Falling with Lora Fosberg

July 26, 2010 · Print This Article


Great art shows always seem to find me. I don’t really check the listings or catch the buzz, but if it’s a show I’m meant to see, it somehow happens and I don’t like to think too much about the mechanism at work which makes this possible – whether it’s “fate,” blindness,  or happenstance – for fear that I’ll lose that mechanism. Sometimes the right person will give me the tip or I’ll be wandering around and just fall into a room full of amazing. Regardless, when I do find my way into such a show, it leaves an often indelible mark on me. Lora Fosberg’s show at Linda Warren Gallery is no exception.

(Nice preamble, right?)

Liza Berkoff, a photographer whose work is worth your attention (I’ve been watching for a while now and it’s been fun), told me about the show. She conspiratorially stated – through email, if that’s possible – that she was collaborating with Lora on three pieces.  “I am beside myself excited,” Liza typed. I asked if I could visit the gallery while Liza and Lora were installing, and the answer – again via email – was given as  “‘yes’ with exclamation points.”

On the scheduled day, I walked into the gallery and met more people than I expected. The music was turned up and there was food and it felt very relaxed, like walking into an intimate party with friends you just know have some fascinating piece of information to impart since you last saw them. Then you remember that they are mostly strangers, so you hope they have something fascinating to say because you’ve volunteered to spend time with them. Lora Fosberg was installing the final piece, you can’t fall off the floor, and Liza, along with Forsberg’s paramour and the incredibly competent staff of Linda Warren were helping. Warren herself was there to offer a sort of moral support and occasional direction.

Lora Fosberg building you can’t fall off the floor.

After introductions, Berkoff showed me the collaborations. All three were made with some kind of rare equilibrium which allowed each artist to completely state themselves without losing clarity. Liza’s black and white photographs are of buildings and streets given to the kind of quiet ruin we imagine our future to be made of in darker moments, dizzyingly recognizable and Cormac McCarthy-esque. On those photos, Fosberg painted and collaged her own colors and variations, wryly balancing on a tightrope between pessimism and its inverse.

Lora Fosberg and Liza Berkoff, dare to fail, 2010, gouache and collaged digital photograph on paper.

dare to fail is a gray cityscape with brightly painted billboards advertising the ideas of truth and belief, all set against a chaotic sky full of searchlights. i fall in love every day and yes can be such a surprise are quieter gestures from Fosberg, but those gestures imply a narrative between the two photographs which allow us to project limitless meanings into the work. Her collaged paper on the photos feel like satellite transmissions emanating directly from the brains of the solitary men in each photo. Maybe they connect or mingle in space or maybe they miss each other by light years; either direction is worth considering for it’s social implications. (Or just admire how great they look.) One leads to the hope for connection and the other to empty space. Berkoff’s work has often been aimed at some iteration of that empty space, which contrasts curiously well with Fosberg’s spark for filling it.

Lora Fosberg and Liza Berkoff, yes can be such a surprise (top) and i fall in love every day (bottom), 2010, gouache, collage, and photograph on paper.

Liza and I walked through the whole gallery for a cursory look before getting back to Fosberg’s installation. Everyone had already resumed the banter that had been going before I interrupted with my entrance, and that banter seemed to almost propel Forberg as she paced along the wall to finish her piece, never missing a beat in the conversation though acutely focused on the task at hand. The energy of the whole group seemed to be hyper-focused on one single point in the gallery: Fosberg’s hands as she made – or remade, rather – you can’t fall off the floor.

Watching Lora work, the thought struck me that she might actually see the world in terms of flowing energy. Not in some Oprah-endorsed-“Secret”-or-“Dr. Phil”-The Forum– pop-psychology-Ponzi-scheme-seeming-Church-of-Scientology sort of way, though. Rather, that she understands the way we connect and uses her own expressive energy to do just that; you can even see it in her posture. She’s a walking “fuck yes” of cellular awareness.

“It’s all about flow,” Fosberg said. “Nothing can be preconceived or preplanned. It just has to happen.”

And it does. She walks back and forth before a 14-foot assemblage for hours, rarely taking her eyes more than a few inches away from the surface while looking at thousands of shapes and shades and sizes of paper to be pressed down with adhesive goo, each paper strip covered in words and strange scrawls which upon focus reveal themselves to be little vaginas and penises, breasts and severed heads, random thoughts, lyrics, and bits of collected conversation and spare words which chaotically make their rounds through Fosberg’s internal processor. But taken in together – while watching her flow and receive and transmit – the thousands of parts which make up you can’t fall off the floor speak with each other, a breathing and moving organ. The piece practically blushes at you from a distance a la Robert Irwin.

