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  • Lea Springstead

Conceptual Art Weekend

This weekend I visited two exhibits by conceptual artists that explored the nature of self-actualization in different ways. Yoko Ono’s “Remembering the Future” at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, NY, and Josh Babu’s Interactive Sculptural Video Installation at Three Phase in Stone Ridge, NY.

I arrived in Syracuse a few hours before the show’s opening, and decided to explore downtown. After walking a few blocks I decided that I did not feel safe walking the streets alone. I’ve been in plenty of cities on my own, but felt uncertain about my safety in this the 5th most populous city in New York State. I wondered how this initial impression of the city would acclimate with Yoko’s show. Did she choose the venue to make a statement? Was she aware of the current state of the city, and thought that an anniversary show would incite hope among the community? Did the museum exist as an insulated bubble?

Since I wanted to get a look at the permanent works on display at Everson, I went to the museum at 4:30pm. A woman who appeared to be in her 50s, wearing a black and silver beaded evening gown was seated behind a table draped in a black table cloth. Open books with sheets of names and signature blocks on it’s pages were in front of her with fancy pens, clicked into the writing position and rested on the book’s pages. Empty and spotlessly polished champaign glasses were arranged on a cocktail table to her left. I explained to her in the simplest terms that I had come for Yoko’s show but that I was interested in seeing the rest of the museum. After receiving a curt reply, something about the special people come in first, and I was welcome to come after their allotted time, I walked back outside and wasn’t sure what to do with myself.

At this point, there was no way that I was going to return to randomly walking around the streets. I had stopped for subpar tacos (draw a horizontal line at the northern city limits of Kingston, NY and a bubble around Woodstock and do not order tacos from anywhere above this line), and while I was sipping my sangria slushy I Googled Syracuse, NY. I found out that Syracuse is statistically more dangerous than 90% of the cities in America, and that I had a 1 in 25 chance of being a victim of crime. To safety kill time, I begrudgingly found the local super mall and went there to use the bathroom and buy a seltzer.

Replaying the events of the day up to this point in my mind sent me down a neural corridor of existential introspection: I went to Syracuse to see Yoko’s show, I did not feel safe on the streets of Syracuse due to the number of people I passed on the streets who were talking to themselves and/or staring at me, I go to the mall because the special people got to have the first look at Yoko’s show which is a collection of a life’s work of antithetical gestures towards the confining effects that capitalism has on the proliferation of consciousness. The mall was pristine, three floors of fashion outlets, chain restaurants billowing out the perfume of exotic barbecue sauce.

“What does it all mean?” I thought.

What are the cultural priorities of the city of Syracuse? Did Yoko miss the irony of her exhibit, did everybody, or is this the status of contemporary art: whenever someone tries to do something collectively positive, they have to do it in front of the back drop of suffering?

Just because a work of art, or an art show, or an art movement cannot unilaterally solve the world’s problems, does not mean that it should not exist, or that it’s existence is offensive. We need all the good we can muster in this world, one piece at a time as it unfolds.

Critically unifying utopian solutions exists in two mediums: fiction and religion. Life, growth, and human evolution are long, slow, soups of processes, and I saw Yoko’s anniversary exhibit as a broth.

Yoko’s work welcomes conscious co-creation of the observer. In this gesture, we all recognize our natural form as sentient artists, and thereby we become self-actualized, awaken our creative collective unconscious, become empowered individuals that make up an empowered society that is not beholden to a centralized authority.

Here we see the end of institutionalization, the end of religion, the end of government, the end of the worship of the artist, and the commodification, restriction, and reduction of their message for the sake of profit.

When I was standing in line to pay the $15 for admission to Yoko’s show, a woman behind me asked me if I thought Yoko was going to be there. I could feel how much of a Yoko fan the woman was, and it felt good to be next to someone who held a deep appreciation and acknowledgement of Yoko’s genius.

The world has demonized Yoko for decades, in part because she was the sacrificial lamb when The Beatles broke up, in part because her work requires a critical lens to understand and most people are not critical thinkers, but mostly I think because she is a woman who does not need validation from others in order to be herself. Yoko does not ask for permission to be what is convenient for the world, so the world (mostly) reacts by demonizing her.

Yoko’s story is archetypal, and can be found in other cultural tales of untamable women. Like Adam’s first wife Lilith who was also self-actualized despite the fact that she was a woman.

Yoko did not show up that night, and I think it is because her work is not about her, Yoko’s work is about people. Yoko's work empowers individuals to wake to the power inherent within their individuality, while cultivating the collective resonance of the spiritual singularity of the universe. A sort of intellectual spiritualism.

The next night in the shire of Stone Ridge, NY, gentle golden light was pouring out of a garage on the corner of Rt. 213. While many more patrons did show up, my prompt arrival ensured that I was at first only one of two guests. A stark contrast between last night's scene at the Everson.

If for whatever reason I had to wait and come back, I would have had no problem walking around the neighborhood. I might have even gotten lost in the blue light of twilight, or fallen into a drop of dew on a blade of grass, or been hypnotized by the symphony of tree insects.

Josh Babu’s Interactive Sculptural Video Installation in Stone Ridge resonated with Yoko’s vision as his work is an example of the budding consciousness of the individual.

A videographer by trade, Josh is used to filming the action, and is limited by the motion and flow of the action that he is filming. At Three Phase, resident artist Josh Babu inverted the narrative of his day job, while drawing on compositional elements of presence from his work as a videographer, and created two conceptual installations that were centered around self-empowerment.

The romantic in me would like to suggest that perhaps this inversion of one's day job, could be one of the methodical escape hatches out of our compulsive participation in capitalism, a popular topic of the evening at both Josh’s and Yoko’s show.

Josh Babu’s central theme to gain control over what he observes draws a parallel to the welcomed participation of the observer in Yoko’s work, making her work, in it's time, prophetic.

Yoko’s vision of a self-actualized collective built upon the action of the individual is prophetically becoming a reality, piece by piece as demonstrated by Josh Babu’s work in a garage on a country road in Ulster County, NY.

Yoko Ono "Remembering the Future"

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