Week in Review : A Smattering of Utopias

June 30, 2013 · Print This Article


At the risk of trying to tie up a week too simply in one bow, I felt like each post had an underlying vision of Utopia, whether the artist residency in the woods, the dream of fashionistas, the work of uncovering and discussing gender dynamics, the performance of queer migration, or simply the project of a single book — each of this week’s articles strive toward something, something idyllic and often just out of reach.

“Ox-Bow is like Hogwarts for adults,” obviously. Or so says Duncan MacKenzie who is planning to teach a course there this summer.

“Chicago’s “art world” is in no way distinct from fashion–especially as it’s located within SAIC–but rather it’s intimately connected to it,” or so says Paul Germanos who posted an incredible assortment of images from SAIC’s annual fashion show. 


I wrote a piece about James Turrell’s darkness in Pleiades, and how I confused a jpeg of the elevator landing at The Mattress Factory for Turrell’s lighted dark space. I’m not sure that it fits into the Utopia idea, but maybe my effort to muddle through an idea of darkness serves as an adequate counter point:

I went there first as a Sophomore in college with a group of friends. One friend in particular was an upper classman and seemed to have a better handle on contemporary culture. As such we deferred to his authority; to do so was pleasant; he rattled on about various rumors (and possibly fictions) that seemed to walk a tightrope between gossip, mysticism and art history. As someone with very little contact to contemporary art at the time, I relied on the banter of my peers to overcome whatever sense of alienation I might carry into unfamiliar situations. Standing in a pitch black room for an indefinite period of seemed both provocative and confusing. If I thought about it too much I wouldn’t know what I was doing there. Still the narrative of the artist had me intrigued. Stories about Turrell’s alleged arrest for helping young men dodge the draft. His Quaker background. His life in California that yielded an interest in minimalism, light, and science.  As I prepared myself to walk down this very dark corridor in the year 2000, I was told that at the end, in the pitch black (and if I waited long enough) I would begin to see light, like stars (I thought), or a halo. My friend suggested it was the result of a primordial and biological fear of nothingness.

Andrea Washko, Video still from An Irregularly Shaped Pearl, 2011

Andrea Washko, Video still from An Irregularly Shaped Pearl, 2011

Juliana Driever posted an incredible interview with artist Andrea Washko, discussing feminism today — it’s place in American culture at large, how that compares with the art world we live in and what how discussions about feminism play out in the massively multi-player on-line role playing game, World of Warcraft:

WoW is geographically, economically, politically, socially, and racially diverse. Discussing feminism in WoW is like going to a virtual (but still very physical) city and having access to people who are also inhabiting many, many disparate places but simultaneously inhabiting the same virtual space.

2. WoW is an environment in which people talk a lot in a variety of different channels. You can access thousands of people on a server at once.  Granted, not all 1,000 will want to discuss feminism with me….but it’s still a better, bigger, and more diverse sampling than I can get on a city street corner. I want to hear from rural + urban attitudes, “conservative” + “liberal,” worldly + isolated, antisocial + popular, blue collar + white collar + the unemployed + freelancers + students, etc…WoW is great because the anonymity of the space allows for a frankness that is both frightening and also impressive, because no one is held accountable for what they say.  This could mean that people can lie, but more often it means that they can be as extreme as they like in their beliefs and not be judged for it (and are actually generally rewarded for it socially).


A favorite list of Must-Sees: Top 5 from Stephanie Burke.

John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.

John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.

A new post from sweet sweet Atlanta via Meredith Kooi who has been posting consistently around and about the subject of performance. This week she wrote about John Q:

Atlanta-based idea collective John Q premiered its work The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration at the Atlanta Cyclorama on Friday, May 17, 2013 and Saturday, May 18, 2013. The performance, an essay as John Q calls it, insists on exploring the phenomenon of queer migration into urban spaces, Atlanta being one of them. Using the space, movement, and pictorial qualities of the Cyclorama along with archival materials of queer filmmaker Crawford Barton, native to Resaca (about an hour north of Atlanta), later based in San Francisco, John Q essays (used here as a verb) a narrative of history, creative production, queerness, and geography.

TRACY'S TIGER by William Saroyan, in the fine light of a Red Line car.

TRACY’S TIGER by William Saroyan, in the fine light of a Red Line car.

Maintenance #3 features a collection of reviews from Mairead Case that discuss the following works—

+ Triumph of the Ape: Stories by Todd Dills (THE2NDHAND, print edition 2013)
+ nods by Carrie Lorig (Magic Helicopter Press, 2013)
+ Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures by Mary Ruefle (WAVE Books, 2012)
+ Tracy’s Tiger by William Saroyan (Doubleday, 1951; out of print)
+ The Mere Future by Sarah Schulman (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2009)
+ Violence by Vanessa Veselka and Lidia Yuknavitch (Guillotine Press, 2012)


Monica Westin interviewed Julia Klein about Soberscove Press and their latest book by Robert Goodnough,  Subject Matter of the Artist, a book “comprised of interviews [Goodnough]  undertook with many artists, from Rothko to Pollock, about abstraction.” About this book, Klein says:

The mythology around Abstract Expressionism is complicated and we’ve definitely received a flattened and manageable version of what was going on then, which was of course more complicated and not as neat. I’m glad you got this from the book. There’s an art historian writing about this now and I’m really into her stuff– Valerie Hellstein. From her 2010 dissertation: “While Abstract Expressionism has come to signify heroic individuality and Cold War patriarchy, I want to suggest that it signifies the very obverse—radical community that recognized separate-togetherness.”

