EDITION #38

October 14, 2014 · Print This Article

New New Art and Event Space Opens in Logan Square

With or without a physical locale, Green Lantern Press has been a force in the Chicago art scene since Caroline Picard started to open up her loft space in Wicker Park to public exhibitions and events in 2005. GLP is responsible for the release of more than 30 titles, including Lise Haller Baggesen’s “Mothernism,” an experimental epistolary novel on motherhood which has enjoyed a sweepingly positive reception since it’s summer release. After a brief stint in France, the prolific Picard is back with a new space on the formerly derelict stretch of Milwaukee Avenue near Fullerton that now is home to, amongst other things, a luxury juice bar. Picard’s space stands out, with glorious accordion front doors that open onto Milwaukee Ave, gender neutral bathrooms with a shower (for residents only!), and a polished wood floor so shiny it’s a little hard to look at.

Jesse Malmed and his box of ideas, jokes and sentiments at the opening of Sector 2337.

Officially opening on October 16th, Sector 2337 started out strong with a soft opening last Thursday, October 9th, with performances by Carlos Martiel and Jesse Malmed, co-curated by Lin Hixon and Matthew Goulish’s Every house has a door. Martiel’s performance really took to heart the title of the overarching exhibition, “The New [New] Corpse”. A full house witness Martiel’s “corpses” draped in American flags across the pristine gallery floor. After a brief intermission, Malmed’s animated spoken word performance was a singular meditation on the future, technology, jokes of scale, good (including bad) ideas, inspiration and (I think) art. Afterwards, everyone shared a toast and crazy loving vibes with Sector 2337’s proprietors Devin King and Picard.

Hixon and Goulish introducing the performances and the new venue.

A well attended event with strong work? This wasn’t even the official opening! The group show, “The New [New] Corpse”, features an impressive rooster that includes Benjamin L. Aman & Marion Auburtin, Joseph Grigely, Young Joon Kwak, Jason Lazarus, Carlos Martiel, Heather Mekkelson, Aay Preston-Myint, Rachel Niffenegger, Xaviera Simmons, Shane Ward, and Shoshanna Weinberger and will open this Thursday, October 16th from 6-9PM. Sector 2337 is also hosting Jane Jerardi as their November Studio Resident.

Don’t miss it. The New [New] Corpse. Sector 2337. 2337 N Milwaukee Ave (duh!). Thursday, October 16th from 6-9PM.

Trending

  • Time: We never have enough of it, so why are artists always rubbing it into our faces? Although there is something a little bit lovely and poetic about sinking a timepiece into a wall or styrofoam column.
  • Detail of Sabina Ott’s clock column in her [so much more than an] exhibition “here and there pink melon joy” on view at the Chicago Cultural Center through January 4th of 2015.

    Work by Daniel Arsham at the Fashion Outlets of Chicago at Rosemont. On view indefinitely?
  • Beyonce, always. If you’re not interested in the photos of the Queen B shutting down The Louvre that’s cool, we don’t have to be friends. Maybe you have one of these other responses?
  • In the future everything will be chrome, is apparently what Gavin Brown’s son told Rirkrit Tiravanija when the globe trotting art star ended up playing the part of babysitter in rose-colored glasses. He probably isn’t too far off, I heard more than a few students and professors coveting the Zebra aluminum lunch boxes used by the artist for his lunches at the Sullivan center as part of Mary Jane Jacob’s exhibition “A Lived Practice”. According to the artist, the metal containers are nostalgic items, used by his grandmother for her restaurant business in his native Thailand.
  • Groups of lucky students grabbing Tiravanija’s lunchboxes.

