Work by Melika Bass.
Hyde Park Art Center is located at 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Reception Sunday, 3-5pm.
Work by Harun Farocki and Trevor Paglen.
Gallery 400 is located at 400 S. Peoria St. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.
Work by Alberto Aguilar.
Kitchen Space is located at 2716 N. Monticello Ave. #1F. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.
Work by Nick Bastis.
Regards Gallery is located at 2216 W. Chicago Ave. Reception Saturday, 4-7pm.
Work by Lali Foster.
Born Nude is located at 1711 S. Halsted St. #2. Reception Saturday, 6-9pm.
When reporting has become about shock, ratings and theatrics, and less about accurately and responsibly relaying news, reports like Steven Emerson’s completely fictitious account of “no-go zones” are able to air as solid facts. Fortunately, since it was on Fox, no one with any intelligence believed it to be true, and it was derided immediately by the public. News dispersal is political, but how we filter it is by choice, accepting one view while ignoring others that conflict.
“The News” is a product which sells us ideologies and cars. It defines who we vote for and if the vote counted or not. It gets us angry, even violent, because it is the best theater America has offered the world to date. It is on the level of Shakespeare, NOT because of its eloquence or quick wit, but through its spin and ability to reach every public as if it is speaking directly to YOU, you red-blooded, hard-working freedom-loving educated and compassionate American. YOU, who are able to see the beauty of this land and defend its love of freedom, no matter how flawed, and understand that buying an assload of shit made in China at Christmas is what fuels our country. That our cars run on a full tank of freedom, and our Flag doesn’t run on anything, because them colors don’t run. Even if we only watch the news as a comedy show (cause network news is), we still get this shit filtered into our brains, flossing out logical thoughts with a steady stream of ticker tape spouting useless stock numbers and baseball scores, and real human lives lost compressed down to a number, marching along in the same rhythm of what Miley did what now.
The deprofessionalization of the news is such that even if you understand that a particular source is horribly skewed and the hateful vitriol can’t be trusted, you still have the idea in your head. Abstraction from false facts create an image of the world that is as limited as our own vision. More than limited, as we can’t see how much we are missing; we can only see certain colors or waves.
Real life must correspond with OUR vision, otherwise we contest it, fight it, protest it, bomb it, we shut them down, we come out on top, or our vision is taken under. More and more ideas get posted and reposted, linked and tagged to stay alive, climbing to the top of a neverending avalanche of information. In the end, the most popular will survive, which of course, may be the least truthful and most biased version. “Facts” become as self aware as a 17 year old using social media, as if they can see themselves in the mirror, thinking what to change, how they are perceived. To know something to be true is to see it played back to us. Since telecommunications have anchored its dick in the soil of the “greatest, best country God has ever given man on the face of the earth”, we have been engaged in seeing ourselves act, do and live through the screen. This delayed portrayal may offer us viewpoints which we couldn’t see in the moment, such as our physical selves as an other, instead of a disembodied entity we normally experience things as, and it may even show facts that have been ignored willfully or accidentally. Shit gets lost in the mix. The Bible was a delayed news source a few decades, and was altered for centuries after that. What happens is we become locked in an endless loop with our own image, the image of humans. Segregate it anyway you want it to make it an “us vs. them” situation, it still puts You on top, and why shouldn’t it?
This loop, or feedback, as David Joselit calls it, responds as any reflection or copy does — it degrades more and more, every time it is recopied. Information gets subject to other advertisements, commentary; things are gleamed and obliterated to tell a different story.
As we take more and more selfies, our food “takes” selfies and our cats “take” selfies, and this crap thats not meant to have any life to it, just a response to boredom, or not having enough attention paid to you goes out there, with all the Fox and MSNBC shit, CNN and the Onion, weightloss tips and 13 celebrities with the best fake breasts and 7 best life hacks and this suburban mom just learned that you, yes, YOU are a goddamned asshole with too much privilege to be meaningful, but not enough to be powerful, and what he did next will shock you click bait bullshit. It flashes at us as we scroll, trying more and more to grab our attention. There is too much crap smacking us in the face, so that the real news that happens seems less and less like news, just more trash to bury under a steady stream of garbage. We’ll post even more insipid crap to the interspace, a web of digital garbage that rivals the physical landfills, creating an alter universe. These images and content become creations of ours, abstractions of reality. It seems as though there is less interest in knowing what is actually happening the world than creating or defining it ourselves, no matter how painfully egoist or mundane it is. Standing in the way of spectacle just won’t do.
