Grafting is a horticultural process that involves splicing one plant onto another to jump start growth. The root stock is the base, or anchor, of the operation used for its already mature, well developed root system. The scion is the plant matter that is grafted on; if the process is successful, you end up with a genetic duplication of the scion. Edra Soto’s current exhibition “Graft” is on view now at Terrain in Oak Park, a project space encompassing artist and principal Sabina Ott’s front yard. Soto uses Ott’s front porch as the root stock to graft her installation, comprised of patterned, bright white screened gates, onto, and although they mimic the aesthetic appeal of similar gates in her native Puerto Rico, they function quite differently in the terroir of Oak Park. Soto was kind enough to discuss this, along with her inspiration for the project and her own gallery and art collection with me below. “Graft’s” closing reception is this Sunday, April 21 from 1-4pm.
TLN: I know the patterning and the structure of the screen installed at Terrain is inspired by similar wrought iron fences in Puerto Rico, where you’re from. Can you tell me a little bit about your background, and what inspired you to utilize these fences in your work– was it their design? A certain nostalgia for Puerto Rico? The way they fit within Oak Park?
ES: Yes, this patterning comes from iron fences that still exist in Puerto Rico. Many are in my parent’s neighborhood (where I grew up). The neighborhood was built in the early 60s and in addition to the aesthetic appeal, the screens provided security and ventilation. It’s easy to find all kinds of information relevant to the problems related to criminality at that time. However, there’s not much information about the pattern designs of the fences. My interest in these patterns started around 7 years ago. I made some illustrations of them, but didn’t develop the idea further. My frequent visits to Puerto Rico awoke my interest in them again. My husband started using some of these patterns in the furniture he builds and that definitely made me feel I was missing out. Somehow, his admiration of the fences validated my previous interest in them. The last time I went to Puerto Rico with my husband, we went on fieldtrips around my parents’ neighborhood and adjacent neighborhoods to take pictures of these fences. That was one of the most fun things we have done together. We truly love finding patterns we haven’t seen before. After all that fun activity, the idea of transplanting a Puerto Rican fence in Oak Park came to me. Their beauty allures me but their potential of becoming modern art when taken out of their original context spooks me!
TLN: You run a gallery space in your backyard, The Franklin, and Sabina Ott has dedicated her front yard to her exhibition space, Terrain. Do you think The Franklin and Terrain have a lot in common, or do they take two different approaches to a similar format? What are some challenges of having an outdoor exhibition space? Do you find that most of the works are made specifically for the exhibition space?
ES: I’m so glad you ask this question because it hasn’t been asked before. Just now, we have created evidence that documents one small part of the history of domestic artist-run gallery spaces in Chicago. I probably will have a conversation with Sabina soon, since I don’t know the reasons why she chooses to do her projects in her front yard. From my end, I was offered an exhibition at Northeastern Illinois University last year and had almost a year to conceive the project. That time allowed me to partner with my husband on the project, have a lot of conversations about possible projects, and eventually, creating The Franklin became our project. I kept asking myself ‘what can we offer to the art community that is not available to them’? Having a significant art collection was another motivation, thinking ahead of time that it would be great to open our house during opening nights at The Franklin and extend the life of the artwork we own beyond our own personal enjoyment. The specific structure of the Franklin offers the challenges of interacting somewhat with its design. Being partially outdoors forces the artists to react to the space as well. So far, the most successful projects come from artists that have challenged themselves by creating specific interactions utilizing their work, their aesthetics and their ingenuity. It is a great challenge.
TLN: Because we’ve worked together previously, I know a little bit about your amazing collection of art work and visual culture in your home, which itself is a kind of museum of objects and works that inspire and influence you. I know you said you would often trade works with other artists, or purchase pieces at auction to build your collection, but what made you want to start exhibiting work and start a gallery? Is it related at all to collecting? Seems like there might be a similarly social aspect of owning and displaying work, but it may also be a more private, archival impulse that motivates you.
ES: Collecting art comes from a very honest place. I just happen to love many different kinds of art and also happen to have a lot of talented friends that make it. I am fascinated by materiality and objects, but really avoid being a packrat. Collecting art makes us feel that we are doing something honorable. It is after all someone’s real connection to art language and represents a little bit of the person that made it. I wouldn’t display my work at my house because I have always thought that it is a little bit tacky. It’s like putting a big portrait of myself in the middle of the room. Not that I don’t have pictures of me (most of them with my husband) around the house. But I see those as memories reminders.
