Well, last month’s column was a little dark. What can I say? I was in a bit of a mood. I do stand, mostly, by what I wrote then: I’m pretty sure we’re all fucked. It was pointed out to me, though, that it may only be awareness that is on the increase, not existential threats themselves. After all, things looked pretty apocalyptic when we Europe lost a quarter of its population to the Black Plague, and we made it through that all right.
If we are going to survive the next few decades, the next century, it seems pretty clear that some issues are going to need pretty immediate addressing. The two biggest threats to the survival of civilization as we know it are, I would argue, militant Islam (in the short term) and climate change (in the long term). Artists have addressed both sets of subject matter. The question, however, remains: can artists actually play a role in crafting a solution to the issues, or do artists merely document this moment in civilization’s crisis without meaningfully altering the outcome?
I have written previously about the problems with political art: when too overt, too direct, it fails as art, falling into the role of propaganda, but generally lacking the mass media distribution of actual propaganda, it falls short of the goal of communicating a message clearly to large numbers of people. In some cases, politics may inspire a great work of art (e.g. Guernica), but the artwork doesn’t change the world (the Spanish Civil War still happened). The question is, need this always be the case? Can a work of art actually have the power to alter the course of history, allowing us to avoid these potential threats to the world as we know it?
I have already written about the threat of militant Islam in a previous article, and so I think it fitting to focus here on a few artists who deal directly with environmental themes in their work, and who might stand a chance of making an impact on the world.
Jenny Kendler’s work routinely addresses the idea of engangered species. Very often this subject matter manifests itself as aesthetically beautiful images or objects, quite successful as art objects in and of themselves. The question remains as to whether these images or objects can do anything to save the creatures so endangered. In most cases I am skeptical of their influence, but in at least one case, Jenny found a way to engage viewers/collectors in the actual building of awareness with regard to an endangered species.
In February 2012, I attended the College Art Association conference in Los Angeles, where Kendler told me about an event she was involved with, In A Landscape Where Nothing Officially Exists, at UnSpace Ground. This was situated in the outdoor plaza in front of the Los Angeles Convention Center, where CAA was taking place. For this event, eight artists and one biologist collaborated to create 35 art works representing endangered species living in southern California. In order to spread awareness of the endangered status of these organisms, viewers were invited to sign up to take custody of a work of art, in exchange for a commitment to learn and care about the species represented, and to reproduce or represent the artwork online. I wrote an article as my fulfillment of the pledge that I took on that day (this paragraph is a condensed extract from that article). The format ran something like a silent auction, with viewers selecting the work and species they wanted to care for, and signing up on form. As the event unfolded, Jenny announced each species, artwork, and its new caretaker, auctioneer-style. Both Stephanie Burke and I took custody of pieces by Jenny Kendler, a friend of ours whose work we have admired for a long time. Kendler’s work frequently addresses issues of ecology and conservation, but what I’ve always appreciated about its soft, quiet beauty, which has always reminded me of the animated film The Last Unicorn. This delicate aesthetic carries through her drawings and paintings, her sculptures, and makes an important subject palatable, avoiding any possibility of being called shrill or preachy. It is pretty with a purpose.
Kendler’s contributions to In A Landscape Where Nothing Officially Exists were rendered in graphite and watercolor on little circles of paper, which were then mounted on vintage ribbons, like one might get for Best Pig at the county fair. They are similar to, although I believe separate from, an installation called Selection: 23 Endangered Species, executed in the same medium and also mounted on ribbons. Stephanie took custody of Muntz’s Onion, and I went for the Southern California Steelhead Trout.
This project, unlike most environmental art, required viewers to actively engage in the issue of endangered species, not merely to gain an awareness themselves but to share that awareness with others.
