Interview with Mindy Rose Schwartz

March 13, 2011 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Dan Gunn

Artist Mindy Rose Schwartz has shown her sculpture and installations throughout the United States with exhibitions in Houston, TX; Brooklyn, NY; St. Louis and Kansas City, MO; Miami, FL and Chicago. Her work has been written about in artnet Magazine, Beautiful Decay (online), Time Out Chicago, The Chicago Tribune, Newcity, ArtForum, Frieze Magazine, Art in America and Whitewalls.  Schwartz earned her MFA at the University of Illinois, Chicago. I caught up with her after the close of her most recent show of work at Threewalls. The following is our conversation.

"Credenza". Image courtesy of the artist.

DG: How do you think about your materials?

MRS: The materials and processes I use have to make sense in relation to the meaning of the piece.  So, for example, in this body of work, one of my reference points are remembered objects from the house I grew up in.  So my use of ceramics, macramé, white stones, and gold chain are materials I came in contact with in my past and have resurfaced to add to a palette of materials for sculpture.  I am also interested in processes and skills that I learned while growing up, before I made it to art school.  Why do I know how to make every type of lanyard key chain, or a macramé belt, or to crochet a yarmulke, or to paper mache? They are a window into specific class, cultural and gender specific moments that shaped my experience.

DG: What else makes up those “reference points”?

MRS:  As I was developing my proposal for Threewalls, I wanted to transform the gallery space into an idealized and symbolic domestic space. There is a smaller room as you enter, a large grand space in the center and a smaller more intimate space at the end.  As you walk through, I thought of the first room as the foyer, the next as a living room and the last, a sunroom. In a home these are the spaces that you pass through, or only use on occasion or special occasion, not the every day living spaces.

The sculptures in each of the spaces are an amalgamation of the furniture, objects and people that would reside there. They reflect the kind of pictorial or fictive aspect that each of those rooms implies.   Some of the sculptures in the living room space are: Chandelier, Credenza, and Vanity. I mean the credenza, what is it for? Who has room for the credenza? It’s a piece of furniture that’s purpose is to hold and display decorative objects and fancy dishes. The Chandelier too has a type of aspiration to it, a light that is dressed up in its finest jewels. These objects and what they represent become starting points to imagine their transformation into something else.

DG: Then what about the sunroom?

MRS: I was trying to create a space that was sort of mournful and had a kind of longing to it, but peaceful too. The sunroom has a sun in it, of course.  It is created through a technique called, string art, which was a craft process I learned in fifth grade.  It was supposed to teach that straight lines create a curve. The piece is called The Tender Light of Hope. In the living room space, it has its counter part in a piece called, The Depths of Bleak Despair.  These two pieces provide a kind of emotional bracketing for the show.

Two other pieces in the space are called Friends, and A Peaceful Man.  Friends are two, coil pot, heads sitting on the remnants of my grandmother’s mink coat. The coat was handed down through the family, repurposed, refashioned and redistributed as: a sporty jacket, a hat and some earmuffs. A Peaceful Man is also just a head, but his beard and mustache swoops down to form his legs and sprout a flower. I thought of it as my “Giacometti moment”.

"The Tender Light of Hope" and "A Peaceful Man"Â Image courtesy of the artist

DG: You mentioned collectibles, how do they factor in? What kind of symbolism lies within them?

MRS: I was trying to find a way to get the figure back into my sculpture, in an effective way. As a sculptor, you’re kind of off the hook.  You don’t really have to use the figure, because the viewer is the figure. The sculpture exists in the same space as your body. There is this uncanny weirdness when you perceive your body in relationship to this representation of one. That begs the question. How does it get in there and not be a statue. Statues are hil-ar-e-ous! They’re so heavy. There is funniness to them.  How to show the body… I tried to think of them along those lines then, to not be “figurative” but “figurine-ative”

Figurines and decorative objects have a strange life span to them, right? They sit in the home in one spot for a whole lifetime. Then they get handed down, auctioned off or go to a thrift store and go to another house to sit in one spot for another lifetime.

The collectible object is really a way many people experience sculpture in their everyday lives.  It is like the three dimensional version of a Picasso poster or, depending on your taste, a Margaret Keen poster.  That is how I experienced it mostly, more often through home decorating than a trip to the art museum or a stroll through a sculpture park. So there are these mass-produced objects that one way or another make it into your life and stay. Over time it will look very different and mean something very different to whoever has it. In fact two identical objects become fundamentally very different things. I’m trying to show how my history with specific objects morphs their form and how I perceive them with the their stories still attached.