“It’s all current, you know, everything I’ve been thinking about for the last year. And I’ve been so stuck on 80’s art. Warhol and Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, I just can’t get enough of it,” Fosberg said as she filled in the lower right corner of the collage. Nothing about the work feels retro, however. It’s as tied to the present moment as Lora Fosberg is. “I want to cover the Guggenheim with this. Think big, right? It can just go on and on. It’s a piece that will never be finished.” you can’t fall off the floor is a different work every time it’s installed, which means, among other things, that it will always surprise you.

“I need more boobs!” she emphatically announced as she leaned over the table covered in pieces still waiting to go up. Everyone began looking through the strips of paper for the elusive little drawings while chuckling and cracking wise for a moment. Then there was a discernable change in atmosphere as the boobs eluded discovery, which made me realize just how much everyone wanted to please the artist. I myself considered joining the search, interested only the progress of the installation. Fosberg shrugged it off, though, refusing to lose momentum. I’m sure she knew they would turn up, despite the hundreds of pieces to sift through over the course of the evening. Occasionally pieces were discarded, having been found incorrect in some way, either with unintentionally elided words or spelling errors, and dropped in a box-top beneath the table. There weren’t many, maybe a dozen give or take, and I only actually saw one with a misspelling, which I found just as interesting as those deemed wall-worthy. Were those discarded pieces ever to be resuscitated as a collage of their own, I might argue that you could, in fact, fall off the floor.

Fosberg’s prints and paintings and collages simply work. Sure sure, it’s great art and maybe that’s all that really needs to be said. You should see it and have your own experience with it, give some time to it, get close and look at the individual lines and where they intersect. Look at the tiny roll of toilet paper she draws on if it’s heavy, put it down, a modern Atlas not yet ready to shrug off the planet-sized ball of everyday objects crushing down on bent back and stooped shoulder. And the stacks of records and books and furniture and boxes which make up the refuse-laden sprawl of 10,000 different versions of myself. It’s like a tribal tattoo of stuff, manmade objects which only have the meaning we give them and only for as long as we allow. We can see ourselves there as well. There are so many little details to see and each one is ready to soak up your stories by offering you excerpts of Fosberg’s stories, beginnings and ends, fragmented middles, threads waiting to be picked up and carried indefinitely.

Lora Fosberg, 10,000 different versions of myself, 2009, gouache on paper.

“I found them,” said Dain, an employee of the gallery, holding up a piece of paper no larger than a half-inch square with breasts drawn on it. There were cheers.

So many different things have been said about Lora Fosberg’s work; that it confronts our nearly gleeful destruction of nature, how it wittily illustrates our cognitive dissonance and invites the sharing of personal narratives, or that it asks us to engage with ourselves and with the artist, all of which ring true. It’s highly interpretable work which also happens to be beautiful to look at. But not much has been said about being around Lora Fosberg, which is why you’re not reading the standard-issue boilerplate “art review” here. You can get that in pretty much anywhere else you go for reviews. I just don’t want to read theory right now. I’d rather have the experience.

Regardless of how alluring, provocative or simply gorgeous her work may be, I’ve been leaning toward the idea that the real beauty and genius of art occurs in the making of art rather than in the exhibition of it; that the quiet and laborious and countless hours of creation are where the true brilliance resides. (No, I don’t think I’m the first to have ever thought such a thing.) And spending time with Fosberg while she remade her massive collage of concentrated and effusive thoughts gave that idea some real flesh for me. I asked her if this was how things simply were for her, a constant party with her posse? “No, this is the fun part, the sort of crazy social outcome of making art. The rest of the time I’m alone, sitting there just writing and painting, in total solitude.” Plucking our stories out of the air, putting them on paper and turning them into art. you can’t fall off the floor is the inevitable social outcome of Fosberg’s greatness.

There will be an artist’s talk at Linda Warren Gallery on Tuesday, July 27th, from 5 to 7:30pm. With Chris Cosnowski, whose show Apocolypse is in the project space. Conrad Freiburg will also be on hand performing music inspired by the art. 1052 West Fulton Market.

All images courtesy of Linda Warren Gallery and Liza Berkoff.

Off-Topic | The Post Family

May 13, 2010 · Print This Article

Off-Topic invites artists, curators, writers, and cultural workers to discuss a subject not directly related to the practice of making art. We would like to welcome The Post Family as our latest participants. They will be shedding some light on their favorite childhood games.