Another friend of mine who makes work addressing environmental themes is Osvaldo Budet. Osvaldo is a Puerto Rican artist who has, in his recent work, been specifically interested in the warming of the Arctic. He discusses this at length in the artist statement on his website:
Beneath the scenic surface of this frozen landscape lies another history rooted in human exploration and exploitation. European explorers, sailers, hunters, fur trappers and whalers used these shores for riches as early as the 17th century. But the Arctic wilderness is also rich in natural resources and has long been dotted and scarred by coal ming communities and structural remains. Through these lands, above and below the surface presents a remarkable story of twentieth century man’s struggle against the elements and our present technocratic society’s challenge to fathom the speed and implications of this changing place. In conjunction with the ‘Alfred-Wegener-Institut für Polar and Meeresforschung’ and the ‘Hanse-Wisseschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study’, I embarked on a month long expedition as artists in residence to the ‘AWIPEV-Koldeway Station’ Arctic Research base in Ny- Ålesund, Svalbard. Here I lived and worked with the community and the scientists working there to respond to the physical and political dimensions of the changing polar environments stressed by profligate human activity. Using the mediums of painting, photography and documentary film making I used this white stage of the Arctic to explore the idea that the landscape is a construct or reflection of our culture and interests of the system we inhabit. I photographed the visible scars and human impact of the landscape with the intention to then construct a ‘new reality’ in the studio and artificially ‘clean’ and change the images to create vistas that encompass the beauty of the wilderness we may expect to find in this region. By digitally eliminating any visible human activity in the landscape I aim to question the the social and political implications of our technocratic societies management of our resources and lands in such fragile part of the world. These fictitious places I create in my photos are imaginary vistas of grandeur and serenity; the ideal Arctic which we project in our collective memory and expect to find there in the flesh. In opposition to these romantic looking photos, my simplistic graphite line drawings of out of place and awkward structures and people, dwarfed in white space of the sheet of paper describe exactly that which has been eliminated, void or missing in the photographs. These drawings record the missing human dimensions of the photos and all at once the graphite and ink drawings point to unreal looking situations and an even stranger reality. Playing with reversals of imagination, construction and elimination these photos and drawings invite us to discover contradictions and connections, continuities and breaks which are a contradictory experience to the harsh reality of the places I seek to evoke.
Osvaldo’s partner Shonah Trescott works with similar themes at times, and the two have collaborated on several pieces including the artist residency that involved an expedition to the Arctic. Their work generally fits the traditional gallery model in which artists makes commodities for wealthy collectors to purchase, and therefore while inspired by and based on a vital environmental concern, the works themselves may not reach a wide enough audience to alter the course of climate change. (That being said, Osvaldo is fairly well recognized internationally, and his prominence may bring some additional attention to the issue.)
However, Osvaldo has also worked in documentary film, and he and Shonah were the subjects of a BBC short documentary called “Drawn Into The Light.”
The documentary film ‘Drawn into the Light’ follows the artists Shonah Trescott and myself on expedition to the high Arctic to live and work for a month in the most Northern Settlement of the world. Featuring interviews with the artists, international scientists, policy makers, builders, researchers and ordinary citizens. The film asks, “Who is allowed to shape our landscape, and what are the criteria for these decisions? Questioning the well-documented concerns that we are in the throes of a climate crisis that threatens life on Earth as we know it. I delved into a world of ice and snow, to tells a story woven in ice, revealing the heavy human ties which bind us all with this fragile region of the world.
Documentary film is an excellent medium for activism, and by its wider distribution may reach audiences that the artworks themselves do not.
A final artist I would like to mention in closing is Grant W Ray. I wrote about his 2010 exhibition at Spoke in my former project, the Chicago Gallery Snack Report at Art Talk Chicago. Ray’s piece in which viewers were invited to attempt to clean pieces of coal with a toothbrush and soapy water was hilariously Sisyphean, and made the point (that coal will always be a dirty fuel) in a fun, playful way.
Despite my earlier doomsaying, there are some artists who see the problems facing humanity in our future, and are not dismayed, but rather encouraged, in that they see the situation as being resolvable with sufficient effort. These artists are making work that is not only based on environmental concerns, but represents a real effort at working towards a solution.
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The savvy title caught my attention. The Reader’s wording in its art listing, “group show about the experience of living with poverty,” was even more curious. Was the description referring to works about the artists’ own cash-strapped lives? I made my premier visit to David Weinberg Photography in River North without advance review of the gallery’s website or An Invisible Hand press kit. It was a cold call.
An Invisible Hand, gallery view. John Preus/William Fitzpatrick, furniture. Lisa Lindvay, Nick on Phone with Girlfriend, 2009; Stephanie with Hair Dye, 2012. Lisa Vinebaum, New Demands? 2015, installation on back wall.
