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!

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