Maintaining the Garden: The Photography of Chen Shen

May 14, 2014 · Print This Article

“Hit me in the head hard enough to knock me over. This needs to look real, so I’d rather you hurt me then it look fake.” These were some of my first words to Chen Shen, then a 1st year graduate student in the Photo Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI. Until that point, we had never met before, and I could see him a little hesitant to follow my request. I was getting ready for a performance at Cranbrook Art Museum and we just a few days from the event. While Chen had initially responded to an open request for an event photographer, there was still a very crucial role I needed filled: someone who looked like they were in the audience, who would come out of nowhere and clock me in the head so I could crash into a couple people and hopefully get them to spill their drinks on me to effectively end the performance. Looking like he was a well dressed guest, no one would know he was a performer until curtain call.

 

Soccer Field, 2013

Soccer Playground, 2013

 

At that point, I wasn’t yet familiar with his work, which would have clued me into his hesitation. Not only is Chen accomplished in the nuances of his craft, his work is quite the opposite of what I asked him to do. I wanted him to be rude, angry and the center of attention; to shock and appall others and to possibly really hurt me. Chen isn’t looking to shock, but wants his works to remain open ended, becoming conversational instead of controversial. In his large scale photos as well as his more intimate portraiture, Shen aims to open a dialogue about how industrialization changes a place, for better or worse. Humans change their environments in response to changing needs, yet what are the impulses to change and who are those deciding what change and when? We will continue to adapt to our new surroundings, but are these a manifestation of our dreams or a political power?

 

Though its only been a few days since he received his MFA from Cranbrook, it has been the better part of a year that he has been honing his Garden Metro series, started this past summer focusing on his home town of Changping, China, which is one of 18 suburbs of Beijing. Often referred to as the “Garden of Beijing”, it has very recently been transformed by population growth aided by the arrival of a new train line leading into the city. The Changping Metro Line took only one year to build, and the project’s speed is a symbol of change in the country as a whole. While touted by the Chinese government as a testament to industry and advancement, Chen is weary of the pace of change in China and its affect on traditional methods, safety and ethical standards that often get in the way of fast paced progress.

 

None of the highrises, office buildings or governmental buildings and stadiums in the series have people in them. Instead, humans exist within the deterioration of the older ways, in the fields and parks instead of the office parks. They inhabit the in between spaces. Transportation doesn’t just connect two places, it shrinks the spaces in between, as a blur through the windows of a train, dots within grids from a plane, etc. Sensitive to this blurring which can lead to erasure, Chen has tried to capture the accelerating change in the moment, as what exists off the train can’t be seen while on it. In the stillness of these portraits, he aims to preserve what was there just before the train came along, as well as the moments after it first arrived in Changping.

 

Tom: Do you think there is a certain type of sadness here? A lot of your works relate to how we relate to our environment and how that can change us.

 

Chen: I don’t really shoot the portraits or landscapes with a ton of light, or making them heavy with aggressive color. I try to hold something back a little bit, to leave something on the image. I want to leave part of the image for the audience to put themselves in it and feel those sensations by themselves.

 

T: Even those it is not visible in, the train exists in all the photos. It becomes a specter or dragon that divides the landscape, it changes how people interact with the landscape. Your series tends to focus on the change to your hometown, how it is not always positive.

 

C: I think the rail is kind of a dilemma. Something going too fast can easily slip out of control. The people living in the Garden may have a dream about what the future is, but when things are going wild or crazy, you cannot really predict what will happen. Also there are some things that change so fast. When you leave for a few years and then come back, it is hard to recognize anything. So some of it is dealing with the present with the past.

 

T: When you went back to China last summer, were you expecting to do this series? Or did it come out of a realization of how different your home town was?

 

C: I had a plan before I came back to Beijing, but I changed my idea of where I was going with the series when I was able to experience the changes there. For the Metro, everything was new, and it didn’t take that long to build. I took the Metro line, and when you are on the train you can see all the places changing so fast — like in an hour — from the city to rural fields. More and more people are moving further outside of the city, because central Beijing is really expensive. Many people are moving from other provinces to Changping, but work in Beijing, so the Metro line really has changed how many people live there.

Flower Delivery Clown, 2013

Flower Clown, 2013

T: As there are two sides to the idea of progress, I’m assuming that many people had different reactions to the rail line. Did you see that in the people who you photographed?

 

C: One or two of the portraiture subjects are my neighbors, and they have been living there for a really long time, but some of the portraits are total strangers. I met with them to have a talk with them as well as to ask their permission to photograph them. I went to specific locations to both take their photograph and talk with them about that place.

 

T: Has this series been seen by the participants or by people in China? Have you shown them there?

 

C: I didn’t publish them in China, but they have already been shown on Chinese websites that are like Flickr, as well as photo club sites, and people seemed to have different attitudes about them. Some said they had really been touched by the photos. They can see the sadness and get the metaphors in them. But some people didn’t really want to see that kind of photo. They think that a photographer should not make negative comments about China. But that is not a major part of the public though. There is a small group who are really aggressive in terms of nationalism, and they likely think the Western media has a lot of bias against China’s current state. I think more people prefer the project and have had positive comments on it.

