Garage dance in Detroit: An interview with MGM Grand’s Biba Bell

July 14, 2011 · Print This Article

I saw Modern Garage Movement (also known as MGM Grand) perform in Detroit for the first time in 2009. It was sheer luck, actually, since I’d never heard of them and had only learned about the performance from an overheard conversation at a cafe. Unsure what to expect, I showed up to a warehouse in Southwest Detroit, then in use as artist studios and a performance space by the 555 Gallery, and was directed to a huge, open room several floors up. It was the kind of space that you find scattered throughout Detroit: a gorgeous, creaking, post-industrial vastness, a bit decrepit but steadfastly built to last.

Photo by Garrett MacLean

The atmosphere was disarmingly informal. Theatre chairs were arranged here and there, and the company’s three dancers chatted casually with the fifteen or twenty gradually arriving audience members. The dance began with just one dancer, lying on the floor. She spent several minutes there, gasping, heaving her torso, arching her back, and flopping her limbs heavily, dramatizing a profoundly disquieting sense of body horror. From my perspective, I couldn’t see her face, which reduced her form to something anonymous and animal.

Photo by Garrett MacLean

The dance, Royce, evolved into a work of purposeful purposelessness, with the dancers at times stalking furiously around the confines of the space. Having been created over the course of a few weeks as a site-specific work, it also became a dance about the space. The dancers moved around the room’s numerous pillars in a way that emphasized the pillars as much as it did the dancers. During one especially breathtaking moment, all of the lights were turned off except those illuminating a single corner of the room. The dancing continued, now as a supporting, exclusively auditory phenomenon. (The dance had no recorded soundtrack, only the dancers’ footfalls and breathing, and the regular, rhythmic splash of passing cars driving through puddles.)

Royce was playful, too; at one point, the dancers offered the audience beer and bags of chips. At another, they started rolling objects in our direction: balls, industrial spools, tires. This level of audience acknowledgment and involvement is essential to MGM Grand’s work. Also essential is an experiential investigation of space, an interest in taking dances on the road and letting them change along the way, and a tendency to perform in unexpected places.

The company will be bringing its singular performance style to the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit this Friday, July 15. They’re dancing Nut, a 2010 piece informed, in part, by the classic Motown female trio (and featuring Motown music, modified by MGM collaborator R. McNeill). Nut was conceived at MIT, developed in Detroit, and premiered in New York at The Kitchen. After Friday’s performance, it will continue to tour on the east and west coasts.

“Nut” (2010) at The Kitchen. From left to right, Piage Martin, Jmy Leary, and Biba Bell. Photo by Paula Court

MGM Grand originated in San Francisco and its three choreographer-dancers, Biba Bell, Jmy Leary, and Piage Martin, live across the country. Bell currently lives in the Detroit enclave of Hamtramck, and I interviewed her after seeing a recent Detroit performance she choreographed as Urisov, a moniker used to identify her solo work, apart from MGM Grand. (Urisov is pronounced your eyes of, and is a reference to Part IV of Hymmnn, the concluding section of Allen Ginsberg’s long poem Kaddish).

That performance was at the 2:1 Gallery, a temporary sound art space in Detroit’s Eastern Market district. It included a dance (InGrain) during part of which the audience sat in the basement and listened to the dancers performing upstairs, as well as a sound piece (Four Corners) by Gregory Holm and Jeffrey Williams that included a vibrating tambura, a droning, electronically modified piano, and two singers vocalizing wordlessly into the rooms’ corners. I asked Bell about her distinct creative personae, her influences, and the approach MGM Grand takes toward making and performing dances.

Matthew Piper:  Can you talk a bit about the distinctions between the work you do as Urisov and as part of MGM Grand? Obviously MGM Grand is a shared creative experience, and that in itself would require a different approach to making dances on your part. But is there anything more fundamentally distinct to you about the work you do in each?

Biba Bell:  They are different projects with distinct histories. I guess MGM would be more like being in a band and Urisov is my solo project. In MGM we talk about the Bryon Gysin concept of the third mind, when two [or more] people come together in collaboration, and the issues, materials and creative experience produce (and are produced by) another, culminate phenomenon. It is a combination of two people, yet it becomes something else”gestalt maybe. We like to think about this in MGM as a way to think about what happens inside of the experience of performing and making work. It is about us but it is also outside of us as individuals. Urisov is more solipsistic, though it really isn’t exclusively so. It’s about collaboration, too. Maybe that’s why I was originally drawn to make up the moniker, instead of just saying everything is by Biba Bell.

