Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ceci n'est pas la neige cône

by Dean Liscum

I like art that makes me think. My thoughts about the works don't have to be pleasant or agreeable. Given the idiot-syncracies of my personality and thought processes, more often than not I am drawn to the works that I find disturbing and disagree with.

Matthew Gorgol's work Third Ward Sno-Cones, which is part of Project Row Houses 2011 Summer Studios, is a performance piece that did just that. Basically, the artist rode around the Third Ward on a bike giving away free snow cones.

Mathew Gorgol's Third Ward Sno-Cone delivery device
In the show's statement, Gorgol writes "This idea arose from the recession in America and the continuing heat in Houston. I have always wanted to be able to give something away...This exploration into the act of giving has initiated conversations ranging from the difficulties of being health-conscious to the economics of generosity."

The conversations that Gorgol experienced and alludes to may have been recorded, but they were not transcribed or displayed at the opening nor presented at his slide presentation on Wednesday, 8/24/11.

No worries.

I've taken the liberty of listing some conversation topics that this work inspired for me and listed them in the order in which they came: random.
  • Is a small act of charity insignificant or even a false act of charity in that it makes the giver feel as though s/he has made a charitable contribution while the receiver does not experience a significant benefit?
  • Is superficial charity false charity? 
  • Can a snow cone be an agent of oppression?
  • Can a snow cone be a weapon against oppression?
  • Is giving free snow cones to an individual in an economically oppressed neighborhood an act of kindness?
  • Could you kill (or at least starve almost to death) with kindness as an act of art?
  • What is the nutritional value of a snow cone (refined corn syrup and water)?
  • Who benefits (emotionally, socially, psychologically, financially, nutritionally) from free servings of non-nutritional food to economically challenged individuals, the server or the receiver?
  • Could a nutritionist accuse the artist of distributing false hope in the form of seemingly innocuous non-food under the guise of charity or refreshment or relief? 
  • Would s/he have a case?
  • If the giver doesn't realize that s/he is harming the receiver (if only in social-historical context), is the giver absolved of any and all responsibility?
  • Would you advocate putting the non-nutritonal food peddler in a room with a raw food zealot, 20 lbs. of veggies, and a juicer?
  • Is it art if the participants are not aware that they are participating in art? Is it art-exploitation?
  • Is this\are these vacuous, meaningless, empty gestures (of which art is often accused of being) that serve to distract/dissuade/deter individuals from seeking real change? 
  • Can one be pacified by a snow cone especially if it's rainbow flavor (...after all it's got everything you could possibly want)?
  • Can your refresh and oppress simultaneously?
  • Is a snow cone ever just a snow cone?
  • Is a question ever just a question?
Mathew Gorgol serving sno-cones at the opening

Gorgol rides the same route through the Third Ward every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday starting around 1 p.m. The route is posted in the exhibition space if you're so inclined to judge for yourself whether "Ceci n'est pas la neige cône."

...and if you have questions, you can always post the in comments to this blog.



  1. Here's a question: do Gorgol's free sno-cones crowd out commercial vendors of frozen treats? (I am thinking of those guys who ride the bicycles with coolers on them selling ice creams--I suspect that they make fairly precarious livings even without some artsy do-gooder stealing their customers by giving away free sno-cones.)

  2. Welcome to the inside of my brain, Robert, it is a critical and ethically paranoid place.

  3. oh whoops, that was Dean. Welcome Dean!

  4. So if he rode around handing out snow cones but didn't exhibit anything would it still be art? Is it either art or a selfless act? Or is it neither?

  5. I think it can be both art and a selfless act. The questions in the broadest sense are, I think, is this action a net positive for the community, and does it make any difference? One might also ask who benefits more--the community receiving free son-cones or the artist who gets an impressive line on his resume?

  6. What happens in different would the conversations change?