1. Tabletop at Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery
Work by Meg Duguid and Catie Olson.
Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery is located at 1136 N Milwaukee Ave. Friday, doors open at 7pm. Performance begins at 7:30pm.
2. Fractal Semblance at Roots & Culture
Curated by Stephanie Cristello and Allison Glenn, with work by Robert Chase Heishman, Jessica Labatte, Alistair Matthews, and Liz Nielsen.
Roots & Culture is located at 1034 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception Firday, 6-9pm.
3. Lumpen Comics Show at Co-Prosperity Sphere
Works by Ryan Travis Christian, Andy Burkholder, Bernie McGovern, Ben Bertin, Blaise Larmee, Edie Fake, Grant Reynolds, Ben Marcus, Leslie Wiebeler, Jason Overby, Nate Beaty, Max Morris, Joe Tallarico, Marieke McClendon, Nick Drnaso, Lyra Hill, Sara Drake, Lale Westvind, Eric Rivera, Carrie Vinarsky, Anya Davidson, George Hansen, Jeremy Tinder, Ian Mcduffie, Krystal Difronzo, Paul Nudd, Lizz Hickey, Marian Runk, Keith Herzik, Brooks Golden, Nick Williams, Trubble Club, Susan Sarandon, Luke Temby (Cupco), Aaron Renier, Ryan Duggan, and David Alvarado.
Co-Prosperity Sphere is located at 3219 S. Morgan St. Reception Friday, 7-11pm.
4. Shalom at Queer Thoughts
Work by Alison Veit, Eric Veit, and Laura Veit.
Queer Thoughts is located at 1640 W. 18th St. #3. Reception Friday, 7-10:30pm.
5. Glow at Firecat
Work by Renee Robbins.
Firecat is located at 2124 N. Damen Ave. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.
Jeff Stark is a Brooklyn-based artist whose site-responsive work emphasizes the significance and spectacle of collective experience. Although it resists easy categorization, Stark’s work has a particular closeness to participatory modes of art, theater and DIY culture. His diverse and wildly ambitious projects range from street events, secret dinners in unlikely and hard-to-access locations, full-scale theatrical productions that make unauthorized use of public and private spaces (like the subway, or an abandoned factory), and collaborations with collectives like The Miss Rockaway Armada and Madagascar Institute.
Stark is also the publisher of Nonsense NYC, a “discriminating resource for independent art, weird events, strange happenings, unique parties and senseless culture in New York City.” If you live in New York and haven’t signed up to receive the weekly Nonsense email, just go ahead and do yourself a favor and opt in.
For my first contribution to Bad at Sports, Jeff and I chatted over email about the importance of cultural participation, the challenges of assessing non-object-oriented art and what he calls “trespass theater.”
Empire Drive-In (2010), in San Jose, California. Photo by Tod Seelie.
Juliana Driever: How would you describe your artistic impulse?
Jeff Stark: I’m not exactly sure what that means. I think you’re asking, “What makes you make art?”
JD: Yes, exactly. What gets you going?
JS: That’s a fairly complex question. But to take a crack at it, I suppose I don’t really think I’m special: I think everyone is creative and everyone wants to communicate. “Everyone is an artist,” just like Joseph Beuys said. So for me too: Making art is about living, about asking questions, about creating a dialog with others — not just those who live near me, but also those who live far away, and, in some cases, those who live in different times.
JD: Different times?
JS: When I’m working on something, I’m thinking about the past, the present, and — in the way that I am deliberately trying to invoke myth and story — the future. And not just in a general way, but of particular individuals. For example, I love the work of theater artist Reza Abdoh. I never got to have a conversation with him, but, in small ways, I hope my work speaks to his.
JD: You’ve published Nonsense NYC, a weekly email listing independent and quirky happenings and art for over 10 years, and have built a community of people around these events in the process. Do you view Nonsense NYC and your work as an artist as mutually exclusive?
JS: No. It took me a long time to realize this formally, but Nonsense is one of my art projects, and the values and ideas expressed in it are the same values and ideas that inform most of my more traditional art projects, some of which are easy to understand as creative works — like performances or large-scale installations — and others that are not as obvious — like secret dinners in unusual places.
