Devastation and Space @ Eel Space

August 6, 2009 · Print This Article

Eel Space, a spanking new gallery just opened this past March in Chicago, is an artist run venue that focuses on thematic exhibitions and mostly local artists. The title of the show, Devastation and Space, honestly had me thinking about the apocalypse and dwarf planets. But the space was more visceral, and the devastation in the dialogue was emotional, physical and historical, not nuclear.

The show featured work from three artists, Emily Gomez, Snorre Sjonost Henriksen and Jesal Kapadia. Gomez’s work consists of five images on the wall when you enter, black and white landscapes, nice but not dazzling in content and composition. The first image is a strip mall of sorts, and in the center of the composition is a mound of earth, patchworked with sod. I was struck by how organic the strip mall appeared, how quickly I accepted it as natural, while the neat mound of earth seemed foreign and awkward in location. The second image is the corner of a parking lot and a hill, the hill divided by a fence running through it. Again, the position of the fence creates an strange divide in the hill, and seems arbitrary in placement. These first two images had me thinking about, obviously, constructed and organic, and the overlap between the two. However the literature about the show reveals that the locations depicted are actually sacred historical locations to various American Indian Nations. How depressing. Perhaps the most dismal was the portrait of the Tennessee Titans’ stadium built on a burial ground. Hot dog, anyone?

Kapadia’s work, a video projection entitled A vacant rectangle, left blank for a work expressing modern feeling, is a silent homage to the city of Chandighar in North India. The city was designed and built by Le Corbusier in the 1950s and the title comes from his book, The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning from 1937. The video is shot surveillance style of buildings that seem institutional and incomplete. Captions depict a conversation (real or imagined) between “I” and “he”. For example: “I asked what kind of vocation is profitable here, he said, Everything except poetry and writing”. There is a thick tension tangible between the modern brilliance that was clearly in the mind of the architect of this project, and the reality of what the buildings have become. This work is coupled by a diptych of glossy photographs taken from images in archives of Chandighar. There are flashes and reflections of exterior lights in the photos, which compoud the distance and disassociation one feels from the buildings.

The last piece, Henriksen’s Psycho Somatic was the work I was the least invested in. It consisted of a lab coat, hanging, with a message scrawled in red pen on duct tape reading MAKE UP YOUR MIND across the back. Playing on a small television was a video of a Henriksen and his collaborator Frans Ibon Svensen skateboarding along tunnels in what appears to be the basement of the institution. It seems like a video appropriate for YouTube, of some punkass kids trespassing and recording their shenanigans. The sound of the wheels grinding on the cement and echoing in the halls becomes a neutral sound backdrop for the repetitive action of the skateboarding and the words “Border” and “Clinic”. In the literature, I discovered that the location of the performance is in fact in the bowels of a mental instituion that the artist was breifly commited to. He and his collaborator and travelling the underground distance between the mental hospital and the Central Hospital of Telemark, the place for treatment of the somatic. He is physically transversing the space between the two to lay stress on the separation between the, you guessed it, psychiatric and somatic separation in the institution. Personally, the performance seemed disconnected from events it was alluding to, although I think the idea of transgression while using an amateur skateboarding video aesthetic was successful.

The work in this show felt like three separate explorations of devastation and space, specifically different types of devastation on physical space (human, emotional, ideological). It seemed like a fulfilling and thoughtful cross section of work on this theme. I’m excited to see more work in this space, and even if it is in a public transit gray area, I would recommend checking it out.

Devastation and Space will be up until the end of August, and gallery hours are Sundays 1-4 or by appointment.

Scott Projects First International Show, Opens Saturday

August 6, 2009 · Print This Article

“Thumbing granite rocks into the womb of a marshmallow mermaid, sopping granite compound orgiastic waterfalls on the cotton fields of heaven.”

That is how the press release opens. Woah. This Saturday, August 8th, Scott Projects is welcoming London based artists Sopping Granite (Ben Vickers and Sarah Hartnett) for the show The First Letter of Every Word is You. Apparently, they exchange ideas via telepathy. Definitely check out their website, which seems to serve as part portfolio, part research notebook, and part collage.

Here is the link to the Facebook event page. Hope to see you there!

