Top 5 Weekend Picks! (2/1-2/3)

January 31, 2013 · Print This Article

1. Bound and/or Stapled (or not) & Plant Life at Western Exhibitions


Bound and/or Stapled (or not) includes work by Elijah Burgher, Lilli Carré, Terence Hannum, Leah Mackin, Dutes Miller, Andy Moore, Miller & Shellabarger, Stan Shellabarger, and Scott Teplin. Plant Life is curated by Geoffrey Todd Smith, with work by Chinatsu Ikeda, Eric Wert, Heidi Norton, Jonathan Gardener, Mindy Rose Schwartz, Scott Wolniak, and Tyson Reeder.

Western Exhibitions is located at 845 W. Washington Blvd. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.

2. Two Women Do Three Things at Happy Collaborationists

Picture 2

Work by Mothergirl (Katy Albert and Sophia Hamilton).

Happy Collaborationists is located at 1254 N. Noble St. Reception Saturday, 7-10pm.

3. Shit is Real & UUUUU at Devening Projects + Editions


Shit is Real includes work by Aron Gent, Carrie Gundersdorf, Cody Hudson, Sofia Leiby, and Josh Reamesand Cody Tumblin. UUUUU includes work by Rainer Spangl.

Devening Projects + Editions is located at 3039 West Carroll St. Reception Sunday, 4-7pm.

4. Tempus fungit-amor mannet at moniquemeloche


Work by Gabriel Vormstein.

moniquemeloche is located at 2154 W. Division St. Reception Friday, 6-8pm.

5. Contemporary Artists from Ukraine at Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art


Work by Oleksander Babak, Oleksander Dubovyk, Serhiy Mikhnovsky, Roman Romanyshyn, Serhij Savchenko, Oksana Stratijchuk, Katarina Svirhunenko, and Mykola Zhuravel.

Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art is located at 2320 W Chicago Ave. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People – And lose the name of action

January 31, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Jane Jerardi

Miguel Gutierrez comes to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago this weekend with one of his newest works, And lose the name of action.  The evening-length piece features a striking cast of note-worthy performers – Michelle Boulé, Hilary Clark, Luke George, Miguel Gutierrez, K.J. Holmes, and Ishmael Houston-Jones. Inspired by Jørgen Leth’s film The Perfect Human, the elusive logic of dance improvisation, philosophical quandaries about the brain, and the 19th century spiritualist movement, the piece draws connections between the analytical and the unexplainable, grappling with the limits of language and the ever-present spectre of death. It features music by Neal Medlyn, lighting design by Lenore Doxsee, and film/text by Boru O’Brien O’Connell.

KJ Holmes in Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People's "And lose the name of action," Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

KJ Holmes in Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

Often cited as a provocative voice in the contemporary dance and performance scene, Gutierrez — like many in his generation — works across mediums.  His poems appear as published performance texts and he designs solo performance works as well as projects with collections of performers and collaborators under the moniker the ‘Powerful People.’   A Guggenheim Fellow, his work has appeared as such venues as the Festival D’Automne in Paris; the TBA Festival/PICA in Portland, OR; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN; UNAM in Mexico City, and ImPulsTanz in Vienna, among others. Equally admired as a teacher, he has built a following for his improvisation/choreography classes as well as his ‘DEEP Aerobics’ workouts. In mid-January, I met Miguel Gutierrez at the Abrons Arts Center amidst the first weekend of the American Realness Festival – an annual festival of contemporary dance and performance in New York. We chatted in a quiet spot near the dressing rooms about his upcoming engagement at the MCA – including the powerhouse cast performing, the ghost hunt they went on during a residency to build the work, and the limits of language when it comes to dance.  Here are some excerpts from our conversation…

Abrons Arts Center, New York, NY, January 13, 2013

Jane Jerardi: Maybe first we should start first with you just talking a bit about the genesis of the project you’ll be performing at the MCA, And lose the name of action?

Miguel Gutierrez: Sure.  I think I’m going to paint my nails as we do this [pulls out two shades of blue metallic nail polish] if that’s okay with you.

JJ: Sure.  Talk about mind and body…!

MG: It feels like the right question to paint your nails to…  Well, the piece really came out of a couple of things.  In some ways it was an extension of Last Meadow [Gutierrez’s previous piece], which is unusual for me, because usually when I finish a piece I want to change gears.  But, by the time we got around to finishing Last Meadow, I realized I was only beginning to understand what I was doing.  Towards the end of the project, I was introduced to this book The Meaning of the Body, by Mark Johnson, which calls for getting rid of the mind/body split, once and for all.  It’s beautifully stated, but reading it as a dancer, there was a moment where I thought, “This seems fairly obvious.”  For a person who has any kind of relationship to somatics, you of course recognize that the mind and body are connected; that perception is an embodied practice, and that all contexts are experienced through a sort of corporeal interaction. I thought to myself, This sounds like a contact improv class. And I thought, why is this new? I think it was that initial indignation that led to the piece. I felt like why isn’t this something that is known?  The second impulse for the work, was my dad.  My dad had a series of neurological problems in 2008.  He had a series of blood clots in his brain that were note properly diagnosed for several years. He had stroke-type things and then seizures, which then progressed during my research for And lose the name of action.

