Deborah Boardman in Memoriam

November 25, 2015 · Print This Article

by Jessica Cochran

In her recent memoir poet laureate Elizabeth Alexander wrote of her deceased husband, “he left us with his eyes on the world.” He was a painter.


Deborah Boardman (1958 – 2015), who once described herself as a “painter and…” worked in Chicago for nearly three decades. We saw her “eyes on the world” through solo exhibitions at the Gahlberg Gallery at the College of DuPage, the Chicago Cultural Center, Ebersmoore, and, most recently, the Experimental Sound Studio to name a few that were local. There were many more nationally and abroad. An educator at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago since 1997, she influenced hundreds of artists, some of whom became her collaborators.

Deborah worked across painting and drawing, installation, writing, environmental sustainability and sound/video, and she often employed dowsers to “map” her installations. Through it all, she became known for her approach to color, pattern and poetic text as vehicles for emotional content and narrative potential, as well as a uniquely gestural approach to mark making and hand lettering. Years ago, Deborah was of the first Chicago-based artists I discovered utilizing the bookform in a way that I found captivating. And as critic Lori Waxman wrote recently, newer work addressing her struggle with cancer grappled with the unseen and ineffable, articulating “what life looks like in that gracious limbo between life and death.”

Testimonial after testimonial gives evidence that Deborah’s “fierce,” visionary and “generous” creative ethic was not confined to her artworks, but also it governed the lived spaces of her life as an educator and collaborator: there are the students she engaged as her studio interns and treated like family; the friends with whom she sang joyfully in her living room and purposefully in the gallery; there were the women artists’ reading and figure drawing groups in the early 1990s; a spectacular dance party at Oxbow; “meaty” collaborations over years and years, and the concurrent friendships that burned slowly and brightly; pivotal residency and art-making trips to India to learn things like Vastu and develop exhibitions like Magic Mountain at Bangalor and Rooting: India with Akshay Rathore and Tricia Van Eck for the Kochi Biennale. Morning walk after morning walk to Albion Beach with her beloved dogs. The students she taught to write grants, not to “overpaint” and to make artists’ books. The yoga, meditations and gurus: she was a Catholic child turned seeker, spiritualist.


Perhaps the sum of the many, many contours of Deborah’s art-making life is this: in each studio visit was an implicit gift; embedded in every syllabus was an invitation; in each collaboration an emergent provocation; and in every artwork a public offering, a lesson.

My relationship with Deborah grew over six years or so through some group shows I curated, periodic studio visits and friends in common. But was in the last eight weeks of her life that she, her family and close (and by close, I mean indescribably loving) friends invited me into the more intimate dimensions of her life to begin to do the curatorial work of considering her oeuvre, to embark on a deep engagement with her work in order to develop a retrospective exhibition down the line. To begin to locate the magnitude of her influence, position her output within a broader historical and social context, and to understand the genesis of her work over decades—is a project I am coming to understand through a new and fascinating curatorial lens and as my own biggest collaboration with Deborah.

Deborah worked through her final days of treatment and hospice—finishing her memoir, setting into motion plans for a new sound installation and making her last exquisite painting with the help of those at her bedside. By all accounts her fervor was punctuated with wit and that inimitable smile.

In an artist’s book produced for a recent exhibition at 6018 North, Deborah wrote: “Xavier Le Pinchon, a plate tectonic expert, suggests that fault lines, the open spaces between the plates in the earth’s crusts are… analogous to human frailty. Because we are vulnerable, we find it necessary to depend on others for survival. It is through our vulnerability that we bond with others and thrive.”

Deborah’s work had many facets, but it is her brave articulation of her own perceived faults, frailties and vulnerabilities—her commitment as an artist to learning in public—that will demand of us and viewers of her work for years to come a deep reciprocity, a Deborah-like generosity. Through these exchanges—made possible by the “work” of her artwork—she will live on and her ideas will continue to shape the world in meaningful, collaborative ways.

From the Road: In the Details

November 17, 2015 · Print This Article

There is a palpable disjunction between the experience of Howardena Pindell, Pindell’s stunning solo exhibition at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, and its representation in the following words and photos. Beyond the ways in which photographs cannot capture the minute detail inseparable from the immense scale of Pindell’s work, the exhibition builds a complex understanding of a way to view her work that draws us in by asking us to look deeply and closely at and beneath its surface.


