The first impression Steve Juras’ studio calls to mind is of self-constraint as aesthetic. His work spans any number of two and three dimensional, formal and conceptual practices, and it’s the consistently tightening systems he builds and acts under that provide a through-line: repetitions and experiments in tightly restricted games that insist on looping back on themselves. Juras’ background is in design– his MFA from SAIC is in visual communication– and it’s easy to read some of that background into his somewhat detached approach, which often translates into the obsessive working of images into their most basic shapes (like a long series of skull drawings in notebooks, where a naturalistic sketch ultimately devolves into a study of curve and line) and explorations of shapes within grids. “I’m always looking back to abstraction, the investigation of the line,” he muses as he flips through carefully labeled notebooks that offer endless repetitions on simple themes.
These “systems at work with random events,” as Juras calls them, are intended to result in “a suspension of decision-making” while simultaneously “introducing more texture and materiality, disrupting uniformity, looping back to grids vs. organic forms that grow from them.” Similar restrictions in his Achroma series of paintings, drawing, and sculpture had him quietly removing color from the series (and eventually removing almost all black hues), constantly “overloading and scraping back.” The grids and the constant self-censorship offer some sense of control and a restriction that oddly seem to allow for his most heady explorations, particularly his current investigations into “the void, presence, and absence”: the New Sacred as a concept in contemporary art practices.
Juras’ carefully notes that he’s not interested in sacredness in terms of religious or holy territory, but as a structure that we are rarely aware of until it is presented to us in a new register. His understanding of the sacred is that it is at least in part a “mode of perception,” and he is interested in its “everyday manifestations,” as in a recent study he made of a doorstop left in his studio by a previous artist that raised both the more tame question of how we distinguish an art object from an ordinary object, and the deeper question of what psychological schemata of sacred objects underlie that distinction.
The resulting installation, Just so Richard chuckles conditionally, also draws on two of Juras’ major influences, Richard Tuttle and Robert Irwin. Irwin directly informs Juras’ interest in wonder and the numinous (a term coined by religious scholar Rudolf Otto, the numinous describes the struture of sacredness without content, a kind of rhetoric of the sacred rather than any particular message). “Looking back to Irwin’s writing, whose emphasis on perception is how he defines art-the essence of the artwork is a sense of wonder,” Juras notes, “and it takes daily practice to train to see that.” From Tuttle also comes what I first partly attributed to Juras’ background in design: “there’s a removal of self without being nihilist in order to let the work manifest itself… getting out of the way in order to become a conduit.” Juras admires how Tuttle manages to create out of “the humility of his materials… a sculpture with such a small scale could have so much presence.” Humility is a privileged term for Juras: “I want to offer up that my studio practice is also a search for everyday Otherness… This practice demands a sense of humility stemming from an acceptance that there exists something wholly Other than yourself.”
Juras’ own attempt to work with the everyday, humble, even banal in a sacred register– the everyday manifestations of numinousness– was, in the case of the doorstop, “about access– a small gesture whose performance makes all the difference, that oscillates between the functional and the aesthetic.” But the very smallness of this gesture can be both quietly stunning and often just at the edge between irony and grace. Hence an upcoming exhibition in mid-June at Strange Beauty Show, in collaboration with artist Kyle Fletcher, that takes the images and objects of the American beauty industry, is both site-specific and perfectly suited to Juras’ attempts to to uncover the ordinary’s, the functional’s, potential for numinousness. New Looks combines altered images of beauty magazines, and the objects for beautification, like hair pieces, into objects that, in Juras’ words, will continue his quest to “torque everyday banality” and help us see it for its endless potential as secular benediction.
New Looks opens at Strange Beauty Show, 1118 N. Ashland, on June 13th.
Peru, 1953 (Trephining Letter) features work by Annie Heckman. Face Off is curated by curated by Noah Scalin and Vanessa Ruiz.
International Museum of Surgical Science is located at 1524 N. Lake Shore Dr. Reception Friday, 5-9pm.
Homotopia, by Eric A. Stanley and Chris Vargas, screens at 7:15 and 8:15. The Papi Project: Archival Images, by Oli Rodriguez, screens 7:45 and 8:45.
