“Out of the Mouths of Artists” is a new bi-monthly series on the Bad at Sports blog. The series presents a space for guest artist bloggers–of varying career statuses–to write, to reflect, to pontificate on their current situations, failures and/or successes, and ideas on what it means to be an artist. “Out of the Mouths of Artists” also gives readers a glimpse into artists’ portfolios and studios.
“Perfect Strangers” on ABC Television Network, 1986 – 1993.
The Man who saw the Man who saw the Bear
Guest Post by Michael Gimenez
For my first trip to the United States in the summer of 2000, I accompanied a contemporary dance company on tour in several Michigan towns as their photographer. I was afraid to live this journey through the visual prism of thousands of hours of American television series and movies that had saturated my mental images. I promised myself that I would look at each thing with virgin eyes, cleaned of any cinematographic references. Upon landing in Chicago, the view offered up and framed by the plane window struck me: I clearly remember having the impression of traveling through a TV screen, materialized by a yellowish haze and a myriad of swimming pools.
My very first vision of the American territory was exactly like a thousand other shots I had seen on television series. An aerial shot above a sunny metropolis.
Baseball fields. Traffic. Highways. Reflections. Skyscrapers. That was a bad start.
Twelve years later, some of which were spent in the School of Fine Arts of Montpellier in France and some producing art in Prague in Czech Republic, I planned a second trip to the United States. I had decided to fulfill a desire growing inside of me since first viewing motion pictures that had been made in the U.S.A.—a desire that 95% of French boys from my generation secretly wished to achieve. A road-trip across America. Skyscrapers. Spanish moss. Dusty roads. Red sunsets. Close encounters?
Gimenez’s close encounters at Devil’s Tower
July 2012: Before I leave, my friends tell me that during their stay in a campsite a few hours from New York, they saw bears sneaking around their tent and eating their food. They tell me to be careful because I will probably cross paths with some during my trek.
For this trip, I also aimed to start a film project questioning why we still want to see and represent Native Americans as imaginary Indians. For this reason, I decided to stay a few days on the Pine Ridge reservation in Wounded Knee, which would be my last stop before dropping the car off that I had borrowed in Chicago. Wounded Knee is a highly symbolic place within Native history. It’s where more than 150 men, women and children were massacred in 1890, and it later became the catalyst of the American Indian Movement. The day before I hit the road to Wounded Knee, I looked at one of the movement leaders’ Wikipedia page—born in Pine Ridge, activist but also movie actor, Russell Means. I was surprised to see a date of death beside his name, thinking that it was a mistake. I was immediately stupefied to learn he had died that very day. For lack of meeting Russell Means in person, I would go to his funeral. He had returned to the reservation to die. A missed encounter.
September 2012: While I’m stopped in Marfa, Texas, the young French girl who is hosting me tells me all about the beauties of Big Bend Park, where she and her friends had met a bear, and how it was wonderful.
I recently started creating 3D models of edifices and monuments to incorporate into Google Earth. I started it somewhat spontaneously after finding out that the factory chimney towering over my hometown of Rive-de-Gier, which is classified as an historical monument, didn’t exist in this virtual world. The chimney is more than a century old and is as high as the hills that surround the industrial valley where I grew up. At one point in history, it was the tallest chimney in all of Europe, standing 360 feet tall. The landmark is visible from many spots over town, even from my parent’s house. My dad worked in the metallurgic factory connected to the chimney for 45 years.
Currently, I am finishing a model for the gate and memorial of the Wounded Knee cemetery. Next, I will make the Haymarket Square Memorial. On May 1st of this year, I found out that International Workers’ Day originates from the workers’ struggle to install an eight-hour shift right here in Chicago, back in 1886. Many of them were killed. These types of edifices also need to exist on the virtual globe.
Gimenez’s 3D sketch model of Wounded Knee
Mid-September 2012: While crossing the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, I give a ride to Native hitchhiker who is going back home to Kayenta. When he gets out of the car, he tells me to be careful because there are a lot of wild animals on the road. I won’t see a single one.