 

T: With one story, another is left out. Progress is considered a good thing, yet it eliminates another way of being, forcing it out. So there is going to be multiple sides.

 

C: But I’m not trying to document something as much as finding the lyrical moment.

 

T: What about your Thesis exhibition? Having to choose only two photos from your Garden Metro series, a lot of weight bears on them to summarize the series. There was a photo of two musicians called Erhu Players and a portrait of a clown…

 

C: He is a flower delivery clown, so he is supposed to be really happy, delivering flowers and performing some magic for the customer. One day I ran into their shop and asked permission to photograph one of the clowns. I asked the clown to show a pose that he would do for a customer, but to me, he just showed that sad face (laughs). So i kind of think that he doesn’t really like his job at all, and I imagine that he doesn’t really get a good salary. The society is moving so fast, that some groups are getting wealthy really quickly and then the others are not. I also think its interesting to have a clown in this series, because clowns are from Western culture, so its kind of rare to see many clowns in China.

 

I use flowers as a metaphor in the series, both real and painted, like in some of the portraits. Traditionally, Changping has been considered a very beautiful place and is known as the Garden of Beijing. Flowers are very fragile, some live for such a short time, yet they have been around much longer than all of our architecture. I’m most interested in the sun flower, though, because the sun can be political imagery in Chinese thought.

 

Erhu Players, 2013

Erhu Players, 2013

 

T: In the photo of the two musicians, they hold onto a traditional instrument of China, the erhu, and repurpose the space to provide them with an acoustic environment. While they are tiny in comparison to the architecture surrounding them, they powerfully subvert its intention — existing under the rail instead of on the train. Instead of forward travel, they stay still in time, even halting time by keeping to the traditions. They serenade the space, humanizing it. Yet if the rail didn’t exist, they wouldn’t have the acoustics it provides. It becomes a new relationship and a new use of the space.

 

C: This was the hottest day of the summer. Whenever I see this picture, I can imagine the sound of their music mixed with all the sounds of nature and competing traffic. It always brings me back to that moment.

 

T: This rail line is replacing architecture and infrastructure from the late 20th century. Its pretty recent stuff when you think about China’s long history as a nation, yet it has powerful implications on how the political atmosphere has changed. How is this different than what the 20th century architecture replaced?

 

C: There are still many supporters of Mao and they are very patriotic. Especially older people. Many of them remember that period firsthand. Western people probably see it as a brutal time, but for these people, the revolution was happening while they were teenagers and so they were swept up in it. It still has a strong impact on Chinese society. After 1979, the people were opened up to the whole world and different philosophies and new cultures. Again, the younger generation was influenced by this, being able to go abroad as well as embrace Western culture. China has both socialism and capitalism happening together which is very interesting from anyone’s perspective.

 

T: Yeah, there are so many people in America that will defend capitalism to their death even though it is keeping them in poverty. Likewise, any inkling of socialism brings everyone screaming, yet many of the established parts of our society are socialist constructs.

 

 

There were several working prints and contact sheets hanging up and laying around his studio on factories and power plants, even some office buildings. All of them focused on steam rising out of them. In the night, the steam is ghost like, filling the space and haunting it, much like the train line in Changping does in his other works. Other times, the steam is barely visible or imbued with a tint applied in editing, yet it occupies the majority of the picture plane. While the architecture remains locked to the ground, in service to humans until it would eventually lose all purposeness and be reduced to rubble, a victim to gravity, the steam keeps rising. Freedom to return to a natural state, barely visible sometimes, yet overwhelmingly there. In their early state, they appeared to be some of his most hopeful works yet.

 

C: These are new, these are in Michigan about an hour from here. Actually, the tea pot outside is part of my process for this series, coming from a lyrical approach. I started to have an interest in the topics of Wildism and Life Cycles. Concentrating on forms of water as a metaphor throughout the series, so basicly you see the steam here, or the steam from the teapot, or other forms like the factories.

 

T: They have a spiritual element.

 

C: Yeah, thats what I’m interested in talking about. Like something behind what you’re looking at. I kept thinking that the factory or the power plant also is an organ of life, cause the factory is kind of like a body and the steam coming out of the chimney is trying to speak out and express something.

 

More of Chen’s work can be viewed on his website:http://chenshenphoto.com/

Remembering the Dead

May 13, 2014 · Print This Article

Malachi at the Empty Bottle (Pool Table Series), 2003. Photograph by Angeline Evans.

“Malachi at the Empty Bottle (Pool Table Series),” 2003. Photograph by Angeline Evans.

Guest Post by Jessica Cochran

This year’s Whitney Biennial curators Michelle Grabner, Anthony Elms and Stuart Comer cast the net so far beyond Chelsea that New York Magazine’s Jerry Saltz lamented “curators are so determined to stay pure, to avoid acknowledging the machinations of commerce, that the show is completely disconnected from the entire world.” Elsewhere, however, in the pages of the more academically inclined Artforum, Emily Apter took the biennial’s discursive turn away from New York centric art objects as an opportunity to consider the “liminal space” of a museum biennial “replete with printed matter, writing, texts of all sorts—in short, with words.” “The textual object,” she writes, “demands to be seen as a live, or “living,” work, an interface of bio and res.”