Smear the queer is a variation of another school yard game widely known as Tag or It. Also known as Kill The Carrier or Muckle, the rules are actually the exact opposite of Tag; all of the other players chase ‘it’ also referred to as all-on-one. There are no out of bounds, no teams and no winners.This player who carries the “it’ object (most commonly a football) does there best to avoid being tackled or smeared by the other players who are attempting to take the ball away. Once the ball leaves the hands of the carrier, the “it” position is filled by whomever has the guts to pick up the ball. More often than not the name of the game is repeatedly yelled out while playing. Seeing how there are no real winners, technically the game is endless but most games only last one recess period. Kids have also been known to sabotage a friendly game of catch by tossing the ball and yelling “smear the queer” immediately making the receiver of the catch a target. There is some debate over whether or not the name is offensive because the idea is everyone wants to be the queer and the point is to be the queer longer than anyone else but we can probably assume that it was not named with good intentions.

Smear the queer is not the only offensive term that is found in the school yard. Other derogatory sayings have snuck into child vernacular after decades of use by adults without us noticing like Indian Giver (one who gives something only to take it back with obvious negative implications against Native Americans) and “Yellow”(a coward or traitor with suspect origins in the early American hatred of Oriental immigrants). Of course one day the children grow up and more than likely understand the meaning of the words and stop using them but I can’t help but think how twisted all of it is. Oh well, it was a fun game and I have not had a sudden urge to tackle any gay people so I assume I’m no worse for wear.

FOOT TAG by Sam Rosen

A school wide phenomenon at Lincoln Hall Junior High School (circa 1997). While other schools were focusing on more conventional sports such as Football or Basketball, even conventional one-hand tag, Lincoln Hall students were pioneering a new sport, a sport with the speed of tag and the strategy of hide and seek. [Read more]

Half the sky, and just a bit more of your attention.

May 4, 2010 · Print This Article


Part two of two.

If you haven’t already, you may be wondering by now what this has to do with art, why you’re reading about a humanitarian crisis on an arts weblog? I’ll tell you.

During the community conversation and throughout the reading of Half the Sky, there were several thoughts insisting on my full attention, one of which was how different my world would be minus any single one of the incredible women I’ve known, either personally or exclusively through exposure to whatever their art may be – painting or parenting, writing or teaching, cooking or counseling, making films or music. Each has been essential in some way, small or large, to my evolving understanding of the world I live in, no less my understanding of myself.

How many people would have less full lives if even a few of the women they know went missing or were never known to them at all? How would our own country be diminished intellectually, emotionally, artistically, if a million women were simply gone?

Women like Lynn Hershman Leeson, who, as a female artist trying to assert herself on the male-dominated art scene of the late 1960’s and 70’s, had to review her own work under a pseudonym because critics weren’t giving women artists a single column inch.

Leeson went on to invent what is commonly known as Second Life, to pioneer the use of blue screen technology in film making, to become Emeritus Professor of Digital Art at the University of California, and to have work in many major collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Yet there was a time that her work simply didn’t get reviewed.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta's Construction Chart #2, 1975. Dye Transfer Print

What Leeson gave to me, however, was a film she made in 2007 called Strange Culture, a brilliant hybrid of documentary and dramatic re-enactment with a bit of comic book thrown in, which I first saw excerpted on issue four of Wholphin. The films revolves around Steve Kurtz, professor of art at SUNY Buffalo, founding member of Critical Art Ensemble, and exactly the kind of guy you’d like to smoke pot with and talk to about how to fix the world, knowing in advance that whatever lunatic THC-induced long-shots and utopian fantasies you might imagine, Kurtz was quite possibly one of the few people you’d ever know who could make those fantasies real.

When Kurtz’s wife and collaborator of 25 years, Hope, suddenly and unexpectedly died of a heart attack and the police responded to his phone call, what they found and how they reacted turned the next few years of Kurtz’s life into nothing less than a battle with the government for his freedom.

Strange Culture is a time capsule of our subjugated civil rights under an unelected president, a record of our most recent and surreal dark age – which, as we can currently see, will take some time to come out of.

Leeson’s film inspired and enraged me. It introduced me to new ideas, people, problems. It literally influenced the way I live. (Can anyone say that about Avatar?) When I think back to the time before I had seen the film or learned about Leeson, it seems like I was in my own cultural dark age, or at least a bit more naive.

