This week: The final installment of SoPra fest 2013, Paul Ramirez Jonas!
Ramirez Jonas has said of his work:
“I create as I speak: I consider myself merely a reader of texts. The pre-existing text I treat as a score: a diary, an old photo, a footpath, music, etc. The reading can take the form of performance, sculpture, photo, or video. Thus, a musical score results in a sculpture, a diary, in a video, or the plans for a flying machine in a photo. In my works, what looks like invention is but re-enactment. Being a reader, don’t I have more in common with the public than with the author? I find that commonality in working with pre-existing materials.”
Currently, Ramirez Jonas sees his role as “extending beyond the private reader, and into someone who invites viewers to join in. The result of this shift is the reassertion of a contract between the artwork and its public.”
In 2008 at the 28th Sao Paulo Biennial, Ramirez Jonas arranged for members of the public to a receive a key to the front door of the biennial venue, the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion. Each person who received a key was required to leave behind a copy of one of their own keys as well as sign a contract that established an agreement between themselves, the curators, the artist and the biennial foundation.
For the 7th Mercosul Biennial in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2009, Ramirez Jonas altered three large boulders by carving into them a space for monument plaques to be placed. Instead of creating permanent monuments to a State honored figure or event, he turned the monuments into platforms for cork boards for the fleeting message or personal note-the ephemeral voice of his public.
In the summer of 2010, Ramirez Jonas created the Key to the City project in New York City with Creative Time. Though keys were only distributed up until June 27, the locks will remain accessible throughout the summer, until September 4, 2010.
He is represented by Alexander Gray Associates in New York and Roger Bjorkholm in Stockholm
January 28, 2013 · Print This Article
After reading about the sudden suicide of Aaron Swartz, I’ve been thinking deeply about my role as a digital artist. Swartz, a prolific computer programmer and activist ended his life after battling depression and a pending prosecution by the US Department of Justice for his intent to distribute academic texts only accessible through JSTOR. This material was taken by trespassing onto the MIT campus (Aaron attending Harvard at the time) however the prosecution charged him with counts of wire fraud, computer fraud, and obtaining information illegally through a computer – charges that many feel were unwarranted and/or severe. The sentence that prosecutors pursued in this case – up to 50 years of jail and a $1 million fine – illustrate the growing division between those who want information to remain free and those wanting to continue the privatization of data through pay-walls and limited access. This division, as catalyzed in some way by Aaron’s suicide, is rapidly approaching a point where the very notion of keeping information decentralized and open risks criminalization.
This situation – filled with grief, anger, and sorrow – brings up concerns about the freedom of information. It’s important to note here that access to information does not equate with freedom of information. Computer Scientist and activist Richard Stallman once put forth a fitting analogy, saying that there is “free as in freedom,” and then there is “free as in beer.” In the former, freedom is a universal liberation of expression; in the latter, you are only afforded access to beer on the predication that you belong to the party. If you area stranger to the party, taking beer from the fridge is not merely be uncool, but it can easily break out into pandemonium. This nuanced line of what constitutes “free” is precisely the fine line that Aaron and others digital activists tread.
As I said initially, in the wake of Aaron’s widely publicized suicide, I’ve been thinking considerably about the state of digital rebellion and electronic civil disobedience amongst the makers that have recently become closely associated with art online. It’s important to note that many notable figures within the new media and net art community have spoken out about the implications of Aaron’s prosecution and suicide. However, besides the occasional prank or gimmick, I found it hard to come up with many young artists that were tackling digital politics head on. I know that many within that community have sought, in one way or another, to comment on the state of digital distribution with regards to authorship and appropriation, but few seem up for the task of talking directly about the ways in which the web is changing for the worse.