The Sweet Cheat (2010), in Yonkers, New York. Photo by Lauren Silberman.
JD: Your projects are typically very active, social experiences and require the willing participation of the audience.
JS: Most of my projects look at the different ways we think about participation. I like projects that are open, that allow audiences to bring something to the work. Marcel Duchamp wrote about this in The Creative Act: It’s the viewer who completes an artwork — not the artist. So one of the things that I’m always trying to do is to make audiences aware of their own place in a performance, or in a space, or — in the big picture — in culture itself. And one of the ways to do this is to ask them to take a risk with me. When an audience makes an investment in an event by bringing their own creative being to it, or they put their body at risk — real risk, legally and physically — they are participating in culture, they are not simply being entertained.
JD: So, who typically shows up to take a risk with you?
JS: I always like to think of my audiences as my friends and my community. This isn’t always the case — I love it when strangers show up, and they do, or when someone is just going about their daily schedule and bumps into a project on the street. But I suppose I start from a place where I am making work for people who care about the same things that I do. Who are smart and creative and patient and generous and curious. When I was learning how to write, I would always read the same two pieces of advice: think about your audience; find your voice. Those are deceptively difficult instructions. Eventually I had to just think about my friends and how I would talk to them. It’s the same thing in art. Anything else comes off as pandering or pedantic.
JD: Your work relies heavily on its context. What kind of spaces do you look to occupy with your work?
JS: The answer is simply spaces: I’m looking for spaces to work. That can be any space, from a street corner to a parking lot to a ruin. The ones I end up making work in are usually found by paying attention, by living, by looking.
Art can do two things: It can show you something that you’ve never seen before, or it can show you something you see every day in an entirely new way. I’m always trying to do one or the other, and I’m constantly looking for places and projects that let me do that, one or the other. So, if I’m exploring an abandoned factory, I might think, “I’d really love to bring people to see this space,” and then go about devising a project that will allow me to do that. But I could just as easily start with an everyday place, like the subway, and try to develop something I’ve never seen before — like make a play with sets and lights and costumes. My work isn’t site specific as much as it is site responsive.
Tea (2012), at ICA in Boston. Photo by Jeff Stark.
JD: Some might say that one of the challenges of creating artwork that results in a specific social situation is the question of assessment. What are your criteria for judging the success of your work? Are there certain outcomes you strive for?
JS: This is a tricky question. On one level, success is simply doing a project, pulling it off without injury or arrest. But I am trying to communicate with others, to participate in a broader conversation. And it’s not always clear the way the work is being understood or being judged. I get a lot of press coverage, but it’s rarely critical, in part because it’s difficult to make connections among all my projects (partially my fault), and in part because art and theater critics are trained to write about very conventional work (partially their fault). So I look for other signposts. One time I organized a Secret Dinner in Barcelona. It actually failed because we got caught by a security guard on our way into an empty factory. But I talked about the ongoing project at a conference, and a few months later some Barcelona kids sent me pictures of a secret dinner they pulled off in an ancient fortress. That felt like success.
IRT (2009), in New York. Photo by Tod Seelie.
JD: The act of serving others is a gesture that appears in many of your projects. What does it mean to you to conceptualize what are often thought of as practical social transactions into an artwork?
JS: I’ve thought about this, and I’m not entirely sure what it’s about. I think part of it has to do with my belief that art and culture are things we do, more so than products or objects. And so when I create a situation in which I am serving — dinner, tea, advice — I am creating a situation in which I have something to do. It’s one of the ways that I understand what it means to be an artist: Artists serve art.
JD: Like a film or theater director, it’s obvious that group work appeals to you. Do you ever just want to lock yourself in a studio and work on an idea in the modernist, individualist tradition?
JD: On the whole, the art world tends to take itself very seriously, and for me it’s refreshing to see any suggestion of humor or playfulness. You often use absurdity in your work, and in a particularly subversive way. Would you agree that humor in art is underrated?