The show’s curator Meg Noe greeted me and then I talked with gallery owner David Weinberg. With its white walls, creaking wood, and bright lights, the gallery seemed like others in the neighborhood. It didn’t take long to figure out that this gallery marches to a different beat. That is, Mr. Weinberg told me that last year the gallery began to collaborate with local social justice organizations when mounting exhibitions. The collaborators develop shows that serve as catalysts for creative thinking and critical conversations about serious issues.
Patricia Evans, Mailboxes, Stateway Gardens, 2001
Two such exhibitions preceded this one. Try Youth as Youth, a collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Illinois brought together work by artists committed to changing the juvenile justice system. We All We Got exhibited Carlos Javier Ortiz’s installation of photographs, essays, and letters in collaboration with Art Works Projects for Human Rights, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Latitude Chicago, and ACLU Illinois. It acquainted audiences with the realities of youth violence and its impacts on the lives of individuals and communities. The gallery also hosts Filter Photo Festival, an annual juried exhibition of contemporary photography.
Patricia Evans, Girl on a Swing, Ida B. Wells, 1993
An Invisible Hand is a collaboration between the gallery and Sargent Shriver Center on Poverty Law in Chicago. Poverty fuels human suffering and art about poverty is an ethical minefield. Contentious issues abound, such as the politics of photographer, subject, and framing and varnishing poverty with aesthetics. The Shriver Center is exceptionally trustworthy in matters relating to poverty. It has earned this trust by decades of work in solidarity with people of all ages, colors, shapes, and sizes who struggle with “the experience of living with poverty”—whether it has to do with hunger, education, healthcare, childcare, unemployment, wage theft, usury, transportation, housing, clean air and water, violence, mental illness, civil rights, crime, police, jails, lawyers, prosecutors, judges, penitentiaries, probation and parole officers.
An Invisible Hand isn’t an exhibition for the art-for-art’s-sake crowd. Let’s start with the title since its provenance isn’t universally known. The expression predates cartoonist Tom Tomorrow’s twenty-first century Attack of the Invisible Hand and Invisible–Hand–of-the-Free-Market Man. In fact, it dates back to the 1700s and Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith.
One of the places Smith invoked the hand was in his magnum opus Wealth of Nations: “Every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it … He intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for society that it was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.”
Like the legendary philosopher’s stone that transmutes base metals into gold, Smith’s invisible hand of the free market transforms a nation’s cacophony of competing self-interests into prosperity. Ever since his formulation, economists, historians, politicians, and cartoonists have been conjuring their own invisible hand.
Jeremiah Jones, The Information, 2014, video still.
An Invisible Hand artists (96 Acres, Patricia Evans, Jeremiah Jones, Dave Jordano, Lisa Lindvay, Billy McGuinness, John Preus, David Schalliol, and Lisa Vinebaum) create works based on their explorations of lives shadowed by hardship and need. Whether approaching their subjects as an insider or outsider, these artists aren’t voyeurs. Their work doesn’t equivocate. Living with poverty or hand-to-mouth, being underprivileged, poor, or broke, sleeping rough or being homeless: whatever it’s called, doing without is a hard way to live. Jeremiah Jones’s TheInformation is a montage of fourteen YouTube videos by people vlogging from the fracked up boomtown of Williston, North Dakota. Wal-mart looms large. Its sprawling parking lot doubles as a campground for migrants who sleep in their vehicles. On a dim winter morning one logger from Kentucky explodes in response to online comments asking for more information about Williston: “This town is hard. The whole fucking town. Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. Everywhere.”
David Schalliol, Stateway Gardens, New Mixed-Income Development, 2007
Photographers Patricia Evans, Dave Jordano, Lisa Lindvay, and David Shalliol tell stories about excessive scarcity and tribulation, about dignity and wit. Time too is a subject of their photography. Snapshot-like photographs freeze moments, but taken together they depict the constancy of change and fallibility of progress. Portraits showing individuals older than their years make visible the ravages of hard times. Yet portraits of other individuals echo can-do optimism.
John Preus, Will Fitzpatrick, Sean Hernandez, and Walter Kitundu, civics 101 / homeopathy 2013-2015 (furniture). Silvia I. Gonzalez (designer) with 96 Acres, P Is for Power (set of three zines), 2015. 96 Acres with Vocolo and collaborators, A Micro Economy Built around the Cook County Jail and other audios, 2014.