Goodnough’s project is appealing to me for its curiosity and humbleness- he was involved in the problem of non-representational subject matter and he wanted to talk about it with the leading artists of his time in order to understand it better himself, as well as to help art students and non-artists understand it better; it was weird and off-putting to a lot of people then (probably still). As Helen Harrison’s introduction points out, it’s odd that this document isn’t wider known and that is especially interesting to me…. I am pleased to be able to make it available through the publication of the book. I’m also very pleased and proud to be able to publish Goodnough’s writings (though this isn’t all of them…there are others that weren’t in the purview of this book, which is focused on exactly what the title describes).


Art Education: a conversation with Julia Klein of Soberscove Press

June 28, 2013 · Print This Article

Soberscove Press, the brainchild of sculptor Julia Klein (MFA Bard College, BFA University of Michigan), turns four years old this year. Since Klein founded the press, she has sought to publish “art-related material that is difficult to access and/or that fills a gap in the literature… material whose audience is primarily limited to specialists because it is in archives, not in translation, out-of-print, and/or whose readership is limited due to the demands of peer-review scholarly publishing.” Subjects of Soberscove books have included work by and about the Russian group Collective Actions, Nancy Shaver, and Kristin Lucas; another area of focus is in the writings of artists, such as early writing by Scott Burton.

But it’s the press’ focus on rereading histories of art we think we know, based on archival transcripts of conversations between artists, that seems to interest Klein the most. She has published books on the 1965 Waldorf Panels on Sculpture and the 1950 Artists’ Sessions at Studio 35, a closed three-day heated conversation about the contemporary art scene among artists who would later be called “Abstract Expressionists,” organized and recorded by Robert Goodnough, a then-graduate student in NYU’s MA Studio Program, which was located in the School of Education. The book is an impassioned, often surprising, time capsule– and one that often undermines our common understanding of the theoretical commitments of different camps of artists in the fifties and sixties.

This year Soberscove released another book of writings by Goodnough, who went on to be a fairly well-known abstract painter; Subject Matter of the Artist served as a thesis project for Goodnough and is comprised of interviews he undertook with many artists, from Rothko to Pollock, about abstraction. I talked with Klein about the book soon after its release at Alderman Exhibitions last month.

MW: I read Subject Matter of the Artist last night and was really surprised at Goodnough’s project– he was quite literally interviewing NY school artists to ask them about the attitudes toward their subject matter that they have in the absence of recognizable objects. It seems like such an obvious or naive question to ask right now given the art history we’ve inherited about this period, but the answers from the various artists are nuanced and enlightening. He also uses strange theoretical vocabulary like “intrasubjective” (no mention of abstract expressionism). To me, the book does a few things: it radically contextualizes art from the time and corrects some of our anachronistic mythology; it shows especially how radical at the time it was to do abstraction at the time (which I still can’t wrap my head around); and it gives a sense of the individualism of artists whom we lump together today. What do you think of this gloss? What seems most salient about Goodnough’s writing here to you?

JK: Yeah, “abstract expressionism” isn’t a term that came up until a little later and in Artists’ Sessions at Studio 35 (1950), you “hear” the artists who became known as the Abstract Expressionists contesting not only their name, but whether they were/should be considered a group at all. The mythology around Abstract Expressionism is complicated and we’ve definitely received a flattened and manageable version of what was going on then, which was of course more complicated and not as neat. I’m glad you got this from the book. There’s an art historian writing about this now and I’m really into her stuff– Valerie Hellstein. From her 2010 dissertation: “While Abstract Expressionism has come to signify heroic individuality and Cold War patriarchy, I want to suggest that it signifies the very obverse—radical community that recognized separate-togetherness.”

Goodnough’s project is appealing to me for its curiosity and humbleness- he was involved in the problem of non-representational subject matter and he wanted to talk about it with the leading artists of his time in order to understand it better himself, as well as to help art students and non-artists understand it better; it was weird and off-putting to a lot of people then (probably still). As Helen Harrison’s introduction points out, it’s odd that this document isn’t wider known and that is especially interesting to me…. I am pleased to be able to make it available through the publication of the book. I’m also very pleased and proud to be able to publish Goodnough’s writings (though this isn’t all of them…there are others that weren’t in the purview of this book, which is focused on exactly what the title describes).

MW: Can you talk a little bit about how you came to this book, particularly its relationship to previous books you’ve published at Soberscove? I’d also love to hear some history of the press (I may have been Judith’s TA when you started it– if I remember correctly). It’s rare to see an artist start a press rather than open a gallery….

JK: I first learned about Goodnough when I was working for the publisher George Braziller in NYC from 2002-2004. Helen Harrison was organizing a show at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center about Goodnough and around this time she sent out a proposal to publish Goodnough’s writitings to a number of publishers, including Braziller. He declined, but through it I learned and got very excited about one of the texts in the proposal, Artists’ Sessions at Studio 35 (1950), the 3-day series of meetings that Goodnough had suggested, organized and then edited. The transcript seemed liked essential reading to me — historically, as well as because of its accessible and clear discussion of art-making and related issues. I didn’t really pay attention to the other writings though, and when I tracked down Goodnough several years later to inquire about rights, he showed me the other writings but I still didn’t get it. I was lucky to meet him and his wife Miko (and recently their daughter Kathy) and to see his studio and interview him, and I’m sorry I didn’t realize the value in publishing ALL of the writings in the proposal at the time. I feel sad that he didn’t get to see his own writings published as a collection (instead of just the Studio 35 transcript, which he did see before he died), but this is the way it went…so now there are two books that came out of a proposal for a single book.

