Hey Artists and Art-Lovers out there!
When The Biennial Project Team was participating in the 2009 Venice Biennale, one of the coolest of the many cool folks we met was German-born film-maker Alec Onsemska (seen at left mugging for the camera the day we met him). He's ridiculously talented, speaks about a million languages, and travels the world like a true jet-setter. He's also very insightful about the art world.
As luck would have it, Alec is spending this year teaching film history at Harvard - and recently wrote a super interesting article about the Boston art scene. Even though he wrote it in response to his experience here in Boston - it's relevant to artists everywhere, so we wanted to share it with our readers. So here we go:
An Open Letter to Boston Artists
By Alec X. Onsemska
"So here I find myself, a European artist and art-lover teaching in Boston this winter. I wanted to offer a few impressions on the local art scene from the perspective of a visitor, in the hope that they could be of some use to the multitudes of great artists who call this fiercely gorgeous city home.
Yes, multitudes of great artists and gorgeous city. I know, you're shaking your collective heads now, wondering where I got off the plane, and that's exactly the problem.
Boston artists have internalized the general Bostonian characteristic of trash-talking their own town, and their own art. Now don't get me wrong, I get the tell-it-like-it-is, a-million-stories-in-the-cold-city esthetic that permeates your hard-ass Boston soul, making the display of anything resembling enthusiasm as un-hip as betraying the neighborhood or talking to the cops, and it is one of the many qualities that makes me feel at home here. I am German after all, and we are a people also acquainted with the night.
But really, enough is enough. There is a point where embracing the middle-of-the-night futility of it all passes over from being recognition of reality to causing said reality to suck worse than it does already (something we Germans alas also know a thing or two about).
So, although it's not as familiar as lamenting how the art scene here sucks, and that anything that's worth happening only happens in New York, let's take a moment to talk a little truth about this town that doesn't suck for a change.
To start, Boston is an amazing, one-of-a-kind city, the kind they don't make anymore, what's more, and you know it. That's why you came here or decided to stay.
Everywhere you look is this ridiculously majestic blue ocean, and it's not vapid vacation-land ocean - it's the take-no-prisoners cold Atlantic, with giant tankers approaching and receding on the horizon like dream cities. Talk about your end-of-continent sadness. Boston's ocean is a working ocean, and Boston is a working city - where being the real thing matters, and how. The only city I know of where local boys get rich getting Hollywood to tell its story from the side of the 'townies".
Boston is at the centre of the most progressive region of this country, and has been at the forefront of innumerable important intellectual, social and political movements.
Tell the truth - you didn't have to live here - you could have moved to New York, or la la land, or wherever hip people were supposed to go - but you chose to live here. Not to deny New York it's due, but every not-born-rich person I know who lives there actually lives two towns away or works 3 jobs to pay for their little scrap of paradise.
And the NY art scene, yes, it's cool, cool, cool, but so is the Berlin art scene, and the Peking art scene, and the San Paulo art scene, and undoubtedly a lot of art scenes that most people have never heard of.
Because that's the thing about cool scenes - their key quality is their ability to define their coolness on their own terms. And cool art scenes that exist in the mainstream consciousness are usually not as cool as they are thought to be, because once the mainstream comprehends and begins to absorb them, the independent people start to move on.
For art to be meaningful, we must be truly the avant-garde of society, defining our own terms, rather than chasing advertizing agency notions of hipness. Berlin, once an extremely unlikely art-world mecca, became "cool" because its artists stopped chasing Paris or any other art "centre", and instead spent their time creating art and art communities on the ground where they lived.
Why do I tell you this Boston?
Because of all the places I've visited in the states, you have the most potential to stop chasing the commercial centre and just be great. A great city, with great art schools, where cutting-edge artists live in droves - you have the power to be cool on you own terms.
Among the many artists I love here are the innovators from the Boston-based (yes!) art collaborative known as The Biennial Project - who, by doing a fantastic parody of artist success-seeking at the pillars of official art-dom, and by demanding to know why they (we) are not good enough to succeed, point the way for artists to just get down to work in the here and now.
Their upcoming 2012 Boston Biennial is exactly the sort of project that's needed - riffing on the lure of the 'biennial" world, while placing the carrot right here at home where it should be, and cutting out the "critical" intermediary by organizing an artist-controlled biennial. We need more of this.
Boston, to your places!"