Where will you travel today? Type in any address you would like—for example, the address of large cantilevered bridge fashioned in gold, but for topaz and onyx and tourmaline inlays, located in a Himalayan kingdom. Or it could be the address of a lover that you have so far kept hidden from all and sundry in whose arms you have contrived to lie… Unfortunately, the Undependable Global Positioning System will not take you to any of these addresses, because the only address that is feasible, in the case of the U.G.P.S., is a location that does not exist on any current map. That address is Minnahanonck.
On Saturday of the inaugural Frieze Art Fair in New York, writer Rick Moody stood in spotlight behind a podium, shuffling papers, and reading from The Undependable Global Positioning System, a fair-commissioned essay and sound piece describing an absurdist GPS. Presented as part of Frieze Talks 2012 — a four-day program of conversations with artists, scholars and cultural critics — Moody acted as a product manager, plugging a fictional navigational device which, he explained, intended to provide "advice for those who need advice regarding getting lost, especially in this particular historical moment, in which getting lost has become harder and harder to do." As you might expect from the author of suburban-malaise titles like Garden State and The Ice Storm, his U.G.P.S. catered to the despondency in our exceedingly manicured world, insisting — even if cheekily — that getting lost from standard coordinates may be the only way to get found.
Incidentally, the whole of Frieze Art Fair New York evoked a feeling of imminent displacement. It pumped unlikely visitors onto the outerborough Randall's Island (aka Minnahanonck by NYC natives pre-1600) and into a giant tent predestined for disassembly. Only one part of the structure fully embraced the strangeness of its setting: while gallerists from all over the world set up shop inside the tent's serpentine halls — business as usual —, the small black-box auditorium housing Frieze Talks was a sanctified space of self-reflection. Organized by High Line curator Cecilia Alemani, the conversation series focused on the theme of the atlas — specifically, the ways artists have inhabited, reconfigured, and rethought their environs, from geo-political borders to psychological states.
While Moody's talk set an experimental tone, others — like "Collection Cartographies," which gathered international art-collection directors to talk about their private art holdings in Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, or "Mapping the World of Art: André Malraux and his Musée Imaginaire" a biographical presentation presented by philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman — were straightforward and academic.
Others fell somewhere in between, integrating artists and scholars, as with the Sunday panel "On Land Occupation" moderated by Domus editor-in-chief Joseph Grima, and featuring Detroit artist Mitch Cope, NYC-based artist Andrea Geyer, and Columbia Sociology professor Saskia Sassen. Taking Occupy Wall Street as a point of departure, the panel asked how else "land occupation" might be interpreted. As with Cope's projects — realized through his Detroit-based organization Power House Productions — it might mean physically changing the face of a city through repurposing once-abandoned houses (as a squash court or a skate park), bulldozing crime-ridden alleys (to ease traffic for both prostitutes and police), or stuffing wacky sculptures in the windows of deserted buildings (effectively discouraging vandals from entering). Or, as with Geyer, it might be something more philosophical: in her 2007 project Spiral Ends, a text-based work she read here while projecting black-and-white photos, Geyer suggests we acknowledge the politics of a colonial past to effect a rational shift in the way we inhabit (or decolonize) land in the present. Ending the talk on a scholarly note, Sassen offered her take on territory as not always a geographical phenomenon, but something more spatially complex, thanks to our increasingly networked society.
Fittingly, Gerhard Richter's epic Atlas — the artist's ever-growing archive of photos and sketches — is given its due as the pioneering artist-as-cartographer project: in his talk, Yale School of Art dean Robert Storr presented an analytical look at Richter's image album, which is once a catalog of the painter's wide-ranging source material since 1962, and an ongoing conceptual piece mapping both the artist's personal experiences and those of culture broadly. Over the nearly 1,000 pages of collected pictures — ranging from photos of family and WWII horrors to chandeliers and pinups — "Richter's atlas is exercise in remembering." Storr explains. "But it avoids an attitude toward what is to be remembered that says 'I know and you will learn how to listen.'" Rather, it questions: "'What happens if I deal with this piece, that piece, and another piece… and what happens if the correlation of these pieces is analyzed collectively, so that we can all proceed with this history together?" As we come to understand, Richter, like any good artist, offers a means to navigate our time without offering any firm direction at all.