Its true, the archival impulse is what set the tone and struck a chord this year, particularly in the work of Chicago-based Joseph Grigely and Public Collectors (founded in 2007 by Marc Fischer), both curated into the biennial by Anthony Elms. Each taking as their subjects the lives of a deceased creative individual and his personal belongings, their projects build meaningfully on the Whitney Biennial’s recent history of both deceased artists and artist-curated “sub exhibitions,” notably from the 2012 edition the inclusion of George Kuchar (died, 2011); Robert Gober’s presentation of work by Forrest Bess; Nick Mauss’ curation of queer-oriented work culled from the museum collection; and also discursive contributions, such as Andrea Fraser’s essay No Place Like Home.

Joseph Grigely’s project The Gregory Battcock Archive, 2009-2014 is a mini exhibition of ephemera culled from the archives Gregory Battcock that Grigely recovered himself in the storage area of an artist studio building. Battcock was an intrepid New York critic (something of a reformed artist) who was mysteriously murdered in Puerto Rico in 1980 and known for his writing on minimalism and other emerging genres of conceptual art. The Whitney display, with postcards, photographs, manuscripts and scribbled notes organized into vitrines, is an extension of Grigely’s own text driven practice, specifically the project Conversations with the Hearing. For the art workers among us, this glimpse into the world of a dynamic talent and fastidious thinker gives pause for reflection: how will my activities live on after I am gone, and who is going to care?

In scholarship on artist’s books, much has been written about the concept of paratext as it impacts a book’s concept and meaning. An artist’s reflexive manipulation of the book’s gutters, typography, headers and index, for example, impact the text’s meaning as it is delivered to the reader. So too in Grigely’s presentation of the Battcock images and texts in the real dimensional space of the gallery, a different kind of paratext becomes important: the vitrines as support structures and the aesthetic arrangement of the material. The vitrines, “each made of a different hard wood, a different shape and height” and “composed as an irregular modular sculpture,” inform the way we maneuver through and consume the text. Because, as Grigely told me, “no archive is disinterested” and in an extension of Joseph Albers’ articulations of color theory, “you can’t put one document beside another without changing both.”

Joseph Grigely, "The Gregory Battcock Archive 2009-2014," Installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, Dimensions variable. Photo by Andrés Ramírez. Courtesy Air de Paris, Paris.

Joseph Grigely, “The Gregory Battcock Archive 2009-2014,” Installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art.
Photo by Andrés Ramírez. Courtesy Air de Paris, Paris.

Joseph Grigely, "The Gregory Battcock Archive 2009-2014," Installation view, Dimensions variable. Photo by Andrés Ramírez. Courtesy Air de Paris, Paris.

Joseph Grigely, “The Gregory Battcock Archive,” 2009-2014, Installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art.
Photo by Andrés Ramírez. Courtesy Air de Paris, Paris.

Public Collector’s biennial contribution was dedicated to a different kind of archive—the recordings, ephemera and images of Malachi Ritscher, who, Fischer wrote in a publication for the project, was a “Chicago-based documentarian, activist, artist, musician, photographer, hot pepper sauce maker, and supporter of experimental and improvised music.” Deeply respected and liked throughout the Chicago music community, Ritscher spent years independently recording thousands of live free jazz, experimental and underground improvised live shows at venues throughout Chicago, in addition to his day job as a union engineer and anti-war activist. On November 3, 2006, he self immolated in front of the Flame of the Millennium sculpture by Leonardo Nierman in full view of the Kennedy Expressway just north of Chicago’s busy loop interchange. As he wrote in texts found posthumously and displayed on a poster in the exhibition, “If I am required to pay for your barbaric war, I choose not to live in your world.”

Unlike Grigely, for Public Collectors, “directing attention to and caring for the creative work of under-recognized people like Ritscher” is at the core of each project they mount. Amidst the presentation of recordings and ephemera, a recorder and a small paper sign, which Ritscher used to record and temper dialogue around him in the clubs, hangs above a series of brown suitcases: “Your cooperation (i.e. restraint) is appreciated.” This statement drips with melancholy. Because while his protest suicide was carefully recorded and it was his hope that it would circulate widely, the video of his death was entirely suppressed; and the reporting of his death, much less any discourse generated, was subdued and grass roots, covered minimally by local and national papers.

Public Collectors, Malachi Ritscher, Installation View, Whitney Museum of American Art. Image courtesy of Marc Fischer.

Public Collectors, “Malachi Ritscher,” 2014, Installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art. Image courtesy of Marc Fischer.

Public Collectors, Malachi Ritscher, Installation View (detail), Whitney Museum of American Art. Image courtesy of Marc Fischer.

Public Collectors, “Malachi Ritscher,” 2014, Installation view (detail), Whitney Museum of American Art. Image courtesy of Marc Fischer.

