#13: Peter Miles Bergman
Peter Miles Bergman is well schooled in both art activism and the craftsmanship of modern communication arts, and when he’s not teaching at Metropolitan State University Denver, he’s printing books and zines and creating art pranks in cahoots with the Institute of Sociometry, a guerrilla art collective rooted in the ’90s-era Culture Jamming movement. Bergman melds printing skills and conceptual satire to make and collaborate on art actions; for instance, at Westword’s Artopia 2015, he masterminded an explosion of miniature art reproductions from bike-pump-powered cannons. We asked Bergman to share his interests and inspirations by answering the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Peter Miles Bergman: So many options! I’ve got to give shout-outs to Alfred Jarry, Marcel Duchamp, El Lissitzky, Herbert Bayer, Santiago Sierra and Stefan Sagmeister. But, I’d probably go way back to the fourth century B.C. and Diogenes of Sinope – archetypal contrarian and co-founder of Cynicism. I like his concept of a lived philosophy that focused on action over theory. He’s kind of the progenitor of “actions speak louder than words.” Plus he was the first person to really elevate pranks to an art form – sitting in the square gluing together pages of a book.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
I follow politics like some people follow sport-ball. So in the world at large right now I have a sick fascination with Trump. He’s like the id of ’Merica. I love it when someone is so over the top that there’s a distinct possibility he doesn’t even believe in his words or actions, and he’s just trolling for maximum impact.
In the art world, I think of Jeff Koons in this same light: I guess he’s the Trump of art. Less bombast and populism – more smugness and rhetoric. Is he possibly pulling off a brilliant, Warhol-esque, decades-long ruse, or is he just a rich jerk who makes ridiculously expensive and super banal monuments to consumerism? Who can tell?
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
The co-opting and homogenization of “street art” by the fine-art world and by advertising. On the individual level, a lot of talented artists are finally getting recognition and getting paid. As a whole, though, it’s resulted in a narrowing of what “street art” means (basically character-driven portraiture and decorative patterning thin on concept or message) and has defanged it politically. Wheat-pasting, culture jamming, performance and graffiti are all art forms happening on the street that are endemically message-driven or political but are being left out of the street-art bubble at events like Art Basel Miami. I don’t want to crab on anyone in particular. Artists should do what they do, and anyone who’s getting paid – more power to ’em. I’d just like to see a resurgence of challenging, political and message-driven work on the streets.
What's your day job?
I’m an assistant professor in the Communication Design area of the art department of Metropolitan State University of Denver – the best, cheapest and most accessible design school in Colorado.
I used to work in printing; screenprinting, packaging, labels, books, magazines and newspapers. I now teach print production, publication design and typography. As an artist who uses mass communications and a former print-production lackey, I had been circling design for a long time – though I’m not sure if it was like a shark or like water down a drain. So I got an MFA in Visual Communication from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and started a full-time teaching career in 2007. In addition to teaching, part of my job is to produce “research” – art to be published or shown – which is the closest I could ever get to being to a “working artist.”
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
Probably come up with subtle and disruptive ways to redistribute it. I’d definitely fund projects, do more publishing and production of work by other artists. Maybe increase the scale and reach of my own work. Right now, my ideas are by nature collaborative and require two to twenty people to execute. I’d like to be able to blow that up to 100 or 200 people, pay them a good wage, take concepts international with simultaneous execution in multiple locations, and produce monumental scale projects. I’ve traditionally been a diy-or-die type, but I’m starting to think that was born of necessity, not philosophy. At this point, I’d have no qualms about hiring fabricators or an army of assistants, if that was within the realm of possibilities financially.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Colorado should repeal the TABOR amendment, which caps growth at the bare minimum to account for inflation and population growth. Everything from arts education, grants and support for arts nonprofits to support for affordable housing is impacted by perpetually tight budgets that barely cover the core functions of running the state. For example, Colorado is consistently the 47th to 50th in the nation for funding higher education. That’s a disgrace. In Denver you have two four-year public universities with art programs (also one prohibitively expensive private university and two struggling for-profits). In Pittsburgh, a city half our size, they’ve got more than a dozen publicly funded university art programs. Opportunities are limited for young artists to learn and for established artists to get an MFA, teach, work in staff positions, show at university galleries and collect honorariums from guest-lecturing or from visiting-artist programs. That’s just one aspect of arts support affected by TABOR’s stranglehold on the state budget. Not to mention more important programs like mental-health services, free school lunch, after-school programs, access to prenatal care and services for homeless.
It’s not all attrition, though. Spending for prisons is on a steady increase...
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
My wife, Heather Link-Bergman: a great collaborator, a really talented collage artist, illustrator, printmaker, painter, designer, photographer and fellow state employee – working in communications for the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. We had a 2013 duo show together, Welcome to SoHi, and collaborated on a piece for the Art in Odd Places festival in New York, as well as an Artopia 2015 performance, “The Obscure Artists Front.” As an artist, there’s nothing as gratifying as working creatively with your love and life partner.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
A lot of publishing, documentation and organizing. I tend to ping between periods of making new work and documenting it, along with publishing or curating the work of others. In the next year, I’m planning Emancipation, a book marking the 21st anniversary of the Institute of Sociometry; the sixth quadrennial Sociometry Fair in Los Angeles; and the next issue of Raw Fury – a Denver/Chicago urban-art annual I publish with Eric Von Haynes.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in 2015?
Ravi Zupa is going to get noticed – as in international mega-success. Art-intelligentsia types from L.A. and Chicago have asked me if I “know Ravi Zupa” (which I don’t) and fan out on his work like teenagers talking about Taylor Swift. Shepard Fairey has practically been a one-person, pro-bono PR agency for Ravi, calling him “a true craftsman and a unique talent.” And he is an undisputedly prolific, multi-dimensional and ultra-talented artist.
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On the local-community scale, I think the Conecutter, Frank Kwiatkowski, is primed for some recognition. He’s so prolific and has such a unique and specific process, aesthetic and voice. He’s also been exploring mass-communication mediums like film and publications. We collaborated on a zine of his conecuts about diabetes for the Denver Zinefest, and people snatched it up. I’m sure, though, that Frank would scorn any recognition and do whatever it took to get back underground.
Also Vincent Comparetto, a colleague at MSU Denver and the first friend I made in Denver as a mid-’90s skate rat, is someone I always admire, for his wide range of skills, styles, mediums and drive. I think he’s on the cusp of the next level and is going to be killing it long into the future.
See work by Peter Miles Bergman and the Institute of Sociometry in SIGNS & letters: Intrusion Into the Everyday, which opens with a 7 p.m. reception at Dateline Gallery on Friday, September 4, and runs through September 27. Bergman will also deliver a TEDxAdventure talk at Dateline at 6 p.m. on September 25. Learn more about the artist online.