JS: Definitely. And I think the best artists are terribly funny going back to the Renaissance at least. I looked at The Night Watch yesterday, and it seemed to me like Rembrandt had painted in at least a half dozen dick jokes. Artists have always valued a good laugh; it’s the cultural institutions that formalize this stuff, that steal it away and insist we take it seriously. And it makes sense: Rich people are often uncomfortable with laughter; they’re worried the joke might be on them.
JD: Speaking of Rembrandt, you’re currently doing a writing residency in Amsterdam. How does writing fit into your larger creative activity?
Secret Dinner (2011), in Miami. Photo by Jordan Seiler.
JS: I used to be a writer. I studied journalism in school and had a career I quit because it made me miserable. But writing is a useful skill. It’s a tool that I’m willing to use to serve a larger project. And so I’ll do it when I need to, but it’s incredibly difficult and, I think, somewhat unhealthy for me.
JD: What are you working on next?
JS: I’m working on a few things, including a new play, another piece of trespass theater called the Dreary Coast, and a New York iteration of Empire Drive-In, which is a project that I’ve done a few times with Todd Chandler and several other artists. I’d love to make more work in New York City this year. It’s my home, and the place I care about most.
January 22, 2013 · Print This Article
What is Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) and what sort of questions does it pose for art and aesthetics? Lets start with looking at the name of the movement backwards.
Ontology is the philosophical study of what there is. A way of examining the question is to re-arrange the question asked, which is to say, ‘What is there?’
The question of ‘what is there’, is an odd one, especially to those who don’t ordinarily have a philosophical disposition – it isn’t something you would come out with in a conversation for example. But nevertheless, the question of ‘what is there’ also defines what sort of orientation is insinuated in OOO. As soon as anyone rummages around this ontological question for long enough we discover that we are Oriented towards something; it might be a pragmatic orientation, or maybe something commonplace and yet weird – inexplicably, unusually weird. The question of ‘what is there’ can be applied to anyone in any situation; implying a sense of adjustment or familarization with ones surroundings, but also in the sense of establishing their own peculiar location in strange circumstances; acclimatizing, accustoming, attuning, aligning.
So ‘what’ is it that’s being studied here? The ontological commitment of the movement (what there is) and what it must be oriented towards (what is there), happens to be the Object or thing. Ask yourself, what is there? You may reply rather awkwardly, there are lots of things here; mugs, wallpaper, dust, computer chairs, the keyboard button ‘O’, spoons, trees and god knows what else. But it is also the case that I can conjure up ridiculous things within me that will never see the light of day in the same way the world arrives at my senses; mystical creatures of a sombre mood, square circles and cats that speak German. According to the major proponents of OOO, all of these things, both human and not-human are objects. They exist and we orient towards them.
But there are two realist interventions within OOO; that this orientation of ‘what is’ is never uniquely human, nor special to human understanding, and that no object cannot be privileged over any other, including the individual object which aims to be understood. So what is there? All objects are there – although this is complex.
The study of ‘what there is’ and ‘what is there’, can never be a question of what exists solely for human interpretation and assumption. The question of ‘what there is’, is not the same as ‘what is there’ – for a spoon is there in a place or position near to me, on a shelf, a desk, in a mug. We ignore it, even as we use it – and yet it still ‘is’ there in existence. It is real, it exists without me, despite me requiring its substantial reliance and frequent ignorance. The spoon’s autonomous adventures in a shelf or a sink, never crop up until I ponder over it, but that has little effect on the autonomy of the spoon. The same can be said of sun radiation, my bank details, my MacBook – or oxygen molecules that pass through my alveolar capillaries; and whilst some of these objects remains critically important for my survival, none of them can justify any privileged reason to exist over anything else.