    Tiravanija discussing the impetus behind his lunch project with student groups from across Chicago.
  • Meg Leary, the performer, the opera singer, the myth, the legend. Leary has been on a back to back streak performing at the Whistler and Berlin in the span of a week. The artist presented the work of a formative influence, Karen Finley, at the most recent Crimson Glow on the 6th anniversary of the Whistler (can you say delicious and cheap cocktails?). In homage to the controversial performer, Leary prepared waffles and yams for the audience’s consumption while regaling the crowd with odd tales of Leary’s time in NYC with Finley. Leary then brought us all the way back to Miami Basel last Thursday when she performed at Gravy, a new monthly dance party at Berlin sponsored by our friend at LVL3. Leary brought the house down, belting out pop hits like “Call me maybe” that had the crowd chanting “one more song” long after the performer left the stage. All we can say is, we want more!
  • Leary serving waffles during her presentation of Karen Finley at Crimson Glow.

    Full regalia for Gravy at Berlin. Photo by Jono Pivovar.

    Roth’s Complaint: Author sues artist in absurd plot line straight out of his own novels.

    In 2012, Bryan Zanisnik was served a cease and desist letter from the firm that represents well-known author Philip Roth. Both artists share a love of Americana, baseball, and New Jersey (of all things). Unfortunately, the humor of Zanisnik’s silent re-performance of Roth’s The Great American Novel, was lost on the aging author.

    In the aftermath of Zanisnik’s run-in with Roth’s lawyers the artist hasn’t let up, making work that is even more focused on the Roth, his paranoia and the intersection of their shared interests. In his exhibition, The Passenger, closing this Saturday at Aspect/Ratio in the West Loop, Zanisnik weaves the real life Roth and his works deeper into his production.

    Work by Bryan Zanisnik on view at Aspect/Ratio.

    The first two pieces you see when you enter the exhibition are diptychs featuring needle points, one of Roth himself and another featuring the cover of his best seller, Portnoy’s Complaint. Each embroidery is paired with a photograph of a characteristic assemblage by the artist, each additionally refers back to Roth, with physical copies of his books placed amongst the still lives. In a way, it seems like Zanisnik has written Roth into the narrative of his own work. Baseball cards are excavated from the gallery walls, and the symbols of the over saturation of American capitalism ring out as true here as in Roth’s American Pastoral.

    Cease and desist that, Roth! The Passenger is on view through October 18th at Aspect/ Ratio, 119 N Peoria, Unit 3D. Catch this gem before the only place you can see Zanisnik’s compellingly narrative obsessive compulsion is in New York museums.

    Interview with Cameron Crawford

    October 10, 2014 · Print This Article

    It occurred to me, after knowing sculptor Cameron Crawford for a while, that I thought of him first as a writer, not least of which because his conversations always sounded as if they should be recorded on paper – his language as if read.

    I saw Cameron read at MoMa PS1 one Sunday through three microphones, each microphone alternating according to written voice. On the base of each microphone was stuck a numbered piece of tape. Afterwards, I heard Cameron describe his hobby of lighting certain perfumes on fire, the retelling of which I met with him to record, along with the rest of this interview.

     

    Cameron: I’ve mentioned to you before that I decided that smelling perfume was my hobby. Sometimes I end up with things I don’t like that I thought I would like, or that I thought would be interesting and it turns out that they’re just gross. So the one I’ve been (lighting on fire) the most lately is Flowerbomb by Victor and Rolf, which is a terrible perfume.

    Erin: Why is it terrible, is it too sweet?

    Cameron: It is too sweet. I thought it was going to be at least interesting. You think – before I knew about how perfumes get made, I thought that an interesting designer would have to have an interesting perfume – you assume that something by Victor and Rolf would at least be more challenging than something by Tommy Hilfiger. At least be more aggressive or more contrarian. Sadly, this is just not the case. Thierry Mugler’s Angel does not smell like the clothes look.

    Erin: It is much more whimsical than the clothes.

    Cameron: Yeah, and it’s much more cleavagey and in a way, it’s much more like Guess.

    Erin: Cheesy?

    Cameron: Yeah, kind of, but also so cheesy, that it almost seems like high fashion –

    Erin: Because it’s campy?

