Art, I suppose, probably from the very beginning was always done as a type of community activity. Even when the cavemen were inside those caves spittin’ charcoal onto their hands and leaving their marks on the wall, I can’t imagine that that wasn’t just an amazing collaborative project of some sort. Art is a communal sport.
Ever since I was a kid I was trying to hang out with other kids that were artists; it was something automatic. It’s not as though I was thinking about it or anything, it was always I always gravitated towards it. To me, New York City (and I don’t know exactly what it is that produced this) is equipped with this gravitational pull, which attracts incredibly talented people from all over the world. There was probably an experimental democracy that was generated in the city, and the incredible talents went ahead to build it. I see New York City, for starters, as a grand art community. I always wanted to come to New York, and I always wanted to come to New York because I wanted to be a part of that grand art community—the one I could only see at a distance, which was a very particular energy radiating from those who lived there. So I came up here in the late-‘70s or early ‘80s, and I was now part of New York ’s particular type of energy that was generated by the artists. Somehow all of us artists were doing our own individual work, but we were all contributing to something much larger than we were, which was the community known as New York City. And with all of its history and all of the legend behind it, that, in itself, produces something very special. I’ve always been very attracted to the idea of having these communities.
Collaborations might not be collaborations; collaborations can just be people working in the same place and looking at the work of everybody else surrounding them. This type of collaboration generates something where everybody is achieving a similar language, or speaking in a similar tone, or coming up with shared ideas. For me, there are several artists whom I see and I visit, and I constantly am having the surprise of learning so many things that I wasn’t using before. Maybe it’s not so much learning it from my work, it’s learning out of their work. You’re almost building multiple personas by doing so. What I’ve always loved about visiting artists’ studios is that every time you walk in a studio and take the time to really listen and look, it feels like you are walking into someone else’s universe, or someone else’s movie. In that sense we are collaborating with each other. I see community as I witness simple interactions, like people meeting in the hallways all over the place. Artists become clearly aware of other artists around. I think it’s helpful for everybody and I know of several artists who rock on the same idea. Art has always strived for a sense of communion.
In fact, I found that if you get a bunch of artists in the same place then they seem to work with and for one another—not though they are sitting there kind of laboring on something else that somebody else is doing, but maybe that happens, too, sometimes. It’s as if artists are writing a script where everybody from the community is putting in their two-cents worth into that script.
Like it is today, the reality is that art, especially American art, from its inception, has been about resistance. It’s not enough to sit and talk about resistance, I mean, shit, mostly anything an artist has ever done in this country has been an act of resistance—including Andy Warhol, or even, for that matter, Jeff Koons doing his pornography series, “Made in Heaven.” So we’re not doing anything here that’s inventing the wheel, but in a sense as artists we all get the sensation that we were granted the keys to culture. But we were also granted a front-row seat in the Theater of Bullshit. How is it that we’re going to come together to address this is probably going to be the thing people will be working on for the next four years, or for however much time it will take to clear this thing up. It’s much bigger that Trump. This is something else.
This is of the era of media and lies and these means by which to create reality—a virtual world, or a virtual reality, or virtual news, or whatever it is. This is not going to get better, even if we get this guy out. It’s only going to get worse, because now we’re living in this kind of virtual existence, a virtual reality of sorts. And we’re the ones who are going to kind of be the masses of this thing. Maybe it’s going to be a reality of lies. Maybe that which is valuable and that which is political and that which is important is just a matter of where you live.
When I say scream, I kind of mean scream. I mean that it’s the time to shout before you drown in this whatever-the-hell reality we’re talking about. It’s about coming together as a community to show what we all have to say in regards to what is happening in the moment right now—we’re all artists here and so we need to come together as one community and offer it to the rest of our society.
The community is always here, and now it is just a matter of how we come together and how everybody decides what they need to do. Years ago we did the Bruceiennale and a few other shows that were open-call exhibitions and open to anyone who wanted to participate. It’s not until everybody starts coming together you can say: “This is a show.” Sure, it’s a show, but it’s a show of artists joining together and saying: “This is what we have to say.” And hopefully this will generate this energy and impact other artists to want to participate. That’s what I’m referring to with community and that’s what I’m referring to when I say scream. But damn if I’m going to go down without a scream that would be the equivalent of losing complete control.
That’s about as much as I can say.
RAY SMITH (American, b. 1959) is a painter and a sculptor. Born in Brownsville, TX, he grew up in Central Mexico.