96 Acres, a collaborative ethnographic investigation and intervention that’s led by Maria Gaspar and deals with life in and around the Cook County Jail is represented here with audio stories and zines. The installation civics 101 / homeopathy invites visitors to take a seat and engage with 96 Acres. Cast off furniture of Chicago Public Schools and other found objects are the raw material for civics 101 and other works by John Preus and William Fitzpatrick. Exquisite woodworking, sensual surfaces, and whimsy induce looking, touching and use. Like children’s playground laughter or an aromatic balm, the curves and luster of the wooden objects ease the angst pervading the show. The beauty and solidity of these compositions of salvaged materials are reminders that once upon a time things like furniture were built to last—and that making remnants into new things is as much a creative and a political act as surveying Cook County Jail’s 96 Acres.
Billy McGuinness, five months of love, 2013, detail.
Billy McGuinness’s three works (foot traffic on canvas) are visceral encounters with mark-making by people in places where poverty is the norm. McGuinness placed the canvases on the floor at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, and underground passageway between Cook County Jail and the Criminal Court Building. The canvases look like a gritty urban sidewalk and slyly invoke the canon of abstract painting.
Dave Jordano, Claire, Detroit, 2014
David Weinberg Photography’s new direction is a boon for artists, social justice activists, and art audiences. Artists and collaborating organizations split proceeds of sales; exhibition programming brings new audiences to activist art and social action; and new ways of envisioning life and art come into view. Keep this gallery on your radar.
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Walking into the tented entrance of SAIC’s THE WALK felt stepping off the rainy downtown street into another dimension. Maybe we picked the wrong art world to focus on? This was unlike anY “opening” we’d been to before. There were like 6 different types of hors d’oeuvres, multiple bars with at least not the cheapest wine option, and, shockingly, people both above AND below 26.5 years of age.
We saw a woman wearing a beak on her face like it was no big deal, and all levels of over done. In this overdressed scene, the opening performance by Claudia Hart felt lackluster, especially at the beginning when the dancer closest to me was off her mark, ruining the projection illusion. We were into the concept: put voguing dancers in wild cutout outfits that serve as projection screens, but it somehow fell flat.
“The Dolls” by Claudia Hart.
Fortunately the eleganza returned for the student presentations. Sophomore presentations, while restricted to a single piece with white and gold coloring, certainly ranked amongst the most exciting offerings of the evening. While we are impressed with pretty much anyone who can thread a needle, we have to say that Kellia Yao, Michel ‘Le Forrest, Yalin Zhao and Dave Klibanoff (who’s face garment seemed to totally disregard the palate) made us the most excited for 2017’s show.
Looks by Michel ‘Le Forrest and Dave Klibanoff.
Looks by Kellia Yao and Yalin Zhao.
If you were looking for a capsule collection, THE WALK is certainly not the place. The Swarovski crystal accents were about the most casual part of the show (and that’s to say, not casual at all). The juniors were just as over the top and Mady Berry’s gigantic cactus knitwear complete with fur draping and a flower on top pretty much stole the show. Franky Tran’s train with two male attendants was a cherry on top. From our seat in the back of the tent it was hard to see the details of the designs, but we knew when the audience was pleased by polite applause and literal oo’s and ahh’s coming from the front rows.
Mady Berry’s gigantic cactus knitwear.
Finally, it was time for the main event. No, not the post-show snacks (though we’ll get to that), the senior presentations. Really there were just two collections that really gave us life. Kaleigh Moynihan’s collection, Davinia Francois, was hands down my favorite. From the first note of “Tip toe through the tulips,” you could tell it was going to be something else. And it was. Aside from showing a strong vision, Moynihan was the only student to use her own models, breaking the “walking stick” template and using real people of various shapes and sizes, including one model who was completely swallowed by a garment that appeared to have wheels or be robotic. The gender bending of the garments was effortless, unlike her colleague Carly Callis, whose blonde wigs seemed forced and awkward. Most importantly, as artist/model Amina Ross and the other likely artists on stage ‘tiptoed,’ they genuinely appeared to be having fun. The boob pockets, the “I don’t know” cape, the floral pasties, I could go on.
The only other senior to really make me swoon was Fransisco Gonzalez. His Clairvoyance collection was equal parts space sportswear and Mickey Mouse. The fact that I’m from Florida might have something to do with my affinity for the mouse, but the way Gonzalez wove the characters into the not-quite ready-to-wear pieces in his collection felt like something we would totally try to pull off.
Creepy effigy and eggs.
