I met Peter Burr and Christopher Doulgeris for the first time about five or six years ago. “Hooliganship,” the name of their performative duo, was on tour with the second issue of a DVD cartoon compilation called Cartune Xprez. They came to do a screening/performance at the old Green Lantern Gallery. Cartune Xprez is Peter Burr’s curated compilation of independent, short animation—sometimes I think of it as an animated equivalent of an intensely gratifying literary magazine, or portable gallery exhibition. The biannual DVD is an event of imagination that colludes and clashes on the brink of psychedelic experience, precisely because it celebrates the idiosyncratic visions of its participants. As is often the case with non-commercial media, my appreciation for the project serves as both a reminder and a relief, reminding me that the larger behemoth of mainstream culture is not the only world of creative insight. When Hooliganship arrived, we set up couches for audience members while Peter and Christopher inflated neon crystals that glowed in the dark. We couldn’t plug them all in, because we kept blowing the fuse. We projected the video on the street-side window, so pedestrians outside would have another experience in reverse. Christopher and Peter both wore tight fitting neon yellow sweat suits and when the screening began, they rose—aside from the crystals, the room was otherwise dark—playing instruments (a clarinet and a guitar). Meantime, these very idiosyncratic cartoons by various artists screened in the background. It’s probably one of my favorite experiences from running a space. The habitat of the cartoon-world had been built out into our literal experience, lending additional form to the 2-d and sometimes crude projected imagery. As I said, that was years ago—at that time they were traveling with their first 2006 video. Since then Cartune Xprez has released two additional DVDs and, having recently seen the 2011 edition, I wanted to ask Peter Burr some questions about how he curates, what he loves about the project and how he situates his practice in relation to the more commercial television outlets we are accustomed to.
Caroline Picard: Where does your love for cartoons come from?
Peter Burr: I can’t entirely say I LOVE cartoons across the board. I love the way an individual’s spirit is captured when making a motion picture, especially an animated one. It takes such tenacity to produce anything of substance in cartoon form. There’s this sweet spot for me where the cartoon balances the energy and ideas and images so casually and confidently that takes my cake. A large number of commercial productions and studio jobs lose my interest in the way things get overwrought. I think that’s where CARTUNE XPREZ emerged for me…… as a platform to showcase those sweet spots in one place.
CP: It’s interesting to me that you wouldn’t boast an unequivocal love for cartoons given that you must dedicate so much time curating work for CX. Can you talk a little bit more about that sweet spot? Is it a sweet spot peculiar to the cartoon genre? And what do you mean by ‘overwrought?’
PB: Perhaps on point, my day-job is making children’s cartoons which, as I reread my last response (and your follow-up question), probably colors my approach to CARTUNE XPREZ. As with any medium, I believe, our ability to accept creative work with ‘unequivocal love’ is challenged when market forces dictate the decisions behind the practice. This feeds my desire to give life to CX, creating a platform outside the commercial industry that holds a space for ebullient animated spirits. There’s a bravery behind a lot of the work CX shows that just doesn’t exist in most main-stream cartoons I come across. I guess that’s part of that sweet-spot you’re asking about….bravery, independence, risk, failure. It’s work that is not outright trying to appeal to a mass which in turn yields really strange, really personable results.
CP: Do you have a sense of the community of contemporary cartoonists?
PB: I can’t keep up! Sometimes I feel like I could be surfing around the Internet 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and still never have a clear sense of what animation artists are out there. When I was in university back in the 90s I started to explore independent animation for the first time, searching blindly with vague keywords like ‘animation + art’ or ‘cool + cartoon’ and it ultimately just tired me of the web. Granted, I was learning how to use search engines for the first time and YouTube didn’t exist, but still; in the course of that year I think I only ever found one artist (mumbleboy) who clicked into my sensibilities. In subsequent years of peeling my eyes for this kind of work I’ve found that most of the work that gets integrated into CX emerges when I go on tour and just talk to people. It’s a lot more fun than sitting on my computer trolling the net, but of course it also keeps my vision somewhat limited to the countries/cultures I visit.
