Painting the Town Red to Bring Pride and Peace to a Favela?

November 19, 2010 · Print This Article

home-paint-town-red-favelaDutch Artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn who meet when they started working together in 2005 while filming a documentary about hip hop in the favelas of Rio and São Paolo for MTV were inspired by the visit. They decided to bring outrageous works of art to unexpected places, starting with painting enormous murals in the slums of Brazil together with the local youth.

What began as a single mural here or a most impressive redesign of a concrete stairway into a illustrative koi pond has grown into a plan to paint the entire favela into a colorful explosion on the side of a hill. The idea being that ownership, pride and hope will spur the locals into viewing the slum as something to build on and protect as opposed to exploit and escape from. I am always interested to see solid case studies on if this works or not since I have seen first had it both change a community and also fail miserably in a separate instance and get trampled à la pearls before swine. Akin to that would be ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition where you wonder how many of the new homes mansions are in forclosure or complete disarray.

Regardless though the work is amazing and quite interesting, I only hope the artists do get to complete the project it will be interesting to see it as a whole.

Top 5 Weekend Picks! (11/19 & 11/20)

November 18, 2010 · Print This Article

1. The Night Parade at FireCat Projects

Inaugural exhibition at FireCat Projects (formerly Fitzpatrick’s working studio), featuring new works by Tony Fitzpatrick.

FireCat Projects is located at 2124 N. Damen Ave. Reception is Friday from 7-10pm.

2. Time Switch at Kasia Kay Gallery

Photographs by David A. Parker.

Kasia Kay Gallery is located at 215 N. Aberdeen St. Reception is Friday from 6-8pm

3. Deb Sokolow at Western Exhibitions

A solo exhibition of new works by the artist.

Western Exhibitions is located at 119 N. Peoria St. Reception is Friday from 5-8pm.

4. Access at Pentagon Gallery

Work by Hiba Ali, Natalie Brilmeyer, Woori Cho, Meg Dancy, Justus Harris, Walter Latimer, Kira Mardikes, Tilly Pelczar, Marie Socha and Vincent Uribe.

Note the new location: Pentagon is now located at 2655 W Homer St. Reception is Friday from 7-11pm.

5. Goodbye Turquoise at LVL3

Work by Samantha Bittman, James Cooper, Racer Levan, Montgomery Perry Smith and Leslie Supnet.

LVL3 is located at 1452 N Milwaukee Ave, 3. Reception is Saturday from 6-10pm.

REVIEW: Wave Int’l Issue 01

November 17, 2010 · Print This Article

Wave Int'l: Issue 01

Wave Int’l isn’t like any of the publications I’ve previously reviewed. Wave is a network that is documented in a quarterly exhibition and journal. Wave Int’l is co-directed by Brian Khek and Jasmine Lee, two students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In Issue 01 artists Ida Lehtonen, Micah Schippa and Bret Scheider were commissioned to tackle “office iconography.” I chatted with Jasmine Lee about the relationship between publishing and curating and she explained how Wave seeks to innovate in both areas.

Martine Syms: How did you and Brian [Khek] meet and why did you decide to start working together?

Jasmine Lee: I had just moved to Chicago last summer from San Francisco for the VCS program at SAIC and I wanted to start a publication. Brian and I met in the fall. We went to school together and he lived down the street from me.We started cooking together. Brian makes the best Pad Thai. We would cook, talk art and we’d look at publications together. It was a nice welcome to Chicago.

MS: A friend of mine thinks that every artist/designer should be  an adept cook. He puts it on the same level as technical or communication skills. Would you agree?

JL: Yes, absolutely. We talk about this a lot. Cooking or creating anything for consumption requires a prior knowledge which isn’t unlike art. It’s funny to us that art and food are still sort of in their own fields. We look at lot of different fields for fodder, like science or technology. What we like about food and technology is their ability to bring people together.

MS: Do you see Wave Int’l functioning in a similar way?

JL: Yes, we love to invite people over for food. The conversations we have are a lot of fun. We’re obsessed with the idea of connectivity

Wave Int'l: Issue 01, installation view at Co-Prosperity Sphere

MS: So why a publication?

JL: A lot of our work is done online.

MS: What do you mean by work? Artwork, homework, client work?

JL: Yes, all of it. Life work. When you work this way, there’s this feeling of fluidity. We wanted a publication because it’s more tangible. It’s less abstract than say a blog.

MS: When you work on a computer each activity blends into the next. A publication is more discrete, more representative of a specific moment/event.

JL: The publication and exhibitions are meant to be meeting points. A moment for us to gather our thoughts, reflect and move on. It’s meant to be transient, like a network.

