Of the many adventures that I had at Open Engagement, I enjoyed an evening at the Portland Art Museum. Their annual program, “Shine A Light,” came together in conjunction with PSU’s Social Practice MFA, in an effort to “ask visitors to reconsider what is possible in a museum.” It featured a number of MFA artist’s works including a reenactment of a lost Grateful Dead concert (“Turn on Your Lovelight” by Travis Neel), a dental trailer offering free dental work to visitors (“Dentistry at the Museum” by Zachary Gough), a booth in the basement where viewers were encouraged to record stories of objectified objects and being objectified (“Objectification Stories” by Erica Thomas and Heather Donahue), an invitation to commune with dead artists via mediums from Portland’s own Psychic Siamese Terror through select works of art (“The Dead Artists Salon” by Alysha Shaw) and much much more. (full program here) At every turn through the museum that night, you could feel the institutional context in a concentrated experiment in flexibility. It felt like a kind of earnest game, one in which visitors were simultaneously challenged to revise and open up their own expectations. It was a glorious mayhem. Outside, between the museum’s two buildings, people of all ages danced expressively. A beer truck stood across from an artisanal pizza tent, as the torches to PAM’s second entrance (what was a Masonic temple in a former life) bloomed brightly in the coming dusk. Artisanal popcorn was also for sale. In the midst of this, I ran into Dillon de Give, another Social Practice MFA presenting work. His project, 4-6 Dogs in the Museum furthers the desire to flex the museum structure, except in de Give’s case, he tried to apply that flexibility to non-humans.
Caroline Picard: Can you talk about where 4-6 Dogs Allowed in the Museum originated as an idea for you?
Dillon de Give: The project originated as an off-handed comment I made in a brainstorming session. I wrote down something like, “allow dogs into the museum, have some sort of plan for when they poop”. I didn’t think about it very much at the time, but then for some reason it kept coming back into my head.
I’ve been interested in the power relations present in our dealings with animals for a while. Dogs are the most common “other half“ of a public human-animal relationship — especially in the city. They are the animals that people walk side-by-side with, and many see dogs as family members. At the same time they are a point of mystery, like art.
That relationship was the subject of the work, but the process of examining the subject by partnering with an art institution was also important to developing the idea. I entered into these dealings being identified as a student, as much as an artist. And as such, the strength of my position as a negotiator was recognized, but somewhat limited.
The initial proposal was to open the doors of the museum carte blanche to dogs during Shine A Light, the one night event that “asks visitors to reconsider what is possible in a museum.” An official mechanism by which to allow dogs into the museum was attractive to me, because it involved a conversation around breaking a taboo. Admitting a new kind of life into the institution, proved to be fairly complicated. Have you ever tried to bring an apple into another country? It can get you into a lot of trouble. Yet I knew it was not out of the realm of possibility, because the museum was legally bound to admit service dogs.
The initial proposal also stated that any difficulties, negotiations, and ad hoc measures of control necessary to execute the idea (which at that time called Dogs Allowed in the Museum) would be considered part of the work. I didn’t know how much resistance the idea would actually meet with (a lot) but including this provision allowed it to move forward. The project changed many times, and almost died. At one point we were discussing a version called A Dog Allowed in the Museum. I had to let go of the initial proposal for universal dog entry. But it was important to me that the dogs that participated be “non-working” dogs, and we held onto that.
CP: I feel like this piece attempts to open up the field of social practice outside the human sphere of experience. That effort could have interesting ramifications, for instance, what does inter-species social practice look like? Are you interested in that question? Do you have ideas about what it could lead to?
DDG: I love that phrase “inter-species social practice.” But I guess I would be a bit more conservative in my response. I’ve observed that dogs in public are always serving as mediators between humans. There’s a dog park across the street from my apartment and everyone seems to know each other! I live right there and I don’t know any of these people because I don’t own a dog. I am interested in other species as a conceptual complement to existing human-based social practices. I think that when we are talking about a given social practice we are implicitly making assumptions of what human-ness is, so having some idea of a non-human present in the discourse is, in a way, almost necessary. Why are cat videos so immensely popular with human viewers on youtube? On the other hand, imagining something like sociality existing between humans and other species is difficult to do in the present, because of our seemingly absolute need to monopolize the environment. In most cases it’s just not really a fair playing field where a balanced relationship that you might call “social” could pan out. But maybe in the distant future…
CP: What was it like talking to dog owners in the dog park about this project?
