Top 5 Weekend Picks! (7/10-7/12)

July 9, 2015 · Print This Article

1. Three the Hard Way at Logan Center for the Arts

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 9.10.39 AM

Work by Ayana Contreras, James T. Green and David Leggett.

Logan Center for the Arts is located at 915 E. 60th St. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.

2. ANX/XV at Roots and Culture

ANX logo

Work by Joshua Johnson, Adrienne Miller, Allen Moore, Stuart Snoddy and Marcy Thomas.

Roots and Culture is located at 1034 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.

3. Wherever at LVL3


Work by Yuna Baek, Adi Goodrich, James T Green, Emily Haasch, Andy Hall, Clay Hickson, Cody Hudson, Ania Jaworska, Quinn Keaveney, Chad Kouri, Jason Pickleman, John Pobojewski, Alexa Viscius and Bryce Wilner.

LVL3 is located at 1542 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception Saturday, 6-10pm.

4. The Chicago Project VI at Catherine Edelman Gallery


Work by Garrett Baumer, Katarzyna Derda, Dan Herman, Elaine Suzanne Miller, Kevin Shick, Jason Vaughn, Lauren Wilkins and Everett C. Williams.

Catherine Edelman Gallery is located at 300 W. Superior St. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.

5. Wilderness and Household at THE MISSION


Work by Michael Hall and Yhelena Hall.

THE MISSION is located at 1431 W. Chicago Ave. Reception Friday, 6-8pm.

And no, for those of you that are curious, the Top 5 is not a bi-weekly column, it is weekly with minor exceptions. Thank you for reading the Top 5 and Bad at Sports.

Artist Residencies: Are They Worth It? (Part 1 of 2)

July 7, 2015 · Print This Article

I’m sitting in my studio at the Vermont Studio Center, an artist residency program located in Johnson, Vermont. I’m at a desk strewn with small lengths of hardwood flooring, which I’m using as panels for a series of paintings I’m working on while I’m here (through the end of July). To my right is a window looking out onto a grass lawn and a bed of tiger lilies. The sun is shining but it’s not too hot; fluffy white clouds peek up from behind the forest of maple trees on the hill. A robin occasionally lands on the railing of the balcony outside the window, keeping me company. It is undeniably idyllic.

To get here, I drove pretty much the entire breadth of the country. Starting in Flagstaff, Arizona, I first drove out to California, camping with my family in Yosemite National Park, watching my sister graduate from her graduate program in psychology in San Francisco, visiting old friends in Humboldt County, and finally attending the opening reception of my friend James Angello‘s MFA thesis exhibition at UC Davis. James and I were both scheduled to attend the Vermont Studio Center residency starting July 5th, an unplanned coincidence although it did help me to confirm my decision to attend.

I’ve previously attended VSC, in August of 2007, just after completing my graduate work at MICA. I reapplied two years ago with the intention of attending this time last year, but other opportunities came up and VSC was kind enough to allow me to defer my residency until now. Even so, and even after putting down a deposit, I wasn’t sure I was going to attend again. Unless one gets a full fellowship (I didn’t, James did), it’s not an inexpensive program, upwards of $2,000 for a four-week residency, even with the partial fellowships and work study assistance they award. In 2007, MICA was willing to cover the remaining portion of the cost for their graduating MFAs, so it was free for me then. This year it’s out of pocket, to say nothing of travel expenses.

Those who know me know that I will deliberate to the point of agonizing over even trivial decisions, so for me, the question of whether to spend three grand or more on a cross-country trip to an artist residency was obviously the subject of some rumination. Ultimately, of course, I decided to attend (I am here), but I had some good arguments with myself over the decision. It’s the kind of decision about which you can hardly ask anyone else for advice: their answer will be more a reflection of their own ideals than their perception of your situation, and also, as with any sort of travel, of course your friends will say “You should go!” But they won’t help you pay off your credit card after you get back.

In this two-part article, I’m going to share some observations on artist residencies, to help you decide if the benefits outweigh the costs, for you. Spoiler alert, I’m going to conclude by saying that it’s a personal decision that only you can make for yourself. And of course you already know that I have, three times now, decided that it was right for me, in my circumstance, at that time. But good advice isn’t a matter of telling a person what conclusion to reach; rather it is a matter of sharing information and perspective to allow them to reach their own conclusion. I hope to do just that.

