A conversation with TIM COLLINS and REIKO GOTO

on the Interactive Art Conference on Arts Wire
August 1995

Judy Malloy
This month, Anna and I are very pleased to have the opportunity to talk to an artist couple whose installation work is often interactive although it is usually not computer based - Tim Collins and Reiko Goto. Tim and Reiko have (separately and together) created a substantial body of projects, installations and other kinds of art works that examine issues of the environment - water, animals, habitat, national boundaries - often in a public art context.

In the past ten years or so, their work has enriched and expanded the Bay area art scene. Some of the things I remember:

A collaboratively made wonderful huge wooden cask at the Richmond Art Center - redolent of wine smells and the sounds of crickets chirping. You climbed a ladder and looked in.

Reiko's garden of plants that attract butterflies at Yerba Buena Center.

The thousands of white origami cranes that she suspended from the ceiling of the SOMAR gallery.

The simulated rat cage she installed at SFAI. Viewers walked in and experienced a rat's life first hand.

A joint installation at Southern Exposure. Tim's work was installed upstairs. Reiko's downstairs. It is walking up the stairs and into Tim's water-laden environment that sticks in my mind. This summer they have been working on:

A project of and about the Brooklyn Waterfront between Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek


LATENT AUGUST; The Legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

They are currently Visiting Assistant Professors of Art at Carnegie Mellon University.


Welcome Tim and Reiko. It is excellent to have a chance to talk with you about your work. I'm posting parts of your proposals for Liquid Evaluation and Latent August in the next two responses in this topic.

A Liquid Evaluation of the Waterfront
A project of and about the Brooklyn Waterfront
between Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek
Developed for and funded by Creative Time for the "Art in the Anchorage Program".

By Timothy Collins and Reiko Goto
Enter through the hole in the fence, ignore the no trespassing signs. A Liquid Evaluation of the Waterfront is intended to incite curiosity, provide a few tools to combat the prevalent notion "there is nothing there" and hopefully encourage each and every individual that enters the space to consider their own "PUBLIC RIGHT" to access their river!

Waterfront properties are too often auctioned off to the highest bidder and become nothing more than potential view portals for overpriced real estate owners that never physically interact with the water. The East River is currently cleaner than it has ever been, significant birdlife both indigenous and migratory have returned. There are endless miles of empty buildings and piers, the remnants of tidal creeks, estuaries and wetlands provide potential for small harbors and a return to the historic practice of affordable boating on the rivers.

The Cardboard extruded map
As you step through the hole in the fence, the first element is a small scale cardboard extrusion of the land/water-scape between Gowanus Canal and Newtown creek. The implication being that you are -in- the east river. Run your hands over the piers and docks, probe the inlets. On the surface is bottles holding the maligned but ever present "Tree of Heaven" (Ailanthus). Considered a weed, a closer look however reveals a modern invasive that was once prevalent before the ice age! Highly esteemed in different cultures around the world; principal food plant to the very large and beautiful Cynthia moth larvae and often the sole indicant of the power of nature in the city.

The Terrarium
Further into the space on the left is a glass box with a clear plastic helmet inside. Crouch down carefully and view the project from the inside. The sound of water, and Reiko's voice admonishing you quietly that "there is nothing there" despite the fact that your viewing a miniature moss garden, the beginnings of a natural foothold along a constructed shore? Pursuing the notion of "being in the east river" implied by the map......you are physically emerging from the water.

On the outside, your actions have activated a light revealing to your companion or maybe a stranger a text visible in water droplets of the Laws of the State of New York Pertaining to Tidal Wetlands. Laws, like this experience are meaningless without somebody to activate them.

The Cart
The final element of the project, is a wooden cart, filled with water, two separate video images are projected on a screen in the middle. Is the cart coming or going? It's hard to tell, the video images alternate between a video tour of the area between Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek and a textual piece that addresses basic water law and public access rights as delineated by common law.

