Nomadic Studio’s “Form and Content of Writing” Panel at DePaul University Tomorrow Night!

September 22, 2010 · Print This Article

Hello again – I’m back with another quick plug for y’all. Tomorrow night, Chicago arts writer/administrator/curator Thea Liberty Nichols has organized a panel on the “form and content” of arts writing as part of Nomadic Studio, which is presented at DePaul University Museum and organized by the Stockyard Institute for the yearlong collaborative Studio Chicago project….jesus I can’t keep up with it all. Anyway…here is the pertinent who, what, whys and whens of this particular panel, which I think should be really interesting and if it isn’t I will be partly to blame because I will be on it, along with Patrice Connolly, Abraham Ritchie, Bert Stabler and the aforementioned Ms. Nichols, who IMHO has the one of the best names in the world.

Come see us discuss, and participate in the discussion! Also, please check out the whole slate of programs that are part of Nomadic Studio at the Stockyard Institute! And you can read more about the Nomadic Studio project on ArtSlant, right here.

6-8pm –Thursday, September 23rd

DePaul University Art Museum; 2350 N. Kenmore Ave., Chicago IL 60614 | 773-325-7506 | Directions |

Form and Content of Writing w/ Thea Liberty Nichols, Patrice Connolly, Claudine Ise, Abraham Ritchie and Bert Stabler

Panelists will engage in a casual discussion that examines the form (newsprint, published monographs, online journals or blogs) and content (criticism, interviews, exhibition re­views, press releases or scholarly essays) of their writing. Their individual practices, including the texts that inform and inspire them, will be examined alongside the colleagues and organizations with which they collaborate. In conjunction with Studio Chicago, the ways in which their studio environment, and indeed the city itself, contextualizes their practice will also be explored.

Abraham Ritchie is a writer as well as the Editor for ArtSlant: Chicago, the creator and administrator of The Chicago Art Blog on the Chica­goNow network and WordPress, and also writes for NewCity. He has previ­ously written about art for Madison Newspapers, Inc.

Thea Liberty Nichols is an arts administrator, independent curator, and writer who lives and works in Chicago. Along with managing Intuits Study Center, she also acts as Co-Director of 65GRAND

Patrice Connelly is the Curatorial Associate for BMO Financial Group’s Corporate Art Collection where she crafts catalog texts describing and contextualizing the art works in their holdings. She has been contributing freelance art exhibi­tion reviews to Newcity since 2008.

Bert Stabler is a teacher, writer, curator, and artist living in Chicago. He feeds on the living.

Claudine Isé has worked in the field of contemporary art as a curator and writer. Isé was Associate Cu­rator of Exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. Assistant Curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and an art critic for the Los Angeles Times. She currently writes for, art:21 blog, ARTnews, New City, and

Passing Through the Plastic Shaman

September 21, 2010 · Print This Article

I am interested in the trend of hipster shamanism that seemed especially predominant over a year ago. Some incarnations of that aesthetic are present in the music of Animal Collective and (at least the music videos of) MGMT. Strains of it crop up in other areas as well: there was something resonant in Where The Wild Things Are, and certainly the moccasins, deer antlers, crystals and howling wolf t-shirts. On the one hand I take the movement somewhat seriously as an effort to overcome a predominant sense of irony. On the other the gesture seems doomed to fail–because it is always located in the self or the mystical subjective, and thus cannot transcend the self. While the following essay does not directly talk about the existence of that trend, it does try to suss out its significance–at least in one instance. This summer shamanism was the subject of an exhibition at an apartment gallery in Wicker Park.

Passing Through The Plastic Shaman

Shamanism is the craft of evoking spontaneous organization of psychedelic information in a subject or group of subjects to promote plasticity, imprinting, and transformation. – James L. Kent

By way of contemporary accident, I happened onto a TV show on the History channel, in which a young man travels the world collecting tattoos on his body. The premise of the show allowed for a rudimentary understanding of the cultural contexts surrounding various tattoo traditions, from the Maori in New Zealand, to the Hawaiian warrior, to Japanese tattoos’ relationship to Yakuza and, even farther back, public shaming techniques that marked the criminal. Each of those traditions and techniques was discussed as the reality-TV-protagonist procured a tattoo from every respective culture. In each instance the tattoo originally marked a rite of passage by which the newly inked individual was initiated into a particular community. By contrast, the TV-protagonist was more or less an American tourist whose enthusiasm had been subsidized by a large network to purchase the right to participate the signs of ritualistic practice. His position is obviously problematic. It was also a pretty interesting show. I began to think about the tattoo as an object, a practice adopted by mainstream American culture, a culture that has no unified ritualistic context with which to consistently codify the tattoo. Instead the tattoo commemorates a subjective moment/aesthetic. Whether one gets a Bambi tattoo, a name in cursive, a Celtic symbol, a Sailor Jerry throwback, or a flock of birds—the choice is largely arbitrary outside of a super-personal realm, save for its capacity to demonstrate socio-economic and cultural class.