Of the definite genres of collectible figurines some interest me more then others. I particularly admire ones that address the landscape or nature.  I made my versions of this type for Credenza.  There are also characters that reoccur across many different brands of collectible objects; the CLASSIC mainstays of every family of Precious Moments, Lladro, or Royal Dalton are the harlequin, mime and ballerina.  I made a series of those characters for the “Vanity” piece.

Aside from the emulated realism of collectible objects, I love the sincerity of those that adopt a modernist “look” as their most prominent style.   There is nothing like the grace or elegance of an abstract dancer’s elongated neck or the motion of flowing dance attire captured in porcelain or electroplated aluminum.

Detail of "Credenza". Image courtesy of the artist.

DG: So you see the forms of décor as the remnants of Modernism?

Well, I guess this comes back to how and when I experienced Modernism as a  trickle down influence in popular culture during the seventies.  I saw a lot of Hollywood musicals growing up.  Most of these movies started out on Broadway and one of the byproducts of their translation into cinema, seemed to be these inexplicable dance sequence that would interrupt the regular narrative of the story to express some kind of emotional drama or conflict in the story. The Dream Sequence Ballet in Oklahoma and the Rumble scene in West Side Story are real stand- outs.  The main characters come onto these angular abstract sets and work it all out through Modern dance.  The piece Dream Sequence Ballerina has a little stage set and dancer’s graceful head as a fantasy interlude atop a modernist piece of ceramics.

DG: As you think about the decorative object, is there also a kind of spiritualism, mysticism or “pop-religion” that is also reflected in it?

MRS:  Objects are very powerful, especially in how they can absorb meaning or deflect it, depending on the context.  There are a couple pieces in the show that allude to religious Jewish objects. For instance The Hands of God in the foyer,  references a religious object call the “yad”.  “Yad literally means ‘hand’ in Hebrew.  It is an object that is used to read from the Torah because you are not allowed to touch the scroll.  It is an ornate stick about seven inches long with a very realistic hand on the end of it. They really are amazing looking objects. I made two yads. These long skinny arms with big hands swoop down from the ceiling. They are the hands of God giving birth and from their palms emerge people. The figures are these half formed little homunculus men.

"The Hands of God". Image courtesy of the artist.

Other figurative references are more specific to cultural or historical milieu. I’m thinking of the Credenza, actually, it’s feet are the “keep on trucking” foot and it’s pointing hand is from the “I’m with Stupid” Tee Shirt.

DG: Ha! So how does humor function in your work, is it important?

MRS: I try to combine several different emotions in one object like: Sad and pretty, or funny and strange, so there is more than one way to read the work at the same time. Humor is definitely in the mix.  I think through humor and often, unlikely connections result in something amusing. Another aspect to humor in my work is through bad taste.  Humor itself often has a double edge to it.  It can be really nice and really mean at the same time.

DG: Can you discuss your relationship to process and craftsmanship?

MRS: The finished object shows the history of how it’s made. There is a particular look to materials when you first learn a skill that I happen to really like.  There is a type of enthusiasm and inventiveness that translates to the work as you try and form it into something. This has a unique type of meaning that is very different then something that has no loose ends.  The final look of the work has to support the meaning of it.

DG: How do you know when you’ve gone too far, or haven’t gone far enough with your sculptures?

MRS: If it doesn’t have a kind of balance between emotional responses it’s not finished. For example I made a piece for the show where I wanted to reference something whimsical but to actually express a totally different feeling. The piece t ended up just being whimsical. There was no tension in it.  I’ll still work on it, but it definitely didn’t make the cut. There is a fine line between trying to make work about something and just making the thing in and of itself.

 

Dan Gunn is an artist, writer and educator living in Chicago.

Interview with Chris Bradley

March 10, 2011 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Dan Gunn

Chris Bradley is an MFA grad from SAIC in sculpture. He’s recently exhibited at Swimming Pool Projects, Raid Projects in LA, Dorsch Gallery in Miami to name a few. I sat down with him to talk following the opening of his new show at Shane Campbell Gallery titled Quiet Company.  The show is up until April 2nd.

Installation view of Quiet Company, Image courtesy of Shane Campbell Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DG: Your references seem to be clearly of a certain kind from the basketball, to the potato chip and now the pretzel rod. Of what ‘kind’ are they? How do you choose what referents get into your work?