JJ: That sounds scary.

MG: Aside from the fact that it sucked, I think a couple of things came out of it. Here was a person I knew in a certain way, and suddenly he was changing. It sounds sort of basic, a basic experience of change. I say basic, but it was a quite radical. Suddenly, I was subjected to doctors telling me, This is what’s happening, This is what’s not happening – but no one knows what’s happening. Everyone is guessing.  You start to see that that the way we constitute a sense of self and reality are deeply subjective. And, out of your control. You’re in the hospital with your dad and there’s nothing you can do, aside from being present.  At the time I was thinking, “What is it that I can offer here? As a dancer? As a person with some naïve study of somatic practices?” I can be present.  I can be an emotional support. I can be resonate and present in a way that is specific to what I do. It felt clear, but I felt very conscious that I don’t share a language with these doctors.  I can’t assume they know of specific somatic practices or say, “Hey, have you heard of the Feldenkrais Method?” or “Do you know about Body Mind Centering?”

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

JJ: You realize how marginalized some of these movement practices are.

MG: Absolutely. I mean marginalized isn’t even the word.  They’re invisible. I started to see how when people talk about brain, they are talking about mind. Lots of words are being used interchangeably.  There’s a lot of lack clarity in definition between disciplines.  How is it that we have the same vocabulary but we aren’t using words in the same way?  I started to examine the value system around my teaching and practice.  What is valuable about an improvisational performance practice?  It is a kind of knowledge and a way of knowing, but quite different than other modes of knowing.  And I though about Why am I so invested in this ‘unknowing knowing’?  Why am I so mistrustful of alleged truths? That was all the stuff that led me into And lose the name of action. Then, I started thinking about ghosts and the paranormal. What about an immaterial body?  What about a discipline of study that doesn’t even presume that the body has to be tangible anymore? When we had our first residency we went on our first ghost hunt.

JJ: Tell me about that.

MG: We went on this ghost hunt with paranormal investigators–crazy ladies in Tallahassee, FL…  which sounds funny, but are these ‘paranormal investigators’ wrong?  For them, it is true.  If they see a ghost or hear a voice, if they’re having that experience, then that’s their embodied truth.  That’s what’s going on here in this conversation of perception and truth. If I experience my father as my father even if he’s in a coma, is he not my father? If I feel that this is blue [pointing to his nail polish] and this is a lighter blue than the other blue [pointing to another bottle of darker blue nail polish] and I have a certain feeling about it. Am I wrong? Because there’s actually no way for me to definitely know how blue this is.   It’s all these kinds of…

JJ: Big questions.  Really big questions.

MG: So, yeah [laughing] that’s what the show is about.  [Joking] It’s just about a couple small things…

JJ: So how did this all play out in your explorations in the studio?

MG: A lot of talking, a lot of improvisational exploration… In the piece, the bodies are the proof of themselves.

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

Because of the way that the piece exists – even though the audience is onstage, even though people are really close to us – it feels like something is at a distance. I had originally thought it would be really great to make a piece that didn’t involve bodies at all.  I mean why do there have to be bodies?  It’s so weird and silly – why are there bodies on stage at this point in history?  Can’t we just go…

JJ: Totally virtual?

MG: Yeah – not even virtual or holograms – but… there are people that are doing that – work that’s about post-human bodies – but, I am still invested in the interpersonal dynamics of being in the room with people. That’s what keeps me interested in my work.

JJ: I think it goes back to the value thing.  What’s at the core of what you do?

MG: And where do you build knowledge? Where do you build a sense of how you understand things and how you perceptively locate yourself in the world? When I look at dance, I can understand it. What does that mean? Not one specific, concrete meaning.  Rather, as I’m watching the dance, I am understanding it and grappling with comprehension.  And that perceptual act becomes a way to construct meaning.  That doesn’t necessarily translate easily into language. I mean I like words. I can talk. But, dance actually offers another perceptual experience in time. I don’t think this is exclusive to dance, either. Mark Johnson argues that reality is actually an aesthetic experience. He doesn’t use this exact language – but we’re choreographing our way through our lives. And, that feels really powerful in relationship to what performance or a body in action can do. It doesn’t always happen. Most of the time, dance is written about exclusively as a visual rendering but, that’s not the whole picture…

Working with Deborah Hay was pretty instrumental for me.  Something she would say is, “The movement is just a costume for perception.”  And, I feel that’s really true. That’s my experience of dancing actually…  So much of what intrigues me about dancing is about contending with myself in the moment.  And all the fucked-up-ness of that question.