The press started because of Studio 35, as I described above. It felt important, and it was a good excuse to do  some research around a subject that interested me. It gave me a reason to go to archives. And it also allowed me to work on a project with a defined goal, which I needed at the time. In the process of looking for Studio 35 related material, I found the material for Waldorf Panels on Sculpture (1965). All of that points to some of the reasons why the press is important to me: it satisfies the part of me that likes scholarly work; learning about one thing leads to another; I like sharing material that excites me; I get to meet people that interest me through these projects. I like too the feeling of having a relationship with the past and having a role in pushing certain things into the future (often forgotten or difficult to share for whatever reason). Its a different position than that of an academic, with different responsibilities and also different pleasures. As an artist, publishing is also an area that allows me to share and trumpet material that is important to me, but it’s less personal than my art.

As for doing this instead of a gallery, that was never a choice for me. I think there are parts of running a gallery that could be fun, but I have no patience for all the details involved in exhibition-making (as a job anyway). Book-making has details too, for sure (and hopefully I’m getting better at them), but I can work on my own timetable and… I don’t know, it’s just different process. Books are also cheaper than most art, and easy to give away (though I need to get better at selling rather than just giving away!). They also travel easier. My family’s relationship with books is also important, now that I think about it, as is my respect for scholarly work. And also having watched and learned from Braziller and seen what it was for him (from my perspective anyway).

MW: Can you explain what Studio 35 is a little bit?

JK: In 1948, William Baziotes, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and David Hare, began a small cooperative school in New York City called “The Subjects of the Artist School”; it closed in less than a year, and three teachers from NYU (Robert Iglehart, Hale WÃ¥oodruff and Tony Smith), took over the space and continued the artist presentations that the school had been doing, but not as a formal school. This non-school was called “Studio 35” after the address, 35 East Eighth Street, and the Friday evening talks were continued until April of 1950. Robert Goodnough, who had been helping his instructors with the meetings of the second season, suggested that they try to sum up the meetings, and he organized, in discussion with his mentors, a closed, three-day series of meeting. Goodnough, who wrote his paper, “Subject Matter of the Artist,” in the same year, then substantially edited the transcripts for publication in Modern Artists in America, a book published by Wittenborn Schultz in 1951, edited by Ad Reinhardt and Robert Motherwell. Modern Artists in America was initially supposed to be an annual yearbook of avant-garde art, then a bi-annual; ultimately, only one volume was published.

MW: I love the Hellstein quote from the beginning of our conversation that you offered about “radical community that recognized separate-togetherness.” Do you see any of that impulse in other art scenes, especially contemporary ones? Or to put it another way, are there refractions of this atmosphere that you recognize?

I love that quote too and I’d be curious to hear what other people have to say about your question. I think that impulse is probably always around in some way, and I think the way communities are organized or cohere has a lot to do with timing and the fortuitous coming together of a lot of things. There are plenty of groups working together in different ways today, but I don’t know if historically the impulse is stronger now than at other times. I’m curious. As far as I’m concerned, who doesn’t want separate-togetherness? I have recently been thinking about this because I’m in France now (at the amazing Terra Foundation Summer Residency in Giverny), and the two French artists that I’ve gotten to know are both part of collectives. One of the collectives, W, shares a space just outside of Paris in which the artists’ working areas are distinct from one another, but not separated by walls–pretty intimate. There is a big open workshop/exhibition space on the first floor, below the studio. The collective space began as a way for the members to show work (their own and others) without being tied to/relying on any kind of institutional or mercantile organization. Central to the group is a shared sense of importance in discussion around the process of making work–discussion about the purpose and the goals of the work and the events, shows, books, articles, etc that factor into the work’s making—prior to finished or exhibited work. (http://w-atelier-w.fr/artistes/) The other group RADO, is made up of artists with distinct practices (sculpture, protography, video, etc) who are interested in the forms and conditions of a collective art practice. These artists came together during the seminar “Des Territoires” with art historian Jean-Francois Chevrier at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and they continue to work on projects around “specific territories” in a way that prioritizes working with non-artists in non-art spaces. (http://www.groupe-rado.org/) Come to think about it, the other American artist here is also involved in collective work as part of a group in LA, D3 (www.d-three.org), though this group is smaller and more focused in its approach. All of these groups were consciously organized and named (which is not true for the Ab Exers), but I’m struck by the fact that and the way in which each has created its own particular mode of separate-togetherness.

MW: Can you give a brief rundown of the Soberscove press books that have been published? What titles are in the future of the press? Do you have any hunches for future topics you’d like to explore?

