September 26, 2014 · Print This Article
Guest post by Meg Santisi
Marc Fischer and Brett Bloom are not going to be at Expo, Chicago’s huge international art fair on Navy Pier. Instead, they’ll be down the street, operating a small publishing house as part of A Proximity of Consciousness: Art and Social Practice, opening Sept 19th at SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries. Curated by Mary Jane Jacob, the exhibit traces a history of Chicago’s long engagement with social art practices from the 1800s to today, with a series of newly commissioned works.
Inside the exhibit, Temporary Services have built a fully operational publishing platform, an installation they’ve titled Publishing Clearing House. Evoking banking and financial surpluses as well the DIY spirit of giving stuff away for free, Publishing Clearing House will feature newly minted artists books written by artists, activists, lone archivists, amateur photographers as well as Marc and Brett themselves.
I sat down with Marc and Brett during their install to discuss their involvement with the exhibit, their relationship to social practices and publishing archives, and what the future might have in store for Temporary Services.
Meg Santisi: To start off, who is Temporary Services in their most current formation?
Brett Bloom: I’m Brett Bloom, and this guy sitting right here is Marc Fischer. It’s the two of us currently working as Temporary Services. Although in the past it’s been as many as seven people, and for most of our history Salem Collo-Julin was working with us, right now it’s the two of us. We started here in Chicago since 1998, and have been working together since then.
For this project we are collaborating with a ton of other people outside of our group, which is a common thing. Individuals, groups, activist organizations, exhibition spaces – a variety of different things.
Marc Fischer: One of the earliest ways we’ve worked is to create a kind of creative structure that contains the work of other people, so this project is very much in keeping with past projects where we, in this case literally, create something like a house or a hut from which about 15 new publications will be created and then move out beyond the exhibit. One of the intense limitations of a space like this is that it’s so unknown to so many people in the city. So a big challenge for us was to figure out how to do something that was social beyond the pre-existing or current audience of the gallery and that would have a life beyond the three-month duration of the exhibit. The creative distribution of work by ourselves and others that we feel deserves an expanded audience is something we’ve always been obsessed with and publications are a particularly cheap and effective way of making many, many copies of things, at least a few hundred copies of each publication, in some cases 1,000 is more typical for us, so it can go other places, in Europe in libraries, like Harold Washington Library down the street. So we are always thinking of what exhibits can do beyond their short term.
BB: Yeah, it’s to create surpluses out of the situation we are given – an archive of material surpluses – as well as social and political surpluses. In this case we have 15 publications and roughly 1,000 copies of each. We have published over 102 publications under our own imprint, Half Letter Press, which started in 2008 for publishing offset 4-color publications, sometimes our own, sometimes those of other people. So, yeah, as Marc was saying, it’s important for us to take an opportunity like this in a show that will have a nice amount of visibility and that’s well resourced, to share it with these large communities we are a part of, and that intersect with a variety of concerns that we have. We wrote recently that publications are this sort of social, spatial, and political currency, and we really use them in this way, to activate a bunch of different subject matters and audiences.
MS: And so what kind of topics are being addressed in the publications coming out of Publishing Clearing House?
MF: Well there’s one publication by a group who, because of the sensitivity of the materials they are working with, don’t want to be named. But the other authors one of them is Sarah Ross, but there are multiple others, consisting of both artists and teachers, as well as people in prison who are doing these writings about time and what different types of time structures exist for in prison. So there’s writing and also a creation of timelines talking about the movement of time. Melinda Fries who formerly did the artists web project called AUSGANG (ausgang.com) for many years, is doing a booklet which is also kind of a map and walking tour about a riot, a racially motivated riot, that took place in 1919 in the Back of the Yards area. So there’s some fairly far distant Chicago history.
MS: Not dissimilar to Paul Durica’s audio tour for the exhibit, which is also a nod to far-reaching Chicago history as well as the present moment.
MF: Yeah his work also taps into those more obscure local histories.
BB: There’s another publication by Tracy Drake and Sharon Irish about a cartoonist for the Chicago Defender in the 1930s and 40s named Jay Jackson who was depicting the really violent racial segregation that existed in this city – I mean it still exists in this city – and these cartoons make it so explicitly absurd. They are pretty powerful cartoons. Tracy is an historian and Sharon is an art historian and they collaborated on this publication together. I think there will be a lot of unearthing, or reflecting on, or pulling into the present, some of these deep histories of the city, and how it influences the various ways in which people work that are included in this exhibition.
MF: There are also some people we’ve invited that are based in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana so the Midwestern region. Stephen Perkins is writing a ten-year history of a space that his family started in their spare bathroom, called WC Gallery, to deal with just the complete lack of space for experimental, or political, or just weird art culture in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He administered the space for a long time and he goes over each exhibit and the issues they brought up.