The Jogging’s Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) project ASSEMBLY in 2010, which polled users on what site they should shut down, was criticized by many as an act of feigned martyrdom after their Tumblr was shut down (which has since been reopened). Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern attempted multiple variations of internal subversion in their Wikipedia Art project in 2009, only to be quickly asked to cease and desist and later threatened with legal documents that were eventually defended by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Artie Veirkant’s Real Proper asks questions of piracy and the standards of distribution that occur within p2p networks, but again the work does not necessarily take a stance on how the illegal access to copies of Hollywood cinema inform a digital art practice. Although I’m sure that I’m overlooking some projects, it seems that just until recently artists were at least entertaining the idea of digital protest and radicalism. Now, however, The Jogging (for example) seems little more than a branding engine to fuel Brad Troemel’s etsy page.
This is not to say that The Jogging, or any digital artist really, should be faulted or put under the microscope for wanting to pursue a viable commercial career. Perhaps more to the point, it’s important to articulate that the pursuit of economic sustainability as a digital artists does not inherently fly in the face of radicalism or political activity. This being said, I might be looking too intently for a clearer expression of a political stance from artists, contemporaries, and myself. The vagueness of the politics of contemporary digital media – generally leaning left and in support of the freedom of information – marks the medium with a sense of apathy, or else opportunism. Or at least this is a fear within my own work.
This is not to say that the field is completely void of radical activity. 0-Day Art, maintained by Don Miller and Jeremiah Johnson, copy and redistribute “net art taken offline” through p2p torrents. Through copying and rehosting privately distributed work like Rhizome’s The Download, the duo explicitly relocates work back into a public distribution network in an effort to weaken the commodification of that artwork. This gesture not only subverts private institutionalization of digital media, but also questions the need for art online to abide by traditional art market principles like scarcity and collectability. Although their work has generated several conversations regarding the efficacy of redistributing work without the consent of the artists – and whether this gesture critiques institutions or the artists themselves – the spark that 0-Day Art ignites comes from a fire familiar to Aaron’s torch.
Certainly, the art world is not oblivious to Aaron’s death as evidenced by the outcry of support for his cause by many notable net-publishing outlets with equally notable guest columnists. I am surprised, however, that notions of radicalism, digital protest, and hacktivism haven’t been more prevalent in the contemporary discourse of art online. With all the concern around net art’s ability to mature into a gallery viable medium, I’m left wondering how the rapid commercialization of art online – itself a reflection of the increasing commodification of data – might estrange the medium from its radical roots.
Looking at mid 90s or early 00s work by JODI.org or Eva and Franco Mattes, a strong political message repeatedly occurs. Works like Biennale.py and Mongrel’s hack of the Tate Modern’s site positioned digital art as a medium that not only challenged contemporary art conventions, but also a the larger political infrastructure that supported those institutional models. Tactics like flame-wars, and list-serv spam-bombing are all now completely passé. This once popular and aggressive tactic employed by Netochka Nezvanova on many VJ forums at the turn of the century is now nothing more than twitter cattiness or comment spam. This history, sadly, seems lost to many emerging digital practitioners; a community all too willing to site Marshall McLuhan or Walter Benjamin, but unwilling to look at immediate predecessors. In other words, trolling has gone “mainstream.”
Much as the educator in me would like to imagine, history lessons won’t suffice in moving contemporary digital practice toward a location of radicalism. A critical reengagement of the material of our tools seems to be a more worthwhile endeavor. The ways in which we use software and hardware to create cultural material speak volumes about the intention of the maker and the willingness of that individual to take a stance against the material of monoculture. Instead of celebrating the access of iDevices for making pretty drawings and using monoculture social media as an artificial performance platform, an investment in progressive alternatives might be in order. To this end, I know few artists that use opensource software, build their own computers, or at the very least release their work under Creative Commons. I’ll reproach myself slightly for positioning this as some kind of merit badge of nerdiness. But the fact remains that the ease of piracy and/or pilfering volume licenses from academia have an effect on the way that these tools get used.