A Liquid Evaluation of the Waterfront is intended to raise questions, provide an alternative view and hopefully get you talking amongst yourselves about the myriad possibilities this much maligned ("it's industrial....nothings there!") stretch of water front provides. During our boat trip, every imaginable access point was filled with people on a hot summers night. Fisherman, boys swimming, families enjoying the cool air linked arm and arm. We provide a variety of documents for your perusal.

When asked what we do as artists, we always pause and say "We have an active sense of curiosity......Tim's is driven by water, Reiko's is driven by animals and habitat.." We hope our Liquid Evaluation has incited some curiosity in YOU!


Timothy Collins & Reiko Goto
A project proposal for:

LATENT AUGUST; The Legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Two adults from two cultures as they say "Two Great Nations". Victor and vanquished. One generation removed from the big war. One grew up in a culture that felt defeat, and some remorse for aggressive militaristic behavior. One grew up in a culture that alternatively disdains and celebrates military solutions to political problems. One individual sees the political and economic culture of weapons systems as the worldwide legacy of the "great" destructive act. The other sees 50 years of yearning for peace, a passive need not yet brought to life.

"The Kelvinator Pact" A cryogenic solution to excess national pride Our plan is to explore the meaning of national boundaries. The project will consist of three main elements, and a small table and chairs for viewer comfort.

- A large map of the world. We will carefully erase all vestiges of nationalism on this map. Land will become defined by water. All indications of nation-statehood, or resource dominance will disappear.

- 191 panes of glass. On each glass is written the name of a country in a vapor sensitive chemical. To reveal the name, the viewer must breath heavily on the glass. Otherwise it seems transparent. On the wall wooden majority of the glass. Passively reflecting the viewer and providing an opportunity for intimate interaction.....the act of breathing and handling the glass will define the work.

- An aging Kelvinator refrigerator will be specially prepared to hold the glass panes imprinted with the names of the most active military nation/states. The major arms providing nations, the "pillars" of the free capitalist states as well as the remaining major communist state will receive top shelf treatment in the fridge. Other smaller aggressive nations that take their lead from the "majors" will likewise receive a special spot within the fridge.

The viewer will be encouraged to interact with all the glass elements. Opening the refrigerator; the viewer will hear the tinkling of the fragile panes. An audio tape activated by the door opening will provide an introduction to the contents of the "box". The chilled glass panes, will react easily with the moisture of the viewers breath. On the walls glass panes at room temperature will take a little more effort to read the "writing". Any panes broken during the exhibition will be placed prominently on the table.

This project is intended to explore the national symbols that provide meaning to our lives. Or....is it the lives that provide meaning for the nations? During the 50 anniversary of the end of the war that gave birth to the notion of "Mutually Assured Destruction" will we see, a celebration of the peace and understanding that men and women of all continents fought and died for? Or will we see a re-awakening of national posturing and a call to celebrate the "hero-ism" of the fallen soldiers? Recent articles in the press indicate the latter.

Audio Text for "The Kelvinator Pact" A Cryogenic Solution to Excess National Pride" The Exhibition; Latent August, San Francisco Ca. 1995

Judy Malloy
Your current works are very interactive. I love the elements of viewer interaction with text on glass, breaking glass, the tinkling of glass in Latent August. Do you yourselves think of your work as interactive? When did you begin involving the audience in your works?

Reiko Goto
Hi Judy, thanks for this opportunity, Tim will be on later.

I think interactivity is probably most important aspect in our installation work. Tim has been noticing since quite a while ago. A collaboration with Mark Thompson called Tidal Well in Mill Valley Ca. They built a boat house type structure along the Richardson Bay. Inside of the wooden house the whole walls were covered by copper. Tide came in leaving a green patina. People came in and wrote with their hands, feet and bodies dipped in water. The graffiti was made by the viewers beautyfuly.

Latent August show we represented 190 nation's names on 190 pieces of glass. 60 of them were in a refrigerator. The 60 countries either fighting wars, possessing nuclear weapons or developing large amounts of weapons. The names show up as icey letters on the surface of glass. Other 120 names on each glass are on wooden shelves outside of the refrigerator. When the viewer breathes on the name of the country shows up as condensation of the breath. (The names were written by a special chemical which condense moist in the air. If the glass surface is cold enough, warm human breath condenses some moist.)