Oddly enough, my mind followed a similar path when I went to visit Johalla Project’s show Who’s Yr Shaman? (August 13-September 3rd, 2010). Within the premise of the exhibit, there is a well-articulated intent to illustrate the spiritualistic practices of individual artists represented in the show. While appreciative of the exhibited work and its difficult subject (I think it’s interesting how religion is a taboo subject in contemporary art), I could not help stumbling over the phrasing of its premise. I was confused about how “shaman” was being used. It seemed part of, if not synonymous with, “mystic,” “magic” and “spirituality”—terms I feel are distinct while lacking the knowledge to define their differences. Nevertheless the umbrella notion of a “shaman” seemed like something I could think about and I was excited to have the chance to do so.

Can a contemporary American have a shaman? Do we have the structure in our society to support that relationship? Do we even want that relationship?

As I understand it, the shaman functions as an individual in service to a community. That individual, while often self-elected (and thus most often outside the cannon of a major religion) is proven by way of rigorous ritualistic practice, as well as his or her leadership capacity. The shaman functions as a very practical leader (who assists community disputes or day-to-day problems), as well a healer (both in physical and mental/emotional realms), while also connecting a particular community to its historical heritage through ritual and storytelling. The shaman does not simply afford super-personal relationships. As a community teacher (for lack of a better word), he or she is in control of implementing and facilitating ritual, whatever that may be. As such those community participants don’t have, (what to me feels like a particularly American trait), the ability to participate in some of the ritual but ignore others. To buy into this aspect of shamanic practice (i.e. taking psychedelics) but not another aspect (i.e. fasting).

In her book Peyote Hunt Anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff describes an experience she had in the 1970s while traveling with a Huichol mara’kame (shaman) to “hunt” Peyote. She describes a remarkable experience. Every year people within the mara’kame’s community are invited to accompany him on a journey to collect a year’s worth of peyote. In a highly ritualized process, the mara’kame takes his people back to the country of their origin. After riding a bus for several hours, they get out at the start of a desert. There they tie a string in a series of knots—one knot for every participating “pilgrim”—to signify the way these people are joined in their journey. At this stage each pilgrim must confess anything which they are ashamed of having done in the last year (or since their last peyote hunt). They are renamed, blindfolded, blessed with water and then, when the mara’kame removes the blindfold, each person beholds the sacred world of origin (Wirikuta). “On the peyote hunt, we change the names of things because when we cross over there, in Wirikuta, things are so sacred that all is reversed,” (Myerhoff, p.148). The mara’kame calls human hair cactus hair. Water is called tequila. The gringa (in this case Myerhoff) is called a Huichol. All pilgrims must observe the new assignment of nouns over the ensuing days, causing everyone to participate in constant mental acrobatics–word games which nevertheless force the relationship and identity of objects to be reconsidered. They eat, sleep and drink as little as possible. They walk through a series of canyons in single file and anyone who has to relieve themselves does so discretely—as though to pretend, Myerhoff suggests, that they have become deities beyond physical need. The journey is obviously rigorous and the mara’kame is constantly fearful for the souls of his pilgrims which seem to be in great peril. In addition he describes the first man, the order of their gods etc. He has ultimate control over the situation. I bring this up as a tangible example, partly to illustrate a “real” shaman, but also to highlight the stress and, even, danger tied to ritualistic ordeal.

Who’s YR Shaman is not really about shamanism at all. It’s about different responses to the idea of spirituality as an opportunity for artistic research. It is about a mystical subjective. In this way too it differs from the original claim of the curatorial statement that relates this body of contemporary work to religious artwork created in Medieval times. Rather than speak to a codified canon of, say, Christianity, the works contained interpreting  spiritual influence differently. For the most part the interpretation was ultra personal. Whatever suggested transformation was primarily in relation to the “I” and thus difficult, if not impossible, to measure. If you say this crystal is deeply significant to you; if you say it transports you to another dimension, and if you seem convinced by that conclusion, I cannot dispute your claims–even if touching your crystal does not have the same affect on me.

