The Art Assassin

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang

Chapter 45: ASSASSINATION: Anne Percoco, Artist

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Photograph of Anne Percoco. Courtesy of Anne Percoco.
Anne Percoco: Indra’s Cloud (public performance in Vrindavan, India), 2008, plastic water bottles, plastic rope, boat, 8 by 6 by 14 feet. Courtesy of Anne Percoco.

Last year, as I was executing a long-term conceptual art project to “obtain” rejection or acceptance letters from various galleries with the help of my “stepfather” Powell Smith in New York, I had decided to drop by an open studio session for my friend Ilse Murdock who was down at the Mason Gross School of the Arts. I took the train ride down to New Jersey to peep all of the shows going on over there.

Upon walking through the graduating MFA shows, I was mesmerized by the documentary work of a Ms. Anne Percoco. I was transfixed by a particular photograph of a faux fried egg left smack dab in the middle of the highway. It brought into my imagination questions of reality versus illusion and the magic of an artist to reconstruct common objects (in this case, food) using unexpected materials which was hot glue, cardboard, and reflective road paint. Surreal, indeed.

Percoco, who has been working on various art projects in India, was kind enough to chat with me online and I was very obliging to be able to present her vibrant personality and rather insightful work to the readers.

She is not represented currently by a commercial gallery. So if you have any questions about Percoco’s artwork, feel free to contact her privately at annepercoco@yahoo.com.

So here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s details of the “assassination”:

qi peng: Perusing your website, I found your artwork to be a rather fascinating personal diary of your life’s experiences from the viewpoint of a conceptual journal. As a visual archaeologist, do you excavate as much from your own life’s stories as history and public areas? What do you look for in the empirical world that would elucidate your approach to making artwork?

Anne Percoco: I suppose you can say my work is personal to the extent that it is a record of the places and materials I have come into contact with. My work most often comes out of my experience of my immediate surroundings, especially with regard to materials. Each material has its own formal properties, which are just as important to me as its local, historical, and environmental resonances. In this way I treat found materials like artifacts, as things to be learned from. Furthermore, I approach art making not as creating something completely new, but as reorganizing what is already there. This approach is somewhat opportunistic.

Here is an example: my recent sculpture, “Indra’s Cloud”, is made entirely out of plastic water bottles. These were readily available to me; I was staying at a guest house in Vrindavan, India that was also hosting a foreign yoga group. This group went through these bottles at a surprising rate. The bottles piled up in the hallways. It wasn’t difficult for me to collect enough to make this sculpture. The fact that it was necessary for this group to use such a vast quantity of mineral water is a direct result of the environmental devastation of the Yamuna River. Furthermore, the translucence of the bottles naturally lent them to represent a cloud. Finally, the narrative of this cloud floating on the Yamuna around the perimeter of the town recalls a local myth. The myth is about a disagreement between the gods about the true source of water, and the destructive impact on the town’s people. Everything fit together. I didn’t add or subtract anything from my surroundings – I just reorganized it.

qi peng: Studying at both Drew University and Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts, how have your learning and studio practice there influenced your creations?

Anne Percoco: Drew and Rutgers are very different places, and I benefited from experiencing them both. Drew is a liberal arts college, while Mason Gross is an art school. Mason Gross has a great history of experimentation and playfulness, particularly with its involvement in Fluxus, and that quality is still a big part of the culture there. I really enjoyed this part of it.

qi peng: How has your style developed over the years?

Anne Percoco: My work was more formal at Drew and then evolved to include conceptual elements at Rutgers. This was a natural shift for me – a result of just trying to remain curious and responsive to the world around me, and maintain a sense of freedom.

qi peng: You have shown in various venues such as small project spaces, experimental galleries, and non-profits. What is your favorite place to show at and why?

Anne Percoco: This year I have been working on public/community-based/site specific work, and I am really loving it. It just blows the whole art-life separation out of the water. At the same time, I’m preparing for a solo show next month at the gallery of Karnataka Chitra Kala Parishat, the main art college in Bangalore. I am interested in both ways of working and showing.

qi peng: What is your artist’s residency in India like?

Anne Percoco: I am currently in residence at the Bangalore Artists Centre, and my work in India is sponsored by a grant from the Asian Cultural Council. The BAC directors have taken an active roll in introducing me to the art scene here. They arranged for me to attend a workshop on site-specific art and for my show next month, and they have been supportive in all ways.

qi peng: Considering that India is becoming a larger contemporary art market as evidenced by the recent shift in exhibiting artwork from there in art fairs, what do you think about your interaction with recent art from that area?

Anne Percoco: In some ways it seems like India has a better climate for young artists than New York does: it seems like there are more opportunities and funding to go around, and the cost of living is so much lower, so it’s easier to live off of your work. However, there is less tolerance of really experimental work in universities, although that is rapidly changing. Also, censorship of controversial work is more common here than in the US. The BAC is dedicated to promoting experimental work from both Indian and foreign artists.

qi peng: What qualities attract you to Asian culture? How do you incorporate it into your methodology and draft conceptions?

Anne Percoco: In terms of the influence that Asian culture has had on my work, I do feel an affinity with the process of enshrining, which resulted in my Kilmer Shrines project. For that project, I built shrines to a network of storm drains in Piscataway, New Jersey and lead public tours of them. I think of building shrines as a way of paying attention and respect to a place or landscape feature in a physical, material way. Shrines are often site-specific as well.

Also, this is a very exciting time to be in India because of the dramatic changes taking place. Global culture and technology are colliding and mingling with local culture in very interesting ways.  Also, levels of resourcefulness and creative solutions are like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else.

qi peng: Considering that you have been in India, what are your favorite places there? Your favorite foods and memories?