MS: So did you keep the publications decidedly local to the Midwest?
BB: I mean so many people have a connection to this city, they work in the city or continue to work in the city, and they sort of socially engage with it in some capacity. So the stuff we chose didn’t necessarily have to deal with that, but it was important that we had some connection to the Midwest or to the region. There’s a lot of amazing stuff being made here, and we tapped into that. The audience for this will be quite a large international audience, so we [want to] push some of this art further into the world.
MS: And so Brett, you are based out Copenhagen. How often do you get to work in Chicago?
BB: At least once a year. I’ve been here a lot for this [the Proximity of Consciousness exhibit] maybe five or six times? Many trips for this project in particular.
MF: Which is an unusual luxury for us, and for our way of working.
MS: So you guys are you usually collaborating over the internet?
MF: Well, we come in for the installation, sometimes one of us sometimes both of us, and you know the return visits for site research. Mary Jane Jacob and all have been great –
BB: They’ve really taken great care of us.
MF: They value a slower process. I mean there’s been other projects where we were invited just two or three months in advance and we were expected to produce, well, a miracle (laughs) with not nearly as much time or money.
MS: And it seems like Mary Jane has done something really smart, which is to realize that for all the exhibitors involved there are differing relationships between created objects and the social aspects of their work. The challenge seems to be how to best represent a socially engaged practice inside of a contained space, and what objects best represent those practices.
MF: Yeah and that’s something we struggled with for a long time. It’s a hard situation. I mean I think we felt that if we tried to do everything outside the exhibit, then people who wandered into the gallery, where there was nothing to look at, would get frustrated. Or if the thing terminates within the exhibit, then [we] would get frustrated that maybe we didn’t reach as many people as we possibly could have, or that we made it too much for a school’s audience or something. I think there are many people who teach here that use this as a teaching opportunity for their students, which is exciting of course, but Chicago is a really diverse place. I mean I teach too, and my students six blocks down the street don’t know that this place exists. So that’s a concern, you know.
MS: And that touches on something I love about you guys. For me personally I’m really interested in examining gentrification, especially the ways in which artists gets lumped into a narrative about gentrification. And your practice, in my opinion, has always sought to counteract artist-led gentrification by assimilating or quietly inserting yourself within each neighborhood you’ve worked from. For example, I’ve heard that one of the reasons you chose the name Temporary Services was to blend with your neighboring storefronts on Milwaukee Ave. Same with Mess Hall in Rogers Park.
BB: Yeah and you know you train as an artist and you immediately have a kind of access and class status, but you also have a certain kind of poverty. Especially if you work with explicitly non-commercial or anti-commercial work. So at that beginning point we were in this very precarious place, I mean federal funding for experimental exhibition spaces, which had been nationwide – that collapsed right when we came out. We wanted to do experimental work, so we were in this very precarious place where there was no infrastructure. So it kind of made sense to see ourselves, as we still do, in relationship to people who were struggling to survive in some capacity. It made for a really ambiguous relationship as to what the hell was going on in our space. Mess Hall maybe did this way better in terms of pulling all kinds of different groups of people [together]. Like radically different groups of people would show up depending on what was being presented at that space. We didn’t learn how to do that until much later, but it was definitely an idea at the beginning, to have conversations with people that will give you unfiltered feedback. People wouldn’t necessarily see what you were doing as art and they would tell you pretty quickly. And you learn an immense amount about what you are up to, how people see it, whether it’s relevant, or whether it’s a throw-away. It was good training for us.
MS: Do you work from a specific space now?
MF: The basement of my house. (laughs)
BB: We only had a shared workspace for a few months really. At Northwestern, a dedicated studio, but we work mostly on-site and that is our shared workspace.
MS: Your work has a lot to do with the formation of archives and the voices they do or do not include. Often you work features narratives that are left out or ignored by more institutionalized archives. I’m thinking of some of projects like The Library Project, Prisoners’ Inventions, or more recently Marc’s work on Public Collectors. I’m wondering if you can speak to how the archives become activated in your work, or how archives can become living exhibits.
MF: Well it certainly helps if there are people who maintain archives that feel some kind of connection with that archive, and to the materials they are saving. They activate that stuff by knowing enough and being able to guide someone to it. We’ve benefitted enormously from Doro Boehme at the Joan Flasch Artist Book’s Collection, because we’ve known her throughout the entire time we’ve been a group. I mean we could give them everything but if they never bring those publications out or show them to students when classes visit, then how much does that help? But almost every time I go in to drop off stuff to her [Doro], I see something of ours sitting on a table waiting to be looked at by a visiting student or group. So we’ve benefitted enormously from people who advocate for our work. Also our materials are included in Harold Washington Library, if anyone wants to look at our stuff. At Harold Washington the value is more that they are willing to care for and preserve these things, rather than actually direct people to them.