“In this space of affection, navigate the inappropriately cared for and the tossed aside particulars.”[i] In his catalog essay, Elms argues for Deleuze and Guattari’s “close vision”—or a notion of curator as custodian of a culture that is micro, idiosyncratic, ineffable, and eminently forgettable. Though a growing trend in curatorial practice, this decidedly counters the “bigger is better” ethos of the contemporary biennial as a perfectly and purposefully in-graspable thing. It also departs from the biennial’s value system as rooted in the empire building world’s fairs of the 19th and 20th centuries—many call London’s Great Exhibition of 1951 held in a dramatic crystal palace the “first” biennial—designed to give viewers a deeply overwhelming “great mass and jumble of things” (commodities, mostly) as “a challenge to make sense of … unimaginable diversity; to find or invert a “perspective” on the whole so that objects could be made to “stay and lie orderly.”[ii] Anything but orderly and still, Grigely and Public Collectors’ presentations animate the individual, allowing visitors to, in Grigely’s words, “draw and draw out”[iii] the subject because, as Elms points out in his essay, “hearing is not the same as listening.”

Most biennials are to some extent about nation building and nation branding—Prospect in New Orleans as a response to Hurricane Katrina is an American example—and in doing so the confrontation or processing of deeply entrenched national trauma. In the Whitney Biennial, however, the work of Grigely and Public Collectors amplifies a particularly American trauma of the self actualized yet alienated creative individual who is ultimately alone, forgotten, desperate or dislocated. Instead of healers, however, we might call them thieves. In his essay “The Curious Case of Biennial Art” Jan Verwoert asserts that one paradigmatic biennial artist is a “thief” who (as opposed to the fairly straightforward “jokers” and “scouts”) uses their understanding of the economy of desire to deal in the secrets of a mirage of cultural identity centered around an undecipherable trauma that glints like a ruby in the dust when one tentatively points a spotlight in its direction.”[iv] Battcock and Ritscher may be dead and gone, but their ideas are alive thanks to the illuminating work of Joseph Grigely and Public Collectors. And as the art world grows ever bigger in size and speed, one can only hope that the Whitney Biennial continues to make room for the discursive, textual and “tossed aside particulars.”

Jessica Cochran is a curator living and working in Chicago

 

Notes:

[i] Anthony Elms, “Sentences sometimes are impediments,” in The Whitney Biennial 2014 (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2014), 155

[ii] Donald Preziozi, “The Crystalline Veil and the Phallomorphic Imaginary,” in The Biennial Reader, ed. Elena Filipovic, Marieke Van Hal, Solveig Ovstebo (Bergen: Bergen Kunsthall, 2010), 45

[iii] Joseph Grigely, “The Gregory Battcock Archive 2009-2014,” in The Whitney Biennial 2014 (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2014), 185.

[iv] Jan Van Verwoert, “The Curious Case of Biennial Art,” in The Biennial Reader, ed. Elena Filipovic, Marieke Van Hal, Solveig Ovstebo (Bergen: Bergen Kunsthall, 2010), 190

 

Edition #30

May 12, 2014 · Print This Article

Disco Fever: Isa Genzken’s Retro-spective at the MCA

You probably know of Isa Genzken as the iconic German artist famous for her wild sculpture assemblages. And you may have heard that her MCA exhibition which opened mid-April had a lot to do with 9/11, but what’s suspiciously absent from the reviews of the show is that Genzken is a super freak. References to disco, colorful music and clubs are constant throughout the exhibition. Genzken’s cement boom box table is solemn but still lyrical, and the 2002-2003 series “Social Facades” are like flattened disco balls. Mirrored plastic panels and bright club kid colors are incorporated in many of the sculptures and 2-D works on view at the museum.

Isa Genzken cement boom box sculpture

One of the most prominent sculptures included in the show looks like and is called “Disco Soon” from the “Ground Zero” series. A multicolored party light in a shopping bag stands out in a room of installation behind the disco sculpture.

Disco shopping mall.

Aside from the disco vibes, the video work on display is pretty entertaining. One piece is a lo-fi amorphous melodrama featuring fellow German art superstar, Kai Althoff. At one point Genzken waxes poetic on the weather reporting in Europe and how much better it is in the US. She also made a tourist-y video of skyscrapers and facades in Chicago called “Drive Chicago” when she visited the city for a show at the Renaissance Society in 1992. It’s presented in a room that’s kind of too bright for video, but you can lounge in those comfy Pippiloti Rist bean bags while you watch.

Disco Soon Sculpture

Disco ‘Soon’ (Ground Zero), 2008.

In addition to video and disco, Isa is the OG queen of selfies (telling you, there’s a lot more than 9/11 and mannequins). Portraits comprise a subtle but sustained presence in her work. Genzken is seen at various points in her life: as a young artist in various statues of undress for a video performance, in still photographs amongst a collage of other artists, as an x-ray image drinking wine and then there’s the photo of her ear taken by Gerhard Richter.

Disco might be silly, but it’s way less ridic than that other major solo retrospective in town. The exhibition is on view at the MCA until August 3rd.

#T of the Town

And you thought there were a lot of openings during the winter.

