It’s April, and if you’re like me, you’ve probably been busy tying up overdue assignments and following instructions on how to properly label your JPEGS for this or that residency or fellowship application. As such, what follows is an excerpt from a much larger essay and curatorial endeavor I’m working on that considers alternative methods for the establishment of intergenerational connectedness – particularly for activist communities. Enjoy!
In 2003, artist and filmmaker Matt Wolf made a short-film called Smalltown Boys that features a fictional narrative about a young girl named Sarah Rosenberg who begins a letter-writing campaign to save the television show My So-Called Life from cancellation with a cohort of other fans organizing themselves online. Rosenberg, in Wolf’s film, is the biological daughter of HIV/AIDS activist and artist David Wojnarowicz, conceived through artificial insemination. Rosenberg grows up to be a young, disenfranchised lesbian that feels no connection to the kind of direct street-level activism for which Wojnarowicz is remembered. Interspersed throughout Wolf’s telling of Rosenberg’s trials to save her beloved television program is archival footage of ACT-UP demonstations and home-video footage of Wojnarowicz on a road-trip with friends, swimming in a pond, and pontificating on the life of a small bug crawling upon his finger.
Matt Wolf, Smalltown Boys, Excerpt
Additionally, Wolf interrupts the flow of his film with self-shot footage of his disembodied arm spray-paint tagging contemporary subway advertisements for MTV sponsored HIV/AIDS benefit concerts with Wojnarowicz’s signature burning-house tag. These moments are coupled with other scenes of Wolf wearing a black-and-white Arthur Rimbaud mask while silently riding the train or attempting to hail a cab (as seen above). Rimbaud was Wojnarowicz’s favorite poet, and the images Wolf produces quote the look of Wojnarowicz’s own collection of Rimbaud mask-wearing self-portraits, entitled Arthur Rimbaud in New York (1978-79).
Wolf (and, indeed, Wojnarowicz before him) can be described as re-performing what theorist Elizabeth Freeman has termed ‘temporal drag’ in his wearing of the Rimbaud mask Wojnarowicz wore. It is an act staged for the camera on the actual city streets and subways of Manhattan that represent a moment, to borrow another term (this time from Lucas Hildebrand), of ‘retro-activism.’ Wolf’s act represents the theoretical proposition that affective messages from the past can pierce through chronological or normative time into the present, producing profound historical linkages that are, indeed, felt. Sensual, affective connection with preceding generations becomes not only an archival project, but becomes an embodied activist project.
Matt Wolf, Smalltown Boys, Excerpt
Films and actions like Wolf’s, or the well known out-of-time activist actions of Sharon Hayes, lead me to wonder how re-performance might participate in renewing activist outrage around issues – like HIV/AIDS – too easily and erroneously thought of as being in the past. At play, when actions are performed, just may be the sensual apprehension of our own situated-ness within historical pursuits of justice that stretch, or drag, into the present day.
Guest Post by Eric Asboe
I once heard Mike Haeg, the mayor of Minnesota’s smallest town, Mount Holly, current population 4, describe Minnesota seasons in a lovely way. He said that winters get so cold and snowy Minnesotans just want to stay inside and work on their own projects and ideas, but, once spring and summer start thawing the snow, those same people, who really want to be outdoors, spending time with other people, come back outside into the world, ready to share everything they have been working on during the indoor, winter months.
With rain, sleet, and accumulating snow in the forecast, there are not many tulips peeking out their heads yet. Nevertheless, warmer temperatures have started freeing people from winter routines, and recent print exhibitions have already started pointing me toward spring.