MP:  You mentioned to me before that performing under the Urisov moniker is, in part, a way to make your work “not about your name.” It was also clear that during InGrain, which you did not dance in, that you were nonetheless very consciously not being Biba Bell, but performing a role, complete with a costume and a distinct persona. What motivates your desire to subvert your individual identity in your work?

BB:  Yes, initially when I started Urisov it was about working with people and with materials. Using the moniker Urisov makes the work about the encounter that occurs in between my own intentions and impulses and the body (my own or someone else’s), the idea, the concept, the material, etc. There are always shifts that happen with these encounters. It is not about me. It is not about control. I suppose that this way of approaching making things is not original; certainly there are plenty of artists who work with this type of openness, and so I wanted the name to not immediately signal to my identity, or be about me. Biba Bell Dance Company sounds really boring and terrible to me. Urisov can be about choreography, collaboration and performance, but it can also be writing, teaching, discussion, curation, production, etc. It can infiltrate different mediums and events.

I performed myself in InGrain, though yes I was in costume. In certain ways I was performing in support of the dancers, but I was also performing the role of the choreographer.

Bell (right, as the choreographer) watching “InGrain” (2011). Photo by Michel Soucisse.

MP:  Who are some choreographers you’d consider primary influences and how have they influenced you? From what I’ve seen of your work, I can see Merce Cunningham in, for instance, the resistance of a single “center.” I was a little surprised, though, to see minimalist influence in the performance at 2:1 a few weeks ago. Four Corners [clip below] struck me as a minimalist dance in the style of Lucinda Childs or Laura Dean, with its reduced formal vocabulary, uniform movement, and repetition, only slower than I usually associate with minimalism. (I also thought about Childs during InGrain, when a dancer rolled over on the floor repeatedly; that reminded me of her work in the John Adams’ opera Dr. Atomic, where she uses a similar technique to dramatize the perception of time slowing before the detonation of the atom bomb.)

BB:  Mel Wong was a huge influence; he danced with Merce in the late ˜60s/early ˜70s and was a prolific teacher in New York and then in Santa Cruz, where I met him. He is honestly one of the main reasons I am dancing today. It’s funny: the piece you refer to, Four Corners, is actually Greg [Holm] and Jeff [Williams]’s music piece. They asked me to do some dance inside of it, but it is really to supplement the music, not so much about the dance. I thought that the music was very drone-y and meditative, so I decided to do a minimalist homage to Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker’s dances to Steve Reich’s phase pieces [clip below]. That’s what that was. So she is an influence! I can understand your Childs reference, too, with respect to that piece.

BB:  InGrain was dealing with the sound of the floor, and this makes me think of Neil Greenberg‘s work, because for some reason I am very aware of the sound of the body against the floor”there is a weight, not a heaviness, but a wonderful weightedness, to the dancing. It would be great to listen to one of his pieces from below. I am also influenced by Sarah Michelson in the way she organizes the audience’s perspective; she is a master at this. It is so architectural, and this relationship is dramatic, psychological, sensual. Of course I am influenced by MGM too.

MP:  I’m also interested to know your and MGM Grand’s relationship with ballet. There was a great moment in Royce when the dancers stretched against a decrepit heater, and you looked like ballerinas stretching on the barre. It was a really beautiful moment, feeling at once like an homage and something darker and more ironic.

BB:  We were all trained in ballet coming up. Ballet instills an enduring relationship to discipline in the body and practice. Jmy, Piage and I all have lasting physical practices. A daily practice. I think that the specificity in ballet, and the way that one learns to push against the edges of what the body can do is something that we have gone on to explore in ways that deviate from the ballet aesthetic and principle, but is refined and rigorous nonetheless.

MP:  MGM Grand is interested in testing the boundaries of where dance can take place. Nut, for instance, is one of the only dances you’ve choreographed to be performed in a traditional stage setting. What opportunities does this resistance toward traditional exhibition of dance offer? What are some of the most interesting places you’ve danced?

