March 16, 2013 · Print This Article
Ann Toebbe is well known for her stylized, architectural paintings — paintings of empty rooms occupied only by objects. These are rooms at rest, between uses, and the furnishings within them stand enigmatic and remote, at once pointing to a network of human relations while being simultaneously autonomous; it is as though these things are preoccupied with a non-human work. Toebbe’s chairs seem to be doing very well for themselves, even when not fulfilling their intended, anthropocentric function. In her latest solo show at ebersmoore, The Inheritance, Toebbe introduces humans for the first time. The human figure shares space with its furnishings, pointing to a narrative that seems, at first, more accessible. It is a narrative that invokes the artist’s biography as well. By way of a press release, we learn that these ornate tableaus tell a story of inheritance and greed — “Dorothy and Jessie also left shares of their P&G stock to their handyman and caretaker, Ron; to their church pastor, and to a man from their church named Loreaux. But when Dorothy and Jessie died, Loreaux claimed a greater share and sued the estate. While the lawsuit was pending the stock market crashed; by the time it was all over, the fortune was all but wiped out. Toebbe’s parents had counted on the inheritance for their retirement, but because of Loreaux’s greed, all they inherited was frustration, disappointment, and anger.” While this narrative hovers like a background noise, the figures depicted seem remote from it at first. They stand or sit, static as any area rug, bed or book case. Together, these various, human and non-human, elements conspire to create an illusion of stability and cohesion, an illusion that ties in directly with our expectations of domestic life. The home is supposed to be a solid and reliable structure. It never is simply that, however, especially when one considers the transmission of its objects between generations. As a result the given narrative reminds the viewer that what one assumes based on a constellation of objects is only ever half of the whole story. While Toebbe presents calm scenes of the home, she nevertheless reminds us of an unpredictable and dynamic vitality therein, incorporating shifting POVs and gestural marks that evoke the emotional somersaults in a home and its family. Somersaults not always visible from the sphere of personal affects. It is perhaps the way any home works, being at once functional and flighty, recognizable and strange.
Caroline Picard: How do you think about the objects in a given space?
Ann Toebbe: I have a knack for flattening space. It wasn’t considered a great asset in my early training in drawing and painting but I have cultivated my skewed perception — often called folk or faux naïve — of space. I imagine objects flat first, then bend and fold them in creative ways to make everything fit in a given room.
CP: Yeah, there are points in a given painting with the orientation of a viewer to the scene will completely shift form, for instance, a bird’s eye view transforms into an eye level sight line.
AT: I started out using predominantly a bird’s eye view. My early paintings look like cardboard boxes with the lid taken off. You’d look in and see a room in my version of three-point perspective. I drew the lines of the wall in perspective making the floor look like it was in deep space. As I painted more rooms the architecture flattened out — it’s simpler for me to unfold the walls rather than try to use extreme perspective to include everything. The rooms are unstable in terms of gravity but since I know from the start how the painting will be oriented and place things accordingly, they feel grounded.
CP: That’s what’s so striking to me: even though the POV shifts dramatically, the objects you paint feel grounded and stable — even the way you incorporate materials like doily fabric, or the grounding pattern running across the floor — everything has this visual tactile quality, but then you’ll suddenly twist the POV — can you talk about that a bit?
AT: The Inheritance is my first mixed media show. I included fabric from my mom’s wedding dress, yarn, store bought Christmas lights, and grass paper intended for train sets. My mom inspired The Inheritance and she loves kitsch.
CP: This is the first time I’ve ever seen you incorporate the human figure into your work — how did that transition came about? Did the human form felt like an intrusion in your conception of space?
AT: I’ve wanted to include the figure for a while. I can’t count the times I’ve been asked why human figures aren’t there or if I’d ever include them. I wanted to give it a try — why not? I just had to come up with the right body of work. Without figures the mood or emotion in the rooms is very different — it’s still or even embalmed. The rooms represent many similar memories compressed into one picture — so the paintings are always in the past and the memory centers around how the room was decorated and the furniture arranged.
The Inheritance is a story about a specific time and place and also about a specific set of relationships. The people don’t feel like an intrusion in this particular body of work. It wouldn’t have been interesting to paint the rooms without them.
