As I walk through exhibitions, I find myself staring around the works on display, straining to see how paintings are hung from the walls, how sculptures rise from the floor. I look for projectors and speakers. I stare at the benches and chairs, the corners of walls, electrical outlets and lights. I am not avoiding the artwork. I am searching for the whole picture, yearning for everything the works contain. I want the story of the work, a record of its history, not simply the final object.
I was absorbed by Mitchell Syrop’s steel wall pieces in Hidden at Midway Contemporary Art, intrigued by their static flow, the impermanence of their solidity. As others visitors were absorbed in reading the text of his massive, nine panel Hidden, I stared at the nails holding up Family of Secrets, wondering about the hands and machines that had pulled them from the earth, shaped, packaged, shipped, sold, and hammered them. What narrative unites these steel objects on and in the wall? What happens to the nails when Family of Secrets is removed? Will they be united again?
I visited the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota, and I fell in love with the artworks installed in a particular corner. I marveled at their seamless pairing with an incredible, ambient sound piece, until I remembered that the sound comes from the heating and cooling system. I could see the works without the rasping rumble from the depths of the building. Of course, the context of any artwork influences our experience of it. The temperature of the room affects the book we read. The argument we hear in the alley outside affects our experience in the gallery. The lighting, hardware, and soundscape of artworks shape our viewing. I am looking for those other aspects of the objects because I want to know the narrative held within them, the time they embody even if we do not know how to see it.
I was thrilled to see a Roman Opalka ‘detail’ in the Walker Art Center’s Art Expanded, 1958-1978. The rows and rows of numbers embody time, daily practice, a life of dedication, but that time is lost among the other “expanded” practices. I strained to read the numbers, searching for the hours of its creation, wanting to hear Opalka’s recordings and see his self portraits to begin to fill out the narrative of this singular painting.
I have been visiting artists’ studios and installing work, slowly seeing objects unfold and absorb layers of meaning. I have seen ideas and conversations transform through unknowing, testing, exploration into artworks that hold each incarnation, each thought within them. I have watched white walls fill with works that travelled across the country, bringing with them the time and miles they travelled, their stamps and handlers, the nails and screws upon which they balance.
When I see artworks in galleries and museums, I know I am witnessing only one small portion of their narrative, and I want more. I search for the out of sight parts of these artworks to begin to enrich their stories, to attempt to understand their lived experience as changing, mutable objects who contain our time with them as they move into their future.
There is a chill in the night air. Fall is here, carrying the weight of the year behind it, breathing changes into the trees and gardens that begin to show the passage of time, the slow revolution of the seasons. I return to Opalka. He writes, “Time as we live it and as we create it embodies our progressive disappearance.” Let us look to the objects we create to see our progressive disappearance. They reveal the briefest moments of that disappearance when we see them displayed, but they will hold the passage and passing of our lives long after we have disappeared.
Guest post by Nicole Mauser
I recently visited the studio of Indianapolis-based artist, Lauren Zoll. Her work oscillates between drawing, painting, sculpture, video and installation.
Throughout the studio visit some large and reflective black latex paint sculptures bulge and sag and lean against the wall, at once mirroring and abstracting the spectator and the surrounding space. Our conversation in the studio touched on the concept of fugitive color, which we used to refer to the sculptural objects’ foregrounded reflective black latex paint. Furthermore, we used this phrase to propose an alternate meaning, something more akin to the literal phenomena of fleeting color that refuses to be pinned down.
The sculptural panels—each a bit larger than a doorway—act as analog television screens perpetually turned off, reflecting the quotidian around them in acts of defiance against their technological intention to project entertainment into the viewer’s space. We discussed the use and appearance of black mirrors throughout the history of painting. Originally, they were utilized to look behind or over the shoulder of the painter while simplifying values into discernable general tones. Zoll’s panels, which bring to mind the scale of Gerhardt Richter’s grey glass mirrors, further activate surface by using photography and recorded video on the surface to capture morphing reflections made by manipulating still life in the studio. Because the process of making seems very much in tandem with the idea of making these panels, I’ll refer to Zoll’s words on why and how she does it:
When I close my eyes, I see black. Closing my eyes is my starting point, a springboard by which my creative process begins.