Then there are those people’s practices that we really admire, but maybe they are not the best at putting themselves forward, and we are going to bug them until they make something. One of the people we invited for this is Oscar Arriola (https://www.flickr.com/photos/fotoflow/) who has been an incredible fixture of documenting a million things around the city. He’s in some publications but not a lot. He has a very active flickr account and we wanted to see him leave more of a paper trail.
MS: Have you ever come across anyone who has not wanted to be archived or published about?
MF: For the most part people want to have a printed thing made. There are people who, for whatever reason, haven’t had much printed, like the group Lucky Pierre (http://www.luckypierre.org/) doesn’t have a ton of publications, and when we invited them they were great. We knocked it out in three weeks, and it was exciting to them, and it was exciting to us to be able to distribute. But you know, on their own, they’d probably find something more pressing to do.
BB: It’s a way to have your work circulate in all these different ways and at different volumes. We often give stacks of our publications over to curators or museums and that can have a tremendous impact, to just give somebody ten years worth of publications. It opens things up in a way. It’s a way to get our ideas out there.
MF: It’s really rare to get the kinds of invitations where someone has developed an exceptionally creative strategy for disseminating someone else’s work. Because usually it will just be in a space, it will be up for a month, we ship them our stuff, they ship it back to us. Pretty much always when someone is starting a new and more interesting kind of library we’ll send them things if they ask. There’s a project in New York, Petrella’s Imports, where they are using an old fashioned newsstand to sell artist books, just like any other kind of periodical. So someone’s going to put themselves out in public and have those awkward conversations all day long, like, ‘Don’t you have ESPN magazine? What is this artist shit?’ Or similarly there was a project in Chicago called SOUND CANOPY. The artist M.W. Burns working with Experimental Sound Studio, [played] people’s sound art through speakers under a scaffold. The results were really mixed, and it was hard to deal with the level of noise in the Loop, so during the day it would be hard to hear, and at night it would be really loud, but the opportunity to think about a sound piece for anyone was exciting. When we organized [the Library Project] you know, adding books by artists to the Harold Washington Library collection without permission, there were a couple of people who just didn’t respond, but I don’t think there was anyone who actively said no. Everybody said yes, and gave us multiple copies of their books, and they were really generous about it, because who wouldn’t want to extend the reach of their work? Even if we couldn’t guarantee that the books would stay there.
MS: How well do you know the other exhibitors in the A Proximity of Consciousness exhibit? Have you discovered or known about the connections between all of your work?
BB: Almost all the people we know quite well.
MF: It’s also really fantastic that everything is a new project. I mean, it’s all commissioned, which is extremely uncommon.
BB: Some of these people we know quite well from the Chicago community and others have intersected with it. Yeah and most of the people we have worked with multiple times or have had years of conversations with.
MF: Or been in exhibits with. We’ve had many exhibits now with [Michael] Rakowitz.
BB: Or Pablo [Helguera] helped bring us to MoMA to talk. We remember doing actions out on the street in the 90s with Laurie Jo, so there are some nice histories in this place. Dan Peterman is a mentor of mine.
MS: So it’s great that this exhibit is not just about everyone as individuals but you all as a community as well.
MF: In Chicago, people are so accessible. That’s the nature of this city.
BB: Also this work has had a tremendous impact, but the literature that has been written around socially engaged practices has really focused on other narratives, and other places, but Chicago has had tremendous impact. Because it is far from the markets, [so] people just kind of do things. I think we come out of that culture of just doing things. The stuff shows up in New York or London in different ways. It’s way more of a spectacle because it has to compete in a different kind of a way. It’s really nice that all this care and attention has been given to this work, and this city that really deserves a lot more credit. These conversations and this way of working have been developing on top of things happening in the 1960s, the 1930s, even the 1800s, proving there’s a continuity that’s being drawn out here. It’s not just some easy to market thing. Some people have turned it into that, taking the social aspects and making them into spectacles, and making a lot of money. But this work didn’t start from that place, it didn’t start so that people could make, like, Social Practices MA’s, all those kinds of things. It started out of really basic needs, out of making an experimental culture in a tough place and a tough economy.
MS: So what kind of services are next for Temporary Services? Any continuations of Publishing Clearing House work after this exhibit closes?
MF: We definitely [have extended] our capabilities as far publishing. There was enough of a budget to buy a Risograph printer so we’ll probably be starting a new chapter in our publishing. We also keep adding to this library of flat packable furniture that can be used to make other spaces. There’s a book fair coming up in Berlin, there’s an exhibit in Kansas City that we’ll probably be taking part in November. It’s like the second things are done we always find multiple homes for the work.