CP: What is the difference between living subjects and furniture in your paintings?
AT: It’s not evident from the digital images but the figures and furniture in The Inheritance are cut paper collage not painting. I constructed everything in the rooms with the same level of care and detail — a folk art thing. The furniture and figures are stiff, sort of like a carved wood sculptures. I carefully chose the figures’ poses especially how they positioned their hands and feet. A posed figure is different from placed and positioned furniture. The figures change the role of some of the furniture. Instead of being stand-ins for the figure, as in previous paintings, the chairs and couches become props for the people sitting on them.
CP: What is it about the domestic setting that compels you?
AT: I started using domestic settings in New York in my twenties. I lived in Brooklyn and was homesick. I had no real intention of returning to Ohio but at the time everything in my life was topsy-turvy and uncertain. I stumbled into painting interiors because it felt comfortable and so many things about living as an artist made me uncomfortable. The funny thing is now that my life is more like Ohio, I miss unruly Brooklyn; so I’ve made several paintings about my Williamsburg apartment. Painting interiors calms me down and allows me to focus on formal concerns — composition, color, shape, texture. I spend my studio time inventorying life and putting things in order, this works for me as an artist.
There’s a story behind each painting and collage. In the early work they were my stories — sleepovers at my grandmother’s farm, mopping my kitchen’s white tile floor, the neighbors messy house where I babysat. In the newer work I ask people to draw and describe rooms from their memory — my husband’s apartment with his ex-wife, my mom’s attic bedroom growing up, my uncle’s one bedroom apartment…
CP: I am also really interested in your depiction of the outdoors — the “natural” landscape is always framed by a window, and your treatment of that outdoors is totally different, the way you describe trees, for instance, feels much more gestural and abstract — as though it is composed in a different vocabulary of mark making. How did that variation came about, and what does it say about the domestic tableaus you create?
AT: A friend told me that he knows my world until he looks outside my house.
I take a lot of liberty in painting the outdoor views that will be covered by curtains or partially hidden from view by furniture. I desperately want to paint loose and to be expressionistic and these obscured outdoor spaces give me the opportunity to be painterly. I use washy, sponged, and pooling paint in the window views in the newer work. Another clue that the room is a painting and isn’t grounded in reality.
CP: Maybe this also ties into a similar idea of framing and mark-vocabulary, but I you also quote other paintings — you know, because it’s a domestic scene so of course these people have paintings on the wall, and then you copy them. But here again, there is a stylistic break that I’m really interested in. What happens in those moments? Those little framed images also feel so pastoral, or decorative, and that seems like a kind of meta-conversation that you are having as a painter painting these very decorative, domestic tableaus…..does that make any sense?
AT: Perfect sense! My compositions are made up of the all objects in a room. And as you said this includes the artwork or pictures on the walls. My approach or technique for depicting the art within the art is to do what is most economical. For cats or fruit I look online for simple images and abstraction often comes from cut outs of paintings made by my young daughters. The miniature art works channel the Sunday painter in me along with my admiration for dollhouse craft. It’s much easier to paint small — each little artwork can be very detailed but only takes an hour versus weeks to make.
The stylistic breaks you mentioned, the outdoor spaces and miniature artworks, are ways for me flex different artistic muscles and at the same time ride the balance between modern and folk and representation and abstraction.
March 15, 2013 · Print This Article
Saturday, March 16, 2013 4:00-6:00 pm
Chicago Cultural Center, Millennium Park Room, 5th Floor
Panel Discussion & Book Release with Joyce Fernandes, Stuart Keeler and Allison Peters Quinn
There are all kinds of overlaps in this art world of ours, old friends and close friends and collaborators — I find myself working with people in different capacities all the time. This weekend my press, The Green Lantern, is releasing a book three years in the making. It’s a project that exemplifies the overlap and intersection of various networks — what is perhaps especially fitting, given that it centers on the subject of socially engaged art practice. To celebrate the release of the GLP’s next book, “SERVICE MEDIA: IS IT PUBLIC ART? OR IS IT ART IN PUBLIC SPACE?” we’ll be having a panel discussion at the Cultural Center, moderated by Bad at Sports’ own, Duncan MacKenzie. Details are as follows:
Inspired by The Green Lantern Press’ 30th title, Service Media: Is it “Public Art” or is it Art in a Public Space?, this panel, a Poetry Center of Chicago Heap of Language Series event, will discuss unconventional art works and practices that take place outside of galleries. As such, the panel extends a conversation that Service Media begins, from text-on-the-page to an evening of public discourse. Service Media: Is it “Public Art” or is it Art in a Public Space? is a collection of essays that investigates socially engaged art. Editor Stuart Keeler strives to reexamine the terminology surrounding this discipline, just as ensuing contributors explore and critique a range of socially minded projects as artists, administrators and critics. It’s a collection that deserves attention for its careful assessment of a once-radical practice that has since become a staple in contemporary art practices and institutions alike.