One of the reasons I felt motivated to open a gallery in our backyard was to give a ‘second life’ to our art collection. Having other artists work at your house, in such a private setting, kind of limits the initial purpose of that art piece. Indeed, every single time we have an opening, I encourage people to look around. Lots of work gets lots of compliments and I get to tell the visitors, and then the artists, how much people like their work. So The Franklin has 3 major components: The exhibitions at the space, the art collection, and an upside down pineapple cake that I’ve been making since 2009. Derived from my wedding cake, made by my mother, I started this project in an effort to transform sour memories around the original cake. Now it’s one of our traditions at The Franklin. An installation of these cakes will be created for a collaborative project by Alberto Aguilar at the MCA during this summer.
All images courtesy of the artist.
Interview conducted via email April 2013.
J=o=u=i=s=s=a=n=c=e Knows Best
PS: I misread “you” instead of the “I” you have. How does this change the tone of the text? How does this change the idiomatic expression itself: “I break for strangers” or “I will rock you like a hurricane” or “the children are our future”? How does this change the sense of a dialogue between a subject and an object of desire on the skintight highroad of language?
the words we use have a social effect
such as when a judge pronounces you “guilty” or when a matrimonial couple utters “I do” or when land reform protesters scream
On May 11, the following event will take place in Bucharest, Romania at the café called Tramvaiul Douazeci Si Sase:
Sweet Little Nothings: Contemporary Romanian Poets on Nihilism
Many recent poets have announced the death of postmodernism and the quick and subsequent births of Conceptual Writing, Fracturism, Flarf, Post-Avant Poetry, Slow Poetry, and so on. But is the age of deconstructing the metaphysics of history, god, and self indeed over in contemporary Romanian poetry? Otherwise put: what does it mean to write if nothing matters? What topics do self-conscious (and history-conscious) poets write about after the theory that the center does not hold no longer holds? Is Cioran still relevant when he claims that the most heroic thing for modern man to do is commit suicide? What kind of nothing do you believe in? What kind of nothing do your poems represent? Which nihilism represents you as a poet: Nietschean fecundity or confessional solipsism or another? Do you prefer to lose your past, your faith, your self in the infinite music of the void through Dionysian excess or in puritanical minimalism with its hidden Apollonian authority or in some other direction? How do your poems “take responsibility for their freedom” as Sartre put it? Camus found relief when the Sisyphean bolder was rolling back down the mountain. Where do you find relief? Is finding relief and closure why you write your poems?
This roundtable invites 5-6 poets to offer a definition and a poem showing what nihilism means to them and to their poems in 5 minutes. After these brief provocations, the audience is expected to harass the poets with questions about how Romantic (see John Keats’ negative capability) they still are to think they can live in OR represent the nothingness of being. Bring your potato salad. The objective of these brief presentations and hoped-for audience response is not to make moral progress toward a True contemporary Romanian poetry but to make aesthetic progress by becoming more self-aware of our habits of mind.
Images courtesy of: 1280 × 1024 - stilpu.org
A PDF version of the following post (with o so handsome formatting) is available for download here:
When Seattle-based designer Michael Cepress and I first met in February, he was on the verge of closing in on a successful Kickstarter campaign to help launch his first complete line of ready-to-wear garments and accessories for men and women. “It’s nice to know that I have a community of support,” he said with heartfelt sincerity followed by a long exhale of relief. Nice, indeed. In three weeks time, Cepress raised 52K through the online campaign, enough to hire a small cohort of seamsters and craftspeople, invest in materials, and begin to produce the suite of designs that will eventually culminate in a formal runway show and distribution through selected retailers this fall.
While his Kickstarter coups speaks to Cepress’ creative vision, highly skilled craft, and entrepreneurial ambition; more than anything, I feel that this public investment signifies a larger cultural shift. Fashion design—from haute couture to countercultural handcraft—has seen a recent resurgence in museums, MFA programs, and artisanal incarnations. Skirting that line between fine art, craft, and design, fashion appeals to our aesthetic and tactile sensibilities. Clothing is the stuff of everyday life, serving the vital purpose of keeping us alive while facilitating the social relationships that allow society to thrive. Much in the way that architecture orients us in space and tableware delineates dining, clothing enables movement, defines identity, and, ideally, is interwoven with personal significance that can transform an everyday object into ancestral treasure.