CB: I think it might just be happenstance, something just clicks, a revelation for lack of a better word. Recognizing that “Oh yeah, there’s an idea here.” Then it’s just a process of trying to figure out what I’m interested in. I end up pulling in these things that have been important for a while or that I’ve noticed in a different way. Then I play with them in the studio and after I’ve worked with them for a long time they become part of my vocabulary.

DG: For instance your show at Shane Campbell Gallery, Quiet Company, seems to be more associated with leisure. And I think that has to do with the palm trees. For me palm trees = leisure.

CB: For the show I’ve made targets set up in a precarious manner ready to be shot at. Or else they’ve been shot at and someone is a terrible shot. You can read that either way.

DG: [laughs]

CB: The leisure aspect is definitely a component, but I’m not trying to celebrate a tropical place or a vacation, I think it’s more about the lack of the possibility to vacate. It’s fabricating an exit that someone doesn’t have an actual possibility of achieving.

DG: How do you indicate that lack of possibility?

CB: With this particular body of work its the ordinariness of the subject matter. You know I’m working with junk food, beer and paint rollers. I feel like these are materials that are really available for a lot of people. For some, alcohol is a means of exit. I feel like the artifice of using the beer can as the home of the potted palm dumbs it down to a level of patheticness.

DG: Would it be wrong to look at your work as working with completely masculine stereotypes? I have a hard time looking at Quiet Company, especially, and not imagining a watching a Packers game with a beer and some potato chips.

CB: I think a lot of people look at it that way. I think it’s totally fine. It’s bro-culture totally. I live with a gay male artist who’s doing projects on effeminacy within gay culture and then there’s me who’s doing commentary on masculinity within Middle America. But I don’t necessarily read it that way, though I’m OK with it. Being around a lot of different people I realize that I feel like I am just a dude. I’m happy to be a dude and to own that. I’ve been interested in working with motors, steel and things that move that have been commonly associated with the masculine. So I’m OK with the association but I wouldn’t say that it’s what I’m after. I think it might be inherent in how I think and what I’m in contact with. Often what stereotypically comes with masculinity is seen as insensitive and cold and I don’t feel that way about my work whatsoever. So I think that works to negate some of the narrower ideas of masculinity.

DG: How do you think about materials? What kind of criteria do you have for how they go together as sculpture?

CB: I’ve had some of the potatoes and avocados for a long time actually. I cast them and I didn’t really know what to do with them. I found some other resolution to the project that I was working on at the time. So I started playing with them again when I was in between projects and just made this target. Made a really strange pedestal and put them on top of it. I went “Oh that’s doing something, let me see where this goes.”
That was the impetus for the target series.

I started thinking about the potato chip as a subject. You know I’m very much a builder, I used to be more into image and 2D stuff,  and I still am but I don’t really trust myself to do anything intelligent there. So I looked at the potato chip as a building block, but couldn’t come up with something interesting.  While I was at the liquor store I saw some pretzel rods and I thought that there might be something there. So I bought some real pretzel rods and built a target with them and I was into it, seeing if I could build other ways with them and ended up making the giraffe with it.

Installation Shot of Quiet Company. Image courtesy of Shane Campbell Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is something really approachable to the temporary, to the clips, to something bound vs. something welded or fabricated in a more permanent way. Because someone could go and just take it apart. I think understanding the way that something is built provides a direct way of accessing it. If someone knows how to use a ratchet strap they could take that thing apart.

If it’s anything worthwhile people connect to it more because it’s part of their world. A lot of people don’t weld so that’s not as accessible. I think that’s more about believability and play on the precariousness of the palm tree and making a really stupid act that anyone could do. It has a certain way of communication.

Also with the targets the clips make sense because you can shoot it and then clip another one to it. There is a certain trickery that I want to maintain. Even in the trompe o’ leil in something like the potato chip.

DG: The pretzel is kind of like an edible Lincoln log… Earlier you mentioned motors and motion, how does motion play into your work? I’m thinking specifically of the Cinnamon Spice Machine and its involuntary motion.

CB: I find it challenging to use kinetics in a sculpture in an effective way. For the sake of movement it’s easy to do, but to make an artwork that couldn’t be done without that movement is more rewarding. There is a balance in my practice where I’ll be really into kinetics for a bit. It’s a different thought process, but I get exhausted by it and move on to something else. I’ve been doing anything but kinetics recently and I’m starting to get interested in it again.

"Fountain" 2010 Image courtesy of the artist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DG: If this kinetics focused side is one part of your practice, how would you characterize the side that produced Quiet Company?