Women like Pamela Michele Johnson, an artist who perfectly illustrated my feelings about our consumer/capitalist society with six-foot tall paintings of Hostess cupcakes with glistening whipped lard centers, stacks of waffles with glowing oceans of syrup pooling in their crisp golden pockets, and toppling towers of ketchup-stained limp hamburgers looking so heavy and giant that you suddenly can’t help but wonder how much of that shit you’ve stuffed down your gullet.

Johnson’s art so poetically paraphrased every thought that I’ve never been able to put eloquently into words about how and what we eat, that I was instantly smitten with the paintings. She often shares people’s responses to the work with me, and I’m continually surprised by how many people view these monoliths as objects of nostalgia, tributes to simpler times, especially since I see them first and foremost as satirical critiques. I can’t help but view those “simpler times” as farces of progress spun into our heads by corporations disguised as clowns and farmers and cute little animals.

Pamela Michele Johnson, Waffles, 2007. Oil on canvas.

Her work is important to me for those two reasons; that it was the first and most personal example of how someone else’s image could so singularly define my thoughts about a certain issue, and that it offered to renew my appreciation for just how differently we all interpret information, for better or worse.

Women like Pam Bannos, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University, who uncovered the wholly neglected an incredibly relevant history of Lincoln Park, something which the current residents of the neighborhood might prefer to have left underground.

During the Civil War, Lincoln Park was a burial ground – The City Cemetery, not only for Confederate soldiers but also the diseased – and it is quite possible that there are still plenty of bones beneath those lovely lanes.

Bannos’s extensive research made quite a bit of noise, and the city of Chicago worked with her to place several markers throughout Lincoln Park which illuminate it’s history for hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.

The project, Hidden Truths, is currently being developed into a book, and having read a few of the early chapters, the potential is exciting. There are so many strange stories within the whole that Devil in the White City comes to mind, yet with far more immediate import.

The metaphors inherent in this story – of sweeping the dead under the carpet of history (akin perhaps to not showing us the coffins of our fellow patriots as they come home from war), of affluence planting it’s roots in the toil of drones (not unlike the 1 percenter’s who have made their money on the backs of the 99 percent of us who have none) – fit so snugly over the template of today that Bannos really cannot go wrong.

Her photography often beautifully aims its sweet spot at the idea and nature of truth, and I have no doubt that Bannos will apply the same focus, light, and personality to her book.

Experiencing the evolution of this project, from rigorously documented research to articulate narrative, has been an education in the creative endeavor for me, an education I intend to take full advantage of.

Marjane Satrapi

And there are so many others, like Marjane Satrapi, whose masterpiece Persepolis is the crest of the wave of a woman-made cultural revolution in Iran; musician Rachel Yamagata, formerly of Bumpus, whose residency at Schuba’s a few years back still resonates with unbelievable integrity and passion; Rebecca Solnit, an author who has not only chronicled but participated in some of the monumental social demonstrations of the last decade; Vandana Shiva, the brilliant activist and intellectual who has united the people of India in rejection of agri-monsters and ecology eaters like Monsanto and Coca Cola.

Women like – though there is really no other woman like her – Cassandra O’Keefe, one of the very first contributors to BUST Magazine, a staff member of GirlsRock! Chicago, and a gifted intuitive. O’Keefe is one of those unsung heroes who constantly crashes into our ever-expanding lack of civility and refuses to accept it.

She is an activist who has marched in every anti-war demonstration in the city of Chicago for the last decade, a creative autodidact who once decorated with handmade party hats and noise makers the smoked white fish which was to be eaten for a New Years brunch; and more importantly, a parent who decided to home-school her two daughters when No Child Left Behind became the prevailing but fundamentally flawed logic of the day for our public schools.

Not only has O’Keefe fought intolerance in her own neighborhood by simply engaging everyone she meets, but she has enriched my entire vocabulary for compassion. Those two daughters are mine as well, completing a trio of amazing women in my own home, none of whom I could imagine my life without.

Any of the millions of abused, abducted, murdered women in the world could easily be this important, this provocative, this enriching, for any number of people in their own lives. If given the chance. Their influence and intelligence could reach across the globe and touch all of us. Any one of the missing could profoundly impact someone near to them, if only they were truly valued.

There is an overwhelming amount of daily proof that our current values are failing us; our resources are withering, our environment is changing dramatically, and the same destruction that we’ve visited upon ourselves throughout history exists today, only with more politically acceptable terms. The word genocide is used far less than the phenomenon of genocide is employed. More women have to accept rape than men have to pay for the crime.