Howardena Pindell, Untitled, 1975 (detail)

It is easy to overlook a grouping of six, small works, hanging in one corner of the gallery, washed by Pindell’s voice from Free, White and 21 and dwarfed by the large-scale paintings from the Autobiography series that dominate the space. These works speak with a sure voice and power of their own, and they compel and reward close looking. The regularity of the grids of Parabia Test #4 seem disrupted by the paper dots across and beneath the sheets of vellum, but the deliberate, drawn gestures across the tiny circles anchor them in their places and reinforce the depths plumbed beyond our sight. Untitled, 1975 explodes with and centers color. The layered, reversed, and obscured words of Text resist an easily read comprehension, making explicit the ways in which collage buries meanings, fracturing understandings we assume we know.


Howardena Pindell, Parabia Test #4 (detail)


Howardena Pindell, Untitled #58 (detail)

The intimate gesture – ink on paper, hole punched paper within paint, words spoken with deliberate calm, canvas ruptures sutured – is central to all of Pindell’s work in this exhibition. The staggering beauty and power of Pindell’s work has been built slowly and deliberately through these gestures, and those gestures demonstrate the futility of easy comprehension, the impossibility of walking away from the exhibition with a fixed understanding of Pindell and her work. We must match her accumulated, repeated gestures with multiple viewings, with re-seeings that slowly accrue and reveal meaning over time.


Howardena Pindell, Text (detail)

Ultimately, these words cannot do Pindell’s work justice. There will always be more to learn from Pindell’s work just as there will always be more to learn within this world. Pindell’s first solo exhibition of paintings and drawings was at Spelman College. Thankfully, in specifically re-presenting Pindell’s work here, this exhibition asks us to re-view that work and re-see that world. Fortunately, this exhibition reminds us that we will not find a just and equal world, but perhaps we can build one through small, intimate gestures.


Howardena Pindell, Autobiography (red Frog II) (detail)

I will continue living with Pindell’s work, the small gestures that built those works and the larger gestures of her career, and I will heed the call to re-see the world, to watch the news for what it does not say, to view the world through which I live as a series of negotiations of power, privilege, and inequity, to work to reveal and realign my place within that world.

Howardena Pindell is on view at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art through December 5, 2015.

A Sound That You Like: Christine Sun Kim’s Fingertap Quartet

November 16, 2015 · Print This Article

Many of us have at least once known the feeling: Am I being too loud? Am I yelling right now? Can everyone hear me chewing? Is the sound of moving my chair along the floor driving everyone else into a steaming rage? You pull out your headphones or look up from your work and glance around, anticipating dirty looks from officemates or strangers. Our sense of sonic etiquette is based in substantial part in the assessing of external responses to our behavior. But imagine now, if it requires imagining, that you have never been able to hear yourself. That your sense of which sounds are too loud or too soft, which sounds are good and not good, which sounds are deemed appropriate for which situations, has been determined by the reactions and standards of people whose experience of the world is radically different from your own.

Christine Sun Kim is a sound artist who has been deaf since birth, and who uses the medium to question “the ownership of sound”. She uses myriad forms (performance, drawing, painting) to explore her relationship with sound and its role in social behavior and spoken communication. Earlier this fall, I had the delightfully grating experience of Kim’s Fingertap Quartet at Links Hall, presented by Illinois Humanities. Fingertap Quartet engages with the social valuation of sound through a play on Harry Roseman’s contribution to Draw It With Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment. Replacing Roseman’s use of “a work [of art]” with “a sound” yields the quartet of prompts in the piece:

1. A sound that you like and think is good.

2. A sound that you don’t like and don’t think is good.

3. A sound that you like, but suspect might not be good.

4. A sound that you don’t like but have to admit is good.


Christine Sun Kim. Photos by Claire Britt, via Illinois Humanities.

