14 August, 2012

One Citizen, Many Public Visions:
an Interview with Ed Woodham

Ed Woodham is an artist, curator, producer, and activist whose work addresses communication in private space and in the public sphere questioning the relationship between art/viewer, performer/spectator.  In Atlanta, he founded and directed the multi-disciplinary arts space, 800 East producing over 250 art events.  He is the founder and director of Art in Odd Places (AiOP) presenting visual and performance art in unexpected public spaces.  AiOP also produces an annual festival along 14th Street in Manhattan, NYC each October.  AiOP aims to stretch the boundaries of communication in the public realm by presenting artworks in all disciplines outside the confines of traditional public space regulations.

Thank you, Ed, for agreeing to this interview.  Your projects offer complex (yet enduring) alternatives for contemporary artists, arts professionals, and for the general public.  I’d like to bring attention to the many ways in which you challenge art world conventions but let’s get some background, first: tell us about your work as an artist.

EW:  I’m an interdisciplinary artist exploring many different media.  I’d say I began first with writing, then theater, and then opened up with drawing, painting, sculpting, puppetry, television, and then public art.  I think Linda Mary Montano says it best that as an artist, everything we do is art.  

I think that idea of “everything is art” can be difficult for many people to grasp—is art an object, an activity, a special moment, . . . ?

EW: People do have a certain perspective of what art is and in a certain respect I find art also gives you away of looking at things in an unusual way.

I’m exploring the ideas and practices of ‘defamiliarization’—looking at objects in a way that is fresh and new.  I’m trying to explore the possibility that anything is possible; trying to rethink the world that I live in.  There’s a quote on my blog from Viktor Shklovsky, a Russian writer and critical theorist.  In brief, he states:

               “Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life;
                 it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. 
                 The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things
                 as they are perceived and not as they are known.”

Was there a point at which you saw a significant shift from being an artist in your own right to becoming established as a curator/director of arts programming?

EW: I consider my work as a curator/director as a continuation of my work as an artist and approach each project as a work of art.  It has been a natural shift since much of my work as an artist has often been collaborative.

Useful Tables at St Ann's Warehouse
(photo by Richard Termine)
You have an accomplished background in stage productions as well, specifically, as creator of the Bravo documentary series, The It Factor, and as a puppeteer in the Obie Award winning, Symphonie Fantastique.  Have these experiences played any part in your more recent curatorial projects?

EW:  Sure, I imagine most past experiences play off of one another right?  I think that’s true for all artists. You naturally draw from the previous experiences.  The theater/television experiences always require collaboration and teamwork—all vital in my current work with Art in Odd Places and other actions.

Your bio indicates that your professional activities require a variety of roles: “artist, curator, producer, and activist.”  Why can’t you just be an artist . . . or any one of these for that matter?

EW: Well, Ryan, if I had to pick just one it would be ‘artist’.  It’s probably a better question to ask, “What kind of artist?”  At this moment in time, it’s fundamental for me (as an artist) to be a communicator—of the importance of timely changes needed across the board.  And that often requires wearing different hats and cleaning a toilet or two.  I’m not alone.  There’s a lot of us out there.

You’ve received various honors and grants as an individual but Art in Odd Places (AiOP) appears to function without funding from government agencies or private foundations.  How do you do it?

EW:  It’s actually how do ‘we’ do it.  Because each AiOP public action and every festival is a group effort, powered by the generosity of all of the participants involved: artists, curators, staff, volunteers, sponsors, donors, . . . oh, and me.  No one is paid and it’s a labor of passion for engaging the discussion of ‘what is possible?’ . . . fyi the festival has been realized in all its splendor for the last eight years on a tiddlywink budget of a few thousand dollars . . . it’s a model of what can happen when passion and generosity—combined with humor, good aesthetics, and dash of bravado—can create.

Does this community-based approach risk portraying artists, performers and musicians as self-sustaining workers—possibly even reducing the availability of government or foundational support systems?

EW: I think the timeliness and importance of the work far outweighs any personal concerns of government/foundation support, as I’ve proven that much can be done with a little.  However.  Artists should be paid a living wage.

Artists are not paid for participating in AiOP.  Why?

EW:  [Long pause] I am on board with paying artists a living wage—and that catches me between a rock and a hard place, for now.  Currently, I’m more concerned with the message as it may supercede any support systems—it’s a work of passion.  I do wonder, if money comes into the equation, if it takes the purity of what’s going on right now.  There’s a time for that . . . I have my own personal issues with money—I live on very little, I’m happy.   My hope is by the time the foundation is strong enough, that there’s more that will be done.   I am working again to find money for artists at some point in AiOP projects.

