Rachel Mason’s show at Andrew Rafacz Gallery inspired something in me I never thought I’d feel: the desire to pick up the grizzled Fidel Castro and put him in my pocket.
Or at least, the little bust of him that Mason has made, along with dozens of other late 20th century political figures that have been arranged on a shelf spanning three of the gallery’s walls.
Mason has done a pretty good job at capturing the likes of Castro, Margaret Thatcher, Leonid Bhreznev and an astonishingly numerous array of others whose heads we’ve seen on television screens or in newspapers but which have here been reduced to the scale of domestic knick-knacks. This editioned series of sculptures is part of a long-term project in which Mason fantasized about the emotional lives of world leaders embroiled in war and conflict.
In an attempt to gain a subjective and emotional understanding of their controversial actions, she’s projected herself into their personas via live performances, videos, writings by herself and others, and sculptural figurines made over the last four years (check out the artist’s website for examples of texts, music and performances from this project, which is titled “The Ambassadors”).
This multi-faceted project is difficult to contain in a single gallery (Rafecz is showing the sculptures, an artist’s book, and apparently a video which wasn’t on when I visited the gallery last Wednesday). I have to admit I don’t always have a lot of patience for sprawling, multi-part performance-based works of this type. It’s a weakness on my part, I know, but the fetishist in me remains fully under the sway of objects, be they two – or three-dimensional, and I do tend to think that objects work best when left to their own devices. Mason’s great feat is her ability to take historical leaders, some revered, some loathed and feared, and shrink them to the size of Hummel figures without simultaneously rendering them objects of kitsch. There’s a certain pathos to the artist’s labor-intensive efforts to create things that could so easily be dismissed as cutesy jokes; but Mason’s sincerity comes though in the way she inserts her own, slightly smaller ambassadorial figure into the parade of statues as a persistent disruption. The empathy with which Mason approaches the subject of war and political leadership is an anomaly in this age of hard-line factionalism and harsh political rhetoric. It’s easy to wear your politics on your t-shirt, but far more difficult to cloak yourself in the garb of your political Other and, heart on sleeve, sing a song or write a poem in their name. The show closes Saturday, so if you want to see it, go over right away.
Sometime over the weekend, as I was pouring coffee beans into a canister, I happened to read on the package that proceeds from the coffee had been used to fund a library. Pretty cool, I thought; but then in my cynical way, I began to speculate about just what kind of structure this library actually was, how big, how many books, and what, exactly, constituted a library in the minds of the coffee bean distributors. Maybe their library was more like a bookmobile, or maybe it was just a partitioned section of a large hut somewhere far away, with a few piles of donated paperbacks stacked haphazardly on a couple of wooden stools. At any rate, when I came across the L.A.-based artist Dave Hullfish Bailey’s images of the Lizard Tree Library in Slab City, California (not far from Imperial City), my first thought was, aha–here’s the kind of library that coffee money might have funded.
Bailey’s installations converge with social historiography and land use studies in their exploration of alternative models of community and urban planning. Slab City, a squatter and R.V. community built over an old U.S. military base, provides a case study that, in his exhibition at The Suburban, Bailey has approached in a more or less documentary fashion. A series of 15 framed photocopied images of the Slab City library have been installed sequentially along the gallery’s four walls. Each image presents a view of the library from a slightly different vantage point that corresponds to the photographer’s path around the perimeter. I didn’t know about Slab City before encountering these images, but a little Internet scouring brought up a few useful websites, particularly this one. Slab City’s inhabitants would probably not describe themselves as “squatters,” though none pay rent. They’ve built the physical structures that house this community from the ground up, along with the social institutions or “clubs” that bring residents together. The library appears to be one of several sacred spaces here that have been constructed entirely by human hands, in this case by a woman named Rosalie who died in 2003. It’s a quiet place where people can borrow books without I.D. cards, read on the patio, or retreat to in the middle of the night when insomnia hits.