After the last presentation, and the real Diane Pernet was presented a “Legend of Fashion” award, the entire tent moved across the street to the Harris theater for a reception where you could see a creepy Pernet’s effigy designed by local drag queen, Jojo Baby (who was looking quite dapper and carried a Pernet Barbie-sized doll). The reception was nothing if not elaborate. I gagged over Moynihan’s models and tried to work up the courage to talk to the young designer with daises in her hair, while spraying down my sushi with perfume bottles full of soy sauce (least practical vessel). I sampled the “couture eggs” (weird) and ate endless dumplings while trying to balance my dirty martini (the bartender had said, “I hope you like it straight up”).
To be fair, it was a fundraiser to support student work and scholarships at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Regardless, it was shame to have to leave the fashion world for the real one.
If you wanted a spot on recap of the best of the fashion show, you’re in the wrong place. Check out Isa’s “Best of” for the Reader.
Reading is Fundamental
ICYMI: A selection of recent posts from Bad at Sports.
Think of this as your month in review.
Now Here, Here Now
Eric Asobe on being connected virtually and physically to the world of art and art in the world. With a dash of summer thrown in for good measure.
Studies of Exhaustion
Jacob Wick continues to interrogate what he finds phony, this time intertwined with Filipídicas, Vega Macotela’s first solo show at Galería Labor in Mexico City. Find out why Wick believes Macotela’s exhibition is a “step in the right direction.”
Erin Leland has the most interesting conversations. Eavesdrop on her and curator, Andrew Blackley’s, afternoon of window shopping that merges seamlessly into Blackley’s work on Keith Haring and Felix Gonzalez-Torres.
It’s Spring and Chicago is awakening! The warmth is warming the ‘lil ‘ol Florida girl’s ice heart. So much happened this past month, check out what you missed below!
Marcel Alcala at his opening for The Mayor at the Hills.
Josh Rios discussing his work with Kate Bowen at the opening for Please Don’t Bury Me Alive! Part Two at Sector 2337. The exhibition, featuring drawings by Ernest Hogan, will be on view through June 14th.
Romero and Rios at their opening on Saturday, May 9th.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR ARTISTS
•HIGH CONCEPT LABORATORIES SEEKS SPONSORED ARTIST FOR FALL PROGRAM. APPLICATIONS DUE JUNE 15TH.
•FRINGE PROJECTS SEEKS QUALIFIED ARTISTS FOR TEMPORARY SITE SPECIFIC INSTALLATIONS IN MIAMI. MORE INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND HERE.
•WOMAN MADE GALLERY SEEKS ART WORK FOR WEARABLE ART EXHIBITION, ADORN. ENTRY DEADLINE JULY 15TH.
The opening for elsetime: A Solo Exhibition by Ellen Rothenberg also on view at Sector 2337 until July 3rd.
Lorelei Stewart (sporting an adorable new do) and Andreas Fischer looked like pure spring in front of work by Michael Hunter at the Roots and Culture benefit auction on May 2nd.
Work by Daniel Baird on view at Cosmosis at the Hyde Park Art Center through August 23rd. (Weirdly can’t find the photo I shot of the expat artist at the Roots benefit the evening before! Mysterious indeed.)
Sarah and Joseph Belknap were serving true wonder at the opening for Cosmosis, including this chameleon of an installation.
Alberto Aguilar performing with Edra Soto at “Made-Up in the form of a Variety Show” at the Arts Club (yes, it was swanky) on May 13th.
Alex Bradley Cohen his the opening for the Midwest Edition of New American Paintings. You don’t have a to travel all the way to Elmhurst to see the artists work, Cohen has an exhibition with Kelly Lloyd opening at Carrie Secrist opening June 5th.
Work by Brookhard Jonquil at Ideal Perfection, on view at LVL3 until June 21st.
Emily Green and Megan Stroech at the opening for Ideal Perfection.
Work by Matt Mancini and Megan Stroech on view at LVL3.
The scene at the Humboldt Park Boat House for Lilli Carré’s Trunk Show opening. Purely pastoral. Get your own here.
The crowd outside the Suburban for their last Illinoisan opening. We heard the house goes on the market June 1!
Work by Katy Cowan in the Green Gallery South at The Suburban (we assume this is also their last show in this location).
Katy Cowan crewed up with members of American Fantasy Classics, The Hills and J.Laz.