For the past three months, I have been working on a documentary about a movie that made a mark on me when I saw it in the nineties, and didn’t receive fair recognition. Clearcut is a great thriller, but it primarily presents an unseen and non-stereotypical characterization of Natives. The Canadian film was actually made by Polish director Ryszard Bugajski. In April of this year, just before leaving for Chicago, I met and interviewed Ryszard in Warsaw. His analysis regarding the way his film was received in North America—very well by Native people, very badly by Canadians—was revealing for me. He defended the proposition that a European person would actually be in a better position to depict a sensitive and typically American issue like Native genocide. Ryszard himself had to flee Poland to Canada to escape the Communist regime; he knows about oppression. Empathetic, but impartial. Free of guilt.
Graham Greene in Bugajski’s “Clearcut” film of 1991.
End of September 2012: I’m in California, halfway into my road trip. The grizzly waving on the state flag is the only bear I have seen so far.
The more I learn about the United States, the better understanding I have of European history. Because I lived in Central Europe for several years, I can now see the Polish, the Czech and the Hungarian influence on the construction of American history (especially on cinema) and on Chicago, which houses the largest Polish community in the U.S. and the artists’ neighborhood Pilsen.
October 2012: I stay for a few days in Yellowstone Park, set on seeing a bear. Bears are extremely active in the fall because they have to fill up before going into hibernation. The park is overpopulated… with warning signs explaining how to hide your food and stay alert, et cetera. Instead, I venture off treks with my camera as my only weapon. Not a single fur.
I also approach my work by focusing on new formats generated by what we call “the Internets”. I make use of different on-line media (comments, forums, YouTube, Google Earth, newspapers, etc.) as raw material to incorporate in my installations. For instance, in the installation Punctum Remotum, I wrote a short novel narrating various YouTube videos. And in the video Drammatical, I transformed the user-comments of an online USA Today article into a multi-dialogued video.
November 2012: Just before I return to Europe, a friend takes me to the Chicago Zoo so I can at least see a real-life bear on American soil. It’s already very cold, and the zoo seems to be asleep. Most of the animals are trying to keep warm. We finally reach the bear neighborhood to find the other side of the fences completely deserted. We run to the polar bears’ swimming pool—it’s empty. Even the polar bears are cold in Chicago? Anyway, they’re invisible. At least until spring.
Today, two months after landing in the Windy City for the fourth time, I’m starting to seriously get used to the idea of living, working and creating in this city. Then my girlfriend is offered her dream job—a job that will take us away for three years to Glasgow. Scotland. Back to Europe.
I look at the red carnation that has been poised in a glass jar on the kitchen table for more than two weeks. Its petals haven’t quivered. In this country, flowers don’t rot. The red flower is mocking me as if she knew she was just a picture. Eternal. Virtual.
Now, I think back to a typically French expression used to define a person who speaks of things about which he doesn’t know: “the man who saw the man who saw the bear.”
Prints. Photo courtesy Gimenez.
Michael Gimenez (b. 1977) received a MFA from the School of Fine Arts of Montpellier, France. Recent exhibitions include ‘Rio, Ano Zero’ at 37a Mostra Internacional de Cinéma, São Paulo; ‘Global Locals’ at Galerie NTK, Prague; ‘Drammatical’ at ETC gallery, Prague; ‘Exuvies’ at Galerie 35, French Institute, Prague; ‘Punctum Remotum’ at Galerie Living-Room, Montpellier; and ‘C’est mieux si on reste amis.’ at Galerie Saint-Ravy, Montpellier. See more of Giminez’s work at www.michaelgimenez.com.
Several years ago a friend of mine was going through the intense heartbreak at the end of a lengthy relationship and I was younger and ill-equipped to offer the right kind of support, so we drove. In my heart I knew it was a terrible idea because gas prices had just reached their all-time high—a price that now, much later, feels downright reasonable. We lived in Texas, where you drive long enough in one direction and the landscape doesn’t change but the things that define it do: buildings and sidewalks turn to great expanses of trees, sky, and fences, which in the daylight you can look past to see cows grazing on burnt, unloved grass. I gave my friend the option of the four cardinal directions and we drove, as far as we could stomach, towards each individual arm on a compass, first west, then north, then east, then finally, south, back to where she lived.