BB:  Initially it was an issue of frequency. In dance there is a unfortunate model in which one can spend many, many months working on a piece to perform for one, maybe two weekends. That would be a total of 3-8 performances. MGM began in a one-car garage because we could be in the space“we even set it up like a proscenium with the audience on the slightly graded driveway and the garage door as a ˜curtain’”as much as we wanted and do what we wanted. When we began touring the dances, we tried to set it up so we could perform as much as possible, often improvising new shows en route and performing 1-3 times a day for up to 6 weeks straight. In a sense we never really got outside of the piece, but sort of lived it out on the road. This enabled a drastically involved and generative relationship to the work. I think that I have been able to experience the work in incredible ways, letting it shift and be flexible to enable this mobility.

By eschewing the conventional venues for dance we have developed a strong taste for the myriad spaces we have/could perform in. This has an effect on our bodies, our relationship to movement inside of the dance along with our histories in technique and practice. We meet different audiences that wouldn’t generally go to a dance gig, we also get to roam outside, or at least in the margins of, the dance discipline. Our influences and aesthetic responses are not solely about dance; though this is our departure and ultimately our loyalty, we definitely operate with concerns that do not remain in the dance medium. Our work is highly visual, and our models for circulation, for touring, are really based more on a band model.

“New Gree” (2008)

BB: What are the most interesting spaces we’ve performed in? The Henry Miller Library in Big Sur is a favorite of mine. We’ve danced in galleries, a llama barn, book stores, homes, gardens, wineries, garages (of course), bars, a goddess gift shop, Esalen, the Sol Lewitt room at MIT, and the old ice stadium locker room for the Winter Games in Turin, Italy during the Artissima Art Fair, to name a few.

MP:  So obviously, there’s a prohibition against staring in our culture. In traditional performance spaces, the spectator stares at the performers, but there’s enough physical distance that it doesn’t feel uncomfortable. In your work that I’ve seen, there’s a physical closeness that borders on confrontation, because the traditional boundaries between audience member and performer are transgressed. The spectator has no choice but to stare at bodies which are in extremely close proximity. For me, that heightens the experience of watching dance, making it more charged and visceral. Can you talk about the performer-spectator relationship in your work from a dancers’ (or choreographer’s) perspective?

BB:  We had an interview with TimeOutNY a couple of months ago and the interviewer asked if the dance had “audience participation,” at which point I remember groaning a little, but also needing to acknowledge why that could/would be a question for us. We always consider the audience. We deal with the audience. I don’t think that we try to construct unified, controlled experiences for the audience; we like for them to be unpredictable and respond in unexpected ways. But we definitely consider them. I think as far as your comment, though, we are very aware of the highly visual nature of dance as a form and especially its intensity in performance. (Here I like to think of Peggy Phelan’s wonderful phrase regarding performance as the maniacally charged present.) The body is primary. We exploit this”we definitely exploit our bodies!”and this can be a strange, awkward and potentially uncomfortable thing. But we also play in obscuring the desire towards visibility. We have one dance, New Gree, where we begin the piece by having the audience hold hands and do a very simple step”step together stop together, then we ask them to close their eyes. The dance goes on, they eventually open them, but we do the dance with very little light, and the costumes are designed as a sort of camouflage, so we can disappear into our dim surroundings. I suppose this could constitute audience participation, but typically I am more interested in operating on a more subtle level. It’s about attention, focus, being in a space and situation together.

Blanket Dance (2010)

MP: You’re from the Bay Area originally and have worked extensively on both coasts. What’s exciting about Detroit to you right now? What keeps you working here?

BB: Detroit is an incredible city. There are many layers that seem to be on the surface, but are really quite hidden. Space is a big issue in NYC and SF, availability. Everything, every square inch, is accounted for. The way in which space is occupied in Detroit is very different. There are ways in which it asks the subtle body to participate, to lead the way.

“Nut” will be performed at 8:00 pm on Friday, July 15th, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Admission is free.

Matthew Piper is a Detroit-based librarian and writer.

Top 5 Weekend Picks (7/15-7/17)

July 14, 2011 · Print This Article

1. The Chicago Project IV at Catherine Edelman Gallery

Work by Matt Austin, Justyna Badach, Jeremy Bolen, Dan Bradica, Troy Flinn, Lenny Gilmore, Wm. Bradley Johnson, Nate Mathews, Bill O’Donnell, TJ Proechel, Charlie Simokaitis and Shane Welch.

