Meg Onli’s Underground Railroad Project at Twelve Galleries

July 22, 2009 · Print This Article

Dawn, 2007. Ink Jet Print.

Dawn, 2007. Ink Jet Print.

“Pilgrimage is one of the fundamental structures a journey can take–the quest in search of something, if only one’s own transformation, the journey toward a goal–and for pilgrims, walking is work,” writes Rebecca Solnit in the book Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Last summer artist Meg Onli (who, as you all know, blogs here at Bad at Sports and is an associate producer of the Podcast) discovered this for herself. Inspired by the perilous journeys taken by fugitive slaves along the underground railroad, Onli undertook her own pilgrimage by setting out on a 30 day, 440 mile trek that began in Montgomery County, Maryland, the birthplace of Josiah Henson (who inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and ended at Dawn, a settlement in Dresden, Ontario that is the site of the cabin home Hensen eventually built for himself after his escape to Canada.

Photo documentation (Sandusky), 2008.

Photo documentation (Sandusky), 2008.

Onli’s pilgrimage has both historical and personal significance; she undertook it, she has explained, “in search of my blackness.” Her resulting Underground Railroad Project is both a record of that search and a conscious attempt to reenact and reconstruct a Black historical identity that has been (and is still, in Onli’s case) realized in part by the act of walking.

Before and after the journey, Onli worked on a series of drawings that featured a “doppelganger” version of herself beset by fears and anxieties about the road ahead.  On the project’s website Onli notes that this fictional version of herself makes reference to fugitive slave posters that typically depicted runaway slaves as solitary figures who, as Onli describes it, are “careless and literally running for their lives.” The reality, of course, was that the road to freedom was made up of people helping other people, an informal network of human connections that required foresight, planning, ingenuity and steely resolve on everyone’s part to succeed. The Underground Railroad was anything but a mad dash for freedom; to successfully navigate it, it was necessary to walk, not run.

Consisting of drawings, photo documentation and performance relics, Onli’s The Underground Railroad Project will be on view in Chicago this Saturday, July 25th as part of the Twelve Galleries series of exhibitions. The opening reception is from 7 to 10 pm this Saturday evening at this address:

Twelve Galleries
2156 West 21st Place, 2nd floor
Chicago, IL 60608

If you live outside of Chicago, you can view photo documentation and extensive artist-authored commentary from this remarkable project on Meg’s website here.

A postscript: prior to beginning her walk, Onli wrote a series of letters to companies such as AIG, Union Pacific and CSX that have profited from Antebellum labor asking them for project sponsorship. Onli saw this as a potentially symbolic gesture on the part of these companies, akin to that of reparations to African Americans for slave labor and its aftermath. A total of twenty companies received letters, but none agreed to participate.

Photo Documentation (First Footstep in Canada), 2008.

Photo Documentation (First Footstep in Canada), 2008.

Liberal Arts for the 21st Century

July 22, 2009 · Print This Article


What general forms of knowledge are most important for people to have today? What fields of study have become irrelevant? Are there emerging areas of human inquiry that warrant greater (or even just some) inclusion in today’s institutions of higher education?

These are some of the questions asked by Robin Sloane, Matt Thompson, and Tim Carmody, the founders and contributors to Snarkmarket. They’ve collectively offered some new takes on what has increasingly been dismissed as an outdated concept–namely, a generalized “liberal arts” course of study in college or university–by crowd-sourcing answers to the question of what a “twenty-first century way of doing the liberal arts” would be.  You can read some of the initial proposals here (scroll down to the comments).

Those ideas that made the cut have been compiled into a book, co-published with Revelator Press and titled New Liberal Arts, which aims to “expand and invigorate our notions of the liberal arts.” Course proposals include “Attention Economics,” “Inaccuracy,” “Journalism,” “Food,” “Myth and Magic,” and “Genderfuck.” The book was first published in print form but is now available as a free downloadable .pdf that can be distributed and “remixed” freely.

In the spirit of the product itself, here’s a free sample: a proposal for a course on “Brevity,” written by Gavin Craig:


140 characters is the new 30 seconds. 30 seconds is forever.
Anything important is worth saying quickly. By the time it has been said, it is already the past, and so the saying must become a moment of its own. Brevity is urgency and modesty at once. Attention is the scarcest resource. Millions are dying and we have only seconds.
The right word is worth a thousand words.
Brevity is representation and not description.
Show and don’t tell becomes a truth and not a cliché when video can be posted instantaneously. The message must place the reader in the moment, and since the moment is unavailable, the message must place the reader in the message.

(Not then, not later. There is no later.)
This is not the victory of form over content. The stakes are much higher than that.

If you want to download a copy of New Liberal Arts now, click here.