JK: soberscove.com! I listed the three Ab Ex-related books already; the others are collections: Scott Burton: Collected Writings on Art and Performance, 1965-1975, edited by David J Getsy; Collective Actions: Audience Recollections from the First Five Years, 1976-1981, edited + translated by Yelena Kalinsky; and also two artists books: Henry at Home, Nancy Shaver; Refresh, Kristin Lucas. There are five artists (actually six, one of the “artists” is actually a collaborative pair) currently working on artists’ books for a new Soberscove series of books for children (and grownups!) — these should be out by November, I hope. “The Place of Sculpture in Daily Life,” by British writer Edmund Gosse, includes a 1895 series of essays from the British Magazine of Art. This will be edited by Martina Droth, with a foreword by David Getsy and is due in early 2014. Also due in early 2014 is “Learning by Doing at the Farm: Craft, Science and Counterculture in Modern California,” which is being put together by Robert Kett and Anna Kryczka (from Chicago!), both of whom are currently at UC- Irvine.  Here’s some early info about this last book:

Beginning in 1968, the University of California, Irvine was host to an experiment in intercultural exchange and artistic and social scientific learning through practice. The experiment brought indigenous people from Guatemala, Mexico, and Samoa to an undeveloped plot on campus known as the Social Sciences Farm, a space for these visitors to demonstrate their crafts and a laboratory for new methods in education and research as well as a gathering site for members of the countercultural movement. An unlikely and often bizarre history, UCI’s “Farm” (literally, an out-of-use farm on university property) brought into intimate and unpredictable proximity key historical currents of the time – Cold War science and development, experimental social scientific research, youthful countercultural protest, and the silent centrality of various “others” to all of these projects.Through this collision, the Farm would become a site for interrogating the relation between living and learning more broadly. This volume offers an introductory essay that reflects upon the experiment at the Farm and offers rich documentation (photos, film stills, documents, etc) of the events that unfolded there.



June 28, 2013 · Print This Article

The Life Instinct: unification, the eternal return, the perpetuation and MAINTENANCE of the species, survival systems and operations, equilibrium.

– Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969!

Before we talk books, a call: submit your work to two local publications, AREA Chicago and Chicago Literati. AREA Chicago—the acronym is for Art, Research, Education, Activism—was founded by Daniel Tucker in 2005. Not only has AREA transitioned into a collectively-edited, distributed, and programmed publication and event series (no small feat!), but it’s consistently stood by its mission statement, which is to “create relationships across the boundaries that segregate our city and our minds”. That’s a tall order for a city like ours—practically, it’s impossible because there isn’t one language that everyone uses. (I’m not being precious: you don’t talk in Pilsen like you do in Bronzeville, or Rogers Park. I hear juke out the window at home sometimes, but never at work.)

Still, AREA gets close to filling that order, publishing work by people of all stripes, from all walks and all neighborhoods. (I’ve ridden all the CTA lines to get to AREA events. No other publication in our city asks that.) This is good and bad, sometimes of course the magazine will dovetail into generalizing language or get a little wide-eyed, but even at worst those moments are fail-betters, and most often AREA reps Chicago well.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that they have a new call for work out—the next issue is themed KIDS. Send something if you have a kid, are a kid, work with them, or know one. Writing for AREA is one of the best ways to be a part of Chicago art and activism, whether you’re trying to find your place or ready to write its history.

Number two, Chicago Literati: an online literary and lit-focused publication—part of the Tribune’s blogroll—edited by recent Columbia College graduate Abby Sheaffer, who’s taking the baton from earlier catch-all local lit sites like Literago. Chicago Literati publishes features and interviews, as well as original work and heads-ups about cool series or events.

Abby is elegantly tireless, and I’m excited to see where she takes the publication. It’s an incredible amount of work and a noble goal, editing a project that covers all parts of our squid-like lit scene—plus Abby writes fiction in her own right. So let her know about your events, and your friends’ events, and hey: answer her call for original, summer-themed work.

Publications discussed here (an asterisk means it came out less than 365 days ago):
+ Triumph of the Ape: Stories by Todd Dills (THE2NDHAND, print edition 2013)*
+ nods by Carrie Lorig (Magic Helicopter Press, 2013)*
+ Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures by Mary Ruefle (WAVE Books, 2012)
+ Tracy’s Tiger by William Saroyan (Doubleday, 1951; out of print)
+ The Mere Future by Sarah Schulman (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2009)
+ Violence by Vanessa Veselka and Lidia Yuknavitch (Guillotine Press, 2012)*

Triumph of the Ape: Stories by Todd Dills

Todd Dills graduated from Columbia College’s MFA program, worked door at Skylark for years, and—even after moving to Nashville with his family—still publishes THE2NDHAND, a two-sided broadsheet featuring work by the likes of Lauren Pretnar, Scott Stealey, Rob Funderburk, and Kate Duva. It’s great, and it’s just long enough to enjoy during solo happy hour.

Triumph of the Ape, a short story collection, is Dills’s second book, not counting the two 2NDHAND anthologies he’s edited. I love it for its consistency—it is Of Dills in both style (he writes itineraries, romances, long musical Faulkner-y sentences), stakes (romance again, and death and making a living, and what to believe), and geography (Chicago and the South). It is a testament to his community too, how he’s published it while publishing everyone else at THE2NDHAND in the meanwhile. Dude isn’t messing around.

One of my favorite things about the writing here is that Dills is not a namedropper, in other words the guys with Morrissey haircuts actually want to be Morrissey, or at least wistfully sensitive and sexy and queering like Morrissey. They are not lazy shadows; these characters talk about race and God and money in their own voices, not as cyphers. Admittedly Ape is a pretty masculine book—I went on an Adrienne Rich binge after finishing it—but that’s just to say I identified with the characters as brothers or sons or lovers, not selves, and sometimes I wanted to slap them or hug them. Nothing wrong with that, though—it’s a fine book that makes you want to do that.

NODS by Carrie Lorig, in the fine light of a North Loop Kinko's.