    Cameron: It is campy and it’s not androgynous and there’s a lot more candy that isn’t made out of chrome and stainless steel and patent leather than you would expect to see in a Thierry Mugler perfume. On the other hand, Flowerbomb by Victor and Rolf, which is basically a sad sad clone of Angel, smells like weird gummy candy and a very very fake fake flower, like how flowers smell, the way that green apple jolly ranchers taste like green apples. Flower bomb is just bomb. It gets good if you light it on fire. Or at least tolerable if you light it on fire.

    Erin: Because it subdues the smell?

    Cameron: And it adds the smoky burn smell, the smell of the match and the sulfur of the match. Matches have the smoke smell, but also the chemical burning smell that makes the inside of your nose hurt, if you light a match right underneath your nose, that is both a smell and a physical sensation. A reaction that is – that seems like poison.

    Plane, Movie, Cold with repeated measurement (iron, steel, mint dental floss, gold paint, glue, plastic), 58.5 x 140 x 46.5 inches, 2013. Image by Andres Ramirez, courtesy Laurel Gitlen Gallery, from the exhibition of “Every Act a Repetition” organized by Christopher Aque.

    Cameron: Do you like verbs, adjectives or nouns better?

    Erin: Nouns are my favorite. I almost never describe an action.

    Cameron: Mine too. My favorite things are nouns ending in -ing. They are also verbs. I like running as a thing that one can do, as a noun, much more than as a verb, as something that one does.

    Erin: Because it’s hypothetical?

    Cameron: Because it’s context dependent. My interest is in subjects, in commitments, much more than in actions. It’s the circumstance that becomes interesting, not just the pure act. It’s the difference between do do do do and am am am am, as in, I am. The am is always more interesting than the doing doing doing doing.

    Erin: Is there a physical way to be verbose? Your writing is plain, but you’re wordy, so you’re overflowing but in a plainness.

    Cameron: Yeah, I think my sculptures are texts. They start out from diagrams. The materials are nouns and adjectives, or nouns with adjectives. The way the sculpture’s put together is the verb and then it’s a sculpture by magic. That’s how I make sculpture.

    Aerows, temporary tattoo, 8.5 x 14 inches, 2014.

    Erin: How does the diagram begin?

    Cameron: To make a diagram, you have to figure out all of the relationships, and it might be that my writing is me trying to figure out the relationships. I had to make this piece of writing in order to make those diagrams in order to understand the sculpture I was trying to make.

    Erin: The diagram is the first thing.

    Cameron: Well, it should be unless I can’t figure it out. Then the writing becomes the first thing. Trying to describe the diagram that doesn’t exist yet. Trying to describe a diagram but each time ending up with a narrative that’s set up like a diagram.

    Erin: A diagram is like a plan – it boils things down. There is a decisiveness to making a diagram. Though, is your writing decisive? Or indecisive? On one hand, your delivery seems decisive to me. You write fast and forcefully, just as when you read out loud – and the way you talk in life. On the other hand, the lines come across as indecisive, or contrarian, as good as indecisive.

    Cameron: The most decisive they are is when they’re revising their previous statements. Is that right?

    Erin: In your piece, Replace Vacation With, you keep replacing one thing with another thing. Seemingly, there is nothing desired except replacement.

    Cameron: In that piece, the desire is vacation, which is to say, a certain vision of love. Let’s say I have a child, and I love the child, and the child’s name is Cameron Jr., and so nothing else is as important to me as Cameron Jr. is. No matter where Cameron Jr. is, I have an extraordinarily shallow depth of field where everything is out of focus on either side of Cameron Jr., and I just see Cameron Jr. I’m interested in that narrowing of vision. Like what it is when you get old and your peripheral vision disappears and narrows. I’m interested in something that can only be understood by what it isn’t.

    Erin: Is being in love like being on vacation?

    Cameron: The hope of a vacation, if it was a good vacation, would be a gap in the circle of my life – making my year into a pacman face – and that kind of evacuation of all reasonably understood experience, or that kind of void-making out of the cycle seems like an important idea to me, as I’m actually bad at taking vacations.

