Lesson: Lisa Sigal: Altering Perspectives

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Art, Global Studies
  • "Line-up," 2008."Line-up," 2008.

Introduction

Written by Cathleen Lewis, High School Programs Manager.

We often think of painters working on traditional two-dimensional structures such as canvas, board, or paper. Sometimes traditional structures find their way into Lisa Sigal’s work as elements alongside other elements like gallery walls, freestanding Sheetrock, wood, and other architecture as part of a larger installation. Sigal describes her language as that of a painter, and her paintings as an invitation to the viewer to leave the space of a room and enter the space of a painting [1]. Using a bicycle lane on Prince Street across the street from the New Museum as the point of departure, Sigal has used the same sea-foam green color to paint a line that extends into the urban landscape. The sea-foam green line¬¬—a riff off the city’s new bike lane on Prince Street¬—follows rooftops, windows, and buildings, casting a gesture beyond the New York horizon [2] .

Objectives

  • Students will make connections to imagination, altering perceptions, and seeing the larger picture.
  • Students will discuss the manifesto of the Situationist International and their right to the city.
  • Students will consider how to work collaboratively with others.

Vocabulary

Gesture refers to the act of capturing the major form of a composition with a few strokes.
Abstract Expressionism is an American movement in art occurring after the Second World War. Not all artists within this movement employed abstraction or expressionism; the artists shared a similarity of outlook rather than style. This outlook comprised individuality and spontaneous improvisation.
Situation is a constructed event that the Situationist believed had the potential for play to lead to a total revolution of life and society.

Materials

Lisa Sigal’s images from the Digital Archives

Lesson Strategy

Introduce the Situationist International.
Define situationism.

The Situationist International was made up of various factions such as the Situationist Bauhaus, Lettrist International and Socialisme ou Barbarie (Socialism or Barbarism) who together unified in 1957 in Europe. The Situationist called for a radical creation of situations, critique of societal spectacles (Guy Debord), and a demand for a transformation of the city towards unitary urbanism.

Guy Debord was one of the most prominent members of the Situationist who wrote extensively on the effects of capitalism on society and the social possibility for real “lived” experience. Capitalism produces spectacles: forms of information, advertising, and events that created a separation of life from “real” lived experience to one that is a construction of life reduced to images. Experience and social interaction/exchange is replaced with the consumption of products and its appearances, or what Guy Debord describes as “the obvious degradation of being into having.” Debord describes the spectacle’s capacity to create a separation of everyday life“ where the real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior.”

Look at Lisa Sigal’s Line-up and describe what you notice.

  • What type of relationship is the artist drawing with her line and the environment?
  • What formal qualities is she asking us to consider?
  • When one notices the bicycle line (lane) what else do you notice?
  • Is there tension between the real and the imagined? Which is the real?
  • What does it mean to be an active looker? Does one see more when one is actively looking than when one is passively looking? How?
  • What does it do to our senses when we see something unexpected, not seen before?
  • How does the title relate to the work?
  • What type of negotiations do you suppose were made with the neighbors and businesses to make this work happen?
  • Do you think that the artist has claimed some right to the city? How?
  • When this show is de-installed this work will cease to exist in its present form. What do you think about the temporality of the work?

Lisa Sigal spent many hours looking out the glass façade of the New Museum’s fifth floor Resource Center, considering the urban landscape, the Museum’s new home, its neighbors and its partners. Looking out she considered ways to make an optimistic gesture into the neighborhood, and ways to see things in a new light.
Beginning with the built-in environment the line goes out to inspire people to think of the urban landscape and make connections. Also inspired by the collaborative relationship between the New Museum and its international partnering institutions, Sigal considered how this line gesture could fit into the home city of the partnering institution in collaboration with artists affiliated with the institutions abroad. Sigal sent artists living in Cairo, Eindhoven, Mexico City, and Seoul a painted line of tarmac, a compass, and directions containing the degree in which the tarmac needed to be installed to circumvent the globe: a continuation of her line in New York City. Sigal’s work developed into communication, negotiation, and organization with neighborhood residents, businesses, and artists working with the Museum as Hub partners.

  • Looking at the photographs of the collaborating artists from other countries, what do you immediately notice?
  • What else do you notice upon actively looking?
  • What choices did the artists make? What was their mark, their way of seeing?
  • How did that way of seeing differ from Sigal’s, how was it the same?
  • What type of cultural differences may have come up in the relationship, say, to the color green and its significance?
  • Does that add meaning to the work? How?
  • How did the idea of collaboration extend the meaning of Lisa Sigal’s work?
  • In your opinion, did it open it up and make it a more interesting work?

Lisa Sigal is interested in the real and the imagined. She is quoted as saying that “a painting space is not real [3].” I am interested in imagining into what is real, without erasing the tension between surfaces [1] . Most paintings are an invitation for the viewer to leave the space of the room, and enter into the space of the painting. There is a certain suspension of judgment and imagination required to experience a painting. I think the demands of the painted space are problematic for some viewers—mainly the kind that state they do not know how to look at paintings, which is always a surprise to me. But this resistance is also what I love about painting. The wall painting was especially interesting when seen with my other stretched canvases in the gallery—it was as if I was saying “you have to now physically enter into my world and walk around.” This is when I began to think about architecture and painting together [1] .

In the work Line-up, how do you think Sigal’s imagination informed the real? How do the real and the imagined line up? Is there tension? If you think of your own creative process as the imagined space how would you bring the real into this space? What would the tension feel like?

Activity: The Gesture
The gesture could be an idea that could alter public space. It could also be interpreted as an object or an intervention that could change perception. It could even be a staged protest.

There should be freedom left to be a participating citizen (defined as someone who has the right to habitat and to inhabit space). Inhabiting space is a right to the city, which should be determined by the students as part of the project.

Possibilities are chalk lines, string, tape, a chain of phone calls, or photographs that are posted or a gesture of ones own.

Open Discussion

  • How does the brain construct a picture of reality?
  • How can reality or perceptions be altered?
  • How do we engage with street life? How does street life effect social interaction? What kind of interactions do we come to expect? What would surprise us?

Decide on project, what is the objective, how will it be researched, documented?

Should it be documented or exist as a story that is passed on by word of mouth? By text? Is there some agreement that would be necessary that could become part of the project (a treaty, a contract, a petition, as shared wish list, etc?)?

Students will decide on a location. Perhaps a neighborhood that is unfamiliar, so that they can see it anew, with fresh eyes. If it is a familiar neighborhood, have them walk with someone else or in a group. For a minimum of one-hour, roam in complete silence, witnessing the landscape, with companions doing the same. Record impressions after the walk and brainstorm how to make something in public for a public.

Final project documentation will be presented to the class.

Questions to consider

What does it feel like navigating space? Do you need permission? Who gives permission? Who sees it? Does it matter? Does it make a difference? To whom, and why?

Homework

Students should first read The Situationist International, Henri Lefebvre, “The Right to the City,” and Jane Jacobs “The Death and Life of the Great American Cities.”

Students should look at the Web site: www.newmindspace.com

Extending the Lesson

Other artists to consider:
Paulina Lasa
Rirkrit Tiravanija
Ayman Ramadan
Jessica Stockholder
David Hammons
Francis Alÿs
Thomas Hirschhorn

Additional Resources

Art Slant [1]
Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial 2008
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
hEyOkAmAgAzInE [2]
Museum As Hub: Six Degrees Organized by Eungie Joo [3]