When you close your eyes, textures, patterns and colors begin to emerge from the black. All of this is happening in less than one sixteenth of an inch. It is a surface of infinite potential.
This action has led me to create a body of work that includes black paintings and black and white drawings. In both of these works, the formal characteristics take flight and the complexities take over; ultimately showing color, radical depth, and unforeseen narratives.
The paintings begin by pouring multiple applications of black latex paint onto board or drywall panels. The paint dries slowly and creates different levels of gloss and reflectiveness. Once the painting is cured, I begin the process of filming and photographing the surface of the painting. I focus my camera on the dynamic, flickering and colorful reflections that come from the surrounding installations that I create.
I began this process when I realized that paintings have the ability to see. If a paintings existence is to always be looked at and seen, then surely the painting possesses its own ability to see. I document what a painting sees by photographing the image that is in the painting. I then produce chromogenic prints, which become both a document and the art. My most recent series is a collection of portable black paintings. I am fascinated at how placing these paintings on easles in an environment speaks to the transitory nature of Plein Air painting and further connects it to the history of art. I plan to continue this trajectory by making an installation of multiple black paintings on easels in site-specific locations and capture what they see.
[The black and white drawings were] created by covering white paper with drywall finishing tape and then painting over the tape with black paint. This drawing series was inspired when I tried on black and white checkered flag like eyeglasses. Realizing the context of checkered flags in Indianapolis, I set out to make an investigation that used the methods, materials, and semantics of a “finished” work via black and white checkered patterns. These works currently are on standard size drawing paper. The next phase of this series is to create a large scale drawing installation, directly on to white walls reacting to the space, structure and architecture. In conjunction with the drawing installation, I will continue to keep the remnants of the tape to weave, fold, and join the pieces together to produce a three-dimensional woven structure.
The work also brings to mind Swiss artist, Adrian Schiess, who uses video and large-scale body-sized aluminum panels and glossy digital prints installed on the floor to explore the intersection of perception of time, texture, color, and light. Schiess was featured at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) in 2008. Zoll pushes the visceral aspects of the materials diverging from Schiess’ clean lines. Interestingly, Zoll’s panel sculptures and video installations were featured in a solo exhibition at the IMA in a 2013 solo exhibition called Something Is, an experience about which she spoke a little:
I feel that the IMA show enabled me to dive into the work, where I might not have if it were not for the support from the museum. The contemporary art department has historically been dedicated to collecting contemporary works, and in this case, it had a direct impact on contemporary art being made now. Which is a very bold, strong place to be. It had an impact on art today, which is so different from waiting a couple of years to see if the work is safe or largely accepted.
The show gave me an invaluable lesson: How [do you] work with a museum? Or, how [do you] suddenly work with 15 people when you have been working alone in a studio for years? I think for most artists that is a challenge, and now I can go forward feeling a lot more mature [now that I have that] set of tools now.
In discussing this solo presentation at the area’s most important contemporary art venue, our conversation turned to what is it to be an artist in Indianapolis, both the benefits and drawbacks. According to Zoll, one benefit is uninterrupted time and space to think and produce work. A drawback is an incomplete artistic ecosystem where there isn’t much of an opportunity. But there are unique things going on in Indianapolis. One excellent example is The Art Assignment, a new weekly YouTube video series produced in collaboration with PBS and the Indianapolis-based duo comprised of independent curator (and former IMA curator) Sarah Urist Green and fiction writer John Green. In addition to numerous emerging and established artists around the country, Zoll’s approach to artmaking is featured in episode 9 of The Art Assignment:
And see more her artwork at:
Lauren Zoll’s works have been included in exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; School of Fine Arts Gallery at Indiana University; Ise Cultural Center in New York, N.Y.; Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art; DaimlerChrysler offices in Farmington Hills, Mich.; Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit; and the Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Fe, N.M. Zoll is a recipient of the Indiana Individual Artist Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission, the Bertha Anolic Fine Art Travel Award and a Merit scholarship for Ox-Bow workshops from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Zoll is an adjunct professor at the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis. She received an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art after earning a BFA from The College of Santa Fe. Zoll lives and works in Indianapolis.