These are truths only because of our collective lack of involvement. And there is no one I know who can’t spare at least ten minutes to take the first step toward changing these truths.  How much time can you spare, and to what end?

Damien James is a self-taught artist and writer living (barely) and working (constantly) in Chicago. He has contributed to Chicago Reader, New City, Saatchi Gallery Online, Art Voices, and the general goodwill of mankind, among other things. His art has been seen in Chicago’s Around the Coyote Gallery and Aldo Castillo, Brooklyn’s 3rd Ward Gallery with Art House Co-op’s Sketchbook Project and Rhonda Schaller, various apartments in Berlin, London, Mumbai, and a tiny village in Romania.

Half the sky, all your attention.

May 3, 2010 · Print This Article


Part one of two.

I recently attended a community conversation with New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof, who was speaking about the oppression of and cruelty toward women throughout much of our global society, as illuminated with provocative bluntness and intelligence in the new book Half the Sky. A collaboration with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, the book earned the first Pulitzer ever awarded to a wife and husband team. WuDunn was not present for the conversation, but Kristof illustrated one of her connections to the subject matter by relating a story about WuDunn’s grandmother, who grew up in China and was a victim of foot binding.

The conversation was made possible by Facing History and Ourselves, an “international educational and professional development organization whose mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism,” with the intent to promote a more informed and humane citizenry.

I am uncertain as to why the Thorne Auditorium of Northwestern University was not fully attended; there must have been at least 732 people in the Chicago area who had time for this event, who might have walked away from the evening filled with a certain shock and awe after finding that their quotient for compassion had increased considerably, which I would credit to the in-depth interviews and profound friendships embarked upon by WuDunn and Kristof as they spent time in Africa, Asia, and South America.

According to Kristof, the central moral challenge of the 19th century was slavery. In the 20th century it was the battle against totalitarianism. And in the 21st century, the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle against discrimination of women and children. One might argue that the former still exist in the latter, but by the end of the presentation, that women are still treated like second-class citizens – especially in third world countries, but certainly not limited to them – becomes quite clearly a truth beyond argument.

Kristof’s stories were often painful and graphic, and most importantly, personal. It was clear that he knew the women and children he spoke of, that he shared in their pains to some extent as they shared their stories with him, that he actually looked in their eyes and allowed himself to be affected by them.

He radiated a realistic sympathy as he spoke, and rather than try to make people feel guilty for how little they contribute to solving problems which seem far too large to tackle, Kristof focused – just as Half the Sky does – on making these insurmountable problems approachable by offering ways to get involved and engaged in the lives of women on the other side of the world, lives which can be radically changed by even the smallest generosity in the briefest of moments.

Beyond relating his experience and educating us about what we could do, Kristof offered hope as he spoke of women who have started fighting back, despite unbelievable odds and misogynistic patriarchal societies, not only improving their own lives but those of women around them, and in some cases gaining international attention for their cause.

In a moment I’m going to share some of these avenues for contributing to positive social change, but first I want to share some of the stories Kristof offered at the community conversation and through the book, because the myriad humanitarian crises which literally surround us are predominantly relegated to the back of our thoughts in abstraction; and there is certainly a reason for this psychic numbing.

How could we pay our Chase bills and watch the game or Idol or Top Chef, how could we Facebook our thoughts on the character arcs of Lost and Twitter our excitement at a Black Eyed Peas concert if we were always thinking about how acceptable it is to throw acid in a woman’s face in a country we have little or no desire to ever visit? And I’m not just singling out fans of “reality” TV or Facebook and Twitter users. To be honest, I think such social networks have an amazing amount of untapped potential, but it might be that not enough social entrepreneurs are using these networks to get our attention in a lasting way.

Is it powerful enough to state that 3 million women and girls worldwide can be fairly termed as enslaved in the sex trade? That, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, there are more than 100 million women simply missing in the world today? That girls in India from age one to five are 50 percent more likely to die than boys in the same age group because of the value placed on gender? (Such discrimination kills up to 2 million girls each year worldwide.) That 21 percent of Ghanaian women reported their first sexual experience was rape? That 17 percent of Nigerian women had endured rape or attempted rape by the age of nineteen, and 21 percent of South African women reported that they had been raped by the age of fifteen?

I don’t really even want to talk about the rates of maternal mortality in some countries, nor the number of women each year who suffer from fistula as a result of rape, women who are then ostracized from their homes because of the easily but rarely treated condition.

