On Sunday February 7, 2016, the date that will now forever be known as the day a politically aware and majestic Beyoncé won the Super Bowl, an article written by Daniel Grant ran in the Education/Life section of the New York Times titled “For These Pieces Hold the Paint: Social Practice Degrees Take Art to a Communal Level.” The Art and Social Practice MFA program at Portland State University (PSU), where from 2008-2014 I taught and was for the majority of my time there the Co-director and Chair, was heavily featured in the article. Before joining the faculty at PSU, I also founded the largest annual international conference on socially engaged art, Open Engagement. My background as the director of this conference, my intimate knowledge of the program at PSU, and my position in the world as a woman of color led me to read the article (one of the first circulating these ideas to a broad and mainstream readership) and wonder who gets to speak for socially engaged art? Whose voices are privileged? And what types of projects get circulated?Social practice feels as though it could hold the potential to change the world. As Harrell Fletcher stated in the article, many artists working in this way could be described as politically progressive, some “fairly extreme in their anticapitalism.” I would say that much of the ethos behind this way of working as an artist is about re-evaluating and challenging systems of power. It is about the value of art in daily life and the belief that art is for everyone, not just the elite. Its commercial value can be slim as much of the time this kind of work might not look like art at all. This work promotes agency in artists, it is made alongside and with it’s intended audience and necessitates being in the context of the world.
Because social practice can be so seemingly outside of what we have traditionally framed as art it often has a problem with tone and form. Artists wishing to tackle the most pressing and serious issues of our time sometimes land on a dinner party, or a walk as a way of addressing these problems. While I believe that real change can emerge from seemingly small gestures, it is undeniable that there are clear tropes that have emerged in socially engaged art. One of the most troubling things for me in the New York Times piece was that while Grant talked about social practice’s historic connections to figures like community organizer and agitator Saul Alinsky—whose work was able to help lend power to the voices of so many who have been disenfranchised, that one of the main projects of graduates of the PSU MFA program that was featured was “Grocery Stories”, a project installed at a locally owned Portland boutique chain grocery store, giving voice to artisanal cheese makers. I know from first hand experience that the PSU MFA program has produced projects and artists that deal with immigrant rights, housing justice, shifting institutional power, LGBTQIA communities, and media access. As I read I wondered where was the radical work? Why were only white students highlighted? In addition to this omission of these student projects, there was a lack of diversity in the interviewed leaders in the field ranging from program directors, to chief curators—many of these voices representing the usual suspects for social practice.
Grant’s article ends with a sentence that is undoubtedly supposed to elicit a response and understanding in the reader about the new level of awareness that the students and artists working in this way have achieved, “They shuffle, reach, grasp the air, and ultimately open their eyes.” If this is a practice that is truly woke I would hope that it would not continue to perpetuate the models of the dominant art world that continue to exclude women and people of color. In 2013 The National Museum of Women in the Arts estimated that 5% of artwork currently on display in the United States was made by women, and the famous Guerrilla Girls poster outlining the breakdown of artists in the 1991, 1993, and 1995 Whitney Biennials show that the numbers of women of color included in the art world are significantly less. Jillian Steinhauer’s article for Hyperallergic titled, “The Depressing Stats of the 2014 Whitney Biennial” shows that sadly little has changed in almost two decades.
In April the 8th Open Engagement will feature Keynote speakers Angela Davis and Suzanne Lacy. This edition of the conference is the first in a trilogy that will explore the themes of POWER, JUSTICE, and SUSTAINABILITY, 2016 in Oakland at Oakland Museum of California, 2017 at University of Illinois at Chicago, and in 2018 back at the Queens Museum in NY. Open Engagement has worked alongside practitioners and institutions to make sure that the conference symbolically and literally is as capacious as the art by spanning geography, recognizing spaces both inside and outside the academy, and embracing all people who are engaged in transforming the world through creativity and radical imagination. These struggles are continual and each year we acknowledge that this work is never done—that is the nature of social change. As the Associate Director of the UIC School of Art & Art History currently developing socially engaged curriculum at a large public urban research university, I hope that within this freshly institutionalized area of art making that has its roots in activism, social justice, and community organizing, the promise and values that I see in social practice will hold space in the art world for all of us. Before my own time at Portland State University ended I was told by an older white male tenured colleague that I had, “become too visible, and was taking too much credit for the work I was doing.” If we can’t shift these paradigms of oppression and fight these inequities within our own field, what hope do we fare when we take on the world?
by Jessica Cochran
In her recent memoir poet laureate Elizabeth Alexander wrote of her deceased husband, “he left us with his eyes on the world.” He was a painter.