The key OOO difference between ‘what there is’ and ‘what is there’, is the difference between knowing that there is an object and not knowing it. The first is a statement or conviction, the second is a question. The departure of OOO, as a study and movement, is identifying this difference. It simply states that we know there are spoons, organs, chairs, armies, planets and cocoa-beans: we just don’t know what they are. Our orientation of the thing – ‘what is there’ – hopelessly grasps at them for one reason or another, and yet we never grasp the thing itself – the ‘what there is.’ The lynchpin of OOO – philosopher Graham Harman – terms this ‘withdrawal’, following Martin Heidegger; nothing we can do or say manages to fully explain or understand objects in their entirety. ‘What is there’ can only ever be a strange exercise of translation, or of a secondary description. The ‘what there is’ of the object itself – its primary reality – cannot be known nor fully demonstrated when asking ‘what is there?’
There are then, two sorts of ‘what is there’ – a generic one, which fathoms different things quickly, scanning over contents within a menu or a desk. But there is a more direct version of ‘what is there’, which examines the hidden contents of one or more specific things; like a fishing pool, a molecule, a planet or even the contents of a painting.
However it must be said that for OOO, the ‘what is there’ is also not a principally human question, despite being a different question from ‘what there is’. Objects are also oriented towards other objects. Each object has its own characteristic, individual, operation for foraging out the orientation of ‘what is there’, irrespective of cognition, reasoning or experience.
In the case of animals, this isn’t too hard to speculate on; the ‘what is there’ for the robin, requires foraging for food and nutrition whilst fending off hostile threats and unexpected weather. But for OOO this insight need not be restricted to the animate; the ‘what is there’ for the security computer program identifies and removes external threats in its own image, just as much as the ‘what is there’ for the falling boulder could be any contingent blockage or unfortunate creature that stands in its path. Each relationship has the same metaphysical properties, the same equality of relation between anything else.
It is for this very reason, that OOO shrugs any primary privileging of monism (everything is one or ‘nature’) or human access (everything is a product of culture). Its ontology is not an orientation of one thing, of one nature, one scientific law, nor reduced to specific things such as discursive cultures or political hegemony: it speaks only of individual, real objects. This ontology only contains detached, disconnected, disjoined objects, with each irreducible object partly connected towards another irreducible entity, like a continuous box of finite magnets being repeatedly thrown down a infinite staircase. Each magnet might be locked together with another, and then separated soon after repelling or connecting with something else – forever doomed to repeat the involuntary question of ‘what is there’ on its finite journey.
Every proponent of OOO has a different insight and a different collection of metaphors to illustrate their nuanced ontological differences. Such bodies of work have different methods of asking, ‘what is there’, without getting a lot back in return from the world. These descriptions only offer a brief summary of the differences between them.
Graham Harman’s ontology borrows and radicalizes past achievements in the phenomenological ‘object‘, not only advocating a strict difference between ‘real objects‘ and ‘sensual objects‘ (the latter which tries to account for the dream-like aforementioned cats who speak German), but also a demanding non-relational ontology, where no object can ever be fully reduced to its relations.
Levi Bryant speaks not of objects, but of difference machines, or systems whose adventures are structurally open, but operationally closed. Bryant’s machines are material processes that have differing power according to their contextual situations, and these instigate different, potential, namely ‘virtual’ effects within the activity of the entity.
Tim Morton speaks of ecologically strange ‘hyperobjects’ – massively distributed transcendent entities (such as climate) whose viscosity and sticky-ness clamber onto our awareness and yet remain invisible. For Morton, objects are in essence, a blind contradiction of inconsistency; they are both themselves and somehow, not themselves, wandering in and out of a chaotic world, not tailored for our sole understanding.
And lastly there is Ian Bogost, whom also speaks not of objects, but of units, and the tenuous operations of units. Each unit has a hidden procedurality of operation, which is never made explicit nor fully revealed. His iteration of OOO is a tiny ontology: whole infinite universes crammed into specific things, with each one being a cog in another machine, or a module in another program.
So how would OOO, in its various orientations, engage with and deliberate on art and aesthetics? How would this ‘schematic of being’ help artists understand their own work or reinterpret its historical significance? The question of ‘what is there’ must be, I think, an aesthetic call before anything else and this suitably serves as the focus for the next part.
This week: Duncan, Brian, Abigail Satinsky and special guest host Jacob Wick talk to author and publishing guru Matthew Stadler.
