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Social Protests
a Research Statement by Artist Douglas Gast

The goal of my artwork is twofold:  it strives to identify and make use of the elements of the media that are fundamental to its definition and to create physical and conceptual spaces where thought and communication can occur. It is designed to be thought through, instead of being thought of, and calls into question a variety of controversial socio-political situations.

Over the last decade, I have created art by deconstructing (identifying the elements that make up the construction of meaning) film, video, sound, photography/imaging, sculpture, painting, performance, installation, found materials and interactive networks. I do so in an attempt to utilize the elements of the medium, like the hypnotic properties of television, to make logical arguments against such things as racism, media control, and exclusivity or to better define the customary principles of art, such as the ideas of “the frame,” authorship/originality or the aura of the art object (as discussed by Walter Benjamin in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction).

My artworks/arguments are intentionally cryptic and are carefully composed to appear to be straightforward observations of people, places or things. The viewer/participant is asked to think through the information that is presented and arrive at a new understanding. For example, my work FIRST THIS, THEN THIS uses a key property of video/film, the fixed linear presentation of imagery, and the simple presentation of appropriated footage to analyze the structural, systemic relationships of class, race and their relation to our national priorities.

Additionally, I make diligent use of the customary principles of art to construct my artwork.  I readily admit what has come before and use these conventions to steer my audience to and through meaning.  For example, like many of the Dadaists, such as Marcel Duchamp, who “invented” the Readymade, and more contemporary artists such as Joseph Kosuth who worked with tautologies, I work to challenge or redefine the customary principles of art. In my work 4.6296 CUBIC FEET OF EARTH, I directly address one of the aforementioned conventions of art, the frame:

In the 1790 text, Critique of Judgment, Immanuel Kant put forth his belief that the aesthetic object must have certain intrinsic qualities such as beauty, value and meaning that are distinguishable from all that is extrinsic. The boundary between the intrinsic and the outside, the frame, is connected or attached to the work, but is not part of its form and it does not create meaning. One hundred and eighty-eight years later, Jacques Derrida’s essay, “The Truth in Painting,” refuted Kant’s idea: “In spite of Kant’s efforts, there can be no assured limits to the aesthetic object, telling us where to begin and end, where our attention must stop.”  In the case of my work, the frame, the 20” cube, is “undecidable.” It belongs to the art, to the outside world, to neither of them and to both. Not only does the frame hold the work together (conceptually uniting process and form, a 20” cube of earth), it is the point at which it falls apart: the medium absent its container, unable to hold its shape.

Additionally, similar Sol Lewitt, I firmly believe that “the idea becomes the machine that makes the art.”  In the construction of my art, the idea always takes precedence over aesthetics, materials or finished form.  In fact, I add nothing more than is necessary to effectively create my art. I trust the simplicity of the form to lead my audience through the complexity of the idea.

The creation of art, these spaces for communication and thought, is rooted for me in the ideas of hyperreality and simulacra.  Theorists like Daniel Boorstein, Umberto Eco and Jean Baudrillard contend that we have reached the point of absolute simulation, that we have made a fundamental break from reality. In 1975, Umberto Eco took a trip across America in search of hyperreality, or the world of “the Absolute Fake, in which imitations don’t merely reproduce reality, but try improve on it.”

Ken Sanes speaks about Eco,

In his essay, Travels in Hyperreality, Umberto Eco plays the role of both social critic and tour guide, taking the reader across an American landscape that he says is being re-created in the image of fake history, fake art, fake nature and fake cities. Along the way, he examines a reproduction of [the] Oval Office, and goes through a reconstruction of a Medieval witch’s laboratory…He travels to wax museums, where artistic masterpieces are re-created and, often, reinvented in unexpected ways, resulting in such cultural mutations as a wax statue of the Mona Lisa and a ‘restored’ copy of the Venus de Milo, with arms. He also enters what he refers to as ‘toy cities,’ including Western theme towns, where the buildings are stage sets, and actors in costume, engage in mock gunfights, for the benefit of visitors.

This idea of the hyperreal is utilized and illustrated in my work THIS IS MURFREESBORO NC, THE BEACH, A TOWN FAIR. The observations included in this film are not meant to be representations of reality but rather simulations of other simulations, whether they tangibly exist or are constructed mental concepts.  For example, the static shot of the “beach” in the film is probably not the same as other people’s mental concept of the beach. This part of the film is asking the viewer to define “beachness” (what you or I think of when we think of the beach) and recognize that one mental concept of “beach” does not exist.

This break from reality, or hyperreality, affords me the opportunity to attempt to frame a “better” version of what I see as our “reality/realities.”  It is my goal to continue to use my artwork to create, or perhaps return us to, a more socially aware version of reality then the one I believe we now live in. I accept that we are at this point of absolute simulation. It will continue to be a baseline, just like the fundamental properties of the media and the traditions of art that I will use to make art and fashion arguments that call into question socio-political situations or structures that I find personally unacceptable.

Profile

Douglas Gast is an exhibiting artist and educator. He received an MA in Communication Studies from Baylor University and an MFA in Electronic Art from the University of Cincinnati. Doug is currently an Associate Professor of Fine Arts at Washington State University and the Director of the Digital Technology and Culture program.

His projects take the form of videos, films, images, websites, sculptures, performances, books and installations. They have been exhibited and screened nationally and internationally in places like Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Nashville, Austin, New Orleans, Madison and NYC as well as England, Germany, Australia, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Hungary, Turkey, Argentina and Canada.

Contact

www.noprogram.org

All material was provided by Douglas Gast.
The work was submitted by Douglas Gast on 14 August 2014.

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