I had the chance to visit ACRE for a few days this summer. It was the first time I’d been to a residency. I was especially happy that my first experience of such a place would take place within a structure largely motivated by the same artist-run DIY ethos that has characterized so much of my contemporary art life. That isn’t to suggest there is anything piece meal about ACRE: on the contrary, they boast a variety of buildings and facilities in addition to an incredible menu. What I mean by “artist-run DIY ethos” has to do with the overall feeling of administrative transparency. Emily Greene and Nick Wylie are always present whether in Wisconsin making sure breakfast runs smoothly, or in Chicago putting up weekly shows from last summer’s residents.
A few weeks ago, someone asked a friend what he thought characterized the art scene in Chicago. Of course this peaked my interest — I always love hearing people make objective and general statements about the world, particularly when those statements involve a world so close to me. He suggested Chicago was characterized by it’s artistic and innovative administrative efforts. While artists don’t necessarily divorce themselves from object making, the production of objects and art is nevertheless contingent on idiosyncratic exhibition spaces which become community watering holes. ACRE strikes me as another example of such a place, though I find it difficult to fully imagine the work entailed. It’s a massive undertaking with different groups requiring beds over the course of a summer, each group demanding three meals a day, studio space, entertainment, freedom and very often visitors — somehow ACRE accomplishes it.
I am interested in the connection such a place has to the city (you can read more about that here) — the way the residency functions as a retreat from urban (and even cultural) life, just as it later soaks back into the city’s cultural landscape via gallery shows and screenings between September and June. With so many artist-residency programs based in Chicago (like ACRE, Harold and Ox-bow, for instance) our gallery season is especially flooded with residency-work. Certain architectural elements from those different places become icons of some sort — the pier at Harold, for instance, I have seen in at least six short films over the course of the last year — accumulating a collective significance even as their relation to each discrete artist project changes. Furthermore the communities that take up residence at these residencies, while not exclusively Chicago artists, are often Chicago-dominant. What does that mean? What is that we are getting away from — certainly not ourselves.
When I arrived, I definitely felt like my eyes were drinking green after having been so parched of vegetation I’d forgotten what it felt like to hear bugs or smell grass.
Someone told me he wanted to erect a series of letters in the hillside, after the style of HOLLYWOOD that just said LAND.
Someone else told me his favorite thing was to take walks in the dark, at night, because it was almost impossible to see.
There was a ritualistic and constant application of bug spray — various cans lay for communal use outside the doorway of almost every common space.
And one night there were fireworks and I kept thinking, I wonder if whoever is lighting them off knows what they are doing. It struck me then that there was something delicious about suspecting an amateur. The fireworks were much more exciting when I had to trust the fireworker, when there was just enough doubt in my mind to fear for his or her safety (it was dark and impossible to see who was down there). At one point a jean-clad effigy began to explode and I really seriously thought it was a person at first. That heart-in-your-throat kind of moment where it takes the calm of other observers alongside a rational belief that a person would never put themselves at such risk exhilarated and overpowered my fear. It struck me then that part of the appeal of these do-it-yourself endeavors stems from an assurance that a skill can be learned, an insistent belief in one’s own capacity that assumes on an open world: a world that is generous in so far as it teaches itself where we are patient enough to learn. It’s an attitude I find especially American because it’s tied to the pioneer imagination, immigration and daring and arrogance. The other part of the appeal, and maybe especially where the magic happens is that there is risk involved. And then it works, and everyone has the sense that they participated in the working-ness.
In 1969, John and I were so naïve to think that doing the Bed-In would help change the world.
Well, it might have. But at the time, we didn’t know.
It was good that we filmed it, though.
The film is powerful now.
What we said then could have been said now.
In fact, there are things that we said then in the film, which may give some encouragement and inspiration to the activists of today. Good luck to us all.
Let’s remember WAR IS OVER if we want it.
It’s up to us, and nobody else.
John would have wanted to say that.
Yoko Ono Lennon
Of course nostalgia isn’t a progressive place. When looking back to the past, it’s possible to know the outcome of every action. Progressive actions happen when consequences are yet to be determined. They are insecure, idealistic and defiant. Their success is compounded by, and most likely contingent on, other idealists.
I often take the 60s for granted as a kind of failed parent to our present — I remember for instance, my disdain when America declared The War on Terror. There were protests on Market Street in San Francisco where I lived; since I worked at a gallery downtown, a number of the dissidents came through our doors. Most of them old timers, they seemed enthused and exhilarated, wearing old ponchos with old buttons — costumes from a former life. It brought back the old days, they said, enjoying a renewal of purpose to which I was highly critical. The protests that year felt more like block parties, sequestered as they were to specific streets with police lining the borders between outcry and everyday life; there was no real disruption.
Neither was an alternative supplied: while half of the country (at least) cried out for war, the other dug its heels in, adamantly opposed. The protest parties celebrated opposition without solutions. I wanted someone to come up with another way, a non-violent action — that would mark a good leader, I thought. Even in my financially challenged state, I still had a roof and a car and two jobs. I had a sister who fed me when I couldn’t buy groceries. I had access to a world our supposed enemies did not. My parents’ hippy friends gave me a bumper sticker that said, “Bomb them with butter.” At least that seemed like one new idea. I know I had none.
When soldiers brought the statue of Saddam Hussein down with a crane, we’d been in Iraq for 20 days. There was a sudden euphoria of success and achievement. It became its own short-lived propaganda. “A few minutes after the toppling, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters,’The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad are breathtaking. Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain’ (The New Yorker). We watched it on the news. I remember feeling both impotent and relieved.
“War became the evil pimp and illegitimate master, while society became a terrorized subaltern. War was not just about political domination through physical violence leading to death, but about the exploitation of bodies and minds for financial gain, sexual power, and the censure of our unique capacity as human beings to engage in abstract thought. As a performer, I understand you to be saying that what makes war terrible is not just that it can kill us, but that it forces us to perform against ourselves — against our will, against our interests, against our values” ( A Field Guide for Female Interrogators, Coco Fusco, Seven Stories Press, 2008). Years later, I pulled into a Pier One parking lot to listen to Cheney’s trial being broadcast on the radio. There had been headlines all week about what a creep he was. The rapid cries of infamy as we the people denounced his behavior. He admitted his sanction of torture. All the photos came out with dark men, naked, faces in black hoods, sometimes in piles. The bright burn of a camera flash in a corner as soldiers–men and women both–smiled. We know those pictures. They come from a time when popular ideas about Muslim taboos were bandied around public space like beach balls; every room I was in discussed the terror of war, the stress of soldiers. “How could this thing have happened?” The day was bright and sunny outside. The highway banal and complacent. But I’d thought everyone knew, like it was in the collective unconscious–I’d known and I didn’t even read that much back then. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were dark places, beyond citizenship, as though human rights were contingent on state. Of course that torture still exists now — because we are not innocent — and Cheney’s presently on a book tour as an advocate of his practice. ”If we give up all efforts to identify and set limits to uses of force and violence, unwarranted, and unmerited,” Fusco writes, “we essentially relinquish any agency with regard to politics, and aquiesce to authoritarian control of our lives or those of others” (p. 25).
Yes. It’s good Bin Laden is no longer a threat, but I don’t think anyone — especially a leader — should ever be proud of murder. It’s a terrible thing to have to take someone’s life, regardless of the circumstances. Circumstances that lead to such a necessity are all the more heartbreaking, stemming from a desperate responsibility. And here again, I think leaders give us examples of behavior, demonstrating through their address the weight of such a choice, thereby acknowledging the unequivocal meaning of life. Ten years later we are still at war, still shadow boxing. September 11th is still impossible to comprehend. Its tragedies will always remain irrevocable regardless of all subsequent acts, many of which have perpetuated violence: the shadows cast by our way of life. Embedded in my disappointment in the 60s is a tremendous disappointment in the present. The notion of peace seems all the more impossible, just as the emotive potency of war becomes more remote. There is so much to think about and learn from in those old performative gestures of peace–the way in which the media, still naive itself, could not get enough of those crazy kids.
..my favorite images of the aforementioned film take place at breakfast.
Several months ago, I was invited to share a blog with a stranger. On that blog, I was asked to write about art & reciprocity. I met Erik Hagoort that way. I read his posts and he read mine. Sometimes we responded to one another. The blog itself came from a larger project artists Kirsten Leenaars and Lise Haller Baggesen were curating. That show, Mutualisms, (opens this Friday September 9th at the CoProsperity Sphere) features work made by artists paired together–half of the pair comes from the Netherlands, the other half is local to Chicago. Over the last six+ months, these pairs have been working together, building a dialogue more or less from scratch, in order to install work here. It’s a show about networks and relationships. It’s a show about community, and how that can arise with an ocean between us. In addition to the exhibit, CoPro is also hosting a symposium on Sunday (September 11th, from 1-5) to address the issue of art and reciprocity: an interesting question, given that so much of what we think about in terms of community building and art relies on expectations of return, or taking turns, or sharing. How do those themes also manifest themselves in a discrete work of art born from collaboration? In the following interview, Erik and I asked Lise and Kirsten some questions about the origin of the show, how to think about it critically, and even how its global perspective addresses arts funding strategies.
Caroline Picard: So often an exhibition is the culmination of work; while of course, Mutualisms is a culmination,there has been an on-going dialogue taking place on-line via blogs (both the one that you all keep as the Mutualisms site, and of course the blog you invited me to participate on with Erik). How did you think to frame the project via blogs and exhibitions? And what was it like pairing artists in different parts of the world?
Kirsten Leenaars & Lise Haller Baggesen: We had just met in Chicago last year, right before the Propeller Fund application was due. One of the things we had been talking about is that we at times had missed an international influx of artists in Chicago. The other thing that struck us is that while having both lived in Amsterdam and now in Chicago we had been part of quite different artistic and friend networks that only partially overlapped. Adding these elements up thought we could combine our networks to create an extended grid from which to organize a show. So, you could say that the show also came about as a mutual exchange between us [Kirsten and Lise], due to a need of expanding our own artistic and social horizons, the main idea being that the art world functions more or less through connections and relationships. We wanted to create a platform through which we could facilitate these relationships and form new connections amongst our combined networks.
Because we both are primarily artists, makers, and curators and thinkers secondarily, we curated the show very much from the point of view of the individual artist’s practice, rather than as an illustration of an intellectual or theoretical idea (not that we are anti-intellectuals, far from it!). So, we tried to combine artists that we felt had a similar approach or a similar sensibility, hoping that the connections we observed were something they could see too, or that they might discover their own links through a dialogue with each other about their own practices. When we invited the artists to participate in the show we made very clear that the dialogue between each pair was an essential part of the concept and that they needed to be willing to engage in this what undoubtedly was at times-especially at first – potentially an awkward exchange. Kind of like any first date can be. Some of the pairs readily jumped to the occasion and hit it off immediately, others definitively needed a little bit more time and coercing. Both and even the potential for a mismatch are part of concept of the show and we guess in some ways a risk we as the curators or organizers took. Our main objective really was to plant some seeds for potential mutual relationships that would grow and develop and extend beyond the scope of the Mutualisms project.
The blogs seemed to just be a very logic consequence of the fact that the artists were residing on different continents and the blog became a space where they could meet. Not just as a pair but also as the group on a whole. The blog allowed them to also see how the other pairs were connecting and what ideas were being exchanged. In addition we thought it would be make this process visible and public — often this kind of exchange often remains quite private – because the dialogue can get quite personal – but it gives great insight to the artist’s practice and creates almost organically a context for the work and the show on the whole.
CP: There are some really incredible (and devastating, I think) movements in Europe (I guess I’m thinking largely about the UK) to cut funding for philosophy departments, art departments and even departments of literature. I understand from talking to you all the first day we met that a similar situation is taking place in Holland–and then too, I feel like some of the fears have twinged American consciousness as well (for instance, I’m thinking of what compelled Martha Nassbaum to write Not-for-Profit, which struck me as a defense of the arts). How do you feel this show might speak to that? In some ways, I’m asking because you’re relating two vastly different arts-funding strategies (the mostly private American version vs. the largely government subsidized (is that even the right way to think about it?)) and suddenly the work of those systems is materializing here in Chicago which is so interesting, I think. Maybe especially because you both have had such extensive experience in both worlds…
KL & LHB: To begin with, the show was curated ‘organically’, from a practice kind of view; it’s not really meant to illustrate a point about the pro’s and con’s of arts funding, or anything like that. That kind of got thrown in the mix, because of the rapidly deteriorating situation in the Netherlands, which came about simultaneously to us curating the show and, ironically, receiving a considerate amount of financial support from the Netherlands, for the show. So it kind of both reinforced the cliche about the ‘spoiled’ European artists, while at the same time highlighting the possibilities and the fragility that kind of position affords. Through that government support, Dutch artists were able to all come to Chicago, allowing for the artist pairs to actually meet. We have noticed that these physical encounters fortified the connections and dialogue and are raising the show to the next level. Bearing in mind too that the show in Chicago is only part one. Next summer we hope to host a show in the Netherlands, and we are asking the current participating artists to continue their dialogue with each other. How we will fund this show will be our next challenge…
Funnily enough, both sides of the arts funding argument like to pull the ‘quality’ card, as an argument for their stance. I.e. a private art market leads to ‘better art’ because the artists have to fend for themselves vs. art funding leads to ‘better quality’ art because you have a ’peer support system’ that is free of commercial interests. But, when you look around in the show, it’s not lack of quality that characterizes either group, to the contrary! There are different sensibilities of course, that are typical of American vs. European works, that has to do with a sense of place and belonging to a certain cultural heritage, but just as often it’s hard to tell off hand which is which, and quality wise they are certainly level pecking!
Erik Hogaart: Since the mid nineties of the last century the so-called relational tendency in the art world seems to prevail. This is not only referring to Nicolas Bourriaud’s famous statement of art being a state of encounter. The ‘relational’ has had a much wider impact, even extending into a feeling that networks of artists, curators, and audience not only surround the art work but become even artworks in themselves. This doesn’t exclude the appreciation of artworks of course, artists and curators involve other artists and curators on the basis of what they make and do. Yet, relations, even friendship seems to take a bigger part of the “art’s cake”. Russian curator Viktor Misiano has called it the tendency of confidentiality. And a project such as Mutualisms could, thinking along, also be called a confidential project. What do you, Lise and Kirsten, think of this? What is the balance for you between creating an opportunity for artists to make works, and creating an opportunity for artists to relate to one another. These two aspects of Mutualisms are of course connected, but in what way?
KL & LHB: Two things were very clear from the beginning. One, we wanted to be transparent about
the way we had curated the show and where these artists were coming from. Yes, these artists were selected from our pool of friends and acquaintances. This is perhaps often an unspoken given — something acknowledged behind closed doors — but being transparent about that is really at the base of our concept for the show. And in that sense never confidential. In addition these relationships are documented and visible for the public on our blogs. Secondly, yes, the primary reason for choosing each of the artists was based on their own strong practices, not on how much we liked the individual. One does not exclude the other, and what could be potentially more productive than fostering a relationship between a pair of driven practitioners? The dialogue ultimately has the objective to allow new ways of looking at each other’s practice, to inspire a dialogue about ways of thinking and making that ultimately find their ways back to an artist’s practice. Of course if the match truly was a productive one, perhaps this can lead to other opportunities, further productions and collaborations etc. We do hope for these relationships – as mentioned before – to extend beyond Mutualisms. And if friendships are formed through this dialogue as well, than that is an added bonus.
EH: A question, which is philosophically triggered by Jacques Derrida’s statement: “the artwork is vertical, and slightly leaning.” This idea of the verticality of the artwork stresses confrontation, awe, being struck. Quite opposite is the idea of relationships and networks, which stresses horizontality, encounter between entities in the same/ equal position. Especially when artists connect to each other, and form mutual networks, how does these two models fit in? Mutualism, or reciprocity: how does it relate to these two concepts. Is there still space for the vertical within the horizontal?
KL & LHB: What you are implying here, is that inherent to an open ‘democratic’ curatorial process is the risk that the resulting product will also be ‘democratic: i.e. not ‘sublime’, a risk you are also touching on with your questions for the symposium when you state: ‘in the arts a strong tradition has opposed reciprocity. Art’s autonomy should prevail above exchange.’
Yes, that is a risk, and a risk we embraced as we were preparing for the show, because the encounter or the exchange that this structure entails, also invites the possibility of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Just like the idea of democracy: ‘together we are strong’ this show was an open invitation to the artists to participate in a dialogue, in which they could make new art works that lay outside the boundaries of their own practice, or by pairing individual (existing) works that would allow the work to be contextualized in a new way. Some of the artists involved really stepped up to this challenge and engaged in a creative process, with an outcome that was surprising both to us, and to themselves. Others, you could say, ‘played it safe’ and are showing more in parallel.
Every art work implies an encounter, social relationship. Namely between the art work and the viewer. Approaching art in this way implies an investigation of the social situation in which art takes place and encounters society. It focuses on the encounter in the moment of perception and communication, it underlines the role of projection in the exchange with a spectator, a public which is constantly being reconstituted. What does that ephemeral, individual or collective imagination bring forth? In what way does imagination not only produce the artwork, but also a social relationship? This question is the primary one. Each of the artists that participate, create work. They have different ways of engaging in this process. But for none of the artists is the encounter in itself the artwork. Neither do we as the curators of the show, see the encounter, or the relationship as the work. The show is a model for exchange, this exchange happens between the artists, the curators and ultimately between the viewer and the work that is on display – a result of prior conversations. So with this show we also ask who participates in this process, and what does participation mean in this context? So the horizontal and vertical in our Mutualisms project are two axes in a grid where each of the artists individually and as pairs can be located on different positions within this grid.
The American Folk Art Museum in New York has been in the news a lot lately–and sadly too; it looks like they’re closing. Faced with the pressure of massive debt, the AFM sold its flagship building on West 53rd Street to MOMA and shrank to its smaller, auxiliary 5,000 sq ft location in Lincoln Square–what they allegedly rent for $1/year. The building on 53rd was built from scratch by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects specifically for the collection and opened in December, 2001. At the time “it was widely hailed as a sign of hope, both for the museum and New York. Here was evidence the city could recover from the terrorist attack of a few months earlier: a shiny bronze structure smack in the heart of Midtown that would be the first major art museum to open in Manhattan since the Whitney Museum in 1966,” (NYT, August 24, 2011). Since then the AFAM seems to be a lightening rod for particularly relevant trouble. “For example, its former chairman, Ralph O. Esmerian, promised to donate his collection of folk art, including a version of Edward Hicks’s ‘Peaceable Kingdom,’ but Mr. Esmerian also put the painting up as collateral against money he owed, and in 2008 it was put up for auction. In July Mr. Esmerian, who is no longer on the board, was sentenced to six years in prison for fraud,” (NYT, August 19, 2011). Perhaps again, as an indicator of our socioeconomic environment, the AFAM was forced to default on its construction loans in 2009. Their projected income from ticket sales and donations alike exceeded the reality of their position. The museum defaulted on its debt and this past May, its board decided to sell the building to its neighboring institution, the MOMA. While the sale got the museum out of its immediate hole, they were unable to raise additional funds for operating costs. Now the question seems to be, how to dissolve the institution? Where will these objects go?
What happens when a museum with such a carefully and specifically curated collection sells/donates its collection? The work itself seems as much defined by its relationship to the institution as the institution is defined by its work. If, for instance, Henry Darger is repositioned within the Brooklyn Art Musuem’s repertoire, and should they exhibit his work in conjunction with contemporary works does that change the way we view Darger? Does he start to emerge from the margins of “Outsider Art” into a space with different categorical potential (and therefore influence)? Obviously and for various reasons, Darger would never (nor should he) hold the status of a Pollack, for instance, but would his position and relation in our history-of-art-timeline change depending on his status within a specific collection? Would the same apply for the quilts in AFAM’s collection–how would these objects be integrated in other exhibits? Were everything to end up in a National History Museum, would we forget to think of these objects as art objects, considering them first and foremost practical artifacts endemic to a new country developing a cultural vocabulary? The historical implications/academic associations created by an institution’s curatorial hand suddenly becomes apparent to me.
