Are immigrants better at putting deconstruction to work?

May 22, 2013 · Print This Article

Are immigrants better at putting deconstruction to work?

As an immigrant myself, I think I understand Jacques Derrida because he was also an immigrant. The immigrant experience—mine, to be sure—is one of becoming decentered and of finding one self in a foreign place where one has to introduce one self (and to be introduced) as a representative abstraction of another culture and as a brief (and textual) identity. If deconstruction acts as the de facto method put to work by many postmodern (or hipster) writers, then dislocation acts as a biographical trope for the radical multiplication of readings.

To strategically essentialize based on my experience, I would agree that ESL poets see and hear English from the outside as a strange and awkward medium because learning to communicate with a new language demands more sensitive attention to its materiality than it does for native speakers. The shock of the idiomatic phrase delights the foreign tongue because the foreigner hears (as does John Ashbery) in the wisdom of slang and clichés the horded culture of a people, a zeitgeist or an essence of a place in time, a myth of origin. The foreign poet takes delight in these loaded everyday dictums and listens with his tongue. (Tanta 29)

Poetry is dead. Rumors of poetry’s still being alive have been greatly exaggerated and greatly promulgated in the service of war profiteering. The future of poetry is Creative Nonfiction. Verse or the breaking of lines into discrete acoustic, visual, semantic, breath, or idiomatic units is as over—and as quaint—as the villanelle was to Walt Whitman. Having said the above, the quicksand of narrative with its immersive pleasures—readily commodifiable by glocal capital—stands bloated and waiting to be exploded by the raw teeth of form. Content comes and content goes, but only form will break the bones of our assumptions.

charlie_chaplin workshop image

Musing on our mania for the new, Andrei Codrescu writes: “The most valuable commodity, right after human energy, is style. If styles don’t change to arouse us to trade in yesterday’s model for today’s, the world collapses. Style feeds capital, and so it can never be allowed to devolve into the familiar, it must aspire to multidimensionality, to complexity … to poetry.” (94-5) Codrescu’s critical observation points to the troublesome wedding between kinds of aesthetic progress (that feeling of forward motion in cultural time) and profit-making schemes.

Deconstructing the host language and host culture and host food ways, the newcomer waffles between acculturation and assimilation. In banal and extravagant ways the immigrant has to choose between remaining a kind of billboard for national excess and blending in. The immigrant poet has to choose between representing and ignoring her or his location-trouble. Somehow, the immigrant is forced to be hip in that she or he has to create a network in order to survive, to thrive, and eventually to erect a white picket fence around a set of habits commonly known as an identity.

Performing the categorical violence in deciding what’s hip and not hip remains today—as it ever was—relative to the degree of innocence afforded by various conceptual and material comforts. In the end, the choice of contemporary American hipster poets to be aware or innocent of the difficulties of mindfulness has got to be left with the individual.

Works cited:

Codrescu, Andrei. “The Poetry Lesson.” Princeton UP, 2010.

Tanta, Gene. Unusual Woods. Buffalo: BlazeVOX Books, 2010.


Chicago Art in Pictures: New Capital

May 20, 2013 · Print This Article

This week, independent of one another, Chicago-based writers Caroline Picard and Jason Foumberg both raised questions related to sustainability in the art world. Within the context of Bad at Sports, Picard wondered about communal failure, ethics, and Utopia, particularly as those political concepts concerned the field of social practice. And at the alternative weekly publication Newcity, Foumberg offered a comparative overview of local, economic models in gallery practice.

Six months earlier, the proprietors of Chicago’s New Capital Projects, Ben Foch and Chelsea Culp, began a twenty-five day round-the-clock closing event for their gallery. Foch and Culp had, from the outset, planned a limited, two-year run of public exhibitions at their venue. And having reached the end of their finite schedule they threw open the doors to everyone interested in one last collaborative endeavor entitled “24HRS/25DAYS.” Whither came the funding for such a spectacle? In 2011, the Propeller Fund announced that Foch and Culp were recipients of a 6000 USD award.