Joyce Fernades, Executive Director of archi-treasures since 1998, is a cultural worker whose career encompasses extensive experience in arts administration, lecturing and teaching, critical writing, and visual arts practice. Her primary focus has been to develop innovative community arts practices. As Executive Director of archi-treasures she works hard to facilitate strong community partnerships by recognizing and honoring the tremendous assets and resources that are available in all communities, and designing creative projects that leverage and complement those assets. Fernandes is also the former Director of Exhibitions and Events at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the former Program Director at Sculpture Chicago. She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her BFA from Tyler School of Arts in Philidelphia.
Stuart Keeler is an artist of public spaces who organizes exhibitions and multi-platform projects with the collaborative role of “curator” as the conceptual identity of his practice. Is it “public art” or is it art in public space? The role of the artist is challenged by his investigative projects interpreting social praxis as an innovative business model. Keeler aims to model a new process of curatorial practices by engaging with a continuing dialogue in public space centered on the expanded role of the artist. With an MFA from the School at the Art Institute of Chicago (2005), Keeler has exhibited at Gallery 400 UIC, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Center on Contemporary Art, Espace-Art Unit, The Hyde Park Art Center, John Michael Kohler Arts Center among others. Innovative curatorial projects include Art 44|46, Chicago, Le Flash! – Atlanta, LEITMOTIF, Nuit Blanche – Toronto. Keeler has completed over 75 public art commissions in North America and Internationally. He is currently completing a commission a the San Diego International Airport with Swaroskvi Crystal–Austria. He currently holds the position of Director/Curator at The Art Gallery of Mississauga, Canada.
Allison Peters Quinn is the Director of Exhibitions at the Hyde Park Art Center (Chicago), where she has curated exhibitions, and produced symposiums, performances and publications since 2004. She has organized significant exhibitions for emerging and established artists such as Cándida Alvarez, Theaster Gates, Kelly Kaczynski, and Bibiana Suárez. She has served on critique panels and taught graduate seminars at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and The University of Chicago Graham School. Awarded the Ramapo College Curatorial Prize, she has served as juror for the Artadia Award, Efroymson Award, and the Ragdale Foundation. Her writing has appeared in Proximity Magazine and artists’ monographic publications including William Steiger: Transport (2011) and Altogether Mutable: The Work of Mary Lou Zelazny (2009). Allison studied a MA at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, and a BA at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
Founded in 2005, The Green Lantern Press is an artist-run, non-profit press focused on emerging or forgotten texts in order to bridge contemporary experience with historical form. We celebrate the integration of artistic mediums. We celebrate the amateur, the idealist and those who recognize the importance of small independent practice. In a cultural climate where the humanities must often defend themselves, we provide intimate examples of creative thought. Dedicated to the “slow media” approach, the Green Lantern Press conceives each book as a curatorial site; small editions are printed with artist plates, ephemeral inserts and silk screen covers. We are efficient about the material we use, economic about our proportion and intent on local production. More information at www.press.thegreenlantern.org
An independent not-for-profit arts organization founded in 1974, The Poetry Center of Chicago’s mission is to promote poetry through readings, workshops, residencies and arts education, to make poetry accessible to the general public, to stimulate and encourage young poets, and to advance the careers of poets by offering them professional opportunities. The Poetry Center is in residence at the Chicago Cultural Center. A Heap of Language is the Poetry Center’s 2012/13 Event Series, at the Chicago Cultural Center.