JJ: “Contending with things in the moment” is the way that people talk often about improvisation. You’re working with a pretty incredible set of improvisers as collaborators performing in the work.  I wondered if you wanted to talk a little bit about that?  I mean it’s a very diverse, powerhouse group of people.

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: Boru O'Brien O'Connell.

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: Boru O’Brien O’Connell.

MG: Yes.  I wanted to have a group – well first, that weren’t all young 20-year olds.  I wanted a diverse age range for this piece.  I hadn’t worked with a group of people who were older than me before.  And, I wanted a group of improvisers who could own themselves in a very clear way. I wanted to work with people who seemed restless or curious.  And, I feel like that’s pretty true of this group!

JJ: So, you’re working with Michelle Boulé…

MG: Hilary Clark, Luke George, KJ Holmes, and Ishmael Houston-Jones.  At first, I was a little like – oh my god, who am I to tell these people what to do? It really did feel that way.  Which was great, because I wanted to be challenged directorially.

JJ: It seemed to make a lot of sense to me because you’re dealing with a kind of big existential topic – life and death, philosophical truths such as ‘person-hood’ and ‘being.’ It requires a certain maturity.

MG: Yes.  It feels important that the audience is looking at people who have contended with things. I also think that I was going through something about casting in general. This thing that often happens in the dance field is people don’t take into consideration the representational value of the bodies that are there.

JJ: Which is kind of saying, maybe the visual does matter.  The way that we read bodies matters.

MG: Absolutely.  Bodies come marked. But, it feels like often the problem with the visual rendering thing is that people ignore it in the most important aspects in some ways.  Because they think “I’m dealing with abstraction.” Or, something neutral. I know that when I first went into dance as an adult, I was excited about how it contrasted to theater, because I didn’t feel like I could get type-cast in the same way. I didn’t have to audition to fulfill just one thing. It wasn’t like – “Oh, I’m that Latino kid.” So, it’s funny to have come full circle and now become hyper-conscious about who is on the stage.  But also, I think now more than ever – the way artists work – you’d be hard-pressed to find a choreographer whose not working explicitly collaboratively with their dancers. Although, I sort of suspect that’s always been true.  There’s a real thought around how you have people involved in your process.

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

JJ: I wonder if we could talk about some of the other collaborators involved and, some of the sources because in a way you could think of sources as collaborators.

MG: Somewhere towards the beginning of the process I read Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. I realized that writers give themselves permission to do so much.  You really can go there.  You can interrelate different things.  A novel – or that kind of novel let’s say – doesn’t aspire to be minimalist. Certainly there’s editing. But it doesn’t see reduction as the only compositional value to explore.  As someone who has struggled with living in an aesthetic climate where minimalism is privileged above all else, I’m excited to encounter work that deals with interrelating or association. I started to realize that what we were making – in a sense – was a novel. For example, each dancer wears multiple costumes in the piece – I’d never done that before.  Or, even having people leave [the stage space].

JJ: By having people leave and re-enter there could suddenly be chapters.

MG: Yes, I really feel like the piece does unfold in that way.

JJ: Even though a lot of the piece comes from the idea of embodiment, you’re also using text in the piece. Could you could talk a little bit about how the text figures into the work? What drew you to using text?

MG: The bulk of the text it written by Boru O’Brien O’Connell (who also collaborated to create video projections).  Some of the text is an appropriation of George Berkeley’s writings.

Text is often used as the locator of meaning. And, if it exists in a performance – that’s when we’re like – there’s the meaning!  That definitely happens in this piece. But, it also functions as a texture. It functions…almost like a kind of perfume….

JJ: That’s a nice image.

MG: …A kind of experience that’s not even exclusively about it being attached to understanding.

And lose the name of action appears at the MCA, Chicago January 31 – February 3, 2013.  For more information and tickets: This performance is part of the IN>TIME Festival.

Jane Jerardi is an artist working in the media of choreography, performance, and video installation.  Currently based in Chicago, her work has been presented at such venues as Transformer and The Warehouse (Washington DC), Defibrillator (Chicago IL); Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church and the LUMEN Festival for Video and Performance (New York), among others.  She is one third of the cohort that runs Adult Contemporary, an alternative art space in Logan Square.  She teaches at Columbia College, Chicago, where she is also on staff at the Dance Center.



