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Artists Investigate What A City Needs

Aired 6/2/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

What does it take to make a city great? Societies have long explored this question but the San Diego Museum of Art will try to answer it in one summer, from an artistic perspective.

Unbridled Space (installation view), John Dillemuth

Above: Unbridled Space (installation view), John Dillemuth

What does it take to make a city great? Societies have long explored this question but the San Diego Museum of Art will try to answer it in one summer, from an artistic perspective. Contemporary artists, musicians, poets, and speakers explore what a city needs in SDMA's second Summer Salon Series. We'll talk with the man behind the series, Alexander Jarman.

Guest:

Alexander Jarman is the manager of public programs at SDMA. He organized the Summer Salon series at the museum.

San Diego Museum of Art's Summer Salon series begins tonight and runs through September.

Here's a story Angela Carone did on local artist Sheryl Oring's project, presented during the Summer Salon series of 2010.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. From a political angle, KPBS talks about what the City of San Diego needs all the time. Mostly in terms of budgets, services, and solutions to problems. But what does a city really need to make it vibrant and alive? That's the question being asked of local artists and visionaries at the San Diego museum of art summer salon series. My guest is Alexander Jarman, the manager of public programs at the San Diego museum of art. Alexander, hello, thank you for coming in.

JARMAN: Thank you so much for having me.

CAVANAUGH: How do artists approach what -- that question of what a city needs differently?

JARMAN: Well, I think that the point of the series is that we're -- one of the points of the series that we're trying to bridge this art and everyday life divide. And I think artists approach that question with just an incredible amount of creativity. And how can you use an object that you make or a performance that you choreograph to talk about a social issue. It's not always easy to do. But the artists that we have coming this summer are definitely gonna pull that off.

CAVANAUGH: One of the fascinating things I think about this summer series is this is not only artists participating.

JARMAN: Yeah, we had an incredible variety of people that wanted to get involved. So tonight as we kick it off, councilman Todd Gloria will be coming by to talk about art, shelter, and cities. We have a super smart theoretical physicist, that's like saying the same thing twice. Super mart and theoretical physicist.

CAVANAUGH: Not many dummies in that profession.

JARMAN: Yeah. Jeffrey West who has discovered the fundamental laws of how cities work to the point where you could tell him how many -- I'm thinking of a city that has X amount of people in it, and he tell you, oh, there's this many lines of sewers and telephone lines and it probably has a mean income of this. And so he's gonna come and talk about the problems fating cities, and what are the solutions for cities based on these fundamental algorithms he's discovered.

CAVANAUGH: One of the things you did when you invited artists, you told them what the question would be. What the theme of this summer series will be. Did you find any similar themes emerging from the kinds of things that the artists were submitting?

JARMAN: What's really interesting is we kind of came up with our own answers for what does a city need at the museum. A group of curators and educators. And then we went through all the proposals that we received from artists, and of course they had their own answers. And what's funny is we kind of scrapped some of our answers because we did see this repeating pattern of what the artists were concerned with. And some of those are identity and history. We're spending two weeks on that. Green space and civic space. Definitely popped up a lot. And then design and planning. How we actually make everything work for everybody that lives in a city.

CAVANAUGH: Can you describe to us how perhaps one artist answered these questions in what they submitted?

JARMAN: Yeah, absolutely. There's a couple artists I'm really excited about. One is Natalia CalderÛn, she's coming to us from Mexico City. And she's going to do a piece called tracing passers by. We're gonna close off the parking lot that's in front of the museum in Balboa Park, and she will arm this group of volunteers with the chalk sticks that the meter maids use to chalk your tires. As people walk through the parking lot, whichever volunteer is closest to them will start following them and dragging the chalk stick behind them. So over the course of this four hour performance, we'll end up with this diagram in chalk of how people used public space, so her idea was which were to sort of create this document that showed how people could use public space. And that can -- it's an art piece, but it can also serve as a piece of information to help in the design and planning of public spaces.