Whatever potential for subversion that might occur in using mass-market software is subsumed by the software rigidity. I’m constantly surprised by my own willingness to agree to End User License Agreements that I know full well compromise my freedom. This agreement not only constrains creative potential, it also dictates a specific aesthetic. Digital artists using excessive drop-shadow in Photoshop, or crowd-sourced models from Google SketchUp, turns into a convenient visual style. It seems as if the cultural capital that net art has coveted so consciously is slowly losing its metaphorical gold standard. In other words, because of the aesthetic motivations behind a potential subversion, the intention of the artist becomes clouded. When look becomes primary and content becomes secondary the potential for political activation becomes lost.
Perhaps the immediacy of creative tools has rendered critical inquiry into the need for those tools as insignificant (or moot). Instead tools are taken for granted, and as a result this entitlement breeds a homogenous aesthetic. For example, instead of figuring out how to modify, hack, or renegotiate available technology (i.e. an obsolete printer or gaming console), contemporary artists can simply pirate the latest version of ZBrush. Again, issues of access seem integral in refamiliarizing ourselves with a radical vernacular. What happens to the content of our media when we can pirate any software we need? What happens to our culture when open-source options seem alien or only for those with computer science degrees?
Perhaps, what I’m observing is a desire in contemporary net-based practices to diverge away from a hacker ethic that once informed a previous generation of new media artists. In some ways, 0-Day Art embodies a unique creative intersection between hacker culture and contemporary net art. As a result of this divergence, there is a noticeable political division between those interested in DEF CON and those going to Art Basel. The dwindling overlap between these potential communities has either migrated offline completely or gone into other fields (game development, e-journalism, music, etc.).
But why? Is the conflict here merely financial, or is there inherently an ideological divide between digital activism and digital creativity? The willingness of net-based practitioners to champion the flexibility and openness of the web must come also with a willingness to defend that openness at the cost of personal gain and/or success in the art world.
It’s clear that the impact of Aaron’s death is reaching far and wide to many different types of free information advocates, but to what extent his suicide will effect contemporary net art is still uncertain (if at all). My hope is that Aaron’s sudden death, again tragic and profoundly dire, will inspire others to continue in his wake. I especially hope that this happens within the arts – where the debate of property, distribution, access, and potential profitability continue to create contentions and rifts amongst what once appeared to be a tight community of peers.
“I dreamed a dream in time gone by, when hope was high and life worth living.” These are the words that a despondent and depressed Anne Hathaway sings into the camera as Fantine, the despondent and depressed semi-heroine of the Broadway hit turned Major Motion Picture, Les Miserables. I can relate. I moved to LA with a dream in my heart and a song in my soul, and after 5 or so years living in Los Angeles, working on movie deals that have yet to come to fruition (YET!), working several unsatisfying jobs and being a part of one long term, super great relationship, that ultimately and recently ended, I find myself often looking into the abyss and thinking…”I dreamed a dream in days in gone by…when hope was high and life worth living.”
But I don’t want to talk about me (well, not just yet) I want to talk about the Academy Award nominated and multi-Golden Globe-winning cinematic experience, Les Miserables, or as we shall further call is Les Miz TM. I had high hopes for this film. The cast was a veritable parade of stars who, if you check their bios, claim to have sung before. Russell Crowe is in a band, Hugh Jackman has appeared on Broadway, and Amanda Seyfried sang in Mama Mia, right? The trailer made it look exciting, energetic and emotional. Anne Hathaway, all big-eyed and sad, looks into the camera and with haunting sincerity sings the famous I Dreamed a Dream whileshots of the rest of the movie play out for us. We see soldiers and poor French children. We see fighting and redemption. We see Hugh Jackman with tears in his eyes, Amanda Seyfried with tears in her eyes, Annie H with tears in her eyes, etc, etc. And when it came to those things, the trailer didn’t lie.