CP: What would you say your aesthetic is? (that thing you’re looking for in independent cartoons) and how does it differ from your commercial work?
PB: That’s a tough question! I can’t really speak to a single aesthetic, but I can talk about some of the core values that we try to put forth with the project.
Let’s see……the boundary for work that comes into the CX world outlines a quest for independent, mostly single-artist productions. This means that we exclude music videos and other types of work that could be construed as ‘selling something.’ Studio productions tend to get left out too, mostly because I find a special magic imbued in single-artist or small collective projects that comes from a tenacious, intuitive, working process. Rarely does work we show seem storyboarded or acutely planned (even though some of it, in fact, is). Takeshi Murata is a great example of this. Take a video like PINK DOT…… It comes across as a crazy compression error that coalesces around some striking images from Rambo. Of course, these aren’t straight accidents, which becomes especially clear if you compare Takeshi’s work from this period (2005-2008) with other datamosh videos on youtube. The means of representation here feel glued to the topical concerns. I suppose this is the ‘aesthetic’ CX gravitates towards.
Another great example of this can be found in the work of Bruce Bickford, an older gentleman whose work is mostly known from his days as Frank Zappa’s in-house animator. Like Murata, his work is baffling on both technical and conceptual levels. I’ve watched some of his pieces hundreds of times and I still read new ideas in them each time I watch. Part of this comes from Bruce’s utter dedication to his practice. He lives alone in a dreamy complex outside Seattle where his art practice is the focal point of everything including house chores. (There’s a great doc called MONSTER ROAD that you can watch to see what I’m talking about). Anyway, it’s this commitment to a practice that I really admire and like to put forth with CX.
CP: It’s interesting to hear you talk about the way you research cartoons, the way you follow artists and their various practices. It seems like that must be an integral part to your administration-life with CX. What kind of other duties would you include in that? What does it take to put out one of your compilations?
PB: I think about my ‘research’ as a way to put framework between my consumer interests and my desire to produce. Yesterday this meant watching a couple hours of cartoon network before and after Ben Jones’ PROBLEM SOLVERZ to see what cable TV is nesting around some of the artists CX has affiliated with. Day-to-day, these research duties are a lot more casual (I haven’t owned a TV in about a decade so it took some work to find a place to watch cable for a few hours). Thanks to the fact that I live in New York City, freestyle conversation with wonderful artists/critics/organizers is quick to come by. Going on tour provides a similar stimulation. One of my favorite research paths in recent times came when I was in Riga, Latvia with our FUTURE TELEVISION tour. I spent a week there after our show, which gave me time to learn about the cartoons my friends there grew up on. I was blown away by the trove of Soviet animation that had been produced in the 80s. For months afterwards I dug through Russian-language video databases, finding some gems like Captain Pronin and Pereval. This kind of exploratory work is so much fun!
The heavier administrative duties are a bore to talk about…… emailing venues, learning new video compression techniques, managing boxes of amaray-cased DVDs, etc. Its like an episode of “The Office” without the employees.
CP: What is your vision for CX? To me, it kind of seems like it’s fulfilling itself as it is. I mean, I so love and enjoy each of the DVDs you’ve already put out, I’d be psyched if you just did that forever. That said, I can imagine you think about the project differently, or imagine moving in different directions, or presenting the work in different ways. Can you talk about that a bit?
I think my fundamental vision for this project has a lot to do with integrating youthful dreams with my adult experiences. This certainly IS fulfilling in itself! Its also really squirrely and challenging. The biennial compilations feel like a good way to bring some permanence to our activities and touring has been a sweet way to stir up the project’s spirit (bringing new energy and voice). You’re right, though….. in tandem with what we have now I DO envision the project working in different directions. I think about LIQUID TELEVISION, POSTERDISC, RAW MAGAZINE, CHOOSE-YOUR-OWN-ADVENTURE, THE EXPLODING PLASTIC INEVITABLE and still watering the plants at home.