CB: It was my approach to figure out where I stand within a bigger discipline. I take that body of work as something painterly. I think it’s about being in the studio and spending half an hour mixing paint, trying to get the color right. I’ve been relating with painters more, to try and understand what they do and what I do. I’m getting over the separation between the disciplines and trying to figure out where I stand with that. I was really excited to find a resolution for the wall because that was the last thing that resolved for the show.

DG: Can you describe those pieces?

CB: They are the pretzel rod prisms. I take them as outlines of paintings, and consider them sketches because they are so loosely put together. There is also “Horizon” which is kind of a squiggly line of pretzels.

DG: I read “Horizon” as a backdrop to your tropical paradise that goes to your notion of a limited escape through objects. A dreaming through objects. If you can imagine a line of pretzels on a wall as a horizon then you have a pretty active imagination or longing for something else.

CB: That’s putting a lot on pretzels! I think that’s often what painting is about. It’s about illusion and trickery. If you can stand in a room and point past a line of pretzel rods I think that’s pretty effective. But I don’t know if anyone’s doing that…

"Potato" 2010. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DG: How does humor function in your work?

CB: I’ll take it as funny, if someone wants to take it that way. I hesitate to call my work humorous because of a weird insecurity about calling yourself something that most people want to be. To be funny is a nice thing, to self proclaim something like that is odd to me. It’s also like being an artist, I mean anyone can technically be an artist I guess, but there’s a different level to it when someone else comes to take you in and say “This person is really doing something valuable”. You have to wait for those things.

DG: I wouldn’t say your work is purely funny because there is also a kind of fatalism in certain pieces. I’m thinking specifically about a work like Potato, where an actual potato travels on an oval track around a wall. I get a kind of perverse pleasure thinking about it in relation to De Scott Evans trompe o’ leil painting “The Irish Question” in the Art Institute, though I doubt you were thinking about the Potato famine… Still there is something about the bland taste of a potato traveling a circuit repeatedly that is both funny and fatalistic.

CB:  I think the potato is a very loaded icon. I first approached it with those notions in mind with a very loose hand. I wasn’t very conscious about what I was getting into. The first instance was a flying potato in Ireland.

DG: So it was Irish!

CB: It was a very performative gesture throwing a potato in the air, taking a photograph of it and hoping for the best. I think the fatalism that you speak of comes because the potato doesn’t progress. It doesn’t learn anything. Maybe we have it fantastic, because we don’t just walk in circles? Or maybe we do. The potato is kind of monotonous,  Sisyphean, pathetic and strangely frightening. That’s how I see it.

DG: So if that’s the iconology of the potato, what about the avocado?

CB: It’s just another piece of produce…

DG: See, because I read it as the analog to the potato chip, as the thing which will eventually go on the potato chip.

CB: Sure! You can definitely read it that way. Avocado, guacamole.

DG: It was a culinary read…

CB: Other people brought that up as well. I see it as some kind of parallel to something tropical. The more I worked with it I thought that it was kind of a romantic fruit with a big seed inside, and kind of lush. But in the end it’s just produce.

DG: But what about your beer choice?

CB: I’m a Budweiser drinker. Nowadays I’m more of a light beer drinker and I would say that Modelo especial is kind of light. To work with beer cans you need to be conscious of who else works with beer cans, it’s available and it’s being used. So I went with a 24oz can to be specific with my choice and I ended up drinking a lot of cans. I started playing with these cans and I began to think about what it meant to be a Budweiser drinker.
The Modelo cans seemed to go really well with the idea of putting palm trees in them. It was a really conscious choice, a comparison between two different places. There is this longing for the other, for the unknown.

DG: A world inside of a beer can.

Dan Gunn is an artist, writer and educator living in Chicago.

Project Cabrini Green (Part 2): Students

March 9, 2011 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Dan Gunn

The following is part 2/2  about Project Cabrini Green commemorating the demolition of the last major public housing tower in Chicago. Part 1/2 is an interview with artist Jan Tichy that details the genesis and scope of the project.  Here in Part 2 we provide the voices of the other collaborators in the project, the students whose writings commemorate life in the towers, both from life experience and through association. The students in this post are from workshops held at Cabrini Connections, the Marwen Foundation and After School Matters.  Each of the following poems was performed by the writer, recorded and will be published both online and in book format as a part of the project.

Project Cabrini Green

Our Destruction…..
by Marquis Steele

If you lived in my place, you would know that no area is truly safe,
They made it seem as though all the crime was in the projects,
Now that the projects are gone, I still haven’t noticed the change yet.