NODS by Carrie Lorig, in the fine light of a North Loop Kinko’s.

nods by Carrie Lorig

Carrie Lorig read at the last Dollhouse, a poetry reading series co-organized by Dolly Lemke, Holly Amos, and Ryan Spooner. (I worked with Dolly at Switchback Books and I work with Holly now, but I’d love their series anyway.) The Dollhouse Reading Series is free, salon-style BYOB, and super-comfy—the last time I came a little late, so tuned into the first reader while perched on Dolly’s porch, looking up at the sky and feeling at home.

Lorig read last that night, she said it was her biggest crowd ever and giggled a bit. She stood like a bass player—feet square to the crowd and squinting, like there was mist hanging over our heads. (Kate Greenstreet does this too.) Lorig’s work is first-chapbook-energetic, bright and sensory, half letter-to-the-poet’s-lover, half kid-explaining-a-nightmare-to-her-mom. There are cattle and rodeos and lust, twinning a bit with the cattle and farms and births of Kristen Stone’s Domestication Handbook.

After I bought the book I was surprised to see how its poems look on the page: not light but dense, low-caps and all caps, with drone repetition and Gertrude Stein valentines. Lines come up like music—“To my Aunt Zero Bones”, “PURPLE CURBS”, “oofprints in the face”—making this a book to dive into, not excerpt from. I’m excited for her next one too.

Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures by Mary Ruefle 

I recommend Madness, Rack, and Honey, a book of lectures by poet, critic, and teacher Mary Ruefle, because I am still reading it. I read it like practicing free throws or covering songs. Ruefle begins with a quote from Gaston Bachelard (“We begin in admiration and we end by organizing our disappointment”), and continues with essay after wise essay about oh, secrets, thoughts, facts, time, and writing (the daily work of it—the endurance not the romance). I admire her excitement (she uses exclamation points!), her respect for youth (even as she draws on her experience), her taste, how she reads as she writes, and also her respect for form. These are essays written to writers, with established theses and language, not perzines in masquerade. Ruefle even convinced me that Richard Hugo was wrong, and I should start using semicolons. (Tip: listen to this song while reading “On Sentimentality”.)

TRACY'S TIGER by William Saroyan, in the fine light of a Red Line car.

TRACY’S TIGER by William Saroyan, in the fine light of a Red Line car.

Tracy’s Tiger by William Saroyan

Tracy’s Tiger was a gift—a loan—from a friend who is moving to Oregon to be an architect. We went to her apartment and there were colored balloons everywhere, and beer and dancing, and she said have you read this? And I said no, and she said here. You should. She opened it to show me Henry Koerner’s beautiful line drawings, fine enough to see heartbeats. My favorite I think is one of Tracy getting photobombed by pigeons and of course you can’t really have photobombs in a line drawing, but that’s how good these are.

Anyway then one day I grabbed Tracy’s Tiger for the bus. It’s a slim, clean book; I read it all on my way in to the Loop. I’ve read Saroyan before, West Coast high school teachers love The Human Comedy a lot, and also because I want to write strong, short episodic books like Saroyan does. I love how he writes about poverty and children without belittling or straw-manning anyone.

Still I was wary of Tracy’s Tiger, which is about a boy, Thomas Tracy, and how he grows up. Tracy has a tiger; it has white teeth and is actually a black panther. It follows him around like a shadow and is late for church sometimes, and sometimes it says “Eyeeej.” Boy and tiger met at the zoo in New York, and early on it is not clear whether the tiger is imaginary-but-not (a pooka like Harvey), or maybe a precious-er version of Cortazar’s axolotl, an easy mirror of Blake’s poem.

But then of course Saroyan quits my whining—Tracy starts to want things (jobs, kisses) and sometimes he gets them and sometimes he doesn’t. He messes up and he doesn’t always know why. He falls in love and he trusts it, and he even lands in Bellevue. (“He found the people there quite mad,” Saroyan says with a wink.) Towards the end there is a scene that made me cry like when Jason goes to the ocean in Miranda July’s The Future. Greatest of all, also towards the end Saryoan just takes the wheel and tells us what and how the tiger means. Sometimes that’s OK.

The Mere Future by Sarah Schulman

When I’m deciding whether I should read something, I usually look at the acknowledgements not the blurbs. Some names are lucky pennies, so if I see those people thanked I know I’ll probably love the book, that it will probably change my brain. Sarah Schulman—playwright, novelist, activist, professor—is one of those people. (Her book The Gentrification of the Mind is on my shelf for life.)

The Mere Future, her most recent novel, is a romantic satire about two lesbians living together in a future Manhattan. The first chapters are hilarious and dreamy (the political parties the couple can vote for include the Catholic Resumption Party, the Celebutante with Education Party, and the Seniors for Seniority Party), all eerily narrated in past tense. (After earning her postdoctrate in Placemats of the Moyen Age, the narrator works at a place called “THE MEDIA HUB”. “We were blinded by the fun of all having the same boss,” she explains, “while our units provided Identity.”) There is no hunger or homelessness; wealth, attention, and fame are redistributed; and everyday folks can meet up with their politicians to chat over rugelach. Anyone can live in a Bushwick brownstone with six bedrooms for $140 a month, though priority is given to people born in neighborhood.

As engaging as that beginning is, The Mere Future works not because it offers a fairy tale, but because it challenges this world after establishing it. With her usual fierce empathy, Schulman asks what if—what if we’re trapped where we want to be? “Hey you,” says the narrator. “Still here? Yoo-hoo.” How does death work now?

