Lesson: Dave McKenzie: A Modern Flaneur's Proposals

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Art, Global Studies
  • "I'll Be There," 2008-2009."I'll Be There," 2008-2009.
  • still from "Postcards From," 2008.still from "Postcards From," 2008.
  • "On Location," 2008."On Location," 2008.
  • "I'll Be There," 2007."I'll Be There," 2007.

Introduction

written by Joseph Keehn II and Cathleen Lewis, High School Programs Manager

Identifying himself as neither a tourist nor a resident of the Lower East Side, Dave McKenzie’s works in “Museum as Hub: Six Degrees” investigates the New Museum’s neighborhood through the eyes of a modern flâneur. Taking to the streets, McKenzie photographs, films, and encounters the people and places of the Lower East Side while bringing up questions of memory and notions of the visitor, tourist, and resident. What do we recall is significant and how do we make it significant? Does a proposal carry responsibility or obligation? This lesson explores these questions through the visual inquiry of three of McKenzie’s work and a media activity.

Objectives

  • Students will be introduced to a flâneur’s approach to investigating neighborhood.
  • Students will investigate the artistic choice of anonymity and its role in a work of art.
  • Students will create an Internet-inspired work that examines the use of community and privacy.

Vocabulary

Flâneur is a person who walks the city in order to experience it. Charles Baudelaire, a theorist and economic, cultural, literary and historical thinker, used the idea of the flâneur as a referent for understanding urban phenomena and modernity.
Happening refers to a performance, event, or situation meant to bridge the gap between art and life.
Narrative is the representation of a story.

Materials

Dave McKenzie’s images from the Digital Archives
Internet access for each student
Colored chalk or string

Lesson Strategy

Walking around the neighborhood in the months prior to the exhibition, as a modern flâneur, Dave McKenzie photographed locations including building exteriors, street corners, and urban architecture, both the noteworthy and mundane.

Watch at Postcards from.

  • Who are we looking at, and what is he doing?
  • What is the focus of the artwork?
  • Why do you think we only get to see his hands and hear his voice?
  • How do you feel when you explore a neighborhood that you don’t know? Do you feel like you are a visitor, do you have a sense of belonging? Do you see things fresh and anew? Does it feel a little like being a tourist?
  • Is there a sense of adventure in not knowing, to have no expectations? Why?
  • What purposes do postcards serve?
  • How would you compare the scenery in McKenzie’s postcards with the souvenir postcards that announce what you have seen and experienced as a tourist/visitor?
  • What role does memory play in this work? What is the artist telling us about memory?
  • How does he contextualize the images?

Through city photography, often a tourist’s pastime, the artist tries to see the Lower East Side anew, though he is neither a tourist nor a resident. In the video, McKenzie flips through these images, trying to recall the place, an interaction, or details about the location. Attempting to name each image, McKenzie explores the gap between specificity of place and the disassociation that can come through image-making, along with the mind’s tendency to abstract and forget. McKenzie’s difficult memory game highlights how he remembers and contextualizes a location through a moment, feeling, or visual detail about the place, and forgets the specifics of many others. In replicating the tourist’s action, the artist tries to note the neighborhood’s distinction, conflating his attempt at seeing with his difficulty in remembering [1].

Look at I’ll Be There published in the Hub Newspaper.

  • What do you see on the calendar?
  • What do you think the title has to do with this calendar?
  • What is the potential of an event happening?
  • What could happen during this encounter?
  • Who is the artist communicating with through this calendar?
  • How does the artist activate the location of his meeting/event?
  • How can the artist construct new meaning or change his interaction in a location with chance encounters?
  • What are the elements of I’ll Be There? Is it the calendar announcement? The encounter? Both?

Dave McKenzie has described working as an artist as a way to meet people. In I’ll Be There, McKenzie proposes meetings at locations around the Lower East Side over the course of the exhibition. The locations vary, the only constant is McKenzie’s pledge to show up. These proposed encounters, a series of open-ended acts, speak to the potential in an encounter: an anticipated conversation, a random happenstance, or even that the artist’s proposal is unmet. McKenzie contemplates the potential he holds as an individual in an encounter to bring about change, encourage dialogue, and forge new meaning. By situating his meetings in the Lower East Side, the artist activates the neighborhood with this potential. To publicize the meetings to the New Museum audience, McKenzie has created a calendar with the times and locations of his six proposed meetings in the Museum as Hub publication [1].

Read On Location.

  • Where might you see this type of posting?
  • How does this letter differ from others you may have seen?
  • What declaration does the artist make to the residents immediately?
  • What does it mean to learn to see a space?
  • Why wouldn’t the parked cars affect the filming?
  • If the cars and the people are not the focus of the “video and still photography equipment” what do you think is the focus?
  • What does the artist mean by “I may cast you as memory”?
  • If a film crew’s normative behavior is intrusive, how would McKenzie’s differ?
  • What type of framing is to occur?
  • McKenzie declares the neighborhood is the subject, yet states that he could never claim it, why not?
  • Who is the viewer, McKenzie or the resident?
  • What is fictional about this work? What is real? How does the artist create these stories?
  • How does the artist’s intent factor in this work of art?
  • What is the work of art? Is it the idea? Is it this posted letter?

In On Location, the artist scouts locations around the Lower East Side as sites for a movie that will never be made. As location scout, McKenzie explores the neighborhood, and instead of imposing a narrative, he is inspired by those who inhabit the spaces in daily life: a couple on a bench, for example, on the corner of Ludlow and Stanton may inspire a love story. Referencing notices announcing filming in a neighborhood, often an inconvenience to residents, McKenzie places his own “Dear Neighbor” letters on signposts, businesses, and residences. Hoping to cause no infringement upon the local community in a neighborhood where he is neither resident nor complete outsider, McKenzie uses his letter to justify his presence and assure the anonymous reader of the sincerity of his work as an artist. Framing his view of the neighborhood in this context and inspired by what he sees, McKenzie overlays stories and situations to craft a never-told narrative through observation [1].

  • In all of these works there is a sense of anonymity. Discuss the role of the anonymous in his works and what it means to be anonymous. Is the work more accessible by his being anonymous? How?
  • What other commonalities exist among the three works of art?

Internet Activity

Review the definition of flâneur. Students will be asked to become Internet flâneurs.

Brainstorm:

  • How is the Internet anonymous? How is it not?
  • In what ways do a neighborhood and the Internet share commonalities? Differences?
  • List possible communities on the Internet.
  • Referring to Dave McKenzie’s I’ll Be There, in what ways could a proposal exist online? What ways could the proposal of On Location exist?
  • Would you share this information? How?
  • What could potentially be lost in an online community?

Individually, students will investigate the Internet for thirty minutes. They will document each Web site that they go to and the time that they were there. On the board students will write their name and the Web sites that they visited with the times they visited them. In one color of chalk, students will draw lines connecting Web sites that multiple students visited. In another color, students will draw lines connecting the Web sites that multiple students visited at the same time. A variation on this would be to use string. Instead of having the students write their names on the board, they will stand in a circle and the string will act as the chalk line.

  • Where there any trends in what sites the students visited? (Was Facebook or e-mail accounts first visited?)
  • By looking at the physical layout of the chalk/string, what does this tell us about the Internet? What about the Internet’s communities?
  • What limitations did this activity have? Would the sites you visited differ if you did not document them? How would this have changed your web?
  • How does this activity relate to the notions of privacy? Public?

Additional Resources

Museum As Hub: Six Degrees Organized by Eungie Joo [1]

Lesson Plan: Dave McKenzie: A Modern Flaneur's Proposals