They thought getting rid of Cabrini was a safe bet,
Promising false dreams and writing minuscule checks,
But that small amount of money won’t cover the bills and their debts,
Our problem is that we were put in a system designed to keep us down,
When that happened, things could have only went south,
We should have been applying ourselves and not making it worse by running our mouths.

I understand that it was a struggle and everybody needs a hustle,
But people were afraid of the projects because they felt if they walked by, they would get mugged,
But it wasn’t that way; the buildings just looked scary because of the bad wiring,
Passersby felt afraid and it was getting tiring,
See you can make anything worse seem worse than it is if you don’t know firsthand,
The media does a good job of proving that to be a fact,
All they did was overlook the good and search for the bad.

Our destruction was the infrequent crime,
The crimes that happened every once in a while,
The crimes that looked worse on them because of the complexion of their skin and where they were,
I guarantee it wouldn’t have been a big deal if downtown wasn’t so close to there.

But now the building and tenants are gone,
No more BBQ’s and children singing double-dutch songs,
I truly don’t care much because I left years ago,
But still, kicking people out for property value is low.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Room

by Jasmine Dilworth

Lay me down to sleep my Lord, if I shall die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take”

“Babu-Gum, Babu-Gum in a dish, how many pieces do…you…wish”

Looking at the building as it takes its last breath

Boom! It landed in the middle of my room

My room

My…Room…

My room!

My room was the place where all my girl cousins chose to hang out

My room

My walls

My color

But my color faded away

“Babu-Gum, Babu-Gum in a dish, how many pieces do…you…wish”

I wish I had just one more time to play before they all moved away

To where I don’t know

But they were my best friends; I hope to see them again

One day

Sometimes I can still hear them laughing and running up and down

the fifth floor ramp, with purple popsicles dripping down their chin

Too bad we will never ever play again

“Babu-Gum, Babu-Gum in a dish, how many pieces DO…YOU…WISH”

SAIC grad students Monica Nickolai Hillermann and Eddie Breitweiser conducting a writing workshop at Marwen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why
by Justus White

Why must we all have to live in a lie?
Just to hear another voice of our people die.
This, itself, enrages me in anger.
But who really wants to hear the voice of a young black stranger?
So all I can say is why?

Why can’t we live in a world where you can be you?
How come people don’t like you because of what you do?
Soon as you hit those streets you better watch your back
For those in which your abilities inside they lack.
So all I can say is why?

Why do we live in a world where everything my race does is bad.
This can be like being back stabbed by your close friends which is kind of sad.
I just really want to spread a deep message to this earth.
To say not all black kids are born the same at birth
So all I can say is why?

Me? Why should I always be the one to turn the other cheek?
When a boy can’t be safe even walking down his street.
Sometimes my heart is filled with perpetual darkness and pain
But it will never be enough for me to learn from this or gain
The knowledge to know that this pain will not last
This makes my heart beats one thousand times fast.
Maybe one day now I have no need to ask why

Because the life I live, I know is not a lie
Hope is of the essence, it will never be wrong
All you need to do is keep faith and stay strong.
So my last question I ask why
Why can’t we sprout our wings and just fly?

Efrat Appel with students at After School Matters. Photo Credit: Josef Aguilar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Did They Break It To You?
by Michelle Stearn

Dear Former Cabrini Resident,

How did they break it to you?
Did they send you a letter?
A form letter, addressed to a number
Anonymous, like the number on your door.
A white envelope
Innocent when sealed, but when opened —
a shock of a thousand volts.
A letter made from an arrangement of letters,
assembled on a page
as words
Deciding the fate of your existence.

How did they break it to you?

How did they break it to you?
Did they come to your door?
Knocking three times, serious knocks, hollow, devoid of
potential.
Did they look into your eyes when they said it?
To see your reaction — or lack thereof?
Did they react to your reaction?
Or just blurt out the news and then bolt
Like a hit and run, a drive by, a robotic telegram,
an empty urn, serving you the news.
How did they break it to you?

How did they break it to you?
Did you hear it from a neighbor?
From a fellow survivor, sufferer, witness of all things unseen?
Or from a mouse, a rat, a roach —
preparing for evacuation
going off some inexplicable animal instinct sensing unrest.
Or through the grapevine of gossip, from which you would soon be
severed
Cut off from the source
Cut off from the roots
Cut off from the very foundation.