Rather than being a survey of contemporary programming, this installment of Chicago Art in Pictures is a historical offering. If New Capital Projects’ success (and it was a success) seemed contingent upon its engagement with artists, its monetary subsidization, and its relatively brief public existence, then maybe too it was the case that only an informal, ethical consensus allowed for a momentary sort of Utopia within the city’s crumbling West Side.

While planning what might be possible for the future, it’s helpful to remember what has worked in the past. And so, some of the activity surrounding New Capital Projects in the year 2012 is suggested by the imagery below. A full schedule for “24HRS/25DAYS” is still available at New Capital Projects’ website. All artwork copyright original artists; photography copyright Paul Germanos.

Ben Foch and Chelsea Culp with Moustache Phil @ New Capital

Above: Ben Foch, left, and Chelsea Culp, center, with ACRE‘s (Moustache Phil) Philip Kaufmann, right, at New Capital Projects on a hot summer night, June 30, 2012.

NON GRATA "Force Majeure" Chicago

Above: Estonian performance collective NON GRATA‘s “Force Majeure” in Chicago, at New Capital Projects, March 4, 2012.

Meg Noe @ New Capital

Above: Meg Noe in “I, Who Have Known the Horror of Mirrors” on December 6, 2012, in “24HRS/25DAYS.”

Elena Katsulis & Erin Peisert @ New Capital

Above: Elena Katsulis and Erin Peisert in “The Longer I had to Stand There” on December 6, 2012, in “24HRS/25DAYS.”

Jeff Harms @ New Capital

Above: A four second exposure of Jeff Harms‘ laminated wood sculpture on December 2, 2012, in “24HRS/25DAYS.”

NON GRATA "Force Majeure" Chicago

Above: Estonian performance collective NON GRATA’s “Force Majeure” in Chicago, at New Capital Projects, March 4, 2012.


Above: KLOSS/STOLTMANN at New Capital Projects, June 30 – August 5, 2012.

Melina Ausikaitis & Nandini Khaund @ New Capital

Above: Nandini Khaund, foreground, and Melina Ausikaitis, background, on November 16, 2012, performing in “24HRS/25DAYS.”

Matthew Lane @ New Capital

Above: Matthew Lane in “Lane/Sirianni” at New Capital Projects, March 16 – April 7, 2012.

Michael Sirianni @ New Capital

Above: Michael Sirianni in “Lane/Sirianni” at New Capital Projects, March 16 – April 7, 2012.

Matthew Lane @ New Capital

Above: Matthew Lane, left, speaking to Stephanie Burke, center, at New Capital Projects, March 16, 2012.

New Capital Projects

Above: New Capital Projects’ courtyard on a summer night, June 30, 2012.

Joseph Rynkiewicz @ New Capital

Above: Joseph Rynkiewicz‘ installation “Bonfire,” on November 24, 2012, in “24HRS/25DAYS.”

Joseph Rynkiewicz @ New Capital

Above: Kavi Gupta’s Joseph Rynkiewicz (at far right) with bonfire in progress on November 24, 2012, in “24HRS/25DAYS.”

Leo Kaplan @ New Capital

Above: The Hills Esthetic Center‘s Leo Kaplan on December 2, 2012, presenting “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday,” in “24HRS/25DAYS.”

Seth Sher @ New Capital

Above: Northwestern’s Sofia Leiby lectures Seth Sher at New Capital Projects, June 30, 2012.

"A bowl of soup, a coffin, a door" @ New Capital

Above: “A bowl of soup, a coffin, a door” installation by MCA’s Karsten Lund, SAIC’s Dana DeGiulio, Corbett vs. Dempsey’s Julia V. Hendrickson, and Sofia Leiby, on November 25, 2012, in “24HRS/25DAYS.”