    Erin: But it’s the same as being in love?

    Cameron: I guess you would say it’s kind of like creating an exception within this otherwise constant circular motion. I try to figure it as a wound. And that cut within that circular motion is a point where the surface divides and is both inside and outside.

    Erin: But if you’re in love all the time, then it’s the vacation all the time, so it’s the new surface.

    Cameron: Even if you’re in love all the time, you’re not doing love all the time, sometimes you’re going to the bathroom, sometimes you’re at work – love doesn’t really work unless it’s a verb. I would say that it’s actually a Dr. Phil thing. Love is the verb. Love is the only action. Love is never a state of being, and it’s basically like a way of articulating all the time. You always have to be making this wound in your life.

    Erin: You mean an opening, you always have to be making an opening.

    Cameron: I keep using wound, because I want a bodily metaphor, and for men at least, not for women but just for men, there are no bodily openings that aren’t just about destruction – except for wounds. I’m gonna go with that.

    Erin: The mouth.

    Cameron: The mouth?

    Erin: Ear?

    Cameron: That’s not really an opening though. Things can’t really fall into your ear. I mean things can fall into your eye too.

    Erin: That’s right. That’s another opening.

    Cameron: I don’t know if the eye’s really an opening.

    Erin: It’s not an obvious opening, but it’s something where – it’s a trap, something can be trapped and circulated inside your body.

    Cameron: That’s true of your skin too. Just as sand could fall in my ear, knives could fall in my hand.

    Page 12 from Replace Vacation With, poster version.

    Erin: I wrote two statements – I was going to ask you to describe two things. I wrote “describe an obscene circumstance and describe an at ease circumstance”, because when I read your writing, I feel like I am reading all of the options of what could be obscene as a way to find what is at ease.

    Cameron: An obscene circumstance. Does obscene have a personal meaning or is it a social meaning?

    Erin: I think it only has a personal meaning. I mean, yes there is a social meaning, but – let me look through your writing for a circumstance that you describe as obscene. For example, crumbs. Crumbs in your lap.

    Cameron: No, not obscene for me.

    Erin: So in that case, what would be?

    Cameron: There are two obscene things in “What if the dead are exactly like the living, only more benighted”. The piece doesn’t have a title yet, but that’s what I’ll call it. The setting for that – for this piece of writing is a table-tipping session which is a kind of séance, where you sit with a medium around a table and many people rest their hands on top of the table, and then the medium goes around the table, and if it was my turn, would say “Is there anybody for Cameron? Once for yes, twice for no.” And then the table would either tip towards me or away from me once or twice, and that would be like the spirit going through the medium tipping the table once for yes, twice for no.

    Erin: But the other people are tipping the table?

    Cameron: No, well, I mean the medium is doing it. It’s like a ouija board. “No one knows why it’s moving,” but there’s totally a person moving it –

    Erin: But you’re all playing along?

    Cameron: There’s no reason to assume it’s real or fake really except that it’s more interesting if you don’t care whether it’s real or fake. Whether the medium is an excellent con person or whether the medium is excellent at channeling the dead in some sort of way, that seems like a meaningless distinction to me. Let’s just say the table tips.

    Erin: And that’s just like being religious.

    Cameron: Yeah, or a fortune cookie or a horoscope. And in love. It’s more interesting to commit than to wander around equivocating. You never get interesting problems unless you commit, right?

    Erin: That’s wrong.

    Cameron: That’s wrong? Otherwise, everything happens around you. If you commit, then you actually happen to other things and other things happen to you.

    Erin: So would you say that it is obscene to have no commitments?

    Cameron: I would say that worse than having no commitments is having to commit to something that is truly awful. I think it’s certainly more interesting than having no commitments and so maybe there’s a redemptive aspect because of that, but I think it’s much more traumatic, because there’s no possibility of trauma without commitments. And so there are two traumatic things in this writing that are worse. Two things sort of worse than being dead. In this setting, the table-tipping – which is not the subject, but which is the setting – the dead person that comes through and then embraces is a molester and a pedarist, a child molester. So that’s obscene, especially because it’s a four-legged piece of furniture that is slumped in your lap.

    Erin: Though the feeling of a table in your lap is actually a comforting feeling.

    Cameron: Unless it’s a child molester table. But it’s not a table at that point. If you’re buying into it. And then the other obscene thing is this line, “There was a problem with the pregnancy, the baby didn’t make it. I can’t talk about it.” The line is from After Tiller, a documentary about late-term abortion, where a couple finds out their fetus has this incredibly rare birth defect, where its bones are not forming, and if it’s carried to term, all of its bones will break in the birth canal. They want a child, but they feel they can only morally abort this pregnancy, and so they ask the doctor what they should tell family members, and the doctor says, “Tell them that there’s a problem with the pregnancy, which is true. Tell them the baby didn’t make it, which is true, and tell them that you are not ready to talk about it, which is true. And that’s all they ever need to know.” There was no non-traumatic way of making a choice between two traumas. Those traumas are probably equal, but the mind balks so much at the equal sign – an equal symbol seems utterly abhorrent. To assume that things are equal seems abhorrent, because it’s non-commitment, because it’s death, because it’s a lack of choices. And so the equal symbol always seems illogical, that things could ever be commensurate. The equal sign is obscene.

    Erin: What is an at-ease circumstance then?

    Cameron: Oh, making pleasurable choices. Choosing one good thing over another good thing is immensely satisfying. Preferring Angel to Flowerbomb.

    Two individually but identically titled objects, installed in the Whitney Biennial: making water storage revolution making water storage revolution, both 2012, both poplar, paste wax, plaster wood filler, pencil on oil on canvas, oil on string, oil on organza, primed brass, primed steel, graphite and felt-tip pen on muslin, hardware, and hair. (left) 4.75 x 15 x 1 feet, (right) 4.75 x 2.5 x 1.5 feet.

     

     

     

    Top 5 Weekend Picks! (10/10-10/12)

    October 9, 2014 · Print This Article

    1. The Space Between at Northeastern Illinois University Fine Art Center Gallery

    Reblando_DaffodilHouse_2

    Work by Andrew Borowiec, Terry Evans, Juan Fernandez, Jason Reblando, Ross Sawyers, Chris Schedel, Greg Stimac, and Bob Thall.

    Northeastern Illinois University Fine Art Center Gallery is located at 5500 N. Saint Louis Ave. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.

    2. Innervated Alloy at Outhouse Gallery

    Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 2.29.58 PM

    Work by Ama Iromuanya and Alex Leasure.

    Outhouse Gallery is located 212 N. Sangamon St. Apt. 3B. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.

    3. Community Area One at Roman Susan

    Roman-Susan-Press-Release---Community-Area-One---October-10-to-October-30--2014---Preview-Image-Ruth-Hodgins---Granpastorms-1-copy_17_770

    Works by Paté Conaway and Whitney Bandel, Daniel Giles and Andrew Mausert-Mooney, Ruth Hodgins and Charles Rice, Steven Husby and Sarah Anne Lobb, Cole Pierce and Josué Pellot, Kit Rosenberg and Jameson Zaerr, and Nancy Lu Rosenheim.

    Roman Susan is located at 1224 W. Loyola Ave. Reception Friday, 7-9pm.

    4. Pits at Queer Thoughts

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    Work by Lucie Stahl.

    Queer Thoughts is located at 1640 W. 18th St. #3. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.

    5. American Relic at Beauty & Brawn Art Gallery and Think Space

    barn3-800x565

    Work by Lou Shields.

    Beauty & Brawn Art Gallery and Think Space is locate at 3501 W. Fullerton Ave. Reception Saturday, 6-10pm.

    Lives Well Lived: The People’s Biennial 2014

    October 8, 2014 · Print This Article

    The second installment of a curatorial project by Jens Hoffmann and Harrell Fletcher, the People’s Biennial 2014 takes a stronger approach to its mission than the first. In 2010, the idea was to highlight five cities in the US that are not art centers and showcase the work of artists working within contemporary art frameworks. This year, selected established artists from all over the US invited a creative person whom they personally know but are outside of the art world to collaborate on an installation within the refurbished Woodward Gallery of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. From a brilliant autistic child, to blind woodworker, activists, collectors and outsider artists, the exhibition highlights the value of individual expression, ability and passion of all humans, why that can be artistic and is beautiful as art. So a child’s imagination can be on the same playing field as a celebrated photographer, just as an upholsterer can be exhibited nearby the 2011 Venice Biennale’s US artists.

    "The Neckanite" by Carson Ellis and Hank Meloy

    “The Neckanite” by Carson Ellis and Hank Meloy

     

    Each collaboration is framed by a simple wood shed painted a solid color, equalizing all that is within. Drawings of the duo or collaborative by Studio Stripe accompanies some biographic info and an interview or introduction to the lesser known’s work. The collaborations vary, but in most cases, the established artist tends to take a back seat, marveling at the non artist or marginalized artist’s creative process.

     

    Photograph of Xav Leplae

    Photograph of Xav Leplae

    Scott Reeder and Xav Lepae create a playful booth that evokes a bit of Gary Panter and Wayne White while showcasing the 24/7 radio station Lepae runs. Lee Walton & Harriet Hoover lovingly tell the story of Mr Coppers, a caring man who runs a small upholstery business. The resulting display augments the rich life that he has. Cary Loren and Jimbo Easter, having collaborated before, create a seamless installation that relishes in underwhelming Halloween effects, primitive paper mache and abject piles of junk as pen and ink drawings cover the walls. Dara Friedman chronicles Ishmael Golden Eagle, an amateur archeologist, who serendipitously discovered a significant spiritual well in LA, and whose dedication to preserving it is heroic.

     

    Mounting an exhibition of non artists collaborating with established artists will likely yield different results, and not all of them may be visually engaging. This proves to be the exhibition’s only shortcomings, and as it is somewhat expected due to the nature of the exhibition, is minor. Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla and Robert Rabin’s work, as well as Hank Willis Thomas and Baz Dreisinger’s collaborations suffer from this condition; the latter of each group’s direct activism visually nullified by bland documentation. Some stories are not easily translated visually, especially within regimented structures, but it appears to be through the fault of the established artists collaborating that this has happened.


    Opening up dialogue not just about what is art, but what is artful, the exhibition gives equal weight to the pursuits of non artists and marginalized artists. What may draw us to the show are the names of Alec Soth, Cary Loren or Dara Friedman, but what keeps us there is Jimbo Easter, Ishmael Golden Eagle and Mr Coppers. A simple, beautiful message about civilized life, where everyone is equal, every vision is unique and everyone has a story to be told. What we are left with is a more inclusive and open proposal for what the contemporary art world could be.

     

    The People’s Biennial is co-curated by Jens Hoffmann and Harrell Fletcher and is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MoCAD) from September 12, 2014 – January 4, 2015.

    An Introduction to Relational Aesthetics and Social Practice

    October 7, 2014 · Print This Article

    By the title of this essay I imply not that I am providing an introduction to this topic, for the uninitiated, from the perspective of experience.  Rather, I intend to share the experience of my own introduction to this topic, in preparation for a course I will be teaching next semester.  Prior to beginning my research, I posed the following question to my Facebook friends; their responses follow.

    Explain “relational aesthetics/social practice,” using only common language (no artspeak), and without bringing up Thai food. Go.

    Jay Gallegos: Practical collaborative participation. It’s more like Ethiopian food.

    Casey McGonagle: Do regular stuff, only it’s art.

    Randall Szott: Art for artists inspired by Martha Stewart.