Just a heads’ up that tomorrow night, Thursday June 23nd, architect and designer Catie Newell’s project Second Story will have its opening at Extension Gallery for Architecture here in Chicago. Our Detroit correspondent Sarah Margolis-Pineo will be posting an interview with Catie Newell in the next few days. Photographs of Newell’s project Salvaged Landscape caught my eye last year, and ever since I’ve been wanting to learn more about her practice and the innovative ways she helps us to re-think the existing urban environment.
Here’s some background on Newell’s Second Story project and its team; visit her website for more information on her work.
Amplifying, transporting, and distorting the volumes surrounding and within a contested existing domestic environment, Second Story reconfigures spaces that were once familiar into an “other” occupation and visual register. Used to imprint the space and excite the atmosphere, this inhabitable texture is driven by the manipulation of factory standard acrylic rods to capture, manipulate, and distort the existing volumes of the second story of Spencer’s Funeral home in Flint, Michigan, a house slated for demolition. Inherently transparent, the material both captures and permits the passing of light, visually distorting its presence and the view beyond, through refraction and reflection, altering both the context, the perception of its physical boundaries, and heightening the role of the building in the neighborhood. The work agitates, relocates, and makes accessible new volumes otherwise once unoccupiable: the exterior zone, the wall depth, and the depth of a windowsill. As a further technique of distortion and interplay of tectonic connection and assembly, the acrylic rods are systematically manipulated through the use of heat. One such technique allows for the bending and forming of components to create a pattern that resonates with its context, but also distorts the a priori relationships within the house to construct depth and volume originally unused or nonexistent. A further alteration is the tapering and pulling of the material, developing extensions and strands that flee in a near weightless in pursuit of space, altering the perception and depth they occupy. The otherness of Second Story is further heightened by suspending the piece above the ground by tethering it to the building’s roof trusses so that it hovers to promote a ephemeral sense of space, an attuned acknowledgement of its surrounding, and an implied stretched atmosphere.
Next up in our Mantras for Plants series, artist Heidi Norton and I interview Cris Merino, Isa Merino and Carol Montpart, the directorial team behind The Plant Journal, a biannual magazine based in Barcelona, Spain (The journal’s editor is Cris Merino, and its art directors/graphic designers are Isa Merino and Carol Montpart). The Plant Journal’s editorial statement describes the publication as follows:
Besides providing botanical contents in a simple, personal and cozy way, The Plant Journal offers to plant lovers a new look on greenery by featuring the works of creative people who also love plants. As a curious observer of ordinary plants and other greenery, the magazine presents a monographic on a specific plant and brings together photographers, illustrators, designers, musicians, writers and visual artists, both established and emerging, from all over the world, to share with The Plant Journal their perceptions and experiences around plants.
We love that their focus is simply on “plants,” yet that subject alone can take them in an infinite number of cultural directions. Also note that Plant Journal’s Spring/Summer 2011 issue features the mind-blowing photo-collages of Chicago artist Stephen Eichhorn! You can subscribe to this print-only journal by going here. We want to thank Cris, Isa, and Carol for answering our questions!
Heidi Norton: How was The Plant Journal conceived? Who are your readers? What types of people, places, things are featured?
Editors: We suppose everything began when we realized that every time we had to make a gift, it was a plant. And our friends do the same with us. Plants arrive to your home, you care of them and you establish quite a special relationship with them. Furthermore, as we love publications, especially in paper, we thought that it will be a beautiful idea to create a magazine completely dedicated to plants, since we didn’t find any that gave plants the relevance and the approach we had in mind.
The magazine is addressed to people more or less like us, who enjoy plants even if they seem incapable of keeping them alive, people who feel inspired by greenery and whose creativity is open to establishing connections with plants. That’s why in The Plant Journal you can find photographers, illustrators, designers, chefs, etc. Probably they are also our readers. On the other hand, since plants spread out whenever they want to without asking anyone’s permission, we look for them wherever they are, in their own natural habitat, but also in our cities, homes, offices, etc.