I don’t remember picking up a hitchhiker but there she/he/it is, a presence in my car, asking me questions—like why was I driving—and prompting me to choose responses that float up over my windshield, remain even in the face of the wind as the car hits a 100 km. This is the steady ephemera of Glitchhikers, a driving simulator in the loosest sense. Hold forward to speed your car up, hold back to slow your car down. Once you let go of either you’ll return to the same pace, in the same way that letting go of the buttons that allow you to look left or right out of the windows will return your view to the center. You can switch lanes to avoid traffic, but there’s not much point; the only cars on the road with you tonight are tiny red taillights in the distance, which seem to ebb back and forth and always stay out of reach.
I remember taking a family road trip north to stay with my grandparents in Wisconsin and also visit college campuses for my brother, who would be out of high school soon. Nothing stands out about the experience except that in Arkansas, after driving on roads that weren’t even paved we arrived at a campus I’ve forgotten and he refused to get out of the car. At the time I wasn’t really old enough to consider the ramifications, but I didn’t really blame him; the lack of paved roads seemed to be at the time the ultimate evidence that this wasn’t a good place. My parents grew frustrated and we drove on, and his feet never touched ground in the state. Now, I wonder if subconsciously he was worried that if he left the car, he would never be able to go back home.
In Glitchhikers, a sign rolls past telling me it’s 49 kilometers to Phanteron, a place which I never really intended to go to. My first passenger disappeared just as quickly as they’d appeared, after talking briefly about drugs, driving, and the other kinds of topics that can feel utterly significant in the small talk that occurs on a highway after midnight. A new one is in my car, decidedly alien, from a place where a star exploded and destroyed her home, creating so much of the universe in the process. She’s pregnant, she says, and asks if I would drop her at the hospital. Not many of my species seemed willing to take her, she says. I speed up as fast as the game will allow me and the next time I look over, she’s gone, but I don’t remember passing a hospital. On the other hand, it’s late, and my eyelids grow heavier and stay closed longer with each passing blink.
I didn’t learn to drive until I was 18. At the DMV to get my learner’s permit the person behind the counter was aghast. He asked me if I was sure I didn’t want to just take the driver’s test and get it over with. I didn’t know how to drive, I told him. It wasn’t that hard, he said. Later, I would fail the parallel-parking portion of the driver’s exam, rolling my rear right tire over the surface of the curb as the woman sitting next to me sighed, checked a box, and told me to move on.
There are several different passengers in Glitchhikers—they seem to occur based on the responses you choose to their questions. Before one appeared in my car, I saw them sitting on the edge of a bridge above me as I drove under it, their legs dangling down and over the lip. We talked about suicide; how almost everybody who had attempted it regretted it, how it actually hurt more people than the person attempting it assumed. How easy it would be to drive straight into a concrete divider, or over a cliff, careening at high speeds. How something in this world, or within ourselves, always stopped us. Next, a small, goat-like ghost appeared as I passed what seemed like a canopy of dead trees. It hated its parents; it didn’t seem like it owed them anything. I agreed, and then it asked me why I was driving.
It’s easy to think of the car as the ultimate American symbol of freedom. So much of our legacy is entrenched in this idea of the highway, the vein that draws a line across the surface of the nation and leads to infinite places and nowheres. Even as the environmentalist in me loves Chicago’s public transportation, there’s that piece buried within the self that longs for the easy option of the car, the ability to drive until night turns to early morning and watch as the scenery around you speeds by and changes without consequence. I guess at some point deep within me I long for an easy illusion of progress, one where I only have to turn a key and press down on a pedal to feel as though I am exerting some change on my environment. Really though, when it comes down to it, I am trapped in the car, and the feeling is fleeting—I must always return to the point at which I began.