Catherine Edelman Gallery is located at 300 W. Superior St. Reception is Friday from 5-8pm.

2. Animality at DOVA Temporary Gallery

Work by Marius Aleksa, Theresa Ganz, Sara Garth, David Giordano, Jacqueline Hendrickson, Samantha Jones, Stacee Kalmanovsky, Melanie Kassel, Jessie Mott, Jasmine Neal, Elle Opitz, Hannah Pae, Valentina Solano, Cassandra Troyan, Jan Verwoert, Erik Wenzel and May Yeung.

DOVA Temporary Gallery is located at 5228 S. Harper Ave. Reception is Friday from 5-7:30pm.

3. Keepin’ it Real at HungryMan Gallery

Work by Petra Cortright, Thomson Dryjanski, Derek Frech and Bob Myaing, Aaron Graham, and Mac Katter.

HungryMan Gallery is located at 2135 N Rockwell St. Reception is Friday from 7-10pm.

4. Ethridge, Jakschik, Wood at Shane Campbell Gallery (Chicago)

Work by Roe Ethridge, Margarete Jakschik and Jonas Wood.

Shane Campbell Gallery (Chicago) is located at 673 N Milwaukee Ave. Reception is Saturday 6-8pm.

5. Au Plein Air at The Suburban

Work by Simon Ingram and Doug Melini.

The Suburban is located at 125 N. Harvey Ave. Reception is Sunday from 2-4pm.

Contemporary Exploration Part 2; The Idea of Elsewhere: An Interview with Hui-Min Tsen

July 13, 2011 · Print This Article

Last week I posted an interview with James Barry about his collaborative project The Mt. Baldy Expedition. James built a boat with Hui-min Tsen. Together, it took them seven years and after seven years they sailed the boat around Burnham Harbor. This week I wanted to talk to Hui-min about her experience with the project, in addition to other works of her public and contemporary exploration. Most of the interview focuses on The Chicago Pedway Tour where Hui-min led groups through the curious and sometimes underground commuter passages — throughways which are largely undocumented despite their frequent use; during the tour she would stop periodically at points-of-interest in order to perform a narrative for her audience. Embedded in that narrative are ideas of the American Frontier, the mythology of cities and comfort anAs The Mt. Baldy Expedition emphasized the significance of learning in an art practice, The Pedway brings up issues of public and private space, while also tugging at collective mythologies. In addition to physical exploration, Hui-min also explores those issues.
Caroline Picard: Can you talk about your experience making the boat for the Mt. Baldy Expedition? Maybe specifically, how you would compare working independently to collaboration? And what was your experience of the boat as-an-art-object?

Hui-min Tsen: Building the boat was an unexpected experience for me — it was not something I ever thought I would do. When Jim and I first started collaborating, I had been working with ideas of urban exploration where I was exploring the city (calling it an expedition) and referencing explorers of the past. Jim had been dreaming about building a boat and the initial plan was that he would build the boat, I would lead in sailing it, and we would collaborate on all the side projects. As the project progressed, though, it became evident that one person couldn’t build a boat alone and that we were collaborating fully on every aspect of the project — it no longer made sense to divvy up tasks to one person or the other. I did not have a lot of previous woodworking experience, so a lot of what I was working on, especially at first, was the less intricate work like cutting pieces to size, planing down wood, routing. A lot of the building process was new to both of us, though, so we worked together on testing the epoxy, figuring out how to read the plans, and eventually developed our own working methods and rhythms in the shop for techniques like getting all the screws in before the epoxy set, etc.  To be honest, I often had mixed feelings about the amount of time and labor building took — it’s not the kind of work I naturally decide to do — but at the end of the day, I was always so proud and happy with the results and the experience of learning, that I was really glad to be there. I especially enjoyed it when I had my own tasks to figure out, like making the mast, boom, and gaff, the centerboard and rudder. So much of the project wound up being about the everyday act of learning and discovery and building the boat was at the crux of that discovery.