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum is located at 800 S. Halsted St. Screenings Friday, 7-9:30pm.
Work by Abelardo Morell.
Stephen Daiter Gallery is located at 230 W. Superior St. Reception Saturday 3-6pm.
Work by Everything Is Terrible!
The Octagon Gallery is located at 120 N. Green St. Unit 3b. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
Work by Johanna Braun and Michael Niemetz.
Adds Donna is located at 4223 W. Lake St. Reception Sunday, 1-5pm.
Some big things worth mentioning — maybe…
1. RAPID PULSE, an international performance festival, is taking place this weekend and next week. The Chicago Reader just wrote a great something something, with the evocative sub-header “Wafaa Bilal wants Twitter’s help to inflate a giant head, and other oddities, at Defibrillator Gallery’s second annual Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival.” Find out more info about that here, or if you want, download the schedule of events via this link: RP13_poster-brochure.
According to The Reader:
Pure voodoo at its best, performance art traffics in psychic violence, provoking questions that viewers, by virtue of their emotional disturbance, feel compelled to answer. Defibrillator Gallery’s Rapid Pulse, now in its second year, is designed to make the genre more talkative: the festival, which includes window shows, public spectacle, and video screenings, coordinates performances with discussions, spread over ten days and four venues (Defibrillator, 1136 N. Milwaukee; Electrodes, the gallery’s front windows; Hub, 1535 N. Milwaukee; Nightingale, 1084 N. Milwaukee). Come for the bad vibes, stay for the nauseating hypersonic jolt. (Jena Cutie)
2. EAT WHAT ARTISTS EAT:
Our friends at ACRE launched a Kickstarter Campaign for their unique Residency Kitchen Program. There (among other things) you can get a copy of the ACRE cookbook, and support a good program that feeds creative acts/minds all summer long. In their words:
We believe meals equal community and the ACRE kitchen strives to foster a place where residents, visiting artists and local farmers can cross-pollinate.
Funds raised through kickstarter will go towards supporting locally grown and produced agriculture and conscientious businesses, purchasing equipment that will make the kitchen more efficient and sustainable, our yearly cookbook KADABRA, a collection of recipes from each year’s residency, and will give us the support we need to keep creating a diverse selection of considered, artistic, and nutritious menus for our residents.
KADABRA VOL 3, Annual Cook Book
cover designed by Edie Fake & Daniel Luedtke
artwork and recipe contributions by the ACRE Kitchen Staff & Resident Alumni
It was the summer of 2008. It was hot. And humid. Everything was green and/or sweating. People who didn’t sweat stood out. Their reserve both enviable and mysterious—a contrast from everything else. Refuge from the heat was similarly impressive and constantly sought. Most apartment galleries were barely tolerable for their heat. At cooler exhibition sites, visitors inevitably took considerable time examining the works of art on display. That August, Heather Mekkelson had a solo show at an apartment gallery—or what maybe we should call a basement gallery—half a flight downstairs in Logan Square called Old Gold. With its dark 1970s style wood paneling, built-in bar and enough floor space for a pool table, Old Gold looked like an old rumpus room. It was anything but neutral and its unapologetic, undeniable character forced artists to continually incorporate the space into their exhibitions. Mekkelson’s project was no different. Limited Entry was based entirely on the unique environment. And at that particular time, it was significantly cooler than anything outdoors.
In order to access the stairs down to the gallery, one walked through a front gate and around the side of an apartment building. According to rumor, the landlord and upstairs resident did not know Old Gold existed. Being an unpredictable fellow, gallery directors Kathryn Scanlan and Caleb Lyons preferred to keep the professional aspect of their curatorial project discreet. They didn’t advertise much and the only label on the door was composed from Home Depot stickers, appearing more like the absent-minded work of a teenager than anything formally significant. This place was easy to miss. (read more)
4. Longtime Chicago champions Elijah Burger and Deb Sokolow are featured in VITAMIN D2 (video courtesy of Western Exhibitions):
You’re a self-described “dude who is just trying to make things a little better.” Some other terms that have been used to describe you are: urban alchemist, rapid prototyper, and mischief-maker. Taken together, where do these designations put you on the spectrum of creativity?