Nicole Mauser (b. 1983, Indianapolis) currently lives and works in Chicago, IL. She obtained a MFA from The University of Chicago (2010) and a BFA from Ringling College of Art & Design (2006). Her works have been exhibited nationally and internationally. Mauser was a 2011 recipient of a Post-MFA Teaching Felllowship at The University of Chicago and a recipient of a Student Fine Art Fund Grant for travel and research in Berlin from The University of Chicago. Exhibitions include Ft. Gondo Compound for the Arts (St. Louis), Carrie Secrist Gallery (Chicago), The Dolphin Gallery (Kansas City), H&R Block Artspace (Kansas City), DOVA Temporary Gallery (Chicago), Gladstone Community Center (Gladstone, MO), Center for Art+Culture (Aix-en-Provence) and AR Gallery (Milan). Collections include The Alexander (Indianapolis) and The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (Overland Park, KS). Mauser’s writings have been published in 8 ½ x 11 and Art Practical. Mauser is also a co-founder of the artist run gallery, PLUG Projects and co-founder of the Kansas City Plein Air Coterie (KCPAC).
One of my earliest memories of playing video games: I’m sitting in my dad’s office playing Wolfenstein 3D and my grandfather walks in. He walks slowly and methodically; he’s elderly, but every time he drives it’s right there on his license plate: a purple heart from World War 2. I’ve just rounded a blocky corner and I know what’s ahead of me. Adolph Hitler shows up in some sort of robotic suit, his twin Gatling guns blazing. And I freeze: to not play is more difficult, a larger acknowledgement of the idea that I am portraying a caricature of my grandfather’s experience. In shame, I return fire until Hitler collapses into a bloody pulp. Silently, my grandfather walks away.
Last year, I played for the first time a game called Rage, which was actually developed by Id Software—the same company that worked to create Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, two early era games which helped popularize the first-person shooting-other-persons genre. I remember wading through several minutes of introduction until I finally sneaked into the rundown and dilapidated hotel a band of post-apocalyptic bandits had made their home. A shirtless bandit noticed me and charged. A shot rang out of my pistol, hit him in the face, and spread digital blood out in a skyward arc as his lifeless corpse fell to the ground. I quit and uninstalled the game a few minutes after.
Even though I grew up surrounded by increasingly devastating examples of a world of violence—digital Nazis, the theatrical release of Spawn, Columbine, 9/11, the invasion of Iraq—it wasn’t until that fake man’s head exploded at the behest of my mouse click that I felt ill about the genre, down to my core. Just months before had been the notorious Sandy Hook shooting, and as a country we were embroiled in a debate about gun control that was already quickly fading, just as every shooting since then has faded into this bleak tapestry of ill will, self-harm, and an inability on our part as a society to see these things as solvable problems. As though it will always and has always been too difficult to turn the mirror towards ourselves and ask, what, as a country, society, or group of people, we could do better.
This isn’t to say, as the NRA suggested after the Newtown Massacre, that videogames cause violence, but it’s hard to ignore that so much of the genre is branched out of the idea of the powerful, silent protagonist. His eyes are our eyes; his gun is our mouse. As though a monitor or television were a window into a universe where everything has been created to showcase destruction at the hand of the only person who has agency in a programmed existence: the consumer as player as protagonist. Like in movies and in television, we as audience members are asked to enjoy, engage, and sympathize with main characters as they perform astonishing acts of violence, either by watching or propelling the action forward with our controllers.
But: it’s all representative, maybe? When we shoot a fake man with a fake gun we are not engaging in real violence; the play violence does not spawn real violence. But, with each graphical update and each realistic sound effect, the genre moves further and further into a “more authentic” experience. Guns recoil authentically, bullets whiz by the headphone as they would the ear in actual war. Grenades disorient. Soon, Oculus Rift virtual-reality headsets will make it so that a head turned on a couch will be a head turn on the digital battlefield, a red mist before it.