Glitchhikers is as much about choice as it is about a lack of choice. In dialogue with its eponymous passengers, you can choose from a handful of responses, which then go on to influence that conversation and which passengers occur next. But at the same time, the car here is not so much a symbol of freedom or choice as it is a vessel of inevitability, taking you forward on this unnamed highway until the game decides that it is time to end. Going faster or going slower doesn’t ultimately affect your journey; what does is how quickly you answer questions and click through responses. Your travel time is your reading speed. Eventually, after a stretch of alien, angular trees, a blocky city will approach in the distance, and a series of signs will warn you that the left-hand lane is for exiting only. No matter which lane you stay in, the game ends and your digital eyelids close, either in sleep, death, or something else.
Just like driving, Glitchhikers isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. Even in the wake of similar questions from different passengers and a road that goes nowhere, it’s an intensely personal experience, one that begs the player to take part in difficult thoughts and conversations. The game isn’t so much a game as it is a setting, in the same way that a car is not necessarily a mode of transportation but a singular place in which to exist, even as the world around you changes and falls into the perimeter. And while both may be personal experiences, they’re by no means unique ones. One passenger—purple headed with a large, singular eye—explains to me the concept of “sonder,” or the realization that every other person around you is a fully conscious being with their own life, story, existence. The power of this statement isn’t so much reflected in the digital cars around you—which do not exist—nor in the actual, theoretical cars around while driving in reality. Instead, it feels more like a comment on the other people that might also play Glitchhikers, ponder the oddly deep questions presented to them by aliens, and consider, what it is to talk to strangers, and what it is to drive after midnight, both in here and out there. “Millions of distinct bacteria share your body,” the radio host quips at one point. “You’re never alone.”
Two books share versions of the same photographs. 8 1/2 Women is a limited edition artist book bound in a blank red plastic cover, bound in the style of a script. It is a rarer, more secondary book, than 8 Women. It is 8 1/2 Women that I write mostly about: an entire photocopy bootleg of the source material, including photographic contact sheets and multiple croppings, that lie behind the final cut: 8 Women by Collier Schorr. An American photographer, Schorr published both books this year in conjunction with her 303 Gallery exhibition, “8 Women”.
Untitled image from 8 1/2 Women
I am flipping through the pages fast; scanning, trying to recognize someone in 8 1/2 Women. Looking fast, at that musician, at that artist. At a woman from my favorite advertisement. A Robert Mapplethorpe look-alike. A rendering of an actress. Bodies are isolated on pages, and men and women are looking back at the camera. 8 1/2 Women is a lot longer than 8 Women and offers the possibility of being rapidly consumed – one page catches my eye and I stop. It is a photograph that is itself a frozen-motion embodiment of flipping: of feet cascading back into the air, of a person falling away from the camera. A girl, a boy, a person upside-down.
Untitled image from 8 1/2 Women
We are seeing the same thing over and over, at close range: a torso. There is no head attached to the torso. It is a photocopied stomach and chest in 8 1/2 Women. There are three images of this torso: the first version is a black and white photocopy of a color photograph. It shows a torso wearing a nipple ring. And in the second photocopy, a solarized torso displays a neck tattoo, negative and positive values inverted. The last picture has the most contrast. Heavy grain of the copier turns scattered freckles the darkest, this photocopy the grainiest and showing only a hint of the neck tattoo. It is this tattoo that connects the torso to a real person, its language and handwriting, the swoop of the last letter: famous, Freja Beha Erichsen is one of Collier Schorr’s repeated subjects, and she is notoriously tattooed.
Untitled image in 8 1/2 Women
She is a supposedly difficult model to photograph. She is often more in control than the photographer. Freja Beha Erichsen is aware of the ways “Freja” should not look, what she would not do, how she would not sit, how she would not be, in an advertisement. In both 8 Women and 8 1/2 Women, Collier photographs the model just before or after a Chanel fashion shoot took place. She catches the model slightly out of character, before her characteristic nipple ring is re-inserted, as the ring does not exist in the advertisement photograph. This portrait is a before-and-after shot. This and most of Collier’s portraits are before-and-afters, picturing bodies at odds, as these bodies prepare to become their image, which might or might not be synonymous with becoming themselves. Many look alone on a stage.