Violence by Vanessa Veselka and Lidia Yuknavitch

A while ago I wrote an essay because I kept rewriting a chapter instead of just cutting it, and Sarah McCarry read that essay and wrote to me. We both grew up around Seattle, and we both read, write, and wrote zines.

Today she publishes chapbooks too (and soon, a YA novel!). Guillotine offers “revolutionary nonfiction”, gorgeously letterpressed by McCarry herself.  (Readers can buy the chapbooks solo or the Special Editions, which include limited-edition broadsides. My favorite so far is a tie between “Punk Is a Moving Target” and “No More Wire Hangers.”) I appreciate Guillotine’s chapbooks for their sincere diversity—in topic (book banning in occupied territory, writing and rage and madness, the politics of methodology; kerpow) and also in length. Each one could be 300 pages instead of 30 but McCarry keeps them short and sweet, so they spark discussion between readers instead of pointing fingers. The chapbooks are also honest and engaging—no posturing and no academic fog, but no weight sacrificed either.

Violence is the first in the series, it came out in October 2012 and is the transcript of a conversation between writers Vanessa Veselka and Lidia Yuknavitch. They talk about how female experience is restricted in art—how women can really (no, really) only be violent if it’s moral, or vengeful if it’s redemptive. “All conversations are preceded by violence,” writes Veselka in the introduction. “Without our consent, we are marked by the world.” (Consent! On the first page of a book about violence. I did a little fist-pump.) They talk about tears, dick, and desire versus hope—not just what to write but how to tell it.

This is a powerful chapbook that shone new light on Veselka and Yuknavitch’s work as well, and even at the end of some of my own tunnels. By the last page I felt like I’d drank a pot of coffee after a nap, and I was ready to get back out and work.

Experiencing Medium(s), Archiving Medium(s): John Q’s The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration

June 27, 2013 · Print This Article

Introducing Essays

Atlanta-based idea collective John Q premiered its work The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration at the Atlanta Cyclorama on Friday, May 17, 2013 and Saturday, May 18, 2013. The performance, an essay as John Q calls it, insists on exploring the phenomenon of queer migration into urban spaces, Atlanta being one of them. Using the space, movement, and pictorial qualities of the Cyclorama along with archival materials of queer filmmaker Crawford Barton, native to Resaca (about an hour north of Atlanta), later based in San Francisco, John Q essays (used here as a verb) a narrative of history, creative production, queerness, and geography.

In the broadsheet for the performance, John Q lists the definitions for essay as a noun:

“1. a short literary composition on a particular theme or subject, usually in prose and generally analytic, speculative, or interpretive. 2. anything resembling such a composition: a picture essay. 3. an effort to perform or accomplish something, attempt.” [1]

Used as a verb, essay can mean: “to try; attempt” and “to put to the test; make trial of” [2] or “to put to a test” and “to make an often tentative or experimental effort to perform” [3]. Derived from Middle French noun essai, derived from the verb essayer, which comes from Late Latin exagium which means an act of weighing, the word “essay” refers to something active, performative. [4]

Similar in roots to “essay,” “assay,” as a noun refers to

  1.  archaic: a trial, attempt
  2. the examination and determination as to characteristics (as weight, measure, or quality)
  3. analysis (as of an ore or drug) to determine the presence, absence, or quantity of one or more components; also: a test used in this analysis
  4. a substance to be assayed; also: the tabulated result of assaying [5]

As a verb:

  1. a. to subject (a metal, for example) to chemical analysis so as to determine the strength or quality of its components; b. to bioassay
  2. to examine by trial or experiment; put to a test
  3. to evaluate; assess
  4. to attempt; try [6]

The two words, though originating in similar if not same roots (assay originates in Anglo-French), now aren’t used interchangeably (in a simple online search, I came across forums discussing if the two are interchangeable – this is a big deal). At some point, the Latin word which expressed the action of weighing and measuring was split into the action of weighing in thought and weighing concrete objects. How are these two distinct from each other, though? Does the decision to weigh a concrete object necessarily come from a weighed thought experiment, or vice versa? John Q’s weighing of the Cyclorama, the site of the performance, a 42 x 358 foot panoramic painting of the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta, a complex of history, politics, and space, straddles multiple methods of investigation and examination, perhaps similar to the divided essay/assay. Paired with the Cyclorama is the weighing of Crawford Barton’s archive. As Wesley Chenault of John Q states:

In some ways, the provenance of the Crawford Barton collection did similar work as the Cyclorama in that it allowed us to think about his life in other ways, as patterns of movements and migrations between rural and urban spaces, not primarily as it related to San Francisco. Through letters, films, and more, Barton’s personal papers document his connections to Resaca and Atlanta, archival traces that map over the military campaigns that occurred in both areas. Atlanta, as Sherman understood over a century before, is a city defined by its relevance as a transportation hub in the Southeast. For many, it has long served as a nexus, where motilities of bodies, desires, and histories converge.  Crawford’s correspondence from his time in the city, for example, illustrates how one young gay white man navigated the sexual landscape of the mid-to-late 1960s. Placing Crawford in the Cyclorama, then, allowed the collective to attempt – thus the essay form – to explore not just notions of movement and migration, but also the ways in which they relate to identity, place, archives, and memory. [7]


The performance can be broken down broadly into three parts:

  1. Beginning: the standard Cyclorama narrative while the audience goes through the standard revolve around the painting
  2. John Q takes over the narrative, delivering its essay while the audience continues to revolve in the space while the programmed lights highlight particular aspects of the painting
  3. John Q’s members, one by one, leave the theater and move into the auditorium, inviting the audience members to join them for screenings of Crawford Barton’s films.