“Wrestlers” from the Homopropaganda series,
Ed Woodham, Linoluem-cut print, 2012
 Let’s talk about “activism.”  Were you initially compelled to act on behalf of a specific cause or did your role as an activist come about more organically?

EW:  I’ve had many causes as an artist activist over the years.  Each expression has been fueled by a personal event or series of events that called for a (re)action. I’m compelled to do something when I experience an injustice.

The “Homopropaganda” series is my newest action and we are promoting a pro-queer agenda through performance actions and guerilla marketing.

I’m also compelled to nurture “artists as curators” and to help people curate projects, artistically.  I’m doing this through classes and workshops that can be found on my “Strangemakings” blog.

“Homo” from the Homopropaganda series
Ed Woodham, Linoluem-cut print, 2012
Are artists an identifiable demographic?

EW:  Hold on.  I’ll be right back, I need to check my privacy settings.

Haha!  Right, then what do artists have to offer our present-day political structures?

EW:  Artists can hold up a mirror in order for society to see the absurdity.  It’s apparent that things can’t go on like this much longer.

We can offer a calling for new ideas, new ways of doing things, new ways of working in tandem with the ecosystem, . . . .  Artists are on the frontline as communicators/instigators for change.

The origins of Art in Odd Places have some strong political connotations.  Can you elaborate on the beginnings of AiOP in Atlanta and the move to NYC?

EW:  It was an organic thing, I popped out of my mom’s womb as a ‘community organizer’—it’s who I am innately.  So, I’m committed to the arts but I’m also aware of our visual context—watching the disappearance of public spaces (that don’t even really exist.)  The crass marketing and incorporation that was evident in the 1996 Olympics was something that I noticed, the ways in which Homeland Security and surveillance have influenced our lives is something I notice.

But even aside from these influences, I’m reimaging where art could be outside of the white wall gallery space.  In Atlanta 800 East was a community art space of sorts where a novice could hang art next to a seasoned artist; it was a place where art was sacred and not a commodity.  It was a reemphasizing process to have this place where art has a transformative effect—it’s more about the experience and the ritual of making art.

So what are the goals of Art in Odd Places?

EW:  To reclaim public space . . . which does not really exist.  That’s why Occupy Wall Street went to a private space.  Public space is where we will rally to discuss new possibilities . . . but first we have to discuss public spaces and how we must rally to take them back.  Art in Odd Places’ goal is to explore this concept in a creative, imaginative method.  Take back our public spaces!  It’s the first step.

What’s up next for Art in Odd Places and how can artists and supporters of the arts get involved?

EW:  AiOP was selected for U.S. Pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennale . . .
Spontaneous Interventions: design actions for the common good is the theme of the  U.S. Pavilion at the 13th International Venice Architecture Biennale, August 29 to November 25, 2012.  The Venice Architecture Biennale is the most prestigious architecture event in the world.

Art in Odd Places will join forces with Global Arts Lab/CECArtsLink to create an AiOP style festival in Saint Petersburg, Russia, September 23-25, 2012.

And the annual festival, Art in Odd Places 2012: MODEL October 5-15 will take place across 14th Street from Avenue C to the Hudson River with 100+ artists projects exploring the many different interpretations of “MODEL: Fashion. Prototype.  Pose. Imitate. Plan. System.”  Model citizen is also a very important aspect of the festival this year.

Artists can sign up for open calls by joining our mailing list on the home page, www.artinoddplaces.org
Volunteers for this year’s festival can email: artinoddplaces@gmail.com

Thank you, Ed.  Best wishes with all your creative endeavors!

13 August, 2012

Deadline: Sept. 30th, 2012

"Ideasign, USA" m. ryan noble, watercolor on paper, 2012

USSSA initiative
We need you to redesign the US flag!

    ·      All contributions will be featured and credited in our
        2013 exhibition.

    ·      Contributions are requested in the format of .JPG files at
        no less than 300dpi.

    ·      A description of no more than 50 words may
        accompany your work, but it is not required.

    ·      All contributions must be received by November 30th, 2012.

    ·      Any fabricated works will be considered for display in
   the exhibition through evaluating the terms of our
   space and resources.

    ·      All images and descriptions will be included in a proposal
        to US Congress this October, 2012, requesting that the
        US flag be revised for our contemporary era.  Much
        has changed since 1960 and our initiative will more
        fully represent these developments in a
        compelling collection of images.