Unfortunately, the field of fashion continues to be mired by the industry—the pop culture branding, inflated consumption, and dirty labor practices from which, somehow, Art is able to maintain its critical distance. It is no wonder that Cepress spends much of his time playing educator, articulating and re-articulating much of the process behind garment production, and advocating for slow fashion much in the way the culinary industry has promoted slow food.
Visiting Cepress in his studio, I was thrilled to get a glimpse of the hodgepodge of sartorial splendor that is helping to shape his new collections. It too came as little surprise that among the tribal costumes and arts and crafts era motifs, the counterculture featured prominently here, from the glitter of the Cockettes to the patchwork of the Drop City communes. Today, the counterculture movement speaks to a celebration of collaborative living and political action, much of which was crafted using one’s own two hands. It is precisely this intersection of world-making and hand-making that resonates, made tangible in every aspect of Cepress’ designs, from his unique selection of textiles to his unraveling of gender conventions. Not to say there is revolution at work here. For the time being, Cepress seems intent on expressing himself and his wearer in a way that brings a bit of humanity back to fashion, one hand-stitch at a time.
SMP: How did you come to fashion? By way of fine arts?
MC: I have two art degrees in textiles and fibers, [BA, University of Wisconsin; MFA, University of Washington,] so I’ve absolutely a visual art kid. I’ve never taken a formal fashion design class, never taken a sewing class, and never been taught patterning or drafting or any of that stuff. I’m more or less self-taught in that regard, which was a grueling and kind of awful way to do it. There have been so many moments when I’ve thought: damn it, I wish I had a pattern-making class! But, at the same time, when I talk to people who have been trained in the traditional fashion design route, they don’t have that artist half of the deal.
SMP: Coming at a field untrained must open up a lot of potential in your way of working.
MC: I don’t know the rules and, as an artist, I was trained to not care about the rules in the first place. And it’s in my nature to think: that’s the way I’m supposed to do it, but I don’t want to do it that way and I don’t have to. When I was in art school, someone printed up these tee shirts reading: “I’m an art student, I can do whatever I want. Fuck art, let’s make a profit.” This was definitely not something I wrote, but I loved that idea of art giving license to do whatever we wanted. It’s a bit snotty on a tee shirt, but that’s the artist’s biggest strength: having this opportunity to really do anything.
SMP: I’ve seen some of your student work, which seemed to tend towards wearable sculpture. At what point did you begin to pull away from fine arts towards design?
MC: My entire first year of graduate school—eight years ago—I was doing photo shoots, drawings, installations, and sculptural pieces all about men’s fashion. Essentially, I was always making art about fashion but never getting into the stuff itself. By way of some good mentorship and conversations in school, I realized that I was consistently keeping myself one step away from what actually excited me, and if I wanted to make clothes, I should just go ahead and make them! So I did. I began by making the wearable art pieces that you’ve seen on my website, and by the time I graduated, my thesis was a complete collection of clothes that were presented and then put up for sale—70 pieces total. It was insane.
SMP: I’m wondering about the transition from more or less one-off pieces, whether artwork or commissioned garments, to creating a garment line for men and women with a more broad strokes appeal. Is there a body, or an audience, that you have in mind when you design?
MC: Maybe I’m a little naive in that I can still see anyone wearing my clothes, but that’s also because I feel that anyone should feel the freedom to wear anything. Clients come to me with sets of rules about what the will and won’t wear, and I usually come to them with absolutely no rules whatsoever; I like to go ahead and see what’s possible. These new collections are becoming an exercise in understanding the market and thinking about the market in a way that I haven’t had to before. When I make something, I’m not only considering its drape and aesthetic, I’m thinking of who would wear it, the price-point it should fall within, what material and production costs are, how many sizes it’s graded to, what boutiques would be interested in it and what sizes will they want to order.
SMP: Tell me a bit about your studio wall… I love the breadth of material from the Cockettes to William Morris!