The ending space of the performance (the auditorium) is generally the starting point for a tour of the Cyclorama: a video presentation of a Civil War reenactment. In the script of the essay, John Q states: “During a regular visit to the Atlanta Cyclorama, the presentation would begin with an interpretive film in the auditorium and then move here into the space of the painting. Tonight we ask you to navigate the space of the Cyclorama backwards with us, moving metaphorically against the grain of history and exploring, perhaps for the first time in public, a sampling of the film work of our current queer subject, Crawford Barton.” [8] Later, John Q states: “Instead of following Crawford’s biography to its end, we bring you back to his migrations.” [9]

John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.

John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.

The films present the Castro, the famous queer district in San Francisco, and of travel. Minimal in their composition and editing, the films are observational in nature; unedited,  perhaps unscripted, they seem to hold the lives of those featured in the films. Resaca, GA, Barton’s hometown also happens to be “the site of one of the first battles in the Civil War military Atalanta Campaign.” [10] What seemed to draw John Q to Barton’s work was the potential to examine his migration to the Castro from rural Resaca in a larger phenomenon of migration, queer migration, and differentiations of space. One of the films depicts men running through golden fields, bare-chested. While watching this moving-image, I was struck by a deep-seated fear – something that causes one to run, to run fast and far away. Especially after witnessing a scene of carnage, destruction, and death represented in the Atlanta Cyclorama, the potentially and possibly joyful images of rural play take on a more morbid atmosphere. Are these fields that of “amber waves of grain” – fields that speak to the national project of America; the fantastic golden countryside? I have to ask then, if these fields aren’t filled with joy, what then are they filled with and why are these men running? Is this moving-image representative of the larger phenomenon of queer migration that prompted John Q to realize this project? What does this mass movement to urban centers mean for America’s rural spaces?

The essay John Q presented during the second turn of the painting starts with General Sherman’s ability to really see geography and an aside about Napoleon’s extensive map collection, both juxtaposed with Borges’ map the size of the place it represents, an absurd exercise of cartography. At one point, John Q points out to the audience that how the painting is viewed is highly controlled:

“In the first turn around the Cyclorama, controlled light directs your attention to the scenes under discussion. The seating apparatus itself takes you on a turn that controls what spaces draw your attention and when. The narrative is set. Your gaze over this space has been determined in advance. It is a visual, pre-cinematic form, which presents the unfolding of geography and history as seemingly inevitable.5 You are a witness to History.6” [11]

One thing to consider, however: can my experience be completely controlled by another, unseen forces, or composition? Do the spinning gears and directed lights completely focus my attention to the spot I’m supposed to? Can I close my eyes, turn my head – experience this painting differently from the way it’s presented to me? This ability, to close the eyes, refuse to look at the space indicated, has much to offer the archival work that John Q does in its public projects and the ways in which they invite the audience to engage with the particular archives presented. In an interview with Julia Brock for History@Work: A Public History Commons from the National Council on Public History, they describe the way they view their work as public scholarship and what this means for its reception, particularly what their take on “public interventions” is. Joey Orr explains that “The learning that takes place in a publicly constructed project is not unidirectional and can never be predicted in advance, so I do not assume our job is to wake people up. I do hope some of our work intervenes in a more street-level, quotidian way into the spaces where people are carrying out their everyday lives.” [12] Andy Ditzler further adds: “I don’t think any of us see ourselves as ‘educating the public,’ partly because we’re members of the public as much as anyone else, and as much as we’re artists or scholars.” [13]

John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.

John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.

Experiencing Medium(s)

One aspect of John Q’s performative project is to examine the ways in which we experience painting, video, and installation: how we see; how we navigate the space that shapes and contains them. The painting, though it may appear to be a static entity that can be simply viewed and understood from any time or perspective, is shown to be extremely vulnerable to time and space, the order in which it is viewed in relation to the re-enactment video that is usually shown to the audience before moving into the space of the Cyclorama, facing the gigantic circular painting. When asked further about their take on intervening in a “normal” visual experience, Orr explained that the project is interested in

“how might we visualize the past in ways that foster different kinds of relation to place and history. How might we deal in fragments, the quotidian, memory, and weak theory instead of proliferating the kinds of power that seem structurally reinforced by forms like battle paintings and cycloramas … We understood from the outset that many people would not be familiar with the visual culture theory we were invoking, and this might mean that the connection between how landscape is visualized in cycloramas and how it is visualized through the lens of Crawford Barton’s camera would somehow seem strange. These two very different modes of visuality begin to reflect one another, though, in the context of a critical contemplation of how we do the work of invoking the past.” [14]

In Husserl’s essay “The world of the living present and the constitution of the surrounding world external to the organism,” he writes that space is a “system of places.” [15] In the case of the space of the Cyclorama, there is a multitude of places that coalesce in this one site. It is the site of John Q’s performance, the place of itself in this present moment, the place of the Civil War Battle of Atlanta, Illinois’ cornfields where it was commissioned, Resaca – where the Atlanta Campaign began and the birthplace of Barton, the migration telos for a queer community of which John Q speaks, a pre-cinematic place that records the history of technology in its 360o turn. The Cyclorama itself and its revolving proscenium seating affords the audience explicitly multiple perspectives; an exaggeration of the way we perceive and make sense of the world: “The entire present world which appears as actual is rather a totality of perspectives for me.” [16] For Husserl, there is phantom space, a transcendent space that gives space itself while still being able to change through time and with our changing orientations and perspectives, thus perceptions. The Cyclorama is constituted by this phantom space, but also by a plethora of phantom bodies: soldiers, civilians, slaves, Crawford Barton, migrating queer individuals and communities.