Temporary Services is included in Proximity of Consciousness: Art and Social Action from September 20 – December 20, 2014 at Sullivan Galleries, 33 S. State St., 7th Floor. The exhibition also includes projects by Jim Duignan, Paul Durica, Pablo Helguera, J. Morgan Puett, Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, Dan Peterman, Michael Rakowitz, Laurie Jo Reynolds, and Rirkrit Tiravanija. Publications by Oscar Arriola, Cultural ReProducers, Tracy Drake & Sharon Irish, Melinda Fries, Wes Janz, Kaitlin Kostus, Nicolas Lampert, Dylan Miner, Stephen Perkins, Prison Neighborhood Art Project, Project NIA, Anthony Rayson / South Chicago ABC Zine Distro, Dan S. Wang and George Wietor / Issue Press.
Meg Santisi is a Chicago-based writer and artist. See more of her work at www.megsantisi.com.
Guest post by Sid Branca
As a part of EXPO Chicago’s opening night event, Vernissage, Ordinary Projects presented a selection of performative works entitled By the Horns. Ordinary Projects is a new initiative from Industry of the Ordinary [Adam Brooks and Mathew Wilson], led by Program Director Meredith Weber. Sid Branca had an opportunity to chat with Meredith about the importance of performance art in a fair context, her involvement with Industry of the Ordinary and the development of Ordinary Projects.
Meredith Weber: Ordinary Projects is an initiative that’s based upon on the success of the platform project Industry of the Ordinary started within their 2012 exhibition at the Cultural Center, a large mid-career survey called Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. In addition to showing their entire body of work, they also created a platform where other artists were invited to show. At the time I was working on a curatorial project called Happy Collaborationists, which was an apartment gallery in Noble Square focused on performance, installation, and new media. I did that for four years with a collaborator [Anna Trier], and they invited us to show on the platform.
We curated a performance art series on the platform, and the artists got to use all sorts of spaces, which was part of this amazing opportunity that Industry of the Ordinary was given, and offered to other artists in turn. I think a lot of people don’t know about the generosity of their practice. They may seem unapproachable, but this generosity of their practice is why I’ve been involved with them, and why I continue to stay involved. Basically all of the money that was invested in their show by the city was doled back out to other artists.
Sid Branca: So how did Ordinary Projects begin?
MW: When Mana [Contemporary] opened, Matt and Adam were like ‘ok, here’s this really amazing opportunity to have access to a studio, but we don’t really use a studio,’ because they meet here [the Skylark in Pilsen]. They were like, ‘this is a community that we want to be a part of, but why would we invest in a space like that to store things?’ So they decided to do the Platform project in their studio.
What we’ve been doing for Ordinary Projects is alternating between their work and the work of other artists that are emerging, and I’m managing those exhibitions. Right now it’s a pretty large project, and they consider all of it to be a social sculpture. It’s three prongs: the exhibitions; the student summer school; and then what we’re calling community projects, which we haven’t launched yet.
SB: And how did By the Horns come to be?
MW: The past two years at EXPO, Industry of the Ordinary has performed at Vernissage. This year we all thought this is a great opportunity to show Ordinary Projects. We’re only performing on the opening night but what I’m really hoping is to prove something, to prove that this should be an ingrained part of the exhibition. When you go to other fairs, performance art is there. I really want performance to become an integral part of EXPO.
Everything I’ve ever done in Chicago has been based upon trust. All the relationships I’ve built, all the opportunities I’ve gotten have been based upon that. And Tony [Karman] trusts Matt and Adam to present something, and they, in turn, trust me to present something.
SB: So would you say a commitment to endowing emerging artists with that kind of trust is an important part of how you work?
MW: I’m still operating very much the same way that I did when I was running an apartment gallery. I’m not operating on a budget. So my commerce is my relationships. What I tell artists when I work with them is ‘this is what I can offer you, and what will this mean for your career?’ Because what I’m really hoping is that any opportunity that I give to someone is a launching pad for the next opportunity. You can’t ignore the fact that this is not only an opportunity to exhibit your work to the public, this is an opportunity to exhibit your work to all of the exhibitors.
Years ago as Happy Collaborationists we did a performance series at Midway Fair. The first year we did a booth, and the second year we said ‘no way, we can’t do that again.’ So we curated out of the bathroom, and the idea was that every three hours the work in the bathroom changed, because every three hours somebody was going to need use the bathroom that was working. And so it wasn’t really about showing the work to the people that were at the fair for one day, it was about reaching people that were there all weekend. How do we get those people to talk about what’s happening? It was a really, really fun project.
So that was something I was thinking about as fair as EXPO was concerned. I have a history as an athlete, and so when I think about art I kind of think about sports. I talk about strategy quite a bit. So thinking of the room— there used to be this play in high school that we would run that was called the gauntlet, where you would set someone up for the three-point shot. And I was thinking, how do we get people to run through the room so that everyone is supporting each other?