    Chloë Rayson: One mans trash is understood by another man to be treasure

    Richard Holland: Sometimes people make shit up.

    Jennifer Reeder: Block party fantasy camp.

    Albert Stabler: Making a blog about an ethically-motivated garage sale.

    Randall Szott: Wait, that cuts a little too close to home there buddy.

    Sherelle Castro: The kind that comes with cats and batteries.

    Anne Harris: I have no idea. And I’m actually about to eat Thai food. Imagine that.

    Kevin Freitas: Bullshit

    Meg Duguid: The composition of moments and actions that shed light on a concept. You should be able to talk about this work like one might a painting or a composed photo, composition, movement, content. There should be a broad exposure to multiple practices from Mierle Ukeles, Mary Miss, Maya Linn, to Gordon Marta Clark and Rick Lowe. There should be a range of politically overt and implicit politic. I actually think that you could leave politics out all together and look at some of the work of the Judson Dance Group and some of Kaprow’s late performance work. I would liken some of it to the idea of found object as it is found motion.

    Robert C. Anderson: Verbal self-abuse.

    Mike Malorin: Peanut sauce… Dammit!

    Kevin Freitas: Soup kitchen

    Sarah Kaiser: compare visual stuff to the rest of the world

    Michael Mlekowski: Stuff you look at and if it’s any good you get to take a free sample home!

    Diana Dorwin: The importance of the object or action isn’t determined by the artist, or the individual viewing the artwork, but the viewing community as a whole.

    Grub Fay: some young art student goes to a party where everyone is having a good time, and starts yelling, “look at us, we’re all art!” and of course makes the party less good, and ruins the art.

    From this hyper-informal survey, it seemed that among my friends, many were not disposed to take the topic seriously:  not only in the humorous, playful responses to my question, but in their attitudes towards relational aesthetics as a serious practice.  Others recognized its legitimacy, and a few (e.g. Meg Duguid) spoke from firsthand experience working in this genre.

    I’ll admit some past skepticism towards relational aesthetics; my perspective (thought not so eloquently phrased) echoed Casey McGonagle’s:  “Do regular stuff, only it’s art.”  I decided that I owed it to myself to learn more about the topic, to at least add some nuance to my skepticism and hopefully gain a greater appreciation for it.  To this end, I volunteered to teach a course on Relational Aesthetics next semester (Spring 2015), and began research in preparation for this.  The following essay is a summary of my initial readings.

    The phrases “relational aesthetics,” “relational art,” and “social practice” have becoming increasingly common in the art world since the late 1990s, while their exact meaning continues to elude many of those not directly involved in this field. In order to study this aspect of art, we need to understand exactly what it is that we are talking about.

    French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud defined the approach in 1998 in his book Esthétique relationnelle (Relational Aesthetics), calling it “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.” He had coined the phrase two years earlier in the catalogue for the exhibition Traffic, curated by Bourriaud, at CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux.

    Relational aesthetics, then, can be understood as a way of looking at things, as a guiding principle, and as an approach to artmaking. An artwork can be considered “relational art” if it is essentially based on social interaction. In this way relational aesthetics is very different from traditional art forms such as drawing, painting, sculpture, and photography, which are defined by the physical materials and tools used in their production. Relational aesthetics may be more similar to a movement, such as Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, etc. Writer and director Ben Lewis finds many similarities between relational art and earlier “ism”s at their beginnings: relational art is often not considered art at all because it redefines the concept of art, many artists considered “relational” deny that they are such and relational art had a “founding” exhibition.

    Since relational aesthetics is not defined by a single medium, it follows that relational art can be made in any media. And certainly, examples of relational art can be found in a wide range of media. However, certain media lend themselves to relational aesthetics. In particular, the best-known examples of relational art often exist as a subset of performance art. The poster child for relational aesthetics has always been Rirkit Tiravanija, and his best-known series bears a close resemblance to performance. Beginning with Pad Thai (1990) at the Paula Allen Gallery in New York, Tiravanija cooked and served the exhibition’s eponymous food for gallery visitors. The difference between this form of relational art and other types of performance is that in most performance art, the artist’s actions are the essence of the work; in relational art of this type, the essence of the work lies in the interaction between the audience and the artist. Cooking Thai food could be a performance; serving it to visitors moves it into the realm of relational aesthetics.