Those aspects were all there. Visually, it was all very stunning, but aren’t most movies these days? I live in LA. You can’t sit in a coffee shop with a girlfriend to complain about the man who wronged you (see Fantine, I can relate) without overhearing at least one production meeting. I have them myself. I have one later today. It is LA’s business to make ALL movies look stunning! Nobody sets out to make a movie that looks OK, but sounds great, or looks OK but has a great story. Film is first and foremost a visual medium, and most films, Les Miz included, live up to that part of the promise. It’s the “great story” and “sounds great” part of the promise where I think Les Miz really fails. Now, we can’t fault the filmmakers for the story. Les Miz is a novel turned musical turned movie. I’ve never read the novel (but my mother says it’s a real page turner). I’ve seen the musical several times, and the film stays very true to that subject matter, changing virtually nothing about the music, or story. The problem I have with this movie is the singing. I love musicals. I’m a musical theatre geek. I moved to LA from New York where I spent years attending and auditioning for (but never appearing in) Broadway musicals and I love them ALL. So my main complaint about Les Miz TM is that most of its stars did not sing the songs (and there are a lot of songs) as well as they should have. I’ve complained about this a lot, to almost anyone who will listen, and I’ve gotten some push back. “They’re movie stars, not professional singers.” And “They did all their singing live with out any auto-tune, dubbing, or lip syncing.” You know who else sings live? Broadway performers, every night. And they sound amazing! Academy Award winner Russell Crowe looks as though he is trying to remember the lyrics as he strains out Stars. Amanda Seyfried looks very pretty in her bonnet and even manages to hit the very high notes of Cosette’s many love songs, but I wouldn’t say that I particularly enjoyed the high or low notes of any of her vocal stylings. Even Hugh Jackman, who I saw and enjoyed on Broadway in The Boy From Oz a few years back, doesn’t quite have the right voice for the role, always sounding a bit shrill and timid for my taste. I’m sure it is different to deliver a vocal performance with a camera in your face and only the melody line playing in your ear (they added the orchestra in later) but in the end it made the song performances, and ultimately the total performance of the actors feel very controlled, limited and boring to me. But don’t feel bad for them. Wolverine won the Golden Globe and has an Academy Award nom under his belt for the film. Annie H won a Golden Globe and will probably win the Academy Award for a total of 20 minutes or so of screen time in this really long movie, and for what? Getting a haircut and tearfully whispering an iconic song? But let’s leave Anne alone. She did the best she could and will be rewarded plentifully for her emotional efforts (and for sacrificing her beautiful hair). Fantine is an elegant mess and Annie H plays her as such, never shaking the misery that is life. As I mentioned before, I can relate. I’ve had bad haircuts much worse than Anne’s (picture too short and with a too tight perm) and I’ve degraded myself for money. I have not worked as a prostitute or sold my hair, but I have worn a chip monk costume at Disneyland, worn a bowtie as a waiter, and once sang Billy Joel songs at a kid’s birthday party while literally NO ONE listened or applauded. I think I got paid about $50 and got a free lunch, so ultimately, it was totally worth it.
In fact, as I drive around Los Angeles, I am struck by how comparable the lives of the characters in Les Miz are to the lives of my fellow Los Angelinos. How often have I driven up to a Starbucks and seen that the drive-thru line is 6 cars deep and felt truly miserable? How many times have I sat in bumper to bumper traffic on the 405 at rush hour and thought “God on high, Hear my prayer…Bring me home Heaven blessed.” I’ve often walked my dog in the misting rain and thought about my celebrity crush on say, Jake Gyllenhaal, and sung the words to On My Own out loud for the neighborhood to hear. Not to mention the “lovely ladies” walking down Sunset at night looking for a date. We all understand and experience Les Miz in our own way.
So, At the End of the Day (did you see what I did there? That’s a song from Les Miz) I wouldn’t recommend going to the theatre to see the movie Les Miserables. I would recommend getting the Broadway soundtrack for your car and driving around Los Angeles, traffic and all, beholding the misery while listening to the beautiful, trained voices of the Broadway performers, instead. It may not be quite as visually stunning a show, but it will be a better musical experience.