Artist residencies have an odd place in the landscape of contemporary artmaking practices. In some ways they echo, and continue, the strategies and problems of graduate programs. Their selective admission practices make them a coveted piece of resume fodder, while their price tag can make them a luxury of the privileged. Of course, not all residencies are expensive: some (and some of the most desirable) are subsidized, some even including room, board, and a stipend. And not all are competitive, although most at least present the appearance of being so. The same is true, incidentally, of graduate programs: some are fully funded for anyone accepted, and others are fairly easy to get into. Unfortunately for those interested, there isn’t much if any overlap between the easy-to-get-in programs and the fully funded ones. Full funding draws an extensive pool of applicants, which creates competition. Nor is an expensive program a guarantee of easy admission: even costly programs, if prestigious, can be highly competitive.

So what’s the fuss? What is it that these residencies offer that justifies their cost and the trouble of applying? Couldn’t one just take the same amount of time away from one’s other responsibilities, stay home, and make art? In theory, of course, one could. And this is what the most productive artists do, day in and day out. But in practice, it’s hard to say no to obligations, to a spouse, kids, an employer, and to well-meaning friends who want to go to a movie, the beach, to get a drink. One of the advantages of a residency seems to be its very inconvenience: traveling far from home, you’re literally unable to do anything if your son gets sick or an emergency comes up at work. In effect, the principal advantage of an artist residency is that it short-circuits our sense of priority. By deciding in advance to make ourselves unavailable for a length of time, we make an irrevocable decision to prioritize art above all else for a certain length of time.

And there is, of course, the resume padding. It’s all too easy to dismiss this. Ambition has a dirty connotation, although, as Commodus reminded us (in Gladiator), it can be a virtue when it drives us to excel. Even if we’re doing fine in terms of productivity, making work in our studios, there’s a sort of arms race of resume lines. We think that the more we do, professionally, the better we are. This can lead to a peacock’s tail sort of phenomenon, where we’re so busy being busy, filling out that resume, adding lines, and making sure to post all about it on Facebook so everybody knows how successful we are, that we barely have time to make the work. When teaching opportunities, galleries, etc., form an expectation of an impressive resume, the artist who stays in the studio may be passed over in favor of the one who attends the residency. This, at least, is the perception. It’s probably true to some extent with regard to teaching jobs, and certainly is a factor in promotion and tenure once hired. With regard to galleries it’s probably an exaggerated perception, and it’s ultimately the work that counts. But in the mind of a struggling artist, someone who has been productive and believes in his or her work (at least in between the inevitible bouts of crippling doubt), it can become a powerful fear.

And then there’s networking. Who knows when and where you’ll meet the person who introduces you to the curator who gets you the show you’ve been dreaming of? A residency seems the optimal place to make this sort of connection, and in reviewing their advertisements they often push the sense of community and the lasting connections this can create. The reality of this community, and the duration of these connections, probably varies from program to program.

Residencies offer a variety of “added value” amenities as well. Skowhegan, for example, has a fresco painting workshop. Most have some sort of visiting artist program, figure models, and educational or recreational opportunities outside of the studio time which, in theory, forms the bread and butter of the program. Some provide housing and meals, others are a work space only.

Those are some of the reasons to attend.  In Part 2, I’ll talk about some questions you should ask yourself before deciding whether a residency is right for you.  I’m going to go paint now.


Safe House Co: the store that is anything but

July 3, 2015 · Print This Article

safe house

Perhaps the future of UK art looks like this: budget music videos, cutting edge t-shirt labels, and an online platform that fosters discovery of said product as the country’s most creative young people endeavour to make their voices heard and to make ends meet.

Safe House Co is the work of twenty somethings Jack Bartrop and Joe Bidmead. It’s a shop window for a network of friends and associates. And in a marketplace flooded with creative talent, it’s an opportunity seized, rather than given for free.

Bartrop agreed to an interview over coffee in a new cafe. “What you’re studying isn’t necessarily what you end up doing,” he says. Like most who study the arts, the film-graduate has to work two jobs: one to pay the bills and one to sustain his passion.

“A lot of our friends were doing creative things,” says Bartrop. “Then we just thought filming what they’re doing would be a nice way to keep ourselves going, and to keep ourselves occupied with film”.

The result can be seen at, a professional-looking site with a select mix of fashion and music brands. Bartrop rejects the term ‘online magazine’, but one suspects he’d be even less happy with the word ‘brochure’. Perhaps he’s discovered the future of journalism, as well as art.

