The Kitchen L.A.B. Conference: Position
When The Kitchen L.A.B. was created as a monthly series at The Kitchen in 2012, it was conceived to engage with circumstances both local and general. While the organization’s long history is steeped in work by artists across disciplines—from dance and visual art to performance and music—the rising currency of interdisciplinarity within the art world more broadly made artists and audiences alike acutely aware of how even the most profound distinctions among the languages and legacies of different mediums were being overlooked. Moreover, if one considered the arc of artistic production just during the past half–century, one could surmise that our radically changed cultural context was begging for a reconsideration of the fundamental vocabularies, both formal and discursive, in art. The very concept and resonance of “performance,” for example, seemed at a great (if sometimes subtle) remove from whatever artistic practices to which it might have pertained during the 1960s or 1970s, when The Kitchen was first established. In such instances, language can operate as a kind of camouflage, creating a false sense of continuity across both historical periods and artistic communities.
And so The Kitchen L.A.B.—whose acronym stands for “language,” “art,” “bodies”—was partly intended to articulate and parse differences among periods and disciplines embedded within even the most accepted language. Gatherings over the course of each year would be devoted to a single key word (the first was presence, for example, while others were audience and, most recently, relation), with the implicit understanding that for all the ostensible interest in interdisciplinarity today, the same words often carry different meanings for artists in different disciplines. In fact, the same projects or artistic maneuvers can have radically different significations for individuals working in different fields. And if what each of us sees is necessarily entwined with our different personal histories, than the history of one’s discipline is apt to carry similar weight, inviting mis-readings and misappropriations. By inviting artists and theorists working in disparate fields to convey their thoughts on such terms—giving a sense of how they might operate within contemporary culture—we might gain a clearer sense of our artistic landscape. Indeed, as these participants put forward their ideas in the L.A.B. sessions through both written statements and performances—effectively giving new shape to the theater and gallery infrastructures at The Kitchen—they would inevitably resituate audiences at each gathering, challenging the hierarchies of production and reception in such circumstances. In turn, while participants were creating a more nuanced sense of the language of our time, they were considering anew what an audience should, and could, be. In a sense, the creation of an audience—or better, of a changed relationship between artist and audience—was the underlying premise of the series. We produce knowledge and work but also, and as important as anything, a public.
At The Kitchen, this effort has been anything but rhetorical, even revolving around the simple premise of getting artists from isolated disciplinary communities into the same room at the same time in order to allow for another community, and another artistic framework, to arise. For this reason, as the L.A.B. entered its fifth year, we sought to gather so many participants from previous years to reflect on the artistic field, and on culture, as it had evolved during the past half decade. More specifically, we invited artists and theorists to consider the term position—nodding to the fact that the artist’s reciprocal relationship with (and mode of address to) audiences has shifted and, moreover, acknowledging that the very notion of a position has become quite tenuous in contemporary culture. Within artistic discourse, the idea of criticality has risked seeming less the stuff of staking a position than of adopting a style. And if previously stable institutions in both art and larger society seem at great risk of some irrevocable erosion, then how are artists—and individuals in any public sphere—to gain a concrete sense of their specific place? How could they establish and sustain their sense of context? Or, perhaps most urgent, what kind of artistic or social context is needed in order to create and sustain public discourse both within and beyond the field of art?
Convened during our 2016–17 season, The L.A.B. Conference consisted of two significant components, the first being newly commissioned projects by artists who had already created substantive work within the L.A.B. context (as well as subsequent to it, with conversations there giving rise to collaborations and convention-breaking work). Among them were Tina Satter’s theater company Half Straddle, which could be said to have produced a gallery installation as rehearsal space, lecture hall, television studio, and communal zine-making classroom devoted to reflections on “how we codify”; Tristan Perich, a composer whose use of 1-bit technology in music composition challenges our understanding of distinctions between electronic and acoustic work; and Aki Sasamoto, whose sculptural installation doubled as performance stage. Over the course of these projects, we invited artists—including Andrea Crespo, Claudia Rankine, Will Rawls, and Chitra Ganesh, among many others—from across disciplines to participate in four L.A..B. sessions, considering position both within art and in the larger cultural and political field. Their thinking, appearing in four chapters within this volume, at once offers a rich sense of context for Satter, Perich, and Sasamoto’s work—which is featured here in three compendiums—at the same time as creating a kind of leaping off point for both the L.A.B. series and, we hope, for new accounts of art in culture today. Indeed, numerous artists and thinkers in these pages underline a newfound introspection in their work even while asking for new kinds of institutions within which it could be housed. It’s our hope that The Kitchen L.A.B.—as a core program at a historical alternative space seeking to be “adaptive to what is necessary to be seen,” to borrow Satter’s words in one roundtable—serves as a platform for both endeavors, enabling them on occasion to become one and the same.
Executive Director and Chief Curator, The Kitchen
To see video from the last 5 years of the The Kitchen L.A.B. please visit our Vimeo page.