Deborah Boardman (1958 – 2015), who once described herself as a “painter and…” worked in Chicago for nearly three decades. We saw her “eyes on the world” through solo exhibitions at the Gahlberg Gallery at the College of DuPage, the Chicago Cultural Center, Ebersmoore, and, most recently, the Experimental Sound Studio to name a few that were local. There were many more nationally and abroad. An educator at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago since 1997, she influenced hundreds of artists, some of whom became her collaborators.
Deborah worked across painting and drawing, installation, writing, environmental sustainability and sound/video, and she often employed dowsers to “map” her installations. Through it all, she became known for her approach to color, pattern and poetic text as vehicles for emotional content and narrative potential, as well as a uniquely gestural approach to mark making and hand lettering. Years ago, Deborah was of the first Chicago-based artists I discovered utilizing the bookform in a way that I found captivating. And as critic Lori Waxman wrote recently, newer work addressing her struggle with cancer grappled with the unseen and ineffable, articulating “what life looks like in that gracious limbo between life and death.”
Testimonial after testimonial gives evidence that Deborah’s “fierce,” visionary and “generous” creative ethic was not confined to her artworks, but also it governed the lived spaces of her life as an educator and collaborator: there are the students she engaged as her studio interns and treated like family; the friends with whom she sang joyfully in her living room and purposefully in the gallery; there were the women artists’ reading and figure drawing groups in the early 1990s; a spectacular dance party at Oxbow; “meaty” collaborations over years and years, and the concurrent friendships that burned slowly and brightly; pivotal residency and art-making trips to India to learn things like Vastu and develop exhibitions like Magic Mountain at Bangalor and Rooting: India with Akshay Rathore and Tricia Van Eck for the Kochi Biennale. Morning walk after morning walk to Albion Beach with her beloved dogs. The students she taught to write grants, not to “overpaint” and to make artists’ books. The yoga, meditations and gurus: she was a Catholic child turned seeker, spiritualist.
Perhaps the sum of the many, many contours of Deborah’s art-making life is this: in each studio visit was an implicit gift; embedded in every syllabus was an invitation; in each collaboration an emergent provocation; and in every artwork a public offering, a lesson.
My relationship with Deborah grew over six years or so through some group shows I curated, periodic studio visits and friends in common. But was in the last eight weeks of her life that she, her family and close (and by close, I mean indescribably loving) friends invited me into the more intimate dimensions of her life to begin to do the curatorial work of considering her oeuvre, to embark on a deep engagement with her work in order to develop a retrospective exhibition down the line. To begin to locate the magnitude of her influence, position her output within a broader historical and social context, and to understand the genesis of her work over decades—is a project I am coming to understand through a new and fascinating curatorial lens and as my own biggest collaboration with Deborah.
Deborah worked through her final days of treatment and hospice—finishing her memoir, setting into motion plans for a new sound installation and making her last exquisite painting with the help of those at her bedside. By all accounts her fervor was punctuated with wit and that inimitable smile.
In an artist’s book produced for a recent exhibition at 6018 North, Deborah wrote: “Xavier Le Pinchon, a plate tectonic expert, suggests that fault lines, the open spaces between the plates in the earth’s crusts are… analogous to human frailty. Because we are vulnerable, we find it necessary to depend on others for survival. It is through our vulnerability that we bond with others and thrive.”
Deborah’s work had many facets, but it is her brave articulation of her own perceived faults, frailties and vulnerabilities—her commitment as an artist to learning in public—that will demand of us and viewers of her work for years to come a deep reciprocity, a Deborah-like generosity. Through these exchanges—made possible by the “work” of her artwork—she will live on and her ideas will continue to shape the world in meaningful, collaborative ways.
Bad at Sports would like to congratulate the 2015 Propellor Fund Grant Recipients!
Propeller Fund proudly announces the fifteen grant recipients for 2015. Selected from a pool of over one-hundred candidates, these small, self-organized, and radical projects are vital to Propeller’s mission of encouraging more varied models, spreading these activities into more diverse areas, and to spark ambitions beyond current formats in Chicago’s visual art world. Propeller Fund offers $50,000 (five grants at $6,000 and ten grants at $2,000) annually to artists producing a wide range of public culture.
Propeller Fund recognizes that such independent artist-organized events, informal roundtables and workshops, collectively organized exhibition spaces, and publishing endeavors constitute a large catalyst for the creative activity and vitality of the Chicago visual art world. These projects are responsible for much of the complexity and richness in the art community.
Propeller Fund 2015 Award Ceremony and Reception
This year’s recipients will be recognized in an award ceremony on Wednesday, November 18 at the Jane Addams Hull-House Residents’ Dining Hall. Join grant recipients and the community to celebrate with food, drink, and a reception.
Wednesday, November 18, 6–9pm
Jane Addams Hull-House Residents’ Dining Hall
800 South Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60607
Award Ceremony: 6:30pm
Awardee Reception: 7–9pm
Free and open to the public
Propeller fund would like to thank this year’s distinguished jury: Jen Delos Reyes, Associate Director of the School of Art & Art History at UIC and Founder and Director of Open Engagement (Chicago, IL); Deana Haggag, Director of The Contemporary (Baltimore, MD); Nicole Marraquin, Artist, Co-Organizer of Multiuso, and Associate Professor of Art Education at SAIC (Chicago, IL); Meida McNeal, Artistic/Creative Director of Honey Pot Performance and Arts and Culture Manager for the Chicago Parks District (Chicago, IL); and Astria Suparak, independent curator and author (Pittsburgh, PA). And much appreciation to the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, funder of Propeller Fund through its Regional Regranting Program.
BRUJOS (Stephanie Jeter, Ben Kolak, Ricardo Gamboa)
BRUJOS is a queer-of-color, radically politicized web series following four gay Latino doctoral candidates—that are also witches. They navigate magic, sexuality, and surviving a witch-hunt led by a secret society of white heteronormative male descendents of the first New World colonizers. BRUJOS blends Latino soap opera and U.S. sitcoms to deliver 12, seven-minute episodes developed through queer men of color testimonies, interviews with magic pracitioners, and cultural studies academics. In a world conditioned by white supremacy and inequality, BRUJOS makes visible people and ways of life that have been made invisible by dominant culture and mainstream media.
filmfront (Alan Medina, Malia Haines-Stewart, Alyx Christensen, Rudy Medina)
filmfront is a multidisciplinary project that uses the exhibition of film, video, and new media from around the world and down the street to facilitate exciting, challenging conversations that are open, free, and accessible to everyone. Curation is based on a collaborative model of programming in which artists, curators, and free thinkers are invited to work together to create exhibitions, interactive projects, performances, workshops, and lectures open to the community.
Floating Museum (Faheem Majeed, Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford, Andrew Schachman)
Floating Museum is a mobile exhibition structure and structural interpretation of the DuSable Museum of African American History that will move by land and water through the city of Chicago in 2016 and 2017. The project blends creative place-making, activism, and exhibition design to make a platform for conversations, art viewing and community engagement.
In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street (Allison Glenn)
In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street is a public art exhibition that couples artists and practices with the materiality of the built environment. Through the use of junior billboards, sculpture, performance, media, and sound, the artists in the exhibition will consider landscape and the built environment, encouraging viewers to traverse rich and varied expanses of the city.
Report to the Public: An Untold Story of the Conservative Vice Lords (Benneth Lee, Lisa Junkin Lopez)
Benneth Lee will organize film screenings and train young people to lead tours expanding upon the exhibition, Report to the Public: An Untold Story of the Conservative Vice Lords. By training former gang members to become community docents and targeting youth audiences, the project demonstrates that young people in gangs are capable of addressing the most challenging issues in their communities. Report to the Public draws upon the thesis that gang members, like all of us, have “multiple, conflicting identities” and that we must affirm their positive identity formation in order to decrease violent and destructive behavior.
The Chicago ACT Collective (Sarah Atlas, William Estrada)
The Chicago ACT (Artists Creating Transformation) Collective is a diverse collective of artists creating work to support movements, struggles, and communities in Chicago. Through a partnership process, this project generates art that reflects on and responds to current and local needs identified by those most impacted. This project has many facets—building a collective of socially and politically engaged artists, forming partnerships with grassroots organizations and social justice movements, and producing prints, graphic arts, and visual campaigns for social change that promote collaboration and dialogue across multiple communities.
Fielding (Amber Ginsburg, Sara Black, Billy Dee)
Fielding is a collaborative art and design practice, a youth workshop series, a design/build service and a social justice initiative. Fielding leads workshops for girls, young women and gender variant youth to design and build structures while learning to use woodworking tools competently and confidently. In addition, a diverse core crew of skilled women and gender variant carpenters will respond to invitations (local, regional and international) to design and construct building projects.
Freedom Dreams (Alice Kim )
Freedom Dreams is a project that creatively connects Illinois prisoners serving long-term sentences with local and national artists. Their writings and visual art will be featured in a multi-media exhibit and series of events centered on the question: What does freedom look like?
HAIR CLUB (Suzanne Gold, Kelly Lloyd, Michal Lynn Shumate )
HAIR CLUB is a growing community of artists, writers, and scholars whose aim is to conduct a collaborative inquiry into the multi-valent topic of HAIR in our wider culture via conversation, publication and meaningful programming, and organizing HAIR-centered work across medium and discipline into thematic publications, exhibitions and events.
Kitchen Space (Traci Fowler, Trevor Schmutz, Mirko Velimirovic)
The organizers of the project/exhibition space Kitchen Space will develop a cookbook that provides readers with a variety of recipes for main dishes, appetizers, drinks, etc. from the unique perspective of two artists who have to combat monthly exhibitions in the very kitchen they cook their meals.
One Room (Kate Thomas, Devin Pendergast, Kitty Conde, Jessica Rosenbaum, Roxy De Luca, Jeanne Walker)
One Room is a social practice project that invites the public into conversations with CPS artist-teachers to playfully explore the complexity of a teaching practice within our current climate of constraints and monitoring. Artist teachers in conversation with the public will generate creative approaches to systemic problems.
Paper Work (Third Object: Gan Uyeda, Ann Meisinger, Raven Munsell, Elisabeth Smith)
Paper Work is an exhibition organized by Chicago-based curatorial collective Third Object that, through a central exhibition site and office-bound satellite locations, explores a range of current artistic responses to notions of bureaucracy, administration, and the ordering of information.
Social Furniture (John Preus, Jamie Kalven )
Social Furniture produces 2x4s out of materials salvaged from closed Chicago Public Schools. Working with Lathrop Community Partners and the Invisible Institute, we will work to develop projects that provide both a source of income for Lathrop residents and a forum for developing relationships between the developers and the residents. The 2x4s are both literal and figurative building materials to produce new structures.
UnJustified (Jacob Klippenstein, Crista Noel, Ric Wilson, Teresa Campagna, Deonta Terry)
A series of screenings and discussions will debut a series of UnJustifiable mini-docs. The series will provide a retrospective and prospective look at Chicago Police violence from the 1800s to the present with a timeless focus on educating and engaging Chicagoans especially youth through dialogue led by community elders, analogue, and digital media.
W.A.R.P. Westtown Artist Residency Program (The Weaving Mill: Emily Winter, Matti Sloman, Eva Joly, Monika Kimrey, Envision Unlimited, and more)
W.A.R.P is a series of short-term residencies at The Weaving Mill, a small-scale production mill in Humboldt Park. In partnership with Envision Unlimited’s Westtown Center, The Weaving Mill pairs artists with developmental disabilities with visiting artists from the wider Chicago community. The groups are guided through a series of workshops that allow the artists to approach an unfamiliar industrial textile technology together.
About Propeller Fund
Launched in May 2010, Propeller Fund is administered jointly by Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois at Chicago and threewalls. Propeller Fund provides grants to artists, curators, and groups living and working in Cook County, Illinois, and seeks to support projects that are independent, informal, and self-organized. Propeller Fund receives support from Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts through the Regional Regranting Program.
Further descriptions of Propeller Fund projects can be found here.
Guest post by Lise Haller Baggesen
On Saturday September 19th –while Chicago was hustling and bustling with all things EXPO—the Suburban opened the doors to its new Milwaukee location.
Housed in a former Laundromat, which had suffered a total burnout leaving only the carrying structures intact, the property has had a gut rehab –Brad Killam style—and presents as a fresh, clean slate. Above the gallery is an apartment inhabited by de-facto gallery directors Alexander Herzog and Rosa DiSalvo-Herzog, who will be running the daily business of the space, as well as welcoming out-of-town artists in the residency upstairs.
With its large storefront right onto a street corner, the new Suburban vibe is less that of a backyard BBQ (sadly, Brad’s brats were missing), and more of a Mom & Pop Store of all things minimalist.
The works on show, by Scottish artist Fergus Feehily, were just that, as well as ethereal, elusive and cheeky –and as Michelle Grabner points out “not at all generous in the way Milwaukee is used to.”
This was more than made up for in the in the adjoining alleyway, which doubled as the site of Paul Drucke’s contribution to the 2015 Terrain Biennial –a pleasant reminder that you can take the Suburban out of Oak park, but you cannot take Oak Park out of the Suburban. A plaque on the wall baptized it “Angelique Roy’s Passage” and the narrow space set the perfectly confined stage for a “Gangway Performance” featuring Joshua Bellow, Margaret Noodin and Laura Hunter.
As the evening progressed, and police officers on bicycles watched from across the street, a mellow crowd of art students and weathered Suburbanites co-mingled outdoors and in, and neighbors stopped by to say hello. After hours the party proceeded to a nearby craft brewery featuring a homegrown DJ, organized by Green Gallery’s John Ripenhoff, but this was where I had to hit the road back to Chicago.
I made it home before midnight, and to all of you Chicagoans who used to be Suburban regulars, I will say: it is really not that far. So, if the post EXPO blues is getting you down, head North for some Suburban Saturday Night Fever!
Guest post by Lise Haller Baggesen.
The Doris Salcedo show, recently on view at the MCA, was a hard one to watch. Not because it was a bad show; numerous reviews pointed out it is an extremely well curated, beautifully executed, and timely show of the monumental oeuvre of a major Latin American artist.
Major female Latin American artist.
The latter only added to the shows importance, in case you were wondering. But none of all this is what made the show hard to watch. Salcedo’s visual language is worldly, and spoken by an international elite of sculptors such as Rachel Whiteread, Jannis Kounellis, Boltanski, Anselm Kiefer and Joseph Beuys; a universally understood shorthand, whereby dark wood furniture and cast concrete reads like a history of human suffering. That language we speak, and read, and understand, as an important part of the so-called “post-colonial” discourse. (So called, because who are we kidding?)
What made Salcedo’s show so confronting was the silence in between. A silence that is uncomfortable, not as in awkward, not at all, but as in loaded. Like sitting next to your child’s sick bed, or worse yet, waiting for a child that does not return home; you understand that this is not about you, there is nothing you can do, and you would rather be anywhere else than right here, right now –yet right here is the only place to be, the only place you can be, right now. It is torturous.
Salcedo is no stranger to the idea of torture –her diligently researched body of work deals largely with its after effects—but neither are we: The principle of torture is inflicting pain, while willfully withholding relief. The deaths of innocent, unarmed men, at the hand of armed police officers, is pain inflicted not only on the victims and their families, on society as a whole. The refusal of relief, in the form of justice, as administered by a supreme court who refuses to indict the responsible parties, is torture.