As AFAM collected and exhibited this particular body of work it sought to define the significance of its collection, simultaneously reinforcing the significance of its own institutional contribution. Suddenly the work of curators shows its essential contribution to discussions around art. (While an obvious point, well curated experiences are often so seamless, that I take their curatorial authority for granted. I hardly notice it, focusing instead on the narrative it propagates.)
That said, and appealing to the internet ether (sometimes I feel I’m sending messages to outerspace) I don’t want the AFAM to close. Obviously I’m not in a position to fully comprehend the circumstances or needs of this institution as it goes through what must be a devastating time, but here are two postcards to metaspace:
Dear American Folk Art Museum, While we never shared the same state, your presence has helped me develop over the years, pressed me to follow paths of my own work and insight that I might have otherwise diminished and dismissed. Thank you so much. Yours truly.
Please don’t tear down the AFAM building. It would be such a waste! Perhaps instead you could incorporate its structure into your own and bring a new life to the building’s history. We must all protect one another, somehow. Yours truly.
On Saturday, August 13th Penny Duff and Michael Slaboch put together a series of “intimate music and audio art” events throughout Chicago’s Ukranian Village. Various musicians and artists performed between 1 and 6 pm, peppered through the neighborhood on a kind of walking tour.
It began on the front porch of 1042 N Winchester St. A Cheshire Cat made out of stained opalescent glass sat in the window of the front door, just over Plastic Crimewave’s shoulder. Sitting in colored pants and socks, (shoes placed neatly beside him on the edge of the stairs) he played a morning raga on his banjo.
From there, we traveled a few blocks to the backyard of 1032 N Wood and watched a honky tonk band, The Lawrence Peters Outfit. Overhead the sky grew dark. There were rumors of a storm and the telephone lines blew back and forth vigorously as LPO played their set ending with a song about a storm.
At 2:00 we walked over to Corbett vs. Dempsey–a mainstay of neighborhood, experimental music performance–to see Mark Booth’s live collage of “reconditioned and recontextualized aural fragments.” Outside it began to hail and the sky was exceptionally dark. The sound of ice pellets punctuated Booth’s gramaphone samples.
By the time we made it outside the weather had more or less passed. Although it had deterred the in-transit, shopping cart performance by Heartichoke–we still went on to see Andy Slater at 2047 W Walton St. Slater played a homemade monochord slide bass who sometimes mimicked heavy metal riffs on his twangy slab of wood. Dogs wandered around the backyard while he played and people stood around him on all but one side, some (like me) by the back gate, others on the stairs at his back.
Following this were several performances I didn’t get the chance to see: the meme on 2337 W Thomas, Matthew Hale Clark at 2237 W Rice, Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan and Shearing Pinx at Permanent Records and, finally at the Rainbo Club: Judson Claiborne and the Found Sound After Party.
That’s more or less the wrap up. What I wanted to say, though, what it made me think about, was how important interrupting regular experience is. Seeing an organized music event that takes place along a neighborhood walk amplifies your experience of the neighborhood and the music. Like an art show in an apartment, there is something domestic and, even, banal about the setting. With the exception of a block party, these spaces, streets and alleys are not generally intended for a shared, public experience. One’s expectations of the performance consequently and curiously suspended, insecure; anything could happen within this ill-defined and intimate structure. Furthermore, the freedom the audience has to stumble upon the event, or depart nonchalantly: there is no cost, no obvious gain for those organizing the experience. There are free scones on a front porch, new faces come at certain events as others depart, each porch/backyard is organized differently, inadvertently acknowledging the lifestyles of its flanking domeciles. Such moments deeply interest me because their naturalness does not appear, at first, contingent on any audience. Plastic Crimewave might just sit on a porch and play for his own pleasure. We might be just happening upon it. There happens to be a honky tonk band in that backyard. The people in attendance appear to know what they are doing, even though they say very little to one another and stand, for the most part, as strangers do–not touching. This is one of Chicago’s greatest strengths: that people administrate such events and, more so, that a public rallies behind them, activating the potential for aesthetic experiences in banal, everyday settings.