Consequently the foundation for an already risky premise was so subjective as to be unstable. It was difficult, therefore to avoid a sense of irony. Dream catchers and feathers have been so laden with hipster-cred that it is just about impossible to divorce them from that bag of cultural association. Chad Harrison built shrines to a collection of objects he keeps in his studio that facilitate his creative process. While I can imagine Harrison might object, his totems make suspect any claim of earnestness, (especially the dubious, ceramic Native American caricature with droopy pants). Another piece by Ivan Lozano is dedicated to Laurence Weiner with a pyramid of plastic snow (or cocaine—I thought of cocaine, anyway), fitted between VHS boxes on top of a mirror, with a TV set playing the words “Do you believe in water?” In this piece, the artist references historical art heroes as spirits that might inspire or somehow rub off on his own career. William Henri Pisarri After Halcyon and Ceyx by Rebecca Walz feels like a memorial/alter of loss made in lieu of the death of a friend. There were mannequins in dresses sewn by Sara Fagala. Embedded in the outfits were magic crystals that boasted therapeutic powers—perhaps suggesting it was the dress that was shamanic.

Berger's work as printed in the accompanying exhibit catalogue

I was taken with Elijah Berger’s delicate color-penciled drawings of two young men, knifing one another’s naked bodies with occult-like symbols. Here too the artist’s studio is present although in this instance it is the set for a marginalized form of ritual. Terence Hannam’s video and gouache paintings of dark rooms and amplifiers, explore the cult of rock and roll. The amplifier is the elevating principle, through which an audience is transported. A separate room contained the work of Adam Ludwig: big paintings, another dream catcher/drum and an alter with a halo of feathers. These works reference alchemy and symbols which, to me, resemble the yarn paintings of the Huichol Indians. In Ludwig’s work, the surface of the canvas is deteriorated and rusty, perhaps suggesting that incorporating/recreating old traditions is difficult, if not impossible. These latter works were most compelling to me, within the criteria described by the curator.

Who’s Yr Shaman? asks for a level of sincerity which, while not incongruous with all the work, was incongruous with its title. As a result, the show dissolved into a display of first-person jaunts into spiritual curiosity. It was unclear, therefore, what was at stake. Nevertheless there was an evident desire to connect with something–a desire to connect and express something metaphysical. Trying to compile that impulse, to curate it into a show or describe it in a body of work is an ambitious and worthwhile endeavor. And you couldn’t call the show “Excercises in Spirituality” because no one would go–at least not the same number of people who would go see “Who’s YR Shaman?” And there again I tug at a question that has been bothering me for a long time now; one I’m not sure I can answer. Are there limits to what histories/traditions/signifiers we can borrow? Does something change when an one tradition is adopted into another? Is America’s hipster-shaman fad more than a trendy handbag?


Peyote Hunt: The Sacred Journey of the Huichol Indians, Barbara G. Myerhoff, Cornell University Press, 1974.
Shamanism in The Age of Reason, James L. Kent, PIT Press, Seattle, 2010.

and the catalogue: Who’s YR Shaman? Magical Practic in Contemporary Art

Richard and Duncan at “Public Culture” Lecture at ThreeWalls Tuesday Night!

September 20, 2010 · Print This Article

Hey all, just a quick public service announcement….Richard and Duncan will be part of tomorrow night’s Public Culture lecture at ThreeWalls. They’ll be interviewed by “live talk show host” (whew, as the alternative would be kinda gross) Mark Bazer along with a Tony Tassett and Kelly Kaczynski. The event starts at 7pm. Full details below! Be there!

The Public Culture Lecture Series, co-organized by Randall Szott and InCUBATE, seeks to highlight examinations and enactments of public culture. Rather than following a preformed idea of what public culture actually is, the series treats it as an open question and invites attendees to explore the question with us. A variety of people and practices are drawn on to present the ways that the notion of “the public” emerges in their work and/or informs it. Past iterations of the series have included: a lecture on lyceums in nineteenth century America, a guided eating tour of the Maxwell Street Market, a group workshop on storytelling as an everyday art, and an artist-led tour of the Loop’s Pedway system.

For this iteration of the Public Culture Lecture Series live talk-show host Mark Bazer will interview four Chicago artists at threewalls. Two of them will have had recent public exhibitions of their work in Chicago. Tony Tassett’s installations EYE and CARDINAL went up on State Street this summer and Kelly Kaczynski’s solo exhibition The Stagehand’s Unseen will be on view at threewalls. The mic will also be turned on Richard Holland and Duncan MacKenzie, producers and founding members of the art podcast Bad at Spots.