MC: Yeah, it’s kind of all over the place… This wall is the inspiration for the new collections. The question I’m constantly asking is: where do the relationships exist? What do the Cockettes have to do with Native American tribal culture? How does this kind of 1970s patchwork dress relate to traditional Greek folk costume? When you put them side-by-side, you realize that they have a lot to do with one another, but how you connect the dots between them is the real question.
SMP: Since you’re operating across history and geography here, what is it about these objects that stands out and makes you want to mash them together?
MC: I think that the counterculture and the hippie scene is really at the core of it all with this collection; that’s the connecting point for me because it’s so inspiring to me aesthetically. I love that amalgam of textures and colors and patterns and cultures. All in one moment we can be Victorian and Futuristic, costumed and childlike, and practicing meditation and studying the occult and, and, and, and… All at the same time. If you start to pick it apart, you can start to see how these things manifest and how they all connect to one another.
SMP: Beyond the texture and splendor of the Counterculture/hippie moment, is the politics of that era something that is embedded in your work?
MC: Yeah, or I should say, the politics in the big sense. And I don’t know if “politics” is the best word, but rather, the things that the politics embody: the ethos of freedom and liberation on all fronts—sexual, political, personal, spiritual, aesthetic—letting all the walls and boundaries crumble away. I like what that allows to happen and how things start to get a little weird. We can’t label things anymore when all the walls have broken away because all the little boxes that we’ve put things in don’t really matter anymore. In terms of the politics, it’s not so much that I’m fixated on what Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin were doing, or the mechanisms of gay liberation—it’s not that specific. My interest is in the spirit, the emotion, the overarching theme that let the walls fall and all the many groups involved coexist.
SMP: I was interested in your artist statement and your mention that your work is about testing boundaries, and I wasn’t sure if you were referencing formal, political, or cultural boundaries, but it sounds like it’s all embedded in your work.
MC: In a certain way I feel like they’re one in the same. The boundary gets identified when you start to push against it. So how do you push against boundaries when you’re making clothes? Do you encourage a man to wear a shaped garment that we would never otherwise see on a man? Do you put a transparent cloth that lets us see the body in a way that we’re not accustomed to seeing? A big part of fashion design for me is: what is the body itself; what does the body embody; and how does that turn into something? So part of my practice, almost weekly, is to draw the figure, both male and female. I look at the body and then I figure out what is it about the pose, the person modeling, or what’s on my mind that day, that can turn into a garment concept. This rendering on the end [for a garment featured at Bellevue Art Museum] expresses this most clearly: here he is with an open stance, and you can’t help but see this burst of light or energy from his chest. As a physical thing, this expression is embodied as a vest with dozen lapels.
SMP: Fashion design is compelling to me because it exists between a number of different spheres of working—sculpture, performance, design, etc. The traditional conception in the fields of architecture and industrial design is that “good design” is invisible, and fashion is unique because it does, in a way, need to achieve a balance between fitting fluidly to the body in addition to being a very explosive expression of individual identity for wearer and designer. I’m curious how you’re able to navigate those two very seemingly conflicting aspects of your field of design?
MC: That’s the constant challenge. I’m continuously asking: how ostentatious do you want the work to be? Do you really want it to be design that screams at people, or do you want it to be that sort of seamless integration into the culture where it’s so well designed—whether or not that is good design in my mind us up for debate—that we don’t even notice it at first.
At this point I’ve made over 1,000 garments with my own hands, and the only reason I know this is because I recently had to reorder labels because the initial order of a thousand ran out… One thing that gets a bit skimmed over more than I would like it to is that I, myself, with my own hands and really love to make things. As soon as I start to wear the hat of designer or business owner or instructor, that seems to take this big leap away form the fact that all of this has happened with my own two hands—literally, I have made almost everything myself up until this point. That’s a huge part of the process. In order to understand any of these designs, I physically need to have my hands on the goods all day everyday. If I don’t, there’s this detachment from it all. Now that I have all this assistance in the studio, the new challenge becomes: how do I keep my hand in it all and in a big enough way that the gap doesn’t grow larger.
SMP: In craft, you see the physicality of the maker’s imprint on the side of a pot, whereas design erases all evidence of the hand. Have you given any thought to ways you could embed a handmade vernacular into your work?
