I attended the first talk in the season of The Contemporary's CoHosts Speaker Series last night. In collaboration with Current Gallery, Andrew W. K. was brought to Baltimore to speak at Baltimore School for the Arts. I did not know much about Andrew W.K. I remember seeing the photo of him with a bloody nose at a gallery in New York years ago, but did not have much other context. Another person in attendance thought he was on the Real World, it turns out he did have a show on MTV. I decided that the talk should incorporate some sort of pyrotechnics and blood based on this limited knowledge.

After introductions Andrew W.K. took the stage and proceeded to recount a dream he had about a magic trick. He went on to parallel artists with magicians stating that art is about using manipulation to make it look like a pipe exists on a flat surface if you are a painter. He then went on to discuss his own practice, the point of which is about "being in that joy zone" and expanding the joy zone to include as many people as possible. The audience was engaged and Andrew W. K. made the room laugh on several occasions, but as I sat and listened I began to feel that the talk lacked content and Andrew W.K. was performing his own magic trick. He was manipulating us into thinking that he had a deep philosophy, namely that partying was the point of life and that if we tried to do things that cheered ourselves up all would be ok - even the negative things because those things made being cheered up that much better. 

I wanted to ask a question at the end of the talk, but missed the opportunity so I will pose it here. Andrew W.K. if you ever see this blog post, "What do you think is the artist's role in social justice work?" It seems that if the ultimate goal is to include everyone in this "joy zone" that the only way to do this would be to address inequity and oppression. 

City Paper interviewed Andrew W.K. in this week's issue and I am impressed by a question that asked "But pervasive positivity can be a kind of escapism. A way of ignoring why negativity exists, which can be socially irresponsible even." Andrew W.K. responds with an extended contemplation of feelings without ever addressing anything real. The closest he comes to real is mentioning his struggle with depression, but he does not proceed to seriously address mental health issues, marginalization or anything that may contribute to this problem. I wonder what if anything he thinks about poverty, racism, sexism, and all forms of prejudice as they exist and are structured in society. There is something unsettling about his insistence that cheerfulness is a choice and if one makes this choice all will be a party. Parties, however, are never really inclusive, one usually needs to know someone to be invited. As cultural spaces, they are often only comfortable for those who created the environment and so also leave many out.

Another audience member's question about choice was trying to get at some of this, but Andrew W.K. chose not to answer the question. I left thinking Andrew W.K. was there to entertain solely through his talk and his work. Fine. But if he really has a larger goal to make inclusive spaces where people can find joy and connect, I am uncertain of his impact and unsure of where his intention really lies.