It’s been a busy week on the blog and I continue to be surprised and giddy about B@S’ content. Somehow this little blog manages to traverse fields from Chicago stomping grounds, to Kansas City, Royal Oak Michigan, to the nuance of kitsch, job fairs, the debut of a comics column (you know, instead of the Sunday funnies). What could be better indeed?
OK — Maybe a desert island with dolphins, or more simply an hour of sleep but I always believe you got to work with what you have, and Chicago, baby, you got a whole lot of talent and whole lot of heart.
This week Jereiah Hildwine gave us a couple insider tips about CAA, including “…the dirty little secret most people don’t know about the CAA conference before their first time attending: You don’t need to register for the conference to attend the professional development stuff or go into the Interview Hall.” In addition to hearing about performing maleness, street styles outside of SAIC’s BFA show, and John Neff’s artist talk at the Ren, I also learned about a tumbler for all thinks pink and clever; all courtesy of Edition #4 of Dana Bassett’s T.
Anthony Romero and Johannes Göransson have continued to discuss kitsch, the foreigner and whether or not it applies to ASCO — a 70s/80s Chicano performance group. The discussion is something I’ve been especially appreciative of, given that each author makes good points, articulating their disagreements while struggling with the nuance of language. Can “kitsch” — a category of cultural production so quickly dismissed by the mainstream — enjoy supreme freedom because of its marginalization? How do we discuss and examine the foreigner? Is the foreigner a semantic category that defines a state of “otherness?” Or is it about one person immigrating elsewhere? Perhaps the latter can’t shed the former (can it?) without overriding a history of oppression (is that the danger?). Then the question is who is a foreigner to whom in the case of the Chicano and the American? Shouldn’t the American be the foreigner? As a population that arrived her from elsewhere? Romero responds to Göransson’s first B@S post here. Göransson replies to Romero here. I enjoyed the flow of discourse, benefitting tremendously from the difficulties these authors articulate.
I should add, as a somewhat personal aside, that such moments exemplify, for me, the best aspects of community. Community is accidental and easy when everyone gets along and agrees. It can start to feel oppressive, if room isn’t made for disagreement. The alternative is much harder, more interesting, and dynamic: to be part of a group that allows for differences of opinion, a group that is nevertheless invested in discussing those differences. What a feat! Especially if courtesy remains throughout. For me, courtesy signifies the desire for a productive discussion — which is its necessary own challenge. We aren’t going to like everything that everyone else does, if for no other reason than because we are a large, confounding group with nebulous parts. (I’m not just talking about B@S either, I mean more generally — Chicago’s art world, the larger more general art world, the larger more general world). I’m probably making too much of this, but I was so psyched to see a discourse emerge between posts, especially one with such high stakes. Such instances make me braver in my own voice, just as they make me more likely to trust this idea of “community” that we all love to fall back on.
Jamilee Polson Lacy posted about Kansas City, and went on the record to say “Kansas City, in my opinion, is a sentimental place.” Lacy goes on to say, “the arts scene in KC has seen lately a confluence of presentations demonstrating artists’ longing for many pasts, presents and futures.” She contextualizes this longing with ”KC-based fiction writer Annie Fischer’s 2012 essay, ‘Wish You Were Here,’ which somehow, amazingly, sums up all of these wild ideas.” So. Check it out.
Mystery blogger, Thomas Friel, appears on the scene! That is to say, I’ve never met Friel and have yet to communicate with him (Friel, if you’re reading this! Consider it a message in a bottle and email me! I love your posts!) — : this week Friel sort of accidentally rescued Friday. You know, I try and set something up to post every day, and a couple things fell through so I figured Friday would get a pass, but no! Lo! When I visited the blog on Saturday morning, I came to find Friel’s essay about Butter Projects’ Valentine’s show in Royal Oak, MI. “Already, this is a better take on the Valentine themed art exhibit. Curated by Alison Wong, “I Like You and I Together,” on view until March 16, allows our experience with love to be the biggest thing in the room, in the air around us instead of plastered on the walls.”
Stephanie Burke’s Top 5, (need I say more?)
