We typically view the word “ritual” as a very religious, almost snooty, act. However, the word can also invoke a sense of “regularity”: an activity done to simply bring order. It could be as elaborate as ceremonies, but ritual could be about doing simple things: such as cleaning or taking a bath. Our next artist has explored rituals in different ways, such as using toothbrushes as a cleaning utensil or singing to a coyote, to name a few. We are excited to have Rob Andrews to be part of this year’s festival. Upon getting to know his work, the Art in Odd Places team feels this partnership is a match made in heaven.
Who is Rob Andrews and what exactly is he doing for the festival? It involves your feet and something about cleaning. You will know in just a second. I do want to take this time first to let you know about his fund raising project with a great micro-funding site called United States Artists. He is currently asking for your support for his upcoming exhibition soon after the festival. Read it all about here: http://www.unitedstatesartists.org/project/door_work
Now let’s get to know 2011 Art in Odd Places artist, Rob Andrews.
2011 AiOP artists, Rob Andrews
AiOP: Tell us about you?
RA: I’m an artist and teacher based in Brooklyn. My work focuses on enacting rituals and telling stories using my own body and the bodies of others. I steal from tradition, religious practice, and from my collaborators in an attempt to get their stories wrong on purpose in order to make them right in another way. My practice involves personal intervention into the muck of inherited mythology, public actions, and volunteer and forced collaborations. I’ve shown work at the Museum of Modern Art, Exit Art, Grace Exhibition Space, and English Kills Art Gallery in New York as well as in collaboration with other innovative public programs like 40*PHI Art in the Parks.
“Assembly” by Rob Andrews
“Be Void” by Rob Andrews
AiOP: Let’s talk to us about “Gowanus Minotaur”. The imagery is so, if I may say, a little scary.
Gowanus Minotaur photo provided by Rob Andrews
RA:This work was a breakthrough. The Minotaur is part of our character: as Americans, as humans, as brothers, as mothers, as sons, as friends. He haunts us in his impotency and violence. This piece achieved a fidelity to its source even I couldn’t have anticipated. During this work, the Minotaur was meant to be separate from the gallery (a former textile factory), and present only as a specter. The Minotaur was under the main space, chained through the floor to an industrial sewing machine. A three channel video made him visible in the gallery, but the body of the Minotaur was removed – in the labyrinth so to speak. Over the course of the piece however, audience members infiltrated the basement, and threw bottles at the Minotaur, and poured liquor on his body. Someone actually broke an 8 foot florescent bulb over the Minotaur.
AiOP: How did you hear about Art in Odd Places?
RA: I’ve known other artists who have participated in the festival in past years and have kept tabs on it just because it is such innovative and provocative public programming. When I saw this year’s curatorial point of view, I absolutely had a, “That’s what I do!” moment. I’m thrilled and honored that the curatorial staff feels the same way about my project.
AiOP: Walk us through your thought process in creating your piece for Art in Odd Places
RA: I have been building cleaning pieces for ten years. Cleaning is a profound metaphor for human experience. Not only does it have deep formal ritual roots across world religions, it is a notable informal form of human connection. One has one’s feet cleaned at a beauty salon. I clean my children at night, and in doing so honor and protect them. We clean ourselves for absolution. For presentation! We clean to get closer to each other, or to get control.
In 2003 I cleaned the floor of the gallery Exit Art for three months. Roberta Smith of the New York Times wrote of the work, “In a piece that suggests interior reconstruction Rob Andrews has been and will continue cleaning the gallery’s entire floor with a toothbrush, a few square feet each day. His air of meditative concentration contrasts noticeably and nicely with the prevailing sense of bustle and bulk.” My goal is to use this project as a spiritual nexus, invite collaborators from the public to meditate beyond their workaday personal interactions, and possibly experience interior reconstruction themselves.
Cleaning is a beautiful expression of absence as well. I’m attracted to actions like this: that superficially imply subtraction, but that represent metaphysical gain. I’ve cleaned the feet of strangers. I’ve convinced others to allow themselves to be cleaned by strangers. I’ve cleaned my body to the point that it was an open wound and, in so doing, invited threatening infections into it – all to achieve a sort of spiritual purity!
This is why cleaning is so special. It embodies our contrary nature in it’s most basic form. We try to control the things that are out of our control. In a sense, that’s what ritual is: an acknowledgment or our fundamental weaknesses. An appeal. The question is of course: to whom do we appeal and why?
I am going to fill Union Square with forty cloaked figures. The cloaks are black and will extend to the figures’ ankles. The public will be invited to clean the feet of the figures with me. They’ll be invited to do so in English and in Arabic. This is an act of communion. Of preparation for prayer. Of sublimation. Of sharing. Of acknowledgment of difference, but also of sameness. Let us be contrary, but let us find peace in our shared rituals!
AiOP: How is the preparation coming along?
RA: The piece is coming together! For the most part, the challenge in a work like this is building a trusting and courageous volunteer base. This is a threatening and vulnerable act as a “cleanee.” You give yourself over to an intimate intrusion. The trick is finding the strength in that act. Again, we have this lovely paradox: gaining control by giving it up.
AiOP: Where will see you along 14th street during the festival?
RA: We will populate Union Square.
AiOP:What do you hope to bring to the festival?
RA: This festival is happening at the right time in the right place for the right reasons. I have tremendous respect (and awe) for artists and people that multiply themselves and add new layers of self in this digital age. I do it too to the extent that I can thin myself out. Physical ritual however, peels us down to our essence. It reminds us of the catches and traps we had to create for ourselves before we could so easily get answers from the cloud. We need to remember about the blood, the spit, the light! We need to hold hands with one another. We need to cross the barriers that we’re most afraid of crossing, so that we can learn why we were so damn afraid in the first place.
I hope that when the public engages with my work, they let it live inside them. I hope they remember the selves that are compacted inside of them. I hope they live in their memories and the memories inside those memories. We need to touch each other. We need to stop fearing each other.
AiOP: Any message to the people who will be in 14th street during the festival?
RA: Do not be afraid.
AiOP: Where can we reach you?
RA: My personal website: http://www.andrewsautomatic.com/
Vimeo: http://www.vimeo.com/andrewsautomatic/ (or @andrewsautomat)
AiOP: Any final words?
RA: I am so thrilled to participate in Art in Odd Places and to announce that shortly after the festival, my first solo show goes up at English Kills Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn on October 22, 2011. As a 2010-11 Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art winner, I qualified to collaborate with an amazing organization: USA artists, a sort of specialty Kickstarter for fine arts projects.
For the next two weeks (only!) I’m raising money for this show and I have a long way to go. My work is unconventional, ephemeral, and outside of the mainstream. Please consider joining my supporters in micro-funding this ambitious project. Please check out the project, where I show a video that explains a bit more about the project and my work in general: http://www.unitedstatesartists.org/project/door_work – I need your help! You can be a patron of the arts right now!
Every dollar counts, so visit his fund raising page and make a donation. Thank you so much for sharing, Rob. We wish you all the best with this fund raising endeavor