MC: I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I trust the hands of the people who I hire. My hands are by no means better than anyone else’s, but if I can’t be doing the sewing anymore and I have to trust the hands of everyone on board, allowing theirs to put that sort of mark into the garments in the way that I once did. Also, I’m playing with the idea of designing things that show that hand of the maker, making certain to include elements in a design to guarantee that the end wearer will see and will know that there was a hand process done. That might mean that there’s a certain part of the garment that is finished by hand with needle and thread and no machine, or one idea that I’m exploring is that I would design a little custom charm or something that gets attached by hand to every garment as like a signature piece from the studio exclusively. Any of those hand finishes where it would be unmistakable: this is handmade.
SMP: Overcoming the idea of the mark of the maker as being an imperfection must be a unique challenge in this case.
MC: It is. And what’s so interesting is that most garments in the clothing industry today—even mass-produced items—are still made by hand. That’s something that a lot of people don’t realize or perhaps overlook is that even the clothes we buy at Target are still made by hand. They’re just made in a way where there’s no reverence or appreciation for the people making them, and, of course, the mission is to make them as quickly and as cheaply as possible, so all of those signs of the hand are just completely gone. That’s always hard for me to think about: all clothes are made by hand. There are mechanical processes involved, but for the most part, it’s handwork. So now, I have to make an extra effort to include that hand stamp on everything which is fine by me—it makes the clothes more beautiful, so that works.
SMP: How do you address the relationship between fashion and performance, both in an everyday sense as well as through your collaborative works with choreographers?
MC: I think performance can’t happen without those wearable objects designed for the movement. Especially with dance, (and I think there’s an analogy in street life too), how we dress determines how we move and how we live. The stage then becomes this amplified version of that—I’m sure there’s an argument around this—but from my point of view, the garments that a performer wears dictates what happens on stage in so many ways. It can set limitations in terms of how a body can and can’t move; for example, there’s a big difference between wearing a flowy silk garment and a big canvas jacket with straps around it. How costuming determines the possibilities of movement is huge. There’s also the idea of a character being built out of the clothes. I love to hear professional actors comment that it takes them stepping into their costume to really start to become the character that they need to become. It’s a whole transformative process—the transformative garment. Designing for the stage is an awesome and spectacular creative challenge.
MC: The best collaborative partner that I have is with a modern dancer named Catherine Cabeen, we’ve staged three works together. She was a principle with Martha Graham, and then she was with Bill T. Jones for years, and now she travels and stages works for Bill’s company and is a university instructor as well. She also has a dance company of her own, and because she and I get along great—creatively we speak a similar language—it always works out really beautifully. I was lucky that with one of those pieces, she came to me and asked that I create the costumes first and she would orchestrate the dance around the garments, (rather than the usual format of the costuming coming after the dance has been created). My design of the clothes kind of choreographed that piece—I’m by no means the choreographer—but in a way, I am setting the ground rules: here’s what these bodies will be able to do, and here’s what they won’t be able to do by way of these clothes.
SMP: What are your feelings about the contemporary, American attitude towards clothing consumption? Is there something perverse in our behavior towards accumulating massive closets?
MC: I think we’re pigs about it and we need to slow the hell down. We need to completely scrap that notion that says: if it’s something from last season, it’s out of date, it’s bad, and it shouldn’t be worn anymore. I understand collections being developed seasonally—what a great way to keep work going—but it’s the devaluing of things from the past that I think has to end. What it does is put that many more clothes in the landfill, and he statistics around that are horrific. The life of a garment from purchase to the landfill is dreadfully brief. There are a number of books on this subject and I have to be careful to not read them before bed because I end up falling asleep feeling really grumpy about the state of the universe. So I would say: slow down, buy less, and we have to adopt what some would term a European ethic where you don’t have a lot of clothes in your closet, but what you do have are really well made from good materials and from designers that you believe in that suit your taste and your lifestyle. And you wear them a lot—it’s not bad to be seen wearing the same thing a couple times a week. That notion alone, if we could get that out of our heads, I think it could fix a lot of problems. There are people who are just horrified by the idea of being seen in the same thing twice. I prefer the opposite. I treasure the fact that I have clothes that were my grandfather’s, and he wore them a million times and now I wear them a million times. This one garment has decades—generations—of history in it, which makes it better than anything brand new. Let’s create our own powerful histories with how we dress.
SMP: With over-consumption we loose sense of legacy and clothing as heirloom?