Just prior to the performance, I had the opportunity to participate in a Master Class with Kim and Danielle Linzer (Director of Access and Community Programs for the Whitney Museum of American Art), as a part of the Elective Studies series. (If you aren’t familiar with Elective Studies, it’s a fairly new and truly special bit of programming from Illinois Humanities that provides unique educational opportunities for artists. I heartily recommend keeping an eye on it.) Kim’s professional practice is somewhat two-pronged; in addition to her personal art practice, she is also an active educator. Kim and Linzer have been working together for years on something called The Vlog Project, a video series created by the Whitney Museum to provide inclusive access to contemporary art. The videos feature a mix of American Sign Language and visible text, and Kim and Linzer have been experimenting throughout the process to find the right blend of techniques to yield the best results. In addition to hosting the master class, Illinois Humanities also worked with Kim, Linzer, Jennifer Hart, and Matt Dans to film two new vlogs in Chicago, which should be available online soon.


Danielle Linzer.

These vlogs are also certainly accessible to hearing viewers, and are listed amid other content on the Whitney website, so while they are searchable under the “Access” tab, they can also be stumbled upon by visitors to the site. More than merely comprehensible to a hearing audience, they are interesting to watch, providing information not only about a specific exhibition or artwork, but also giving a glimpse into the personality of the individual, and the unique expressive qualities of ASL. For example, in this video, Kim discusses the Whitney exhibition Singular Visions, with particular attention to Paul Chan’s 2005 piece 1st Light. You can really see here, especially in her description of the exhibition layout, the spatiality of ASL.

The master class was largely a discussion of best practices and lessons learned as they’ve developed this initiative. The range of attendees was fairly broad within people working in the arts and/or accessibility, including representatives from large, established institutions like the MCA to more DIY endeavors like the Chicago Home Theater Festival, as well as individual artists and professionals. Perhaps more importantly, the range of familiarity with Deaf culture and access initiatives was vast. Some of us knew little beyond perhaps the ASL alphabet and a general awareness that ableism is an issue in the art world. Some were professional ASL translators, some were deaf artists, educators, and other professionals.

While the class was at times a bit dry for someone already somewhat experienced in video, and not necessarily planning to generate this specific kind of content in the future (which was, after all, what everyone was there to learn to do), this was a really illuminating experience. In addition to providing me with a bigger picture understanding of Kim’s practice, the workshop allowed me to witness conversations around the culture and concerns of certain deaf individuals and of Deaf communities as relates to media production. For example, content created by hearing people for deaf people can sometimes miss the mark on how much visual information is occurring at once. A one-shot video of someone standing still signing in front of a single image or blank background feels like a dry PSA, but a video with signing, captions, infographics, jump cuts, and other complexities may be too dense to really be absorbed. (Which isn’t to say hearing people creating content for hearing audiences don’t often hit the same stumbling block.) It was getting the sense of the personalities and interests of particular individuals in the room, however, which contributed most to my appreciation of the performance afterward.


Kim, smiling at you from behind a laptop, begins Fingertap Quartet by addressing the audience without the use of ASL or an interpreter, as you watch her typing and scrolling projected live behind her. Her voice–her unique personality in communicating–comes through clearly in the timing of her typing, her facial expressions, her sense of humor. She introduces you to the project, explaining the four prompts that led her to create the Quartet. The sound files within the performance were created through collaboration with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, (another compelling artist, whose media presence often engages with other activist issues). Kim used her voice, transducers, and recording equipment to create audio recordings, as well as textual descriptions to use in working with Hynes on the compositions.

When we were seated, a section at the front to one side was reserved for audience members who would need ASL interpretation. This was not, however, a simple facilitation of access, but a fundamental part of the performance. As each of the four sound sequences was played, the hearing members of the audience experienced a high-volume audioscape of Kim’s good and bad sounds. (“Sorry!”, Kim typed after seeing me put in my ear plugs–not to keep the sounds out, but to reduce them to a volume I could more comfortably understand. My hearing difficulties are the self-imposed result of youthful foolishness and noise bands.) The deaf members of the audience, however, had a totally different experience. Kim sat near them, and held an animated conversation in ASL about (I think) what kinds of experiences she was alluding to in her texts and recordings. There are sounds that are pleasing to make, but seem to bother the people who hear them: a sound that you like, but suspect might not be good. I found myself bouncing my attention between the sounds and attempting to understand snippets of the conversation, several of the participants of which were people I had spent the prior hours with, but now without the intervening speech of the interpreter. Despite my understanding of facial expressions and body language, and a slight familiarity with the conversationalists, this was something I could not be a part of. This was not something I could even fully comprehend. This part was not designed for me, just as the auditory part of the performance was not designed for some of the others. But all parts were necessary for the event to take place.