You’ve been involved in a large variety of creative projects: producing digital media, unauthorized alterations to real-life, pain-in-the-ass issues with city dwelling, hilarious pranks, generous pranks, subway installations, and participatory events. Was being such an interdisciplinary, big picture thinker and do-er always the plan?
Oh man I wish there was a plan or something. I’m just making this shit up as I go along. Really, I’m just completely drunk with the enormity of the world and its infinite possibility and I can’t bear to focus on one small part of it at the exclusion of the rest. I thought focus would come with age, but if anything I’m falling in love with more, not less.
You’re also the Associate Curator of Digital Media at the Museum of the Moving Image. How do you negotiate your institutional role as a curator and your independent role as a cultural producer?
This is a tension I’ve always been sensitive about, but I’ve begun to understand how my roles overlap in the area of “participation.” At this point, referring to any moving image as “digital” is redundant, so professionally I’m interested in video games, interactive art, net art, and all the ways people are using creative acts to construct communities and express themselves online.
I’m lucky that Moving Image gives me a lot of room to explore topics that might be risky for a museum to touch. This results in fun projects that some of my friends accuse of being art, like We Tripped El Hadji Diouf and Under Construction. And you know, if an artist called those installations art, maybe someone would believe them. But I think they’re more interesting in the historical context I’ve set up. Thankfully the Museum isn’t an art museum, so I’m not burdened by that set of rules.
But because my field is the medium of participation – about the act of engaging – I have to participate, too. That means not just curating video games, but trying my hand at making them. Not just watching how people use animated GIFs, but creating and using them myself. Because getting your hands dirty is the whole point. Participation is not an end product, it’s an ongoing process.
You have moved fluidly between highly technical digital media work and very simple, low-tech interventions, and similarly, the “sites” of your work have gone between the public spaces of the internet and the public spaces of New York City. I think many people today struggle with finding a balance between virtual and real interactions. Has this been something you’ve maneuvered naturally, or has there been a deliberate push to find a balance?
There’s a “classic” moment from the 2009 Pirate Bay trial when the prosecutor, in a weird attempt to appear hip, used the term “IRL” (In Real Life). Peter Sunde replied, “We do not use the expression IRL. We use AFK.” (Away From Keyboard).
Which is to say the challenges we frame as real vs. virtual are just about proximity and mediation and self-presentation/performance, which are issues we’ve always faced since our species became self-aware. The only difference is the tools.
Every generation is comfortable navigating the world with the tools they grew up with and every generation feels uncomfortable with the tools they didn’t grow up with, and there’s a simple evolutionary reason for this: Our brains are elastic during our youth as we figure out how the world works, adapting very easily to new tools because, well, everything is new to us. And our brains become more firm as we age so we can more efficiently do the things that ensured our survival. And in age, we can interpret new tools as threats or we can adapt and relearn behaviors. Historically this was not much of a tension, because, e.g., it took thousands of generations to perfect agriculture. Today, the tools change a little faster.
Up until this point, the balance has all been very natural for me. But my synaptic pruning is just starting to ramp up. I’d like to think that I’ll still passionately take up new tools for the rest of my life, but who knows? In the end, I’m at the mercy of my body.
You clearly enjoy a good laugh. Humor and play can build a sense of community, which you also obviously value, but can it also function as a small act of resistance?
Of course. Most of my heroes fit in the middle of that Venn diagram, except their resistance is often quite big: Abbie Hoffman, John Law, Stephen Colbert, etc.
Is it really easier to beg for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission?
Yes. This is known as a game of “imperfect information” in game theory. Unfortunately, this usually doesn’t work in our favor, for example America’s surveillance state (companies/governments compile data about you for the benefit of the powerful) or our culture of litigation (companies/governments limit possibility to reduce the likelihood of lawsuits).
Your recent work, Concision, Concision, Concision, “sold” for a 5,000-word essay on the value of concision. That’s not very concise.