In a Motherfucking Budding Grove: A Conversation with Jeffry Mitchell

January 30, 2013 · Print This Article

Bear Backs, 2007

Bear Backs (2007)

In the few months I have been living in Oregon, I haven’t managed to trek the half-dozen blocks to Portland Art Museum but, on three occasions, I have rallied to drive three hours to the University of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. I’ll admit: the first visit was partially motivated by the Turrell Skyspace and a video by Pipilotti Rist. Visits two and three, however; were entirely about Like a Valentine, the mid-career retrospective of Seattle-based artist Jeffry Mitchell, which, sadly, closed to the public just last week.

You’d think that after spending so much time with a body of work, I’d be overrun with brilliant insight bound-up in pithy phrasing. Not so. In visiting and revisiting the exhibition, I became increasingly beguiled but also bewildered by Mitchell’s mysterious lexicon of flora and fauna rendered in clay, ink, and paint. There is a certain wildness to Mitchell’s practice, an untethered spirit that speaks to a purely imaginative space that is almost antagonistic to reason. It brought to mind a recent essay in which Borriaud claimed that, “the fictional is to contemporary art what flatness was to modern art;” meaning, the site of fiction represents a recent iteration of creative autonomy where makers are able to reject reality in order to connect with the real—in the Lacanian sense. Now, I hate to go all academic on you B@S, but I feel that the walrus wearing spectacles speaks for itself.

The Walrus and the Carpenter, 2009

The Walrus and the Carpenter (2009)

Clearly, there is satire under Mitchell’s layers of gilded sweetness. It’s only a matter of time before a collection of pieces make their way to David Walsh and his Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania. Sex, or more appropriately, not having it, is an ever-present theme throughout Like a Valentine. From the thinly veiled erotica of Rosy Peonies (series, 2004), to the more explicit The Tomb of Club Z, (2006), Mitchell’s objects delight in their precious perversity. Not only do many of his sculptures elicit the titillation that only a well-placed hole in the rear of a bear can solicit, but moreover, his material preference and nod to a decorative arts aesthetic speak to a unique brand of sexual repression that comes, firstly: from the act of creating needlepoint samplers and watercolor trompe loeil; and secondly: from relentlessly fussing with their arrangement within a domestic interior.

This is not to say Mitchell’s work is the easy one-liner—the fart joke or the flower painting—of contemporary art; rather, his sculpture and works on paper are composed of complex layers of coded references derived from sources as diverse as Kubrick to the Kabbalah. By openly employing and embracing cliché, Mitchell is able to unpack the imaginings, desires, and trepidations of the self-proclaimed “gay folk artist.” Further, his manner of execution, which some have termed sloppy, extends beyond the conversation relating to skill and de-skill to a realm of genuine and endearing sincerity. Mitchell is nothing but intent on his craft; indeed, his unique style emerges from a refreshing respect for material authenticity that allows for clay to be clay, a poster to be a poster, and a power cord to be a power cord.

Exiting the exhibition, visitors are pointed to the door by a sign that I assume is a felicitous wink to Emma Goldman reading: Keep Dancing. I can say with absolute certainty that after my initial journey through Like a Valentine, I was ready for the revolution. I spoke to Jeffry Mitchell at Henry Art Gallery.

A special thanks to Wayne Bund for his assistance with this interview!

The Tomb of Club Z, 2006, (screen on left, vitrine on right)

The Tomb of Club Z (2006)

Jeffry Mitchell: When I made [The Tomb of Club Z, (2006)], it completely came to me as a vision—there was no real story to it, other than I thought [Club Zodiac] was closing when I made this piece, which turned out not to be the case… It was commissioned by some prominent collectors in town and, because it was a commissioned work, I had a budget to fabricate elements. To create the screen, I hired my friend Leo Burke who helped me use his tablet to create a digital drawing. What’s interesting is that through the process of digitization—translating the drawing into a vector file—the line becomes generalized. The program rounds them out in a certain, almost cartoony way, and my work is cartoony anyway, so the process exaggerates that. So then we got this plastic plywood, which is a marine building material, and used a CNC router to cut out my drawing. My friend Larry Sommers, who has since passed away, was a printmaker and papermaker, helped me bludgeon out the paper pulp and press it into the molds.

The paper on the backside is again a digital drawing based on a William Morris wallpaper pattern; the one that was on the cover of the Bee Gees album. Making this piece, the digitization produced the lines in multiple. The effect is sort of hippy-Victoriana-gay-disco—the lines were meant to look like lines of coke—screen-printed in white on a silver mirror-like ground. The production of the whole screen was so elaborate, I could never have done it if friends of mine hadn’t helped. The crummy part of the installation is what I made: the ceramic model of the bathhouse. It’s three floors with a staircase going up the center, which was done from memory… I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a bathhouse before, but it has very mixed feelings for me. One of those feeling is shame of course, and the secretive nature of going to a bathhouse to have anonymous sex. That’s why the model is behind the decorative screen. There’s a whole reoccurring thing in my work involving the idea of a proscenium. This piece in particular is all about theater—facing the audience—so you have what’s in front and what’s behind it both literally and figuratively. This is a very literal sort of construction of the face, and then what’s behind it.

