Yes, but Is It art? What an artist is obliged to share with her viewers

December 18, 2013
Photo: Write A Letter To Someone You Love(Photo: Courtesy of Nikki Pike)
"Love Letters" on display at RedLine.
When artist Nikki Pike proposed this piece, entitled “Love Letters,” to curator Carmen Winant for inclusion in the RedLine exhibit "An Invisible Boundary," there was no way that viewers would know that their words would be projected, in real time, on the back wall of the gallery where other visitors would be able to read them.
Pike worried that a warning would turn the exhibit into a game — "watch what I’m typing!" — instead of a channel for real emotion. Winant worried that the piece would be misleading and that viewers might feel violated if they learned after the fact that their personal correspondence had been displayed. RedLine visitors responded to “Love Letters” in a mixed way; one audience member who shared feedback with RedLine’s executive director, Louise Martorano, was unarmed by the lack of privacy, while another one used “Love Letters” to propose to his girlfriend.
Earlier this month, Pike and Winant sat down with Chloe Veltman to discuss their disagreement, what they decided to do with the piece and what all this has to tell us about the relationship between an artist and her viewers.
Here is some background for the conversation -- the artist's curatorial statement:
"An Invisible Boundary" — Curatorial Statement
“When he was in the process of going blind, the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote these words about his shifting attitude toward creative production: ‘I made a decision. I said to myself: Since I have lost the beloved world of appearances, I must create something else . . . A writer, or any man, must believe that whatever happens to him is an instrument; everything has been given for an end. This is even stronger in the case of the artist. Everything that happens [is] material for one's art.’ This understanding—that the lack of sight may provide a heightened awareness and offer new channels of exchange—will be the basis for RedLine’s upcoming resident artist exhibition: 'An Invisible Boundary.'
This challenge is relevant for all artists, who trade in the visible (or what Borges called the ‘beloved world of appearances’), producing objects to challenge, to evoke, to aestheticize, and, above all, to be seen. How then, to consider the stakes of invisibility within our individual practices, and field at large? RedLine residents will take a broad-reaching approach to this idea in 'An Invisible Boundary,' exploring such strategies as distorting conventional perception, privileging the non-visual senses (or otherwise pointing to the limitations of sight), and dealing with ‘veiled’ or covert subject matter. No matter the medium, each work will stand to challenge the boundaries and functions of perceptibility.”
"An Invisible Boundary" is on display at RedLine (2350 Arapahoe Street) in Denver’s River North Arts District now through Sunday, December 29. Gallery hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

This segment is the first in a new discussion series, "Yes, but is it art?" It brings together people with different relationships to art—not just experts, but also those who simply love going to museums or magic shows, those who devote countless hours to making collages or singing carols, and those who would rather wait in line at the DMV than attend a dance performance.  Each segment will use a particular Colorado cultural phenomenon to get at some of the deeper questions underlying our engagement with art.  What is art, what is it for, and what role does it play in our lives?  Our goal is not to find a single answer to any of these questions, but to revel in the disagreement.