Anne Percoco: Here is a recent memory to illustrate my last statement: Last night I heard a song performed by a group of traditional folk singers called “Bhoomi Taayi Balaga”, in the local style and language. The only part I could understand was the chorus: “www dot com”. A friend summarized it for me: The song was about how the internet is coming to villages, but they still don’t have some basic needs met. They would rather just have food. If you go to http://www.banana.com, you won’t get a banana. They are putting a computer in every village, but there are no blackboards in the schools.

qi peng: Do you think that the concept that India being colorful and exotic is a racist attitude from the Westerners or is its reputation befitting for the country?

Anne Percoco: The idea that India is colorful is not a stereotype: it’s a fact. Houses are painted electric blue (or green, yellow, pink…never beige). I’ve read that hot pink is considered a conservative color. Tye-dye is really popular. Exotic means “different or foreign”. In that way it’s a neutral adjective to use. It’s relative; to many Indians, Westerners are exotic. Stereotypes happen when assumptions and value judgments are made based on these differences.

qi peng: Would you mind explaining the contexts for the following series: Extinct Machines? Shrines? Reinventing the Phonograph? Other works? How does each series relate to one another?

Anne Percoco: The link between the three projects you mentioned is my location at that time: I was at Rutgers, and my studio was on the Livingston Campus: a former army base, a commuter’s hub, a non-pedestrian-friendly area, with dump sites concealed by patches of woods. I think of these wooded areas as “junkspace”, a term coined by Rem Koolhaus. “Junkspace” is invisible from prescribed routes and thus overlooked, unused, untended, and host to numerous extraordinary possibilities. There, artifacts accumulate and decay, and history is most visible.

In walks around these areas I discovered the artifacts from “Extinct Machines”, an archaeological exhibit of ancient information-age artifacts. These walks also yielded my Kilmer Shrines project, which, as I explained earlier, is a network of shrines dedicated to the local drainage system. Reinventing the Phonograph came about because my studio was across the street from the office of the Edison Papers, which is affiliated with Thomas Edison’s archive. Edison’s laboratory was located a few towns away. In this project, which is still in progress, my collaborator Lillian Mooney and I are attempting to engineer a working phonograph using Edison’s barely-legible notes as our only guide. It is a Jurassic-Park-like undertaking: to raise an extinct species from the dead by examining its original source code. Drafts made along the way will be included in the project’s final form: a series of models that will likely vary in aesthetics and functionality.

qi peng: Would you consider your Shrines series an extension of the Land Art movement from the 1960’s and 1970’s?

Anne Percoco: Definitely.

qi peng: When you document your temporary or permanent projects, what take do you have on each single or collective work?

Anne Percoco: Documentation is important to my work, which is sometimes temporary or ephemeral. My website is also an important tool that allows me to draw connections between works.

qi peng: Would you mind sharing your favorite music, art, books, movies, and other cultural artifacts with the reader? How do these choices relate to your personality?

Anne Percoco: Though this threatens to resemble a Facebook profile, some favorites are currently as follows:

Artist – Francis Alys

Book – Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

Movie – Wall-E

Music – the dot-com song I described above

qi peng: Do you feel that our postmodern world is dehumanized and if so, what would be the counterweight to that trend?

Anne Percoco: I feel that American landscapes are becoming dehumanized, or rather, disembodied. I was talking to an Indian artist who visited America (Georgia), and he was struck by the lack of pedestrian traffic. At first he thought the landscape was deserted, then he realized that everyone is inside their cars.

qi peng: What are your favorite galleries within the New York City area? Do you have any recent exhibitions you wish to recommend to us?

Anne Percoco: I’ve been away since August, so I can’t recommend any shows. But I always look forward to visiting Tanya Bonakdar, Greene Naftali, and James Cohan, and to just wandering around. My favorite museum in New York is PS1.

qi peng: Who is Dr. Helen Daubmannus? To what extent is she a fictional or non-fictional extension of your own desires or personal biographical events? Since she seems to be a living persona, how can we help to continue the legacy of her finds? How will her work fit into the canon of art history?

Anne Percoco: Dr. Helen Daubmannus is the fictional archaeologist whose work I have archived for my project “Extinct Machines”. She is not a stand-in for myself – we have different life stories and personalities. She has passed, but I have permission from her son to organize and display her personal archive. Her work does not fit into the “canon of art history”; It doesn’t belong in an art gallery, but rather a museum with more general cultural and historical subjects.

qi peng: Do you consider yourself a feminist artist? How do you think that women’s values are shown within the context of what your past, present, or future projects?

Anne Percoco: Not overtly. I consider myself an environmental artist. But here is where I think we meet. Rebecca Solnit writes:

Ecofeminist Carolyn Merchant points out, “All parts of a system have equal value,” a concept that delegitimizes authority and imposition, replacing it with ideas of negotiation, collaboration, participation, and that devalues the transcendent in favor of the immanent. These ideas are manifested in the political process of ecologists and feminists, in their democratizing goals of dispersing rights and recognitions among the hitherto silenced and overlooked. They are also manifested in the ways many artists have chosen to work since the 1960’s—ways that constitute responses to and negotiations with existing materials, systems, communities, and places. These modes suggest the artist as collaborator or midwife for a world that already has meaning and order, rather than an autocratic creator imposing meaning upon an inert, waiting world or making a better one out of nothing.

(As Eve Said to the Serpent, p. 56-58)

qi peng: What is your underlying philosophy of history and the way it has been redacted by scholars?

Anne Percoco: I am not going to even try to answer this question, except to say that history is a story with many authors. It is always being written and re-written.

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at qipengart@gmail.com
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Written by qi peng

May 12, 2009 at 2:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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