From The Book of Sam, Part 3:
Jam ‘n’ Jelly
(parenthetically bracketed, edited, but no, not exhausted)

Date:    Fri, 28 Feb 2003 16:17:48 +0100
Subject: Jens for Benjamin
From:    Jens Hoffmann

Dear Benjamin:

My name is Jens Hoffmann, I am one of the co-curators of this years Prague Biennial. I got your email address from Melissa Longenecker who is one of the artists I selected to participate in the exhibition.

For the exhibition we are working on a publication that will feature several texts by the curators about the idea of the project as well as texts and interviews with/about/by the artists. For my section I asked each participant to give me the name of a person close to them that I could interview about their work. The idea is very simple: Since the concept of the Biennial is based on the idea of Center/Periphery I am trying not to center on the artist and interview him/her but someone close to him/her, from their personal periphery. The artist will be be the center of the conversation but at the same time not.

Please find enclosed a short outline of the section I am curating and some of the thoughts that I have developed around the overall theme of the exhibition.

These are the three questions that I would like to ask you about Melissa. Please try to answer each question with not more than 150 words. It would be nice if you could also send me a line explaining in which relation you stand to the artist.

Many thanks for taking the time to participate in this interview!

Best wishes,
Jens Hoffmann

At the address above (or just go to ASTROTURF 3 on this site) you can read the version of these answers as edited by The Center. Here is what The Periphery really had to say:

1.    How did you get to know Melissa and where? How long do you know each other? What is your relationship?

We met a decade ago in one of the former Spanish colonies. I had run my truck out of gas and she helped me get some. In reciprocation I bought her some beers and we became friends. My relationship to her is almost like that of a family member, as I have developed an intense interest in her work and wish very much for her success. Sometimes she calls me uncle. You could say our relationship is itself a model of center/periphery: she is frequently in my thoughts, yet we hardly ever see each other. Several years ago, during a party at my house, she saw a gravestone rubbing in the bathroom.  The only word carved into the stone had been someone’s family name, “HELLO.” A few months later she was in that room again and surreptitiously left a found printer’s linoleum block cut with the image of a telephone.

2.    In which way do you think does Melissa's work relates to the thoughts around my section for the exhibition?

The moment you try to pin Melissa’s work down, it steps sideways. That is to say it moves laterally, not literally. Perhaps in paradoxical relation to this, her piece, The Great Wide Fluorescence, takes the issues you refer to head on. The proliferation of goods and information in some parts of the world and the total lack of their distribution in others is case in point. This piece highlights not only waste and greed, but also the beauty of products and packaging and the up-all-night grandeur of availability that is typical in the United States. In this way her work is the margin indicting the center, but it also turns this dynamic inside out by undermining itself --- the pristine master tape is subjected to multiple dubs during the projection, and is seen to deteriorate and have the same limited shelf life as the mass-produced items that are its subject.

3.    Where do you think art as a practice is placed in society, in the periphery or rather in the center? Where should it be?

Seeking to define the location of artistic activity is like taking aim at a painting with a high-powered rifle --- you don’t need the distance, the magnification of the scope, or the defining bullet. You don’t even need the painting. I concur with the notion that the locale of the artistic pickup truck should be in flux, a function of the artist’s actions, whatever they may be. Each artist, as an indeterminate cultural moment, decides (without deciding) what constitutes cultural integrity. Hybrid and Translation are just as valid as indigenous approaches. Anything that smacks of didacticism or the absolutist position should be avoided, regardless of origin. Authenticity finds many forms and does not necessarily need to be homegrown or even social in nature. It will become so. The esoterically creative individual can be celebrated 24 hours a day --- we don’t need to wait for the parents to go to bed.


The Peripheries Become The Center
1st Prague Biennial

Artistic Coordinator: Helena Kontova and Tomas Vlcek
Curatorial Team: Sarah Carrington, Joshua Decter, Laurence Dreyfus, Jacob Fabricius, Laurie Firstenberg, Julieta Gonzales, Mika Hannula, Sofia Hernandez, Jens Hoffmann, Raimundas Malasasukas, Chus Martinez, Marco Scotini, Barbara Steiner, Adam Budak

Dates: 06/27 - 08/31/03
Opening: 06/26/03
Location: National Gallery

Section: Jens Hoffmann
Title: ‘My Center Is Your Periphery And Your Periphery Is My Center’

Selected Artists:

- Trisha Donnelly
- Natascha Sadr Haghighian
- Federico Hererro
- Tim Lee
- Melissa Longenecker
- Mark Roeder
- Cinthya Soto
- Ron Terada
- Joao Mode

Section Concept:

The notion of the periphery has been widely discussed in the late 20th Century and been most often linked to debates around Post Colonialism (i.e. Homi K. Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, Edward Said), reflections on political and economical globalization (i.e. Antonio Negri, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Paul Krugman), urban sociology (i.e. Sasskia Sassen, Mike Davis) or studies connected to cultural anthropology (i.e. Frederic Jameson, Marc Auge, Noam Chomsky). What remains is the understanding that the concept expressed in the “center/periphery” dichotomy has been in a state of change and became increasingly irrelevant due to global migration and nomadism, information technology, mass media, the internalization of economy and globalized culture.

Today we are, as the London based cultural critic Sarhat Maharaj recently described it, “beyond the demand of assimilation, beyond absolutist notions of difference and identity.” This new international space became, over the course of the last decade, the meeting ground for a “multiplicity of tongues, visual grammars and styles” a situation Maharaj calls a “scene of translations.” The discussion around those “translations” and other hybrid cultural forms, however, is regarded with great skepticism in respect to the question whether their rise is a positive synergy or rather a negative mutation of cultural particularities.

By presenting work of artists that are coming from places that directly express the ambivalence of the terms “center” and “periphery” and their relative condition, this section of the Prague Biennial aims to go beyond the rather commonplace fear and uncertainty and proposes to look into the creative potentials this development might have. My Center Is Your Periphery And Your Periphery Is My Center believes that we are beyond debates that surround the post-colonial, the social/cultural Diaspora, Issues of marginalization, and the Hegelian dialectic of the master-slave. This is not to say that such issues become unimportant - they are still highly significant and need to be discussed, but as artistic imperatives they have developed the danger of being limited, didactic or moribund.

My Center Is Your Periphery And Your Periphery Is My Center is an open unrestrained mix of emerging artists from around the globe for who issues of racial, sexual, political and social identity become an optional reference but not necessarily an unalterable doctrine. With this, notes on the social are implied but never made explicit to make us understand that visual art is only a string in the web of global culture and interdependent with the social-political developments within our everyday life.

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