Thanks to Jessi Patuano for the conversation, to Emily Gustafson for the inspiration, and to Dana Bassett, Caroline Picard, Jamilee Polson Lacy, Claudine Ise, Duncan MacKenzie and Richard Holland for the chance. Thanks also to Sarah Margolis-Pineo for getting the conversation started. Thank You.
Guest post by Lise Haller Baggesen.
Jetlag is the Devil’s work!
Or is it a First World problem?
First World problems are the Devil’s work and jetlag is the hands-on reminder that in this day and age it is never really enough, if at all possible, to be in one place at a time, when you can be all over the place.
A yuletide melt-down with your sister will tie you down claustrophobically to the here-and-now, where this house (or indeed country) is not big enough for the two of you, and have you gasping for a breath of fresh air. Luckily, on this crisp boxing-day morning, your muddy Heimat was transformed to a magical winter-wonderland, located somewhere between a secular Caspar David Friedrich and a Thomas Kinkade you can believe in. You are here now. On a cross-country train-trip with the seats across the aisle from yours occupied by a middle-aged couple with Down’s syndrome. She is wearing a sequined sweatshirt with leopard motif very similar to something you recently saw in Kenzo’s fall collection online, and he is the voice of reason as he is giving commentary on the trip:
It is really cold, it is freezing –it is below freezing. Look at the trees outside, aren’t they pretty? Look how it is hanging from the trees. It was a good enough Christmas, good food. It was lovely, but now I am tired. You must be tired too, you should rest; we had an early start and we will be there soon enough. Just rest now. Isn’t it nice?
With this buildup, Olafur Eliasson’s Riverbed, at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (in Humlebæk just north of Copenhagen) cannot but disappoint –and yet it does. Traversing through the entire south wing of the museum, Eliasson walks 10.000 men, women and children all the way to the top of the hill and all the way down again. And when they were up they were up, and when they were down they were down, and when they were halfway up they were neither up nor down.
In real time, this hotly anticipated merger of nature as culture and culture as nature, of museum mystique and Iceland experience (or vice versa) is like Kate Moss up close: sexy and photogenic, but ultimately too thin and too shallow and too readily commercialized –the perfect extension or backdrop to the vastly expansive collection of sleek Scandinavian design objects in the museum shop. Nordic Light as commodity.
In another part of the exhibition we are given the illusion of a behind-the scenes look. Here, Atelier Eliasson’s geometrical models are laid out in tasteful abundance; hexagons and dodecahedrons, spheres and pyramids in various stages and finishes are bathed in amber light, to theatrical effect.
As we admire the display, my long time friend Lars (the sweet Swede) conspiratorially whispers in my ear an anecdote of how Eliasson politely declined the proposed budget for a project for AROS (Museum of Contemporary Art in Aarhus); this super model does not get out of bed for 2 million kroner!
Eliasson instead suggested they called him back when they got together the funds for a rainbow panorama on the roof…which they did and the results were truly double-rainbow-all-the-way-across-the-sky motherflippin’ awesome – and this off course both is and isn’t why we are here today—we want more!
Still it is smugly satisfactory to see how Eliasson is cut down to size in the museum’s Kids Corner. Here glue guns, paper cones, and wooden sticks are lined up for one and all to create their own Eliasson for the Christmas tree, like the workshop of a scientifically ambitious Santa.
In summary, the exhibition does exactly what it says on the box; yes, it radically alters your experience of the museum’s architecture and yes, it ambitiously challenges the museum as site and brings it back to its original narrative as a walk in the park. But paradoxically, there is nothing you can learn here you couldn’t have learned from the privacy of your own home, experiencing the work second- or third-hand. There is no song of your self to be sung on this stage –only Eliasson’s boastful, tinny earworm of the artist as brand.
How different and deep in contrast it is to leave the Riverbed and delve into the nether regions of the museum; a subterranean catacomb, which—for a moment that lets forever be—is transformed into a life-affirming mausoleum containing the oeuvre of Paula Modersohn-Becker.
Everything is right here; from early academic studies—some a little heavy-handed or earnestly clumsy, others almost a caricature –to the self-assured work of a grown woman who has found her place in the world. These were unfortunately to be her last, as she died from an embolism at the tender age of 31, less than 3 weeks after having given birth to her first child, a daughter. A tragedy, and all the more so as this was a life event she had both anticipated and preemptively celebrated in her body of work. But let us not skip to the end quite yet.
At 16, she writes to her parents from England, about the St. John’s Wood Art School: “I shall have lessons there every day from ten until four. At first, I shall be only drawing, beginning with very simple arabesques and other designs. If I progress, then I shall make charcoal sketches after Greek plaster casts […] If I advance further, I shall begin drawing and painting from live models.”