Matthew Stadler is a writer and editor who lives in Portland, Oregon. He has written four novels and received several awards and fellowships in recognition of his work. More recently, he has compiled four anthologies about literature, city life and public life. His essays have been published in magazines and museum catalogs around the world, and focus on architecture, urban planning and the problem of sprawl.
“Sprawl is the disappearance of an idea,” Stadler writes in the annotated reader, Where We Live Now, “So how can we go on speaking of the city and the country, yet not remain fixed in the downward spiral of loss?” Stadler’s numerous essays and larger projects, such as suddenly.org explore this question by looking for better language and new descriptions. While there is significant overlap, Stadler’s work can usefully be broken down into three areas: novels; sprawl and urbanism; publishing and public space.
While the Chicago art scene may still be reeling from the AFC Midway coverage, divided opinions on EXPO and the domination of the Whitney Biennial by Chicago curators, it’s a new year and B@S is looking forward to a 2013 full of surprising exhibitions, breakout successes and hurt feelings. Here’s a recap of the most interesting Chi tidbits as far as I can tell.
#Seen on Instagram
Last week, Red Eye Chicago posted a list of 15 musicians to watch in Chicago. Though I’ve never even heard of most of them, there are a couple notables. A personal fav, Gel Set, made the list at #11. Also making the list at #4 is Supreme Cuts, a Chicago duo who apparently “will never move to Brooklyn under any circumstances.” SC’s Austin Keultjes was recently spotted on SAIC dropout and NY based performance artist Mykki Blanco’s instagram feed.
Former Chicago artist turnt “mini-film” babe
In other superstar sightings, everyone is in the new SSION video for Luvvbazaar. It’s the best and gayest dance party you’ve ever virtually attended, featuring none other than 2012 SAIC grad and LA transplant, Marcel Alcalá, shirtless and werkin’ it. Before becoming a profesh video ho, Alcalá organized the Mega Mall Exhibition Series and moonlighted at Roots&Culture. Additional cameos include Colin Self, another long lost Chicago luminary, and House of Ladosha, who I fucking LOVE.
Aunt Flo meets The Whistler
Since talking about your period is always prurient in my book, I’m particularly excited about the upcoming flow at CRIMSON GLOW at the Whistler this Thursday night (January 24th). Arrive at 10pm to catch Melina Ausikaitis, a story-telling musician who is not to be missed. Her performance last September at the recently concluded New Capital Projects was nothing short of a miracle.
If you’re looking for a job (like I am), forget about the Chicago Artist Resource. LVL3 is looking for an intern. Responsibilities include sweeping and mopping the gallery and updating their mailing list. If you’re looking for studio space on top of sweeping, I hear Peanut Gallery is also hiring, sort of. The gallery’s post advertises “valuable arts administration skills and networking opportunities in exchange for covering 25% of the rent.”
It’s not me, it’s you
In other non-essential news, it’s almost almost Valentines Day and Heaven Gallery in Wicker Park is commemorating this non-event by exhibiting collaborations by local art “power couples.” IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU will feature work from couples Culp/Foch, Gent/O’Brien, Chitty/Baird and Green/Mike(?).
Real Shit opens February 3rd
Speaking of openings in February, the award for best exhibition title next month goes to Shit is Real at Devening Projects. Not only does the title rule, the artists featured in the show are pretty rad, too.
Performance Art continues to confound
Also coming up (wait, already happening?) is the IN>TIME city-wide and winter-long performance festival. I’m not quite sure whats up with this, all I know is “performance festival” screams nudity and controversial boredom. What is performance art? What isn’t it.
Thankfully, some things never change: This is still the most entertaining Facebook feed in 2013.
Finally, in “real” news, I am seriously horrified about the mega-flu going around this season. As we say in this column, shit is real, and none other than the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s own music director, Riccardo Muti, had to drop out of the company’s upcoming Asia tour due to a particularly virulent case.
Clogging up my inbox
Oh yeah, one more thing: What’s up with this Michelle Grabner tat pic? And why can’t Shane Campbell send out one email listing all his space’s openings instead of one email for each of his three spaces?
Got any T? email me!