After all the dialogue about inclusivity, about how to invite larger populations into something shared, here was a great example of the power of having totally different experiences running parallel to each other as a part of the same piece. We all could see the visual representation of the sound file, the peaks and valleys of the .wav as we moved along its timeline, and could read Kim’s typed text, but for much of Fingertap Quartet each audience member was on one of a few possible tracks. Not everyone was at an identical performance, but I suspect the salience of that fact was a part of all of them. The sounds were certainly not all sounds most people would like, and the inability to access an aspect of the performance was potentially frustrating, but the overall experience was challenging in a pleasing way. An attempt to categorize it into one of the four prompts brought me to this compromise: A sound you don’t like, but that you enjoy.

Experiences are always tempered by the bodies in which they occur. Sometimes an increased awareness of this fact results in efforts to produce content that can be accessed by a larger percentage of those bodies. Another approach, as found here, is to create work that weaves those very difference into the fabric of the art itself.

From the Road: Transformer

October 27, 2015 · Print This Article

From white cubed commercial galleries to experimental project spaces, from closely packed artist studios to pop-up celebrations out in the dark, Nashville’s first Saturdays are bustling, vibrant, overbrimming with activity. Moving between openings at the beginning of October, I repeatedly heard the mock-lament that there was too much to do, too many places to be for any single night. The looming feeling of always-more fueled movement – walking and driving between galleries, negotiating crowded rooms, navigating shifting frames of mind and sight. Virginia Griswold’s pop-up exhibition Equal Parts at The Packing Plant, however, stopped me in my tracks.


Virginia Griswold, Equal Parts (all images courtesy of Virginia Griswold)

The walls in the gallery were unfinished, construction frozen before sheetrock hung. The crowd gathered around the small sawhorse table, bending low over the ceramic and resin objects, slowed the momentum of entering from other exhibitions. Joining the circumnavigating stream, I slowly observed the objects on the table. The stasis of the room lengthened my gaze, extended my ability to consider the work.


As I moved, the textures, lines, and colors of the objects reflected around and across the table – an osage orange, mushroom gills, vessels containing one another – the visual equivalent of musical themes shifting, shimmering in different forms, reappearing across time and space. This echoing revealed the ways in Griswold views the “table as site for transformation.” The table had always been in motion. Its initial stasis was an illusion of my eyes used to the outside world. My time spent within the work transformed singular, static objects into relationship with one another, enlivened the location, proximity, and contact of objects into conversations.

Griswold’s objects are lived with, accruing meaning in the moments of making and across days and weeks of time spent living through the same spaces. On initial viewing, they carry a weight that we cannot feel. They ghost objects we cannot know, recall memories we cannot imagine. The table transforms these long-known objects for Griswold, and the table begins the transformation of just-seen objects for the viewers.



In the weeks since viewing it, I have lived with the exhibition, sorting and filing the images and echoes, the feeling of the resin, the reflections of the objects I see in my coming and going. The transformation is no longer just within the objects and their relationships; the transformations live within the way I have slowed to watch for the “questionable state” Griswold strives for in her objects and accomplishes in Equal Parts. Her work lives on in that state, neither movement nor stasis, embodying the complexity and reality of our daily lives. As with all living objects, her work enters our lives, transforming the futures we find as we rejoin the movement of the exterior world, the ever-rushing into the night.

Propeller Fund Announces 2015 Awardees

October 19, 2015 · Print This Article

Bad at Sports would like to congratulate the 2015 Propellor Fund Grant Recipients! 