Such numbers just become fog, pressed back and out of our thoughts as we go through our day, which is why, Kristof argues, it is so important to personally connect with someone, to actively pursue a relationship.

Is it easier to remember – or harder to forget – if we see a photograph of Long Pross, a Thai girl who, at the age of thirteen was kidnapped and sold to a brothel in Cambodia? When Pross rebelled, the female brothel owner punished her by gouging out Pross’ eye with a metal rod.

Or Meena Hasina, an Indian Muslim who was eight years old when she was kidnapped and trafficked. In the dozen years that Meena was held in the brothel, she had two children and was beaten an average of five days a week. Her children were considered property of the brothel.

Is it harder to forget Zoya Najabi, an Afghan girl who was married at twelve and subjected to constant corporal punishment at the hand of her husband and mother-in-law? Zoya’s husband regularly beat her with an electrical cable until she fell unconscious. Her mother-in-law whipped the soles of her feet.

These stories are not isolated occurrences, nor are they plucked from some macabre dark age; they are entirely contemporary. Nor are they even the worst of what Kristof and WuDunn have to report. And while it might be easy to think that these women, children in many cases, should just flee, it is never that simple. The threat of punishment and death lies around every corner for many women in societies which condone such treatment in the first place.

Often the police in many of the countries Kristof and WuDunn frequent are bribed by brothels, intimidated by gangs, and will send women away with scorn for their audacity at even showing their dishonorable faces to the authorities. Occasionally police even beat the women seeking help, and there have been reports of women being raped by police before they’re pushed back out on the streets.

Again, Half the Sky is not simply a litany of abuse. It is also a lifeline for involvement, for there are as many heroes to encourage as there are villains to infuriate, women who have taken a stand against the injustices they were not only born into but also fully expected to accept.

Women like Edna Adan, who grew up in Somalia. (According to Kristof, the local camels had more freedoms than the women.) At eight years old, Edna was circumcised, joining the ranks of millions of girls who are forced to undergo the traditional procedure intended to reduce sexual desire and promiscuity for the sake of becoming more marriageable.

If this seems barbaric, consider that Edna is from an enlightened family, that her parents not only allowed her to have an education but also encouraged her to do so. Now a fierce opponent of genital cutting, she became Somalia’s first qualified nurse-midwife and eventually the countries first lady, marrying the prime minister. Edna went on to work for the UN and eventually retired from her post to open a hospital, which she was able to do with the support of women from around the world.

Mukhtar Mai, from a peasant family in southern Punjab, was sentenced to be publicly raped as punishment for a crime that her brother allegedly committed. Mukhtar prepared to commit suicide, a normal method of dealing with such situations in Pakistan, but was prevented by her parents, who kept constant vigil over her.

Eventually Mukhtar’s shame and depression became rage, which gave her the strength to report the rape to the police and demand prosecution. President Musharraf became aware of the case and sympathized, awarding Mukhtar the equivalent of over $8,000, which she used to invest in what she felt her village needed most: a school. The story spread and Mukhtar became revered for her courage and conviction; she was honored in several countries and went on to open more schools and raise the level of visibility for abused women everywhere.

In fact, each injustice in Half the Sky is followed by a survivor’s tale, someone who has turned their world around by sheer force of will.

Kristof pointed to the importance of education as intervention – the primary tool to dismantle the machinery of abuse which still runs largely unchecked in many countries – stating that education leads to professionalism which leads to community enrichment, a virtuous cycle. And while he pulls no punches about the fact that there is no easy solution to any of the problems facing women in the third world, Kristof has plenty of details, first-hand experience with individual women and girls and entire communities that have benefited from relatively small donations toward schooling.

For example, it costs only ten dollars a year to keep a girl in school in rural China, while fifteen dollars for a uniform is all that separates some African girls from a classroom. In Cambodia, the average girl has only 1.7 years of education; often in poor countries like Cambodia, girls drop out of school young – if they ever attended at all – to work and contribute to the family income.

It is when young girls join the work force that they are more susceptible to being trafficked, lured to different cities with the promise of a job, only to find themselves locked in a room empty of everything but a mattress. Cambodia has taken steps to curb trafficking by offering financial incentives to parents who keep their kids in school with perfect attendance, but it is far from a perfect system. There have been many instances of abduction while girls are walking long distances to or from their schools.