CAVANAUGH: Is there another one you can share with us?

JARMAN: Yeah, it's sorta -- it's a little bit like trying to pick you favorite child. So many of these artists are doing great things. But next week we have Tom McDermott, he is participating in the dialogue topic week. He's bringing these doors that will be installed on the walls of different galleries the upon. And you can take a glass, put it up on the door just like you're eavesdropping, and what you're hearing are these conversations that he recorded that he could hear his neighbors having through his very thin walls in his L apartment. But he has some interesting stories about what he felt he started learning about his neighbors, and how he viewed them and just that whole idea of actually getting to know someone that's living right across the hall from you. And we don't do that a lot anymore. So his idea was to sort of encourage people to eavesdrop on these doors but then also maybe take that lesson back home and try and get to know other people that live around you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are most of the submissions that answer the question what a city needs, are most of them conceptual art?

JARMAN: A lot of them are conceptual in their underlying idea. But what's really wonderful about these works and why we're really excited to bring them to the museum and they're participatory. So they are very accessible for anyone who is willing to come to the museum and participate in an art experience. Like I said, Tom McDermott's piece, you're holding the glass up to the door, Natalia's piece you're just walking through a parking lot to get to the museum that night, and you're participating in art. We have three pieces tonight by Omar Lopez, called HomoHouse, kinda taking homo sapien and house and merging them together. It's an eight by eight foot roof, and instead of four posts holding it up, it's four people holding it up. And the objective tonight is to try and keep it up for four hours. So you can't leave holding up the roof until another person volunteers to fake your place.

CAVANAUGH: Now, this is taking place under the auspices of the San Diego museum of art. And we don't normally think of projects like this in association with the somewhat stayed San Diego museum of art. So what happened?

JARMAN: Well, what's interesting is these contemporary artists are so thrilled to be exhibiting in the galleries of our museum because a lot of times there is that perception that contemporary art is radically different and has nothing to do with the rest of the history of art. And in fact we are excited about creating a conversation whereby you put a 21st century piece next to a sixteenth century piece in the same gallery and look at the dialogue between those two pieces. If you want to know how we got to this contemporary art that seems radically different, let's look at the history of art, and let's look at these two pieces right next to each other. What's similar? What's different? These artists are very honest that the influences on their art might be things from the renaissance, from the 18th Century, and it may not look like it, but the ideas that are in that art also show up in the 21st century pieces here.

CAVANAUGH: A lot of urban planning going on in the renaissance. I learned about that. You're saying it starts tonight.

JARMAN: Uh-huh.

CAVANAUGH: So what are these events gonna be like?

JARMAN: Every night that you come, there'll be some combination of a site specific perform performance, maybe a one night art installation, music by a local band usually. A lecture by either an art historian or exactly like tonight, a City Council man, a scientific, an urban planner. And lots of participatory art, lots of chances to make art making, not to be crass, we have a bar in the rotunda, so it's a great place for you to actually come, chat with people, have a drink, go see something interesting that you've never seen before.

CAVANAUGH: And will these pieces be up sequentially all up throughout the summer or will the experiences be different each time?

JARMAN: Almost every single week will have something that wasn't there the week before. So no, it's not an aggregate. It's a very special thing. You come to the museum that night to see something that will be up for only that night. With a few exceptions am I want to mention we have some wonderful sponsors of the entire program, Wells†Fargo came in as our big sponsor. But also west field Horton Plaza is actually going to host some of the pieces that we present on Thursday nights the following Saturday afternoons downtown in the open spaces at Horton Plaza. So these pieces will have an after life after they're presented at the museum.

CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know, San Diego museum of art summer salon series begins tonight.

JARMAN: Tonight.

CAVANAUGH: And through the weekend and runs through September. I've been speaking with Alexander Jarman, manager of public programs at SDMA, and very much Alexander.

JARMAN: My pleasure, thank you so much.

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