Acidmenics: Back to College with Petra Cortright

Today is the last day of classes here at Ohio State – not that we’d notice after suffering assault-weapon ‘educators’ on campus on Monday, the legislature sneakily passing the terrifying ‘heartbeat’ bill yesterday and then twittering Mr. Twump descending on us tomorrow. As one of my colleagues puts it, “OSU is under siege!”. I agree and so I am going to take refuge in Petra Cortright’s HELL_TREE and it seems fitting to reflect on her polemic about college in terms of its value for an art education in light of some of the things she records about her own college experience (via the beginning of her Twitter feed from Fall 2007) recorded in the first few pages and the farthest left column of the ebook.

First, here is the polemic (well, a screen-shot of it, in all its glory) – to read it you’re going to have to click on the image and look at the box to the left called ‘notgesonpaper.txt’:

Now, if you flip back to the beginning of HELL_TREE, her third tweet (after made out with future boyfriend and the plants are healthy) reads:

is busted at c++

Continued a few days later with:

drinking in class last night

Followed swiftly by:

stopped drinking in class

And later that day:

avoid the school lab at all costs

A week passes and we hear the revelation:

last night: drunk w/teacher

It is at that moment that she starts to have problems with her files, but soon enough, she’s back at school:

FINE ARTS BUILDING U TOO COLD

And the drinking therein:

drinkin atschool, again

Then, the day after Halloween, something remarkable happens. Cortright stops referring to drinking and the college building (and the combination of the two) and for the first time mentions her work:

fine art waterfall dripping off out the screen

It just so happens that if switch from the tweets on HELL_TREE and look on Cortright’s YouTube channel, you will discover the very first videos the date from November 1st, of her in her Halloween costume. Yet in her tweet, she is most likely referring to her (still?) most famous work VVEBCAM, where she is trying out the effects on her new webcam and which has since been deleted by YouTube, but is preserved on Rhizome (sadly minus the tags and comments).

Of course, this ‘fine art waterfall’ may not be at all related to her studies, but it is swiftly followed by tweets about a writing project for college:

cant sleep!! / the idea for my final core project just floated into my brain – need to stay up long enough to flesh out ideas in notepad doc

This moment of inspiration is followed by two tweets about the nature of the writing:

writing project proposal tjhat is a sum of my whole life on unityyyy communityyy ingenuityyy

writing a proposal that that invovlves u all and so mcuh more

And then that’s it. Hardly any mention of college or class or projects or assignments in the next few months. But what does it mean to return to these brief, passing moments in the college life of an artist who elsewhere seems to reject college  for an artist? Working with BFA and MFA students this semester, I recognize the ebb and flow of creativity, triumph and control amid the complaints directed at the very process and system of an art education. At the same time, the way that life-lessons manifest themselves in creative outbursts and revelations while at the same time are accompanied by thinking and reflection is something that HELL_TREE shares with the ancient ethical handbooks that I will be teaching (to Classicists and artists) next semester. Like Marcus Aurelius, Petra Cortright meditates on her daily trials, and like the Stoic Roman Emperor (what would his tweets have been like?) the act of recording them and reflecting on their context as part of an ambivalent college experience is one way of showing how they not only tell us about general ideas (‘unityyyy communityyy ingenuityyy’), but also how they involve ‘u and so mcuh more’.

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