When people come into our installation, they have no idea what they see. Even there are some written explanation exists, print out is not the first thing to convince them. Why a refrigerator, why glass, why 60 nations are in the refrigerator and others are not? so many questions happens. Many audience even accept as questions, they would say we don't understand. Some audience opens the refrigerator, (there are some indication...open...breathe on the glass.) then find names. America, Russia, France, etc. Icy cold letters the viewers are experiencing. If they stay longer the audio from the refrigerator could finish whole story what are these 60 names. On the other hand glass on the wooden shelves the letters show up with warm breath. At least the viewers could experience cold and warm sensations.

Timothy Collins
Hmmmmm.......involving the audience in the work was always an issue. Early experiments in the traditional media focused on water it's movement and my experiences. IF some of the joy, awe, action came through.....I was happy. In grad school I began to realize that secondary experience or re-presentation of my own experiences was a bit of creative fakery. I wanted to "do the real thing"........started to mess about with water.

When asked what we do....we usually hesitate (like most artists) and say we have "well developed curiosities" It is this curiosity which drives us to learn and experience new things. Once and a while we can build something that helps other people feed their own curiosity. Reiko's collaborative Butterfly Garden Cho-en did this.

Anna Couey
Hi Tim, hi Reiko! Thanks for being our guests - I'm excited to have this opportunity to learn more about your work. Nice that we don't have to say goodbye to you after the month is over, too!

Your 2 new works both sound like wonderful environments to experience. I love the way they draw the "viewer" into the work - relying on curiosity to expose meaning. Your approach is similar to what interactive computer artists work with & web page designers too, for that matter - breaking the barrier of "no touch" art.

Where and when is the SF exhibition happening?? I want to go!

I like the questions you've started with Judy. And Reiko, Tim, you've already started to answer a question I had, about how inquisitive your audiences generally are. Also, your work includes the politics of the sensory environments you create. Do you think public art plays an active and communicative role in the public sphere?

Judy Malloy
>The artist gives a freedom to the viewer whether
> he/she wants to find out what it is about the piece. If they start
> interacting, he/she would have a motivation. Then something happens,
> the viewer might find his/her own answer or more quest. Spending time
> and going through his/her own thinking process makes different kind
> of understanding.

That is a very good way of looking at interactivity. It is nice to "see" you here, Reiko!

>Once and a while we can build something that helps other people feed
>their own curiosity.

Thanks Tim! I think curiosity does play a part in the experiencing of interactive art although I don't know if I have ever heard it expressed in that way. Interesting. Certainly curiosity motivates much exploration on the World Wide Web.

I like the way you are supportive of each other's work. Reiko describing "Tidal Well", Tim talking about "Cho-en". Perhaps this sharing in your relationship makes you particularly aware of how others will interact with your art. Does it feel that way to you? When did you meet/begin working togther?

and yes - please give us details of where your exhibitions are.

Reiko Goto
First the shows:

LATENT AUGUST: The Legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki July 22 - Sept 30 Was curated by Bob Hanamura and is at Pier One, Fort Mason In San Francisco. Open We - Sun 10am to 5pm $2.00 suggested donation. There are also a whole series of lectures and presentations more info is available by calling the national Japanese American Historical Society 441-5705.

Art in the Anchorage funded and curated by Creative Time runs through Sept 14. Located in the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage (Brooklyn side) Open thurs - Sun 1-6 with a series of lectures, workshops, performances and an opportunity to join the Bizosso's.

Tim and I met at the San Francisco Art Institute almost ten years go. He was living at the Farm where Bonnie Sherk started a crossroads community like He was also organizing a gallery at the Farm. Why am I talking about Tim...it is easier to look back when I think about Tim or other environment.People, place, animals, plants are like a mirror, they reflect your thinking and feeling. Any way at the time we also went to the Headlands Art Center for helping David Ireland's project. Since then we are tossing ideas back and forth.