“This is the thing: it is an experiment to a certain extent as everyone involved is doing something creative and also pushing products. They have to sustain their interests in that, and I think it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have tangible products,” says the 25-year old anti-preneur.

But he doesn’t expect to make a living from the site at any time soon. “That’s the dream,” he says, “But that isn’t our priority in any way.” He tells me they sell branded t-shirts, but defends this with the information that all money goes into staging Safe House Co events.

Given that Safe House Co is largely virtual, Bartrop is committed to “tangible things like events where people interact with each other”. And he paints a picture of grassroots activity, where his creative peers are hustling to get by.

“Everyone has to sustain themselves, to get a lift to a gig by selling a T-shirt or a CD that they’ve made,” he says. But you can’t help feel that this generation deserves better than the austere realities which characterise Britain in 2015.

What might yet pique your interest in Safe House Co is a mission statement which quotes Pierre Bourdieu and Michel de Certeau. Critical thinkers aren’t usually your go-to guys for skateboard laces, one of the more niche product lines on Bartrop and Bidmead’s site.

“We don’t want to pigeon hole [the site] in any way and find a demographic from day one,” he says, despite the sophisticated design and language around the project. “We’re not trying to market anything. The whole purpose of it is for people to come to the website and discover something new through it.”

Bartrop doesn’t need to be told that attention is the commodity of the age: “If someone does well through Safe House and people recognise them as a Safe House contributor, then to a certain extent everyone else involved will benefit.” That’s the theory, at least, but it’s a positive one.

Top 5 Weekend Picks! (7/3-7/5)

July 2, 2015 · Print This Article

So, uh, it’s the weekend of Fourth of July. Which means there aren’t even five shows. So here, this is the one thing you should go to, if you’re not to busy getting trashed and shooting roman candles and bottle rockets at eachother:

Complementary Width at The Franklin

Work by Anna Kunz, Luis Romero, Mika Horibuchi, Thaddeus Kellstadt, Josue Pellot, Jose Lerma, Michelle Anne Harris and Summer Air.

The Franklin is located at 3522 W. Franklin Blvd. Reception Saturday, 6-10pm.


Economies of resignation

June 19, 2015 · Print This Article

In blockbuster movies over the past five or ten years, corporations have replaced foreigners as the enemy. In Jurassic World, it is the careless desire for profit that drives a bunch of winkingly stereotypical characters to create a giant hybrid dinosaur that they can’t control and that proceeds to kill and eat everybody. Vincent D’Onofrio might as well have cartoon money signs in his eyes as he stumps around, slapping people on the back and making speeches about pride and glory. This suggests that it must be widely accepted amongst worldwide moviegoers that it is just as likely that capitalism will kill all of us as it is that foreigners will kill all of us. Rather, it has produced a sort of resigned quality, the kind of thing that people are talk about when they say things like “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,” despite the fact that the very thing that often ends the world in such imaginings is capitalism.

Liam Gillick, Heckle, 2014, with chromed projector mount.

Two recent shows in Mexico City, presented in very similar circumstances, share remarkably similar feelings of resignation, at once cheerful and lurid, depressed and bright. At lodos, in the working-class, hip neighborhood of San Rafael, twenty meters from arguably the best tacos in the city, a group show curated by Noah Barker, “International Currency,” with Scott Reeder, Cameron Rowland, and Liam Gillick. Six kilometers away, in upper middle-class, hip Roma Sur, Lulu presents a solo show by Ian Kiaer, “Limp Oak.” Both galleries are very small white boxes installed into non-commercial spaces, rooms that can handle four, maybe ten people at a time.

In lodos, against the wall, facing each other, two pairs of stones, rubble apparently, from Detroit even, one an electric shade of blue, one an equally electric shade of orange. I thought immediately of that line from Queer as Folk, the American version, where Justin—you know, the twinky one—says that orange is the new blue. Somebody else at the gallery, a charming and inquisitive artist from Denver, mentioned that famous Situationist poster of a woman throwing a piece of rubble picked up or culled from the street: “beauty in the street.” I kicked myself for not immediately recalling that reference, in the same way that I sometimes kick myself for not recognizing certain pop stars or famous actors. But then again, these rocks were certainly not for throwing at the gleaming storefronts of capital. They perfectly placed, beautifully painted, resting gently against the wall, framing the viewer or the viewer’s feet. I should have worn white shoes, the reflection might have been gorgeous.