With this simple program she sets herself a task, which she follows trough with devotion and bravura. Modersohn-Becker’s lifework, as a fully equal member of the artist’s colony in Worpswede, is remarkable in more ways than one. Her traveling to Paris on the New Years night between 1899 and 1900, her pioneer work as the first female artist to paint the female nude (including several nude self portraits), and her untimely death, is the stuff of myths.
But more impressive is the work itself. Not for its monumental scale or dazzling visual effects: the formats she administers are modest and never larger than life. Her palette is muddy as the northern European landscape from which most of them hail, and her brushstroke fat and fuzzy as if she is almost sculpting her paintings rather than painting them – or perhaps just pulling them out of the clay and pushing them back in – in one simple, matter-of-fact, gesture.
The self-portraits –though both peculiar and provocative in their time—are showing her neither as whore, nor holy. She is simply there, present, with her mental and bodily functions intact and fully alive. An important source of inspiration is Egyptian mummy portraits, which she studied in the Louvre and whose oblong format and frontal view she often employs—as if to remind us that in the midst of death we are alive. A longish amber necklace with large oval beads is a recurring motif that she paints in the same impasto ochre as the flat circular disk of her own iris, because they are both part of the same eternity. In painting after painting, her fat, terse, brushstrokes drag and push our own eyeballs around, as we follow their trail across the barren canvas and her own gaze as she travels across Europe.
She paints women and children first, not unsentimentally –because what would be the point of that? — But with no false modesty either: unflinchingly and always at eye level. Suckling babies find the teat with the unwavering conviction of instinct and all is in the world.
With her willing- and able- bodied being in and of this worldly world –a worldliness that combines the two meanings of the word and is both cosmopolitan and sophisticated as well as concerned with the earthly, terrestrial and mundane repetitiveness of this mortal coil— Paula Modersohn-Becher’s life work is not only the perfect antidote to the spectacle of Eliasson’s five-minutes-in-Iceland, but also to our jet-lagged existence. It is a poignant reminder that wherever you go there you are and you take yourself with you. Nowhere else but right here and right now could you get over yourself and make right by your sister, or could you be eye to eye with an amber oval disk that is both a smear of ochre paint and at gateway to your soul.
Lise Haller Baggesen left her native Denmark in 1992 to study painting in the Netherlands. In 2008 she relocated to Chicago with her family. In the meantime, her work evolved from a traditional painting practice toward a hybrid practice including curating, writing and immersive multimedia installation work. Her first book “Mothernism” was published by Poor Farm Press and Green Lantern Press in 2014.
This month I turn to Hilton Als, a novelist, theater critic at The New Yorker since 2002, and arts writer who most recently contributed to Robert Gober’s MoMA museum catalogue with his essay I Don’t Remember.
Novels, reviews, essays – all writings form his arc. Hilton continually negotiates cultural production, both in his blog Et Als and commissioned essays, as well as in his novels that are likewise autobiographical renderings of lived encounters. Writings end with a lasting impression of Hilton’s voice, imagining that writings could hold the lasting impression of a face, bold-faced. In his most recent collection of essays White Girls, published in 2013, a page and a half long sentence begins, “I was an I, an opera of feeling with a very small audience…” about an early time in his writing career a couple of decades ago.
This beginning clause “I was an I” led me to ask Hilton about how he began writing, continues to write, since the time, and in the current time of “I was an I”.
Erin: As a theater reviewer for The New Yorker, how does the process of reviewing theatrical performances inform your structuring of written narratives?
Hilton: I think I understand your question. I never think of writing as a “narrative.” At first it’s just words that are in my head that demand I put them down – in some kind of order, hopefully, that will make some kind of sense – eventually. I think my love of writing begins with my love of writing, and it can really be prompted by anything – a walk in the park, a drink with a friend, theater. I’m greedy for experience and that’s what writing grows out of, really – experience, how the mind and heart respond to a given situation.
Erin: You were a student in Columbia University’s art history program, during which time, you realized that you were a writer. Or, as you wrote in a later commencement speech at Columbia, “It didn’t take Elaine and Ken long to suss out that I wasn’t an academic, I was a writer.” After graduating, did you begin writing autobiographically driven non-fiction, or did you first begin writing pieces of cultural criticism? Did one kind of writing facilitate the other?