    ·      Please write “redesign the US flag” in the subject header.

Email your contributions to:


Thank you,

m. ryan noble
USSSA, organizer

07 August, 2012

The Art World is on Fire: an Interview with JD Siazon

JD Siazon is a New York City-based dharma artist & poet. A recent graduate of the MFA Fine Arts program at Parsons The New School for Design Siazon has helped to create large inner-city community murals working alongside all age groups from children to senior citizens. He aspires to one day be the best arts journalist in the world as well as a great teacher of art and literature.

Please explain the phrase “dharma artist and poet” . . . what did metamorphosing into a Buddha elucidate about human and artistic evolution?

JD: For me, being a dharma artist & poet has meant living through all of my worst nightmares to fundamentally know the great spectrum of human experience and thus be able to communicate true love.  Most so-called artists and poets will forever say that they really do sympathize with the damned yet hardly any would ever volunteer to spend a significant time in Hell to actually feel to what extent people suffer.

Is Hell even a real place or just a series of events? 

JD: Everyone has multiple definitions of Hell hidden deep in their subconscious mind.  It is not nearly enough for a person to hear someone else's account of torture for them to know what being tortured feels like.  This could also be said of the dharma artist & poet--that they have given up all hope of salvation in order to walk the broadest path.  

Hell for me was the direct experience of phenomenological chaos.

Did walking through Hell help you to become a better and more complete person?

JD: I very strongly believe that it is always and fundamentally of the highest spiritual import for each one of the globe's despondent and sundry victims to inevitably discover--in a master artist or superlative bard of tremendous creative power--a kindred yet guiding voice as well as an inspirational hero who themselves have overcome the gravest of moral struggles and corporal hardships to now be eternally fulfilling their wildest and most sincere of dreams.  We more than ever desperately yearn for and need beacons of hope in this technologically mutant and politically stagnant age.  I keep looking back upon the life I've led and oftentimes find myself regretting way too much but it is with total honesty that I humbly state that lacking my experiences in Hell and subsequent miraculous redemption I would not be nearly as equipped as I am to succeed magnanimously in the New York art world and this you may definitely trust I witness more and more vividly each bright and sunny day.

Do you find credence in the old aphorism that artists need to suffer in order for their work to be great?

JD: If an artist wishes to communicate the abysmal strata of pathos in their work then they must experience severe pain and grief ... 

How can your eco-political activism intertwine with the buddhadharma?

JD: According to Vietnamese Zen monk and famed political activist Thich Nhat Hanh it is of utmost importance that everyone learns how to practice peace which entails breathing properly, keeping a calm and steady heartbeat, and being mindful of all you do.

People are so ready to fight for peace that most of the time their actions are in reality expressions of hate for a supposed enemy which is the reverse of love.  But when we practice peace these enemies lose their power over us and our minds become liberated to dream with the cosmos.

"Sierra," JD Siazon, Pen on cut linen canvas paper

What must artists do to bring about revolutionary eco-political change?

JD: Artists should not only address earthen politics but wed all action to the heavens for there are infinite realms and modes of existence humans must heed. 

Can “artists” be identified as a demographic?

JD: In modern society too many people believe themselves to be artists yet they don't even create things of any genuine cultural value.  If artists were an identifiable demographic I would venture to say that their numbers would be quite low.  

What causes, if any, do you care about most?

JD: I've been told many times that I could be the key to rejuvenating contemporary art.

What does a dharma artist & poet have to offer the art world, at large?

JD: The fallacious and dogmatic belief that all art is a subjective experience has caused the art world to become a discordant mess.  Dharma artists know that true art comes to us from the future.

Why did you decide to attend art school in NYC?

JD: Getting the best all-around education possible--which doesn't necessarily mean attending expensive colleges--has always been a top priority of mine.  Art school was very difficult for me though since both my classmates and teachers severely ostracized me for being the most talented amongst them.  And that is a main reason why I want to be a professor so badly--to teach students everything that I never learned at either Pratt or Parsons. 

Have you had any opportunities to teach art, yet?

JD: I am always teaching by virtue of my Life choices.

Did you make art as a child?

JD: Like most kids I really enjoyed drawing cartoon characters such as army men, vampires, Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Was this period of your life a significant and lasting influence on the art you make now? 

JD: No.  Dharma artists cannot create their own art but rather we do everything that the Universe commands of us.

Where will people be able to glimpse JD Siazon in the future?

JD: Hollywood sounds okay ...

Thank you, JD.  More of JD's writings, musings, and art works can be found at the following links: