I have known Deb Sokolow for some time and I can say with frank honesty if I ever end up with extra cash I will buy up her book pieces. Not only do I see her career on a well-deserved upward trajectory, she hits many of the themes that tickle my fancy: paranoia, information, books, systems, and an eye to detail that I stand in awe of. For me her work is that rare culmination of fun, thought provoking, serious (particularly in the technique), and the result of much hard work and thought. Take a listen to our interview with her where she talks about her process.
I received a notice the other day that she has a new show at Western Exhibitions (who is home to lots of other artists I enjoy and admire, and BAS hasn’t managed to make Scott angry in years now, so a visit to WE is a love fest for me), which opens Friday the 15th of March. You should go check it out! In anticipation of the exhibition I did a brief online interview with Deb to talk about the new show and it goes a little something like this:
RH: So Deb, we’ve interviewed you, followed your work, like it greatly. I’ve heard you have an exciting new show opening the 15th at Western Exhibitions; can you tell us about it?
DS: The show comes from a story I wrote while at a residency in Norway this past summer. The story is loosely based on the residency’s environs and I wrote the residency’s administrators and the other artists there into the story as characters. I won’t get into too much of what the story is about here- I don’t want to reveal too much- but the idea for it comes from this feeling I had about the place. The entire two months I was there, I kept thinking, “What’s the catch?” Because the place is an artist’s fantasyland: Each artist receives a monthly stipend, a travel stipend, a beautifully designed cabin and a large, gorgeous studio with a whole wall of windows looking out on the most beautiful Nordic forest scene ever, and there is a significant amount of uninterrupted time to work. Everything about it just seemed too good to be true, so I thought that maybe the place could be a front for something else.
When I came back to Chicago, I took the story I wrote and made it into a 28 foot-long, text-and-image drawing, plus a few other ancillary drawings and books that relate directly or indirectly to the large piece or to my time spent there. For the show at Western Exhibitions, I decided to put these ancillary items in the front room so that they might function as a sort of precursor to the large drawing in the second, back room. I’ve been reading Thomas Pynchon and
Joseph Heller lately and thinking about how in their narratives, certain characters and organizations and locations are continuously mentioned in at least the full first half of the book (in Pynchon’s case, it’s hundreds of pages) without there being a full understanding or context given to these elements until much later in the story. And by that later point, everything seems to fall into place and with a feeling of epic-ness. It’s like that television drama everyone you
know has watched, and they tell you snippets about it but you don’t really understand what it is they’re talking about, but by the time you finally watch it, everything about it feels familiar but also epic.
RH: You say you spent two months in Norway on a mountain top. What was that like?
DS: The residency is on a small mountain above the small town of Dale, which has a population of 980 people and a few waterfront areas alongside a fjord. The next largest town is about an hour away. It’s fairly isolated, but luckily there is a pub that opened recently and makes its own IPA. The brewer there tells me his IPA is modeled after Indiana’s Three Floyds’s IPA. Small world. Also, one of the best parts about that mountain in the summer: the wild berries- all kinds, and picking and eating them for breakfast. So good.
RH: Berries and beer, the breakfast of champions! Was it easier to work in the relative silence or harder? I sometimes find that when I am away from the base level din of urbanity I find the lack of it distracting.
DS: It was hard. I usually make work about people, and so it was strange to be in a place with so few people. The beauty of the place also ended up being pretty distracting. I kept saying to myself, “Why am I making art when there is the most beautiful landscape out this window that I could look at for hours and hours.”
Looking back on the experience, though, it was incredibly productive in that I came back to Chicago with so many ideas that had been generated by those two months in Norway.
RH: Was there lutefisk?
DS: I think there was, but I never had it, and they weren’t serving it in the café in town. Mostly, I remember eating a tasty, creamy fishball soup and having a reindeer stew, which was delicious.
RH: So wait, the main protagonist in this piece is a disgruntled Art Institute security guard, I was one of those once (both 1st and 2nd shift), are you writing my unauthorized biography? Your unauthorized biography?