Hilton: I never really thought of myself as a “cultural critic.” I was just trying to figure out how to make a living! I was always interested in art history and worked in the department’s office at Barnard. I was a terrible secretary since I spent most of my time writing my own stuff and not answering the phone if I didn’t feel like it and just waiting for pay day. But it did teach me that I wasn’t really cut out for a standard office job – I had to figure out what to do. I got a job at The Village Voice off the job board at Columbia. While at The Voice I worked as an assistant in the art department, and I started doing layouts eventually, and then I started writing for Erika Munk, who edited the theater section. So, it was all a question of staying open to experience and knowing what I DIDN’T want to do, or wasn’t good at.
Erin: Can you say something about the nature of other people first recognizing your talent?
Hilton: Have they! Ha! I’ve been fortunate in that regard and must thank Owen Dodson, Ian Frazier, Kenneth E. Silver, and various teachers, like Jeffrey Waingrow, for letting me know I could do it because of the love I saw in their eyes. They loved my ENERGY, I think, and my gung ho attitude toward THEIR work, too. I was so interested in them, and the how do you do it? aspect of their lives that they could only teach me by sharing. And it was their sharing that made me feel as though I COULD do it. Their recognition of me as a person first and as an artist second made me feel seen as a whole person rather than an abstraction, albeit a talented one!
Erin: Are you interested in your blog, Et Als, operating as a public forum, where your observations are responded to by readers?
Hilton: I just love doing it! I like hearing and not hearing from radios in a forum that’s free and open to all. I don’t think FB’s possibilities have been explored properly. The little essays I write are less about putting the squash on kitty pics so much as I want to open the form up to include words and thoughts AND kitties.
Erin: Do you view the blog as a scripting of later narratives to be developed further?
Hilton: Do you mean are they first drafts to a bigger thing? Maybe. I don’t know. I just roll with it for now.
Erin: In reading your writings about performances, art exhibitions, movies, and books, I have never had the feeling that you were “sent on assignment”. Chosen subjects always communicate as being chosen by you, even though I have to assume that you are required to cover timely events through The New Yorker and other publications. Do you look forward to writing about works that you have no connection to, and to forming an embrace or rejection of those?
Hilton: Oh, I’m sorry you feel that way! I don’t do many things on “assignment.” A lot of the people I write about I choose. The “assignment” aspect is you have a job and you have to come up with interesting stuff to talk about. But I never feel on assignment for The New Yorker, I just feel lucky to share my interests with other people.
Erin: In your commencement speech given at Columbia University in 2014, you say, “I’ve never believed, not for one second, that art is created out of avoiding the world and its various realities. If you avoid that, you avoid life, which is your source material, you dishonor all your ghosts in the sunlight…” Do you have an aversion to works of art that read as escapist? For you, what is an example of an artwork that is completely devoid of reality?
Hilton: No! I’m a sucker for fantasy, though I wouldn’t go as far as loving Botero….I like pleasure just like the next guy. I think all art grows out of a certain reality – the emotional and psychic reality of the artist, certainly. Let’s bring surrealism back! I miss it.
Erin: In reading your essay about Robert Gober, currently printed in his MoMA catalogue The Heart Is Not A Metaphor, you write that you want to become Gober to understand him. Is this process of writing about chosen people as a way to understand them a version of method acting?
Hilton: In a word, yes. I call my work method writing.
Erin: Do you have a writing routine that you subscribe to?
Hilton: I wake up, and if I am not dead I make breakfast and watch Wendy Williams. I love her. That gives me an hour to fret about my relative lack of humor. Then I get the pad and pencil out. That’s the routine: doing it, day after day after day.
Work by Erica Bohm, Natalia Cacchiarelli, Gustavo Díaz, Susan Giles, Adam Gondek, Larassa Kabel, Jeroen Nelemans, Michelle Prazak, and Missy Weimer.
The Mission is located at 1431 W. Chicago Ave. Reception Friday, 6-8pm.
Curated by Zachary Cahill and Katherine Harvath with work by Carris Adams, Raymond Boisjoly, Sarah Burwash, Gillian Dykeman, Theresa Ganz, Hans Haacke, Susan Hiller, Oliver Lutz, Claire Pentecost, Dan Peterman, Carrie Schneider, Andreas Siqueland and Eric Watts.
Logan Center Gallery is located at 915 E. 60th St. Reception Friday, 6-8pm.
Work by Delaney DeMott, Hope Esser, Rami George, Dan Paz, Megan Stroech, and Jenyu Wang.
Chicago Artists Coalition os located at 217 N. Carpenter St. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
A film be by Valentina Vella.
Links Hall is located at 3111 N. Western Ave. Screening Friday, 7pm.
Work by Naama Arad and Kendall Babl.
Julius Caesar is located at 3311 W. Carroll Ave. Reception Sunday, 1-4pm.