MC: Absolutely. The fashion industry has been set up in such a way to completely eliminate a person’s ability to just have an emotional connection to the clothes that they wear. May I read a quote from a book?
SMP: Of course!
MC: This is one of the books I’m talking about: Fashion and Sustainability: Designs for Change, [Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose, 2012]. There’s this whole section on what they term Optimized lifetimes, or how to make the lifecycle of a garment longer. Another heading is called Empathy, which addresses the consumer’s emotional relationship to the clothes that they wear. [Fletcher and Grose] say: “How we enable products to evoke empathy in an overdeveloped and overabundant material world is a formidable challenge. The fast paced and visually noisy marketplace depletes the psychic attention of the shopper and elements that might signal emotional attachment to a garment as quiet as they often are, can easily be drowned out by the competition for a shopper’s attention.” The way stores and websites are designed promote this borage of information, light, sale tags, numbers, which drains our ability to see with a sensitive eye. And I think that the emotional connection to a garment cannot exist amidst all of that chaos. How can you see and enjoy the subtlety of a tone-on-tone weave? How can you notice the fact that there’s a soft color gradation and this is actually 19-different colors coming together? How can you enjoy any of that amidst all the chaos that is shopping?
SMP: Do you enjoy working with clients for that reason? In co-creating a garment, you’re already giving it a story.
MC: Absolutely. The process of making it builds that story and makes that happen. The downside of it is that custom clothes are so time and labor intensive that they’re very expensive. They are expensive for me to make and expensive for the client, because from a business perspective, in order for me to build any bit of profit into project, the clothes become costly. I feel like that is where I turn into teacher in the studio. There’s this whole educational process of showing the client not just what the design process is like, but what the entire process is about. Suddenly they have to know what patterning and fit are all about, they have to know what different construction techniques are, and they have to know that a handmade suit coat takes between 80 and 100 hours of my time to complete and do it right. It takes so much time and energy just to educate, and that doesn’t mean you get the gig; so, unfortunately, I don’t see custom tailoring a particularly sustainable business model today but, at the same time, it needs to happen. Once upon a time, students used to get that in school—everyone had home economics classes where you had to sew and make your own clothes, and that doesn’t happen anymore. I’m fairly convinced that the average 20-something person thinks that clothes fall from the sky and land on the rack. To bring it back to the hippies for a second, they were one of the last generations to ever get that education in school. The average 18-year old girl or guy could embroider a jacket because they were taught how to in grade grade. In fact, they received a basic knowledge of making of all sorts—carpentry, sewing, metalwork—they got a taste of all of it in the education system, which simply does not happen today.
SMP: There’s such a spirit of resistance embedded in this aesthetic that, today, is inherently connected with the skill set. It’s interesting that we consider off-the-grid living and these countercultural gestures as an element that would rupture the contemporary lifestyle in a very conscious way, but in the moment, these were simply everyday, public education skills—it was a baseline. Sewing your own clothing was never meant to be loaded with revolutionary potential.
MC: It just was. It was just a simple life skill. And I’m sure that to this day, when the folks of this generation shop, they have an inherent understanding of what it means for a garment to be well made and part of your life longer than the next season.
Michael Cepress is a Seattle-based fashion designer and educator. Recently, his work was featured in the Bellevue Art Museum biennial exhibition, High Fiber Diet. Currently, he is at work at a full line of men’s and women’s clothing and, September, 2013, he will be a featured designer in Bellevue Fashion Week’s Independent Designer Runway Show. Be sure to visit his website: http://michaelcepress.com
We have made it so that actors are playing themselves as the ultimate fictional character. My Dinner with Andre famously did this in 1981. Being John Malkovich (1999) was self propelled by having the notable actor play himself, despite the already original script. Neil Patrick Harris reignited his career playing a bad boy version of himself in Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle (2004), while Mike Tyson tries for the same thing in The Hangover (2009) franchise, but just further becomes a parody of himself. A perfect example of this phenomenon may be James Franco, who is in the forthcoming This is the End (2013) as himself, had a cameo as himself both in Knocked Up (2007) and an episode of 30 Rock (2010). To complicate matters, his reoccurring role on the soap opera General Hospital is as a performance artist, which is another “self” in his real life, and the role was treated this way by the actor; not as an acting job, but as performance art. Fiction becomes confused as reality, while reality is fabricated via the democratizing of cultural production on the web.