Speaking in broad terms, the theme of human relationships recurs in your work. The dialog around socially-engaged art has gained momentum in the past few years and in many cases, shares similar concerns with your projects including: shared authorship, participation, utility, public engagement, et cetera. Is this a conversation you find any interest in?
I tend to zone out whenever these terms pop up, primarily because the “a” word (“art”) signals a narrow approach that I’m not very interested in. I mean, I guess I’m glad people with some amount of power who are not evil are paying attention to this stuff, and I suspect their validation will do more good for humanity than the subjection does harm.
But I’m interested in things that are necessarily transgressive, and I don’t think they can exist in the same systems that use words like “socially-engaged art.” A lot of people start out making daring, exciting work because they having nothing to lose, because nothing is at stake. And then they become recognized for it and suddenly something (their livelihood, usually) is at stake and they can’t take big risks anymore. But I want to always exist in a space where nothing is at stake, where I can risk everything. Is that adolescent contrarianism? I don’t know. Maybe. But I have to follow it where it takes me.
That said, I think getting more people involved in the production of our shared culture is always a good thing, as long as the primary benefitting party is the participant, not the institution or the instigator as is the case with much “participatory” “art.”
Chicago Artist Writers hosted a workshop with Lori Waxman at Gallery 400 on March 14, 2013. The following is an attempt to collect some of the many illuminating moments of her two-hour lecture and Q&A session.
“Today I’m going to talk about a lot of forms of art criticism that don’t actually exist — yet.”
Lori Waxman has her feet in two critical worlds. As a regular contributor to the Chicago Tribune, she takes on the role of a traditional art critic: she has a large audience, keeps her distance from the artist and organizers of the exhibitions she covers, and maintains an objective viewpoint. In contrast, her personal project 60 Wrd/Min Art Critic takes a more experimental approach. The public is invited to come with their work for a review written by Lori live, in person, with a secondary monitor displaying her writing process as it evolves. The project has been featured numerous times domestically and most recently at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany.
Lori posited that criticism has largely not changed much since its first appearance with Diderot’s reviews of the Paris Salon of 1765, and the writing that we see in major outlets like the Tribune or Artforum holds the same basic values of that style to this day. This default approach to art criticism doesn’t reflect the drastic changes in art and technology’s influence on the contemporary conversation as much as it could.
She used Documenta as a case in point–-it embodied a sprawling, time-intensive experience for the viewer, and the critical responses to it suffered as their structuring was inadequate to cover the exhibition’s curatorial conceits. Critics who were only able to visit 3-5 days and print 1000 words were ill equipped to critique the event in its totality. “Who goes to NYC for a weekend, and tries to see everything, and if they can’t, it’s New York’s fault?” Lori asked. She used Dieter Roelstraete’s review of the Documenta in Artforum as one example; one of his main critiques was that it had too much going on. Similarly, Roberta Smith’s review in the New York Times was schizophrenic, unable to deal with the scope of the massive three-month undertaking. Lori suggested that despite the stubborn precedent of “objective distance” in traditional criticism, she herself might be the best critic of Documenta, having spent her entire summer there.
Platforms for alternatives to the traditional model exist in small handfuls but some are promising. Lori noted that online versions of specialty magazines like Artforum fail to leverage the malleability of the web and stick to the values and format of their print counterparts. Websites like hyperallergic, the former artnet.com, and temporaryartreview.com (which covers cities off the major art map) may increase turnaround time and coverage of lesser-known projects, but again resist transforming the dynamic of the critical approach itself. Triple Canopy is a capable platform, for not only its scholarship but, in the case of David’s Levine’s take on the dissolution of the Rothko estate, its willingness to embrace an insider’s view at the sacrifice of traditional objectivity. Art Fag City features critical writing but is bolstered most importantly by the active comments sections as a new center of gravity in critical writing. This very blog (the Bad at Sports blog) also embraces the more diaristic, personality-driven, multi-tangential style of critical reflection over objectively toned assessment. In the early 2000s, Lori contributed to Fucking Good Art, a feverishly produced zine spearheaded by Pedro Velez and Michael Bulka. Critics would go out to openings, type up reviews as soon as they were sober (or not), and photocopy and distribute the zine for free the next day. The reviews, sometimes nasty and anonymous, were the main way apartment spaces were getting critical feedback.