Claudine Ise: Yes, I really like how you use the subject of plants as a jumping off point to talk about a range of subjects — music, art, film, and other areas of culture. The essay that looked at how houseplants were arranged in some of Eric Rohmer’s films as a way to investigate his approach to formalism is a great example of this. Can you talk about how you solicit articles for the journal – what kinds of essays hold appeal?
Eds: We were thinking about the connections between cinema and plants, so we looked for Lope Serrano (from Canada productions www.lawebdecanada.com). He writes articles for a cultural magazine from Barcelona, and we knew about his vast visual and cinematographic knowledge. And it was Lope himself, during a chat, who suggested the connection between the ethical and aesthetic formalism of many of Rohmer’s films and the plants that appear in some scenes. As we admire Rohmer’s films, we loved this approach. The result is a very academic and didactic article that completely fits with the aim of the magazine. But in general, there’s a little bit of everything in the articles. There are some that are proposed by its authors and others cases when we explain a general idea to the writer and then, after exchanging ideas, we reach an agreement. In the case of sections such as “My plants by” or the interviews, our work is about finding the right person. That’s why it is very important for us to have a wide network of contributors who share our interests.
HN: The introduction that you use to promote the journal states, “providing botanical contents in a simple, personal and cozy way.” Can you explain what you mean by “cozy”? I ask because, there is something “cozy” about plants, an unpretentiousness that makes places, objects, spaces, and materials more accessible.
Eds: With ‘cozy’ we want to emphasize and vindicate the affection for plants. At least in Barcelona, people don’t use plants as much as we would like in the way that you explain. So we think it’s not always obvious that plants are cozy by nature. You sometimes have to stop and think about it, and that was one of the reasons to create The Plant Journal. We had an example of this a few days ago. We created an installation with plants and macramé for the magazine launch party in Otrascosas de Villarosàs gallery in Barcelona. The space also contains the meeting room for an important advertisement agency, with its typical big table and nothing else. Well, yesterday Marc (who is responsible for the space) told us that since plants were there, people want to have the meetings next to them, and they even asked him to leave them there. That’s nice, because plants have made that room a better place. And nobody there thought about it until now! That’s why we thought we must emphasize the coziness of plants.
CI: Your journal’s content isn’t available online. Do you think it’s important, conceptually or otherwise, that the journal remain a paper publication that is circulated “on the streets,” as opposed to via cyberspace/the internet?
Eds: As we love publications, we like to go to a bookshop or a newsstand, choose a book or a magazine and then read and enjoy it calmly in your place. You can get it back whenever you want to, you can collect them, write on them, cut them out, etc. It might be fetishism or nostalgia, but we think that the experience of paper is more accessible, relaxed and intimate. It is obvious that the Internet offers a lot of opportunities for a publication (starting with the production costs, always more expensive in paper), but we never doubt it: the magazine is printed in paper, an object that in addition is beautiful. We will create some different contents for our site, but they will be more casual and fast consuming contents specifically created for the Internet. For us, it is priceless: the Sunday aperitif with the daily papers and that feeling is something a screen will never give you, no matter what the possibilities that an iPad can give to you.
HN: What things are inspiring you today, right now?
Eds: We are now very interested in rediscovering traditions that seem to be ignored because of the high-speed way of life and the anxiousness for new stuff. That means we get inspired by and enjoy cooking for friends, going on a trip looking for mushrooms in the countryside, caring for our little gardens, knitting macrame, etc. All kinds of domestic, simple and everyday activities that make your life better. As music, cinema, arts and books also do.
This week: Bad at Sports humbly presents Yael Bartana. We speak about her film work, identity struggles, the history of war and power, and just how an Israeli comes to represent Poland in the 2011 Venice Biennial.
Bio from Experimental Television Center
Yael Bartana was born in 1970 in Kfar-Yehozkel, Israel. She has a BFA from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, an MFA from the New York School of Visual Arts and participated in the Rijksakademie artist-in-residence program from 2000-2001. She has had solo exhibitions in many countries including Germany, Israel, Australia and Japan and has won various prizes such as the Anselm Kiefer Prize (2003) and the Dorothea von Stetten-Kunstpreis (2005).