Saturday opened up with a great book review by Terri Griffith on Judith Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure. In Griffith’s words, ”Halberstam (see Gaga Feminism), introduces us to alternative ways of viewing failure, as perhaps an expression of rebellion or as means to resist mainstream America’s pressure to conform.” What if, by rejecting the society’s endowment of legitimacy, one can achieve a new sense of freedom (and perhaps shift societal paradigms and hierarchies). It’s maybe not so different from the Timothy Leary Tune in Drop out, though I suppose we are wiser and smarter now?
Brit Barton posted some ENDLESS OPPORTUNITIES (though, #alas, in case any of you were holding your breath, there weren’t any listing for free beachfront condos).
Last but certainly not least: that new take on Sunday Funnies by Sara Drake. Drake introduces her series and gives a top 3 list of her own:
1. Aidan Koch’s gorgeous book,The Blonde Woman, was created with assistance from a Xeric Grant and was originally released online via The Study Group Magazinewebsite. I recommend reading it all in one sitting if possible.
2. The New York Times recently published a mini-comic by C.F. called Face It.
3. Cartoonist, Brian Chippendale made an animated music video out of flip-books he drew as a kid. There’s a dragon and eyeball bombs in it – need I say more?Black Pus – 1000 Years
I got the following reminder in my inbox and wanted to pass it along, in case any of you (like me) are on the look out for hot tax tips:
A reminder that tomorrow – Wednesday, March 6 at 7PM at threewalls – is the artist tax workshop. The workshop is free and open to the public, so please invite anyone you think may benefit!
This week, I feel like writers have been articulating an inherent push against traditional boundaries and bounds — what is art that smells? Where do we locate the human/non-human divide? What if we dissolve that distinction? What becomes of performance then? I am deeply interested in blurring the borders and bounds between human/non-human, natural/unnatural, living/non-living, as in doing we can destabilize hierarchal patterns that have been in place for decades. It sounds crazy, maybe — but consider how much one’s thought would shift if we simply de-emphasized the Human. If the Natural panorama was equivalent with a panaromic, digital experience — the immediate recoil and rejection of such a thought reveals some the depth of our quasi-relgious interpretations of “landscape.”
We began the week with a buffet of smells, as provided by Shane MacAdams’ visit to a “smell show” called Art and Scent in NYC, a show that called enough attention to smell that it affected his experience of surrounding environs. As he put it, “Any quaintness Greenpoint offers is mitigated by the realization that it’s sitting on 30 million gallons of spilled oil, that comes out in occasional farts that engulf the neighborhood.”
There seems to be an obvious connection between that undercurrent of oil and João Florêncio’s post, “Performing Ecology,” where Florêncio goes through series of snapshots (or “Scenes), describing the performance of the body in space, illustrating the connecting networks that such performances can highlight. For instance:
Scene 6. Johannesburg, South Africa. A white man in drag wears an old chandelier as if it was a tutu and struggles to balance himself on his disproportionately high high-heel shoes while walking on debris, stones, and dirt in one of South Africa’s shanty towns. Around him, workers hired by the local authority, armed with crowbars and wearing orange overalls, demolish the locals’ dwellings to allow for the construction of the future Nelson Mandela bridge. This is Steven Cohen’s Chandelier.
These scenes are not strictly about humankind. Rather, they illustrate our position in our present ecological time, a time that has been coined: “Anthropocene.” Florêncio will continue to write about this in the coming months: “I will be presenting an overview of the anthropocentric role theatre and performance have played throughout History, some of the ways in which they have been criticised and reinvented, and, ultimately, the ways in which they ought to be thought differently as a consequence of their unfolding on the broad Anthropocenic stage.”
Victor Delvecchio posted about Performance Architecture — focusing on the work of Alex Schweder and how his intervening “scripts” at the TATE altered visitors’ movement through the museum. “Having worked seven years as a mold and leak expert… [Schweder] comes to the point that buildings are alive, uprating much more similarities to our flesh than we want them to.” Schweder, who’s show at Opus Project Space in NY opened this weekend, describes the work this way:
Performance architecture is about aestheticizing the action that occurs within the building and using the building as a script for doing so. There is a whole history of architecture involving the body as an example giving a kind of history of how idealized bodies have come to inform the way we design building, building as effigies of those bodies that we would like to have; and then we occupy these bodies that we would like to have.