Certainly there are sometimes pieces that stick out to me that I really want to work with, but I select the artist, versus the artwork. And then I like to build with that person how they see the work fitting, and how I can support the work so that it’s realized to its fullest capabilities.
Some artists are bad at sports, some artists are good sports. Feminists are artists. Some mothers are feminists, some artists are feminists and mothers. As mammals, we’re all born from mothers. Mothers and mothering make the world go round and keep the wheels of life spinning. And life is messy—it’s full of bodies that ooze and wheeze, splatter and spurt. Solid, liquid, and gaseous, bodily matter creates a viscous sphere of reality for mothers and motherers from pregnancy and childbirth through infancy, childhood, and on to the grave.
Curiosity about properties and behaviors of matter and the manipulation of it, whether playful or null-hypothesized, are hallmarks of artistic and scientific creativity. How about cutting it in half, smashing it, or welding it together, turning it upside down, making it bigger or smaller, louder or quieter, hotter or colder, lighter or darker? The decision-making rolls on from one work to the next.
Of course artists don’t have to be mothers to be interested in exploring embodiment and connections to others. The impetus can come from loving a partner or a pet, teaching yoga, being ill or caring for someone who is. That is to say, any artist can make the decision to foreground the exploration of bodies and connections between them. Large cadres in the realms of institutional art—museums, art schools, commercial galleries—evince a phobia about these interests. An artist coming out as a mother or motherer makes some folks positively squeamish. Especially those who perpetuate machismo conventions that transmute art work into commodities.
Like any other strong lineup of shows, this lineup features work variously engaged with abstraction and figuration, forms and materials, scale and dimensionality. The works in these shows embody their makers’ irrepressible determination to create art that enlivens the space it inhabits. In this regard, the recent installation of Judy Ledgerwood at the Graham Foundation, Indira Johnson’s mushrooming Buddha heads, and Sabina Ott’s current exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center also come to mind.
Let’s start with Claire Ashley and Cameron Harvey’s show, The Surface and Below, curated by artist and mother-to-be Angela Bryant. The works in the gallery’s almost demure manorial space twist and shout with blazing color and pneumatic girth. Harvey affixes spray foam, string, and spandex onto her painted canvases. These materials are more than another form of mark making. They transform the canvas into a sculptural object. Sometimes the foam takes leave of the motherboard altogether and takes on a life of its own. With or without a canvas, the works at once suggest gestural abstraction and forms as familiar as a vacuum cleaner hose, sea slug, entrails, or excrement. With her distinctive melding of ideas and materials, Harvey’s debate with figuration and abstraction becomes altogether visceral.
The work of either Harvey or Ashley would more than suffice for a solo exhibition. Yet seeing them together adds the context of contrast, and creates a dialogue between the two bodies of work. Ashley’s air-filled creations are made of ripstop nylon and PVC (polyvinyl chloride)-coated canvas tarpaulin. She spray paints them in funfair colors. What’s more, some are attached to a wearable backpack that holds the air supply. This means they can be literally embodied.
Whatever way they’re deployed, Ashley’s works play nicely with Harvey’s spray foam and summertime palette. Harvey’s string-wrapped foam forms and Ashley’s inflated ones—along with her small soft creaturely figures crammed through holes in plywood—all proclaim a showdown between exuberance and constraint.
Ashley’s bloated forms are way larger than life and billow like the canvas of a pirate ship at full sail. Two of them bulge out of their alcoves. The larger one is an assemblage that resembles a pillow with armrests known to New Englanders as a husband. Ashley’s digital prints hang nearby with festive blurs of color. They’re the result of another approach to scale and space: she makes tiny objects out of colored clay, photographs them, and blows up the photos. Their flatness punctuates the puffiness of the objects that engorge the gallery.
Moving from the leafy enclave of River Forest to the urban streetscape of Division and Milwaukee brings us to Edra Soto’s show, Say Everything. Walking into her installation on a miserable cold night felt like coming to a tropical beach at sunset. Spotlighted in a room purring with coral-pink light, greenish silkscreen banners hang from the ceiling. Geometric motifs from the flags of the US, Puerto Rico, and Chicago repeat themselves across the fabric, at once rhythmic and heraldic. With fans positioned around the room, the banners undulate creating the sense of rustling palms and rolling waves.
Soto extends her beach references by taking PVC stalwarts—molded plastic chairs—and covering them with jungleprint towel-tapestries that are sold further west on Division. Yet Soto’s work isn’t for just for lotus-eaters. Her rays of tape on the windows draw attention to them and the world beyond the gallery.