DDG: Interestingly, during the initial stages of the project it was as hard to convince dog owners on the merit of allowing dogs into the museum, as it was to convince the museum itself. Most dogs are really not interested in spending time in a foreign indoor environment. When I determined that the goal would be to have the owner choose a particular artwork as a hypothesis about what the dog would appreciate, then the conversation became easier. I had a simple, but precise interaction that I would use to engage people. The actual dog park was not the most productive place to approach owners. Sometimes people would be weirded out and walk away, but the people who decided to participate saw value in the idea of having their animal enter into a context of art-meaning.
CP: What do you think the dogs saw when engaging select works of art? Do you think their owners chose works of art that their dogs would like? Did the owners’ selection have more to do with their dog’s disposition, or with their sense of ‘dogness’?
DDG: Each dog was given a “personal” moment with the work, and we would all watch the dog to see what they would do. I don’t think they saw anything special. Maybe they did, but we have no way of knowing. They acknowledged the art objects spatially. They looked at them. They sniffed them. I think the owners that participated knew their dogs well, and in most cases took into consideration their particular dog’s point-of-view in the choice of artwork. Most objects were near the ground, often three dimensional, and often made of natural materials. One was a sculptural representation of another animal. There was one low-hanging painting that was chosen because it depicted a beach that the owners and dog visited on vacation. One of the owners, Lis, chose Useful Art #5: The Western Motel by Nancy and Edward Kienholz, which basically recreates a kind of domestic environment. I do think that the dogs had a sense of accomplishment in navigating a new environment without too many incidents.
CP: How did the museum context, as a human institution, respond to a living, non-human presence?
DDG: It was a very controlled experience. Members of security, collections, and education needed to be present. It was stipulated that the visits happen after museum hours, in brief 20-minute segments, one dog at a time. A dog trainer also accompanied the group to provide a level of assurance. The first visit was quite tense, by the final visit, it was more relaxed because we knew what all of our roles were and had a better sense of the choreography involved.
This week has been like a road trip through midwest; halfway through the week, I felt like I was taking a drive from Chicago, to Cleveland, arriving in Kansas City, and then Indianapolis — so many stops over such a vast (and flat) distance in a magical and illogical order; additional posts on more abstract ideas — performance archives, or The Cremaster Cycle, or even what the best size of a book might be — those seemed to mark the longer distances between destinations. Times when the radio wasn’t on particularly loud, and perhaps all of us passengers had emerged from a musing lull into dialogue.
It all began with a podcast interview with Chicago’s own William Pope.L, who’s show is currently on view at the Renaissance Society until June 23rd. The interview, conducted at the Three Arts Club discusses Pope.L’s RS exhibit and the performance — Pull: ”Non-stop from June 7-9, hundreds of Clevelanders will manually pull a truck across the city. Images collected from people across Cleveland– hopefully you included! — about the meaning of work in our lives will be projected from the truck as it is pulled through North Collinwood, Glenville, University Circle, Hough, AsiaTown and downtown; to West Park, Clark-Fulton and Ohio City.”
Jereiah Hildewine writes about watching the entire Cremaster Cycle, comparing it to other noteworthy cultural keystones including Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction:
Just as nobody can remember that Star Trek 4 is called The Voyage Home (and consequently everyone calls it “The One With The Whales”), the weird sequencing and semi-narrative structure of the Cremaster films makes it hard to remember which one was which. The above-linked synopses will give you a long-form breakdown of what’s in each film, but if you’ve seen them and are having a hard time remembering which was which, here’s a quick guide in the form of suggested subtitles:
“There is not one way to know a performance work, there are many, and it is for that reason that the quality of performance is brought to light through the normalizing tendency of the archive.” Anthony Romero mulls over the authority that archives impose over collective experience, especially as it applies to performance:
The archives is a technology of bureaucracy. They are way stations for data and accumulated temporality, flattened proofs of the “official” experience. The system of the archive itself is responsible for this kind of alienation. Categories, decimal numbers, and white gloves are methods of sanitation that work to preserve the individual’s experience/state requirement. Once cataloged, memories of childhood, legal forms, receipts, and other accouterments are neatly laid beneath layers of fabric and cardboard. So precious are these relics that the archive must continually migrate them from one outmoded media to the next. The performance relic, however, subverts the safety of the archive.
