9/18/2007

A Conversation with Cecil Touchon

I composed several questions for Cecil regarding his white on white exhibit and his personal feelings about art and networking, and sent them to him in an email. He generously responded with the following answers:

CC: Where did your original idea for the white on white exhibit come from? Is there an artist or movement that you were looking to?
CT: The first impulse for curating this show came from another show that I saw at the Fort Worth Community Art Center a few months ago called "Found Objects: Collections by Austin, Texas based artist Steve Wiman" that was very interesting. It was a showing of hundreds upon hundreds of small found objects sorted by color and arranged into wall compositions or wall assemblages. I took some photographs of the show and placed them on the Collage Museum website here.
All of us collage and assemblage artists are suckers for this kind of material - we all collect it and Steve is a consummate collector of objects that have a humble beauty about them. There is something about well used, worn out or discarded objects that attain a rich character and have fascinating surfaces that reveal evidence of a long history. We are all lovers of this kind of material existence.

CC: Did you have a vision of what you thought people would submit? Are you surprised by some of the things that were submitted?
CT: The big surprise for me was the overwhelming interest from artists all over the world who responded to the exhibition concept. Artists from Russia, Germany, the United States, Canada, Argentina, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, Panama and Portugal (I think that covers it) are represented in the exhibition. I put out a call to the various email listservs that I moderate which include the collage artists community associated with the museum, members of the Fluxnexus - a group of next generation fluxus artists, the Massurrealist Society and the Collage Poetry group now dubbed the Cut and Paste Poets (the first anthology of this group soon to be released) as well as a visual poets group called Spidertangle.
The other surprise was the quality of many of the works. Many are little gems that will be appreciated far beyond this particular exhibit. I didn't really have any expectations or a specific agenda and was mostly motivated by curiosity and the hope of achieving a similarly delightful experience as I had with Wiman's work. I think that clearly will happen.
A difficulty that I am anticipating at the moment is that I might not be able to hang everything since there have been between 75-100 works received and more are still on the way.

CC: Is there a way to engage a gallery to actually do this physically, at some point before you actually achieve your own gallery? Perhaps someone such as Pavel Zoubok or another gallery that has a proven record about showing collage art? Is is appropriate to contact or initiate something with a gallery in this manner?
CT: I have engaged a certain space for this show that has a maximum of linier foot wall space at the most reasonable cost possible because at this particular art center that is owned by the city, each exhibition space is for rent. A commercial art gallery is about one thing and that is sales. Everything has to be for sale or the commercial gallery really cannot afford to exhibit it and even if it is for sale the prices have to be expensive enough for it to be worth the bother of selling it. It is just basic economics. Other venues that are non-profit based and derive their income through other means such as museums, art centers, university galleries, etc. and do not sell art as a primary source of support, are the most likely candidates for having an interest in traveling exhibitions but until all of the work is collected and documented so that the nature of the exhibition can be fully understood and evaluated as to its merit it is impossible to approach anyone with the idea.

CC: You have a great page happening online currently at here. Will you keep a virtual exhibit online, for prospective galleries to preview in the future?
CT: The Exhibition will remain online indefinitely as part of the development of the collage museum website which is the main public interface for the museum's collection which has around a thousand works in it and is viewed daily by more than one thousand unique visitors. I will make the online exhibition a bit more presentable once all of the works are photographed and the show is up so that I can include installation shots. Additionally, there will be a hard cover catalog of the show where all works donated will be published. Contact information for each artist will be included if requested in the event that collectors, galleries or institutions wish to contact them directly.

