I was reading about James Turrell’s epic series of museum shows in The New York Times recently and recalled a moment of my own recollection of his work.
It’s simple enough: I follow The Mattress Factory on Twitter. On November 26th, they tweeted an image of a room being painted.
I suppose because they mentioned that the lights were actually on, I assumed it referred to Turrell’s pitch black piece, Pleiades (1983). (It does not — as I was told later, but bear with me, I’ll account for that discrepancy in the end).
I understood it to be a picture of a James Turrell’s Pleiades (1983) installation getting repainted. The image drastically transformed my reaction to the installation. Indeed, I had such a profound reaction to the tiny, banal image, I pulled it off twitter, and put it on my desktop where it has been sitting ever since.
There is no reason that that image should be particularly captivating. It is a familiar enough: gallery walls must constantly be painted and repainted, and if it didn’t have anything to do with Turrell, it would hardly be of interest. However, appearing as it did within the context of social media (and all the misunderstandings tweets can lead to) that is exactly why it made my jaw drop: because this tiny image challenged everything I had assumed via sensory experience of Pleiades.
Pleiades, is the first of Turrell’s “dark pieces.” At The Mattress Factory, as I recall, you go up an elevator and on the designated floor, you go through a doorway, down a pitch black corridor and into a pitch black room. You stop a metal rail. I have visited this room about three or four times over the course of ten years. Each time that one room has baffled me.
I went there first as a Sophomore in college with a group of friends. One friend in particular was an upper classman and seemed to have a better handle on contemporary culture. As such we deferred to his authority; to do so was pleasant; he rattled on about various rumors (and possibly fictions) that seemed to walk a tightrope between gossip, mysticism and art history. As someone with very little contact to contemporary art at the time, I relied on the banter of my peers to overcome whatever sense of alienation I might carry into unfamiliar situations. Standing in a pitch black room for an indefinite period of seemed both provocative and confusing. If I thought about it too much I wouldn’t know what I was doing there. Still the narrative of the artist had me intrigued. Stories about Turrell’s alleged arrest for helping young men dodge the draft. His Quaker background. His life in California that yielded an interest in minimalism, light, and science. As I prepared myself to walk down this very dark corridor in the year 2000, I was told that at the end, in the pitch black (and if I waited long enough) I would begin to see light, like stars (I thought), or a halo. My friend suggested it was the result of a primordial and biological fear of nothingness.
Whatever his prescribed cause, this is what is supposed to happen:
“Pleiades, a work of darkness, utilizes the difference in function between the two types of photoreceptive cells, that is, cones and rods. The cones are suitable for discerning colors at light places. crowding toward the center of the retina. The rods serve to make out delicate shades in dark places, mostly gathering near the periphery of the retina. In the darkness designed by Turrell, the viewer experiences the difference between the two kinds of cells during the period of time when the eyes of adaptation to darkness takes place.”
According to another visitor, you are supposed to see this:
It never happened to me. I waited in the dark for that thing to take place for about thirty minutes. Or maybe it was an hour. It could have also been 10 minutes that were simply so distilled from movement that they slowed and lengthened my sense of time. As I waited, all of my attention strained toward an event that was supposed to take place within my body and end up projected outwards, as a type of vision. I waited to see a white eye-shape in the dark. I was excited at first, and then defeated, slightly. Nothing happened. I remembered looking at countless Magic Eye posters in dorm rooms; I could never make out the subliminal texts/images in those either, no matter how many times I had been instructed to fuzz out my vision with the image pressed up against my nose.