Propeller Fund proudly announces the fifteen grant recipients for 2015. Selected from a pool of over one-hundred candidates, these small, self-organized, and radical projects are vital to Propeller’s mission of encouraging more varied models, spreading these activities into more diverse areas, and to spark ambitions beyond current formats in Chicago’s visual art world. Propeller Fund offers $50,000 (five grants at $6,000 and ten grants at $2,000) annually to artists producing a wide range of public culture.

Propeller Fund recognizes that such independent artist-organized events, informal roundtables and workshops, collectively organized exhibition spaces, and publishing endeavors constitute a large catalyst for the creative activity and vitality of the Chicago visual art world. These projects are responsible for much of the complexity and richness in the art community.

Propeller Fund 2015 Award Ceremony and Reception

This year’s recipients will be recognized in an award ceremony on Wednesday, November 18 at the Jane Addams Hull-House Residents’ Dining Hall. Join grant recipients and the community to celebrate with food, drink, and a reception.

Wednesday, November 18, 6–9pm
Jane Addams Hull-House Residents’ Dining Hall
800 South Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60607
Award Ceremony: 6:30pm
Awardee Reception: 7–9pm
Free and open to the public

Propeller fund would like to thank this year’s distinguished jury: Jen Delos Reyes, Associate Director of the School of Art & Art History at UIC and Founder and Director of Open Engagement (Chicago, IL); Deana Haggag, Director of The Contemporary (Baltimore, MD); Nicole Marraquin, Artist, Co-Organizer of Multiuso, and Associate Professor of Art Education at SAIC (Chicago, IL); Meida McNeal, Artistic/Creative Director of Honey Pot Performance and Arts and Culture Manager for the Chicago Parks District (Chicago, IL); and Astria Suparak, independent curator and author (Pittsburgh, PA). And much appreciation to the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, funder of Propeller Fund through its Regional Regranting Program.

2015 Awardees


BRUJOS (Stephanie Jeter, Ben Kolak, Ricardo Gamboa)

BRUJOS is a queer-of-color, radically politicized web series following four gay Latino doctoral candidates—that are also witches. They navigate magic, sexuality, and surviving a witch-hunt led by a secret society of white heteronormative male descendents of the first New World colonizers. BRUJOS blends Latino soap opera and U.S. sitcoms to deliver 12, seven-minute episodes developed through queer men of color testimonies, interviews with magic pracitioners, and cultural studies academics. In a world conditioned by white supremacy and inequality, BRUJOS makes visible people and ways of life that have been made invisible by dominant culture and mainstream media.

filmfront (Alan Medina, Malia Haines-Stewart, Alyx Christensen, Rudy Medina)

filmfront is a multidisciplinary project that uses the exhibition of film, video, and new media from around the world and down the street to facilitate exciting, challenging conversations that are open, free, and accessible to everyone. Curation is based on a collaborative model of programming in which artists, curators, and free thinkers are invited to work together to create exhibitions, interactive projects, performances, workshops, and lectures open to the community.

Floating Museum (Faheem Majeed, Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford, Andrew Schachman)

Floating Museum is a mobile exhibition structure and structural interpretation of the DuSable Museum of African American History that will move by land and water through the city of Chicago in 2016 and 2017. The project blends creative place-making, activism, and exhibition design to make a platform for conversations, art viewing and community engagement.

In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street (Allison Glenn)

In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street is a public art exhibition that couples artists and practices with the materiality of the built environment. Through the use of junior billboards, sculpture, performance, media, and sound, the artists in the exhibition will consider landscape and the built environment, encouraging viewers to traverse rich and varied expanses of the city.

Report to the Public: An Untold Story of the Conservative Vice Lords (Benneth Lee, Lisa Junkin Lopez)

Benneth Lee will organize film screenings and train young people to lead tours expanding upon the exhibition, Report to the Public: An Untold Story of the Conservative Vice Lords. By training former gang members to become community docents and targeting youth audiences, the project demonstrates that young people in gangs are capable of addressing the most challenging issues in their communities. Report to the Public draws upon the thesis that gang members, like all of us, have “multiple, conflicting identities” and that we must affirm their positive identity formation in order to decrease violent and destructive behavior.