Indianapolis is in the house. Which is to say poet and former resident of Chicago, Wendy Lee Spacek, is going to be posting about art events in her fine city over the course of the summer. This particular issue describes a number of cultural happenings, from poetry readings, to Mucca Pazza, to surreptitiously painted mail boxes. She also describes what sounds like an incredible show wherein a group of artists installed work in a long since abandoned Old Indianapolis City Hall:
The show was curated by graduation Herron Seniors Taryn Cassella, Anna Martinez and Andrea Townsend. Where TURF was an exhibition of installation art, VACANT included work across mediums. I especially enjoyed Jordan Ryan’s section off the main library detailing the history of the building.
Kansas City resident, Carolyn Okomo, started her guest series this week, publishing an interview she conducted with graphic novelist Jeffrey Brown. In her words:
Since self-publishing his wildly successful first novel Clumsy in 2002, he’s created numerous other painfully funny autobiographical comics, co-written the 2012 star-studded film Save the Date (starring Party Down’s Lizzy Caplan and Mad Men’sAlison Brie) and penned a hilarious series of graphic novels that explore the challenges of being both Darth Vader–ruler of the evil Sith empire–and a single dad.
Brown’s newest Star Wars-themed book Jedi Academy (out on Aug. 27), is a coming-of-age story about a boy named Roan and his adventures mastering the Force while juggling all the issues that come with being a middle schooler.
Jamilee Polson Lacy also writes from Kansas City, discussing her final project as Curator-in-Residence at the Charlotte Street Foundation in Kansas City. That project, rises Zora, is ”a multi-venue visual and performing arts exhibition, [that] explores Kansas City as an urban labyrinth” through a plethora of various artists and multi-media, multi-durational art works:
Theories of the labyrinth—and there are many which span the ages of Greek and Roman mythology to early Christianity, Karl Marx to Umberto Eco, Cervantes to Borges and Calvino—demonstrate the thing as both concept and literal form that ultimately represents time. The labyrinth is an infinite series of choices to be made through time and space, and we get to decide whether to be conscious of those choices or not. I think the city, which quite obviously mimics a literal labyrinth, presents a plethora of choices—some exciting and dangerous, some banal and commonplace—so it’s nearly impossible not to think of it as a conceptual labyrinth as well.
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Terri Griffith set out to write a book review of Hilton Kramer’s Abstraction and Utopia, and found herself discussing her appreciation for small-sized, intimate edition, including book in the 33 1/3 series:
Their smaller than average 5×7 size is cute as pie. The 33 1/3 series is published by Continuum and started in 2003 with Warren Zanes’ treatment of the 1969 classicDusty in Memphis, by Dusty Springfield. A few other notable recordings that undergo inspection are Aja, by Steely Dan; Swordfishtrombone, by Tom Waits; Marquee Moon, by Television. Seriously though, there are as of this writing 86 titles, so certainly there is something for everyone. Don’t expect a “making of.” These little gems are more essayistic and idiosyncratic than that. Check out Phillip Shaw’s treatment of Patty Smith’sHorses. It’s the first book of the series that I read, and it’s a delight.
The week began with a guest post from Jamie Kazay who continues her serial Barbie-reflections:
Play time with Barbie created a space for the infinite possibilities that language enables. This is, albeit a different medium, how the principles of La Nouvelle Vague operate. Within this movement there seems to be an intense need to circle-back, to recreate, and to satirize all with the intention to provide a variety of end results. It is the distance that is traveled while watching these films that should be observed. They provide a wealth of possibilities. For instance, in “À bout de souffle” I am amused by the collage of scenes that jump back and forth like a child playing jump rope. The mismatched shots pull from a variety of American cultural references. I recount the jazz notes and sounds, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans, Humphrey Bogart, and countless other references. As I played with Barbie, I adapted. I coordinated a sense of wonder and culture, and this established my freedom to create.
