March 25, 2011 · Print This Article
Ok, so somehow this week devolved into madness, and here I am, to do a last minuet post for my weekly top 5. Being slightly indisposed at the moment, the top 5 pick is being scrapped this week for a longer list of: “Well, it looks like it has potential…” Enjoy!
LIKE A ROCK: Tony Balko and Olivia Ciummo at ACRE Projects (1913 W 17th St) Reception 6-9pm.
Snowblind: Alex Blau at Firecat Projects (2124 N. Damen) Reception 7-10pm.
Launch of johallaprojects.com/ARTISTS at Johalla Projects (1561 N Milwaukee) Party from 7-10pm.
Drop It Like It’s Not at Murdertown (2351 N. Milwaukeee Apt #2) Reception 6-9pm.
Double Feature: The Art Dump at Post Family (1821 W. Hubbard S. Unit 202) Reception 7-11pm.
Anthotypes: John Opera at Andrew Rafacz Gallery (835 W Washington Blvd) Reception 4-7pm.
BYOB (Bring Your Own Beamer) Chicago at Archer Ballroom (3012 S. Archer Ave. Apt #3) Reception 7-10pm.
BLUE GLUE AND OTHER EXPLORATIONS: Mara Baker at Happy Collaborationists Exhibition Space – (1254 N Noble St) Reception 6-10pm.
PSYCHA-BOBBLE: J. Thomas Pallas, Laura Davis, David Leggett and Elisa Harkins at High Concept Laboratories (1401 W. Wabansia) Reception 7pm-midnight.
Nobody to Have Any Fun With: Mac Katter, Dylan Cale Jones and Vanya Schroeder at Så Gallery (2150 S Canalport Ave #4A-10) Reception 7:30-10:30pm.
WORK IN THE WOODS from SCARCITY asks, “IS THIS YOU, WANT?”: G. Vincent Gaulin at Spoke (119 N Peoria St.) Performance 6-8:30pm.
Zombie Apocalypse: Kimberly MacAulay, Anna Vlaminck, and Eric Cronin at Black Cloud Gallery (1909 S. Halsted St) Reception 6-10pm.
Eyeball Witness: Suitable Video Vol. 2 at Roots & Culture (1034 N Milwaukee Ave.) Screening at 7pm. $5.
This past Monday, March 21st, photographer Michael L. Abramson died at the age of 62 after a long struggle with kidney cancer. The Chicago label Numero Group posted an obituary for Mr. Abramson, whose black and white photographs of 1970s era Chicago nightlife were part of Numero’s Grammy-nominated double album and book Light: On The South Side. In 2009 the New York Times’ “Lens” blog ran a lengthy showcase of Abramson’s photographs. There is something about the way Abramson photographed the press of bodies that makes everyone in his images look luscious and beautiful. He got right up close to his subjects – as a viewer, you feel like your own body is right in there too, smack in the middle of the action. Abramson’s family released a biography of the photographer after his death, which included this description of Abramson’s first encounters with the South Side clubs he would come to know intimately:
“A friend’s casual remark about the nightclub scene on the city’s South Side led Michael to visit, enjoy, and then photograph the people and nightlife. This decision established him as a serious artist, compared by more than one critic to Brassai, who photographed nocturnal Paris in the 1930s. At his first stop, Pepper’s Hideout, Abramson found himself the lone white guy in the club. Worried that he might make the other club visitors uncomfortable, he soon made for the door. As he left, a man yelled, “Hey, where ya’ going? Get back in here!” For the next two and half years Michael made frequent trips to Pepper’s and other South Side nightclubs. He spent his evenings snapping photograph after photograph – not of the musicians, but of patrons, many of them dressed to the nines, enjoying a night out on the town – and spent his days developing and printing the images.”
Do yourself a favor and spend some time this week looking at Abramson’s images, especially if you’re not already familiar with them. It’s clear the comparisons to Brassai are not at all specious.