Thanks to reality TV, YouTube, Facebook and countless other social media sites, the best character to play is the self, as our selves are now divided into two or more incarnations, real and fictional. Perhaps thats why James Franco was accused of playing real life rapper Riff Raff in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (2013) as a version of identity theft. If there is anyone who should capitalize from our constructed selves, it should be ourselves, right? In My Dinner with Andre, Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory (who both wrote the script and based it from their own lives), refer to the essence of viewing and perceiving as reality and action itself, while having a conversation over dinner about our loss of understanding of reality.
What does it mean, then, when Steve Coogan plays himself — Steve Coogan, actor — traveling and eating with his actor friend, Rob Brydon, played by Rob Brydon in The Trip (2010)? Every conversation deteriorates into celebrity impressions, endlessly repeating in a loop throughout the movie. This revamp of My Dinner with Andre might be brilliant if it wasn’t so painful to watch. Has meaningful content eroded into emotion deprived tweets and retweets, and continuously recycled ideas, so that only content itself is important? It only seems logical that our consumer culture obsession of quantity over quality would extend into cultural production, information and identity.
Reality TV and YouTube are now established parts of our entertainment culture, providing instant celebrity status or notoriety. By always trying to make reality, how are we actually interacting with it? We are constantly posting and reposting, recycling videos, content, news; in essence, information we are trying to process as reality. This blends in with all the fictional stuff. How do movies become the stand in for experiences not personally had, influencing our actions and their expected outcome? Do we envision our lives cinematically, possibly as a result of our experiencing through media?
Where does this leave the creator? Is it that creation becomes, through instantaneous and never ending reposting and fractured retelling of actual events, a nuanced evolution of the event itself? A more immediate reaction of trying to make sense of the information thrown into our faces like bugs hitting the windshield of a speeding car on the highway. Collecting and throwing in all these mashed up bits on our palette that are equalized in their desiccated state, stuck on a slab of glass in front of our faces, blocking our view of the real world. Creation becomes commenting, and commenting becomes an affirmation of existence.
By playing versions of themselves, actors and the culture industry are acknowledging that the construct of fiction is also reality; that reality is just as intangible as anything else provided to us while we sit and watch something from a screen. As My Dinner with Andre proclaimed over thirty years ago, our perception of reality has grown false in our modern lives. The question remains if we are getting even further from reality by our inclusion of the digital world into the physical, or if we are colliding the worlds together for a fuller picture of all that is real, that “real” is just a state of mind.
Film dates were found through IMDB.com.
by Richard Holland
I went to law school and pursued my MA/MFA at the same time. From the academic institution/professorial perspective I suspect this made me a first class pain-in-the-ass. Pity my art professors. I hear they have all recovered well, although I don’t know how much treatment or scotch it took.
Both BAS NYC chief Amanda Browder and I were lucky to work with three professors in particular (Michelle Grabner was at UW at the time, and was a shining beacon of smarts) who were exceedingly smart, kind, and when necessary not going to put up with any of my pushy-lawyery bullshit.
This was refreshing as I found a number of professors who weren’t particularly interested in dialoging about their ideas, exploring the theory and practice of where the field is going, and embracing the intellectual joy in the complexity in contemporary art.
Aristotle (Aris) Georidiades and his wife Gail Simpson are clearly two of my favorite people; I admire their work ethic, commitment to educating artist as they begin their careers, I enjoy their work, and appreciate(d) their mentorship. They truly were the highlights of my MFA experience and are great assets to the University of Wisconsin art department. Fanboy gushing aside I know and enjoy their work. Aris has a solo show at Carl Hammer and will be present at the reception this Friday (Carl Hammer Gallery, 740 Wells Street in Chicago this Friday April 19th from 5:30-8:00). This show looks like an evolution and maybe a departure from the work I’ve seen in the past and I am looking forward to seeing the show. Upon reading the press release, I wanted to ask some questions, emailed Aris and he kindly agreed to do an interview.
RH: You new show is focused more on the idea of re-use and repurposing than your prior work, which also has used lots of materials that are construction type, non-precious materials. How does using “found” materials fit into this work? What do you mean by re-purposed sculpture? Are you reusing old work?
