Mall Squatters, Word Hijackers and Life Hackers at Gallery 400

September 21, 2009 · Print This Article

Michael Ruglio-Misurell, Project #12.

Michael Ruglio-Misurell, Project #12.

On the surface, you wouldn’t necessarily think that a fake shopping mall disaster area courtesy of Michael Ruglio-Misurell, a somewhat spare solo show of text-based drawings by Kay Rosen, and a rotating group video program addressing the subject of individual artistic agency would have so much to say to one another. Yet in many ways, the accrual of meaning from one show to the next makes Gallery 400’s current exhibition lineup work even better as a whole than each show does separately. All three exhibitions in one way or another address the making and unmaking of worlds, whether by choice or consequence. Ruglio-Misurell’s Project #12 is an all-encompassing environment of found junk put together in a manner that evokes a shopping mall eatery that’s been abandoned by consumers and taken over by squatters. Evidence of human efforts to make this disaster zone habitable, if not functional, abounds. Amidst the rubble, there are signs of human intervention and pathetic forms of “making do”: a makeshift tent/sleeping area, plastic trays linked together to form temporary walls and, perhaps, zones of privacy. Who is making use of the food court? Vagrants? Crackheads? Teenagers looking for a covert place to fuck?

To be sure, Project #12 evokes a certain economic timeliness, given the U.S.’ current climate of consumer reticence coupled with the whole dead mall phenomenon. Recalling the sculpted chaos of Tomoko Takahashi’s or Jason Rhodes‘ discard landscapes and perhaps to some degree Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe’s more recent Black Acid Co-Op crack-den environment at Deitch Projects,  Ruglio-Misurell’s installation speaks to the uses to which people put “dead” commercial spaces after the latter’s primary functions have been economically effaced.  Yet one would be hard-pressed to find anything joyful, much less Utopian,  in Ruglio-Misurell’s apocalyptic vision, despite those discrete moments of sculptural clarity that the artist inserts into the chaos. No, Project #12 evokes the desperation of Katrina-like scenarios, where individuals, abandoned by the State in one form or another, are left to rot in their own filth and fend entirely for themselves.

Michael Ruglio-Misurell, Project #12

Michael Ruglio-Misurell, Project #12

Michael Ruglio-Misurell, Project #12.

Michael Ruglio-Misurell, Project #12.

In contrast to the in-your-face spectacle of Ruglio-Misurell’s disaster zone, Kay Rosen’s show is quiet and almost withdrawn (for this artist, anyway, whose text paintings can be billboard-bold in their effects). The walls are sparsely hung, the show consisting of a rarely-seen video shown on a small flat screen monitor, a collection of collage pieces housed in a glass vitrine, another smallish collage and a collection of altered book covers from mystery writer Sue Grafton’s bestselling Alphabet Mysteries in which letters spelling out the word ‘hijacked’ have been excised.

Kay Rosen at Gallery 400

Kay Rosen at Gallery 400

Kay Rosen, I Left Right in the Middle

Kay Rosen, I Left Right in the Middle

Rosen’s sly wordplay is always a delight to engage, especially when she makes you work at getting the joke. (I’m embarrassed to admit I still haven’t figured out how the missing letters from her Hijacked collage actually spell out the word “hijacked,” though I’m sure it’s staring me right in the face). The works chosen for this show are meant to provide material for a fall drawing class at UIC led by Julia Fish that explores the play between text and image, which, of course, is Rosen’s specialty. The works here are small in scale and unflashy, emphasizing the readerly aspects of Rosen’s approach over her (often less engaging) descents into one-liner territory (as in works like this one, a postcard piece which isn’t in this exhibition).

Rosen’s work is quite literally about reading between the lines, and its filled with sweet little epiphanies for word-nerds like myself. Yet Rosen’s work goes beyond those little moments to say something much larger about the role of language in shaping our world. We don’t have to search far and wide for alternatives to the status quo, her works seem to argue. They’re already there, everywhere around us, we just need to be willing take a few liberties with the governing text –  “small shifts in perception,” as Anthony Elms puts it in his essay on Rosen’s show — to see the way out.

I visited all of these shows twice, both times on a Friday, the day when Andrea Zittel’s “Little Liberties” is the featured video (other artists in the video program include Phyllis Baldino, Alex Hubbard, Glenn Ligon and Patricia Esquivias). No doubt the juxtaposition of Zittel’s work with the others colored my impression of the three shows’ overall coherency, but I suspect that, given the video program’s overarching focus on artistic agency, any of the other rotating works would have resonated with the nearby shows in equally eye-opening ways. I’ve seen numerous examples of Zittel’s “designs for living” before, but  always in museum or gallery settings that frankly tended to kill much of their impact for me. All of Zittel’s work is geared towards the goal of self-sufficiency via the design, fabrication and use of structures, systems and practices that bypass or simply slip through the cracks of dominant systems. To the extent that it’s possible, Zittel tries to live “off the grid,” and “Small Liberties,” a video that takes the form of a textually narrated slideshow, provides a rather straightforward introduction to Zitttel’s work and the ideas about sustainability and independence that guide her practice.