Caroline Carlsmith’s work at the Northwestern MFA exhibition at the Block made viewers get down. Literally. Emily Kay Henson and Robert Chase Heishman underneath Carlsmith’s table with precisely arranged pyrite.

Diana Harper reading Carlsmith’s poem “The Procedure of Pyritization”.

Way easier to fit entire Northwestern MFA class in a single photo. Raphaël Fleuriet, Caroline Carlsmith, TJ Proechel, Nicole Wilson and Jason Dixon.

Cardinal Cross entrance

The spooky entrance to Cardinal Cross. If you missed the opening you can still visit the exhibition (if you dare!) on May 17th from 3-10PM.

This is your brain on Tony Balko. Peep this video from last weekend’s Cardinal Cross.

Work by Michael Kloss in If I had my life to live over, I’d live over a delicastessen on view at Johalla until June 15th.

Thorne Brandt, Chris Cook, and Anna Cerniglia at the opening for “If I had my live to live over, I’d live over a delicatessen” (mouthful) at Johalla this past Friday night.

Work by Ilie Paun Capriel on view at Johalla until June 15th.

The Weatherman Report

David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) – 18 December, 2011. IPad drawing printed on four sheets of paper, mounted on four sheets of dibond
92 9/10 × 70 1/10 in. Edition of 10. Annely Juda Fine Art.

All T All Shade

PS- did you hear that the #Logansquarist is “hiring”?

THIS happened Saturday night. You’re welcome. Photo by Mike Paro.

Work by Anaïs Daly (ceiling) and Ron Ewert on view at Johalla until June 15th.

18th street was packed on Friday night as art lovers (?) came out of the woodwork for Pilsen Art Walk. This is the scene outside of ROOMS gallery during a performance in the front window.

Work by Jeremiah Jones on display at rooms. Watch the video (of the video), it’s really cool!

Christian Cruz with Elee Eck at the ROOMS gallery opening for Jones Friday night.

The opening for Miss Kilman and She Were Terrible Together curated by none other than Matt Morris at The Hills Esthetic Center on Saturday night.

Morris with Ben Foch and Chelsea Culp at the opening for the exhibition, Miss Kilman and She Were Terrible Together at The Hills Esthetic Center on Saturday night.

Giving good face: Andrew Holmquist with Eric Ruschman in front of a painting by Joan Snyder at The Hills.

Can’t decide if I was more into this belly button eye print or the painting of Tupac. Like Chromatic Consortium, we loved this show for the effortless mixing of more recognizable names like Richard Hawkins, Miller/Shellabarger and Alex da Corte with students from Morris’s undergrad studio seminar.

Ladies Who Wear Leopard: Curator Kristin Korolowicz VS. The Franklin’s Edra Soto at Dock 6 Design + Art #7 this past Friday.

Trending

Vitrines

If you’ve been to the SAIC MFA show, you know the process and trappings of exhibition display are IN. Here are just a few recent encounters.

Matt Morris sculpture

With back to back exhibitions at Peregrine Program and The Hills, Matt Morris is right on trend. His exhibition i’m issue; i’m free is on view at Peregrine until May 25th.

OG exhibition practice: work by Larry Bell on display at the Art Institute. Did you know Bell was born in Chicago?

Arguably one of the contemporary kings of vitrine making, Dan Baird has impeccably executed work on display in There is a Screen with Ryan Lauderdale at LVL3 until June 15th.


Happy Mothergirl Day

Mothergirl “What You Look Like, Now” performance at the MCA. Photo by Abraham Ritchie.

How We Work: An Interview with Kate Ruggeri

May 9, 2014 · Print This Article

Guest post by A.Martinez

Kate Ruggeri is a Chicago-based artist, DJ, and curator who has shown at Roots & Culture (Chicago), Green Gallery East (Milwaukee), Western Exhibitions (Chicago), and Important Projects (Oakland). She is one of those people who exudes a humble cool, yet is enthusiastic about all she’s committed to, and excited about life and the people and things in it. After a handful of years of staying in touch from afar, I wanted to connect more closely to ask Kate some questions about her life and her work before she moves to New Haven in July to pursue her MFA at Yale.

A.Martinez: Were art and making art important to you from a young age?

Kate Ruggeri: Oh, yeah. Totally. My parents were always really encouraging. In elementary school I started taking drawing classes outside of school. I won a few poster contests. I used to do this thing every year called The Olympics of The Visual Arts, which is a New York State program. Pretty much you assemble a team, work on a year long project, and then compete against other teams. When I got a little older I got really into dark room photography. You know, carrying a camera around all the time and developing film in your bathroom. My mom and I took figure drawing classes together. A lot of colleges have art classes for kids during the summer, so I was always doing that too.

Kate in her studio

Kate in her studio

Martinez: How long have you kept a journal? And what does this practice of journaling do for you and your art practice?

Ruggeri: Since elementary school. I think my first one has a little lock on it. I never really stopped. It’s actually super important, to clear your head, to drain it. I try to write every day. I feel very scattered if I don’t. For art making, it’s good for me to work through ideas and to understand impulses I have. Often I make something and I’m not sure why I made that decision or was drawn to that form. Writing brings everything to the surface. It brings clarity. Studio work is one way of thinking and writing is how I detangle everything. Not just artwise, but life wise. It’s all the same, of course.