Food Inc., For Dummies

July 16, 2009 · Print This Article

Food, Inc., by director Robert Kenner, made me feel stupid. It reminded me of every reason why I loved  Our Daily Bread, of 2006. Our Daily Bread exercised subtly and restraint, with very still, bleak vignettes of the monstrous places that produce the food we eat around the world. It does this without commentary, just offering a view of what is. Food, Inc. practices neither restraint nor subtlety. Each segment of the film is broken into segments that are announced with a title. As if we couldn’t catch on that hey, now we’re going to learn about corn.

If you have every seen more than one PETA video, or thought about the fact that high fructose corn syrup is in most processed foods, then this film will basically be a refresher for you. I picked up a few good conversation starters, like, if a cow were allowed to graze on grass for (I don’t remember it exactly…) a whole bunch of E. Coli would be naturally eliminated from its gut. However, instead of letting cows graze, we prefer to wash the processed hamburger meat with chlorine, which also kills the virus. The breakdown of who owns what we eat was also interesting, as well as the fact that there are only three or four commercial slaughterhouses left in the entire United States.

The graphics were too cutesy and glossy for me as well. You would think a film that is focus on questioning how “natural” our food is would have more organic and basic feeling fonts and graphics, instead of super processed looking titles and animation. A lot of it felt very Disney-fied. Or maybe thats just me.

The “experts” were entertaining and knew what they were talking about. However, the selection was seriously limited. There was the bad corporation, the good farmer, the victimized small business owners, the granola hippie who went corporate, the sob story.

In general, the film was well researched, and would be great to show in an elementary or middle school. The issues are important and should definitely be given the space to be discussed. But, just a tip, if you doze off during the entire film, the directors conveniently end the film with a few minutes of bullet points of what you should have picked up during the course of the film. To summarize: buy locally, buy organically, eat seasonally, and try not to get E.Coli.

If you want to check out the trailer, you can see it here. But, if you haven’t already, definitely check out its classier counterpart, Our Daily Bread.

Hear Here at Julius Caesar

July 9, 2009 · Print This Article

Julius Caeser is a space tucked into a warehouse; very small, very white, very tall ceilings, half a wall of exposed brick. The show, Hear Here, features collaborative works by Kaylee Rae Wyant and Jerome Acks III, that I had read in an essay on the back of the show poster by Wyant, sought to be both”critical and patriotic”. Her essay questions artistic models based on 60s reactionary politics, and their relevance in the contemporary political climate. Interesting.

The show had a total of four pieces; two paintings, a beast of a sculptural canvas work in the center of the room, and a sculpture standing near the entrance.

Red Hat appears to be a painting on raw canvas. Upon closer inspection, it is revealed that the gnome-like red hat is actually sewn into the canvas, and the face wearing the hat is thickly rendered in dark paint. The red insert interrupts the canvas, but it is so seamless that you could easily write it off as a straightforward painting. I find that in a lot of collaborative work there is some sort of a game of figuring out which hand created which aspect of the piece, and that was definitely not a part of this show, as far as I could tell.

Making a Face (portrait of Simone de Beauvoir)
, is a classic bust portrait of (apparently) Simone de Beauvoir, and on top of this is a hard geometric shape of some red reflective material. Standing in front of the piece, my boobs were reflected back at me (I wonder what de Beauvoir would think…), and half of the bust painting behind it. This is a little too literal for me, implicating the viewer in the work through their reflection.

Liberatus Standing is free from the wall, constructed free standing on the ground, is made from canvas on stretchers but free from paint and dominates the space. The image is a pixelated photograph neatly stretched on the canvas, but with unfinished corners and edges. The piece feels really controlled in its rejection of convention, and uses the structure and language of painting to arouse feelings of revolution. It appears as though it has been twisted on itself, to the point where I had a hard time connecting the image as one in my head. However, I was most attracted to the side of the canvas that didn’t have an image. The back was panels of solid colored material, red, blue, navy, gray, with the seams dangling thread. Visually I found this much more appealing, and even patriotic with its reference to symbolism, flag making etc.

In general, I enjoyed the artists using the structure of painting as a place that had a set of conventions and a history that could be manipulated and questioned, while still paying homage to those same conventions and history.

The show will be up until July 26th, and Julius Caesar holds openings on the first Sunday of every month from 4-7pm. Gallery hours are on Sundays from 1-4.