Above: The Hills Esthetic Center’s Michael Kloss, left, and ACRE’s Emily Green, right, in AUSIKAITIS/KLOSS at New Capital Projects, September 1, 2012.


Above: Seth Sher, a/k/a Psychic Steel, left, and Meg Noe, right, at New Capital Projects, September 1, 2012.

Conor Creagan @ New Capital

Above: Conor Creagan in “Wonderful Tonight” on December 2, 2012, in “24HRS/25DAYS.”

Liz McCarthy with Moustache Phil @ New Capital

Above: Roxaboxen’s (formerly) Liz McCarthy with Moustache Phil at New Capital Projects, June 30, 2012.

Lynn Basa & Sarah Weber @ New Capital

Above: Lynn Basa, left, shows “Burnt Journals” work to Sarah Weber, right, on November 24, 2012, in “24HRS/25DAYS.”

New Capital Projects
3114 W. Carroll St.
Chicago, IL 60612

Episode 403: apexart resident Reymar Gacutan

May 20, 2013 · Print This Article

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Reymar Gacutan
This week: Amanda and Richard talk to inbound apexart resident Reymar Gacutan as a part of our ongoing partnership.

Reymar Gacutan (b. 1972) is an artist and educator based in Quezon City, The Philippines, and currently teaches at the School for Design and Arts, De La Salle – College of St. Benilde. Gacutan started his path as an artist in 1985 after winning a painting contest, and was then invited by the Department of Education to take the entrance exam for a scholarship at the Philippines High School for the Arts. In 1997 he graduated from the University of the Philippines, College of Fine Arts, with a degree in painting. In addition to his studies, Gacutan served as an apprentice to Mariano Madarang, an artist and ex-dean of PWU, and Zotter da Lavant, an Austrian artist, and through this learned art restoration and conservation. After graduating from the College of Fine Arts, Gacutan worked as a CGI/3D animation artist at Imagineers, Toonworks, and Tooncity, but found little fulfillment and decided to focus on his art. Since then he has exhibited in both solo and group shows and has taught at several schools in The Philippines.

Week In Review: Practicing

May 19, 2013 · Print This Article

It has been a big week for sure! I’ve spent the last few days in Portland, at the Open Engagement Conference and many of my posts have covered that. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.


The week began with some real T courtesy of Bad at Sports’ official Gossip Columnist, Dana Bassett, including E-Dogz upcoming,  “Twends”  spotted at the SAIC Fashion Show this year, an architectural study of the Bachman House, a WHO WORE IT BETTER and some sketch gifs by Elisa Hawkins. Once again, another Episode not to be missed.

 Fernweh Thinking Traveling List. Photo Jessica Gogan

Fernweh Thinking Traveling List. Photo Jessica Gogan

Reporting on all things Social Practice, Mary Jane Jacob writes about terminology and the settling thereof:

“Social Practice” has caught on as a name, as well as a practice. I’m relieved to see relationship aesthetics (Nicholas Bourriard) dropped from the vocabulary list along with the litany of terms: new genre public art (Suzanne Lacy), dialogic art (Grant Kester), participatory art practices (Claire Bishop), more recently art of social cooperation (Tom Finkelpearl), and others of a collaborative, community, or group persuasion. Maybe it has taken us 20-some years to arrive at a name, not because we didn’t try, but because the practice itself has been evolving and this name works.

Social Practice evokes Beuys’ Social Sculpture, while practice is more open and active; it’s also less cumbersome than socially engaged art practice. It can hold a variety of ways of working and making, thus avoiding the critic’s urge to nit-pick definitions and lock in characteristics which inevitably shortchange the art and pigeonhole the artist into what amounts to a style. [Look for our exhibition in September 2014 at SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries that will bring the social practice artistinto the gallery, not to document what happened out in the world but to engage the gallery as a still-critical space of, yes, “engagement.”]

