Talk about psychic whiplash! I just spent a few days in Reno, mostly at the Museum of Art + Environment, which was extremely cool. The Museum is so thoroughly grounded in sense of place, in assorted notions of what constitutes art that is specific in its engagement with environment. The Director of the Center for Art + Environment, Bill Fox, shared his wisdom about the exhibits, the library, the archives they are collecting. It was a rich and riveting few days.
But in the evenings, after dinner, I went “home” to my hotel room on an upper floor of a local casino. Casinos are the antithesis of specific. They mess with your sense of space and time. The light is all artificial, so you can’t tell what time of day or night it is. And you move among spaces that kind of blur into one another, with few markers to help you orient. Plus, it could be any casino anywhere. Casinos, I think, are the sort of place Michel Foucault was talking about when he coined the term “heterotopia.” Places that are not really places, in a sense.
All my to-ing and fro-ing between museum and casino might have been the thing that made me so captivated by the work in the “small works gallery,” a set of tiny photos by Jean-Pierre Bonfort that he made with his cellphone camera during trips between Grenoble and Paris. According to the squib on the wall, the images are “not a record of the journey so much as of the artist’s state of mind.”
A train is probably also a heterotopia, a place that isn’t a place–as it moves through the landscape. But Bonfort’s images are intriguingly specific, even though they rely on a visual vocabulary over which he has limited control. The cellphone camera doesn’t allow for much image manipulation. And it doesn’t look like he did much afterwards in photoshop.
Though both heterotopias, casino and train would seem to invite diametric responses. The one asking you to lose yourself within its confines, the other to find yourself by looking beyond.