Next on the lineup is Queen Bee at Terrain. Curator Allison Glenn brings together work by visual, literary, and performance artists. Her essay sets out ideas coursing through the show—identity formation, rhizomatic forms of interconnection, and non-hierarchical collectivity. In relating these ideas to feminism, she takes pointers from Nikki Minaj’s 2012 single, “Beez in the Trap,” and artists associated with the Feminist Art Program at California College for the Arts during the 1970s.
The visual art engages with Queen Bee’s formal and conceptual concerns: Victoria Martinez’s found objects transformed into flags; Krista Franklin’s wearable sculptures of handmade paper, gold leaf, synthetic hair and acrylic fingernails; and Erin Minckley Chlaghmo’s elaborations of organic forms into kinetic patterns. On September 14, the art works doubled as sets for Terrain’s front porch stage that featured compelling, i.e., kickass performances by C.M Burroughs, Lise Haller Baggesen, Reshayla Marie Brown, and Krista Franklin. The day’s closing performance, a reading by Baggesen from her recent book, Mothernism, left listeners with no doubts about the glass ceiling and other things broken by Margaret Thatcher and her cronies. And if you missed these performers, take heart. They’re Chicago artists with more shows to come.
Whether it’s called mothernism, tidal wave feminism, or any other name, the need for it is born again with each generation. When contending with motherfuckers, sibyls of corporate success say lean in. These Chicago artists take a different stand: they use mother wit to make art and space for it—and then invite us in to play.
The Surface and Below: Claire Ashley and Cameron Harvey at O’Connor Art Gallery, Dominican University, until October 31, 2014
Say Everything: Edra Soto at Lloyd Dobbler Gallery, until September 30
Queen Bee: Lise Haller Baggesen, Rayshayla Marie Brown, C.M. Burroughs, Erin Minckley Chlaghmo, Krista Franklin, Victoria Martinez at Terrain and Terrain South, until September 30
Lise McKean is an anthropologist and writer based in Chicago.
Guest post by Nicole Mauser
I recently visited the studio of Indianapolis-based artist, Lauren Zoll. Her work oscillates between drawing, painting, sculpture, video and installation.
Throughout the studio visit some large and reflective black latex paint sculptures bulge and sag and lean against the wall, at once mirroring and abstracting the spectator and the surrounding space. Our conversation in the studio touched on the concept of fugitive color, which we used to refer to the sculptural objects’ foregrounded reflective black latex paint. Furthermore, we used this phrase to propose an alternate meaning, something more akin to the literal phenomena of fleeting color that refuses to be pinned down.
The sculptural panels—each a bit larger than a doorway—act as analog television screens perpetually turned off, reflecting the quotidian around them in acts of defiance against their technological intention to project entertainment into the viewer’s space. We discussed the use and appearance of black mirrors throughout the history of painting. Originally, they were utilized to look behind or over the shoulder of the painter while simplifying values into discernable general tones. Zoll’s panels, which bring to mind the scale of Gerhardt Richter’s grey glass mirrors, further activate surface by using photography and recorded video on the surface to capture morphing reflections made by manipulating still life in the studio. Because the process of making seems very much in tandem with the idea of making these panels, I’ll refer to Zoll’s words on why and how she does it:
When I close my eyes, I see black. Closing my eyes is my starting point, a springboard by which my creative process begins.
When you close your eyes, textures, patterns and colors begin to emerge from the black. All of this is happening in less than one sixteenth of an inch. It is a surface of infinite potential.
This action has led me to create a body of work that includes black paintings and black and white drawings. In both of these works, the formal characteristics take flight and the complexities take over; ultimately showing color, radical depth, and unforeseen narratives.
The paintings begin by pouring multiple applications of black latex paint onto board or drywall panels. The paint dries slowly and creates different levels of gloss and reflectiveness. Once the painting is cured, I begin the process of filming and photographing the surface of the painting. I focus my camera on the dynamic, flickering and colorful reflections that come from the surrounding installations that I create.
I began this process when I realized that paintings have the ability to see. If a paintings existence is to always be looked at and seen, then surely the painting possesses its own ability to see. I document what a painting sees by photographing the image that is in the painting. I then produce chromogenic prints, which become both a document and the art. My most recent series is a collection of portable black paintings. I am fascinated at how placing these paintings on easles in an environment speaks to the transitory nature of Plein Air painting and further connects it to the history of art. I plan to continue this trajectory by making an installation of multiple black paintings on easels in site-specific locations and capture what they see.