But is it the fidelity of the experience or the experience itself? It’s a question Lovely Planet seems poised to ask, but I’m not sure it’s actually asking. The description isn’t really hopeful on that count:
A First Person Shooter Gun Ballet set in a cutesy abstract world. Jump and shoot your way through five worlds full of treacherous enemies with your trusty semi-automatic!
Cutesy abstract world is right on, though. Where there might be tall grasses or trees to hide behind in some sort of world-conflict, Lovely Planet’s terrain is a flat, calming green punctuated by small stones and salmon-colored hearts that pop up like flowers. Fluffy white clouds and multi-colored balls dot the sky as you run past colorful spaceships and giant soda containers that erupt out of the ground. An anemic blue-and-yellow arm juts out of the screen, holding a semi-automatic broomstick with a star attached to it. The star spins and you fire equally-absurd bullets, which pierce the sky on their way to injure red blocks with angry faces that disappear in a puff of smoke.
If videogame violence is representation, Lovely Planet seems poised to take that to task, because even in this world of absurd landscapes that seems like a lo-fi Katamari Damacy, the action is still the same: point, shoot, destroy (or save, depending on how you view it). Ideally, it would be this message: that no matter how you dress it, gun violence is still gun violence and even the cutest setting in the world won’t change it. But instead of offering this as commentary, it offers it up as celebration: look how great this semi-automatic is. All distractions have been stripped away: there is only you, your gun, and these enemies which must perish.
It’s a shame, because the game is well-crafted. Hypocritically, I find the action on point, the speed of the game intoxicating, but even though I can stomach its cutesy celebration of violence, it’s never clear that there’s any intent at all. Is it proof of concept? Minimal artistic design as necessity? An exercise in restraint? Problematically, all it becomes is another shooter, another weird war game, albeit set in a place of floating islands and child-like expressions of joy and violence. It ultimately doesn’t matter what it looks like, because the symbolism is still there. It’s not doing anything different.
I’m not sure if I’m growing tired of it all because I’m getting older or games are. As a fledgling player with a fledgling medium, I was thrilled to experience the highs and lows of war through it and its comfort and safety of a screen, because, in this new and fresh interactivity, it was exhilarating. At the time, false war was one of the best ways to showcase the power of “the game,” a first-person perspective ideal for a computer screen, the pointing of a gun ideal for a mouse.
If games can be art—and they can—the genre needs to be ready to accept a change, for a shift where violence isn’t the predominant expression of the medium, be it via guns, fists, or even the jump of Mario’s boot. Yes, film functions as a propeller of art and also the action movie, but so much of that visual media is obsessed also with comedy and drama. But where action is a subset genre of film, action is inherent in a videogame because there must be some sense of challenge. (The alternative, historically, is puzzle.) But a film (or book, or poem, or painting) may be challenging on themes or subject matter alone. Games are only just recently discovering the latter’s place in interactivity—games like Gone Home, To the Moon, and Depression Quest.
I’m looking forward to the day when a shooter is a parody of a shooter, but Lovely Planet isn’t it. It’s not that it’s not smart enough, or “good” enough, but it’s just tired, the same, nothing we haven’t seen before wrapped up in a different paper (lovely though it may be). Guns can have their place, will always have their place in a medium that was once (and still may be) defined by them. But, in the wake of tragedy after tragedy—will that place ever be comfortable? I’m not sure. But each year, more and more games are more than happy to join the ranks of pretend violence, no matter the setting or period, and more and more people are happy to buy them. Lovely Planet just wants to be another gun game, and that’s not really its fault; it’s ours.
Generalized humans, shapes in watercolor, stand in front of a world that looks like a swirling snow globe.
Scrawled across Zachary Cahill’s promotional banners and digital photographs of watercolors, are questions: “What is a painting? Why do we still do it?” The emblem USSA, a fictional world constructed of USSR and USA, is marked on all works as a returning incantation.
As if following the conditions of bringing a spirit from the dead, Cahill summons an answer from the invisible, painting directives on top of thick woods. Another painting asks, “Our psychic connection, But How? Why?”