Andrea Zittel, still from Small Liberties

Andrea Zittel, still from Small Liberties

It’s a silent piece, consisting of a series of photographs and short narrative vignettes about the people who have purchased Zittel’s A-Z Wagon Stations — custom built units that are a cross between a covered wagon and an air stream trailer for those seeking a space of contemplation and creativity that’s entirely their own.

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The idea of  “small liberties” neatly encapsulates the essential pragmatism that characterizes Zittel’s approach to everyday life and to social change. It’s not radical with a capital R (though it must certainly look peculiar to some)–it’s more of an incremental, “little r” radicalism that seeks not to coerce or co-opt opinion but simply to be left to one’s own devices. Whereas I imagine the invisible inhabitants of Ruglio-Misurell’s trashed food court are there because they have nowhere else to go–the State, as it were, has abandoned them — Zittel’s community of A-Z Wagoneers are bucking the system by choice. They want to carve out a space where the State leaves them pretty much alone (or at least, that’s the stance they are affecting). If this trio of shows works on you in the way they did me, you’ll leave slightly more convinced that these small moments of resistance are in fact where some of our most powerful choices lie.

Friday’s Twitter Roundup | 9.18.08

September 18, 2009 · Print This Article

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Glitch: Designing Imperfection

This week’s roundup is short and sweet. We checked out info on the forthcoming book Glitch: Designing Imperfections, A video about gay scientists locating the Christian gene, and Miranda July Pillowcases. Make sure to check out our twitter page for updates on my trip to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis to see the show “The Quick and the Dead” this weekend.

@KnightLAT attempts to explains Glenn Beck’s art criticism.

RT AiANews Obama appoints some big names to the Committee on Arts and Humanities to aid private investment in the arts. 

Glitch: Designing Imperfections A book on Glitch Art and Design Aesthetics  via @Postfamily

RT @heyhotshot If you’re in Chicago this evening, head to @gallery400 tonight for a public lecture by Brian Ulrich

Call for Proposals for Proximity issue #6.

RT @kemperartmuseum new podcast featuring st louis visual arts, with a new episode about chance aesthetics; details

A conversation between Barbara Kruger and Richard Prince. 

RT @hragv Gay Scientists Isolate Christian Gene (YouTube)

The New Museum is now offering Miranda July pillowcases.

Entire City Rendered In 3D Using Nothing But Flickr Photos

September 18, 2009 · Print This Article

What was Archimedes famous quote? “Give me a place to stand to take enough photos and I can map the world” no but he might have

University of Washington’s Graphics and Imaging Laboratory, the researchers who built a lot of the code that went into the original Microsoft Photosynth software, have devised new algorithms that take the existing ability to create a rough 3d map from multiple photos up by a order of magnitude. Now it not only can do basic depth perception and skinning with photos but create pinpoint 3d skeletons if given enough data to pull from. The uses and implications of this are vast.

We just need to use the v1.0 and start rendering gallery openings in 3d :)

Artist Tania Bruguera Causes Controversy With “Cocaine Performance”

September 18, 2009 · Print This Article

Artnet News reported yesterday on the controversy kicked up by Cuban artist (and University of Chicago faculty member) Tania Bruguera, whose performance on Aug. 27 at the Facultad de Bellas Artes at the Universidad Nacional de Columbia in Bogota caused an uproar. As part of a larger piece dealing with Columbian history and politics, Bruguera offered lines of cocaine to her audience, some of whom took the bait and consumed what turned out to be authentic (and, apparently, “good stuff” according to those audience member who partook). Here’s an excerpt from Artnet’s story:

Bruguera’s performance, which took place on Aug. 27 at an auditorium of the Facultad de Bellas Artes at the Universidad Nacional, drew enough of a crowd that it was transmitted outside to spectators via a large screen. According to various accounts, it began with three figures — representing, the artist said, a right-wing paramilitary fighter, a left-wing guerrilla and a refugee displaced by the long-running conflict in Colombia — all speaking simultaneously into a microphone. However, whatever they were trying to communicate was overshadowed when the second part of the show began, with an assistant wading into the crowd carrying a tray laden with lines of coke, presenting it for the audience’s consumption.