Nearby, leering out of the walls, are a pair of pieces by a local electrician, directed by Cameron Rowland to disconnect an outlet, remove the faceplace, and expose the wires benath. A light in a corner remains off, incapacitated by the lack of power. Copper spills out of the wall, gross and hairy. Filling the room with a vaguely anxious murmur is a video by Liam Gillick, juxtaposing a pair of audio recordings, one of people heckling a particularly cheesy free jazz performance, one of people heckling Occupy Wall Street, with a  Greek beach scene—devoid of tourists, beautiful, the site of the perhaps imminant dissolution of the neoliberal European dream, calming. The pairing of the hilariously bad, gratingly macho free jazz performance and the OWS encampment suggests the current political irrelevance of both forms, both of which at different times seemed so promising. The only thing that seems appealing is the beach.

Scott Reeder, Detroit Rubble (blue), 2015.

Meanwhile, a few kilometers straight south, in a calm and breezy block of Roma Sur, in a similarly small white box installed in a residential, or partially-residential, space, a disconcertingly similar show is up at Lulu. Ian Kiaer has painted the floor a highlighter yellow, a yellow that makes almost too-perfect sense with the orange and blue rubble sitting pretty at lodos. The lurid glow the yellow floor casts up onto the Kiaer’s works on the wall and the floor: a rather unremarkable cardboard-tube piece, a painting that feels out of place, and a show-saving tarpaulin leached through with a whitish emulsion, riddled with lines and shadows brought out by the weird light. The tarpaulin is borrowed from the informal vendors that line nearby intersections, hawking tacos, tortas, cigarrettes, gum—whatever, really. At the end of the night, the vendors roll up the refuse—lettuce, cigarette butts, dirt—in the tarpaulin and dump it. The way the tarpaulin lightly sags is reminiscent of the waves lazily lapping at the shore in Liam Gillick’s video at lodos. I can imagine listening to the soundtrack to Gillick’s video and standing in Lulu, as if it’s coming from another room, and it making sense. Turn it on now, then make this color fill up your computer screen. Maybe put your computer in your bedroom if the bed is unmade. That’s kind of the vibe.

Ian Kiaer, “Paalen, Limp Oak”

That is, it’s not just the sickly bright palette the two shows have in common. There is a distinct feeling, a kind of resigned, sagging quality, that they share. In wrecked cities and towns around the world, copper wire, like the wires that lean out of the walls in Rowland’s piece at lodos, is stripped from abandoned properties and sold for scrap. It is the classic journey of the stereotypical heroin addict, enshrined in characters like Bubbles in the Wire, pushing the shopping cart piled high with scrap to make enough money to get the day’s fix, to nod off in some other wrecked corner of the bled-out city. The chunks of pavement gleaming in lodos rest easy; the video lulls you to a troubled, but only vaguely troubled, sleep; that light won’t even turn on. In Lulu, the only piece that appears to have involve concentrated effort, an acrylic on cotton with tight geometries, beautiful lines, etc, feels excessive, out of place, completely unnecessary—a waste of effort. The yellow glow from the floor makes the pale pink in the top third feel foul.

Ian Kiaer, “Paalen, Limp Oak”

Taken together, the two shows point to an economy of resignation, a careful balance of vitality against a near-total lack of hope. They point to the end of the of the long-dying attitude that art is or can be a tool of revolt. In Infinitely Demanding, a resolutely hopeful book written shortly before the Occupy Wall Street movement began and subsequently ended, Simon Critchley points out the outmodedness of the desire to escape the state: “we cannot hope, at this point in history,” he writes unequivocally, “to attain a complete withering away of the state.” Indeed, in states that do appear to be dissolving, such as Syria or the DRC or Mexico, this dissolution can be in no way termed a “withering away”—it is a much more violent, brutal affair. What Critchley suggests instead is to establish “an interstitial distance within the state,” the creation of a sort of gap space wherein politics, agency, etc are possible, within, but at the same time separate from, the state. While Critchley terms this in relentlessly positive, breathless, hopeful terms, I read this space as something lurid: a cyst, a gaping hole. It reminds me a bit of Lee Edelman’s conception of queerness as that which gleefully unravels the future, or the present even, from the inside. If art has lost its political relevance, which it perhaps never had, perhaps it can instead form the neon, shitty lining of the hole in the future.