Not Another Recession Show & Chat With Rachel Kalom

June 25, 2009 · Print This Article

I met Rachel Kalom at a queer book group that met at a bar. Not a ton of book-discussing went on, but we did manage to get drunk at 3pm one Sunday every month. When she told me that she was co-curating a show with her coworker Brian Gillham, I was really excited to see her take on the fancy shmancy space that is the Zolla/Lieberman Gallery.

I was relieved to see a show about the recession without a dollar sign or Wall Street reference. Instead was work that was clearly created in a time where money and labor and the global economy were being examined on the daily, or work that was complicated by the current economic climate.

The first piece you confront when you walk into the space is “Horse Drawn” by Shannon Goff, a life-size carriage a la Cinderella constructed completely out of cardboard. This piece, along with others like Vijay J. Paniker’s ceramic works of to scale everyday objects (boots, paint cans, cheese whiz) and Katherine Webb’s hand stitched portraits, all utilize a practice that is both labor intensive and skill based, and the resulting work is very easy on the eyes. I liked the almost optimistic feeling from these works; the confrontation between the acknowledgement of the intense amount of labor required and the ease of pure visual enjoyment. These pieces made me consider how I might not (well, I don’t) look at a car and consider the labor involved the construction of it, but when I am in the space with a carriage made out of segments of cardboard by one person, I do consider the labor involved. I also was really into the different facets of “labor” examined. Webb’s work focuses on her children and domestic spaces, and this executed in hand stitching brings to question women’s work, and the artists role in her own home. Paniker’s pieces could be mistaken for the actual things they represent, and exhibit skilled craftsmanship. Goff’s carriage turns the artist into machine constructing fairy tale imagery.

It was nice to see work that was created before the shit hit the economic fan that was rendered more compelling in a context other than in which it was created. Tom Berenz’s paintings of disaster imagery (“Flooded GM Dealership (Midwest Flood)” and “ Dead S.U.V (Midwest Flood)”) are given an even more somber tone post-bailout.

I think that this show was a successful balance of politics and aesthetic, inferred significance and cultural commentary. There was a rich visual texture of photography, video, painting, installation and sculpture. Thankfully every piece did not scream RECESSION DAMMIT but there was a delicate common thread throughout the entire show that made every piece seem to fit and add to the common and timely discussion.

I asked Rachel some questions about her experience with this show…

How did you come to curate this show?
I’ve been the gallery manager at Zolla/Lieberman for three years, and the owner of the gallery, William Lieberman, offered my co-worker Brian and I the opportunity last fall. We were given free reign to select the theme and artists and to co-ordinate all aspects of the show.

Can you tell me about the evolution of this show from the very beginning?

Early in the process we attended different open studios and exhibitions, and there were quite a few artists who stood out, but we were not certain of the connecting theme at that point. It wasn’t until the spring that we developed the theme of the show. It occurred to me that the recession had become an elephant in the room during every conversation about the art world, and that we had an opportunity to examine that, even to celebrate it, rather than sweep it under the rug.

Are you more interested in the work created during this economic hard time or how the context of some of the pieces has shifted because of this?

I think these artists are each handling the concept of recession in different ways, and that variety is really compelling. Some are continuing their previous practices with a newly enriched sensibility (Shannon Goff and Deb Sokolow, for example) while others are recent art school graduates who have ‘come of age’ and developed their vision in the midst of a huge social shift (like Garrett Durant). I enjoy that there are differences in the way the recession theme applies to each artist’s work, but that it is so consistently evident throughout the exhibition.

What is the most difficult thing about curating a show with so many artists?

Having seen the work in separate spaces, and in some cases only over email, it was a leap of faith that everything would work well together and in the physical space of the gallery. While we did a great amount of planning the placement of the show, a lot of that changed once we had the artwork and began installation. But it’s a type of puzzle, and placing the show to maximize each piece of artwork was also one of the best aspects of the project. We have also used the gallery’s space in a way that is very different from some of our more traditional exhibitions, and breaking out of seeing the space in that way was liberating.

What is the artist’s role in the current economic situation?

I think these artists have embraced the limitations of the current economic situation, and that their works present cheerful possibilities for recession-era art making. In the bigger picture, I see their work reflecting the enthusiasm shown by many for taking up a simplified lifestyle.

The show will be up until August 20th at Zolla/Lieberman, 325 West Huron – Chicago, IL 60610.