Exhibitionist in Residence Tibi Tibi Neuspiel wants art to be useful — even lifesaving
The Toronto artist has a new goal: to go from lifehacker to lifesaver
Help is on the way, thanks to an upcoming art project by Toronto's Tibi Neuspiel. This Sunday, Neuspiel's surreal how-to videos feature on Exhibitionists, but they're part of something much larger he's developing — a performance and installation that will save someone's life.
In 2011, the multi-disciplinary artist presented The Tie Break at Toronto's Nuit Blanche, recreating the 1980 Wimbledon final tennis match with Geoff Pugen as the John McEnroe to Neuspiel's Björn Borg. In 2013, his show Housewarming Gifts for Anorexics featured wax sculptures of Doritos so detailed you can smell the zesty cheese dust. Now based in New York City, Neuspiel is developing his life-saving exhibition for the city's Launch F18 gallery, opening in February. He's still figuring out how the work will pull off the heroics, exactly, but he tells CBC Arts his goal is not figurative, it's literal.
"It could be a perilous situation that's created where I prevent danger from happening through my actions," he suggests, or maybe, he says, it'll just be life-saving information. And that brings us to what he's sharing with the world right now, and what you'll see on this weekend's show.
Inspired by the interweb's millions of DIY tutorials and Wikihow entries, Neuspiel is posting how-to videos online. They feel more like David Lynch-ian karaoke videos than YouTube walkthroughs. "I was trying to create an abstract read," he says, explaining his "slightly off-putting" combo of midi-file "jingle tunes" with unrelated text and visuals.
"I've been making them almost to help me sketch out the bigger piece," he tells CBC Arts. "I thought, 'How can I help people with work?' And, well, I thought I could provide them with information. Even if I knew it wasn't necessarily life-saving information, at least it was a step along the way to work that is helpful.'"
A painting can't give you the Heimlich Manoeuvre. It can't rescue you from a burning building. But, says Neuspiel, we expect something from it — something that can improve lives, if not literally save them.
"The overall trajectory of [the project] is maybe to fulfil people's expectations of art, that it's good for them somehow," he says. "I remember going to museums when I was younger — and I think a lot of people do — expecting that being close to art is somehow beneficial in some respect. And I wanted to fulfil that expectation by making work that was useful or beneficial in some way. That was the impetus for this project."
How-To? How come?
"There's something sinister about social media in general, I think. It really preys on people's desire to be constantly validated," says Neuspiel — and yet, he notes, there's also something "strangely altruistic" happening online: the proliferation of the how-to community.
"There are people who spend a lot of time just hoping to help others with how to trim your cat's claws and how to remove cysts or something. And there are hundreds of thousands of these videos online where people provide this information, with very little benefit to themselves — they're not hoping to be YouTube stars or get their own TV programs."
How can I help?
At first, Neuspiel was mining a bunch of those DIY tips for his Instagram videos — copying and pasting instructions for practical, but unusual, situations.
"I'd got to the point where I was writing them myself. And if I had anything to offer this how-to community, then maybe it wouldn't be 'how to change a transmission on a car,' or 'how to survive a bear attack.'"
Maybe it would be this: "How to Fake an Understanding of Art."
The jokey tips in that post hit close to home. "I'm guilty of some of them," admits Neuspiel. Is he thoughtfully rubbing his chin through the entire interview, for example? No, but he does say this: "I've definitely been in an environment where I've adopted the posture of a gallery viewer — kept my hands on my chin or my arms crossed. I've encountered enough situations where you kind of get out of them by saying you have an MFA, just to claim authority."
"A lot of people in the art world speak with authority out of habit, but who really knows what's going on in such a fragile structure as the arts? It's always changing quickly and the idea is that it's supposed to change quickly and it's supposed to be free from concrete definition," he says. "It's a bit comical when you hear art spoken about with such definition. … It's almost counter to what art, I think, is supposed to be, when it's described in that spirit."
Art for LOLZ sake
Humour runs through Neuspiel's work, not just the how-to videos. "I have sort of wondered what the difference between a really good joke and a good piece of art is because I think sometimes they get to the same point," he says. So when working on a project, laughter can mean 'mission accomplished.' "I'm not always sure when a piece is done, but when it's funny to me, it can be done."
Neuspiel might be ready to walk away from the how-tos. "I promised myself I would stop making them a week or two ago," he says, "and I just kind of kept making them out of enjoyment. Could be dozens, or maybe just one more."
One last set of instructions
Since Neuspiel's how-to days may be over, CBC Arts asked him to improvise one last instructional: How to Make Art a Part of Your Life?
"I think as long as your goal is discovery, and there's a joy in the act of doing [art], then it's not hard."
"Just edit that line down, put it to music with some silly visuals and you've got a video."