CC: I think it's amazing how many artists send and donate their work to be part of the community. It takes dedication and a lot of hard work to produce art, and there is also cost in materials, framing, and postage. It takes an even further amount of dedication to host and exhibit, promote the work, and organize it all. I am thankful to you for putting together such in interesting array of pieces! How does all this work cut into your personal life? Your family life? Do you sometimes think that all this marketing and promotion gets in the way of your creativity, and your own artwork?
CT: It is all personal life to me. I don't separate it into work and home because I work at home. It does cut into home life to some degree because we are all being pushed out of the house by all of the art that I make myself and all of the work that comes from other artists for the museum and pretty much all of my time is used but my family supports the effort.
Another artist asked me some similar questions the other day wondering what is motivating all of this effort when the works are not even for sale; just being collected together and exhibited. Am I independently wealthy or what? Promoting my own career as a curator or artist? Where's the benefit?
Like most artists I am a poor working stiff myself living from sale to sale. It is hard to say how much the museum helps my career at this point to be putting all this effort because I really don't promote the museum that much in relation to my personal art career. They are really two separate things. One is my professional life and the other is my love of art and admiration for artists and their work. The museum is a long term project of mine, a kind of grand assemblage of things that other collage artists are helping me to build. I am approaching the Museum as a new genre. I hope that it will get to the point of a physical museum at some point once there is an overwhelming amount of work to use as a base and I find the right city where I would want to put it because then I'll have to live there! We did use a large house in Mexico for exhibitions where we have a bed and breakfast called Casa del Artista (casadelartista.com) for the first few years but we have decided to focus our efforts in the US in terms of finding a more permanent location.
Some have asked; "How can you have a museum without a building?" and the answer to that question is that a museum doesn't have a building until there is first a museum collection that needs to be housed. Otherwise you would have a building full of empty walls. So the collecting comes first and during that process a vision and a purpose is developed and then the collecting becomes more and more focused. It is a kind of sifting process.
Once there is a significant amount of work collected, then shows can be assembled which can travel to other venues for exhibition and in this way, when the time and circumstances are right there will enough public interest in the collection that going to the work and expense of an edifice will seem the logical next step.
That however, will take a financial commitment that I myself could not possibly make. Never the less, at present I would not want my vision of how to build the collection - namely through direct cooperation with other artists - to be compromised by those who have are stuck in a traditional art museum concept of collecting only the most valuable and precious things as determined by a collector market. This approach, according to my observation, leaves out almost everyone who is working at any given time. Because of museum collection policies almost all artists are off of the radar.
I am thinking about what I am doing with the museum in terms of at least decades of constant small amounts of effort being gathered into a basket and I think most collections are built that way. A museum is a timeless project that can go on for centuries. Once established it takes on a life of its own. It is not about what is happening this year or the next exhibition. It is about longevity and thinking in terms beyond a single lifetime and maybe across many generations. It is a creative projection.
Collage art is a very rich cultural record because all sorts of the stuff that makes up daily life ends up in collages and these are materials that otherwise would be lost in the ever receding and recycled past. Collage artists are preservationists really and their work will become increasingly interesting as artifacts to artists in the future and as they become historical matter.
My theory is that all of the artists in the collection will to some extent benefit from being in the museum especially if their particular work is good and interesting. This project has a lot to do with exploring museum politics and procedures via direct practice and is an attempt to return the power of art to the general artistic community rather than all of us following the very few that ever make it into the halls of fame via wealthy patrons and collectors who are, after all, the ones deciding what art has value and what art gets seen and whatever that is, is what art's future will be.
I see no reason to complain about how history has developed in the past. I love many of the artists whose works have been preserved but I want to expand that system by presenting an alternative idea. That is what I am working on and why I am willing to do it. It is an increasing difficult task but, I think, rewarding. It is not really about me collecting free art - I have all of my own I could ever want coming out of my ears. It is about community, collection building outside of the halls of power and building and preserving a history that otherwise might go unaccounted for. Previously only the famous, the royals and aristocrats were remembered. But it was because they or those around them took their own history seriously and were willing to go through the effort to preserve it.
What would happen if artists all over the place start making their own museums? That's my question and the collage museum will, in the future stand as one potential answer to that question. Also, thinking to the future, I want an institution that takes care of my body of work and continues to promote it into future generations where my children might possibly benefit from my life time of effort. I don't trust other people after watching what often happens to other artists' estates once they have passed on. I am being proactive. Once firmly established, I am sure other artists will want the Collage Museum to preserve their estates as well.