The Tomb of Club Z, detail

The Tomb of Club Z (detail)

Sarah Margolis-Pineo: So why the vitrine—an additional screen removing the viewer from the work?

JM: I was thinking about a piece by Charles LeDrey called Milk and Honey. It also includes a vitrine and, inside the glass shell, he sculpted a miniature version of every pot he had ever seen—sort of a catalog of ceramics. It’s an exquisite piece because everything is miniature but nothing lacks detail, and each clearly communicates what its model was.

I associate the vitrine with looking at Chinese funerary sculptures in museums. They’re always behind glass, so they’re always tinted to what the tint of the glass is and they have that kind of airless quality; yet, they have a kind of presence too—a funny time travel thing… It doesn’t seem old at all it seems completely present and alive. So this sort of weird timelessness in reference to something funerary—the living and the dead—was where I was going with this.

Jesus Buddha, 1993

Jesus Buddha, 1993

SMP: You’ve mentioned previously an interest in reincarnation and the idea of a spiritual send-up or connection to the astral plane. I’m curious, how was that interest sparked and how has it evolved in your work?

JM: I think it has something to do with my struggle with Christianity and searching for some other tradition or form or philosophical explanation for why we’re here. Reincarnation always comes up as comforting and hopeful in that death isn’t the end and heaven is not necessarily the answer. Also, I feel like I grew up in such a world devoid of cultural heritage: the western United States. I wasn’t in-line with any aboriginal traditions or with any European immigrant traditions, which you have in other regions. I had this experience in my late-20s when I went to Philadelphia for the first time and I went into an Irish neighborhood bar and I saw a room that looked liked it was full of my relatives. It totally shocked me to feel like: oh my god, I am actually part of some sort of tribe! This created somewhat of a yearning to be part of a tribe, and the excitement that I had the freedom to feel a part of any tribe I felt an affinity toward, like, say Korean. At this point, reincarnation became as plausible an explanation as anything for that feeling of affinity and connection. Catholic is also another tribe—I’m sure the imprint is probably pretty strong—and, I guess if I had any lineage, I think that would certainly be one strong one.

One of the miraculous things about clay is that so many humans have had, what must be, a very similar experience with that material. Maybe painting has that too, or drawing, or mark-making, but there’s really something inherent to the manipulation of clay. Fiber too, but textiles are so fragile that it’s impossible to have the extensive record of what has been made like there is with ceramics. Clay is so amazingly permanent, and we have access to this history through the objects themselves and through scholarship around them. I have this book of British 2000-years of household pottery called If These Pots Could Talk, which I think is hilarious… But I’m rambling. Do you believe in reincarnation? [I’ll spare B@S readers my remarks on this subject!] … You’re right: it’s hard to know. But it’s kind of nice that in art you don’t have to prove anything, so you can make these guesses or suggestions and hang there with the work even if it can’t be proven.

Rosy Peonies#1, 2004

Rosy Peonies#1, 2004

Wayne Bund: I’m curious about the holes—really standout in the peony pieces—but also included in so much of your ceramic work as a small, well-placed point that interrupts the plane. Are they a point of entry, a glory hole, a vehicle for a connection with astral space?

JM: If you put a hole in a pot it becomes a sculpture, and if you put a hole in a flower picture, it’s the drain that empties it of cliché. Flower pictures exist in a realm all their own, and the hole is a way to open it up—the category of flower picture—and allow something else in… To me, it’s like a song that’s like an anthem. When you hear it, it has a very specific meaning but then you sing it over and over—which is the nature of an anthem—and by repeating it, you empty it of any kind of power or meaning that it has. By repeating it and it becomes so empty—it becomes an empty thing—and it might lead a new life as an empty thing or have something else fill it up.

SMP: So, in effect, relcaiming flowers and bunny rabbits is your way of owning the cliché?

JM: Totally. But the holes also are there to re-sexualize the flowers, which are of course are sexual. So it’s a glory hole, it’s a halo, and it is what turns a drawing into a sculpture, making it an object.

Pickle Jar, 2005

Pickle Jar, 2005

SMP: Is that something that your work has been criticized for—the heavy-handedness of cliché—being the gay artist who creates ceramic sculptures of cocks?