Jason Dunda’s work is impeccable. Each mark he lays down is precise, predetermined and, really, perfect. He paints wood grains, anthropomorphic hummocks, death chairs and wheelbarrows. Over the course of our friendship, I have remained intensely interested in his process, both as curator, as artist and publisher. In part my fascination stems from a sense that his work is a testament to the impossible. He paints towers that could not stand up, even if they appear to have structural integrity. Or, in another instance a fabricated tree made of smaller pieces of wood, appears to be trying to hang out with “real” trees; the fake tree obviously fails, yet it is also more interesting as a tree and diminishes the others which fade into the background. All of these pieces are made in gouache and a couple of years ago Jason told me he was going to start making giant, wall-length works. He was making them for a show in Dubai. He would ship them in giant, construction-site-sized tubes. It was all planned out. He was excited, I couldn’t wait to see how it worked and I realized as I went home there were so many impossible things in that equation: first off, you can hardly breathe on gouache without leaving a mark. Secondly, Dubai is a massive massive distance. Thirdly, the city itself sounds like a cartoon, a monument to human enterprise in impossible conditions: I’ve heard, for instance, it boasts a building with a ski hill. It’s all impossible and, for that reason, amazing. But all this strikes me as a perfect metaphor for what it means to create work in the first place. There is an idea that making work supplies a certain posterity. It is a vehicle to outlast one’s own lifespan. Despite the ageless popularity of this idea, the life of a painting is full of hazard. Historic works get lost on boats, burned in fires—you name it. It’s remarkable that anything stands the test of time. Dunda’s work faces off with that issue. His paintings are materialistically vulnerable, capable of reflecting our own existential fears. Thankfully, each one has a sense of humor about itself—what’s even more remarkable give the precision and time the work demands.
Caroline Picard: Can you talk a little bit about gouache? When and why did you start working with it as a primary medium? What is most difficult about it and how do those challenges complement your own artistic goals?
Jason Dunda: Gouache is a very opaque type of watercolour. It’s been used in the past in design and animation—any backgrounds in pre-digital age cartoons are probably painted with gouache. I began using it about five years ago to make some quick works on paper to help me compose my oil paintings. I ended up enjoying my experiments in gouache a little too much and my work on paper became the central focus of my studio practice. Gouache isn’t the most spontaneous medium—just like watercolour, once it’s down on the paper there’s no changing it so you have to be very confident and sure of what you’re doing when you’re working with it. The paint is also very matte and chalky—a quality I love—so if you lay it down too thick it cracks and/or dries very inconsistently and looks horrible. Basically, it’s a very delicate and precise material to work with. I often approach my work with a cautious delicacy and I really like to master a medium so I like the challenge.
CP: That leads me to another question about the way you make a piece. As I understand it, and partly because gouache so fussy, you plan out a painting before sitting down to paint it. Will you talk about what that process is like and how your foreseen vision matches its end result? How do you translate an idea into a visual structure? Does the idea occur visually in your mind’s eye? Or do you execute a kind of transcription, translating the idea into a visual language?
JD: Some days I feel there’s nothing but limitations. You can interchange ‘limitations’ with ‘structure,’ though, and in that sense it creates possibilities and propels my thinking and making. When I’m feeling particularly limited, though, I’ll declare to myself that my day in the studio is going to be different from the usual—I’ll spend the day with the expectation that I’ll have no usable material results and all I’ll do is experiment. I’ve recently gone back to oil painting partly for this reason. I can mess around and translate my ideas into a different set of materials. My new oil paintings are really terrible.
JD: I never go bigger than my apartment door. I learned that the hard way, seriously. Scale occurs to me most profoundly as the relationship between the viewer and the piece. There’s a sense of intimacy and humbleness in small works and a more aggressive, public presence in large scale works. I tend to go to the extremes of this spectrum. Gouache is a really difficult material to work with in large scale— the surface can be really inconsistent over larger areas—so there’s a particular challenge I like about large-scale gouache paintings. I love antagonizing the intended use of a material.
JD: I’ll certainly grant you that and I think you’ve got it absolutely right. The tangibility of an object is really different from the illusion of form and space in painting and that’s what led me to make the first and so far only object I’ve ever made for exhibition. It’s that trauma as you call it—that fight between the illusory and the tangible that I wanted to conjure up when I used a large-scale painting as a sort of backdrop for an object. I paired a painting of a dilapidated pulpit with a fancy wheelbarrow I custom built and had upholstered. I used the opposition of image and object to highlight certain elements of my ideas—the conflation of the utilitarian and the ceremonial and a parody of cultural structures.
JD: Surface and I get along very well. No matter the medium or imagery of the project, my work over the past several years relies upon a thorough consideration of surface. Because I’m a painting dork, I have to learn everything possible about the materials I’m working with. I have a tremendous amount of patience when experimenting with materials and it’s really important to me to show a certain amount of that mastery in the work I make. I also think that it’s really important to me use the materials in the wrong way but still make it look good. Most of my oil paintings look like they’re painted on some kind of plastic but it’s a concoction of walnut oil and wax. Similarly, my big gouache paintings involve a process of staining nine-foot tall pieces of paper in order to transform its colour and surface. I know when a surface is working when another painter can’t figure out how I’ve done it.