Only a Painting, Zachary Cahill, digital photograph of watercolor on plexiglass, 18 x 24 inches, 2014
In a similar way full of sickly color, Zach’s watercolors share the constricted sight of paintings by Austrian artist Maria Lassnig. Her paintings are made with what Lassnig called “body awareness”. Fluorescent, painted humans wear constrictive goggles, disfigured through interactions with the outside world. A translucently painted wall of color floats in front of neon eyes. Maria Lassnig paints self-portraits that look like the self is overtaken – mouth open, head upturned and paintings of one body merging into another, neither body fully formed as self-portrait.
Almost all of Maria Lassnig’s images look stunned. Several portraits feature the eyeball held out away from the body, as well as above the head. Eyeballs are no longer used for seeing, but as overly-conscious tools of awareness. Eyeballs that examine the activity of looking.
Transparentes Selbstporträt, Maria Lassnig, oil on canvas, 1987
I saw Zachary Cahill by chance, shortly after seeing his exhibition called USSA Wellness Center at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. He asked me what I was reading these days. He was reading a book about religion, far-reaching into the past.
Books are installed within Zach’s exhibition and are on his mind. Several books compose the reference material of a reading library situated within the exhibition, thematically a wellness center within a tubercular sanatorium.
Inside this wellness center library, another influential book sat on the shelf, the shelf hung behind chairs of seated art viewers: The Preparation of A Novel by Roland Barthes. In our conversation, Zach mentioned this was a book he had many times recommended to everyone, and would recommend to anyone. The novel describes the process of planning a novel, a meta-novel, then, much in the way USSA Wellness Center is laid out according to the logic of a wellness center. The center includes a reading room, patients’ displayed watercolors, and hallway inspirational banners, as well as containing earnest watercolor washes of cliff precipices.
USSA Banner, Zachary Cahill, installation at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 2014, image courtesy of Tom Van Eynde
I brought up the Barthes book about grief, Mourning Diary, a diary kept after death of Barthes’ mother, a book written concurrently with The Preparation of a Novel and Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. The book was formed from a collection of notes on notecards, as with most of Barthes’ writing. Statements were written directly after the death of Barthes’ mother and continue up until his own death. Everyone grieves, and most want to attain wellness.
“But to see proof is a relief.”
“Do you have a book that you would recommend to everyone?” asked Zach. My mind drew a blank. Goodnight Moon, I thought. A book that loves sleep, loves to usher in sleep, with a wish goodnight to each object in the universe – the lamp, the cup and saucer. This universe contains one bedroom and the moon. The book is written séance-like in its bidding goodbye of each thing. Goodnight object, goodnight object, goodnight object.
I asked Zach about his séance that will begin at midnight at the MCA this Saturday, September 13th. Would it contain all of the props I had heard his séances contained before – complete darkness, a summoning of people in line?
Things I know about a séance are few. Popularity of the séance grew in the 19th century with the rise of Spiritualism. Séance comes from the French word meaning, seat, or session. Summoning of spirits no longer only happens while seated.
As a hypnotist speaks, an inert body listens: formally, sweater over shoulder, Susan Howe sits at her table, illuminated by a lamp with hands placidly folded beneath her book of words. Rather than gathering spirits, but akin to the method, Howe gathers words.
Words flow through, less a narration than a retrieval of emotion. The poet is like a medium, and the medium practices body awareness. From centuries-old sources, her poems are fragmented quotations, reaching far back.
“I need an excuse to reach that far back,” I thought, “and I love to have excuses.” The language comes even-keel. An invitation to a séance:
Susan Howe, from performance with David Grubbs WOODSLIPPERCOUNTERCLATTER, 2014
Work by Edra Soto.
Lloyd Dobler Gallery is located at 1545 W. Division St. Reception Friday, 6-10pm.
Work by Nayland Blake and Claire Pentecost.
Iceberg Projects is located at 7714 N. Sheridan Rd. Reception Saturday, 6-8pm.
Work by Michael Madrigali.
CourtneyBlades is located at 1324 W. Grand Ave. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.
Work by Marcelo Grosman
The Mission is located at 1431 W. Chicago Ave. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
Work by Sabina Ott.
The Chicago Cultural Center is located at 78 E. Washington St. Reception Friday, 5:30-7:30pm.