Martinez: How long have you had your own studio space? What does it look like?

Ruggeri: After school I had a tiny studio in a building across from Moonshine on Division. It’s been torn down since. I’ve been in the spot I’m at now for a little over a year. It’s a co-op at Damen and Fulton. I moved in there after my old spot on Elston burned down. We have an entire floor that is divided amongst us. My studio’s a mess. I see other people’s studios sometimes, and they have a turntable and little plants and it’s very cozy. My place is like a construction zone. I like that better. It lets me focus on the work.

Martinez: What is a typical day in the studio like for you?

Ruggeri: Nights are better. I like working when no one is around. You can play music loud. I believe in a witching hour. It really depends, though. I usually am working on one sculpture and 4-5 paintings at the same time. If I just finished something big or just installed a show, I draw and watch movies at home. I don’t really have a routine. Ben Medansky once described his ceramic studio as being around a million crying babies. That’s how I feel in there. I work a lot in series, so I just treat 6 pieces at the same time, and then have some experiments going. Right now I have some exercise balls I’ve been sort of doodling on. Then I’ll carve on these wood paintings until my hand hurts. Then I’ll cut some wood shapes out to paint. Or dump plaster on something. It’s a mix of working on very planned pieces and experiments. Everything always changes though.

"Tree Gremlin" 2012

“Tree Gremlin” 2012

Martinez: How do you begin a painting?

Ruggeri: Putting something down, anything! I break it in. I try not to think about it too much and just get the ball rolling. Usually it’s a good color.

Martinez: You work in both 2D and 3D- how does a piece become one or the other?

Ruggeri: When I was in school I used to trip myself up with that question. I can say now that they’re all paintings. I’m a painter that has sculptural impulses. I try to feed both ways of making. I try to be democratic about it. The larger sculptures can be exhausting to make, so there is often a down period of just painting and drawing before starting one again. Material, color, and mark making can drive a piece to be 3D or 2D. Finding a good object. Seeing a particularly inspiring show of painting or sculpture.

"They Have To Cut Out Part Of My Heart And Rebuild It With New Valves And Shit" 2014

“They Have To Cut Out Part Of My Heart And Rebuild It With New Valves And Shit” 2014

Martinez: What artists inspire you?

Ruggeri: Philip Guston, Mike Kelley, Matisse, Picasso, Claes Oldenberg, Cy Twombly, Franz West, Rauschenberg, Joan Miro, Giacometti, Sterling Ruby, William J. O’Brien, Jonathan Meese,  Mary Heilmann, Huma Bhabha, Gerhard Richter, Howard Fonda

Martinez: You have a pretty extensive record collection and DJ monthly at Danny’s. Do you feel there’s a connection between your music endeavors and your art-making?

Ruggeri: Yes. It feels very connected.

Martinez: What musicians inspire you?

Ruggeri: Parliament/Funkadelic, Dead Moon, Congos, Minutemen, Bad Brains, Robert Wyatt, Brian Eno, Miles Davis, Captain Beefheart, Sparks, Beach Boys, Lee Scratch Perry, Roxy Music, De La Soul, Neil Young, Patrick Cowley, Big Star

"Ghost Curtain Call" 2013

“Ghost Curtain Call” 2013

Martinez: What do you typically listen to while in the studio working?

Ruggeri: It’s different every time, chosen for the day and mood. But Nas “Illmatic” gets played a lot. J.Dilla, Shuggie Otis, Pastor T.L. Barrett, Skip Spence, Velvet Underground. Mixes from friends. Jorge Ben, Milton Nascimento, Witch, Amanaz are all good…

Martinez: Do you do collaborations with other artists?

Ruggeri: Sure, I’ve done it a few times. Right now I’m working on a collaboration with Alex Valentine. He gave me these plates to draw on, and then we’ll print them together on newsprint, and then use them to paper mache a sculpture. It’s great because Alex is primarily a printmaker and I know barely anything about the process. I love the idea of making a sculpture made out of drawing. A perfect hybrid.

Martinez: In 2012, you co-curated a show, “Quarterly Site 11: Line-of-Site“,  at Western Exhibitions. How did you land this opportunity? What was the experience like for you? And do you think you’ll curate more shows in the future?

Ruggeri: Jamilee Polson Lacy asked me to do it. She’s been doing these curatorial series for a while now, asking artists to curate a show at a different gallery. It was great. I got to work with Alicia Chester and Karolina Gnatowski. It’s fun to be on the other side of things, and it gave me an opportunity to create a show entirely different from my practice. I really wanted to see a show of top notch performance work. Curating is a lot of work, but I would love to do it again. I think the trick is when you start to think, “Why isn’t ___ kind of work being shown? Why hasn’t someone curated a show about ____?” is when you should get on curating a show. I’m starting to feel that, but I would need the right time and space.

Martinez: You and I actually met while undergrads at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. What is something that has stuck with you from your education and experience there about being a painter, artist, or person?