We always thought of the boat as both a functioning boat that we would sail and as an art object. It first and foremost had to float and handle well, but we also thought a lot about the conceptual tie-ins of the materials we were using, the act of making and documenting the construction, and how the boat would live when we were finished with it. Normally I tend to have a casual relationship with the craft of an object — I come from a photography background so the craft of the image has always been important, but the creation of a sculptural object was something new to me. Since the object was a functioning boat, the building and documentation of it was still very oriented around process and not just about the beauty of the final object.

In terms of working independently versus working with a partner, they are both methods I enjoy. I very much enjoy collaborating, whether it’s with other artists or making work that relies on an interaction with the public in order to take form. Jim and I would often talk about how we wound up doing things collaboratively that individually we would never think of doing and how much stronger the project was for that. Having such a long a involved collaboration pushed me as an artist in directions I wouldn’t have been comfortable with or thought of alone. When you have to work through ideas with someone else, you are forced to explain them far more precisely than you might be persuaded to do for yourself. Jim and I had very similar philosophies about art-making and how to exist within the art world.

There are times, though, when you really want to just dive into your own quirky interests. A project like the Pedway which very much followed my own train of thought, would have been difficult or impossible in a collaboration.

CP: What made you consider the Pedway as a site of artistic exploration? And how did you come to make the Pedway tour? 

HMT: When I first came across the Pedway, I had been working on urban spaces and the mental constructions surrounding them such as fear, attachment and belonging. These projects often involved mapping and walks — but I kept searching for the perfect vehicle to work with. One of the things that had first attracted me to Chicago was its role in the history of American industrialization and modernization — the tension of optimism and fear that came with the late 19th and early 20th century boom. In my mind, Chicago had come to symbolize the Mythic City, a site which, like the Mythic West, lives primarily in the imagination. I read all about visions of futuristic cities, urban planning, the history of Chicago, and fictional representations of cities from silent movies and novels. When I first moved here, I kept looking around for traces of that Mythic City.

When I stumbled across the Pedway, I saw in it my Atlantis — the elusive city born of fantasies. I began exploring it, looking for secret passages and connections and the possibilities of what lay at the other end. The more I explored it, the more I saw that it had a clear beginning, middle and end. After I walked through it for the first time, I loved the way the corridor unfolded so much I wanted to show it to everyone else! I knew that the temporal and spatial experience of transitioning through all these unique locations all strung together would never translate to a 2-dimensional piece and that the path was so difficult to navigate, there needed to be a guide to help other people through.

Since I had been working on projects involving mapping, story-telling, and walking, I had been looking at artists such as Stanley Brouwn, Emily Jacir, and Francis Alys, as well as photographers such as Sophie Calle and Joel Sternfeld’s project “On this Site.”  These artists were influential in showing how action, text, and photograph could be used to address issues of site and memory. I had also looked at tropes from travel and tourism such as how guidebooks use points-of-interest to tell a story. Since the Pedway unfolds as one path, or line, in time, it seemed perfect for playing with how a story of history and place can unfold as a tour. I realized we are often led to experience a tour (even something as simple as a self-guided nature tour through a park) as if we are the protagonist walking through a 3-dimensional play where the land is the stage set and the points-of interest are the plot points. I used this idea of tour-as-narrative as the guiding principle when writing the Pedway tour. I tried to loosely construct it as a three-act play where the guide is the narrator, the Pedway is the protagonist, you are the main character, and historical figures such as Cosimo, Potter Palmer, and Clara Bow are the supporting characters.

CP: Didn’t copyright issues play a role in your publicity materials? Can you talk about that? 

HMT:  I’m not sure it is as formal as copyright; no one has used that exact word with me, but some businesses have definitely taken issue with my photographing and how I’ve referred to them in some of my materials. Understandably they want to have control over how they are portrayed. When I was doing research for the project, I purposefully avoided interviewing the businesses in the Pedway. First, I didn’t want to be tied to their “official” histories and secondly, I didn’t want them to know me — I wanted maintain the luxury anonymity while moving through the spaces — sitting and observing the comings and goings in hotel lobbies and such, without people asking me questions about what I was going to use my observations for and when they could see the results. I had horrible visions of asking permission, being turned down, and then being banned from one of the buildings! Once I put the project out in public, I knew it would be much harder to remain anonymous. If you’re leading a group of 35 people through a lobby, security will notice you. Some business’ took issue with my photographing and a few have approached me about content. For instance, the Renaissance Hotel was unhappy I referred to them by an incorrect name on the map and asked me to change it to the “Chicago Renaissance Hotel.”  I had kept their name a little more generic to blur the line between the Renaissance and the original hotel, the Stouffer-Riviere, calling them the Stouffer Renaissance Hotel on the first iteration of the map. I decided not to test the copyright issue, and changed it on later maps as per their request. For a while I was nervous that I would have to either conform to all the corporate histories or start omitting points-of-interest.

