Dialog in Common

Lori Gordon: On the Service Paradigm

Lori Gordon Auffhammer [LG] is an artist and independent curator based in San Francisco.
pressTranscript from telephone interview with Markuz Wernli Saitô [MWS] on Oct. 21, 2006.

Make It Everyday

Make It Everyday (2006): Lori Gordon has written personal letters with thoughtful instructions for the viewers. Each handwritten letter has been created with a simple task in mind...

Lori, you have arrived the service paradigm before I believe?
Yes. Certainly it came up in my graduate program. Since the 1970s service economy has been an important subject matter among San Francisco Bay artists like Linda Montano, Tom Marioni or Ian Wilson. Personally, within the service economy that exists I am interested in the gift economy. The idea of give and take, the exchange. The giving without necessarily receiving something in return. I am interested in the aspect of reciprocity, asking for something in return.

Do you see your work as a service to the public?
LG: That depends on the project. I do things for people, but I also do isolated projects, work specifically done on my behalf. I don't consider myself strictly a service-based artist. It is one part of my practice.

Do you see yourself as a service provider? What makes the service paradigm part of your art practice?
LG: I hope that through working with others you learn about yourself. I made a list why working with the other is important to me. For example, how rewarding it is; a certain narcism can play in; a place to fail; the idea of potlatch, etc.

The service industry works with certain quality assuring standards. Do you have some sort of criteria you evaluate your own work?
LG: I think that an artist like Ian Wilson goes to an extreme with this: he makes and sells conversations which are authenticated with a certificate. In Wilson's case it is enough to simply provide the experience.

Some people question relational art practice and ask: why aren't you a social worker? For my part I am a 'stuff person', I like the material articulation of the process. The trap in relational aesthetics is when it is just about the documentation. It is dangerous if the project is just about the documentation. On the other hand it is possible to process and fabricate the documentation by making it the subject itself.

Of course I could just giving out sandwiches at Union Square. But it is the residue of the ephemeral I am invested in that I enjoy doing. It is important to question why we are doing this and what is our true intentions are. It's good to carefully look my work and understand the way I communicate to the world. It is important to question why we are doing this and what is our intentions are: desire and concern; be aware of the other; complexity of life; becoming familiar with the unknown person.

We live in a time of widespread superficial contacts. What do you think about facilitating depth in connections and relationships?
LG: I ask myself what makes me feel elevated. It is a deep sense of longing and connection, the authentic yearning for exchange and reciprocity. In the book Art in Life Linda Morano prompts the question whether it is possible to have an intimate contact with a stranger. I am truly amazed about the short but profound deep encounters which are possible. E.g. in the project Make It Everyday individuals write back to me in all sincerity.

What does it take to facilitate deep interactions with strangers?
LG: From my experience, the simpler the idea the better. The more layered the experience is, the greater chances are to lose the person. People live busy lives and are skeptical. There is a nervousness and paranoia which is my work addresses fears and anxieties. To get people to participate is difficult. That's why I think that simple and minimal is good. Things which are bare bones and self-explanatory. Most importantly I explicitly invite and ask anybody for feedback.

Make It Everyday

... Those that take the letters will be invited to report back on their actions, through the SASE provided. Gordon is interested not only in whether the viewers will reciprocate and follow the directions, but also as to what occurs after the initial action.

Going back to quality standards. What are your guiding principles in your art practice?
LG: We are setting the standards. I am a perfectionist, thinking, worrying about the details. There is a thin line between sincerity and irony. When something is sincere I can believe in it. You have to be convinced to convince others because you ask a lot of them. That way you can generate a platform for others to speak and find trust. The doubts inside myself are guiding me. I work quickly and across media, I get bored soon so an idea has to be as exciting today as yesterday. Many ideas remain ideas because they fail. My hope is always that people reciprocate, to establish an intimate connection with a stranger. Acknowledge me, recognize and love me for the way I am. It's been said to me that I am falling into this Hippie model but I am interested in the place of love because a big parts of the art world is sarcastic and dark. But as for me I'm always assuming that my audience is kind and respects or accepts the work at the serious level I am setting it out.

Some artists use marketing strategies borrowed from the service industry and language of the market economy. What is your take on that?
LG: Branding is fascinating me. Beth Alice Cook is interested in 'office culture' for example uses business-type strategy models to analyze and reframe emotional and social matters. Leaving a mark of identity is important to me in order to have a hand in it. Just putting out nameless things in the city, no one would know it was me.

Any final, complimentary thoughts on the service paradigm from your point of view?
LG: People working within the gift economy and thinking they're generous are in a trap I believe. To make a gift is a rather self-serving and not self-less act since we expect something in return.

Lori Gordon is an artist and independent curator who investigates the structure and power of belief and creates projects that attempt to decipher both humanity's and her own connection with the universe. Through collaborative endeavors, Lori explores the distance between coincidence and intention, with an emphasis on setting up moments that deviate from the expected. In some cases, Lori is more interested in providing the organized framework around which potential interactions may occur. With all her work, she is more interested in the journey than the destination. Lori is forever attempting to make the ineffable visible.

externalLori Gordon's website

Referenced Artists:

externalTom Marioni

externalBeth Alice Cook

externalLinda Montano