Michael Rakowitz

Michael Rakowitz
"The Stands," 2008
Various dimensions
Courtesy of the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects
Estimated value: $8500
Starting bid: $2000

Michael Rakowitz (b. 1973, New York) is an artist based in Chicago and New York CIty. In 1998 he initiated paraSITE, an ongoing project in which the artist custom builds inflatable shelters for homeless people that attach to the exterior outtake vents of a building’s heating, ventilation, or air conditioning system. His work has appeared in venues worldwide including P.S.1, MoMA, MassMOCA, Castello di Rivoli, the 10th Istanbul Biennial, Sharjah Biennial 8, Tirana Biennale, National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt, and Transmediale 05. He has had solo exhibitions at Lombard-Freid Projects in New York, Alberto Peola Arte Contemporanea in Torino, and Stadtturmgalerie/Kunstraum Innsbruck. His public project, “Return,” was presented by Creative Time in New York in 2006. He is the recipient of a 2008 Creative Capital Grant for “Dark Turquoise,” a collaboration with artist Emna Zghal; a Sharjah Biennial Jury Award; a 2006 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship Grant in Architecture and Environmental Structures; the 2003 Dena Foundation Award, and the 2002 Design 21 Grand Prix from UNESCO. His recent project “White man got no dreaming” was featured at the 16th Biennale of Sydney in June, 2008. Rakowitz is an Associate Professor in Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University and a Contributing Editor for Surface Tension: A Journal on Spatial Arts.

Artist statement:

"I define much of my work as public art that utilizes architecture, design and urban space as a medium. Working site-specifically, I regard these mediums as ready-made sites that come with certain expectations and beliefs about how an object or a system should be used. When a detour occurs in that system, people start to pay attention. Through the subtle alteration of the function of spaces, devices, and systems, I integrate the audience into a critique of the very institutions that created these mechanisms, while at the same time merging utility with metaphor. In paraSITE, I make use of the exterior ventilation ducts on buildings to inflate and heat custom-built plastic shelters for the homeless, attaching them directly to buildings that symbolize the situation that is absent in their lives. In Climate Control at PS 1, I introduce an apparatus that controls temperature and relative humidity according to institutional exhibition standards. The museum lacks this kind of system, and the result is an absurd, autonomous, self-perpetuating machine.

For me, public art enlists its audience as a vital collaborator in the production of meaning; all my projects engage a public on platforms that differ with each context. paraSITE confronts the general public by virtue of its direct visibility on the street, while also relying on an open system of collaboration wherein each homeless person determines the custom appearance and function of their prototype through consultation. In Return, visitors to a Brooklyn storefront where I’d resurrected my grandfather’s Baghdad-based import-export company could ship items of their choice, gratis, to recipients in Iraq, and purchase products produced in Iraq but bearing labels from other parts of the world to avoid high security charges and taxes. The store also imported the first shipment of Iraqi dates to the US in over thirty years, a complicated and circuitous journey that served as a surrogate for larger tragedies. The result was a fertile space for discourse: customers from the Iraqi diaspora could engage other citizens in a critical exchange, focusing the larger crisis in Iraq on a direct and individual scale.

Much of my work investigates, through symbol and metaphor, historical or contemporary events that have affected a specific context or space. Rise was created for an exhibition staged in a Chinatown building whose original tenants had recently been evicted by rent increase. In an attempt to bridge the gallery space with the local community, I vertically extended the central oven duct of the adjacent Fei Dar Bakery 125 feet up into the ninth-floor exhibition area, filling it with the bakery’s smells.

In all of these projects agitation acts as a catalyst for circumventing expected responses. The agitating message may seek a disarming or innocuous vehicle, such as the smell of Chinese pastries baking or the delicious Iraqi date. Within the aroma, however, hovers an idea more dangerous and threatening: the invisible and excluded have breached the fortress and circumvented the structures that usually impede its presence."

About this work:
The Stands: A proposal by Michael Rakowitz

"This project was initially conceived in 2005 for Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles. The stadium workers who clean up after fans routinely make $7 an hour or less, which fall into the category of poverty wages, considering that Baltimore’s living wage is $9.62 per hour. The Maryland Stadium Authority contends the workers are not eligible to make a living wage because their employment is temporary, due to the fact the stadium workers do not work games when the Orioles are out of town, which comprises about 81 games of a 162 game season.

The United Workers Association have been fighting the MSA and the Orioles ownership on this front for years (for a brief article on this, please see http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070910/zirin, but there is much much more in-depth online as well).

As a lifelong baseball fan, I have come to know and apreciate the nuances of the sport. Some of the more fascinating details of the game concern the way in which teams’ schedules are determined with heavy emphasis on when nationally televised games occur. Rivalries are hyped up, and the game has become a more and more dramatised spectacle, which has a lot to do with the play-by-play narration of game commentators matching up with carefully choreographed camera angles. Fans attending games will make signs with clever slogans and even make mention of the broadcast network televising the game in the hopes of being on television. Others in choice spots, behind home plate or the dugout, will always be in the camera’s view.

Mindful of this ready-made spectacular platform, I proposed that the UWA acquire  cheap seats at Camden Yards for one of the nationally televised games (after the 2nd inning, seats can be had for as low as $2 each). Ideally, hundreds of activists and workers would attend and essentially take over entire sections of the stands. Then, as key plays were made on the field close to their sections, they would reveal placards demanding justice for workers, rather than typical fan-made signs. Instead of chants for the home team, they would yell slogans demanding living wages and improved working conditions. These demonstrators would appear on screen and be audible, at least for a while.

I propose to initiate The Stands in the context of Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox home games that would be televised nationally during the 2009 season. For this incarnation of the project, anti-war activists including groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War would be invited to acquire large blocks of tickets and to develop slogans and placards that take advantage of the spectacle of a baseball game. When a batter successfully makes it on base, the goal is for the player to come home and score a run. In this context, the popular anti-war phrase “Bring Them Home” has a double meaning. People protesting the war will shout it with one intention, while others who follow may shout it for another, creating for them an instance of accidental dissidence."



The Stands
The Stands
Alwan Auction 2016

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