MS: Tell me about your curatorial process. How did you find the artists in the show? Was there a particular narrative you and Brian were trying to express with the exhibition?

JL: We’re interested in bringing together people who’s work reflects ideas we’ve been contemplating. We’re not so interested in regionalism. Because of how we all experience a lot of the same things, regardless of where we live we have a starting point.

It’s kind of crazy how many people are making work. Bookmarks help. Brian and I exchange readings and work we like. As with most things, we wanted to work with people whose work we’d admired and respected, and most importantly, were curious about. As connected as we are with each other [online], a lot of this critical discourse that’s engaged by the visual work is often overlooked. Wave wants to welcome everyone to the conversation.

Wave Int'l: Issue 01, installation view at Co-Prosperity Sphere

MS: On your website you use the term “network” and call yourselves the directors. Do you see Wave operating in the tradition of the gallery or the magazine?

JL: We see ourselves as facilitators. Wave Int’l is a platform for critical discourse. We’re not so much concerned with the tradition of the gallery or magazine. We’re concerned with the responsibility that goes along with putting work out there, the push and pull of things that last and don’t last. We don’t just want to talk about something and throw it out there into space. We’re thinking about what happens after a show or even after the opening.

MS: In using the term director you’re acknowledging your responsibility, but in using network, you reconcile what happens afterwards, once the work is up, or the show is taken down.

JL: Yes. We’re interested in the potential of the ephemeral.

MS: Tell me about Ida Lehtonen and Micah Schippa, the artists in the show/issue.

JL: Micah is graduating from SAIC this fall. He’s from Holland, Michigan. He’s one of our cooking buddies! He makes the best soups and is awesome at baking. He’s someone we talk with a lot. We met Ida for the first time this week, after being in contact with her online for a year. Ida attends the School of Photography at the University of Göteburg in Sweden. Her work is very playful. Both Ida and Micah deal a lot with iconography in their work. Which is inherent in the medium [internet art]. I think there’s a lot of “net art” out there that’s really unapproachable, because of how esoteric it tends to be. It’s intimidating, but their work isn’t like that.

MS: What’s next for Wave Int’l?

JL: We want to travel. It’s another part of the practice, geographic diversity. Kind of like a tour. We’re currently building an ongoing program, which involves a library of visual, audio and literary appropriations from our own archives and that of our peers. We also have a printed version of the PDF, edition of 25, very very slick. Email for more info.

Download a copy of Wave Int’l: Issue 01 featuring Ida Lehtonen, Micah Schippa and Bret Schneider at The printed version can also be purchased at Golden Age, where you’ll find Jasmine Lee working hard each Thursday!

Ray Noland’s Urban Fairway

November 15, 2010 · Print This Article

Guest post by Elizabeth Corr

There has certainly been no lack of political drama in Chicago over the past two years. Starting in November 2008, with the historical election of Barack Obama, a wave of excitement and pride swept through the city. This atmosphere proved to be short lived.

It wasn’t long until Mayor Daley leased Chicago’s parking meters to a private company in an attempt to account for a massive city budget deficit. The public was outraged over increased rates and the quickness with which the deal went down. A few months later, then-Governor Rod Blagojevich was indicted over his alleged attempt to sell Obama’s soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat.

Things were going swimmingly, when Chicago was the first city eliminated from 2016 Olympic battle. And then, the icing on the cake for the Mayor’s political legacy:  In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court officially overturned Chicago’s handgun ban. Just prior to the ruling, an infuriated Daley, in a now infamous outburst, challenged a reporter’s question regarding the effectiveness of the ban. Daley picked up a bayonet at the press conference from a slew of seized guns in Chicago police custody and said, “If I put this up your butt, you’ll find out how effective it is.” A mere three months later, Chicago was rocked by the announcement that Daley wouldn’t be seeking a 7th term as Mayor of Chicago.

These political developments have provided excessive fodder for pundits, comedians and perhaps most interestingly, artists. In Chicago, Ray Noland has been pioneering the visual response with his fantastic graffiti art. Noland operates the Creative Rescue Organization (CRO) and works under the same name. During the 2008 election, he gained national attention with his street art campaign “Go Tell Mama!” His striking images appeared throughout Chicago streets and alleyways. The concept was particularly interesting because of its contemporary, urban aesthetic, which proudly defied traditional campaign propaganda and stood apart from the graffiti most of us are used to seeing.

It was the beginning of a love affair with politics for CRO, who quickly followed up that series with “Run, Blago Run!” As the embattled former Governor of Illinois pleaded his case on national television, his image started popping up all over the Chicago’s buildings and alleys and sure enough, CRO began garnering more and more attention.

