Off-Topic invites artists, curators, writers, and cultural workers to discuss a subject not directly related to the practice of making art. We would like to welcome Molly Schafer and Jenny Kendler who are tag teaming this post with , “Snakes on a Plane, Lemurs on a Plate: How Human Beings’ Actions Can Have Unexpected Consequences for the Natural World”. Both Molly and Jenny are Chicago based artists that have collaborated on numerous projects. Their most recent endeavor is The Endangered Species Print Project, which has recently been featured on numerous blogs. ESPP raises money through limited-edition art prints for critically endangered species.
Snakes on a Plane, Lemurs on a Plate: How Human Beings’ Actions Can Have Unexpected Consequences for the Natural World
Molly Schafer and Jenny Kendler
If you’ve heard much about Guam, you most likely know it as the U.S. Territory that was the site of the Battle of Guam. In 1944, the U.S. took back possession of this tropical West Pacific island from the Japanese, who had occupied it following the attack on Pearl Harbor. You may have also heard the interesting story of a Japanese soldier, Shoichi Yokoi, who was discovered by hunters in 1972, having lived in a cave for 27 years.
Although Shoichi’s story is probably one of the strangest to come out of Guam, during his 27 years living in Guam’s forests, he would have been an intimate witness to one of the island’s saddest stories.
Let us imagine our unlikely protagonist on the night of the American invasion (with no accounting for exact historical accuracy): Our Shoichi hears shouts from the beach as the Americans land, and being a simple kind of nature-loving guy, and wanting no part of this fuss, he grabs a canteen and a flashlight and makes his way deep into the forest, nimbly leaping over lianas and roots down the forest paths he’s grown to know during his time on the island. He heads to a cave that he had found some months before, where he’d frequently camped out and laid in some supplies, most importantly, a pair of binoculars. You see, our make-believe version of Shoichi is an avid bird-lover. So, while our Shoichi was evading American troops in his grottoed refuge and keeping his ears open for the sound of shots or approaching footsteps — as darkness settled heavily on the steamy tropical night, he listened with a keen pleasure to the rich chorus of tropical birdsong filling the air.
If you or I were to walk Shoichi’s favorite paths through Guam’s forests today, we’d have a very different experience. Sure, you’d see all the hallmarks of tropical forests worldwide: lush vegetation, a truly huge variety of living growing things, moisture hanging thick and low in the warm tropical air — but then as your ears tuned into the sounds of the forest and your eyes strayed upwards, you’d notice two very unusual things — two strangely interrelated changes to the forest, with a single historic origin. Yes, you might hear the sound of insects, the sound of leaf litter being crushed under your feet, but you’d hear no birds. And as you looked upwards through your binoculars, to spy out these unusually silent birds, you’d catch a sticky web across your face, and wiping it away, you’d notice that there were webs everywhere. Guam is a tropical island now devoid of the music of birdsong and filled with enormous colonies of spiders. Clearly, these are the signs of an environmental imbalance — but what could be the cause? [Read more]
Off-Topic invites artists, curators, writers, and cultural workers to discuss a subject not directly related to the practice of making art. We would like to welcome Alicia Eler as our latest guest with her post, “Where did all the Tweets go? A conversation lost on Twitter”. Alicia is a writer, critic, curator and the Arts & Culture Community Manager of ChicagoNow.com.
Where did all the Tweets go? A conversation lost on Twitter
GUEST POST BY ALICIA ELER
Is it easier and more efficient to host conversations on Twitter or Facebook? This was my only question when I began research for this blog post. Things changed when Twitter lost the conversation, which is ironic because the conversation is the entire point of Twitter.
I, @aliciaeler, organized what was to be my first of many conversations about lesbian movies on Twitter. The conversation would begin with tweets from Chicago celesbians @trishtype, the Afterellen.com Blog Editor; lesbian erotic fiction writer @deviantdyke; queer sex blogger @annapulley; freelance writer and bonafide lesbian @jennispinner; and ChicagoNow tattoo blogger/AfterEllen.com music blogger @chubbyjones. Later, we could move to Facebook and try it again. For the Twitter convo, @jennispinner and I came up with the idea to label tweets with hashtag #lezflix. The chat began promptly at 2pm on Tuesday, November 24, 2009, and lasted well over the 10 minutes we had originally planned. Lesbian twitterers from all over the country jumped in. [Read more]
Guest post by Jeriah Hildwine
Recently on display at 65 Grand was An Object In The Woods, featuring artwork by Bob Jones. One of Jones’ works is titled Ghillie Suit. I hardly needed the title to know what it was about; I’m quite familiar with that soft-edged overspray of Krylon Camouflage Ultra-Flat spray paint (available in Brown, Olive Green, Black, and Khaki) anywhere, particularly with the telltale silhouettes of foliage (in this case hay). The association is a fond one, and the work fits well into Jones’ theme. It is a distinctly rural image, the quintessential “object in the woods.”