Nazis + Zombies + Campy Carnage= Dead Snow

July 21, 2009 · Print This Article

Tommy Wirkola’s Nazi-zombie film Dead Snow looked as if it had everything needed to become a horror classic. But its predictable plot line and weak screen writing left much to be desired from the campy gore fest set in the mountains of Norway. The film follows 8 medical students as they relax during their Easter vacation. Before they even arrive at their remote cabin one member of their party, who decided to hike alone (obvious bad idea), is killed by the surprisingly swift zombies that inhabit the mountain. Billed as the next great horror film since Let the Right One In, the Norwegian film relies too heavily on film references and instead of expanding the Nazi-zombie sub genre.

Within the first night of their stay we learn from a creepy local that the village had been occupied by Nazis during WWII. Led by a treasure hungry Colonel Herzog the battalion pillaged the town of all of their gold. It wasn’t long until the villagers rebelled and forced Herzog and his men into the freezing mountains. I had to wonder how they became zombies in the first place? Were they zombies to begin with? Did the cold make them zombies? Or did they encounter a zombie out in the mountain? None of these questions are addressed in the film but Wirkola does give some interesting attributes to his legion that separates them from other zombie films. For starters his zombies are abnormally fast  but only when it is convenient for them to be. They also are able to use objects like binoculars and weapons, and are equipped with a keen sense for prey/treasure.

Once I let my expectations fade away, (comparing it to Let the Right One In is truly an injustice) I actually began to enjoy the gross out humor that plagues the movie. At one point in the film two of the horny characters get it on in an outhouse while one is taking a shit. When the zombies arrive the female is pulled under the outhouse. The next time we see her she is covered in shit and about to be ripped to shreds.Photobucket

The film’s flaws can be overlooked if you are into campy horror. If you want to see a film where a person’s head is pulled apart and their brains fall on the floor then Dead Snow might be what you are looking for. If not, I would recommend skipping this film and catching Outpost, a less campy take on the Nazi-Zombie genre.

Tuesday’s Video Pick

July 21, 2009 · Print This Article

This week’s pick is a 3 part documentary entitled Situationist International

via artstar11

A video documentary combining exhibition footage of the Situationist International exhibitions with film footage of the 1968 Paris student uprising, and graffiti and slogans based on the ideas of Guy Debord (one of the foremost spokesmen of the Situationist International movement). Also includes commentary by leading art critics Greil Marcus, Thomas Levine, and artists Malcolm Mac Laren and Jamie Reid. Branka Bogdanov, Director and producer. NTSC-VHS 22 min. 1989″

Has Elizabeth Peyton-bashing become a sub-genre of art criticism?

July 20, 2009 · Print This Article

You know, like Julian Schnabel-bashing was back in the day, before he started directing? I’m thinking yes. The unkindness of it all aside (and that makes for a very big aside, I know), Peyton does inspire some of the most deliciously evil descriptive sentences among those art critics who dislike her work. The latest example of anti-Peytonism comes from the normally polite Ben Street of Art21 blog. In his latest “Letter from London,” he reviews Live Forever, the Peyton survey that made the rounds in the U.S. last year to mixed reviews (to put a positive spin on it) and is now on view at The Whitechapel Gallery in London. The Brits aren’t taking any greater of a shine to her work than we did, judging from Street’s review:

“I don’t understand why anyone would like Elizabeth Peyton, but I also don’t understand why anyone would like egg whites or Coldplay or The Shawshank Redemption, so maybe I’ll never understand. Her first UK solo show at the Whitechapel Art Gallery is so fey and self-conscious that I had to crush a can of Bud against my forehead and punch the wall out of sheer repressed masculine frustration. The drive to the police station and subsequent waiting around for my lawyer gave me sufficient time to mull over Peyton’s work. If I did like her work, what might I say about it? That its intimate scale and willful prettification of some of the nineties’ butt-ugliest pop stars brings together teenage fandom and the tradition of 18th-century portraiture? That its objectification of sallow Caucasian male beauty strikes a blow for the female gaze? That the breathless swishiness of her paintbrush and contre-jour light effects create poignant elegies to the transience of youth? That Peyton’s reimagining of Delacroix as the drummer in The Strokes and Napoleon as a Lower East Side DJ is somehow a radical reinterpretation of history? In Peyton’s words, Napoleon was “a beautiful man and he had a big vision about life.” Ever seen Elizabeth Peyton and Sasha Baron Cohen in the same room together?”

Yeah, o.k., granted. But what I want to know is, as chroniclers of their respective art scenes, what makes Dash Snow so “subversive” (see round up of Snow’s obit coverage here) while Peyton is the freakin’ devil? Was it Snow’s semen-stained “Fuck the Police” thing? Is that really all it takes??

O, Art World. I will never understand your whimsical ways. At any rate, you can watch video footage from Peyton’s New Museum show at Vernissage TV, to whom credit for the image below is also due.