Subsequent visits to Pleiades were no different. No vision appeared before me in the dark. Because I no longer expected it, however, I had grown more interested in thinking about the darkness that space afforded. I suppose I still waited, in an almost existential way, for something to happen, but the sense of waiting became more interesting than the event I waited for. I realized that the whole project of Pleiades was existential — whether something emerged in the darkness or not. I began to appreciate the feeling of that darkness, the way it seemed to extend endlessly, the slight terror at its unknown breadth. I distinctly recall a very faint breeze which enhanced the dimension of the room, but that too could have been my imagination. I preferred to inhabit the space by myself, perhaps it seemed more noble that way. When strangers came and stood beside me, I was distracted by my attempts to anticipate their movements and, even, their physical shape. Remember, it’s impossible to see anything, even another form. It was more complicated to inhabit an Unknown when others, particularly people you don’t know, are trying to do the same. On several occasions, I accidentally stepped on a foot and had to apologize, breaking the spell of silence through my clumsy, miscalculated movement. The moment of contact, my foot on the strangers, the exclamation of paint — it established a common, temporal location in the room, overshadowing the otherwise relentless blankness everywhere else. I stepped back. Held my breath for a moment and settled again into my feet. The room would grow still once more and with it our sense of the darkness grew. At times it felt oppressive, at others benign, certainly it felt ambivalent towards me. It was larger, more constant and self-assured than I was. I sort of enjoyed being intimidated by it — because I began to develop a relationship with that room. I didn’t see any lights, but the darkness became “something.” I’ve ever experienced such spatial endlessness. And while I never saw those lights, there was some part of me that enjoyed the incongruity of my own experience; perhaps I felt I had a more “true” experience because it seemed more nihilistic to experience nothing.
You can imagine then, what shock that tiny jpeg. of boys painting a room would give me. It looks like they could be in a closet! I was so shocked at the thought that I had misunderstood the room, I instantly believed it to be true. The vague confirmation provided by the tweet-conversation I had with The Mattress Factory seemed to confirm my sense, which was so exuberant as to lack self-consciousness, that everything I assumed to be true about that dark room was wrong in so far as it could have existed in a tiny-tiny-tiny room. I realized that even though I did not see “the light” I was still projecting dimension and psychology into Turrell’s darkness. It was affecting me. I was affecting myself through the medium of darkness provided by Pleiades.
As I said, I since learned this is not Pleiades itself, but rather an image of the elevator landing on the Turrell floor of the Mattress Factory. While the true dimensionality of that room remains a mystery, I am all the more certain of the evocative uncertainty it yields.
Pleiades is a Dark Piece where the realm of night vision touches the realm of eyes-closed vision, where the space generated is substantially different than the physical confines and is not dependent upon it, where the seeing that comes from ‘out there’ merges with the seeing that comes from ‘in here,’ where the seeing develops over and through dark adaptation but continues beyond it. It is the first piece in a series of works. While it relates to the last piece of the Mendota Stoppages, 1969-70, in that it develops over time, it is definitely a departure in that after the seeing develops, it is no longer static. The thing that gave me the idea to do this was the fact that I needed to work with very low levels of light for the night seeing in the crater piece. The last time that I had really worked in that arena was with the Mendota Stoppages where I had some very dark pieces that took a long time of dark adaptation, sometimes as much as fifteen minutes. When you actually had that seeing, though, the space that was generated was a static space – you saw it and could walk in it, but it didn’t change. In this work, what is generated in you and what is actually out there become a little more equal. - James Turrell, The Mattress Factory
A graphic, editorial overview of art, artists, and visual art events, found in and around Chicago over the course of the preceding month. All artwork copyright original artists; all photography copyright Paul Germanos.
On Friday, May 3, 2013, within a 15,000-square-foot tent erected upon Chase Promenade in Millennium Park, The Fashion Design Department presented The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s 79th annual fashion show.
And what did it have to do with visual art?
Well, more recently, on June 22, 2013, Cheryl Pope, longtime studio manager for SAIC Fashion’s Nick Cave, enjoyed the public opening of her first solo exhibition, “Just Yell,” at Chicago gallery moniquemeloche. Pope, like Cave, is employed by SAIC’s Fashion Design Department. Meloche served on SAIC’s 2013 Fashion Committee.
A profile of Monique Meloche’s parallel interests in fashion and art was published by Andrea Morris one month ago; Chicago-ish artists Conrad Bakker and Rashid Johnson figured prominently in Morris’ piece. And SAIC Board of Governors member Dr. Daniel S. Berger has been a collector and supporter of Johnson, among other artists, showing with Meloche.
In short: Chicago’s “art world” is in no way distinct from fashion–especially as it’s located within SAIC–but rather it’s intimately connected to it.
What follows is a hint of this year’s production, as experienced on and around the runway at SAIC Fashion 2013. Special thanks to SAIC and Carol Fox and Associates for facilitating Bad at Sports’ access. If you, gentle reader, are able to assist with the identification of any designer or model depicted but not yet named, contact: paulgermanos(at)msn.com
SAIC Fashion 2013
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Fashion Design Department
Chase Promenade North
201 E. Randolph St.
Christian Kuras and I have been busily preparing for a class we should have called “The Decent into Awesome.” A class that brings together Avital Ronell, Silkscreens, and Juggalos/Celine Dion, publishing as form, and the new sincerity manifesto, so wrong it can only be right. It is going to be magic. We will make, talk, collaborate, share, and be awesome. (We will definitely figure out whether awesome is really something we want to be and no prior printmaking experience is necessary!)