The Andy Warhol in Minneapolis exhibition, a stop of Andy Warhol at Christie’s, was at Aria for one week in March. It featured some of the works Warhol created for his last exhibition in Minneapolis in 1974. The connections he made with local cultural and philanthropic leaders of that time were in full view, with large prints of Gardner Cowles, George Shea, and Gordon Locksley looking over the remaining paintings, prints, drawings, and polaroids. Visitors streamed past the first pieces in the show towards Warhol’s more recognizable works scattered throughout the large space. Who doesn’t want to see Wayne Gretzky’s mullet transform from polaroid angelic halo to screenprinted neon coif? I lingered at the first two prints, both from his Sunset series. The series was inspired by Warhol’s stay at the Marquette Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, and each of the hotel’s rooms still holds one of the prints. The bright reds and oranges of one print and the cooler aquas of the other print brought home the then recent daylight savings time and the warming days of the exhibition.
In less than fifteen years, Highpoint Center for Printmaking has become a major resource for printmaking, printmakers, and the spread of print culture throughout the Midwest. They host classes, public programs, visiting artists, a gorgeous studio space, and compelling prints in their gallery. They partner with the Jerome Foundation to provide residencies and exhibitions for emerging printmakers, and they generally foster and advance the art of printmaking to the local community and throughout the region. Their show Print Profs: Recent Work by MN Faculty, which just ended, featured work by college faculty throughout Minnesota. Covering a wide range of print processes, the artists push and bend traditional print processes to suit their own needs. Justin Quinn’s explorations of the letter E and Moby Dick bloom quietly from his winter hued, architectural prints. Lynn Bollman’s conceptually driven text piece HAZ MAT was bathed in afternoon sunlight when I visited. Rick Love and Heather Nameth Bren’s two rainbows are some of the simplest, yet most moving pieces in the show. Their call to the outdoors was a reminder of Highpoint’s explicit seasonal transition, Free Ink Day, from a few weeks ago, which was advertised with: “Help us celebrate the legacy of long Minnesota winters and the anticipation of springtime follies with an afternoon of inky fun.”
Although Highpoint notes that “printmaking is a cost-prohibitive endeavor to take on alone,” Print Profs was structured around the idea that the network of printmakers and access to presses and other resources at colleges is a part of the continued excellence of printmaking. The current exhibition at the Minnesota Museum of American Art‘s (MMAA) Project Space, D.I.Y Printing: Presses Not Required, starts with the same belief that printmaking can be “cost-prohibitive,” but the artists and collectives there prove that the resources and processes of printmaking can be much more accessible: “Many print-makers, especially young artists who are just starting out, do not have the luxury of access to well-equipped facilities. Rather than experiencing this as a constraint, D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) printers see it as an opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking to creatively and collaboratively problem-solve.” D.I.Y. Printing balances the lively work of eight local print collectives, twelve individual artists, and representatives from the MMAA’s permanent collection. The presence of the artists at the MMAA’s Project Space and the time and care spent on the largely site-specific and new work of the artists is clear. Their work is alive with the opportunities they create to adapt printmaking to their immediate situation, finding ways to make prints relevant and integral to what they are doing and interested in, even if they have to make, invent, or share the tools they need.
More importantly, the print collectives in D.I.Y. Printing are rethinking the very world that finds value in prints. Big Table Studio shows the possibilities of working with local residents, including the poster they helped visitors to the then newly opened MMAA Project Space create in the fall. Recess Press and Leg Up Studio both have community printshops for sharing their resources and knowledge. Screen Printing on the Cheap goes even further, pushing printing onto the streets, into bedrooms, into anywhere and everywhere they can. They write, “As educated artists, we have been conditioned to rely on making art in facilities we simply cannot afford. Screen Printing on the Cheap demonstrates a ‘new school’ of screen printing and makes the process more accessible to the community.” Their recently published book and public programming help realize that more populist oriented practice. All of the print collectives’ work in the show engages with more than a reinvigorated d.i.y. mentality. They utilize printmaking to question the boundaries that separate artists from artists, artists from makers, artists from everyone else, studios from the real world, the world indoors from the world outside. They are calls to re-engage with communities outside of the places that hold and celebrate all of these prints, to re-imagine the world in which we view and make what we live with. Screen Printing on the Cheap’s mobile printing unit on display at the MMAA is a direct call to be more outside by literally bringing printmaking to the streets. I am ready to learn from all of the artists at the MMAA who have been busy printing in whatever ways they can this winter; I am ready to follow them out into the spring, come snow and rain and prints.
