. The way the Ko explained things sounded kind of absent mindedly oblivious to any expectations from the audience. Well, he did bother to mention where each of the other members happened to be that evening. More than giving a sense of lame excuse it looked like they couldn’t care less about showing up.

Still, most of them are from Toronto. In an effort to accommodate that fact I take this issue as not more than a clumsily handled disclaimer. If the organizers would have been notified ahead of time, the initial awkward introduction could have been avoided.

So what made this presentation worthwhile? The work of instant coffee basically gives a sense of junk and low budget handling of construction. In many cases the colors they work with are bright to the point of being visually loud. The ideas behind their projects are intriguing and probably engaging in a positive way. When Jinhan tried to talk about the work I felt amused and annoyed at the same time: amused for reasons I will try to explain in a bit; annoyed, mostly because it seemed he hasn’t prepared for his talk.

Jinhan couldn’t remember surnames of people he mentioned by name. His talk often halted in an effort to remember and then moved on with a cute’ish gesture of “OK, you got me there… Whatever…”  Occasionally he came up with generalities that make no sense in personal interaction. In front of an audience they could be regarded as dismissible nonsense and occasionally unnecessary offense: “Vancouverites are not so social, I don’t know why”; “Plastic is great”; “You know the curator of the Hamburg Art Gallery? … He’s a great guy.” (The quotes are not accurate)

Some of ic’s taglines are phrases that work as teasers for ads. The group plays heavily with notions of the corporate world we all live in. Their use of words intelligently builds tension between our search for quality and our interest to reach out and accommodate each other. “IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE GOOD TO BE MEANINGFUL”. Yes, I can see the point in that but of course my preference would be to deal with good AND meaningful. When you play with words, anything becomes possible.

But this brings me back to some discussions I’ve had in the past with my dad. On the phone he once inquired whether I was working hard. My honest response was that I was working hard on not working hard. Had he asked me to explain I could have told him. Instead he got angry and our conversation wandered off to other topics. Another time we were riding his car and he was complaining about the rain spoiling his work cleaning the vehicle just a few hours earlier. Again my comment irritated him: “it’s easier to clean a clean car”. He didn’t get it and I didn’t bother to explain.

When ic are providing a title like FEELING SO MUCH YET DOING SO LITTLE my amusement ties directly to my conversations with my dad and other people who were frustrated with me in the past. Sometimes you just know you are right. If the person with you doesn’t understand, it’s a matter of mutual interest to bridge the gap. We don’t always manage to embark on the effort to connect.

My interpretation of ic’s taglines whether this is their intention or not relates to our society’s constant struggle with communication. Growing up in an environment framed with corporate messages that follow us wherever we go challenges our perception of what’s true or false. The natural gap between generations is a daily source for misunderstanding. Cultures continually misinterpret each other. GET SOCIAL OR GET LOST is an example for ic’s success in illustrating the tension we live in.

On the one hand I am in search of connections; my life depends on having a productive exchange with other human beings. On the other, our effort to connect is often plagued with frustrations. My expectations might never be met 100% but they still exist. Many of us, in that journey to connect (get social), run out of steam and disengage (get lost). It’s as if ic is asking us “How simple can we put it up for you?”

You either get it or not. I’ve been drinking instant coffee for years. I prefer espresso.

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