Despite how bottomless the problems of abuse and slavery in the sex trade are, both the community conversation and the book end with incredible positivity. Kristof and WuDunn have contributed so much of their time and money to improving conditions for women around the world and have seen direct results that their thrust is to encourage us to do the same, to express our humanity by taking incremental steps toward solving massive problems. Half the Sky ends with a chapter called Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes, a crash course in contributing to positive social change. As promised, here they are:

1. “Go to www.globalgiving.org or www.kiva.org and open an account. Both site are people-to-people (P2P), meaning that they link you directly to a person in need overseas.” Global Giving lets you choose and contribute to grassroots projects in education, health, and disaster relief, among many others, in the developing world. Kiva allows you to connect to entrepreneurs as a microlender; just as kickstarter microfinances creative projects, Kiva helps fund women to start their own businesses.

2. “Sponsor a girl or woman through Plan International, Women for Women International, World Vision, or American Jewish World Service.” Kristof and WuDunn are sponsors and have exchanged letters with and made visits to children in the Philippines, Sudan, and the Dominican Republic.

3. “Sign up for e-mail updates on www.womensenews.org and www.worldpulse.com. Both distribute information about abuses of woman and sometimes advise on actions that readers can take.”

4. “Join the CARE Action Network at www.can.care.org. This will assist you in speaking out, educating policy makers, and underscoring that the public wants action against poverty and injustice. This kind of citizen advocacy is essential to create change.”

Though it might only take ten minutes of your time, Kristof and WuDunn insist that these steps are just to break the ice. Half the Sky has a comprehensive appendix of organizations to connect with, should one feel particularly meaningful, and then the authors encourage readers to dive in.

Ten short minutes can change things. The family of one young Zimbabwean woman was given a goat through Heifer International, a gift that so radically improved their economic position that they were able to send their daughter to school in America. She has since returned and begun giving back to her community.

Ten dollars took a girl in China from poverty to formal education, which she used to better her entire village. Once barely able to scrape by on subsistence farming, the community now has wood and brick homes with electricity and a thriving export business, all because of a girl who was given the opportunity to go to school.

Kristof is also quick to admit that such problems are not unique to third world countries, that many cases of abuse and oppression exist in our own back yard, but there simply wasn’t room in Half the Sky to focus on domestic issues, something he plans to remedy in the future.

Read part two of two on Tuesday. If you want to.

Damien James is a self-taught artist and writer living (barely) and working (constantly) in Chicago. He has contributed to Chicago Reader, New City, Saatchi Gallery Online, Art Voices, and the general goodwill of mankind, among other things. His art has been seen in Chicago’s Around the Coyote Gallery and Aldo Castillo, Brooklyn’s 3rd Ward Gallery with Art House Co-op’s Sketchbook Project and Rhonda Schaller, various apartments in Berlin, London, Mumbai, and a tiny village in Romania.

Letter to the Editor | Britton Bertran

May 2, 2010 · Print This Article


Once a long time ago, back when I was a pious art dude scouring the web for feelings/opinions about art in Chicago, I used to relish and hitting refresh on your podcast pages and more recently the “new” blog.  The comment sections there were a source of snickering, consternation, approval, dismay and WTFness.  It was also a place to *facepalm*.  It epitomized for me a simultaneously voyeuristic community that is silently opinionated (the anon’s) while at the same time coming off as grossly redundant by the self-promoting (the signed-in’s).  There were also a lot of useful in-between comments that reflected a more intelligent community.

Then, inexplicably, it got phased out.  (And by phased out I mean comments went from always there, to being available for a couple of days and then turned “off”, and finally, as of April 14, 2010 – completely gone.)

I miss them horribly.  I also have the feeling that I’m not the only one.

I also know why you did it, or at least I have a good idea why.  Anybody who was as interested in the comments as I was knows why too.  Really, there is no need to rehash those things here except to say that I was often appalled by what I read.  At the same time I learned and liked a lot: history, ideas, theory, Richard’s comic book stuff, Amanda’s insanely awesome cackle-laugh.  Speaking of history, I hoped Christopher archived those comments.  There must be pages and pages of them.  Lots of good stuff and horrible stuff, all invaluable.  I smell a zine in the making.

Now you guys are the big time – with your own openings, famous artists/dealers/curators/museum directors and blogger friends all over the world.  You are still BaS, still awesome and still essential, but you’ve self-censored yourselves.  I know it was hard to monitor the bullshit that happened in those comments and you played Switzerland very well most of the time (Duncan got a little testy here and there – but that’s cool).  Can’t you find a new unpaid intern to do this for you, the next Meg Onli?