A ghillie suit is a garment intended to provide the wearer with concealment, typically in a wooded environment (although desert and snow versions do exist). The most common etymology is that the garment was named after the gillies (“lads” or “servants”), who were Scottish game wardens tasked with protecting a landowner’s game from poachers. These gamekeepers sometimes wore suits of shredded rags to help them blend in with their surroundings, either as a form of portable hunting blind or to conceal themselves from the poachers they were pursuing. The suits entered military usage with the Lovat Scouts, a Scottish Highland unit of the British Army formed during the Second Boer War (1879-1915). This unit served as sharpshooters, and were in some ways the antecedents of the military sniper, who remain the primary users of ghillie suits to this day. [Read more]
Photographer Larry Sultan has died at the age of 63. The New York Times reports that the cause was cancer. From his obituary:
Larry Sultan, a highly influential California photographer whose 1977 collaboration, “Evidence” — a book made up solely of pictures culled from vast industrial and government archives — became a watershed in the history of art photography, died on Sunday at his home in Greenbrae, Calif. He was 63.
The cause was cancer, said his wife, Katherine, who is known as Kelly.
In the mid 1970s using a grant and a letter of introduction from the National Endowment for the Arts, Mr. Sultan and Mike Mandel, who had met as students at the San Francisco Art Institute, somehow managed to persuade several large companies, agencies and research institutions like the Bechtel Corporation, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the San Jose Police Department and the United States Department of the Interior to let them rummage through their documentary photo files.
Highly influenced by the West Coast brand of Conceptualism then percolating out of places like the California Institute of the Arts, both men were interested, as Mr. Mandel later said, in exploring photography as “more than just the modernist practice of fine-tuning your style and way of seeing.” The pictures they chose from the archives, out of the hundreds of thousands they examined, were a strange, stark, sometimes disturbing vision of a late-industrial world: a space-suited figure sprawled face down on a carpeted floor; a car consumed in flames; a man holding up a tangle of weeds like a trophy; a shaved monkey being held down by a gloved hand.
Some of the images seemed to have been picked for their uncanny resemblance to installation art being made at the time. But the 59 photos published, with no captions to explain what they showed or where they came from, pursued a much broader, Duchampian agenda of harnessing found photographs for the purposes of art while using them as a way to examine the society that produced them. The critic Kenneth Baker of The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that the project demonstrated brilliantly the degree to which “we have no calculus to unravel relations between what a picture shows and what it explains.”
You can read more about Sultan’s Pictures from Home, a photographic series on his parents’ lives post-retirement, here, as well as an essay that Sultan wrote about his photographic series The Valley for the L.A. Weekly here.
Editors’ Note: Liz Nielsen’s is the last post in our week-long series on Apartment Galleries in Chicago, all of which were originally written for Floor Length and Tux’s “Untitled Circus” event a few weeks ago. A number of essays on Chicago’s thriving domestic/apartment gallery art space scene were solicited from local writers/artists/curators involved in the running of such spaces, and we posted some of them here on Bad at Sports as a way to extend the discussion. I’ll be posting some summarizing thoughts on this series later on, along with links to where you can find a .pdf file containing additional essays on Chicago’s Apartment Galleries written for the Untitled Circus event. Please feel free to email us with your comments at email@example.com, or if you’d like to contact the folks at FLAT directly, you can email Erik at erik@ floorlengthandtux.com.
Guest Post by Liz Nielsen
A few thoughts
Erik Brown and Michael Thomas invited me to write down my thoughts regarding the recent spurt of apartment/domestic/project spaces in Chicago with the intent of pushing forth a few waves of constructive criticism that might consequently enable some of these spaces to re-calibrate their homegrown efforts. Now, I run my own space too, the Swimming Pool Project Space in Albany Park, and so I began by looking at my own reflection in the mirror and asking myself why I do what I do, and why I am where I am.
I am a Chicago artist. I have seen my reflection many times but this time I saw something, a stark reality, with more clarity than I had seen in the past. Louder than ever before I heard a resonating sentence echoing inside my head: If Chicago’s art scene is second or third tier then naturally it produces second or third tier artists.
But if Chicago’s art scene is second or third tier, does it follow that it would naturally produce second or third tier artists? I am better than that. I know that we are better than that.
So the question becomes: can Chicago raise the bar? Can it rise above the standards set by third tier expectations? Do we ourselves want honorable mentions, or gold medals? The artists who do make it into the top tier usually leave Chicago shortly before or immediately after their success starts to happen. So this leads me to wonder, if Chicago artists want to be gold medal-winners and recipients of national and international recognition, must we leave Chicago?
I’ve been running circles in my mind trying to figure out why we are where we are, and why we don’t, apparently, have the means to get the gold. We obviously have the energy. The innumerable independent spaces are one indication of this. I have come up with several reasons but there is one that I continually spiral back to, and that is that Chicago has very few “parent galleries”, relative to the number of artists. At risk of being cutesy, parent galleries are the commercial venues that give us artist children shelter, that help us with our homework, hang our work on the refrigerator, talk us up like crazy, send us to art camps/residencies, and above all help us grow into the artists that we are capable of becoming. As it stands, hundreds of art students are pumped out of our schools in Chicago every year — and these are great schools — only to be orphaned with nowhere to show, nowhere to go.
So we parent ourselves.
We build our own tree-houses and clubhouses in the backyard or in our living rooms. We start our own spaces and exhibit our own work. We share our own ideas and show our friends. But to a certain extent, the pragmatic facts of “being an orphan” wear us down: the fact that the challenge of making work increases when we’re also completely responsible for ourselves, for promoting our art, and paying the bills through other means. In the end, these tree-house projects, no matter how exciting and productive in certain instances, don’t bring in much money, and don’t get enough support from the city or its institutions, and eventually most of us run out of gas without even making it onto any sort of global art map. [Read more]