Anna's question...about gallery audience... what do you think generally how audience response to art these days? Of course depends on the place, city, institution, etc. One show I was participating called FRAGMENTS OF FLIGHT curated by Terri Cohn at the Bedford Gallery in the Center for the arts in Walnut Creek CA last September. There were twelve artists were invited. The theme of the show was dreams about flight. The audience from Walnut Creek were pretty upset about the whole show. On the gallery guest book many people wrote, "I don't like this at all!!","WHERE ARE THESE LATEST SHOWS COMING FROM? PLEASE RETURN TO PROFESSIONAL WORKS AGAIN." That was very hard for everybody Terry Corn, gallery, artists and audience.The center for the arts is a very new and beautiful space in Walnut Creek.People proud and care about the place.

Eight months later Tim and I were invited by the same gallery again. The show was entitled ECO NATION, curated by Carrie Lederer. Seventeen artists were invited; Ray Beldner, Jo Hanson, Robin Lasser, Susan Leibovitz Steinman, Buster Simpson, Guerrilla Girls, etc. Carrie Lederer spent the past eight months to program the entire show more like an educational event.Two kind of work books were printed, one is for school children, the other was for the exhibition volunteers who would give a tour to groups of people every day. Video program, family workshop were presented many days. I think the whole show is more accepted by the audience in Walnut Creek. An important thing the gallery and some artists noticed from the show was people care about what is going on the gallery very much. People would like to understand. They feel the place is a part of theirs.

Timothy Collins
People would like to understand....... Is an important point. More often than not people want to know WHY......Why are you making, living, thinking, acting like this. What is this "art" the notion of Professionalism (Bedford Gallery) what the fuck does it mean to most of our society? Our passions land somewhere between Government and Market systems by which most people live there lives. We are a social and economic anomaly.

"The politics of sensory environments" is an interesting thought Anna. In Brooklyn many "politically empowered" experts looked right through us when we asked about Environmental impact studies...biologists or botanist that might have been on staff during various studies......."There is nothing theah! Nothing at all it's former industrial sites" Nature is outside the city, upstate out in the Hamptons in the wastewater tidepools of Jamaica Bay "maybe". If you want to control the largest artificial estate in New York City it's politically expedient to disavow any signs of health ignore the cleanest water the harbor has seen in 200 years ignore the Brandts Geese that descended like flies during the migration ignore the fish that seem to be re-appearing ignore the whole deal. ---------nothing there----------The politics of the senses.-------------

Robert Irwin said "Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees"
(Actually a quote from Paul Valery)

Judy Malloy
Ahh - you are both raising a *lot* of points. As artists whose work is often designed for people to interact with, does public reaction matter? Is it important to you?

Timothy Collins

But was does it mean these days when you say "the public reacts". Most often that implies controversy and news coverage. (do the arts ever get any other kind?) What do you mean when you ask the question?

Judy Malloy
Well it was the Walnut Creek shows that prompted my question.

So to be more precise, I was thinking about the public in terms of the community where the work is sited. People who look at the work.

Joseph Wilson
The other part or one of the many parts of audience response is a seemingly negative reaction which is not entirely a bad thing. Could this negative reaction you mentioned earlier have to do with the audience feeling challenged? If challenge generates a negative response is that bad?

Reiko Goto
The Walnut gallery shows were a very interesting situation. About the first show FRAGMENTS OF FLIGHT was very upsetting. The theme of the show was dream about flying. It could be a playful and imaginative experience for any audience. Nobody understood why the audience in Walnut Creek was different from San Francisco's (and some other bay area.) The Bedford Gallery's task in Walnut Creek is very important. The place invite many small school children & elderly people every day. Ethnically not very diverse though. They feel the place belong to them. Have you ever felt any gallery or exhibition place is more audience's place rather than the auganization itself?

Tim and mark Thompson's piece in Mill Valley was very much like so. It was of course out door piece. Every day many people went by the piece, every process they were curious. People asked so many question. After they understood what it would be, they seemed to be content what was going on. Probably the same question comes back again about this. If people could not understand or dislike a piece what it means?