Adorable handmade teacup sculpture by Noelle Garcia on view at Ordinary Projects. There will be a performance in the space this Sunday, May 31st at 3PM.
We’re still dying over Caleb Yono’s gorg painting/ sculpture/ light/ beauty installation at the SAIC 2015 MFA Show.
The MFA show actually had a lot of great work these year, including Nick Butcher’s installation featuring this video of the artist trying to wear a paper cut out and a chromatic vinyl record.
We can’t resist a Miamian in Chicago. Alan Gutierrez outside the Trunk Show with materials for his exhibition Intro.
A peek into the strange and wonderful world of Hope Esser, during a #wip installation at Links Hall.
Notice: the title of the exhibition will change every hour.
Why I wanted to hate Gabriel Sierra but can’t.
After my experience at Gabriel Sierra’s exhibition at Kurimanzutto last February I was really over it. My experience of the exhibition, titled ggaabbrriieell ssiieerrrraa amounted to me, my friend Brad and Jacob Wick waiting in line to see a mysterious exhibition that could only be entered two at a time. I hate queues and close to 10PM we gave up and split for a party/opening behind wrought iron gates that seemed more inviting. Discarded on a high-top table, I found a exhibition map from Kurimanzutto.
You can imagine my surprise, six months later, when I was invited for a press preview of Sierra’s exhibition. The providence was too much, I had do be the first to see it. I read the press release and thought, “the title changes every hour, how pretentious”. When I arrived at the Ren, three days before the opening, I was surprised to see a bunch of my friends installing the exhibition, which didn’t look anywhere near complete. Like, hay everywhere, weird half unfinished troughs on the ground, rocks on the floor, people painting the walls, etc. I took a short tour of what was yet to be, with explanations from my host Anna on the preconditions that Sierra was still working out (?!).
The scene at the Ren the Friday before Sierra’s opening.
I was ushered into the office where I sat before the (extremely handsome, like wtf handsome) artist himself and a plate of sugary pastries. I was certainly “in the moment.” We discussed my experience at Kurimanzutto, and Gabriel pointed out that the elongated spelling was an effort to stretch out time. We talked in circles about time, the present, experimentation, his interest in seasonal change, the institution, architecture, Miami (a recurring topic for me). Kind of about the show. He tried to explain the instructions, he apologized for his English (though that wasn’t the issue). This was not what I had expected. I started to feel anxiety about not understanding.
I was interested in the conditions that the Sierra set up for the Ren staff: switching the press releases every hour, guiding spectators through the exhibition after the artist has gone. They seemed very involved in the realization of the work. After about an hour, our discussion turned to Anna and the purchase of water bottles for one of the embedded tasks. He wanted something clear and simple looking. Immediately, I brought up an image of Topo Chico (my favorite sparkling water from Monterrey) on my phone and said “this is what you need.” Anna said she’d work it out.
At the opening late that weekend, the space was transformed. The troughs became a sort of obstacle course, and Sierra’s “Assembly Instructions” brought everything together. The instructions and their “Ikea-like” drawings made the austere obstacle course sweet. I saw couples walking up and down the flat pedestals and I saw that Gabriel took my recommendation about the Topo! Much to my chagrin, it turns out he’s not blowing smoke (I suppose I trust the Ren to spot a phony). It really was about the experience of art work and each other.
Topo Chicago task in action!
I just missed the talk but saw Gabriel after. His greeting was warm and he thanked me for the suggestion. Enthusiasts clustered around him, though he was extremely modest and seemed less interested in making dinner plans than experiencing the exhibition again post-talk. I have to say he won me over.
I still don’t get the rotating titles (ok, I do, but I still don’t really want to), but one of them is “Few Will Leave Their Place to Come Here for Some Minutes.” The exhibition is up at the Renaissance Society through June 28th. Enjoy the Topo!
ACRE Moves to New Chicago Space!
With a fundraiser to match.
BIG F’IN DEAL ALERT!: Our better half, ACRE, is moving to a new space! We’ll spare you the details (because hopefully they’re flooding your Facebook feed as you’re reading this) but please check out the Kickstarter campaign and watch the video below!
T AROUND TOWN CONTINUED AGAIN!
Speaking of Links, unless you live under a rock you probably know that Live to Tape Festival happened last week. Of course the video curation was point, but we were equally impressed with the live performances. We particularly loved this performance, Space Pursues Them by Andrew Mausert-Mooney, Kera Mackenzie and Nate Whelden. We’re not quite sure why Mausert-Mooney needed to spray water on Whelden but we were to into it to care.