Ruggeri: Something that always stuck with me is remembering how I felt there: supported, invigorated, and that changing the world was definitely possible. It’s good to protect that enthusiasm, even when you’re working 9 to 5 and feel too tired to go to the studio.

"Dollar Sign" 2012

“Dollar Sign” 2012

Martinez: How has your experience at Ox-Bow School of Art as student and then again as a fellow affect your art? How long were you there total?

Ruggeri: Ox-Bow. Oh, man. I first went in 2007 as a student, and pretty much tried to take as many classes there as I could. If you got work study, you just had to pay for the credits, which I needed anyway. I went three consecutive Summers and one Winter. The Summer of 2010 was great, I took a class with Jose Lerma called “Expanded Painting, Expanded Sculpture.” Not hard to see it was a big influence on me. I was really lucky to receive a Joan Mitchell Fellowship this past Fall and I was an artist-in-residence for 5 weeks. As a student, classes meet everyday. I also had to wake up every morning to clean toilets for work study. This time, as a resident, it was like being at a beautiful retreat. There were only other residents, I had my own studio, and I got to structure my own day. It was incredible.

Martinez: Congratulations on your acceptance to the MFA Painting program at Yale!  What are you most excited about in starting this program in the fall?

Ruggeri: Thanks! I’m most excited about a fresh start. And making better art.

Martinez: What do you think are some interesting things happening around the city of Chicago art-wise?

Ruggeri: Ryan Travis Christian has a show up at Western Exhibitions that I need to get over to. William J. O’Brien at the MCA. Isa Genzken at the MCA. Alexander Valentine has a show at 3433 coming up.

Martinez: What are you currently working on?

Ruggeri: I’m finishing up a re-make of a sculpture I lost in the fire. It’s a harp. I just wrapped up these brooches I made for the Three Walls Gala coming up in June. Starting some new paintings. I keep thinking I need to stop because I’m moving, but I have some projects I want to do before I leave. I have an ongoing series of fake album covers, and I have a photo shoot coming up for the next installment.

"Rainbo Series" 2013

“Rainbo Series” 2013

Martinez: Your recent show, “Tropical Depression” at LVL3 just closed May 4th. Do you have any other openings coming up?

Ruggeri: No, thankfully! I’m moving to New Haven end of July. I’m trying to tie up loose ends.

Martinez: Is there a piece of advice, art related or not that you think of often?

Ruggeri: Say yes to all opportunities offered to you. Avoid excessive thinking about the past and future.


To find out more about Kate, her artwork and her upcoming shows go to http://kate-ruggeri.com/ 

All photos courtesy of the artist.

 

A.Martinez is a freelance art and music organizer living in Chicago, IL. She is currently working on a performing arts summer festival called The Living Loop, and will release her first book of poetry this summer.

 

Keith Mayerson talks with Erin Leland

May 9, 2014 · Print This Article

Keith Mayerson is a painter, born in 1966 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Stuart Comer curated Keith into the 2014 Whitney Biennial, where we stood in his third floor hanging of My American Dream for this interview on May 4th. The night before our interview, I dreamt of musical interludes throughout the conversation, and in real life there were musical interludes – broad, brass instrumental sounds from the installation next door and distant vocalizations from the museum stairwell.

Leland: How many years ago did you come to New York?

Mayerson: Not to age myself and make my hair fall out but ‘88.5 is when I graduated from Brown and traveled around and I got here in the Fall of ’89 and I was submitting ten cartoons a week to the New Yorker. My second job was at Robert Miller Gallery when they were in the Fuller building on 57th Street and Cheim and Read were the directors. Getting to talk to Alex Katz and stepping over Basquiats and Alice Neels in the back, I realized that fine art was about bringing up ideas aesthetically just like cartoons were.

With a comic, I think about a single image that’s distilled and repeated and refined over three to four frames, or maybe thirty frames. Is there a repeated image in that sense that you work with? Or a painting that you’ve made maybe five times in slightly different ways?

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Installation View, Keith Mayerson, “My American Dream,” Whitney Biennial, 2014 Photo by Tom Powel Imaging

When you have one panel next to another panel, and your mind creates the ultimate content between those two panels – your mind becomes an accomplice. I do have repeated motifs – I painted James Dean a whole bunch of times –

But he appears one time here.

No, three! This is the James Dean crash site here. He died when he was 24 after making only three films. As a method actor what’s really important for me about him is that he would really be able to cathect his own life into his role. I also always loved the Beatles, always feel that they were sort of the first post-modern band because they always spoke through avatars – they weren’t The Beatles, they were Sgt. Pepper, they weren’t depressed, it was Eleanor Rigby.

So like a method actor, is this new for you to base your work on your own life, in the last few years?

I realized there was one moment I looked around my studio and thought “You know the source images for all of these came from somewhere else. Hopefully, I’m putting my own spin on them.” Ingrid Sischy at Interview hired me to cover the haute couture shows in Paris, and they move so fast, I couldn’t be merely a sketch artist, I had to take a lot of photos. And so from those photos I ended up doing paintings that ended up in her last issue. I realized that having that connection with the images that I took was really amazing and having the autonomy of authorship, of being able to create that image, and directly work from the image that I made gave me a great feeling.