We were lucky the Bedford gallery invited us again. I was much more aware about the place...that makes some difference. The installation was entitled PALINGENESIS..." was originally an alchemical term that referred to the ability to regenerate life from ashes. Our installation became an exploration into the materials and concepts that define our contemporary human relationship to water and the cycle of living." The space (three sided walls) was covered by a congressional record about the toxic spill in the Sacramento river in 1991. There were also a video image Tim is breathing in a glass helmet like structure, moss is growing many jars, and an interactive element audience could breathe on. I was there not only the installing period, but also a talk for the some public and explainers. The gallery stuff was very nervous for the entire preparation period. The explainers were all older and voluntary. The could be very critical if they don't understand. The staff was preparing some slide shows and booklet for the volunteers.A lot of women came for the artist talk. They all knew the Sacramento river accident. It was an exciting moment during I was explaining the piece.It didn't matter the piece was art or not (The gallery warned the crowd, Tim and I both use non art materials which a lot of audience have a problem to understand.) They engaged entire elements of our installation. How did I know?...just looking at their eyes, and they were adding more explanation after I said something.I am not sure after I left (went back to Pittsburgh), how people read the piece.

One more thing to add...during my visit, I went to an opening at the Center for the Arts in San Francisco. It was about Mexican art in Bay area. It was a nice opening. There were all kinds of audience that night. People seemed be enjoying very much about the show. I don't think I could interpret each piece what it is...but I didn't feel uncomfortable. I felt good many things are happening. Is this the difference between artists and non-artist? Comfort in not knowing?

I wonder what happens if the Bedford Gallery spends ten years educating the public about art?

Timothy Collins
>If challenge generates a negative response is that bad?

Slippery concepts the notion of "challenge" and negative response. The classic response is to suggest that the work is merely beyond the viewer, they have no "systemic" knowledge with which to "appreciate" what the artist has wrought. The rationale is that the discipline has evolved beyond the common man and woman. Like the science; but the arts are at the core a communicate discipline.....

Another scenario would involve an actively engaged but dis-approving/critical viewer with a rationale for their dis-like (a tall order since most professional reviewers ignore any in depth exploration of problems with work). These folks live to be challenged, and it is a GOOD thing.

For the most part however, I believe the greater segment of society is ACTIVELY DIS-ENGAGED. They feel removed from the social group that made the work and perceive a sense of ridicule in the process. (I believe the economic oddities of the arts play a serious role in the dis-communication between artists and the public.......right wing lines like "let the market sort out what's good" play to this paranoia) Last years 60 minutes piece played up the notion of "this stuff (and it's collectors) can't be serious" and the artworld figures played to that tune. For the most part I DON'T think the negative responses of the actively dis-engaged (controversy) is a good thing for art. Its a GREAT thing for individual artists who reap the rewards of publicity during such media moments.

Challenge; in and of itself is a good thing. When it produces a broader dis-engagement it's a bad thing. It's up to the individual artists to decide whether to address these issues. Some organizations are beginning to see the "critical dialogue" to be an essential and sought after technique for community engagement and support. It depends on the community in which you are doing your work. Since we consistently make new work for each show and community we engage we do address it. We enjoy the dialogue both positive and negative.

I know from your posts during your periods of performing, Joe that you too... attempt to actively engage your "public" in dialogue out side your show. Joe I think my original post on this subject mentioned controversy:
In your mind is controversy and challenge the same thing? Are they meant to illicit the same response?

Anna Couey
Reiko, your postings about the Walnut Creek shows make me think about the communicative role of art. If public education about the works makes the big difference in how the work was accepted by the community, does that mean art is not communicating enough on its own? Or is it that the process of actively outreaching to the community makes audiences feel that they are engaged in the work?