Following that, EDITION #10 spellz hot hot hot and, aside from a Who Wore It Better contest between TIME Magazine and a tombstone, the weather report, Facebook art convos, and more, contains a nice little list of good books to check out. As What’s The T? mastermind, Dana Bassett, puts it:
Chicago Artist Writers hosted a workshop with Lori Waxman at Gallery 400 on March 14, 2013. This week on Bad at Sports, they tried to collect and recap some of Waxman’s two-hour lecture:
Lori posited that criticism has largely not changed much since its first appearance with Diderot’s reviews of the Paris Salon of 1765, and the writing that we see in major outlets like the Tribune or Artforum holds the same basic values of that style to this day. This default approach to art criticism doesn’t reflect the drastic changes in art and technology’s influence on the contemporary conversation as much as it could.
She used Documenta as a case in point–-it embodied a sprawling, time-intensive experience for the viewer, and the critical responses to it suffered as their structuring was inadequate to cover the exhibition’s curatorial conceits. Critics who were only able to visit 3-5 days and print 1000 words were ill equipped to critique the event in its totality. “Who goes to NYC for a weekend, and tries to see everything, and if they can’t, it’s New York’s fault?” Lori asked. She used Dieter Roelstraete’s review of the Documenta in Artforum as one example; one of his main critiques was that it had too much going on. Similarly, Roberta Smith’s review in the New York Times was schizophrenic, unable to deal with the scope of the massive three-month undertaking. Lori suggested that despite the stubborn precedent of “objective distance” in traditional criticism, she herself might be the best critic of Documenta, having spent her entire summer there.
News from New York: Juliana Driever interviews Jason Eppink, who by way of introduction has said on his blog: “At some point in time I will write three succinct sentences that clearly express who I am and what I do. Alas, we have not arrived at that point in time yet. ” He is also the Assistant Curator of Digital Media at theMuseum of the Moving Image and, at one turn in the interview says:
Every generation is comfortable navigating the world with the tools they grew up with and every generation feels uncomfortable with the tools they didn’t grow up with, and there’s a simple evolutionary reason for this: Our brains are elastic during our youth as we figure out how the world works, adapting very easily to new tools because, well, everything is new to us. And our brains become more firm as we age so we can more efficiently do the things that ensured our survival. And in age, we can interpret new tools as threats or we can adapt and relearn behaviors. Historically this was not much of a tension, because, e.g., it took thousands of generations to perfect agriculture. Today, the tools change a little faster.
BIG & BOLD: a post from your truly about exciting things (or should I say, things I am excited about) including the Rapid Pulse [Performance] Festival, ACRE’s kitchen festival, a Heather Mekkelson show from 2008, and the new Vitamin D2 book, featuring Deb Sokolow and Elijah Burger.
Monica Westin posted her piece on Steve Juras this Friday:
The first impression Steve Juras’ studio calls to mind is of self-constraint as aesthetic. His work spans any number of two and three dimensional, formal and conceptual practices, and it’s the consistently tightening systems he builds and acts under that provide a through-line: repetitions and experiments in tightly restricted games that insist on looping back on themselves. Juras’ background is in design– his MFA from SAIC is in visual communication– and it’s easy to read some of that background into his somewhat detached approach, which often translates into the obsessive working of images into their most basic shapes (like a long series of skull drawings in notebooks, where a naturalistic sketch ultimately devolves into a study of curve and line) and explorations of shapes within grids. “I’m always looking back to abstraction, the investigation of the line,” he muses as he flips through carefully labeled notebooks that offer endless repetitions on simple themes.
MAINTENANCE #2 courtesy of one Mairead Case — who adeptly discusses the MORE books (including) Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler (Seven Stories Press, 1996), Kite by Dominique Eddé, trans. Ros Schwartz (Seagull Books, 2012), Dying Birds by Nicolai Howalt and Trine Søndergaard (Haasla Books, 2010), Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun (Riverhead Books, 2009), STIR Vol. 1 (www.stirtoaction.com, 2012), and Man vs. Sky by Corey Zeller (YesYes Books, 2013), with an introductory note:
This MAINTENANCE comes to you from my neighbors’ apartment, where it is thunderstorming outside and inside, I am looking after one very great, very large, very orange boss of a cat. My Buddha machine is on and every hour or so, a cuckoo clock pings and the cat leaves the bedroom to hiss or to glare. Across the alley, some little girls are shriek-giggling.