Our friends at Ox-Bow just let us know that their are still a couple of slots open in our class and we thought we should remind you of the life altering good times that can be had at Ox-Bow. I am going to be polite and not mention the dance parties or Eric May’s (and co’s) amazing cooking or the blazing good times that will be had around the fire every evening. I will just mention that there are still slots available in the following classes and that it is one of the greatest experiences to give your art life.
Towards a New Sincerity with Christian “North” Kuras and Duncan MacKenzie (7/14-7/27)
Lithography with Mark Pascale (8/11-17)
If this was is not enough maybe you should check out these images and maybe you should come?
PODCAST: This week Bad at Sports talked to critic, poet, gallerist, the award winning Director of the Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts Director Jessica Baran, the self-same Baran who appeared in Kelly Shindler’s earlier this year here.
The week began with Dana Bassett’s EDITION #11, featuring emboldened news about public art projects, Threewalls’ 10 year anniversary party (Huzza!), the scoop on Logan Square’s post office, trends with face paint and the admittedly all-time favorite Who Wore It Better. Get it all here.
We also saw a highly controversial post about the status of Feminism in Romania, written by Gene Tanta from the city of Buchrest where he is presently living:
American Feminism demands that society treat women as the equals of men under the law. The difficulty with positing such a legalistic position remains that law bleeds in and out of other parts of the social architecture. The best trick Patriarchy ever pulled off was to make women believe they are equal to men since this makes women into gender-bound objects through the performative power of the word “equal”. To categorize women and men according to gender erases the individuality of both equally. Despite the paradox of losing one’s individuality to group identity in order to become freer, the social justice need for the work done by identity politics remains.
European Feminism demands that women look beyond gender expectations to become more themselves, more individual, and less beholden to the male gaze. Mina Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto” articulates this point bombastically enough: “Leave off looking to men to find out what you are not—seek within yourselves to find out what you are.” But of course any such interiority (whether at the end of a penis or vagina or anything in between) pulses stuck in the traffic jam between individual and society. These construction sites of gender make our society function … but at what cost and who pays for it? Can an individual take her own freedom or must a group give her that freedom?
Bad at Sports received a few emails that would argue a contrary position, and if you’re interested it’s well worth checking out Tanta’s Facebook comment thread a long comment thread. One of my favorite responses came from Vanessa Place who posted the following image and caption on Tanta’s FB timeline. Does this resolve the matter? I suppose not….
To anyone inclined to write a formal rebuttal (or more general responses for that matter), email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thomas Friel covered the Michigan Modern:
You’re not likely to see a better display of the most important architecture and design of the 20th century anywhere else this summer, so the fact that Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America only focuses on what came out of post war MI is even more remarkable. Starting with Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen’s highly influential submissions for the Organic Design in Home Furnishings at MoMA in 1940, and ending with a recreation of a living space in Mies Van der Roe’s Lafayette Park in Detroit, there are few stones left unturned…
An interview with Lisa Radon was published b y our Portland Bureau of Radness, Sarah Margolis-Pineo, who described the artist as follows:
Lisa Radon eludes traditional definitions. Occasionally a geologist, previously a critic, and perpetually a poet, she dabbles in all manner of creative work from performance art to small-batch publishing. Driven by research and aided by collaboration, Radon’s projects are buoyed by a multitude of voices that, knowingly or otherwise, are ushered into her game. Much of her work can be conceived as a playground—or temporary autonomous zone—in which she spins circles around the structures of language and ideas, drawing liquid connections between word, image, and concept to insightful and poetic ends.
Updates on the Carissa Hinz Hit and Run tragedy were posted by Richard Holland over the course of the week. “For those who missed the story yesterday, we reported the shocking death of artist Carissa Hinz, 21, last Friday as she was leaving Version Fest. She was killed by a hit-and-run driver who has yet to be apprehended. Please make all donations to Jackalope.” If anyone saw anything or knows anything contact the authorities.