Into this torturous silence, Kirsten Leenaars inserted three performances, each of an hour’s duration. Clad in a uniform black, her motley crew of mourners, performed the ceremonial task of animating the negative spaces in and between Salcedo’s work by supporting, comforting, hugging, healing, touching each other –and their audience by extension—while breaking the silence with chants and short monologues. The whole exhibition space carried the sound of what by association would be a funeral drum, was it not that Dan Bitney’s synchopated beat was teeming with life. In the invitation to the third performance, Leenaars explained:
“The idea of the witness is explored in relationship to recent events in America – the death of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray. The performance questions specifically, what does it mean to be a witness today? And how do you realize that you are not the origin of your own empathy but it is the other who triggers you to imagine yourself in the place of the other. And how can this be a position of hope?”
I will spare you Susan Sontag’s “Regarding the Pain of Others,” and her insistence that we derive an almost pornographic pleasure from bearing witness, from a safe distance, to other people’s suffering. Although she (obviously) has a point, her thesis begins and ends with the premise that we are capable of empathetically feeling other people’s pain, but does not attempt to illuminate the origin of this capacity.
In a recent issue of New Scientist, however, Barbara Finlay offers some insight into the evolutionary mechanics of pain. In her article “The Unique Pain of Being Human,” she argues that since certain types of pain, such as labor pain, seem to be a specifically human trait, some biological and sociological benefits must be derived from it:
“The basic function in pain is the same for all vertebrates: it alerts an animal to potential damage and reduces activity after trauma. It is often argued that pain must be different in humans because of our ability to anticipate it or imagine its effect on us. But independent of whether cognition and culture can modify pain, I am suggesting a more basic difference in humans compared with animals: that some varieties, such as labor pain, appear only in humans, and others such as post-trauma pain are magnified.
These forms of pain appear in tandem with the ability to recruit help, to elicit an altruistic response in others.”
So pain is social glue. In this double bind we not only the cause of each other’s pain (literally) but also its remedy. Hell is the other, but so is help.
By mourning our dead together, by protesting the injustice suffered, and by ending the silence laid upon us, we not only overcome, we become. Human. Social beings.
Social beings remember each other, even when separated –for a time, or forever. Part of the performers’ script consists of testimonies to the memories the victims. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray. Not only their names: what they looked like, what they wore, or how they walked, talked, moved in this world.
Performance art will not bring them back (and neither will sculpture) nor is it a match to the police state –but art can be a powerful reminder that powers operate within our society, other than the powers that be. It can be a wake-up-call to walk away, from oppression and silencing, if not from pain. But first we need to stand up and feel again.
With their closing lines, Kirsten Leenaars performers command us to do just that:
“Stand up. If you’ve ever known love: stand up! Stand up, if you want to love again. Stand up for lives and loves lost.”
Disclaimer: Those of you who know me well, knows that I know Kirsten Leenaars very well, and that I am writing this review, not from the objective position of an art critic, but from that of a very subjective friend.
Leenaars will present an iteration of “Notes on Empty Chairs” at Gallery 400 on Tuesday, July 21 at 6:00pm–
“The Imaginary Center of Perception”
A collaborative performance by Kirsten Leenaars
Albeit highly mediated in TV and the Internet, artist Kirsten Leenaars responds to the witnessing of the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, to name a few. Leenaars’ performance responds to the anger, the pain, the injustice, a flawed system and the senseless loss of lives.
Performers: Marvin Tate, Matthew Robinson, Regin Iglora, Kim Chayeb, Monica Brown, Wa Chontong, Toni Zhao, Opel Smittinet, Valentina Vella, Alison Auwerda, Udita Upadhyaya, Kekeli Kodzo Sumah. Drummer: Dan Bitney.
Lise Haller Baggesen left her native Denmark in 1992 to study painting in the Netherlands. In 2008 she relocated to Chicago with her family. In the meantime, her work evolved from a traditional painting practice toward a hybrid practice including curating, writing and immersive multimedia installation work. Her first book “Mothernism” was published by Poor Farm Press and Green Lantern Press in 2014.