Industrial Harvest

Axe St. Arena Manifesto by sarah kavage

Michael Piazza was a co-founder – along with Bertha Husband, Mary Jo Marchnight, James Koehnline, Rebecca Wolfram, and Laura Piazza – of Axe St. Arena, a gathering space / gallery / event center in Logan Square in the mid-80s.  Here is their “manifesto” (it is not actually labeled a manifesto, but more neutral descriptions such as “mission statement” seem insufficient to describe it):

We reject a world in which education and information are touted as the answers to all our problems, while in reality they are seen as other mechanisms to intimidate and control.  We also reject an art which panders either to the investment-minded art collector and careerist art-maker, or the narrowly propagandist left.  Instead, we desire to indulge ourselves in such forbidden activities as dreaming and conversation, principled action and determined inaction.  From these things, real art, that strange fruit of mysterious intuitions and indefinable connections may, we hope, be encouraged to participate in our futures.”


The Four Mystics by sarah kavage

The Four Mystics

This image appeared repeatedly in Piazza’s archives.  The text reads, “there is an old Jewish tradition which tells of four mystics who ‘entered the garden,’ as the trance state is called.  Only one emerged in peace.  Of the other three, one went mad, another died, and a third took up magic.”   

Given the way he approached his artwork – a combination of modern-day mysticism, surrealism and achemy, Piazza must have related to this image.  Upon seeing it, it’s hard not to wonder about oneself, especially if you are prone to fits of inspiration and other such trancelike states.  Piazza seemed to be especially focused on the madness angle – he had a show called “On Preparations for Madness” and designed an ‘OPM’ logo that regularly appeared on stationery and other publications.  Art and insanity go together, it’s true, but the thing is, Piazza did not go mad.  He was the one that died young.  

I know that’s a little dark.  But this image has stuck with me ever since I saw it in the archives, I just don’t know how else to say the above, and my point is that you go into that place never knowing how it will affect you, but knowing that it will.

The Stealing of Nothingness by sarah kavage
December 14, 2009, 11:00 am
Filed under: Selections from the Piazza archive | Tags: , ,

This is in the Piazza archives from Elizam Escobar, a Puerto Rican artist (see more about Escobar in this post).  Titled “the Stealing of Nothingness”, it’s noted “E’s introduction to anthology.” It is the first couple of sentences that are most compelling:

“The search for status, prestige, legitimization, roots, raison d’etre, etc., is in a certain way a search for permission.  That is, the favor of God or men, the favor of the oppressed or the oppressors, the favor of my conscience or yours.  The justification of a path (or deviation) in order to do what must be done is also an impotence of accepting responsibility for one’s acts.” 
. . .
“We do not need permission, we need freedom, but a freedom based on commitment and responsibility.  A freedom passed through fire.”

Piazza’s reflections on his own work by sarah kavage
December 13, 2009, 11:00 am
Filed under: Selections from the Piazza archive | Tags: , ,

These were from some handwritten sketches and notes.  Piazza’s language in these quotes is beautifully geographic and sparsely Midwestern in nature: 

“My work is somewhat of a document to reflect upon and refer to.  It’s just a point.  Once I was going to it.  Next, it was there.”

“There is a point when I no longer know.  It is here that I go, that I search for when I’m not there.”

Dedicated To…/Dedicado a… by sarah kavage
December 12, 2009, 8:10 pm
Filed under: Selections from the Piazza archive | Tags: , , ,

The first stanza of Dedicated To, a poem by Elizam Escobar:

I dedicate this poem to dedication
and to those who dedicate their works to others.
Dedicated to the day and the night
to the hours that pass and those who laugh at us.

Dedicado a…
Dedico esta poema a la dedicacion
y a los que dedican sus obras a otros.
Dedicado al dia y a la noche
a las horas que pasan y a las que rien do nosotros. 

This was the first page I turned to in the Piazza archives.  It’s dated 1980.

Born in Puerto Rico, Escobar was arrested in 1980 and tried and jailed on charges of seditious conspiracy.  He and 10 others were accused of being members of the Armed Forces of Puerto Rican National Liberation and plotting bombings.  He served time in an Oklahoma prison, continuing to write and make artwork during that time.  Axe St. Arena, Piazza and co.’s gallery / gathering space in Logan Square, exhibited his work and apparently maintained a close relationship with Escobar during this time.  Piazza’s archives are filled with Escobar’s exhibition postcards, writings and letters. 

Escobar was given clemency in 1999 by President Clinton.  He is one of Puerto Rico’s most well-known artists and teaches painting at the School of Fine Arts in San Juan.  Shortly after Piazza’s death in April 2006, Escobar dedicated his solo show at Polvo to Piazza.

Selections from the Piazza Archive – an introduction by sarah kavage

I was touched and honored to be selected as InCUBATE’s Michael Piazza resident.  Piazza (1955-2006) seemed to inhabit many worlds at once – producing work that is mystical and layered with symbolism, yet remaining incredibly grounded in the reality in which we live, never (as Kurt Vonnegut so eloquently put it) “disappearing up his own asshole.” Piazza was a tireless advocate for, and investigator of, forgotton people and places.

As part of the residency, I get access to his archives, which his longtime friend and collaborator Jim Duignan of the Stockyard Institute dropped off the other day.  The archives consisted of three large three-ring binders full of scanned ephemera (letters, exhibition catalogs, event programs), and an old suitcase filled with originals. 

my other laptop - the piazza suitcase archive

Although I never knew Piazza – or heard of his work – until I found out about the residency, I feel like he’s an old friend.  Perhaps that’s a bit of a cliche, but I see so many of my people – and myself – in the collections of strange objects, old diagrams, and xeroxed booklets that it’s unnerving and pretty emotional at times. 

As I go through the archive, I’ll be posting some of my favorite selections here. 

I also feel compelled to say that I get the feeling that Piazza would want me to tell you that life is short, people!  Stop messing around and get out there and do what you need to do.