JM: No… Well, not to my face! During the 90s there was a time that I was really ambivalent about being a gay artist, because there was so much gay identity work going on and, of course, you always want to be part but not a part of the group. What was that that Groucho Marx said? Anyway, now, I couldn’t be happier to be identified—I don’t care. So if I’m making cocks, it’s corny and it’s obvious on one level, but then again, I’ve always found it interesting that culturally, we expect artists to behave in certain ways, and being contrary is one of those things that we expect from artists. So when they fall into that realm of making what can be expected or what is cliché, then everyone is disappointed. An artist looses his/her edge when something is too pop or too likeable. For example, even someone like Calder—Calder is an immensely likeable artist, but that doesn’t make his work any less significant—I think Calder is an amazing artist, his work is just about something else—it’s scatological even—like free flowing imagination. I think I really work around that construct all the time by picking flowers and rabbits and all the most predictable locations and containers for expression that are domestic and populist and everywhere! Flowers and animals are motifs that every culture and every kind of human expression has held.

So much of my work has to do with sex and my fear that I’ll have no access to sex, and how weird that is—as an animal—to be sensitive to that. It’s every animal’s right in nature—sex—and it’s strange to have that fear that it might not be available. So, sublimation of Eros—and that’s not uncommon—pops up in other kinds of expression such as knitting, chopping, crocheting, cooking, building, and through culture—civilization itself. In a completely erotic society, there would be no buildings, there would be no decorative arts. Culture depends on the suppression of Eros. I’m kind of making this up, but what I’m saying is that civilization depends on some kind of social agreement that we can’t have sex all of the time the way that men want to at least—and I don’t know about women—but maybe women want to as well. This brings me to Stanley Kubrick, whose work I find really interesting. His mantra is that all men want to do is either fuck it or kill it. The last words in “Eyes Wide Shut:” let’s fuck. And I have to say that I do think it would help a lot of the world’s ills if people were fucking, but when you suppress the urge to create in one sense, it reveals itself through another.

POE dyph

SMP: Kubrick appears again in Peace on Earth, (1994), yes?

JM: In Dr. Strangelove, the recall code is P.O.E., which is either Peace on Earth, ironically or Purity of Essence. Kubrick’s whole body of work emphasizes that men are monsters and humanity’s whole drive is to dominate, create, have sex, and ultimately kill everything… Peace on earth is such, again, a clichéd and probably impossible notion, but it is a nice one. This piece was made in 1994 for the King County—and I don’t know what it was called then—but for the office that did HIV testing and AIDS services. Now, HIV testing is a very different thing—it’s no less anxious—but it happens instantly. Back in the day you had to wait two weeks and it was excruciating. So, my intention was to make something that felt homey, would be a bit distracting, and take people away from the task at hand. When I think about domesticity, I think about Dutch interiors as being a kind of clichéd version. When I was a kid, I heard that Dutch children slept in cabinets, and I thought that was the coolest thing. What’s safer and more comforting than a small, enclosed cabinet?!

Although I’ve never been in a Dutch interior, I have—through pictures—gotten an idea of what a Dutch interior would resemble. As has been pointed out, my pots look nothing like Delft with its back-and-forth between Chinese and European blue-and-white. They actually resemble German gray-and-white salt-fired ceramic, but I think the intent comes across. For the furniture, I drew from the European tradition of displaying a symmetric arrangement of pots in your home, and I used woodburning to create the graphic surface. Now, when I was a kid, everyone had burned themselves on a woodburning tool. In fact, I don’t think anyone ever completed a craft project without doing some woodburning! There must be boxes and boxes of good starts from woodburning projects that have ended up in thrift stores—representing all this hope—half completed. There’s pathos and a humor to that! So, when I look at this, the thing that I’m kind of impressed by is the fact that, (and I try to do this with most of my work), I’ve visibly invested enough labor into the piece so that the object has value—if only in that! This really does have a kind of value based on the amount of time I spent woodburning, which was significant, and looking at it now, it’s really quite good.

In a Motherfucking Budding Grove

Within a Motherfucking Budding Grove

SMP: While your work relates formally to decorative arts, it speaks equally to an entirely internal, fictive inclination. How do you consider and draw from the imaginary?

JM: It’s the freedom of imagination that is salvatory. It’s the dream of heaven, it’s the dream of paradise, and, in the imaginary, it can fully exist. It has the limits of physicality and materiality, but in your imagination, possibility seems limitless, and I do think that I’m making work to soothe myself somehow or to overcome something.