Juliana Driever posted a great interview with Mare Liberum, a “freeform publishing, boatbuilding and waterfront art collective based in the Gowanus, Brooklyn.” Throughout the week, I feel like there is a regular return to the idea of our environment and this interview is no exception. In the words of one ML member, Dylan Gauthier:
We borrowed the name Mare Liberum – which is latin for Freedom of the Seas – from a 17th century commentary which championed the natural rights of maritime trade and navigation and forms the basis of modern maritime law… In taking the name we oriented the collective toward a study of past relationships with the water as well as to the present environmental threat to the sea through global warming but also the exploitation of oil resources and other risky undertakings that threaten the health and stability of this water-commons. For us Mare Liberum is also a bit tongue-in-cheek, since we were interested in getting out on the water for as little cost as possible, hence our translation and our website “thefreeseas.org”.
Our Atlanta-based correspondent, Meredith Kooi posted a great essay about Full Radius Dance’s performance of Touch:
Touch, in its multiple parts involved dancers of varying bodies and abilities. As a physically-integrated dance company, Full Radius’ dancers are both abled and disabled, some use wheelchairs in their everyday lives. [Douglas] Scott first became engaged in this practice through a workshop offered at Shepherd Center, a hospital and rehabilitation center located in Atlanta that specializes in medical treatment, research, and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord and brain injuries. He realized that all bodies do not move the same way that his does and that there was opportunity to explore the “limits of physicality” with various bodies.
What’s amazing about Kooi’s description of the dance, is the way wheel chairs are fully absorbed and incorporated into the whole choreography, thereby pushing the bounds of what we might consider “body” and “non-body” (or machine). This article raises questions about how we define the body, and especially, how we might engage and incorporate the non-normative body. It reminds of Anthony Romero’s post from a while back, “What Can Be Done with Dance?” where he reminds us that most space is defined by “an athletic body.”
The week would be remiss without Stephanie Burke’s TOP 5 — a veritable road map for gallery enthusiasts. (CHECK IT OUUUT!)
Richard Holland has started a new column in the spirit of levity and delight — so keep your eyes peeled for that, and here is his first installment. It’ll be a nice respite from the Anthropocene……
(At least we can safely say, the Mayan’s were wrong)
Abraham Ritchie was inspired to post an essay about everyone’s darling THE BEAN, in reaction to a live tweet he disagreed with (that’s intended as a kind of bread crumb trail. In case you want to go back and follow the tweets, so to speak). What I’d like to repost here is an excerpt from the end of Ritchie’s essay (and please, take note of Ritchie’s use of the word “alien,” because I at least have always assumed that if the world ever does end, that thing is probably going to turn into a space ship and carry the president to safety.):
The alien form of the abstraction identifies itself immediately as Art but does not alienate, instead it draws people in through their curiosity and the work’s generosity. Kapoor’s contribution accomplishes the mission of Millennium Park, while being wholly successful on its own terms. Rather than an indifferent sculpture, this is public art that lives up to the aspirations of its genre, bringing people together and inspiring them.
Part of what is so awesome about The Bean is that it is alien, and strange, and yet it engages its audience (us) by reflecting our faces. We are fascinated by the translated-fun-house-mirror distortion.
Nicholas O’Brien asks about site specificity when applied to the digital space? How does such an application challenge traditional ideas about installation, and can we apply the same terminology Land Art employs with regard to site. Here too, O’Brien engages a virtual landscape as a literal one. In doing so it can easily feel alien, it might even reflexively alienate oneself (or me) from the supposed “natural” landscape (after all, I certainly spend more time on line that outdoors).
Perhaps it makes good sense that we begin the week in NY and end the week in LA: a successful coast-to-coast transfer. We began with smell and we end with Adrienne Harris’ post on a murder mystery game at the Getty. There is something I deeply dig about the simulacre of a murder mystery scavenger hunt — the body-lessness of the crime. The parody of real life located in the land of Hollywood. In Chicago we stand in the dregs of winter — warming days that melt and muddy the world, only to morph into freezing night that stiffen everything anew. The point is, I’m always daydreaming about California. Someone told me once that California was the future — it was as far into the future as any American could go. The edge of the West. On the edge of that coast you stare into the east, though my same friend pointed out there is an island of plastic in the way, otherwise known as the Plastic Vortex.