We are in the midst of a winter festival. Its occasions take place at a variety of locations across the city, featuring a variety of performance artists from all over the world. In each case, the art work at hand is dynamic and ephemeral; the culmination of hours/months/years of work fit into a small, public window of time. Audiences come to experience that time-concentrate and in so doing are transported. Born in the UK, Chicago-based performance artist, Mark Jeffery, is similarly invested in temporal, aesthetic exercises. Over the course of his career, he has a regularly incorporated collaboration and experimentation into his work. It seems fitting that he would address curation as well, opening the field of performance into an administrative capacity. The result is a bi-annual festival, IN>TIME. There have been two other iterations of this festival, in 2008 and 2010 — both of which were co-curated by Sara Schnadt and took place at the Cultural Center. This year Jeffery has expanded the scope of the project, curating roughly 26 different events at 15 different venues from January 11th – March 2nd, 2013. I wanted to ask Jeffery about the origins of this bi-annual festival, as well as how it fit in with his overall practice as an artist.
Caroline Picard: Can you talk a little bit about how IN>TIME 13 came together?
Mark Jeffery: There have been two previous editions of IN>TIME in 2008 and 2010 at the Chicago Cultural Center that I co-curated with artist and Chicago Artist Resource webmaster, Sara Schnadt. Sara has since now moved to Los Angeles, but during the summer and fall of 2011, before Sara left, we discovered that our contact at the Cultural Center, lost her job. At the time there was no support for this program to continue. As a result, we considered how we could expand this festival from a one-night event at the Cultural Center to a multi-venue festival throughout the city of Chicago. We were both excited to contact and connect with local venues and spaces that we already respected for their public programming of performance, symposia, exhibition, talks, and/or readings — spaces that already had an affinity towards IN>TIME’s desire to showcase performance practices in the broadest terms. We met with curators, directors and programmers of spaces in their venues, at the Palmer House, on rooftops of hotels, in phone conversations, in meeting rooms to discuss the possibility to program work in the winter of 2013. What we didn’t expect when we cast this net was that the community would be equally excited to focus their programming on performance, giving an extended platform to this experimental form.
CP: Does IN>TIME reflect on your own orientation/aesthetic agenda as a performance arts practitioner?
MJ: I was a member of the performance group Goat Island for 13 years and have collaborated with Judd Morrissey for the past 10 years. I take collaboration and working with fellow artists very seriously. I learn so much from working with others and during my time of making performance work I have had multiple opportunities to be in many diverse and interesting contexts to present my work since 1994. For me, I grow from conversation. I learn from working with others and I see that permission, openings and discovery happen when doors are opened. I think I discovered this as a student at Dartington College of Arts from my teachers Sally Morgan, Sally Tallent, Nancy Reilly, Rona Lee, Gillian Dyson, Roger Bourke and Tim Brennan. My teachers gave me access to being curious, to being open, to allowing my voice to grow, to not be isolated, but to discover other artists and other ways of working through connecting with others.
In Goat Island I leant from my fellow collaborators and performers and director Lin Hixson to open up a space, even if this was an uncomfortable risk. In coming to America, and in the ending of Goat Island in 2009, I suddenly had to be on my own feet, here in this Midwestern city, as an Assistant Professor in Performance Art. I had to be engaged. I had to become an adult. I had to share my knowledge of the spaces, networks and connections I had made now over the past 20 years.
Chicago is my home, it is a place where I can engage through teaching, through making, through performance and exhibitions — and now also through curation, as another way to open up spaces for? collaboration. I am grateful to be here and I am grateful that 14 venues are willing and interested in working with each other to make this dream come true. For the 2008 edition of IN>TIME Sara gathered a group of makers, curators into the Chicago Cultural Center in the summer of 2006. At that time I remember saying that I would love to see how we as a city could have a multi-venue performance art festival, similar to the one where I was first curated into in 1994 as a 21-year-old in Glasgow by Performance Art Curator, Nikki Milican and her National Review of Live Art Festival. Now, seven years later we have arrived.