JD: Both, definitely. I think the busy work of planning, testing, and preparing when using gouache forces me to slow down and think a lot more while making. This can be a great thing or a very bad thing – I’ve felt stuck many times recently because the next move I need to make presents such a risk, but then again there’s something very satisfying about meticulously constructing an idea while I meticulously construct a piece. So yes, I want to get something different out of the process of painting but I’m not ready to quit gouache. Ideally, I’d like to get reacquainted with oil paint while continuing the trajectory of my gouache paintings. There’s something very interesting to me about working across media and showing the results together. Incidentally, I’ve done a couple of oil paintings recently and they’re really awful. It’s like I’ve never picked up a brush before and I really haven’t got a clue.
CP: Although this wasn’t my first thought in relating to your work, there was a certain point that I suddenly made a connection between your paintings and cartoons/comic books. Could you talk a little bit about that relationship?
JD: Wow, that’s a mouthful but you’ve hit the nail on the head. There’s a sense of detachment both in my work and in comics and cartoons. In comics it’s a result of these adolescent power fantasies (among other things) and in my work it’s an impulse to not be so heavy-handed in my politics. I’m not nearly informed enough to make specific social or political statements, so I’m not interested in resolving anything. Instead, I want to imply a narrative that embodies a particular and often fucked up set of social values. Hence the gallows that can double as a vaudeville stage set or a sentry tower with a quaint aluminum awning. I’ve always thought the images that I make in gouache are the evidence of some other civilization that exists parallel to our own—parallel universe narratives in sci-fi are also a current love of mine. In my world, though, instead of granting wild canines the ability to mail-order anvils I simply gussy up the instruments of control. Either way, it’s a happy place in which you don’t quite notice how desperate the situation is.
Jason Dunda has a show coming up with Laura Davis called “Lock the Doors.”
Opening reception, Saturday, April 2, 6-9pm
2153 W 21st Street
Artist, writer, new media curator, and BAS’ own “Hyperjunk” blogger Nicholas O’Brien is visiting Chi-town, and if you live here you can see and — best of all — talk with the man yourself if you head on over to the Nightingale Theater tonight, Wednesday March 23rd, at 8pm. Full details on the action-packed events below…pecha-kucha style lecture?? This will be good.
I am Back: Nicholas O’Brien at the Nightingale Theater: Nicholas O’Brien will weave a conversation and lecture around his recent screen based works. These routes will range from a reading of an online conversation about mediated spatial awareness, screening samples from an ongoing video blog, presenting a pecha-kucha style lecture on the show Breaking Bad, as well as showing a VHS love letter sent to a distant, yet familial, stranger. The evening will enfold over the course of interlinking monologues discussing loss/return, finding sincerity in flippant formats, discovering self through cultural history, excavating digital landscapes, and employing wit to both disarm and embrace.
Abigail’s post yesterday on protest culture, Wisconsin and WAGE has me thinking about a lot of things, not the least of which is the visual culture of demonstration itself. Last week Eyeteeth’s Paul Schmelzer blogged a newsbit about the Smithsonian sending a curator to document the signs and placards being used during the protests. I had never really considered all those black Sharpie-scrawled cardboard signs and drawings as conveying anything other than the messages written on them, but as soon as I shifted my perspective to consider them historically, i.e. as examples of material culture worthy of historical documentation and preservation…well, that was a head slapping moment for me. This material is so obviously significant, and yet so easy to overlook. The fantastic set of images Abby used to illustrate her post also helped slam this point home for me, especially because several of those messages were delivered on something other than written placards. Protestors wear costumes and perform. They make collages and small drawings. They build installations and sculptures. There is an art to all this: whatever form the protest sign takes, it needs to be sharply worded (or visualized) yet concise, funny helps too, and even if the sign consists solely of text it needs somehow to be strikingly visual in nature. The Wisconsin signs reference Edvard Munch alongside movies like Kill Bill and Star Wars, and I think I even glimpsed a nod to the Librarian in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series (ook!).
Smithsonian curator Barbara Clark Smith has her work cut out for her. Just think of the sheer volume of great material that must be surveyed and, ultimately, selected. Now that’s a fascinating idea to contemplate – what are the curatorial standards for determining which protest material is worth preserving for posterity? Also worth noting is the large volume of internet-based photo archives that are already collecting this material. Some of Abby’s images came from a Flickr archive by Marc Fischer from the Public Collectors photostream (Fisher documented protests occurring on Saturday March 12, 2011 in Madison). If you’re interested in scouring more of this material, other great sources include Brooklyn Street Art (link via Eyeteeth), who in turn culled a number of great images from Buzzfest.com, TheArcadeFlame, MarkonF1re, MarkTasman, pinku_pinku, and Lost Albatros.