I have a strong memory of going to an exhibition at the East Wing of the National Gallery when I was in high school. Some of the work exhibited was geometric abstraction - I remember a cream grid on a wheat colored paper - it was beautiful. I knew nothing about geometric abstraction but was enjoying the work. A woman behind me asked what the work meant. She wasn't angry, & didn't assert that the work wasn't art, but was frustrated/unhappy that she didn't understand. What struck me about the incident was her wanting to know, rather than simply rejecting something that was another language.

I often wonder what really causes the gap between art & many people's lives. Your conception of artists being between societal systems, Tim, is a way to explain that. But I think many of us, as artists, hope our work encourages transformation or awakening - social, spiritual - that idea has underscored much of the avant garde of this century. &, while I agree with you that many people live a major portion of their lives in the culture of capitalism, I'm not convinced that everyone's happy about it, or feels fulfilled. It seems odd that the communicative medium that we consider art to be is a foreign language to so many...the radical right's abhorrence of & attack on thoughtful/inquisitive artistic expression does point to there being a political purpose in suppressing the understanding of our tongues. The role of presenting organizations & artists in discussing their work can be a good counterbalance. Is there anything we can build into our works to provide the same function?

Good question/discussion about negative response & challenge. Looking forward to your thoughts Joe, on how this applies in your work.

Joseph Wilson
I think that controversy and challenge are intertwined to some extent and sometimes the definitions of each are manipulated to mean the same thing. In the present culture and political climate challenge is often sensationalized to the point of controversy. In the absence of the political agendas of the right and the media's ability to misrepresent the "art world" there would be less controversial art and more challenging art. Controversy is the spin, challenge may have been the intent of the artist but as always depending on the art, the artist and the audience. What I do in some of my work in one setting is something else in another and sometimes censored or politely uninvited.

Challenge however is what keeps me going as an artist and an audience member. When I leave a performance or exhibition with my ideas altered, effected, or totally changed this is when art is at it's best to me. Almost a year ago I went to a performance that started at dawn and ended at dusk. I know this had been done before and for even longer periods of time but to experience it challenged my ideas or more importantly my preconceptions about art and performance. I was effected and challenged but the work from my stand point was not controversial. Others would feel differently about the piece and the subject matter, perspective dictates both challenge and controversy.

As artists do you feel that sometimes the "community" aspect of your work can be draining or narrow the possibilities of the audiences experience?

I wonder if sometimes in talking to audiences I am answering questions or giving answers that will replace what some members of the audience felt or saw. At what point do you think the work should do the talking and the artist informing the work is possibly getting in the way of it?

Reiko Goto >Art is not communicating enough on it's own?

We can not escape viewing works of art without a context of time and circumstance.

>What struck me......her wanting to know rather than simply rejecting something that was another language.

I think a good way to approach this is to think about the story about the elephant and the blind men. They touch parts of an elephant. They describe the parts they are touching yet to you and me, we don't "know" an elephant by it's parts. Of course this is all "about" elephant or is it all about the blind man? If the elephant were not itself reaching out as a participant in this knowing....would their be an elephant?

Artists, art students and people who are interested in art have been spending a lot of time to understand about "alternative languages" or unconventional communications systems. We know drawing many models or reading theory books are not the best ways to understand. Consistent engaged experience and keeping a flexible mind helps. "These art languages" are representing different thinking and ideas, and sometimes provide an avenue into an enlightenment. Also these languages are often talking about other points of view. This "other point of view" usually means people don't notice thinking in that way. It is a minority rather than majority thinking. Without minority thinking the world will not change. Our civilization will not go forward

>I'm not convince that everyone is happy or feels fulfilled.

In a moment we humans might feel happy or fulfilled, but never have stayed nor will stay in perpetual happiness......is this our nature?

Before the term of multi-culturism historians categorized many kinds of ethnic art as primitive art. The aims or purpose of primitive society, and may cultural arts seem to often be maintaining their spirit and collective spiritual life. It is very different from the capitalism which permeates the western artworld at this time. Primitive society arts do not evolve like our (?) kind of art, even doesn't have individual artistic quests, the notion of individuality and the cult of the individual is peculiar to western art. So called primitive art is neither an ancient art nor dead rural societies. It is still alive. their value system is not totally alien to us either. I believe that deep down we all long for and respect these elements of non-western culture.