Vaudeo Motion performing at Live to Tape last Thursday evening during “Ecstatic Static.”
Live to Tape also brought us the opportunity to see Marisa Williamson’s immaculately executed talk show, Hemings and Hawings, where the artist (as Sally Hemings) interviewed Monica, Whoopi, Oprah and Marilyn. Thanks L2T! Are we doing this again next year? 😉
Since we have fashion on the brain we’d be loathe not to point out Marie Casimir’s amazing Madonna jacket she sported throughout Live to Tape. She kept trying to tell us that it wasn’t about the Material Girl, but we’re not hearing it!
Header image features a detail image of The Chicago 77, a 77-line poem comprised of found text and objects from each of Chicago’s 77 community areas currently on view at the Poetry Foundation until May 29th!
Ed. note: This is the first in a four part series hosted in collaboration with The Ladies Almanack, a feature-length experimental narrative film written & directed by Daviel Shy, based on the novel of the same title by Djuna Barnes. The first post of the series is by Assistant Professor of Art History, Theory and Criticism at SAIC, Daniel Quiles.
“Sorry about this! I’m always late for everything!”
“No problem! I’m an athlete, remember?”
We were jogging briskly through the dank, cramped tunnels of the Châtelet Metro station. The opening I had thought was at Les Récollets was in fact at Bétonsalon, the gallery space for Université Paris-Diderot, not five minutes but at least a half-hour away. It had been a long postdoc year, bereft of the tranquility I’d anticipated in the picturesque but tense capital. On my first visit to École Normal Supérieure, a reception for the rentrée into the new school year, I mysteriously slipped, ass over teakettle, thudding to the ground before my stunned new colleagues; structural analogue for a season out of water. But that was September and now it was April, the indefatigable Daviel Shy was here, and we were not going to miss our event. That night, we would meet Josefin Granqvist, an enigmatic Swede who joined us for dumplings back in Belleville, hit it off with Daviel, and was ultimately cast as Djuna Barnes. The network had its own life that spring, reaching and sprawling of its own accord.
Throughout Daviel’s visit, I had the distinct impression that her experience of Paris was different from mine. It was as if, from her first steps, she had set out to eviscerate Woody Allen’s appalling Midnight in Paris, all phony wistfulness and postcard vistas, precisely so she could redeem the formula: dive into, and revivify, the capital’s history as a magnet for international culture. And, appropriately enough, feminism was to ground this counter-excavation—not as nostalgic lost bohemia but as functional, pulsating time machine. Daviel was looking for a conduit back and forth between then and now, here and there—a historical record alterable by the present that is nonetheless a model for future collectivity.
While in Paris, I introduced Daviel to a group of artists—not the right word, of course, as many of them adamantly refuse this label—some of whom I had been following for some time. I got a sense of their projects one by one, at the screen’s great remove. Many I had met only a single time, if at all; there instead were posts and comment threads and temporary projects, micro-platforms atop established platforms like Facebook, Tumblr and YouTube—and more recently a home of their own in NewHive (among many othersnow and yet to come). There has since been a series of categories coined for these projects and identities, few of which are adequate. I prefer the more general “neo-feminism” to the loathsome “Tumblr Girl,” the wordy “Digital Art World’s (Secret) Feminism,” and the pessimistic “Body Anxiety,” title of a recent online exhibition of “artists who examine gendered embodiment, performance and self-representation on the internet” (wordy again, but better). “Neo-feminism” or the more mediacentric “digi-feminism” also seem more efficient than a “Fourth Wave” feminist art, which poses the question of how many “waves” a movement can have before it resembles a movie franchise. What initially caught my attention in this work was a clear resurgence of so-called First Wave feminist art’s emphasis on the female body as an essentialized catalyst for work that could only be authored by women, and with a concomitant engagement and critique of the body’s mediation: in the 1970s, by photography, film, and video, and now, by a panoply of digital media and networked interfaces. Yet neo-feminism might be best described as a non-movement, horizontal and paradoxically organic, given the dependence on the Internet. The shared sensibility is marked by a vexed engagement with pop culture and its industry, (in some cases) dedicated sex-positivity (pre- and post-Miley twerking, for example, in all its glorious complexity) and the creation of superhero-like avatars gone IRL: Labanna Babalon, Fannie Sosa, and Poussy Draama. While there are many, many others I could name, these three happened to be in Paris when Daviel was. They became integrated into a sustained collaboration that resulted not only in progress on The Ladies Almanack but the virally celebrated / infamous Baby! Love Your Body! (lensed by Stephanie Acosta).