The first time I came into this room was also the first time I saw your work, and my first thought was “Oh, several people painted these paintings.”

They’re mostly from the last ten years, but a few earlier works – this police painting. This Jesus Christ Superstar. This circle painting. And this Ty Cash painting in the corner were from my first ten years. I’ve been exhibiting about twenty years, but you know Picasso said if you draw a circle without the aid of a compass, it’s imperfection is your style, or if you copy old masters, how it’s not like the old masters is your style.

That’s what I noticed looking at them longer – a worked-over, back and forth painted mark, and I wondered, is that your primary language? Is that the way that you’ve made marks since you’ve started painting?

When I broke out in the early nineties, I was appropriating different styles, via different eras. An epiphany really for me was seeing the Rembrandt Caravaggio show at the Van Gogh Museum and realizing the old masters were able to micromanage a lot and then in little pockets have their subconscious spill out. I think style to me is about painting something, or rendering something, however you render something, the best way that you can, and it comes out looking like that.

It comes out like what you imagine.

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Keith Mayerson, Horror Hospital Unplugged (Original cover), 1996

 Yeah, and that’s your style – I published this graphic novel in the early 90s with Dennis Cooper called Horror Hospital Unplugged and it was really neat to get the graphic novel out and, you know back at that day, it was very queer and so on and then I was googling myself one late night of insomnia and found out some people in the Netherlands had made a movie of it, and I was like oh my gosh, you know, I could use a film still –

This film still was a recreation of your graphic image?

Mm hm. It’s at the end where Trevor the Machine kind of falls, he collapses on the stage, at the end of their version of the book. It was a fold-over book, so on the right hand side it would just say “Some Else” and maybe just look like a kid collapsed on the stage but then if you unfold it, it becomes sort of an angel, and you see – if you just read the back it says “I Is One” but as an angel it says “I Is Some One Else” and it actually emulates an angel if you wave it back and forth, but I love that quote, because Rimbaud is saying “Woe to the piece of wood that finds itself a violin, or woe to the piece of metal that finds itself a trumpet.”

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Keith Mayerson, “Rebel Angel (Trevor Machine),” 2010. Oil on linen, 18 x 30 inches. Photo by Tom Powel Imaging.

It’s a disregard of language, or detachment from language.

Right, and of course, speaking through avatars all the time, in my own work and especially in this installation, I felt that would be a great way to begin it. If My American Dream is somewhat autobiographical, which of course in the micro-managed narrative it is, “I Is Some One Else” begins it.

Had you always intended to hang this many paintings in the Biennial?

Stuart Comer had known my salons in the past. It’s posing as a salon, but it really is like a giant comic on the wall.

That’s a painting of Louis Bourgeoise, right?

That’s correct.

Did you go to her salon?

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Keith Mayerson, “Louise Bourgeois at Her Salon,” 2008. Oil on linen, 42 x 30 inches. Photo by Tom Powel Imaging.

Yes, I did. A bunch of times. When I was teaching at NYU, I felt like, you know, if we were alive in the 50s in Paris, we would visit Giacometti with plaster in his hair. And they were exquisitely boring kind of long days that would start at three and they would kick everybody out at seven, and they’d always be a little over warm with over warm liqueur being passed around and chocolate that she liked, but you would come up and present to her, and if she liked it, she would say “Very good,” and would send you to the moon for weeks, you know, and I would go there on my own for gratification. I asked her if I could take her photo to make a painting and luckily she acquiesced and I got to do that while she was still alive. You know, in the background is her whole cosmology.

05_Louise Bourgeois original photo

Photo of Louise Bourgeois at her salon taken by Keith Mayerson in 2006.

When I first asked you for the interview, I mentioned that I was also really interested in the David Foster Wallace interview written for tennis player, Roger Federer, on the fourth floor, about Federer’s physical tactics in tennis, and I have one favorite question that he asked: “There is a thing you do at the start of service motion – you place the ball only for a split second in the fork of your racket’s throat. Are you aware of this? Do you know when you started doing it?” Is there a comparable action, a physical or personal tick, that you’ve become aware of through painting?

Sure. I lay out my pallet, you know I use CMYK colors, only primaries, but a whole bunch of the primaries, light yellows and dark yellows, reds and dark reds and so on and the violets, and I want to set up a scenario where I’m looking at my photo and letting my hand go where it wants. And so, I hold my photo in such a manner that it’s almost like a music stand, where it’s right in front of me, and I find, that a lot of times my brush is almost like a brush behind the photo. I don’t perceive my hand. There’s a sense of remove. And I find that my hand is just moving, and it’s working, and it’s doing its thing, and kind of like a state of dreaming, I find myself watching myself paint.

Based in New York, Erin Leland is an artist using photography, writing and video. She has recently exhibited in the group exhibition, White Petals Surround Your Yellow Heart at the ICA in Philadelphia and in her solo exhibition, Everything is Everything at Michael Strogoff Gallery in Marfa, Texas. Upcoming, a new series of photographs will be included in the group show, Psychic Panic, in Pittsburgh, opening May 16.