So with this project, [Within a Motherfucking Budding Grove,] the prototypes were clay. I made a latex mold by painting on a medium-thick layer of latex that I peeled off and then cast with two-part catalyzed plastic. Do you know the Canaletto paintings in Venice? They’re Northern Italian, 18th century landscape paintings that depict Venetian architecture in a style that’s exaggerated and just super horizontal. Along with Canaletto, I was considering Japanese landscapes, which are typically vertical, and I wanted to make a horizontal landscape become a vertical one. And there are two additional things that were influential here: those Brice Marsden jade-green, encaustic paintings that just have that brilliant luminosity; and early Guston, where there’s all this kind of heavy, impasto, art making in the center and they sort of smooth out in the edges, and, of course, his work gets very cartoony. So I made this horizontal landscape with figures and foliage—an inorganic black box [from the Kabbalah] being reclaimed by nature—then when you flip it vertically, it becomes abstracted in a very Guston-like way. The title, In a Motherfucking Budding Grove, is like the English translation of one of Proust’s titles—Les Temps Perdu—combined with Prince—Sexy Motherfucker—who I’m a big fan of. There’s poetry there.

install shot2

SMP: So your inclination toward the imaginary is not really coming from a critical place—being critical from reality?

JM: Only in a roundabout way, I suppose.

SMP: I’m curious, does fiction feed into your idea of the stage—beyond the space of exhibition—relating the notion of the stage to the work itself as a space for the imaginary to be realized in a theatrical sense?

JM: I guess it comes back to what a powerful impulse it is to make art, make artifice, and make theater. There are many kinds of sharing that are too intense, or too boring. If I tell you my dreams, bless you if you’re interested! Your dreams are so interesting to you, but other people’s dreams are torturous; however, if you realize imagination through this artifice—which humans do really well—then dreams become more interesting and you can get people to share. I do think that getting people to share is a hugely important motivation. It is useful sometimes to have things be open-ended, or confusing, or illegible, or mysterious, and to leave it up to the viewer to fill in that space.

SMP: I have to ask: what’s the story with the title?

JM: The thing that I’ve always admired about kids’ crafts—especially with young children—but for any age, valentines create a kind of freedom that doesn’t require the maker to be skilled, just to be sincere. If something is like a valentine, the requirement is only that you make something with a full heart. Oftentimes, it’s the struggle with craft or even the crapiness of it that embodies the charm of affection. The valentine is a kind of liberated form that everyone can participate in and, in fact, be successful at making—it doesn’t require any kind of virtuosity or mastery.


Jeffry Mitchell lives and works in Seattle, WA. He is represented by Ambach & Rice, (Los Angeles), and Pulliam Gallery, (Portland), and his works are in the collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Contemporary Museum in Honolulu, the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, the Philadelphia Art Museum, the New York Public Library, the Portland Art Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, the Tacoma Art Museum, and Western Bridge Museum among others. His mid-career retrospective, Like a Valentine, curated by Sara Krajewski, was on view at Henry Art Gallery October 27, 2012 – January 27, 2013.

Endless Opportunities: It’s raining residencies, PART ONE

January 30, 2013 · Print This Article


Over the weekend I was away in DC (shout out to Chicago for being way cooler) and was inundated with residency info by a certain email happy Canadian. With the world aflutter of the upcoming BOLT and PLAND residencies, as well as the impending Ox-Bow, ACRE, and scores of other residency applications, we gon’ two part this mother. So lets do this. Break down below and as always, good luck!


The nearly impossible to get into but is super badass and you should try anyway BOLT residency is now accepting applications with new subsidized studio rates (thanks to the Andy Warhol Foundation.)

From the website:

BOLT Residency is a highly competitive, juried, one-year artist studio residency program offering artists the opportunity to engage the Chicago arts community and its public in critical dialogue about contemporary art.  Located at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition’s (CAC) 8,000 sq ft West Loop facility, BOLT provides workspace, creative community, exhibition opportunities and professional development for Chicago-based, contemporary artists.

To apply you need to:
Complete online form
Upload Resume
Provide 5-10 Work Samples
Pay non-refundable, $25 application fee.

Complete info available here.



PLAND, short for Planned Liberating Art through Necessary Dislocation, is the zen cousin of BOLT. Where BOLT is a city dwellin’, PLAND is rural New Mexican. There is no formal application, interview and anxiety process, only love. You also have options… are you more of a two to four week resident applicant? Or a Building or Special Projects program person?

From my trusty Phone Book guide:
Part Alternative school, part laboratory, part homestead, part art studio, PLAND is an active solution for merging art and life.