The Chicago ACT Collective (Sarah Atlas, William Estrada)

The Chicago ACT (Artists Creating Transformation) Collective is a diverse collective of artists creating work to support movements, struggles, and communities in Chicago. Through a partnership process, this project generates art that reflects on and responds to current and local needs identified by those most impacted. This project has many facets—building a collective of socially and politically engaged artists, forming partnerships with grassroots organizations and social justice movements, and producing prints, graphic arts, and visual campaigns for social change that promote collaboration and dialogue across multiple communities.

Fielding (Amber Ginsburg, Sara Black, Billy Dee)

Fielding is a collaborative art and design practice, a youth workshop series, a design/build service and a social justice initiative. Fielding leads workshops for girls, young women and gender variant youth to design and build structures while learning to use woodworking tools competently and confidently. In addition, a diverse core crew of skilled women and gender variant carpenters will respond to invitations (local, regional and international) to design and construct building projects.

Freedom Dreams (Alice Kim ) 

Freedom Dreams is a project that creatively connects Illinois prisoners serving long-term sentences with local and national artists. Their writings and visual art will be featured in a multi-media exhibit and series of events centered on the question: What does freedom look like?

HAIR CLUB (Suzanne Gold, Kelly Lloyd, Michal Lynn Shumate )

HAIR CLUB is a growing community of artists, writers, and scholars whose aim is to conduct a collaborative inquiry into the multi-valent topic of HAIR in our wider culture via conversation, publication and meaningful programming, and organizing HAIR-centered work across medium and discipline into thematic publications, exhibitions and events.

Kitchen Space (Traci Fowler, Trevor Schmutz, Mirko Velimirovic)

The organizers of the project/exhibition space Kitchen Space will develop a cookbook that provides readers with a variety of recipes for main dishes, appetizers, drinks, etc. from the unique perspective of two artists who have to combat monthly exhibitions in the very kitchen they cook their meals.

One Room (Kate Thomas, Devin Pendergast, Kitty Conde, Jessica Rosenbaum, Roxy De Luca, Jeanne Walker)

One Room is a social practice project that invites the public into conversations with CPS artist-teachers to playfully explore the complexity of a teaching practice within our current climate of constraints and monitoring. Artist teachers in conversation with the public will generate creative approaches to systemic problems.

Paper Work (Third Object: Gan Uyeda, Ann Meisinger, Raven Munsell, Elisabeth Smith)

Paper Work is an exhibition organized by Chicago-based curatorial collective Third Object that, through a central exhibition site and office-bound satellite locations, explores a range of current artistic responses to notions of bureaucracy, administration, and the ordering of information.

Social Furniture (John Preus, Jamie Kalven )

Social Furniture produces 2x4s out of materials salvaged from closed Chicago Public Schools. Working with Lathrop Community Partners and the Invisible Institute, we will work to develop projects that provide both a source of income for Lathrop residents and a forum for developing relationships between the developers and the residents. The 2x4s are both literal and figurative building materials to produce new structures.

UnJustified (Jacob Klippenstein, Crista Noel, Ric Wilson, Teresa Campagna, Deonta Terry) 

A series of screenings and discussions will debut a series of UnJustifiable mini-docs. The series will provide a retrospective and prospective look at Chicago Police violence from the 1800s to the present with a timeless focus on educating and engaging Chicagoans especially youth through dialogue led by community elders, analogue, and digital media.

W.A.R.P. Westtown Artist Residency Program (The Weaving Mill: Emily Winter, Matti Sloman, Eva Joly, Monika Kimrey, Envision Unlimited, and more)

W.A.R.P is a series of short-term residencies at The Weaving Mill, a small-scale production mill in Humboldt Park. In partnership with Envision Unlimited’s Westtown Center, The Weaving Mill pairs artists with developmental disabilities with visiting artists from the wider Chicago community. The groups are guided through a series of workshops that allow the artists to approach an unfamiliar industrial textile technology together.

About Propeller Fund

Launched in May 2010, Propeller Fund is administered jointly by Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois at Chicago and threewalls. Propeller Fund provides grants to artists, curators, and groups living and working in Cook County, Illinois, and seeks to support projects that are independent, informal, and self-organized. Propeller Fund receives support from Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts through the Regional Regranting Program.

Further descriptions of Propeller Fund projects can be found here.