On the flip side, an unexpected and exciting result of bringing the project into the public is how it has lived in the public imagination and how my interpretation is helping to define the space. There is not much information about the Pedway out there, so when doing an internet search, my website comes up pretty quickly.  Most of the hits I get are people looking for a map of the Pedway. I love the idea that people are walking around the Pedway holding maps pointing to the “Subterranean Parking Lot,” “The Descent” and “The Garden of Merchandise.”  I keep wondering how it comes across to them — do they wonder why the portion they are walking down is labeled “The Medici Corridor”?

One building caught on to what I was doing was using my tour on their website as a selling point for their building!  They thought it was good to be part of a mythologized space, saying I would lead them “through a historical dreamland unlike any you have imagined before.”  Ironically, this was a building that had asked me not to photograph in it, so I don’t really have them as a point-of-interest on the tour.

By choosing to make it a public art piece, chance encounters like these became possible.

CP: How has the Pedway Tour transformed your idea of public space?

HMT: As someone who enjoys using the world-at-large as a studio, wandering the streets and photographing, I have often encountered the tension that can exist between public and private, ownership and invasiveness. With the Pedway, I encountered some unexpected issues of public/private. It turns out most of the Pedway is not actually public space, it is private space. This can create weird questions about access. However, I think the fact that it is a private space is part of the fantasy of a hidden corridor — it is your secret corridor. If it were just like walking down a public street, it would not be as fun.

During the two miles, the Pedway moves through varying degrees of public/private spaces as it passes through food courts, office lobbies, government buildings, the subway… Once you’ve gotten used to being in the private space of a hotel lobby, moving to the very public space of a subway platform can feel jarring. As I began noticing these shifts of private and public within the enclosure, I wanted to include that feeling of passing from one to another as part of the story. I let the experience help guide the narrative. In the first stage, the privacy of the corridor can be equated with your ownership of the space — it is a regal, luxurious, safe home that is yours and you can go wherever you want. The second stage (part 1) is a sudden thrust into the public government buildings. You are no longer separated and removed from the street — you are mixed in with the hustle and bustle, which can be intimidating. There are crowds and security cameras and the buildings exert an oppressive power above you. You feel much smaller and the presence of an external power is much greater. Here the story leaves the early urban history of the first stage and introduces turn-of-the-century ideas of Utopian planning. In the second stage (part 2) you are still with all the crowds, but this is a friendlier urban culture — more glamorous, more leisurely. It is more about the pleasures of moving within a public crowd. You ride mass transit, go shopping for mass produced goods in the department store, and enjoy a huge old library in the Cultural Center (the People’s Palace). The final stage, stage 3, is east of Michigan Avenue. This part of the city used to be a large railyard and was not developed until the 60s and 70s. I think of it as the suburban portion of the Pedway. There is a slight removal from the city, you are separated out again — it is clean, sanitized, comfortable and again you have a feeling of privacy, a feeling that no one will bother you as long as you behave according to code.

It is fun, while leading the tours, to watch other people encounter the surreal line between public and private that exists in the Pedway — many people ask me if we’re really allowed to be there. At one very disoriented part of the tour, down near Point-of-Interest #13, I draw attention to the fact that, although we are surrounded by the grid aesthetic, the normal lines of public space and the squares of private space normally associated with the grid, are no longer present. This, I feel, is one of the things that makes the Pedway so fascinating.

CP: Can you talk a little bit more about how you weave history through your work? 