CRO hasn’t skipped a beat, and since the announcement that Daley won’t be running for reelection, graffiti images of the Mayor golfing have started to adorn vacant lots and alleyways throughout Chicago. The graffiti images of the Mayor are instantly recognizable, done in the same precise stenciling style as the Obama and Blagojevich pieces. The latest CRO endeavor, however, far surpasses the previous for one brilliant reason. Until now, CRO’s imagery hasn’t attempted to critique policy initiatives or laws. For the most part, the work has been lighthearted, satirical and just plain funny commentary on current political affairs.

CRO’s Mayor Daley graffiti is particularly effective as street art not just for its aesthetic simplicity, but also because it takes one of the Mayor’s signature political policies and flips it on its head, creating an added element of irony – the Mayor as graffiti – the Mayor, seemingly breaking the exact laws he enacted.

Way back in 1992, as an attempt to combat what was perceived as an increase of graffiti within the city, Chicago banned the sale of spray paint to private citizens within city limits. Sales were to be made only to government agencies, public utilities, and contractors. It wasn’t until 1995 however, that the ban was actually enforced thanks to a ruling by Justice John Paul Stevens. A year after the spray paint ban was introduced, the Mayor established the Graffiti Blasters – a free graffiti removal service run by the Department of Streets & Sanitation, a service estimated to cost anywhere from 4 million to almost 8 million dollars annually.

In certain neighborhoods of the city, the Graffiti Blasters are ubiquitous. The trucks were all over my Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood as the 2016 Olympic committee was preparing its visit. Not a coincidence I’m sure. In fact, it’s gotten to the point now where I can’t even say the phrase “graffiti blasters” without finding myself humming along to an updated version of the Ghostbusters theme song.

If there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood

Who ya gonna call (graffiti blasters)

If it’s somethin’ weird an it won’t look good

Who ya gonna call (graffiti blasters)

For those not familiar with one of the Mayor’s oldest initiatives, it works like this. There are blaster trucks and paint trucks. The blasters remove graffiti from brick and stone surfaces, utilizing a pressurized mixture of baking soda and water to BLAST that graffiti away. The painters, in the most horrible color of brown paint imaginable, cover graffiti on metal, wood and even fabric based surfaces. According to the blaster website (where you can also watch blasters in action) “Graffiti is vandalism, it scars the community, hurts property values and diminishes our quality of life.”

And this is the heart of the problem with the Mayor’s initiative. Its infantile definition of graffiti makes no distinction between actual vandalism and street art. Instead, any act involving spray paint is automatically lumped into a category stripping it of conceptual value and artistic merit. It’s been refreshing to see this argument played out in the streets of Chicago with the Mayor as primary subject. As I watch him golfing from my apartment, I often wonder if he’s aware of his stenciled avatar, a legacy I’m sure he never expected to leave behind.

Perhaps due to the increasing popularity of his images, CRO is launching a new street endeavor called the [ASC] Project (check out the CRO’s Tumblr page for details) – an approved stencil campaign. Business and property owners interested in transforming their surroundings can contact CRO and for no charge, they will transform your surroundings using stencils of their choosing. This is an interesting and unexpected partnership between property owners and graffiti artists, one that I hope might help Chicago’s new Mayor better understand the distinction between graffiti as vandalism versus graffiti as street art.

As Chicago contemplates what a future without Daley might look like, CRO is already offering one such possibility….

Elizabeth Corr received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in African Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her graduate work focused on contemporary African art in post-apartheid South Africa. She lives in Chicago and works at NRDC, an environmental nonprofit.

Episode 272: Martina AltSchaefer

November 15, 2010 · Print This Article

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Martina AltSchaefer
This week: Mark Staff Brandl talks to Martina AltSchaefer.This is the first of two interviews with German artists conducted by Mark Staf Brandl on the island of Elba, Italy. Martina AltSchaefer is an artist living in Ruessellsheim, Germany. She studied with the famed Konrad Kapheck and her creative work centers on very large, labor-intensive drawing in colored pencil on translucent paper. AltSchaefer has exhibited in many prestigious galleries and museums.

She also does printmaking and is an expert on mezzotint, about which she has curated shows and written essays. She was in an invitational retreat in July as a working guest of a foundation on the island of Elba along with Viennese jazz pianist and composer Martin Reiter, New York playwright Sony Sobieski, Berlin artist Alexander Johannes Kraut (the interviewee in part two) and Mark Staff Brandl, the Bad at Sports Continental and now also islandal European Bureau.

Also for all the Napoleon fans, especially those commenting on facebook, they were not in exile and even Mark was allowed back on the mainland without having to invade it.