Randall Szott:
Mark Bazer:
Bad at Sports:
Kelly Kaczynski:
Tony Tasset:

“By Your Powers Combined” at Marwen Gallery

September 20, 2010 · Print This Article

There are so many shows opening this month I can barely keep up (watch for my roundup of Chicago’s Fall openings on our next “Center Field” post over at art:21 blog next week) – for this reason, I wanted to draw this little exhibition to your attention, ’cause it’s the modest type that could get lost in the crowded field of Big Fall Shows. And it shouldn’t. The show can be found in the upstairs gallery space at Marwen, an art center in the River North area of Chicago whose mission is to educate and inspire under-served young people through the visual arts. I’d never had the opportunity to visit before, but when I did I was immediately hit with that groovy, good-feeling vibe that you get from a place that’s buzzing with human creativity.  If you haven’t dropped in before, you should! At any rate, I was there to see “By Your Powers Combined,” an exhibition curated by Austin-based artist, writer, curator, and educator Salvador Castillo (a Marwen alum). It’s a  group show of six artists, most hailing from Austin, Texas, brought together under a theme that loosely revolves around the elemental forces of earth, fire, wind, water and (kind of extraneous but still a nice touch) “heart.”

Castillo’s catalogue essay cheerfully acknowledges that his original idea for “a landscape show” turned into something deeper, more personal, and more complex.

“Each artist was chosen for their representation of the five elements that when combined, created the titular character of the early ’90s cartoon, Captain Planet and the Planeteers … every artist counterbalances the real or physical landscape with one that is imagined or perceived.”

Jared Steffensen, Hilltop Trail, 2010

Salt Lake City, UT artist Jared Steffensen makes shoes that wear the earth they usually walk on. They are whimsical and melancholy and in a peculiar way that I can’t quite describe, felt like the most solidly “real” objects in this show. I’d like to see images of these shoes worn on an actual person’s feet. In contrast are Austin-based artist William Hundley’s dreamlike “Clouds”, 2010, a mixed media installation in which discarded street trash appears suspended in the center of the gallery hallway. Castillo’s essay describes Hundley’s related series of photographs, which incorporate sculptures like this one and can be found on the artist’s Flickr page, as “a dazzling magic trick. Colorful sheets of fabric ominously float against a complimentary background. The skeptical jump to conclusions and accuse Photoshop as the true artist.”

William Hundley, Clouds, 2010.

One of my favorite pieces in the show was Roberto Bellini‘s (no, not that Roberto Bellini) one channel-video piece titled  Teoria de Paisagem.

Roberto Bellini, Teoria da Paisagem (Landscape Theory), 2005.

The video consists of an exchange between the artist and a security guard (both of whom remain off-screen throughout the piece).  Bellini wants to film a flock of birds in the sky at sunset – a fairly traditional landscape shot that he finds personally moving, and wants to capture. The security guard–a guy who’s basically just trying to do his job–attempts to dissuade Bellini from filming near the area he’s been hired to police. The tense conversational dance that ensues as each man tries to “claim” the landscape as they see it is priceless.

Eric Zimmerman, Rotating City, Left,(for Heather & Andrew) 2006. [not in exhibition].

Austin-based Eric Zimmerman‘s lovely ink, marker, and graphite drawings from 2006 evoke depict landscape as dream, ghostly possession, and fantasy all at once. (You can see some of Zimmerman’s recent works here). Margaret Meehan‘s gouache and pencil drawings on card recall antique cartes postales and Victorian-era calling cards, yet the freakish alterations made to the faces of the plump infants pictured in these images undercut the sentimentality of their original purposes.

Margaret Meehan. Charlotte, 2008.

Finally, representing “Fire,” Erick Michaud, another Austin-based artist, burns intricately drawn narratives into wooden sculptures that are a cross between spirit stick, scythe, and cant hook (their most direct correlation).

Erick Michaud. Apocalypse, 2009.

Michaud grew up in a small paper mill town near the US-Canadian border, where knowing how to use a cant hook came in handy. As the paper economy went south, so did the town’s economic livelihood. As Castillo’s essay notes, “the tool of the industry, transformed into the Reaper’s scythe, is now an artifact recounting the tale in metaphorical imagery.”

Erick Michaud, Apocalypse, 2009. Detail.

“By Your Powers Combined” is on view at Marwen’s Untitled Gallery through October 15, 2010. Do make some time to check it out!

Episode 264: Wendy White

September 19, 2010 · Print This Article

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Wendy White
This week on the Amanda Browder show, Amanda and her trusty side kick Tom visit Wendy White’s Brooklyn studio. The discuss Wendy’s paintings as she finishes up a bunch for her current exhibition at Andrew Rafacz gallery in Chicago. Amanda finally finds a painter that she likes in Wendy and Tom learns that Amanda is not a sculptor (as he had believed), but she in fact works in a new genre (to Tom) called “Fibers”.

Wendy White is a New York painter who has shown all over the world, including recent shows in New York, Madrid, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and even Omaha! Her work has been discussed and reviewed extensively by the art intelligencia in such publications as ArtForum, Art in America, The Brooklyn Rail, the Huffington Post and the Gay City News.