Thea Liberty Nichols posted a great piece from Laura Shaeffer, “the entrepreneur and custodian behind a number of projects housed within a handful of unconventional— and often under utilized— spaces on the Southside of Chicago, including Home Gallery, The Op Shop and Southside Hub of Production (SHoP).” Shaeffer writes:
Maybe artists and others who are attracted to unconventional spaces to view and think about art, like the mansion, the small townhome, the porch, the back yard gallery, the storefront, the park, and various unexpected public spaces, are more likely to want to examine their role in social change, themes of modern urban life in spaces that are themselves a challenge. There are artists who have certainly been repelled. I like the story of one artist who had proposed a project for an exhibit at SHoP, was invited to participate, and showed up on a typical day for us, where kids were hammering pieces of wood together on the front steps, students were running a yard sale in the front yard, some seniors were playing bridge inside, the house was buzzing with activity preparing for the installation of the next show. I saw a looming figure outside the house and then I saw him disappear, I asked a friend if they knew why this artist left the scene without coming in to meet us (I knew him from his resume and photos) She said that he ‘didn’t want to show his work in a house run by unprofessional hippies.’ This artist never responded to us again. I could see his point, but I love general (orchestrated) chaos, so I guess that’s my fate.
Over the last few days, there has been time to ruminate over Robert Burnier’s post “The Outward Spiral” during which Burnier examines the fluctuating impact contemporary context has on historical (and current) interpretations of art:
Aside from any categories we might apply to our work, I like to think in terms of how things move; what dynamics keep us in the search, trying to create something, and trying to look critically at what is happening. There are aspects to life around the artist that change, like technology, politics, social tension and geography. These kinds of things morph at very different rates, some daily while others are fixed for millennia, which can create openings to explore as currents slide past each other. The artist can also look back and find a great deal unresolved, perhaps seeing something that was abandoned that could bear a lot more exploration. Alternately, in light of present circumstances, one can seek new meaning through an old, established idea. So in view of the approach to grappling with these issues as suggested by Kalina, I submit a few observations to consider in addition to the framing devices he offers us. I will touch on a few of these notions here, mainly focused on examples in painting and photography, knowing that they are only sketches or pointers toward a deeper investigation of these dynamics in future writing.
Because I missed my chance to post last week’s “Week In Review,” this Sunday is going to be a double whammy. I’m post last week’s Week In Review first, here, and then, this weeks directly after…If you’re confused now, just hang on to your hat. It’ll all make sense in the end. First, I start with the week before last….
The week begins and ends with comics, actually — and in this instance we started with Faye Kahn who published a piece called “Comics and the Aesthetic Economy”:
While social evidence that the rich is dividing farther away from the poor becomes more & more unavoidable, it seems that at the same time the art world is inversely nudging the them closer together. Traditional distinctions between “high” & “low” art are fading. In his essay “Comrades of Time,” discussing the definition of the term “contemporary,” Boris Groys states that “…at the turn of the twenty-first century, art entered a new era-one of mass artistic production, & not only mass art consumption.” Art-making is no longer restricted to a higher, educated or professional class. With the encouragement of advancing technologies from the ball point pen to the smartphone & increased visibility of the individual creative practice via the internet has reified this notion of art as “mass-cultural practice” ad infinitum (probably to some ad nauseum). To track the currency of art between upper & lower economic & academic classes & attempt to elucidate the creation of connecting middle classes of art, for instance independent comics & publication as well as social media experiments, it may be helpful to recognize the presence of commercial aesthetics in all classes. By following this reciprocal currency of consumerist media to high art & back, there are many significant signs pointing to a possible future of a classless art world.
San Francisco-based Jeffrey Songco posted an interview with Glen Helfand, a man rumored to be “the only relevant art writer in the city.” Songco and Helfand sit down discuss, Proximities, an exhibit Helfand put together at the Asian Art Museum. When asked to describe what the show is about, Helfand replies:
I like to talk about the show from the standpoint of it being a challenge to solve. The Asian Art Museum has been interested in opening up its audience and to embrace more contemporary work. I had to start with the idea of why I didn’t feel so connected to the institution. I’ve always felt a bit of intimidation, not knowing a whole lot about Asian art, not knowing how to pronounce the names of various contemporary Chinese artists. I figure that people probably feel the same about the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Kibbitz. My initial premise was to highlight how artists have some kind of connection to Asia even if it wasn’t the expected connection.