Reactions at the time were mixed. According to a student who was present, writing in El Tiempo, at first the event was assumed to be a joke, until several members tested the drug, and proclaimed it to be “good stuff.” At this point, some spectators joined the festivities, and others walked out (mainly the older crowd seated up front, El Tiempo’s correspondent says). Some audience members warned those who were doing the drugs that they were participating in illegal activity, while others continued to try and watch the stage action. Following the commotion, Bruguera herself took the stage, thanking her Colombian audience and exiting. And according to reports, the police were called.

Artnet also links to a YouTube clip of Bruguera responding to critics at a panel after the performance, which I’m including directly below for you Spanish speakers and body-language readers. The clip shows an angry audience member who, according to Artnet, describes herself as an “activist, journalist, artist and direct victim of the violence” and vehemently criticizes the piece for its superficiality.

Bruguera was part of the MCA Chicago’s “Diversity and Contemporary Art” panel that took place a few weeks ago on September 9th. I wasn’t able to make it – but I’m curious if this particular performance was brought up at all during the discussion. Did any of you reading this attend? For that matter, if you happened to have been present at Bruguera’s performance in Columbia, by all means let us know what you thought of it in the comments. We’re trying to reach Ms. Bruguera directly to get the artists’ side of the story, and will keep you posted.

Doug Ischar’s Marginal Waters @ GOLDEN

September 18, 2009 · Print This Article

Marginal Waters at GOLDEN in Chicago exhibits 13 of the works in the series by Doug Ischar. The backdrop of Chicago’s own Belmont Rocks, since destroyed, sets the stage for the documentation of gay men in the 1980s.

The first room in the impeccable space presents three large framed photographs. The titles of the images are sterile and indexical, simply numbered. MW 19 (1985), the first piece I confronted, is a portrait of a scattered group of men, sunning on the rocks by the water. Two men are standing close, just of the verge between friendship close and intimately close, and there are men stretched out sunning on towels.  Besides the incredibly dense colors, there is something about all of the photographs that is so captivating; the latent sexual desire rubbing up against the innocence of an afternoon in the sun. The subtle hand on the thigh, the peak of underwear beneath impossibly short shorts, the glint of a nipple ring, or connection between two bodies that speaks to the audacity of a normally closeted culture behaving freely in a public arena, almost like  Sunday In the Park on poppers.

The dual landscape of bodies and the rocks was elegantly captured in MW 22 (1985), a portrait of two men embracing on the ground. The curve of the shoulder, knee, seem to act as an extension of the terrain. Also in this image is a lone can of Miller High Life, just one of the many cultural artifacts that look planted in the compositions. Other images include a Diane Arbus book, a Vanity Fair, walkmans (walkmen?), and many ten speed bicycles. There is a subtle illicit implication to the images, an innuendo of illegality.

This feeling of “getting away with something”, as opposed to just being or doing is represented extremely well in the one video piece in the show, Forget Him (2009). This single channel video is extremely compelling and layered. Silent footage found by the artist in a Chicago area flea market in 1990, originally shot in the 1960s, is kept in its entirety with only the playback speeds altered. Ishcar adds captions of Walter Benjamin’s One Way Street, as well as a beautiful section from Heirich Schultz’s Symphoniae Sacrae (1629) . This video serves as a present day reflection on the project from the 80s. It begins with footage of a backyard flower garden, has spaces of blank footage with dust and scratches, and then segments of two men at the rocks. The men are changing, one taking off his pants and donning a jock strap, the other removing his fishnet shirt and khakis and dressing in the tightest shorts you have ever seen, struggling to zip them up. The whole time they are looking around, and the gaze of the camera catches passersby in the distance. This seems like a getting ready ritual that would contemporarily be done in the home, to get ready for a club, but takes place in the open space of the Belmont Rocks.  The word from the text, “lovesick, sick, sick”, echo on the screen, seeming to allude to the previously believed “illness” of homosexuality, as well as the consciousness of the AIDS epidemic.

The gallery itself, located in a classic Chicago graystone in Boystown, (apparently one of the first officially recognized “gay villages” in the United States) is incredibly appropriate, adding to the sense of history and urgency of preservation felt in the show. There was also a neatness to the images that worked extremely well in the historic yet well-groomed space. Jacob Meehan, director of GOLDEN, says that many of the neighborhood homos who showed up for the opening this past weekend actually thanked him for showing the work, and reminisced over the images. I think that this show is a great way to begin the year, and to make a meaningful connection with the community.

There is going to be a catalog for Marginal Waters, which will include all 26 of the images in the series as well as text by David Getsy, Steve Reinke and an interview with John Neff. The exhibition has been extended and there will be a closing and catalog release reception, the dates of which will be posted on the website.