But these are mere speculations
Inevitably ignorant assumptions, not unlike the ones that decided your
fate.
So, you tell me,
How did they break it to you?

"ThaBrigade Stamps" marching band drums.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Do You Build
by Robert Harrison

If you build to tear down, then why do you build.

If you build to break it up, then why do you build.

If you build to hurt lives, why do you build.

If you build and they have to evacuate, then why do you build.

If you build and they have to relocate, then why do you build.

If you build and waste materials, why do you build.

If you build to tear apart, then why do you build.

If you build to break up relationships, then why do you build.

If you build to separate families, why do you build.

If you build to destroy, then why do you build.

If you build to leave people without homes, then why do you build.

Why do you build, if you build to make memories,

If you build to break memories, then why do you build.

Project Cabrini Green (Part I): Jan Tichy

March 8, 2011 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Dan Gunn

I only heard the slightest bit about artist Jan Tichy’s project to be installed in the last Cabrini Green highrise. It is scheduled to be demolished in the coming months. As an admirer of his previous sculptural light installations I felt compelled to find out more information from him.  The following is our conversation as part 1 / 2 about the project. Part 2/2 will feature writings from the kids themselves.

Project Cabrini Green

DG: Describe how the Cabrini Green Project came about. Did the city approach you?

 

JT: No, we approached the Chicago Housing Authority. They own the land and the building. It’s a large project, and expanding all of the time. When I say we, first and foremost I’m working with my partner, Efrat Appel. She is a social worker and editor. We developed the idea and at a certain point went to look for connections in the neighborhood. We met Cabrini Connections, Marwen and After School Matters. Then there are numbers of SAIC students who work in student work groups to collaborate on the projects. It’s important to me that the exchange is not “come help me on this project and I will give you credit,” but is on the level of something more educational and important. And really none of this would’ve been possible without the support of Richard Gray Gallery who helped me approach the CHA and who made the project financially possible.

DG: Then I guess the proper question would be what made you want to work with Cabrini Green as a site?

JT: My work at times has a political or social aspect. There was a time when I was living in Israel with the political situation, with its racism, with Jews against Arabs or even Jews against Jews with a different color of skin. And in coming to Chicago, it’s here as well.

I also think that the notion of working with housing projects came about through working with Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  It was a very different collaboration with my students from SAIC. We lit it up from inside. By working on the campus of IIT and exploring with the students not only the architecture but what was happening around we began to feel that the absence of the Robert Taylor Homes was very strong. It had only been a few years since they had been torn down. Because we were working on lighting the building we changed the class time to from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

DG: [laughing]

JT: Well … you know … the students liked it in the end. Taking students from IIT to the Red Line at 5 a.m. safely just wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago. I haven’t lived here before so it wasn’t like I noticed. But at IIT we were interviewing students, faculty and neighbors so it was clear that it had had a huge impact on the local community.

The Last remaining Cabrini Green tower

Another impetus was a commission for a private collection in the former Montgomery Ward building that I worked on. While learning about the building I found out that it was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, who also built the World Trade Center, and who in 1954 designed the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis.  They were torn down after just 16 years. Architecture critic and writer Charles Jencks later pointed to that moment as the end of Modern architecture. The first time that we were tearing down this Modern dream.

The Montgomery Ward building itself had to go through this makeover to become what it is today, from offices to condos. So the notion of demolition and destruction together with 9/11 and was all sitting right across the street practically from the row houses. So that brought me closer to Cabrini.

But I guess the possibility of relating to a historical moment was very clear. Cabrini is the last [high rise housing project] to go down and this is the last building to go down.

 

DG: How do you see your intervention acting to elucidate or animate that historical moment?

JT: It was very clear to me from the beginning that projection (which is the tool that I’m usually working with) projecting on, imposing an image, wouldn’t work here. To project on a building is to come from the outside. And realizing the potential of the emptiness that needs to be filled; it needs to be filled from the inside.

Therefore we went to the neighborhood, to the kids. People who should have the opportunity to raise his or her voice about this issue, to get a different attention. Cabrini Green got a specific kind of attention. Everyone was writing about Cabrini but only when somebody was killed. Nobody was paying attention when the other things were happening. So this is a way to give to the next generation, to the kids who came from there, a way to express, to be heard, to be seen and to be empowered.