    Other forms of relational art more closely resemble sculptures or installations. Some of Tiravanija’s works resemble installations, albeit installations inviting viewer interaction. One example, from Traffic (relational aesthetic’s seminal exhibition) was described in Frieze magazine: “‘Traffic’ predictably included the model practitioner of this kind of art – Rirkrit Tiravanija. Around the second floor viewing gallery he provided simple, user-friendly arrangements of tables and chairs made from brown packaging cardboard, each with a free mini-bar of red wine and mineral water.”

    However, the clearest example of the sculpture/installation model of relational art is Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Nearly all of his work consists in some way of objects arranged in a space. Some, such as his stacks of printed posters and his piles of candy, invite viewers to take one of the component pieces home with them. In Relational Aesthetics, Nicolas Bourriaud describes the problem posed by these takeaways:

    One is allowed to take one of the posters away with him/her. But what happens if lots of visitors walk off in turn with these sheets of paper offered to an abstract public? What process would cause the piece to change and then vanish? For this work did not involve a “Performance”, or a poster hand-out, but a work endowed with a defined form and a certain density, a work not displaying its construction (or dismantlement) process, but the form of its presence amid an audience [italics original].”

    This problem is more a theoretical one than a practical issue; the medium of the work itself is described in this case as “Offset print on paper, endless copies.” The museum, gallery, or collector would simply order more copies of the poster made, and replenish the stack. Similarly, the piles of candy are replenished from commercial sources. The issue is not one of logistics, but rather of the interaction, via the artwork, between the artist and the viewer, who becomes a complicit participant in its creation. This is what places the work within the realm of relational art.

    Gift-giving is only one possible mode of social interaction of course, and yet relational aesthetics often carries with it a presumption of generosity. Another mode is communication, often the transmission of information or the teaching of a skill. I think now of Hui-Min Tsen’s walking tour of Chicago’s Pedway. [http://chicagopedwaytour.com/Home.html] Tsen guides participants on a walking tour of this underground route through the city, a form of casual urban exploration, a better way of getting to know the place.

    My wife Stephanie Burke and I created several artworks which, though we didn’t necessarily use the term at the time, are in hindsight relational in nature. In one series, called Shooting With Artists, we took Chicago-based artists to a shooting range in Indiana to shoot guns. For many, this was their first time shooting a gun, and their first exposure to “gun culture.” We thought this was interesting because art culture and gun culture generally never meet; they are seen as polar opposites politically and socially. The exceptions to these, where these cultures overlap, become nuanced and unexpected. These trips were documented with video and still photos, but the works themselves were essentially relational.

    Another project, which was Stephanie’s concept, was called “Snow Coffee.” In our neighborhood (as in much of Chicago), people would claim “dibs” on a parking space that they had (ostensibly) shoveled clear of snow, marking it as their own private parking space with various items, most often patio furniture. Playfully interacting with this contentious practice, we would put on our bathrobes and take a carafe of coffee to enjoy while sitting in these impromptu cafes, consisting of no more than a pair of lawn chairs in a snow-free parking space on the side of the street. Eventually, following the epic snowstorm remembered as “Snowmageddon,” Stephanie spent the better part of a day digging our Jeep out of the snow. When we left the parking space thus created, we “claimed” it with two chairs and a card table, complete with tablecloth and a vase of flowers.

    This essay documents the beginning stages of my research into relational art and social practice, in preparation for a course I am teaching next semester at Northern Arizona University. This research will continue until and throughout the Spring 2015 semester. Feedback is welcome; contact me through Facebook (Jeriah Hildine) or at jeriah (dot) hildwine (at) gmail (dot) com.