CP: I am always suspicious of generalizations about localized styles or approaches to a given medium, but specific environments seem to facilitate peculiar dialogues. I have heard, for instance, that New York art performance is more integrated with dance, or that Europe is more open to experimental works. I don’t know if those comments are true or not, (they certainly came out of casual and speculative conversations) but I’m interested in whether or not you feel like Chicago has a particular conversation of its own. Does IN>TIME 13 respond to that at all?
MJ: Good question. I remember being in the library as a 19 year-old at Dartington College of Arts studying Visual Performance in the UK, (Dartington was a similar place / space to Black Mountain College). In the library I would read the High Performance and P-Form journals and read reviews about performance in Chicago. In 1996 I came to Chicago for the first time to join Goat Island Performance group. For me the roots of performance came from reading those articles, from being part of Goat Island and seeing the trail end of Randolph Street Gallery — a non-profit performance/gallery space here that ended I believe in 1998. In the past 15 years that I’ve been here, I have seen some extraordinary work from performance makers in their studio performance spaces and venues here with Lucky Pierre, Dolores Wilber and her collective, Julie Laffin, Joe Silovsky, Cupola Bobber,Joan Dickinson, Larry Steger, and more recently Erica Mott, Justin Cabrillos, Joseph Ravens and Peter Carpenter. More recently I think of Chicago as a place for experimentation, a place for artists to really explore and test rigorous ideas. It is a place for research to take place, and for non-traditional, informative intersections and overlaps that to spring up unexpectedly via collectives and collaborations. That is what I get excited about. My training at Dartington and also in Goat Island taught me to be open, to be curious, to not be hierarchical, to give permission, to open up new spaces. I am about to hit 40 in 4 months and to have known this practice now for over 20 years and still be working: that’s is what I am grateful for. Performance is a medium that is forever shifting, one of the things for me about coming to Chicago and living and working in America is that things can happen. I am ambitious and a workaholic and in a funny way I am thinking of this festival as my mid-life crisis! (this is my sense of humour btw). Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to ask and see what is out there. I am lucky now to be here two decades into this practice and that when I ask certain things, like a 14 venue performance festival where hybridity, where venues that wouldn’t normally work with each other have an opportunity for exchange, for dialogue and conversation. Where doors open and the container of performance can be a storefront gallery, a video installation, a reading, a movement art endurance work, a reenactment, a meeting between museum spaces, schools, galleries, DIY spaces.
CP: How did you go about organizing the programming?
MJ: The programming of the festival came firstly from Sara and I meeting with all the venues in the summer and fall of 2011 and then slowly from there having conversations to see about what would be the best fit for each of their spaces. Some venues suggested if a particular artist would be a good fit for the festival in regards what they were already considering, venues like the Dance Center of Columbia College with Zoe I Juniper or Museum of Contemporary Art with Miguel Gutierrez and Threewalls with Mary Patten and Mathew Paul Jinks. All the venues have really exciting work that will enter their spaces and showcasing incredible talent. I am excited about the three venues I have just mentioned in the openings these spaces can present these artists. I am also excited to see how these artists present their work here in Chicago. These are highlights, other highlights for me are being able to go back to the Cultural Center and have the US premier of Spanish, Swiss based artist Maria La Ribot perform her 5 hour work Laughing Hole. I have never seen her work live but have followed her work closely with a video work of hers I show in the classroom, a documentary called La Ribot Distinguida filmed at the Tate Modern in London and the Pompidou in Paris. Through the new director of Performing Arts, Shoni Currier at the Chicago Cultural Center we are able to showcase her work. Also at Joseph Ravens Defrillator performance gallery we are able to bring Singaporean artist Lynn Lu, she will share an evening with British visual art poet cris cheek from Ohio and two emerging local artists Kitty Huffman and Hope Esser. Croatian Movement Art Group OOURR, local dance artist Peter Carpenter will be on the same bill and have been excited to follow him these past two years. at Links Hall local Chicago Artists Every House as a Door, Erica Mott and Trevor Martin, Hyde Park Art Center and having artists in residents Minouk Lim from Korea and Croatian born London-based Vlatka Horvat. The challenge to me is to keep curious and to put things together that normally wouldn’t be together in a program. I like group exhibits where experimental forms of performance, movement. Language, actions, durations, emerging, established can come together. Again, to me this comes from my training and also wanting to connect people. The curator / caretaker is first to open up a space and the last to leave.