SAIC grad students Kyle Evans and Lee Blalock during a sound workshop

So we started to work with partners in the community like Cabrini Connections, a tutor-mentor program and with Marwen Foundation that is also in the neighborhood, but serving kids from around the city. Several of the kids from Cabrini Connections actually lived in the apartments in the last building. Other kids, from Marwen were also mostly from low income housing, but not only. For the kids who don’t know Cabrini, the approach was obviously different, it was more learning about the history.

DG: What is the nature of the kids’ contribution?

JT: I was thinking about how to help give voice to someone in a public space and also in my other work about the relationship between light and sound. If we can translate the message, or whatever the kids want to say, to light.

The workshops that we hold with the kids includes some information about public art, what it can do and about light and sound art as a means of gathering attention. Then we begin to talk about general issues about home and housing. At a certain point we introduce slam poetry, a form that is from Chicago and at a certain point the kids themselves start to write. When they are done with their poems they perform them. Their performances will then be translated into a modulated light display.

DG: So each individual kid’s voice will light a room in the last building?

JT:  We record the audio of the performance and program it into the control chips for the LED’s. We thought when we began that we might only be able to get 30-40 kids, but we’ve had such a great response that we’ve recorded nearly 100 kids. We’re trying to get to 134, because their are 134 apartments in the building. I felt that during the workshops that there was something really important happening with the kids that were not only from public housing. We felt that we could extend this dialogue to include area kids that weren’t as directly effected.

There is another layer to this educational aspect, in that I look to the example of Moholy-Nagy. He’s close to me not just in working with light, but a lot in education. This is also something that came to me when I was working on Crown Hall. Both Moholy-Nagy and Mies van der Rohe came to Chicago at more or less the same time, from the same place for basically the same purpose, but they were completely different, not only as artists, but as educators and thinkers. Mies was like ‘That is how you do things, cause that’s how I do it.’ Whereas Moholy-Nagy was much more collaborative, with faculty working with students on a project, trying to bring the students into the community from the very beginning. These aspects of his example are important. And that was also part of the idea at Crown Hall, was to do this very Moholy-Nagy workshop inside of a Mies structure. And there the idea that I brought was very simple. Just to light up the inside of the building, the rest was figured out in collaboration. I see myself as an artist / teacher, teacher / artist.

Here the idea is simple, just to light up the inside of the building with voices, but still as the project grows their is more and more opportunities for students and creative experience.  Sound students made the sound equipment, and make the recordings. Faculty and students from the Art and Technology Department are constructing the LED kits.

The demolition starts the day after the installation of the lights and will last between 4 to 6 weeks, so every day there will be less and less lights, as they are demolished with the building. The electronics will be salvaged from the wreckage during the recycling process of the debris. The thing is we don’t really know what it will look like!  A mock-up won’t help me.

DG: Is that at all scary?

JT: It is!  While I am working only with white light, I do expect that the effect will have color, reflecting off of the painted walls in the apartments, being more clearly visible because the windows have been removed prior to demolition.

A previous demolition showing room colors.

JT: Someone was trying to make it nice, to make it a home.

DG: In the building is the audio also available?

JT:  No, it’s just the blinking because you wouldn’t be able to hear it from the street anyway.  The audio will be available online as a web component with an interactive digital model of the building. You’ll be able to click each apartment and hear all 134 poems performed.  The poems will also be published.

There is also a gallery component at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Cabrini has always been close to the Gold Coast, close yet so far away. I mean it’s a 9 minute walk from Cabrini to the MCA. But the gap between these two is huge. I thought it would be interesting to bring it live to the MCA. Another group of students from SAIC are working on making a live feed of the installation available 24/ 7 for the 4-6 weeks in the MCA.

DG: This is a colossal project!

JT: I was just thinking about that. Its obviously growing over my head and I’m really glad that it’s happening in two weeks so it can’t grow any more!

 

http://www.afterschoolmatters.org/

http://cabriniconnectionsartclub.blogspot.com/2011/01/students-bring-light-to-cabrini-green.html

http://www.marwen.org/

 

Dan Gunn is an artist, arts writer and educator based in Chicago.

Steve Ruiz

March 7, 2011 · Print This Article

Guest post by Thea Liberty Nichols

Email interview conducted with Steve Ruiz

Steve Ruiz is an artist and writer from Chicago. He is the Managing Editor of Chicago Art Review (.com) and has contributed to a number of publications including Jettison Quarterly, NewCity Magazine, and Proximity Magazine. Information on his artwork can be seen at steveruizart.com.

Steve Ruiz

TLN: Can you start by telling us a little bit about Chicago Art Review? I’m especially interested (as a former participant) in the audio component you have on there, which, as far as I’m aware, is unique to your site as a listings format.