DS: I should have talked to you before I wrote the piece. I’ve never been a security guard at an art museum. Maybe you could have given me more insight into the Art Institute’s security set-up, such as whether there are any one-way mirrors in the place or whether there might be any particularly vulnerable masterpieces in the joint. What a missed opportunity!
RH: I don’t know, it was a seriously unexciting job. The highest drama I ever experienced was the demographic of the guards largely women post 50 who were serious about the religion and clean living and I was like 20 and hung over most of the time. I got lectures a great deal. They were very sweet, they wanted me to clean up my lifestyle. Their heart were in the right place.
Your work is often very narrative, with an overarching trajectory, examining events, conspiracies, the lives of drug lords, and now art thieves. Do you write prose works as well? These tales strike me that they would make great novels too.
DS: I’ve never written a novel, and the thought of doing that scares me. I have enough trouble focusing on writing a short story! Also, I think I would have some difficulty telling a story without the use of images.
RH: You work often has a set of complex sub-theme weaving in and out of the narrative. The movie Rocky comes to mind in one of your prior series. Are there various threads worked throughout this work? If so, what, if not why not?
DS: There are several sub-themes in this work: A certain fascination with the machinations of crime syndicates, the strangeness of being an artist and the strange relationship that I think any artist working in an art museum might have with that institution. I was once an intern in an art museum, and while my immediate boss was great, in general I felt like I was a tourist or sometimes an intruder in the place. Later on, after the internship, I ended up exhibiting at this museum, and the relationship this second time around to the place and to the people I had once known as an intern was very different. There are also multiple mentions of
different food items that I find humorous and have appeared in past works (i.e. noodles, sandwiches and pickles). Sandwiches in particular, I think, have this comedic potential that other foods just don’t have.
RH: I am a big fan of your book projects, do you have any planned in the near future?
DS: There are two artist books in this show- one is called “A Short History of Unconventional Ingredients Found in the Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich” and the other one is called “A Walk in Nature or the Faces of Former Bosses.” I also just wrote a short book called “The Truth about David Copperfield” (the master illusionist) which isn’t in this show, but it’s up in a concurrent exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Connecticut. I saw him perform once when I was a kid and have been fascinated with him since. I mean, seriously, the guy made the Statue of Liberty disappear. How cool is that?
RH: I think he was just in the news proclaiming himself the greatest magician who ever lived. What is on the horizon, what is next for you? A life of crime? Have you considered a side-line as a private detective, you have that investigative drive to chase down all possible paths.
DS: Well, Richard, I’d rather be a detective than a criminal, although criminals lead much more interesting lives. Art-wise, I’m in the brainstorming phase with a narrative that relates to my cousin Irving’s real-life connection to Lee Harvey Oswald. Irving had been a mentor to troubled youth in NYC, Oswald being one of them. It’s a story that I’m trying to flesh out and connect to other things, but I’m not really sure where it’s going. This will be a project for a Drawing Center show this fall. And after that, who knows? I’ve considered starting up a business in which people hire me to pay regular house calls to their cats to come and
entertain them… I’d wear a tool belt with all kinds of different cat toys on it. There are a lot of lonely cats out there, so I actually do think this could be a viable career option.
RH: Like a cat superhero, or cat ninja!! I love it! Thanks for talking with me Deb.
March 15 to April 20, 2013
In Gallery 1 + 2
For her second solo show at Western Exhibitions, DEB SOKOLOW will exhibit a 28-footlong drawing as well as a selection of separate but tangentially-related items inspired by a recent two-month stay at the mountaintop artist residency, Nordisk Kunstnarsenter Dalsåsen, in Norway. The show opens on Friday, March 15 with a free public reception from 5 to 8pm and runs through April 20, 2103.
Full press release:
Deb Sokolow’s concurrent MATRIX166 show “Some Concerns About the Candidate” at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, up now through June 30, was recently reviewed in THE NEW YORK TIMES and HARTFORD COURANT. See the reviews here and here. Her work in the just-closed group show “How I Wrote Elastic Man” at Invisible-Exports in New York City was discussed on ARTFORUM.COM. See the review here.
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Chicago, IL 60607 USA
Gallery hours: Wed-Sat, 11am-6pm