Underlying this space is the seemingly coincidental, the encounter that occurs during times of travel. John Q arrived at the Cyclorama and Barton through what would seem to be mere coincidental experiences that then led them down particular paths, which were manifested in the performative essay. Following the notion of “intervention” mentioned above, the surrealist found object presents itself as a model of surprise, the uncanny, and coincidence. Resaca, GA, only about an hour’s drive away from Atlanta, becomes an uncanny figure – simultaneously familiar and strange. One of the films of Crawford Barton’s John Q presented is of a car journey, passing by signs that advertise Georgia Peaches. The passengers of the car smile and look into the camera.

Crawford Barton. Film still. Courtesy of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

Crawford Barton. Film still. Courtesy of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

Ross McElwee’s film Sherman’s March follows a different path than General Sherman’s March to the Sea, begun in Atlanta, which is the end point of the Atlanta Campaign and the site of the Cyclorama. [17] Initially a project that intended to follow Sherman’s destructive path, McElwee ends up following women he becomes intrigued with and attached to; a journey back home to the South. Desire, violence and war, and geography become entangled in the movement through the space of the South. Ross McElwee is attempting, trying, experimenting with what love may be for him in a time of nuclear proliferation, the subtitle of the film and recurring theme that continues to creep into his thoughts and dreams. Pat, the woman introduced to him by his parents who becomes somewhat of an obsession for him, an ambitious actress who is herself searching and trying to become what she wants to be, takes McElwee to Atlanta. There, McElwee describes Atlanta post-Campaign; it was a city composed of children, women, and elders – supposedly a weakened and helpless place without its male influence.

What are cities, urban spaces? What do they mean to us? What are we to make of Atlanta? A southern metropole, remnant of war? What of the space surrounding the city? The space between Atlanta and other US cities? John Q’s use of the Cyclorama signals the ways in which urban space becomes a nexus of lives, loves, losses, and travels. Not only does the performance question who is allowed the position of contemporary flâneur, [18] but also who must take up this position and where. The performance shows us that the metropole and its varying representations hold within them an entanglement of histories, memories, and modes of visuality and experience. 


[1] John Q Broadsheet

[2] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/essay

[3] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/essay

[4] Ibid.

[5] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/assay

[6] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/assay

[7] Personal interview with John Q, June 16, 2013

[8] John Q, The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration, 2013.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Personal interview with John Q, May 30, 2013.

[11] John Q, The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration, 2013. Here, they footnote [5] Jonathan Crary’s Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture and Anne Friedberg’s “The Mobilized and Virtual Gaze in Modernity: Flâneur, Flâneuse” and [6] Alison Griffiths’ Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums, and the Immersive View.

[12] http://publichistorycommons.org/library/brock-john-q-interview/

[13] http://publichistorycommons.org/library/brock-john-q-interview/

[14] Personal interview with John Q, June 3, 2013

[15] Edmund Husserl, “The World of the Living Present and the Constitution of the Surrounding World External to the Organism,” trans. Frederick Kersten and Lenore Langsdorf, in Husserl: Shorter Works, eds. Peter McCormick and Frederick A. Elliston (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 250.

[16] Ibid., 239.

[17] Ross McElwee (dir.), Sherman’s March: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation (1986).

[18] Susan Buck-Morss, “The Flâneur, the Sandwichman, and the Whore: The Politics of Loitering,” New German Critique, vol. 31, no. 2 (April 1989): 217-236.

Top 5 Weekend Picks! (6/28-6/30)

June 26, 2013 · Print This Article

1. 2 of a kind at LVL3 Gallery


Work by Mike Andrews, Andy Jordan, Sarah Belknap, Joseph Belknap, Wyatt Grant, Mike Paro, Chelsea Culp, Katy Cowan, Alan Fleming, Michael Fleming, Jacob Goudreault, Sofia Leiby, Michael Hunter, Rachel Niffenegger, Matt Nichols, and Josue Pellot.

LVL3 Gallery is located at 1542 N. Milkwaukee Ave. Reception Saturday, 6-10pm.

2. Binary Love at Threewalls


Work by Edie Fake and Brenna Murphy.

Threewalls is located at 119 N. Peoria St. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.

3. RAZR: Left Over Mythologies of the Best Selling Clamshell Phone at The Milk Factory Gallery

Picture 3

Work by Jon Chambers.

The Milk Factory Gallery is located at 907 N. Winchester Ave. Rear Apt. (ENTER THROUGH THE RED GATE). Reception Saturday, 7-10pm.

4. FLAT 14 at Floor Length and Tux


Work by Aaron Delehanty, Max Garett and Hui-min Tsen.

Floor Length and Tux is located at 4125 W. Melrose St. Reception Saturday, 7-10pm.

5. Parallels: Part 1 at The Mission


Work by Celeste Cooning and Heather MacKenzie. A collaboration with ACRE.

The Mission is located at 1431 W. Chicago Ave. Reception Friday, 5-7pm.