Her work focuses mainly on the relationship between ritual and identity in Israeli society, looking at the practices that constitute identity, especially in its relation with traditional and contemporary notions of gender, place and ethnicity. In most of the pieces Bartana uses documentary footage shot in public or semi-public spaces at collective events that contribute to identity formation, such as shooting drills for trainee female soldiers or the carnivalesque festivities of the Jewish holiday Purim. Bartana currently lives and works in Amsterdam and Tel Aviv.
Chicago is one of the few major cities that use taxpayer dollars to destroy art, to the tune of $9 million in 2010. It’s this situation that makes a book like Chicago Street Art a valuable historical document as well as a rare survey of the street artists currently producing work. This artwork is literally here today and gone tomorrow.
The book also serves as an opportunity to discover who’s behind that mysterious piece of art that has suddenly appeared in your neighborhood. I learned that it was CYRO who has pasted up an odd creature made of mostly fingers on the back of a local clothes donation box. I found out that it was CRO who did the stencil of a cheerleader holding a cross in one hand—and a gun in the other. Importantly some artists and artwork remain unknown, even within the ultra-reclusive street art community, but they are still included. Like the artist who puts up positive phrases in block letters around town like, “TRUE LOVE” and “HOPE DIES LAST”.
Photos are usually the highlight of street art and graffiti books and Chicago Street Art has excellent ones from Oscar Arriola, Chris Diers, Patrick Hershberger and Thomas Fennell IV. Some of these photos were shown in the Chicago Urban Art Society’s exhibition “The Chicago Street Art Show.” Shot on professional cameras and clearly with time to spare, they are better than the photos in another recently published book about the same topic, The History of American Graffiti (HarperDesign, 2011), which had to rely on amateur snapshots. The photographers succeed at including the surrounding of the artwork, which is a significant challenge for picturing street art. You can tell that Grocer piece is on one of Chicago’s iconic drawbridges, and a Don’t Fret piece is on a pylon for the El tracks. The grit of the street comes through too; these walls are not decontextualized with the work pried from its environment. The abandoned buildings are seen, the weeds and tall grass of neglected lots are pictured, the dirty blank expanse of a brick wall is turned into an artist’s canvas. These photos and photographers do the art and, importantly for street art, its environment total justice. I’d imagine the artists are pleased.
And all the must-know Chicago street artists are included here: CLS, Don’t Fret, Goons, SWIV, Nice One, SOLVE, MENTAL 312 and many others. There’s only a single artist inclusion that I take issue with, the religious nut-ball that posts screeds all over town, listed in the book only as “Crazy Talk/Artist Unknown.” This is most certainly not art, even if it is on the street. In an especially unfortunate move a homophobic piece from this person is included, although it’s tempered by a note someone else has scrawled on it, “God also said love thy neighbor assholes.” This piece and the artist should never have been included. While it shows the democratic nature of the street, this is not art. There’s no indication that it was ever intended to be.
Goons. Photo by Oscar Arriola [not included in book]
The author, designer, editor, and publisher Joseph J. Depre makes a valiant and admirable effort at theorizing street art in his several essays but falls short. There are some significant errors (“Jackson Pollack”) along with spelling and grammar issues that diminish the effort, starting at the introduction. The design could also be more uniform, with fonts, font size and margins frequently changing from essay to essay. But nonetheless you have to give him props for being a one-man printing company.
Despite some flaws, Chicago Street Art is a must-have for anyone interested in street art, whether they are in Chicago or not. It also fills a gap in Chicago’s reception of the art form, while Los Angeles is having a landmark street art exhibition at their Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago’s institutions have remained completely indifferent. And at $15, the price of two drinks at the bar, it’s quite affordable.
Chicago Street Art is available for purchase at the Chicago Urban Art Society Chicago Street Art is available for purchase at: www.chicagostreetartbook.com/)