Image by PD Rearick, which can also be found on page 277 of this month's Art Forum. (Used with permission)

Image by PD Rearick, which can also be found on page 277 of this month’s Art Forum. (Used with permission)

Thomas Friel writes about the unveiling of Mike Kelly’s Mobile Homestead — and maybe it’s the jazz station plays in the background on a friend’s radio, but Friel’s intro gives me the chills almost; it’s so good it feels like it could be the start of a detective novel:

Walking up to the clapboard rancher surrounded by a sod lawn in front of a brick building whose facing side was painted a sky blue, an uneasy feeling of displacement crept up my spine. On one side was downtown Detroit, the other was suburbia. Except it was some sort of self conscious version of suburbia, reminiscent of the prosaic childhood setting so many of us are familiar with, but with an almost mythic nature as a newly fetishized art object. Originally “launched” in 2010 as an intricately choreographed performative sculpture, Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead finally opened to the public on May 11, 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit as a permanent fixture on the adjacent lot. As a recreation of the late artist’s childhood home in suburban Westland, MI, the resulting structure is fairly straightforward. As an art work, it is extremely complex, a nearly uncatagorizable masterpiece, wholly embracing major themes of his life’s work while barreling into new territory altogether in the most ambitious project of his far too short career. Mobile Homestead asserts itself as both public and private sculpture, focusing on community involvement and outreach, yet retaining a strong sense of privacy and secrecy inherent in homes by the elaborate basement labyrinth which will be kept off limits to the general public.


On Thursday, Thea Liberty Nichols interviewed the “indefatigable” Jodie Mack, whose “films traffic in the tropes and technical achievements of the history of moving image work while simultaneously canabalizing themselves in the process of their creation.” In Mack’s words:

On a fundamental level, I’m interested in the tension between form and meaning. Each one of my films studies some sort of tangible object or set of objects: colored plastic (A Joy), photo-negatives (Lilly), magazines (Yard Work is hard Work) junk mail (Unsubscribe 1-4), fabric (Harlequin, Rad Plaid, Posthaste Perennial Pattern, Point de Gaze, Persian Pickles, Blanket Statement), posters (Dusty Stacks of Mom), etc. The materials guide the messages; the results take on different forms, some looking more like pre-established genres than others. The role of abstract animation in cinema – its sensational and narrative possibilities – surfaces often in my films no matter the material I’m exploring. DSoM chews through the posters and digests them through a number of animation techniques; certain scenes emphasize representational aspects of the posters while others abstract the material. So, I’d say the depiction of representational imagery vs. abstraction in this film is both a focus of the piece and a by-product of the material at hand in this case.

Alicja Kwade Andere Bedingung (Aggregatzustand 6), 2009 steel, copper, glass, mirror, iron, mop stick, seven parts Format variable

Alicja Kwade
Andere Bedingung (Aggregatzustand 6), 2009
steel, copper, glass, mirror, iron, mop stick, seven parts
Format variable

Robert Burnier brings it all home again with this post about painting and craft —

I once had a penchant for the obsessive, compulsive traditions of certain Dutch painters like Paulus Potter, Adriaen van der Spelt and Jan van Cappelle, so whenever I was in an encyclopedic museum, I would always make my way toward those galleries. Afterward, however, I would go straight to where the modern art was and stand in front of a Cy Twombly or some other such work. In 2002 the Gerhard Richter retrospective, 40 Years of Painting, came to the Art Institute of Chicago. One salient aspect of this was to witness a similar kind of range more or less present in one artist; one who held up Reading, Grey Mirror, and 256 Colors as artistic statements of the same order. I see these memories as analogies for the way I continue to approach works of art, especially – though in a limited sense – when it comes to issues of craft.