Bailey is interested in the ways that idealism shapes space concretely and ideologically, as when, for example, people from very different backgrounds come together in the wake of hurricanes or riots to create ad hoc spaces of refuge and community support. These chaotic moments have the potential to transform utopian impulses into pragmatic solutions. In Slab City, ordinary folks have put their highest aspirations of self and community to the test. Baileys’ trajectory around the Slab City library circumscribes a Utopia twice removed; one that looks and feel a lot more down-to-earth than we, or its residents for that matter, may have previously imagined.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Spring Undergraduate Exhibition
36 South Wabash 7th floor
March 21-April 3
Opening reception: Friday, March 20, 7-10pm
via the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Nearly 230 SAIC students completing undergraduate degrees this spring exhibit their innovative work. The School of the Art Institute promotes crossing disciplines and challenging received assumptions, and the results of this approach are showcased in this exhibition.
For more information please visit the site
Devening Projects + Editions
“Matthew Rich: Blind Spot”
3039 West Carroll
Chicago, IL 60612
12-6 sat and by appt.
Show runs thru April 1st
From the gallery: “Matthew Rich locates the work in his exhibition Blind Spot, between the color, surface and pictoriality of painting and the physicality of sculptural objects. Using complex compositional structures and assembly practices that make the building process transparent, his painted works on paper draw attention to materiality while contextually activating site and space. The work in Blind Spot is also concerned with the idea that perceptual clarity in a visual structure can be an elusive and slippery pursuit. Like an optical blind spot, Rich’s work suggests that obscurity and deflection are as conceptually necessary to his work as edge, color and surface are to the form. Matthew Rich lives in Boston and received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.”
Roots & Culture Gallery
1034 N MILWAUKEE
CHICAGO, IL 60622
Last chance to see it is this weekend; it closes March 21st!
“The End of Analog”
Featuring Alexander Stewart + George Monteleone, Robert Snowden + Carson Salter, Todd Simeone, Jon Satrom, Rebecca Gordon, Brandon Alvendia
“The conclusion of analog television broadcasting in the U.S. can be understood as heralding the arrival of the digital era. The End of Analog is an exhibition that marks this historic transition with an exploration of technology’s shifting significance on our culture, as well as on individuals. The shift from analog to digital opens up a space of uncertainty regarding the status of physical objects and bodies, leading us to ask: What is materiality in the digital age? The artists in this show prefigure the post-analog landscape, creating objects and images that explore this looming question from multiple angles.”
Curated by Eric Fleischauer
Erik Wenzel: Belief in Doubt in Painting
1378 W Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
Last chance to see it is this weekend, it closes March 21st.
From the gallery’s press release:
“Erik Wenzel’s multi-media installations are meditations on the act of painting and its relative worth.
A critic of some stature in his own right, Wenzel characterizes his work as both smart and stupid. One could also add the pairing serious and silly to the list, and his grouping of white canvas boards ringing a white room, with KLF’s album The White Room thumping away in the background, initiates the blurring of boundaries between these sets of dichotomies.
March 21, 2009, 8pm
3219 S Morgan St
$10 Suggested Donation.
The good people that bring you Proximity Magazine are having a release party this Saturday for their two new publications. If you can make it you should go. It looks to be a fun time.
“Please come and help us raise funds to pay for Version>09 Immodest Proposals. We will be giving to everyone who attends a complementary copy of our new publishing projects, Matériel and the new Pr poster/newsletter.
We will be hosting an evening of performances and displaying pages from Matériel on the gallery walls. Musical performances by Casual Encounter , Caw! Caw! (not cawcaw) and a few secret super special guest stars.”
Thursday, March 19, 6:00 pm
Gene Siskel Film Center
164 North State Street
Chicago Il 60601
via Conversations at the Edge
Best known for his Nintendo game cartridge hacks, multi-media trickster Cory Arcangel uses new and vintage computers, sound, performance, and the web to recontextualize popular figures (Super Mario Brothers, Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkel) and aesthetic systems (the instructional video, adult contemporary music, the “artist talk”) in subversively comedic ways. This evening, he’ll provide an overview of his practice, possibly including his Super Mario movies, the epic and aptly titled performance piece “Bruce Springsteen Born to Run Glockenspiel Addendum,” and an archetypal “experimental film,” complete with digital scratches and Final Cut Pro countdown. Co-presented by SAIC’s Parlor Room. 1998-2008, Cory Arcangel, USA, multiple formats, ca. 60 min.