CP: Maybe because the title of your festival is IN>TIME, I’m reminded of the ephemerality of performance, and various conversations I’ve picked up on peripherally about how to document performance, how the documentation can eclipse the performance itself as an art object, or what happens to a piece when it is recreated in a different time and context, by different performers. I realize those conversations are vast and intricate, but it occurred to me that you might be negotiating some of those as an organizer, putting together a multi-faceted, multi-venue festival. How you have been dealing with documentation?
MJ: Last week eight students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago worked with London Based artist Kira O’Reilly with the three-week visiting artist class called FROZEN IN>TENSITIES that is a course driven exhibit at SAIC. Each week there is a presentation at SAIC of the work they have been doing with the artists. With Kira the students found an old filing cabinet that has been in the green room this past semester. The filing cabinet was full of files that is an archive of the performance department when it was being chaired by the departments founder Tom Jaremba and former chair and now Graduate Division Chair, Werner Herterich. I site this filing cabinet as it became both a rich treasure trove of correspondence and a source of material for students to respond to. There were files from Linda Montano for example, and Alistair MacLennan when they visited the department. This cabinet has been making me think about how do we document our lives now in 2013. What are our filing cabinets? How do we store and retain this information, this memory of being here, especially with performance? For the class we also have 3 rooms in the Sullivan Galleries, and so we are also having this conversation about the document, of how to archive what remains. It becomes an exciting challenge. Yesterday I helped Sabri Reed, the teaching assistant for the class, take the filing cabinet on a cart from the Columbus Drive building to the Sullivan Galleries. It was quite unwieldy and heavy, but became this opportunity to walk and mark those moments of exchange spanning the past 30 years across Monroe Street. The students are also going to insert a record of their work in the class into a file and put it back into the filing cabinet for the exhibit and this will remain.
Last week I also renewed the Goat Island website as it was going to run out, the domain name in five days or something. This position between the physical and the virtual, the mixed reality of archive and document is a really interesting question for me. If we don’t maintain the upkeep of our websites what does remain. What are our filing cabinets of 2013?
CP: This image of time keeps coming back…
MJ: To me this is an experiment. Since 2006 I have also been curating and have developed series of OPENPORT A performance, sound and language festival (2007) co – curated with Nathan Butler, Judd Morrissey and Lori Talley at Links Hall, Intimate and Epic (2006) co – curated with Sara Schnadt in Millennium Park and The Simulationists (2011) co – curated with Claudia Hart and Judd Morrissey at SAIC as well as the IN>TIME series. Time becomes an important thing and I often think about how to stamp time now as it moves so quickly (the 40 thing again ) – yet, if you take time to make something, I think something can come through and with Sara and I meeting all the venues 18 months ago, the results of this time has come through. I come from a father who was a herdsman who milked 200 Friesian cows each day, woke at 5 and worked till 8, seven days a week. A life’s work, working for over 30 years on the same farm. There is something in building a life through projects, through ritual, through time that you can get a lot done and through the creative make a place and space for opportunity to enter. Again for this I am grateful and I always thank my teachers for giving me the space, time and attention. You work towards something to thank them.