[The black and white drawings were] created by covering white paper with drywall finishing tape and then painting over the tape with black paint. This drawing series was inspired when I tried on black and white checkered flag like eyeglasses. Realizing the context of checkered flags in Indianapolis, I set out to make an investigation that used the methods, materials, and semantics of a “finished” work via black and white checkered patterns. These works currently are on standard size drawing paper. The next phase of this series is to create a large scale drawing installation, directly on to white walls reacting to the space, structure and architecture. In conjunction with the drawing installation, I will continue to keep the remnants of the tape to weave, fold, and join the pieces together to produce a three-dimensional woven structure.
The work also brings to mind Swiss artist, Adrian Schiess, who uses video and large-scale body-sized aluminum panels and glossy digital prints installed on the floor to explore the intersection of perception of time, texture, color, and light. Schiess was featured at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) in 2008. Zoll pushes the visceral aspects of the materials diverging from Schiess’ clean lines. Interestingly, Zoll’s panel sculptures and video installations were featured in a solo exhibition at the IMA in a 2013 solo exhibition called Something Is, an experience about which she spoke a little:
I feel that the IMA show enabled me to dive into the work, where I might not have if it were not for the support from the museum. The contemporary art department has historically been dedicated to collecting contemporary works, and in this case, it had a direct impact on contemporary art being made now. Which is a very bold, strong place to be. It had an impact on art today, which is so different from waiting a couple of years to see if the work is safe or largely accepted.
The show gave me an invaluable lesson: How [do you] work with a museum? Or, how [do you] suddenly work with 15 people when you have been working alone in a studio for years? I think for most artists that is a challenge, and now I can go forward feeling a lot more mature [now that I have that] set of tools now.
In discussing this solo presentation at the area’s most important contemporary art venue, our conversation turned to what is it to be an artist in Indianapolis, both the benefits and drawbacks. According to Zoll, one benefit is uninterrupted time and space to think and produce work. A drawback is an incomplete artistic ecosystem where there isn’t much of an opportunity. But there are unique things going on in Indianapolis. One excellent example is The Art Assignment, a new weekly YouTube video series produced in collaboration with PBS and the Indianapolis-based duo comprised of independent curator (and former IMA curator) Sarah Urist Green and fiction writer John Green. In addition to numerous emerging and established artists around the country, Zoll’s approach to artmaking is featured in episode 9 of The Art Assignment:
And see more her artwork at:
Lauren Zoll’s works have been included in exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; School of Fine Arts Gallery at Indiana University; Ise Cultural Center in New York, N.Y.; Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art; DaimlerChrysler offices in Farmington Hills, Mich.; Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit; and the Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Fe, N.M. Zoll is a recipient of the Indiana Individual Artist Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission, the Bertha Anolic Fine Art Travel Award and a Merit scholarship for Ox-Bow workshops from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Zoll is an adjunct professor at the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis. She received an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art after earning a BFA from The College of Santa Fe. Zoll lives and works in Indianapolis.
Nicole Mauser (b. 1983, Indianapolis) currently lives and works in Chicago, IL. She obtained a MFA from The University of Chicago (2010) and a BFA from Ringling College of Art & Design (2006). Her works have been exhibited nationally and internationally. Mauser was a 2011 recipient of a Post-MFA Teaching Felllowship at The University of Chicago and a recipient of a Student Fine Art Fund Grant for travel and research in Berlin from The University of Chicago. Exhibitions include Ft. Gondo Compound for the Arts (St. Louis), Carrie Secrist Gallery (Chicago), The Dolphin Gallery (Kansas City), H&R Block Artspace (Kansas City), DOVA Temporary Gallery (Chicago), Gladstone Community Center (Gladstone, MO), Center for Art+Culture (Aix-en-Provence) and AR Gallery (Milan). Collections include The Alexander (Indianapolis) and The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (Overland Park, KS). Mauser’s writings have been published in 8 ½ x 11 and Art Practical. Mauser is also a co-founder of the artist run gallery, PLUG Projects and co-founder of the Kansas City Plein Air Coterie (KCPAC).
Guest post by Lise McKean
Voyage à Nantes, until August 31, 2014
Thanks to my husband who’s from the Atlantic coast of France, I’m a regular visitor to Nantes, a city the size of Boston on the estuary of the Loire River. I just got back from there and besides long days and lingering twilight, another good reason to visit in summer is to take in Le Voyage à Nantes. I first saw it last summer, and 2014 is the third edition of this two-month arts festival. Voyage creates visual and conceptual conversations between contemporary works, cultural treasures from local museums, and the sites themselves. Alongside centuries of architectural, urban, and riverine forms, installations resonate with green innovation and spaces–Nantes was Europe’s Green Capital in 2013.
Voyage activates the city’s green identity. A fluorescent green line painted on the pavement leads voyagers to exhibition sites and suggests destinations to everyday flâneurs. The 8-mile line branches into three circuits covering 42 sites in central Nantes. Another route brings visitors further afield by bike, boat, car, or bus to see Estuary, a collection of permanent installations occupying industrial and natural sites near the river between Nantes and downstream at St. Nazaire.