Milwaukee resident, Shane McAdams, has begun a new series of posts, and in this particular case, writes about a low-to-the-ground project run by Ashley Janke, Lara Ohland, and Tim Stoelting, called The Imagination Giants:
After a year-and-a-half of writing about more basic cultural differences between New York and Milwaukee, the results of my cultural reconnaissance will now take the form of local art coverage. This being the first piece, I’d like to mention that, unlike NYC where almost everything including what passes for ‘underground’ are usually pre-dug, locating art culture in Milwaukee has proven to be a little, well, subterranean. So far the digging has been the most gratifying part of being here. Not having the luxury of a media guide dedicated to informing masses of art goers about what is yet undiscovered, is a pleasure. Searching for art in Milwaukee makes me feel feral – it’s the art equivalent to hunting and gathering.
Eric Asboe asks some important questions about building local art community in relation to a more global vision of contemporary art:
What role can local artists play in a global museum? MAEP [Minnesota Artist Exhibition Program] exhibitions are far more than an experiment in thinking locally. The exhibitions are dynamic; the artwork is excellent. More importantly, by supporting an artistic peer selection process, the MIA helps build a community of artists, specifically in and with the resources of a major art institution. Alan Brewer’s exhibition pushes the question further. When I met with him in his MAEP exhibition, he stopped to talk to a visitor, an older man who had written a description. They discussed his description and possibilities for recreations. The transformative power of that individual conversation and the way Brewer has empowered all visitors to the MIA to engage in completely new ways with its collection demonstrates to me the MIA is not just asking how local artists can shape a global museum, but, more importantly, how we can all shape the museums of the future.
I posted two interviews this week. The first is a result of the Open Engagement Conference in Portland, where I met and interviewed artist, Dillon de Give about his project, 4-6 Dogs at the Museum. I fell in love with idea of an interspecies social practice, though with good reason, DeGive is more practical in his approach (and terminology):
I love that phrase “inter-species social practice.” But I guess I would be a bit more conservative in my response. I’ve observed that dogs in public are always serving as mediators between humans. There’s a dog park across the street from my apartment and everyone seems to know each other! I live right there and I don’t know any of these people because I don’t own a dog. I am interested in other species as a conceptual complement to existing human-based social practices. I think that when we are talking about a given social practice we are implicitly making assumptions of what human-ness is, so having some idea of a non-human present in the discourse is, in a way, almost necessary. Why are cat videos so immensely popular with human viewers on youtube? On the other hand, imagining something like sociality existing between humans and other species is difficult to do in the present, because of our seemingly absolute need to monopolize the environment. In most cases it’s just not really a fair playing field where a balanced relationship that you might call “social” could pan out. But maybe in the distant future…
Then I had a great opportunity to interview former SAIC graduate, Jaye Rhee, about her work with the The Merce Cunningham Dance Company, The Flesh and the Book. Among other things, we discussed Rhee’s interest in traditions of movement, and whether or not the body can become a unit:
I was more interested in the character and history of individual dancers under the umbrella of Merce Cunningham Company. Cunningham dancer’s movements are Mercified but individually they all have different characteristics. We all have different history as individuals, but there are also larger histories which a family shares as a smallest unit of the society, then there are larger groups and larger groups…..and so on. Merce Cunningham dancers make up another kind of familial unit. Even though the dancers’ movements were different, a few audiences actually recognized that the dancers somehow evoke Merce Cunningham’s style.
Sara Drake posted a shout out for “the second annual Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, fondly known to comics creators and fans alike as CAKE.” (This, incidentally, is where I happened to be last weekend as well). It took place in a massive gymnasium at the Center on Halsted, featuring a huge throng of comic makers, buyers and additional public programming.
Bailey Romain rounded out the week by interviewing Luke Daly about local (and ever magnanimous coop print shop) Spudnik Press’ latest programming addition, The Annex:
As more of a “clean” space than the printshop next door, the Annex also provides an expanded exhibition space for Spudnik. Curatorial duties rotate between Spudnik coordinators. The most recent show, Charlie Megna’s Lost Tribes of Renni, which opened last night, was organized by Luke Daly – a Spudnik member who has been a driving force in developing the Annex. Luke co-edits and runs the small press arrow as aarow. I also co-teach a class with him at the Annex, which will be running for the third time in the fall. Charlie Megna is the director of the Peanut Gallery and a founding member of the Peanut Collective. His show will be up through early August.