This might sound like the diametric opposite of Daviel’s insistently low-fi ethic, years removed from Super 8 cameras, dusty books and vintage costumes. I cannot think of a better testament to Daviel’s relentless intelligence and canny adaptability than the fact that the moment she met Fannie, she began to incorporate her embodied digitality directly into the film, and indeed, to identify and accentuate the analog in what the neo-feminists have been doing. As much as possible, the IRL, person-to-person, and geographically grounded aspects of these practices would be teased out, offline. Conversations, personal relationships, informal exchanges were to be included, rather than left out—personal lives and details normally excluded from the end products of intellectual and creative work would be transposed to the center. Also in attendance was Natacha Stolz, who several years earlier had her own, nightmarish, experience of virality when documentation of a BFA performance was bullied by misogynists on YouTube. Daviel cast Natacha as Colette.
This was all in the near offing. I wouldn’t be part of any of it; no place in the revolution for an antiquated subject-position (at least not yet). No bother—there is always the screen, a circuit through which “vid” jouissance and early cinema alike inevitably pass.
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I am sitting outside on a porch. Although, I know there is much more to come, it already feels like the height of summer – hot, humid, rumbles of distant thunder, tomatoes and cucumbers ready to be harvested. I have a lot to learn about my new home. If I had moved here 250 years ago, it would have taken weeks to hear about the Stamp Act, and it would have been even longer before I learned about the opening of the Uffizi. We are fortunate to live in a time when it is easy to connect with people and activities around the world. We virtually see exhibitions across the country; we draw connections between seemingly isolated acts of police violence; we link weather extremes, changing temperatures, and global water crises into a new epoch; I follow art sales and art fairs in New York and London and Shanghai.
I have been tantalized, enthralled, and engaged by the seemingly endless streams of photos from NADA, Frieze, and other fairs – the paintings that are not paintings, the snack-cum-knapsack, the crowds and crowds rubbing shoulders, drinking, filling the fairs with that mutable substance that enlivens them long after the lights are off and booths packed. We remember the laughter, handshakes, the attempts to meet and be met long after the objects on the walls have transformed into new objects. That conversation about the relevancy of painting will return next year with new paintings; that objet du jour will be replaced with something else of the moment, but the people and the relationships built and maintained are what last, build, and enliven these events. This moving, living, breathing series of moments is not and cannot be transmitted in tweets, favorited photos, or lenghty write-ups. I keep up with the news, but I miss the substance. I see what has happened, but I cannot experience it happening. For all of the speed with which I receive the information, I am not present.
To reconnect with that presence, with the lived experience of making and co-living, I recently went to the Chattanooga Zine Fest. I met vendors and zine makers from across the country. I touched and read the painstakingly written, photographed, photocopied, printed, folded books, pamphlets, zines, and stickers. Each object held a story in its creases and staples, in its hand drawn cover and intimate looks into experiences of depression, motherhood, anarchism, or robots. These connections, conversations, and shared experiences enliven the objects in my hands. They unfold the complexity, longevity, and deeper understanding that I cannot experience online. They magnify those digital experiences, transforming words and images into the artists, gallerists, collectors, reporters, revelers, and visitors I know live behind them.
I am more connected to the global contemporary art world than ever. I have the luxury and privilege to have that multitude of information at my fingertips. I can be in multiple places around the world in seconds, yet I wake up in one bed among the mountains. I live in a world where someone can easily buy a painting for more money than I know how to imagine, yet I see the daily lives of people trying to move from one to the next. I see highlights of art fairs, exhibitions, and performances from across the country, yet I live with creators, makers, and doers who intellectually, creatively, and financially sustain themselves here. Holding those contradictions while moving through, with, and beyond them towards the future that is continually made real by us is the great challenge before us. The mosquitoes are biting, leaving red welts along my mistakenly bare ankles. The condensation from my glass is dripping onto the ground that has been continuously inhabited by humans for 12,000 years. I have a lot to learn about my still new home; I have a lot to learn about this life we all lead.
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