Further Information: http://www.in-time-performance.org/
The boat was supposed to be five times this large. Kevin Blythe Sampson was slated to create an epic vessel for “Vision and Vernacular: Eight African American Artists in Venice,” an exhibition of African-American self-taught artists and graffiti muralists organized by the American Folk Art Museum in New York for the 2011 Venice Biennial. But as the troubled museum faced collapse, sponsor funding was pulled and the show canceled. A year later, the former executive director of Intuit, Cleo Wilson, who knew of the artist’s frustrated plans for the epic ship, began talking with Sampson about traveling from his hometown of Newark to Chicago to be the second artist in residence at the museum and create a site-specific sculpture related to his original plan in Venice. Sampson arrived on January 11th and has been putting together An Ill Wind Blowing for the two weeks since, using recycled material from previous work and found objects from the back rooms of Intuit. The result is a multimedia interactive installation with an aesthetic of contingency, vulnerability, and stratification that corresponds shrewdly to the thematic content of the show.
Now retired, Sampson worked for twenty years as a composite sketch artist while a police officer in New Jersey, after a superior in the department noticed the cartoons he doodled of everyone and sent him to sketch artist school. There, Sampson jokes, he discovered that he actually had to learn to draw, but when he enrolled at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art, he was immediately recruited to teach airbrushing there and stayed for decades. Now focused on teaching younger students, Sampson collaborates extensively with graffiti artists and muralists and dismisses the label of “outsider,” dryly noting that the label tends to make contemporary African-American art more palatable to certain white collectors. Sampson has been focusing on sculpture, particularly movable memorials, since 2000 (he’s been struck in Chicago by the white painted bicycles of cyclists killed by cars); and his first vessels and ships, now a common theme, began as responses to family tragedies. But it’s Sampson’s background as a self-identified “ex-cop with lots of Tea Party friends” as well as a “civil rights baby” that helps to explain the surprising complexity and ironic humor that coexists with An Ill Wind Blowing’s deadpan directness about politics and history.
The conceit of the ship is a way of conceptualizing the brokenness of contemporary America. Divided into three sections, with space in between filled by rubber rats (“You think about rats jumping off a sinking ship, but I think of them as the waves floating the boat,” Sampson mused during a Q&A yesterday at Intuit), the prow of the ship is filled with artifacts of the “liberal elite,” including work by established artist friends, copies of The New Yorker, and other cultural superstructure signifiers. A fishing net repurposed as a basketball hoop stands as an homage to Obama, and visitors are encouraged to write their own political frustrations onto scraps of paper emblazoned with pictures of politicians, crumple them up, and try to make a shot. (Sampson, whom I spoke to during the installation process, originally wanted to create an analogous interactive “penny toss” for the poor at the back of the ship but couldn’t fit it in to the space). This kind of provocative, deceptively simple trope marks the piece as a whole; the middle section of the ship, representing the “nasty” contingent of politics and the “24 hour news cycle of insanity,” obstructs and separates the front of the ship from the stern, which is filled with debris and objects of the poor and working class, including a picnic basket of Cheetos and white bread, plastic coins, and chicken bones. Deeply textured and layered, even burdened, with physical symbols, the boat is the clear star of the exhibition; but related drawings that fill the gallery walls (including one of the best abstract portraits of Mitt Romney I’ve seen, depicting him as a tentacled alien driving a car with a shark-toothed grill) offer charged but more delicate, often humorous counterpoints. Earlier sculptures by Sampson, including an early ship, give a sense of the artist’s larger sensibility. And lyrics to folk songs (Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” and the African-American ballad whose tune Dylan appropriated) face off from the walls on either side of the ship; Sampson is deeply interested in the history of folk music in America, and the opening of An Ill Wind Blowing at Intuit tonight will feature folk ballads by Mark Dvorak.
But the symbolism of each individual element in An Ill Wind Blowing matters less to Sampson than process, whether political protest or art-making. He collaborates as a rule, constantly recycles work, and considers most of the finished work disposable. “I never work alone, and I work listening to CNN instead of music,” he laughs.
An Ill Wind Blowing opens tonight at Intuit, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, and runs through April 20th.
[Monica Westin is a member of the collections and acquisitions committee at Intuit. She is not involved in the exhibitions committee, including any planning related to Sampson's residency, nor on the board of Intuit.]