CC: I do think there is a validation in someone wanting your work. Some of us live in our own vacuums, and through the internet there is a way to approach people that are of similar interest. Even a timid person can hide behind the guise of their own internet persona and participate. Then there is the issue of community, where artists see something that others are doing, and they decide to go along and join in, creating new communities. There are a lot of cooperatives out there that are starting to take the whole gallery thing into their own hands. Maybe this would be a way for your museum to materialize, thru a cooperative or community effort. Or wouldn't this interest you, you are more into a private ownership situation?
CT: It's hard to say... At a certain point a wider group of people will have to be involved in order for the thing to function as an actual museum. That will probably require a 501c3 status so that interested parties can donate significant amounts of support to the idea. Even if there is a building, then there's all of the money and effort to run it. It would have to be a kind of business that generates enough income to pay for itself and the people caring for it such as a director etc.
So the aforementioned are the various things that motivate me though I am not really shooting for financial benefit at this point except so much as is needed to keep going. Does it bring me reputation? How would I know? I am fairly reclusive and most of my interactions are by email. I am not in the business of being a rock star or a public figure so the effects or benefits of reputation are impossible to gage. Perhaps I am developing reputation among other artists who are my colleagues. I would want them to know about what I am doing. That is who I anticipate influencing or inspiring and who I am inspired by. We are all hidden treasures.

CC: How much time do you spend working on your websites, organizing exhibits (not including your own) ...in relationship to the amount of time you spend on your own works? Is it a 50/50 split? 80/20?
CT: Websites, and I have many of them, are a form of public communication - a way to get your ideas and your vision out into the world. Every work of art is such a communication. So, in today's world I see website construction and promotion as an integral part of my artistic process - sort of developing my own milieu to work from. I have not really thought about it in terms of taking time away from my art making because all of the work I take on IS my work! But it might be something in the 50/50 range in terms of hours spent. After dealing with emails in the morning, I work in the studio. Then when I am finished for the day, I work on my various other projects such as poetry and recently I have been working on books to be published as another form of artistic production. It's a symbiotic relationship. Everything feeds everything else.

CC: Do you feel that people that do not have computers or people that do not spend time promoting themselves on the computer have a disadvantage when it comes to marketing their work? Are people that do not network at a disadvantage?
CT: Well. They would seem to be. Unless of course they are focused on a localized market as in NYC - some artists may not feel that they need the exposure from the internet... or may not feel that they want to expose themselves. Maybe they don't need to. At the same time, all of the hours spent online can be a huge distraction. As far as networking goes, as they say it isn't what you know but who you know. That is pretty true and speaks to the need for being connected to others on a social level. As artists, if we work long hours in our studios, we are by nature pretty isolated so we have to try to overcome the tendency to be overly reclusive. On the other hand, why bother really if you are working along happily and all you need to do is stay connected with your gallery dealers if you have some representing your work. Otherwise just the people you love and your friends. Too many connections can drain your time and steal you peace of mind.
I just think of everything I do as one seemless project of a heroic stature. That way I can be a legend in my own mind and then try to work in such a way to attempt to live up to that. By that I mean, I think all heroic characters whom we admire are such because they attempt to hold themselves to a high standard based on their ideals. The higher your ideals, the farther your going to reach and the more your going to demand of yourself to come as close as possible to exploiting your possibilities to be who you hope to become. I try to keep my ideals a bit beyond my reach at all times.

5 comments:

Laura said...

Julie,
Thank you for taking the time to ask these important questions and Thanks to Cecil for answering them. It has really opening my eyes up to a big picture and also the amazement of it all and that I'm part of this movement in some small way. thanks to the both of you.
~v~Laura

Laura said...

Oh, I copied it and printed this conversation so I can save in my library of important stuff about collage.
~v~
Laura

julie said...

Glad you found it as interesting as I did. Sometimes I feel like I live in a vacuum. It is reassuring to hear how others feel...

Mick said...

I want to say thanks for this wonderful interview too. Since I work as an artist - as well as in arts management - I don't work in what I'd call a vacuum. I'm out there everyday, consulting with artists, talking with artists, attending art openings, making studio visits and on and on. Even so, there's so much more that escapes notice and attention because of the sheer volume of what's at hand. I'm not complaining mind you, and I learned quite a bit from this exchange between you and Cecil. Thanks to Cecil for responding and to you once again for posting it, Julie.

cobaltika said...

excellent interview!

thank you both.


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