Camera Work, 2013, from 8 Women
The girls, women, boys and almost never men, that Collier photographs are for the most part, good-looking. Sometimes they are nude. Some are professionally confirmed as beautiful; they are models. And some look a little bit like Collier. At least six self-portraits exist in 8 1/2 Women, nearing 200 pages. Picture after picture builds a catalogue of repeated subjects. One self-portrait appears in both 8 Women and 8 1/2 Women called “Self-Portrait (Mimic)”. In the photograph, Collier sits in a chair, and a woman stands behind, pulling the creases of Collier’s eyes backward towards her ears. Is she trying to look like a photograph of herself? Like a photograph of someone else? More likely, she is reconciling herself with a stranger. Reconciling with a photograph of a stranger wherein she recognized something of herself.
Self-Portrait (Mimic), 1996, from 8 Women
Untitled image from 8 1/2 Women
We are getting closer and closer and closer. To what? To a person sitting in a chair. No. To a v-neck white short sleeved t-shirt. Not exactly. To the v-neck itself, the stitched white cloth V. Still no. To a freckle, slightly left of and below a nipple, visible through a white v-neck short sleeved t-shirt adorning a person sitting in a chair. Adorning a man or a woman? Undetermined, I am looking at a person in a series of three photographs, each image cropped tighter than the last. The person’s arm rests over the back of the chair. At its most liberal view, the camera crops the head nearly out of the frame, except for an unexpressive mouth. Claustrophobic crops serve to make us closer.
Untitled image from 8 1/2 Women
Without photographs, are there fantasies? I am looking at a collage. Well, mostly a drawing, of Nicole Kidman. When she had short hair. The edge of the drawing contains a snippet of a photograph, a section of skin collaged into the pencil-drawn neck. The photographic snippet might or might not be from a photograph of Kidman’s neck. Maybe the skin is taken from a photograph of someone Collier knows, or maybe cut from a body in a magazine. The occasional drawings that appear in 8 1/2 Women and 8 Women are drawings from photographs, by a photographer, of women initially encountered as photographic images, consumed over and over as photographs, who are more likely to be mistaken on the street for no one, than to be mistaken in a photograph.
Feeling a little tropical, Chicago? WTT? couldn’t be more proud to see our own cracked out home state finally trending somewhere aside from Buzzfeed.
McCraney addressing the “fancy people” at the Palmer House on June 2nd.
The Arts Alliance of Illinois is even feeling the heat, as they honored award-winning American playwright and McArthur Genius AND Miami native, Tarell Alvin McCraney, at their Voices of a Creative State 2014 luncheon on June 2nd. McCraney speech was (as you might expect from a New World School of the Arts grad) completely captivating, inspiring, and a formidable act for Gov. Quinn to follow. Not to mention he looks like $625,000 in that suit. If you hear me clap once.
The program image for the luncheon featured an image of McArney sporting the Miami area code “305” shaved into the side of his head. BOSS!
Had to sneak a photo in with the man of the afternoon.
Abraham Richie’s lively Roundtable conversation on #ArtinChi at Western Exhibitions in the West Loop. Peep the internets for posts from the event.
This past weekend Miami art non-profit Locust Projects brought their popular Roundtable Series and it’s moderator and creator, the lovely Amanda Sanfilippo, to Chicago for progressive conversations hosted by stakeholders in Chiacgo’s cultural scene. The Locust Roundtables were a part of EXPO Chicago’s /Dialogues program, in conjunction with the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design Conference at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
SPOTTED: Sanfilippo (right) & WTT? informant Alexis Bassett (left) at the Starwalker gala on Saturday night. We assume if you’re reading this you’ve probably seen enough images from the evening (or better yet, you were there!) so we’ll spare you any more shots.
Rapid Pulse continues tomorrow night with a performance by the much loved Mikey McParlane, who will be performing with Floridian transplant, filmmaker & musician, Jimmy Schaus (the performance will also include the hottest jogger in LS, Caleb Yono).
We spotted this sneak peek of McParlane’s rehearsal with Schaus last night on the artist’s instagram account.
And here’s a picture of Rick Ross just because.
Header image features a window installation by Heidi Norton in her exhibition Prismatic Nature, now on view at the Elmhurst Art Museum through August 24th. Not to be missed!