HMT: For some reason I find this question difficult to answer. Although history is constantly a part of my work, I often think of it as secondary to themes of exploration, travel, and the idea of elsewhere. And yet I keep coming back to it as the context and framework for almost all of my projects. I guess, I think of it as a form of Elsewhere, of another place, intangible but ever present — a place that exists as a force on the imagination and our collective or individual sense of self. History has a real influence and impact on the present, and yet that impact is laced with projected ideals. Like many locations and cultures that are not physically located where we are located, history can be an origin — an often mythological origin to be revisited and played with. Coming from a multi-cultural family, I am used to looking for cultural origins and seeing, instead of one version, a plurality of versions. I think this has had a big influence on my outlook and can explain why I keep looking at how strains of history and experience can simultaneously layer on top of one another.

When I am working on a project, the research and project usually have a give and take. With the Pedway, I had already done a lot of research before discovering the Pedway. I then allowed the space to determine the rest of the research — looking up particular buildings or related topics like the history of the geodesic dome. Ultimately, what I choose to use is what I find intriguing and what excites my imagination. Some things you just keep returning to without quite knowing why. I guess if I really knew why it was so mysterious, I wouldn’t have to make work about it!

CP: That makes me want to ask more about exploration. You’ve talked to me a little bit about a forthcoming project where you’re documenting the lake over an extended period of time, and then drawing out ideas of geographical exploration. It seems to me that the Pedway tour is also about exploration, as is the Mt. Baldy expedition. How does exploration play out in your interests?

HMT: Yes, the project was for the show “Hecho en Casa/Home Made” at Cobalt Art Studio.  The show was about acts of domesticity, localness, and home so I decided to take a trip at home, following in the footsteps of Alexander von Humboldt, an explorer I first came across while researching for the Mt. Baldy Expedition, but someone that we never used. I walked down to my local beach every day and looked out across the water, recording the weather conditions visible for as far as the eye could see. These observations were interwoven into a slideshow with the stories of Humboldt, Elisha Kent Kane, Margaret Fox, and the idea of north (the north pole and the northern islands of Lake Michigan).

I have always been attracted to photography’s ability to aid in exploration and looking. As you point the camera at something, the picture is attaching you to the distant. My recent projects have become more focussed on the act of everyday exploration. As globalization increases and we have more and more mobility and immediate contact with distant places, the predominant everyday experience remains one of being in one place and looking outward from there. It makes me wonder about how other places and times impact what and how we see. What is just over the horizon? What is just beyond the visible? What mental constructions are layered onto the world around us? Exploration is synonymous with curiosity, learning, looking and discovery — a lot of my motivation with these projects is simple curiosity about what lies over there. It seems that even with new technologies and globalization allowing us to see around the world via webcam and satellite and to eat foods or watch tv shows from anywhere in the world, our relationship with the unknown and the distant will always be part of our experience of being located.


‘Fielding Practice’ Podcast Episode 6 on Art:21 Blog : MCA Shifts Gears, Ikea Hacking as Art, Ai Wei Wei

July 12, 2011 · Print This Article

First off…if you haven’t listened to this week’s Bad at Sports interview with Hennessy Youngman, the creator of Art Thoughtz, make sure you do – it’s a gem, and just went live today! Next, on this month’s episode of Fielding Practice on Art21, we’re joined by two guest panelists: Nicholas O’Brien, our regular B@S columnist and an independent curator and writer on net art, and Abraham Ritchie, Chicago editor of Art Slant online magazine and The Chicago Art Blog. Along with our regular moderator Duncan Mackenzie, we discuss recent changes to the long-running 12 x 12 exhibition series at the Museum of Contemporary Art and review its current exhibition, Pandora’s Box: Joseph Cornell Unlocks the MCA Collection, then take a look at Jeff Carter’s current solo show, The Common Citizenship of Forms, at the Illinois Institute of Technology, in which the artist uses hacked Ikea furniture to recreate a number of Chicago buildings by Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius that were demolished in 2009. Finally, we discuss the situation faced by Chinese artist and activist Ai Wei Wei, who was recently released from a 3 month detention by the Chinese government. Plus, our picks for events and other happenings in Chicago for the month of July. Click on over to Art21 to listen in, and as always, thanks for joining us!

Episode 306:Hennessy Youngman

July 12, 2011 · Print This Article

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Hennessy Youngman
This week: Tom talks to Hennessy Youngman. Hennessy Youngman (aka Jayson Musson) is the host and visionary behind Art Thoughtz, a video series that is insightful, smart as fuck, and hilarious.