Timothy Collins
Anna mentioned.
>If public education about the works
> makes the big difference in how the work was accepted by the
> community, does that mean art is not communicating enough on its
> own? Or is it that the process of actively outreaching to the
> community makes audiences feel that they are engaged in the work?

"Is art communicating enough on it's own?" is a good question. However I'd ask you if we were to have a visitor from say Japan, and sit down to speak to us at length in her native tongue, might we question the capability of this ancient language and it's ability to communicate? Communication takes a sender and a receiver who share a system. Art when it shares a common cultural basis is easier than most "languages" to get a handle on. However like other languages it is an active rather than a passive process. Indeed art is a language, an ever-evolving theoretical discipline and a system that emanates from impetus that run counter to our usual western methods of knowing everything as commerce or government.

Furthermore; contrary to popular American belief art is not decoration. Decoration exists in the realm of aesthetics where everybody has an innate sense of like/dislike. Joseph Kosuth declares "aesthetics is about subjective opinions on perception. In a way one could say that experience is how profoundly we react to our perceptions, that is to all the various kinds of information we receive from our senses. Those subjective preferences we usually call "taste". One can have an aesthetic reaction to any information which our senses give us" Art is NOT simply a "sensual" experience rather it is information, communication that involves the intellect, the intuition, the senses, and the spirit. Art is a discipline, with an evolving "canon" current theories and new research avenues. Another quote from Kosuth however hits the nail on the head for me when one begins to consider contemporary artists and art. "QUALITY is associated with the artist's thinking, not as a ghost within the object". The "Quality of thought" is something that can't be transferred in a momentary sensual exposure to work. Time and tenacity reveal the meaning and ideas behind todays more interesting artists.

This, time and tenacity process of learning about an artists "thinking" can be mitigated positively by artists statements and pro-active gallery outreach. It promotes audiences engaging and appreciating this new "language" rather than deciding it's gibberish.
So Des ka?

>I agree with you that many people
> live a major portion of their lives in the culture of capitalism,
> I'm not convinced that everyone's happy about it, or feels

Joseph McCarthy has inundated our culture with an absolute fear of anything that is not capitalism. Everyone isn't happy or fulfilled but the ghosts of the 50's make us collectively hesitant to accept anything that is reminiscent of something other than capitalism. Recent hysteria and blatant attacks at collective communities (so called cults), the arts, even the excesses of the sixties are age old fears about anything that doesn't subscribe to the notions of "free" trade capitalism and pull yourSELF up by the bootstraps individual notions of the "American Way".

The arts although seriously affected by both government and market energies do not in any way emanate or perpetuate themselves within either of these systems.

Joseph Wilson
> I think that controversy and challenge are intertwined to some extent and
> sometimes the definitions of each are manipulated to mean the same
> thing. What I do in some of my work in one setting is something else in another.
> Perspective dictates both challenge and controversy.

I find it dangerous to suggest that controversy and challenge are intertwined intellectual constructs of information. If we buy that then, what is one is also the other. Furthermore, you imply that artists are "pure" in their pursuit of challenge while the media has a lock on the ability to identify controversy. Their is no doubt in my mind, that one can be mis-understood as the other, which relates to the issues Anna raised about the language of art. for instance "ohio gozaimus" (did I spell that right Reiko?) has nothing to do with the cornbelt when speaking japanese. To imply or actively support the artists role as the victim of sensationalist media controversy building is to deny the artists knowledge of his/her own chosen language and means of cultural production. To suggest that good [challenging] art (see the Kosuth definition of quality quoted above) is simply addressing the polemic issues implied by controversy disavows the depth of artists capabilities.

Reiko note: Despite what my husband hears, Good Morning in Japanese is spelled, in romanji anywy; "Ohayo" Gozaimus.