Lori wondered if models like Facebook and Twitter could be used seriously as venues for criticism instead of flippantly; these platforms have a multi-directionality that could support a more nimble and relevant conversation to artwork being produced. In addition, their immediacy has the potential to be paradigm shifting–what happens if something is written in front of/within the work? “Gonzo” reviews — long form, unedited stream of consciousness reviews — also have yet to be fully realized in art criticism.
Perhaps criticism that leans towards more relational and embodied writing is called for by today’s art practices. Lori suggested “embedded criticism” – a term borrowed from journalism, in which journalists are “embedded” with soldiers – as a term for art writing that celebrates, rather than discourages, the subjective experience in order to strike a critical observation. In her piece Practicing Trio A in the Spring 2012 issue of October, Julia Brian Wilson spoke about taking a class with Yvonne Rainer in which she learned how to perform Rainer’s seminal The Mind Is a Muscle, Part I (Trio A) from 1973, and how this direct involvement in the piece changed her mind about it. Hannah Higgins is well known as a scholar and writer about Fluxus in part because of her upbringing in a canonical Fluxus household; her embeddedness creates a unique opportunity for scholarship and complexity. Later, during the Q&A, an audience member suggested Kathy Acker as an additional example of someone who writes about artwork while having a close relationship to it.
Art writing authored from a fictional perspective or persona is another area ripe for exploration. Lynn Tillman has written fiction at the artist’s request (perhaps skewing its definition as “criticism,” but an example of a new form of art writing nonetheless). Her short story “Madame Realism Lies Here” from 2002 is composed from the perspective of a woman who dreams she has turned into a Jeff Koons sculpture, experiencing life in a weird and grotesque way that mimics Koons’ work. Tillman’s series TV Tales about Barbara Kruger from 1976 also is another example. As well, we can look to novelists: Gertrude Stein wrote in a “cubist” style, coming out of a deep experience with cubist painting. This kind of art writing acts as an analog to the work itself. Stein’s unique, unexpected way of using language sidesteps “International Art English” altogether: it doesn’t even require a dictionary. One can hold up a piece of hers in front of a painting and see how they work together. The Family Fang, a novel by Kevin Wilson, consists of a fictional narrative about a family of performance artists. Philadelphia artist Jayson Musson’s satirical comedy as Hennessy Youngman occasionally offers thoughtful and to the point responses to art, although Lori noted that Youngman can be surprisingly conservative – here she reminded us that a new form doesn’t necessarily mean a radical idea, as form and content are extricable. But an outside-the-art-world persona like Musson’s can make it easier to call the emperor naked. Another example brought up by the audience was artist Sean Joseph Patrick Carney, who produced a collection of erotic fiction about James Franco.
Lori stressed that to write about museums and commercial galleries is to write about art that has already been filtered and processed, versus writing about experimental spaces showing lesser-known artists who have yet to be critically acknowledged. When writing about the latter spaces, one should remember that criticism of ephemeral or emerging practices may be the only record that exists, and so one must be intentional as his or her writing will eventually become historical fact. “Some dogged art historian in 20 years will rely on these reviews, and they will quote [them]; and if you got it wrong and weird, they’re going to think that’s what happened.” For this reason, she also suggested inventing a way to respond to a work instead of writing something explicitly negative.
Television shows such as Work of Art and School of Saatchi, whether we like them or not, are emergent examples of new forms of art criticism. While only persisting for four episodes, BBC’s School of Saatchi featured six artists, asked them to make interesting commissions, and gave them a decent amount of time and money to do so. The show rendered the actual process of making contemporary art transparent, “and was surprisingly accessible and intelligent.” After the work is completed, a good fifteen minutes of each hour-long show is devoted to serious discussion of the artwork that is then communicated to the artists. The judges’ remarks are often off the cuff and funny, speaking with authority but sometimes contradicting one another. Their multiple voices created a critical environment similar to a class critique. Bravo’s Work of Art, in contrast, equated art with other subjects like cooking or getting married. Artists were given $100 and 24 hours to make a series of asinine projects. Notable, however, was the involvement of Jerry Saltz, the most recognizable critic in the U.S. Most of the criticism on the show was demeaning, puerile, dumb and one-liner; criticism was consistently of the lowest-common-denominator variety. Yet, Lori said, Work of Art nevertheless represents one of the ways that art is being thought about today by the general public—and perhaps even some parts of the art world; this show is part of the public’s access to the art world, and it is sadly misrepresentative.