“What is Open Engagement?” you might ask. Open Engagement (OE) is the socially engaged art conference I am at presently. In Portland, Oregan. AKA Paradise. I’m still here and it’s still awesome. I have been interviewing a couple of artist and writing some blog posts about events that have taken place. I expect to be writing a little more about things, and posting some blog-format interviews down the line. But for the moment, you can read my first introductory post:

The first Open Engagement conference was the result of Jen Delos Reyes’ thesis project at the University of Regina; Reyes wanted to create a “different kind of conference,” one platforming emerging and established artists while providing a site for both “production and reflection.” This is Open Engagement. Delos Reyes came to Portland State to co-direct the MFA in Art and Social Practice once she had finished her MFA, and in 2010 Open Engagement came to Portland State. To this day, the conference is the result of collaboration between MFA students, Delos Reyes and OE Co-director, Crystal Baxley. In her opening remarks, Delos Reyes remarked on the sometimes “unkempt” nature of the conference, highlighting that it was focused on an artistic discipline that by its very nature is influx, and sometimes messy. That directive affords a kind of experimental quality which is perhaps missing from what she refered to as a more “rigid professionalism.”

Wonder what’s t(w)ending at OE this year? Ethics, Failure and Utopia, or so I suggest.

Do you have questions about terminology in social engaged art practice? Well OE did not and here are some remarks about that.

Open Engagement 2013 No. 03: Nomenclature

May 19, 2013 · Print This Article

Thus far at Open Engagement, I’ve heard no discussion around the terminology of social practice, or specifically what to call “social practice.” The conference at large seems  presently unbothered by the nomenclature of its  discipline. It’s quite refreshing, actually. Perhaps it means the terminology is settled, or perhaps because the conference is organized by PSU’s Social Practice MFA Department, the department inadvertently sets a precedent for how artists define their methodology in this particular context. Earlier this week Mary Jane Jacob’s made a similar observation on Bad at Sports, outlining a good list of terminology options, along with their point of origin, and thereafter drawing the conclusion that, “Maybe it has taken us 20-some years to arrive at a name [“Social Practice”], not because we didn’t try, but because the practice itself has been evolving and this name works.”

While suggested terms continue to crop up, (relationship aesthetics, new genre public art, dialogic art, participatory art practices, participatory art, art of social cooperation, live art, service media etc.) the discipline itself  continues to evolve as well. It seems possible that the artist practitioners might be less invested in the politics of terminology and more interested in what is at hand, what is commonly understood as the best term which will supply a shorthand meaning to a given listener: practically speaking, what term to use when applying for a grant?

I realize, very few people want to sit in a room listening to others pontificate on the benefits of one name over another — nevertheless, I find it interesting because Social Practice (as a discipline) is straightening out, in a way, becoming more and more compatible with the canon of art. As such, the terminology around it seems to be settling down as well. What was once a renegade discipline has reached a kind of young adulthood. The field is still wide open for experimentation and development, but some of its edges have been defined through consensus. The various MFA programs dedicated to Social Practice further reinforce that transition, as they are forced to codify-in-order-to-teach. Those programs are similarly invested in propagating their own terminology, to validate the significance of their program. And this too is what I find so interesting about names: while the artists themselves might be more interested in the activity of making, the administrators, curators and theorists flanking the discipline have a lot at stake in the theoretical baggage/leverage different names bear. I’ll admit that for a while it seemed a little like the Wild West to me, where every year another artistic thinker would propose a new name for the discipline, like a cowboy opening a new shop in a small, as yet brand new town. Each new phrase brought with it a host of promises to be tested.

Regardless owhole settled things might seem now, I like to think there is something about Social Practice that resists a stable affinity with language. While it might adopt an umbrella term for practical ends, the artists working within this discipline continue complicate the labeling of their work with other qualifying terms. In one statement I read this week, for instance the artist said she “worked in social practice and participatory art,” implying some difference between these two often synonymous terms; when presented side by side like that, the words feel somehow self-conscious and slightly uneasy as a reader has to trouble over their distinction. In other words, while I may be preoccupied with these terms, it would seem a number of participants here in Portland enjoy mucking up their terminology, culling from various lexicons and thereby creating  a unique assemblage of terms for themselves.