Reiko Goto
I have been thinking about this idea of challenge, the word is a problem. Maybe just nuance, I think art is a gift from the artists and the gift is not always easy to understand. Maybe if we think of difficult gift, instead of challenge. Challenge feels like asking audience how much they can understand. Artists gift suggests that artists would like to share something wonderful, if sometimes even difficult.

Joseph Wilson
A few thoughts about your response. In discussing challenge and controversy in the present culture it is often impossible not to reference the media's role in generating perceptions of what is considered "controversial art." In my original post I stated "I think that controversy and challenge are intertwined to some extent and sometimes the definitions of each are manipulated to mean the same thing." In acknowledged this fact I didn't intend to discount the ability of the artist to generate the controversy. I stated that the intent of the artist may have been to challenge the audience not to cause controversy but that depended on the artists, the art and the audience.

I never would imply or say the word "pure" in describing anything outside of chemical compounds, let alone art or artists intentions. I also would never support or imply a portrayal of the artist as a victim of sensationalism ignorant of the role that the media plays in this culture. I am an artist who's work deals almost exclusively with the role of media in our culture and I am very conscious of its effect. I was using the analogy of the media's effect on the perception of an audience's experience with a work of art as a part of the "intellectual constructs of information" you describe. The artist, the media, the reviewer and the historian all have the ability to effect how a work is experienced independent of the work itself.

If works of art challenge ideas, tradition, form or technique when would this challenge be defined as controversy and who might generate the description?

You restated part of my post in your response like this:
> Perspective dictates both challenge and controversy.
When in taken in context it said this:
I was effected and challenged but the work from my stand point was not controversial. Others would feel differently about the piece and the subject matter, perspective dictates both challenge and controversy.

I at no point stated that good, challenging art was only art which addressed "polemic issues." I actually cited a performance that challenged my ideas about performance and art. I was not disavowing the artists capabilities, I was praising them. In speaking with other audience members about the piece they felt the challenge of a fifteen hour performance was a bit much to ask of an audience. Some reactions were strong enough to describe the piece as controversial. One of the dominating subjects of the piece was time, not something I would describe as "polemic." As I stated in the my original post the perspective of myself and someone else dictated two different responses, a challenged one and one that felt the piece was controversial.

"QUALITY is associated with the artist's thinking, not as a ghost within the object". Joseph Kosuth

We both agree it is impossible to be understood in all scenarios of the presentation of art. If an artist makes work that some parts of a culture considers challenging and other parts considers controversial how is the "quality of thought" described in the Kosuth quote able to exist independent of these descriptions?

How do you decipher controversy and challenge in the context of describing art?

Timothy Collins
everything is art........we have to tell the world why!

If we accept the intertwining of challenging meaning and polemic controversy we have lost our ability to speak with any clarity. Either we operate from within a discipline with an ideology or we do not. We judge quality on the basis of other artists thoughts....or we do not. In that case the "quality" of controversy, it's entertainment value and related mercenary results become the de-facto basis on which artists work is judged.

Joseph Wilson
If we don't acknowledge the possibility of the intertwining of challenging meaning and polemic controversy then as artists we are working in a vacuum, cognizant of only disciplines and artistic thought. Incorporated in this artistic thought must be the realization of the society and times. Qualitative artistic thought in my mind is one that incorporates more than just the confines of the particular discipline the artist is working in.

Let's here more about the work you two are doing.

Judy Malloy
These words of Reiko's stick in my mind as the month draws to a close:

"I think art is a gift from the artists and the gift is not always easy to understand. Maybe if we think of difficult gift, instead of challenge. Challenge feels like asking audience how much they can understand. Artists gift suggests that artists would like to share something wonderful, if sometimes even difficult. "

Thank you for being with us Tim and Reiko - for sharing your gifts!

Anna Couey
Thanks Tim & Reiko for this conversation. I hope to see it continue!

Transcript of A conversation with TIM COLLINS and REIKO GOTO, Item 66, Interactive Art Conference, Arts Wire.
Posted to the Web with participants' permission. For information about republishing, please contact Anna Couey and Judy Malloy.

Conversations with Artists