Some of Lori’s more experimental ideas—stolen, she willingly admitted, from her students at SAIC—included gif criticism (what can a gif do that words can’t?) or criticism using image combinations (like on tumblr). During the Q&A, the audience pitched in: we suggested hyperlink criticism – a review composed entirely of links, in line with the ways we read, think and click; another participant proposed a review composed over Skype, where one person views the exhibition at home, one in the museum, highlighting the differences; or a (live/recorded) performance positioned as a review. Does criticism need to be site specific to the work – like the precedent of dances that directly respond to artwork?
If criticism can be art and vice versa, how can one be sure these forms don’t stray too close to art and too far from criticism? Where is that line placed and is it important? Lori pointed out that studio experience might be valuable for a critic, “and who thinks criticism is so objective anyway?” 60 Wrd/Min Art Critic attempts to take some of the agency that the art critic normally assumes away, and to see what happens when it’s given to the artist him or herself. The agency Lori gives up is the ability to choose who and what she writes about. But if this critical agency we assume is important is taken away from the critic, can something of substance still materialize? What happens if criticism is available for the asking? Is it still interesting, critical?
Another participant asked Lori about What Happened to Art Criticism, the 2003 panel discussion and book in which Jim Elkins and others complained that the majority of art criticism being written today is “descriptive.” Lori responded that she believes there’s no such thing as a truly factual description” of something. She pointed out that one can’t recreate a painting backwards from a description, no matter how detailed or “straightforward” it is. A good piece of description, she noted, can do “almost anything.” One can’t have criticism without description; and in shorter lengths, these combinations can be powerful — look at the New Yorker’s 100 word reviews of exhibitions in the Goings On section.
An audience member asked if art history helps or hurts art criticism. “If you love October, you should stay in art history and not try to be an art critic,” Lori responded. Most critics come from art, not art history, and there’s “plenty to make of that, in terms of experience and commitment.” She relayed the under-discussed fact that most of the notable art critics working today do not have art history degrees. Peter Schjeldahl started out as a poet; Saltz was a painter and truck driver; Robert Storr and Matthew Collings trained as painters.
How about artists criticizing their own artwork as an interesting new form of art criticism? Lori responded with an anecdote from her husband, the artist Michael Rakowitz, who had recently been part of a discussion in which the moderator complained afterward that the panel’s artists hadn’t talked more about their work’s problems. Her husband countered that he didn’t know of a professional artist who would do that, that it’s not their job: let the critics take issue, and the artists deal with the problems in their own way. One takeaway for us is that the space for self-criticism in between the artist statement and the art review is ripe for experimentation.
We left thinking about the burgeoning potency of crowd-sourced criticism. Mimicking the current form of value-production bolstered by the Internet, where value is dispersed into tallies, “aggregate,” rhizomatic or crowd-sourced criticism may be starting to replace the good old New York Times review. One audience member wondered if all types of feedback to an artwork could be located in a single place, including documentation, short and long reviews, responses on Twitter, Facebook, etc.? Although Google might seem good for this on its own, it isn’t organized: someone should take advantage of this opportunity for a new start-up.
We found this sentiment the driving force of Lori’s presentation–an implicit and collective call to action:
“Technology has changed and art has changed, and that should be radically impacting the kind of art criticism that we write, how it gets published, how it gets received and who we write it for, and how it gets commented on.”
Chicago Artist Writers is a platform that asks young studio artists and art workers to write traditional and experimental criticism that serves under-represented arts programming in Chicago. CAW was founded by Jason Lazarus and Sofia Leiby in 2012. This is our first guest post on Bad at Sports. www.chicagoartistwriters.com
Click here to download an mp3 of Lori’s lecture.