So what happens now?  You post this letter (I hope) and then no one can comment on it?  Wait, can I say whatever the hell I want right now?  AND NO ONE CAN DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT!  Anyways, thanks for receiving this letter to the editor, and I hope this rant makes up for all the time I was an anon.



First and foremost, thanks for sending your concern our way. When we removed comments with the new site launch on November 1st, 2009 I had expected we would have received a lot of flack via email. But alas, this is the first to grace our inboxes. Also, I appreciate your understanding of why we turned comments off.

When I first joined BaS back in 2006 there had been talks about what to do about comments that were getting out of hand. Mainly the name-calling and *facepalming* (as you so eloquently put it). I was adamantly against it as were the majority of members. But, over the past 4 years my opinion has changed.  When I took over the blog and began “managing” other bloggers (Claudine excluded) I started to see offensive comments in a different light. These were people I worked with being attacked and many people I had asked to participate with us declined and listed the uncouth comments as a reason. I am up for debate but the behavior that was happening was getting out of hand and at times embarrassing. Although there were great things that did happen in the comments section it seems that much of what is missed was the “He said what?” aspect. (I use the male pronoun because they overwhelmingly dominated the space.)

Monitoring comments, although an option is really not something that is feasible for us currently. To set up an adequate moderation of comments would mean either sacrificing some aspect of the project or finding someone that solely wants to focus on that. If someone would like to moderate comments on a daily basis please email us and we would consider it.

With all that being said, Claudine and I have been working to open up the blog. Our series, “Off-Topic” was one small solution to having outside voices on the site. We have also been discussing how we can use the Bad at Sports’ facebook page in a way that will facilitate more conversations. If anyone has any suggestions we would be totally up for hearing them.

I would just rather be known for the place to go to hear/read artists having conversations and not the place to go and see people sling mud at each other.

Thanks for the letter,


Britton, as you well know I have always respected your opinion and your feedback examines the issue in a complete and thorough way, I could not possibly have put is so succinctly.

The reason we, after a vast amount of hand wringing and debate, ended the ability to post comments was due to the increasing amount of time we had to spend dealing with off-blog correspondence from people who were mad as hell that someone said something about them, posted under their name, and/or were afraid to post commentary or contribute feature pieces to the blog as they did not want to endure the at time acrimonious personal attacks. We went so far as to have a meeting to discuss the issue face-to-face and examine it from all sides. Monitoring the messages seemed like a solution, deleting offending posts, but I cannot, and will not act as occasional censor. I find censorship in all its forms be an aberration,  I think that it is unfair and totally subjective to pick and choose who says what, I don’t want to be deleting the posts of someone who I think is a jackass. Just because someone in a jackass does not mean they don’t add to the dialog. So we would be posed with defining the rules for deleting posts. We agreed on the big things, direct threats, criminal behavior, libel (which is a stickier wicket), but then you get to more difficult issues of who defines who is a bully, who is a troll, who is a schmuck. We couldn’t do it in a way that would make for articulable rules.

So in the absence of some clear mandate, we were left with two choices, leave things be, and continue to diffuse possible problems (and potential litigation) or we pull the plug and the hell with it, disappointing, but certainly something that would resolve the problem. While a cop-out we all have jobs, partners, obligations, many have kids, there are times where we opt for the path of least resistance. Not ideal, but true.

Meg, now the Editor in Chief of our blog, the person who essentially runs at least half of the BAS empire, started as our intern. She is amazing and has worked harder than anyone during her time at BAS. If I was paid for this, she would have to be paid more than I was as she earned it.

Sadly, finding an intern with the work ethic and vision of Meg is a one in a million and I don’t see us getting someone to pitch in sufficiently to create and police a new comment system.

So, we are left with encouraging listeners/readers to submit letters such as your and phone comments (312-772-2780). I fear you have been more-or-less the lone voice who has given feedback post removal. Under we have a better plan, we need to stick with what we are doing. Send all better plans my way!



As a quick post script all of the comments are still on display with their corresponding posts and we view them as an invaluable part of the Bad at Sports site. In the end the trade was made to get better articles from more people. Remember anyone can pingback any of our articles with their responses on their respective blogs or sites. We never want to limit the volume of talk but had to trim the audible volume of the talk.


Got a response to this post? Let us know! Email your response to  mail@badatsports.com. We’ll feature thoughtful responses to issues generated by our posts in our Letters to the Editors Feature.