Complete info available at



pppssssttttt — if you have any opportunities you’d like to share, you can always tweet us @badatsports, or email us at


Thoughts from Across the Cultural Divide: #22 (What Happens in Cedarburg, Stays in Cedarburg)

January 28, 2013 · Print This Article

TJ Ryan's

TJ Ryan’s

I have a confession to make: sometimes on Mondays, when I’m in my studio in Cedarburg, working late, I sneak out the back door and down a back stairway to catch the second half of the Big 12 college basketball game at TJ Ryan’s bar on Washington Avenue. The act isn’t as deceptive as it might seem; if my father-in-law doesn’t notice my blurry, paint-spattered corpse slipping out on one of his army of unnecessary security cameras, someone, or someone who knows someone else, will undoubtedly see me and mention they saw me out. Nothing goes unnoticed in Cedarburg. But for me, precisely because of this hyper-surveillance, the back way is seductive…like 007 seductive – it somehow reignites a rebellious streak in me that once flouted authority by hanging out at a 24 hour Taco Bell in the early morning while my parents imagined I was in bed.

Tacos always taste best when they’re eaten on stolen time.


Taco Bell

Taco Bell


Last week I sneaked down to Ryan’s, nuzzled up to the bar, ordered a Pabst Blue Ribbon and asked politely if they’d mind tuning one of their flat screens dedicated to showing celebrity roasts on Comedy Central to the Big Monday basketball game. About halfway through the second half of the game, I glanced out onto Washington Avenue and noticed my silver-haired father-in-law stopped at the crosswalk in his father-in-law-style sedan. As if he was supernatural, he turned to me at the exact same moment, smiled semi-accusingly and began to parallel park. He came into the bar, mounted a stool and matched my Pabst with a sparkling water. Then, with impeccable timing he whispered, “hittin’ the bars hard tonight, are we?”

“I don’t know how hard I’m hitting them…more of a love tap, really.”

He barely let me finish my thought before he struck up a conversation with the bartender, who he of course had known for decades.

“You can’t belch in this damn town without everyone telling their neighbors the next day what they think you had for dinner…”

He was too busy reminiscing with the bartender to hear me.

Distracted, and my bartender stolen, I got to thinking; the kind of thinking one can only do as they watch individual carbon dioxide bubbles wiggle up the side of inadequately cleaned pint glasses.

Something flashed on ESPN about the now famous Manti Te’o incident and I thought about my very mild shame for sneaking to the bar. Given his train wreck, mine wasn’t even a tap-out from a bad parallel parking job. But Sandy’s righteous glance lingered.

“Why should I even be phased by a sneaky Pabst run when America is overrun by public blunderers and moral transgressors: Petraeus; Spitzer; sex tapes galore. And Anthony Weiner!?”

Anthony Weiner

Anthony Weiner

Something about Lance Armstrong and a montage of other doping athletes flashed on the screen. All heroes until outed and dragged through the town square on their donkeys. Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin never did talk shows. Is it possible that Anthony Weiner is just a victim of a paradigm shift that happened to expose his ignorance about technology? A victim of circumstance? A man who grew up with mechanical cameras and tape recorders?

Maybe big city rollers, whose shenanigans once trickled like pittles of urine into the distracted ocean of big city life, have been caught in the age of social media with their pants down. Sitting in T.J. Ryans watching glances trade and polite eyes pry, it occurred to me that after years of anonymous and unchastened bacchanalia, New Yorkers might have let their social defense mechanisms dull a bit, while in Cedarburg they’ve been playing social goal keeper for 200 years and they hone their skills nightly.

New York City has always been a refuge for geeks, dissidents, weirdos, freaks, non-conformists, Bohemians, and anyone hoping to challenge prevailing cultural norms. It’s one big back door for individuals living an alternative lifestyle who wish to return to a 200 square foot apartment knowing the world won’t judge them like it might have back in Iowa. But media eyeballs have become more sensitive and prevalent, gathering information, filing it away for all to enjoy in some future CNN segment that will unfortunately be shown…in Iowa. We all do things that most find morally stinky, and holding it seems to be becoming a valuable life skill. Unfortunately for New York, it’s a city that thrives on letting it out rather than holding it in.

Watching another gas bubble rise through my pint of Pabst, I turned back to my father-in-law, a local politician who, in his worst public moments might tell a bad joke about ice fishing or forget your last name. He holds in his gas. He’s lived 75 years in a place where moral transgressions travel at the speed of light, and as a result he keeps his cards as close to his chest as a gambler. I know he’s a good man, but anything that might be untoward in his past is buried deeper than a lifelong neighbor could dig up. In other words, he’d never sneak out the back door, because he knows he’d be spotted, and he knows people would talk, and he knows they’d write their own narrative.

Pulling back the last ounce of flat Pabst I agreed to head home with my father-in-law, not really guilty, but still feeling a tinge of perverse small town shame that comes from knowing that you hid something.

As dad-in-law and I left the bar, I felt a little like a bad teenager plucked from a party that was busted by the cops. And as the door swung shut behind us I thought about Anthony Weiner and what his presidential chances would have been had spent the past 5 years in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

Back door to Ryan's

Back door to Ryan’s