AG: Most of the work for this show is made of materials that I have collected that are generally related to buildings built prior to the 1960s. I also continue to use objects that might be considered obsolete or on the verge of being obsolete. I think that by using these materials and objects in my sculpture, notions of our current condition are brought to mind. Of course there are some typical motivations underlying this work. Typical in that I am a “maker” who appreciates materials and I notice the way the world around us is made. Materials and the methods of manipulating the materials can and should carry and covey meaning. Visual artists know this don’t they?
I should also add that I continue to believe in the power of objects. As an artist I find it very challenging to try to create compelling objects in a world filled with objects whether we call them art or not. I am not really repurposing old work although at times I do reuse materials from an old piece.
RH: You are one of the few artists I know who have pursued a career in doing public sculpture in your work as “Actual Size Artwork” with Gail Simpson, and also have pursued their own gallery career. How does that work in terms of ideas, do you have a set of Actual Size ideas and a set of ideas for your own practice? Both bodies of work have similar senses of humor.
AG: The gallery work and the work I do with Actual Size are usually pretty separate, although I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. They have different goals. Actual Size developed organically with Gail Simpson since we were partners working in shared studio space etc. That collaboration allows us to create primarily large scale temporary and permanent public artworks. The permanent projects usually are commission pieces that I consider more like design-build projects. There are a lot of factors that we take into consideration during the entire process, not the least of which is that it is going to exist in the public domain. Many artists can’t or won’t deal with many of the issues involved. We actually enjoy much of the work especially dealing a wide range of professionals outside of the art world. The whole thing ultimately makes me feel much more a part of our economy. The temporary projects on the other hand do allow for more flexibility and freedom of “artistic” expression” than do the permanent projects. It is inevitable that some of what each of us does in the studio carries over into the public works. I would say certain shared values, a sense of humor and other formal considerations.
RH: You are a professor at the University of Wisconsin, you run a public art company, and you make your own work, that is three full time jobs? How do you manage to do all three?
AG: Frankly, I don’t think I do a great job managing all three jobs. Fortunately the work of Actual Size Artworks is shared with my wife Gail Simpson.
RH: You are based out of Madison Wisconsin, which is one of the countries major public research institutions, but does not necessarily have the links to the “contemporary art world” whatever that means, you obviously have a gallery career and a collector base, how have you managed to promote your work outside of one of the major centers of art commerce? Has that had an effect on how you promote your work?
AG: Yes, living outside of a major urban area is really difficult for visual artists to maintain any kind of career. I would not be in this area if it were not for this great job that allows me a certain degree of freedom to pursue a career as a visual artist.
I am terrible at promoting my work, especially when juggling different career aspects. In general I believe artists need to do a lot of things to maintain and build a practice. Certainly there are a number of artists that have developed a collector base or some type of funding source that allows them to focus solely on the artwork they want to do, when they want to do it. A long time ago I heard a comment by an internationally known artist giving a talk at SAIC say that she knew of no successful artists in New York that did not have a trust fund. She was completely serious. I am not part of that, for better or worse. New York is still the center of the art world but most people who have been in the art business for any length of time know that there are good artists all over the place. Obviously there isn’t a system to support them so major urban areas become the places where artists can be noticed. Of course in the past couple decades the concentration of power and markets in the art world has become even more concentrated in fewer and fewer places.
I can see that this could turn into a rant and I would rather discuss this in person some time. But…
Just as a side note since I think you might be interested in knowing that Wisconsin’s senator Ron Johnson, soon after being elected, was quoted as saying that he did not understand why they teach the Humanities in higher education. I also understand that the governor of Florida is talking about raising tuition on students studying humanities since they do not contribute to the economy. These are really tough battles to fight, don’t you think?
RH: Can you tell us about some of your public art projects people can see.
AG: The only permanent piece we have up in Chicago at the moment is at Maxwell Street Market. It is the signage that acts as a backdrop between the Market and the highway The signs are references to the long history of the melting pot of cultures that have driven the market over the years. We also have a temporary sculpture still on view at Morton Arboretum.
RH: What projects do you have on the horizon?
AG: We are currently under consideration for a couple of public art projects at the moment, in Chicago and out west. We are almost always on the lookout for interesting opportunities for projects to do.
RH: Thank you for taking my questions
AG: My pleasure!