SR: I started Chicago Art Review in April 2009, right around the time I was graduating from college. The blog started as a joke (I’d told my former professor, Geoffrey Todd Smith, that I would write a gonzo review of his show) but I quickly realized the project’s potential as a way of engaging with the Chicago art community, which I was pretty unfamiliar with after spending five years studying elsewhere. Chicago Art Review became a reason to get out to shows, meet artists, and know about their work. My idea was to learn in a public way and I think people appreciated the effort, especially as I didn’t really know anything or anyone and was writing from the hip on first impressions.

Stylistically, I’ve tried to be as professional as is fair to the artists I write about while reserving a lot of the freedom being an independent writer affords me; I can be entertaining, a little partisan, troll with decimal ratings, experiment with content, take two months off and still call myself a writer, put in thirty pictures with a review, edit posts six months later, etc. My studio background is in painting, so I tend to write more about painting and write about everything else as if it were painting. I have tried a lot of things with the site that didn’t work out, such as the Art Phone call-in press releases and a studio visit chain that dropped off after a while, but part of the fun of Chicago Art Review has been making a soft space to fail.
I think some of the best content has come from guests, especially Anthony Elms’ book reviews, Ryan Travis Christian’s Seven Artists of the Week (which I now organize with the help of guest editors), and the opportunities I’ve had for collaborations with others like Pedro Valez, Erik Wenzel, etc. I also depend a lot on the efforts of Karly Wildenhaus and Stephanie Burke for my event listings research. It would be a much less interesting website without these individuals and others.

Chicago Art Review

 

TLN: On that note, since several of the folks you just mentioned also have blogs or websites of their own, or contribute to other publications online or in print, can you tell us a little bit about how you expanded your network to include them? And do you feel like more an editor (vs. a writer) because of it?

SR: I My approach to involving other writers with Chicago Art Review is pretty casual. I don’t have any regular contributors, but I try to involve other people when I think they have an interest in writing something that I’d like to read but wouldn’t otherwise have a place to read it. The loose format on the site allows me to publish writing that wouldn’t fit elsewhere for whatever reason, and sometimes the appeal of “do whatever you want” is enough to get contributors on board. But no, I don’t think I work hard enough to feel like a Managing Editor.

TLN: It sounds like Chicago Art Review takes a very experimental approach to things and is happy to evolve by recognizing what works best for it– knowing what you know now, do you ever wish you could go back and take a different tact? Like do you feel the internet is written in stone or invisible ink? And where do you see Chicago Art Review going next– anything interesting in the hopper?

SR: No, I don’t think I’d change anything I’ve done, but I’d like to have done more of it. But its early, we’ve got time.

If anything, I’m happy to have established a sort of authoritative sounding brand based on formal experimentation and stubborn amateurism. Not to flatter the context here, but a lot of my ideas about art criticism were informed by seeing how the Bad at Sports podcast could deliver rich critical content in form based on the unlikely combination of a lack of claimed authority, persistant volunteerism, over-education, topical expertise, conversational tones, and alcohol. That relationship with criticism feels much more appropriate for this city’s community. I’m interested in finding a written form and style that reflects the culture here, and that serves our needs and demands for writing, which are very different than in other cities. Some things are valued less, some more, and I feel like that should be taken into consideration.

As for going forward, a few months ago I started – but do not claim any ownership of – a Facebook group called #chiart for art writers and artists to talk to each-other about art in Chicago. The name comes from a slightly problematic twitter hashtag I’d got going, but which was hard to use for bigger conversations. The Facebook group has worked much better, and I’ve been amazed at the quality of conversation there and at the ability for a certain number of engaged individuals to generate high-value critical dialog while essentially slacking off at work. Its easily my primary resource for almost all the tasks I’d previously have gone to didactic journalism for, making it harder to justify writing that kind of thing. I’m fascinated by the idea of body surfing legitimate critical discourse on crowds of distracted experts, and am looking for ways to turn that kind of conversation-based model into something that can produce discrete pieces of writing for us to print for binders and to cite on our CVs. Doesn’t that sound fun?

Thea Liberty Nichols is an arts administrator, independent curator and freelance writer. To listen to an excerpt from the “Form and Content of Writing” panel she moderated as part of Stockyard Institute‘s exhibition at DePaul University entitled Nomadic Studio, please click here. (Featuring commentary from Patrice Connolly, Claudine Ise, Abraham Ritchie and Bert Stabler)