All the disquiet—a word I’m using like the great Marc Weidenbaum does—is, in the end, pretty cozy. (Kitty calmed down.) I didn’t always feel this way, the shrieks in particular would be too many hooks for hanging my hat. But Weidenbaum’s writing and sound archives, which include field recordings and more traditional performances (usually as part of Disquiet Junto, a series he runs), they help me maintain focus even when my neighborhood’s not playing a lullaby. They help me see chaos settling into music, not into garble but patterns and rhythms, however hiccupily.
And, rounding off the week Adrienne Harris posted this very same Sunday with notes from our other coast, about her theater and movie attendance:
When I lived in New York, theatre felt almost as easy as going to the movies. There were so many theaters all over town. There was public transportation and the TKTS discount ticket center in Time Square offering me tickets to shows I desperately wanted to see at a price that was in my budget. I had friends that worked for live theatre and could get me free tickets. Hell, I sold concessions at a small professional theatre in West Village and saw all those plays, multiple times, for free. I saw the original production of the Last 5 Years and an amazing productions of Burn This with Edward Norton and Katherine Keener for free! It was great. Now I live in LA and my friends work for tv shows and in movies and no one has access to free theatre anymore. So, I go to the movie theatre near my house and park in the large parking structure that takes the movie theatre’s validation and I use my Stubs card to earn upgrades on popcorn and eventually free movie tickets and I sit in the dark and watch Super Heros duke it out, or couples turning 40 fight about their marriage, or young people who feel lost but find love in the end. And I LOVE this too. I really love it.
Some big things worth mentioning — maybe…
1. RAPID PULSE, an international performance festival, is taking place this weekend and next week. The Chicago Reader just wrote a great something something, with the evocative sub-header “Wafaa Bilal wants Twitter’s help to inflate a giant head, and other oddities, at Defibrillator Gallery’s second annual Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival.” Find out more info about that here, or if you want, download the schedule of events via this link: RP13_poster-brochure.
According to The Reader:
Pure voodoo at its best, performance art traffics in psychic violence, provoking questions that viewers, by virtue of their emotional disturbance, feel compelled to answer. Defibrillator Gallery’s Rapid Pulse, now in its second year, is designed to make the genre more talkative: the festival, which includes window shows, public spectacle, and video screenings, coordinates performances with discussions, spread over ten days and four venues (Defibrillator, 1136 N. Milwaukee; Electrodes, the gallery’s front windows; Hub, 1535 N. Milwaukee; Nightingale, 1084 N. Milwaukee). Come for the bad vibes, stay for the nauseating hypersonic jolt. (Jena Cutie)
2. EAT WHAT ARTISTS EAT:
Our friends at ACRE launched a Kickstarter Campaign for their unique Residency Kitchen Program. There (among other things) you can get a copy of the ACRE cookbook, and support a good program that feeds creative acts/minds all summer long. In their words:
We believe meals equal community and the ACRE kitchen strives to foster a place where residents, visiting artists and local farmers can cross-pollinate.
Funds raised through kickstarter will go towards supporting locally grown and produced agriculture and conscientious businesses, purchasing equipment that will make the kitchen more efficient and sustainable, our yearly cookbook KADABRA, a collection of recipes from each year’s residency, and will give us the support we need to keep creating a diverse selection of considered, artistic, and nutritious menus for our residents.
KADABRA VOL 3, Annual Cook Book
cover designed by Edie Fake & Daniel Luedtke
artwork and recipe contributions by the ACRE Kitchen Staff & Resident Alumni
It was the summer of 2008. It was hot. And humid. Everything was green and/or sweating. People who didn’t sweat stood out. Their reserve both enviable and mysterious—a contrast from everything else. Refuge from the heat was similarly impressive and constantly sought. Most apartment galleries were barely tolerable for their heat. At cooler exhibition sites, visitors inevitably took considerable time examining the works of art on display. That August, Heather Mekkelson had a solo show at an apartment gallery—or what maybe we should call a basement gallery—half a flight downstairs in Logan Square called Old Gold. With its dark 1970s style wood paneling, built-in bar and enough floor space for a pool table, Old Gold looked like an old rumpus room. It was anything but neutral and its unapologetic, undeniable character forced artists to continually incorporate the space into their exhibitions. Mekkelson’s project was no different. Limited Entry was based entirely on the unique environment. And at that particular time, it was significantly cooler than anything outdoors.