Like any trip, some sights and moments on Voyage appeal more than others. The 2103 and 2014 shows aren’t padded with works so obvious that they’re slam-dunk crowd pleasers. That is, thankfully the organizers don’t mistake facile for accessible–a problem less savvy large-scale public exhibitions pose for art connoisseurs. One year to the next artists and curators create installations that produce different experiences of the same indoor or outdoor spaces.
For example, the works occupying the expansive Place du Bouffay in central Nantes in 2013 and 2014 enliven the space very differently. Follow the Leaders by Isaac Cordal for Voyage 2013 is at once large and small: the installation takes up a lot of the plaza, yet it’s the fit-in-your-hand personages dotting the work’s gravel and rubble that grab the attention of viewers and passersby alike. Cordal’s little, grey-suited, briefcase-carrying men look like they rained down from a Magritte painting.
This year, Vincent Mauger created Résolution des forces en présence for Place du Bouffay. It’s large, spiked, and wooden. It could be described in terms of natural forms: hedgehog, reclining pine tree, spiny sea creature. Medieval weapons enthusiasts might see the piece as the gigantic head for nasty armaments such as the morningstar or holy water sprinkler. Its size and spikes might seem menacing, but the tentative way it rests on only some of its phalanges invites an imaginary journey à la Nantes luminary Jules Verne–might it roll like a log or crawl like a scorpion across the plaza?
Taking the green line to the Temple du Goût brings visitors to a temporary exhibition space that was built in the 1750s as a commercial and residential building on the quay of the Loire and the epitome of the era’s lavish taste. Going from the bright sun into the building’s subdued light and damp interior feels like stepping back in time–or into a dungeon. Last year Cordal’s work filled the Temple’s gallery spaces with Le Nouvel Esclavage (The New Slavery). The title resonates with the site’s history: the port of Nantes was the epicenter of the Atlantic slave trade in France.
With eyes still adjusting to the darkness, visitors pass into the first exhibition. Cordal’s little men aren’t in their outdoor wasteland anymore. And the change isn’t for the better. Here they sit or slump at desks that are lined up inside animal cages that in turn are piled atop and beside each other. It’s like looking through Loop office windows from Chicago’s green line and seeing cubed workers in the ghoulish glow of fluorescent light. The savage eloquence of the installation’s stark materials and repeated forms wrenches the gut. Cordal’s additional Temple installations also explore contemporary anomie, placing the little men and other figurines and objects in different settings, but with less visceral effect.
This year the Temple du Goût offers visitors another sensibility with Curiositas, a subset of Voyage exhibitions that is unified by the interests of curators from the Nantes Musée des Beaux-Arts. A line-up of bird specimens and an Inuit kayak (1836) are near the entrance. Turn the corner and it’s another world: Alighiero e Boetti’s painting Il Progressivo Svanir della Consuetudine (1974) fills a wall with ballpoint blue. Nestled adjacent to it is a small painting by Yves Tanguy (Untitled, 1927), responding to the Boetti with its own swathe of blue.
In the next rooms a sculpture of the python spirit by the Nalu people of Guinea consorts with Personnage avec Yeux Bleus (Personage with Blue Eyes, 1954) by Gaston Chaissac. This Chaissac gem is from the Nantes art museum; one hour away, Les Sables d’Olonne’s magnificent beach is matched by collections of Chaissac and Victor Brauner at its Musée de l’Abbaye Sainte-Croix. Anne and Patrick Poirier’s Phantasma, a site specific work in the Temple whispers archeological spells while sparkling in the dimly lit room. Last last year Cordal held forth here with a fortress of briefcases.
Voyage gives old and new works summer homes to bring them closer to locals and to bring tourists to Nantes. And visual art isn’t the only attraction. Voyage offers a couple months of classical, jazz, folk, and pop music concerts, along with the Electropixel Festival and a rooftop place to watch movies, consciously riffing on old-time American drive-ins. And this being France, art extends to food: visitors eat locally produced food and wine at artist-designed picnic spots and cafés along the green line, and chefs with stars prepare dinner for 200 in a local vineyard.
Voyage also brings Nantes’ best-known sights into its orbit with works commissioned for these spaces. For example, last year Cordal’s little men were bobbing in the moat at the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne. Installations also pop up around the Parc des Chantiers, where the Compagne Machines de l’île builds and operates its grand mechanical creations on the grounds of former shipyards. On this island in the Loire, Royale de Luxe also creates monumental mechanical beings, and brings them to life as street theatre in Nantes and beyond. Just maybe one day Royale de Luxe will make its way across the Atlantic and work its magic on us here in Chicago.
Lise McKean is a social anthropologist and writer based in Chicago.