Judy Chicago, Queen Victoria (Great Ladies Series), 1973. Sprayed acrylic on canvas, 40 × 40 in. Collection of the Brooklyn Museum.
Starving Artist is Anything But
CAC Partners with Chefs, “Mixologists” for Benefit
No one will go hungry at the CAC’s Starving Artist benefit June 21, 2014 to be held at their West Loop gallery space. Based on last year’s event, it appears that no one will go thirsty either. Tired of waiting in long lines for booze at benefit events? We counted at least three inventive alcoholic beverages from last year, including a popsicle made of Hennessey and that classic cocktail of old, jello shots. Enterprising gallerist Andrew Rafacz even managed to make an installation of his own by turning a ping pong table into a game of beer pong in 2013.
Photos or it didn’t happen! Andrew Rafacz, gallerist and professional beer pong athlete.
The event will feature local artists Diana Gabriel, Luftwerk, Alexandra Noe and Edyta Stepien will work with Chefs Matthia Merges (Yusho) and Chris Pandel (Bristol and Balena) and Jared Van Camp (Element Collective). Score! WTT? freakin’ LOVES Yusho (can someone say double fried chicken and seafood too weird/ delicious to be located in Logan Square?). Looking at last year’s roundup, it’s unclear what is art and what’s food so hopefully we don’t see any tipsy art patrons trying to lick Luftwerk’s projections. Wait, who are we kidding? We TOTALLY hope that happens!
From 2013’s Starving Artist, “The Cave” installation by Andrea Morris of Cocomori.
Tickets are available on the organization’s website. Chicago Artists Coalition is located at 217 N. Carpenter Street. See you there?
Reading is Fundamental
The Library is Open, Hunty
Conversation in Art Gallery Actually Has Tangible Result. As part of the Locust Projects Roundtable hosted by EXPO and Western Exhibitions, Chicago Artist Writers (CAW) wrote an on the spot review of Nicholas Gottlund exhibition at Paris London Hong Kong with Chicago’s king of conceptual art writing, Brandon Alvendia. Not for the anti-collaborative or the faint of heart.
The Aguilar Family Engages Openly. This 6-point perspective recap of the Aguilar Family’s experience at the Open Engagement conference last month in New York City is kind of like reading a Faulkner novel, except that it’s actually enjoyable. Short and sweet, take a minute to read both Part 1 and Park II on the Cultural Reproducers blog.
Become Required Reading! As artist Jason Lazarus once said on Facebook, “writing poetry is embarrassing and ecstatic.” Turns out it can also be profitable! Submit your writing to the Guild Literary Complex’s Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Poetry Award and you can win $500 and the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve made more money off your writing than most poets.
Money can’t buy taste. Or can it? What is good taste anyway? Not the Yusho kind. “If art matters, then we should care about quality. And that means having the courage to forge a standard of good taste,” an article posted to the BBC boldly proclaims. We’re not ready to lead the charge but we enjoyed this meditation on taste for the BBC by Tiffany Jenkins anyway.
Chicago Celebrates Life of Frankie Knuckles With Totally Epic Dance Party
Gorgeous photo courtesy of Oscar Arriola
Don’t Snooze on These Upcoming Exhibitions…
Because clearly you will lose.
In the spirit of Stephanie Burke, here are our Top 3 most anticipated exhibitions opening in the next week.
Postcard image for Black Cauliflower.
Black Cauliflower. New work by Corkey Sinks & Jamie Steele opening June 14th, 6-9 PM and open through July 19th at Roots & Culture.
#BRUTEFORCEFIELD Work by Christopher Meerdo for his ACRE Exhibition, opening at The Hills Esthetic Center June 14th at 7PM. Open by appointment afterward.
Not sure what brutality has to do with puppies but we’re willing to find out.
Alex Chitty for Trunk Show. Opening Sunday, June 15th, from 2PM – 4PM on the rooftop Parking Lot at Home Depot, 1300 S Clinton St. (at Roosevelt). On view on the open road through Friday, July 18th. Follow @trunkshowtogo for updates on the gallery’s location.