In order to access the stairs down to the gallery, one walked through a front gate and around the side of an apartment building. According to rumor, the landlord and upstairs resident did not know Old Gold existed. Being an unpredictable fellow, gallery directors Kathryn Scanlan and Caleb Lyons preferred to keep the professional aspect of their curatorial project discreet. They didn’t advertise much and the only label on the door was composed from Home Depot stickers, appearing more like the absent-minded work of a teenager than anything formally significant. This place was easy to miss. (read more)
4. Longtime Chicago champions Elijah Burger and Deb Sokolow are featured in VITAMIN D2 (video courtesy of Western Exhibitions):
It’s been a bit of a slow week — what I attribute to the extra week in May, and the general shuffling of summer. I at least have been travelling quite a bit, and tend to recognize the same in my peers. People are getting ready to go to residencies, negotiating familial and/or friend visits, stealing long weekends for a holiday, or simply just slowing down at work. It is napping season. A season for tank tops, cut off shorts, and shoes-without-socks. Something of that energy is evident here as well. We have slowed down. There are ebbs and flows on this blog like anything else. To that end, I recount three posts — all in depth, and reflective in different areas: curatorial practices in hindsight via Germanos’ series of images from New Capital, a post that asks “Are immigrants better at putting deconstruction to work?” from Gene Tanta, and lastly a marvelous, in-depth essay from Meredith Kooi wherein she continues her study of the body and performance. Stay tuned next week, on the other side of this holiday, for more accounts of summer.
Chicago ART IN PICTURES comes to you this week from Paul Germanos, who offered a reflective series about New Capital’s curatorial project:
Six months earlier, the proprietors of Chicago’s New Capital Projects, Ben Foch and Chelsea Culp, began a twenty-five day round-the-clock closing event for their gallery. Foch and Culp had, from the outset, planned a limited, two-year run of public exhibitions at their venue. And having reached the end of their finite schedule they threw open the doors to everyone interested in one last collaborative endeavor entitled “24HRS/25DAYS.” Whither came the funding for such a spectacle? In 2011, the Propeller Fund announced that Foch and Culp were recipients of a 6000 USD award.
Rather than being a survey of contemporary programming, this installment of Chicago Art in Pictures is a historical offering. If New Capital Projects’ success (and it was a success) seemed contingent upon its engagement with artists, its monetary subsidization, and its relatively brief public existence, then maybe too it was the case that only an informal, ethical consensus allowed for a momentary sort of Utopia within the city’s crumbling West Side.
This just in: Poetry is Dead, or so says our poet-in-residence, Gene Tanta. Writing from Bucharest, he asks about the distancing affect of second-languages:
To strategically essentialize based on my experience, I would agree that ESL poets see and hear English from the outside as a strange and awkward medium because learning to communicate with a new language demands more sensitive attention to its materiality than it does for native speakers. The shock of the idiomatic phrase delights the foreign tongue because the foreigner hears (as does John Ashbery) in the wisdom of slang and clichés the horded culture of a people, a zeitgeist or an essence of a place in time, a myth of origin. The foreign poet takes delight in these loaded everyday dictums and listens with his tongue.
Meredith Kooi writes about the “Live Dancing Archive”:
Jennifer Monson premiered her latest evening-length performance Live Dancing Archive at The Kitchen in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood for a two-week run February 14th – 23rd, 2013. The project Live Dancing Archive comprises three components, which consist of three different archival practices: dance, video, and digital archive. The “Program Notes” for the performance states that “Each of these captures how bodies hold, transmit, and convey experiences and understandings of ecological systems as they relate to human movement through the specificities of their medium.”  Monson’s work explores the ability of movement itself as an archival practice; she is interested in the particular capability movement has to archive, record, and store the ecological systems that we experience.