Page 2 of 5
Cory Imig, who helps run Plug Projects, an artist-run space in the West Bottoms, met Cowdin during a visit to Point of Interest.
"I signed up for a Back Country Permit, which, upon approval, granted me time in his backyard," Imig explains, recalling one of the installation's nods to national-park bureaucracy. "I invited several friends with me, and we hung out, drank wine and had a picnic."
Point of Interest received a Rocket Grant, funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and administered locally by the Charlotte Street Foundation and the University of Kansas' Spencer Museum of Art. Grant coordinator and artist Julia Cole says Cowdin's application — signed as Bitterman — immediately appealed to the selection committee.
"Looking back through previous years, Pete's application seemed so well thought out, so targeted to a specific community in a thoughtful and generous way. It was humorous. It sunk its teeth into an interesting idea. It fit the opportunity extremely well."
But Cole, who worked as a pattern-formation scientist before becoming an artist, doesn't see eye to eye with the resulting work's position on nature.
"In asserting that people are part of nature, which I agree with, he then seems to extrapolate a view in which all the degradation, reduction in diversity, system collapse, etc., is kind of a natural outcome of the fact that we are one element of the natural world and behaving according to our nature. For myself, I see the capacity and will of humans to resist, create more integrative solutions and then build them — kind of an art practice — as also part of nature."
Of course, there's a reason that Cowdin has chosen Bitterman as his pseudonym. And this wouldn't have been a Bitterman project without a little of that persona's sourness.
Alongside Point of Interest, Bitterman also exhibited a piece titled "Lot 18" at the Subterranean Gallery last year.
Clayton Skidmore and Ayla Rexroth run Subterranean out of their basement apartment. Skidmore met Cowdin when the artist shopped at the now-defunct SRO Video, where Skidmore worked.
"I first got to know Pete because he was a smartass. He would give me trouble about [removing his] late fees."
When Skidmore introduced Cowdin to Rexroth at a December 2010 lecture at the Nelson-Atkins, the artist immediately asked to show at the Subterranean Gallery. Rexroth agreed.
Cowdin had big plans for the small space. He had hired aerial photographer Jon Blumb to shoot from a low-flying airplane while the artist was lying on the roof of his house, naked. Cowdin exhibited the resulting video and still images in "Lot 18." He also hired a roofer who built, along with Rexroth, a rooflike structure, complete with shingles, in one corner of the basement gallery. Visitors could lie on the roof, assuming the same pose as Cowdin in the photo shoot, and look at transparencies installed on the ceiling.
"Lot 18" made sly references to "land art," a movement in the 1960s and '70s in which artists used materials such as dirt and rocks to make monumental sculptures in hard-to-reach, unpopulated areas. Often, these works could be witnessed only through photographs. Bitterman used the Cowdin family home — a tiny suburban plot — to enact his own version of land art.