If all of these calls to be outside to find the ease and accessibility of springtime were not enough, the annual poster and bicycle celebration ARTCRANK Minneapolis was last weekend. Hundreds of people drank beer, bought posters, and celebrated bikes. The energy and readiness for bike riding and the outdoor time the posters showed and called for was palpable, rippling through the lines for artworks, food trucks, and bicycle valets. We are all anxious to leave that winter gear behind, to pack it away behind the new things and ideas we have worked on all winter. The Minneapolis born idea has since moved on to many more cities. Get out to the first ever ARTCRANK Chicago on May 17th at the Co-Prosperity Sphere – beer, bikes, and posters.
At the very least, keep in mind the words of wisdom from Mount Holly. As spring holds out a few more days, gather what you did and made and learned this winter. Bring it back into the world to share with the rest of us; we are ready and waiting to share our own excitements too.
Eric Asboe is an artist, writer, and cultural worker. As Art Director of Public Space One gallery and performance space in Iowa City, Iowa, Asboe helped shape its nationally engaged exhibitions and programming, including the microgranting meal SOUP and the award-winning Free @rt School. Asboe’s creative works prioritize process over product and explore the boundary between practice as improvement and practice as way of life. Forthcoming projects include ubuwebtopten.com. He currently lives and works in Minneapolis.
When I curated a group exhibition in 2011 that mimicked Tate Britain’s Turner Prize, one of the first artists I selected was Brooke Westfall. Not only does her artwork reflect everything I die for from an artist working on paper with pencils and watercolor, but she also possesses a fun, light-hearted spirit that is necessary for a neurotic exhibit like mine.
In the last few years, Brooke has established a presence in San Francisco, having worked at the Walter and McBean Galleries at San Francisco Art Institute and being an Artist Studio Resident at Root Division. Regardless of her contribution to the community, her legit studio practice is the kind of behavior that makes me feel bad about my own post-studio practice (or the fancy way of saying that I don’t have a studio – my life is my studio!). It’s no wonder that someone cooped up in a studio into the wee hours of the night would want to start her own interview talking about me.
Brooke: I think it’s a smart idea to start my interview talking about you. Why not, right?
Jeff: I love that idea!
B: I read your first three interviews with Bad at Sports, and I liked that you started Pete’s interview with how you absorbed his exhibition without the art school checklist, started Renée’s interview with her influences and watched YouTube clips, and started Rachel’s interview with your confession about how you had no idea what her work was about.
J: Thanks for researching the interviewer! You’re so prepared tonight.
B: You’re welcome. I was nervous to meet with you, so I took a shot of whiskey, brought you cookies, and now we’re drinking beer.
J: You’re so kind! I’m surprised to hear that you are nervous given the fact that I’ve worked with you on multiple occasions in the past. Do you remember when I spread a rumor to our entire class that the Dean of our school purchased one of your artworks?
B: That was annoying! Yes, I remember that prank.
J: I don’t know why I did that, except that you were superlatively the nicest person in our class, and I thought it was only appropriate to attack you.
B: I think we should explore that idea more.
J: My aggression or your niceness?
B: Well, both, but mostly the niceness. [giggle] I’m just kidding.
J: See! Right there! So nice! Why are you so nice? Is it because you’re from Hawaii?
B: You mean my “Aloha Spirit”?
J: “Aloha Spirit?” What is that? Is that a real thing?
B: Yeah, I have the Aloha Spirit. It’s positive vibes.
J: Is the Aloha Spirit in your artwork?
B: Before I moved to San Francisco, all my work was about Hawaii, possibly the Aloha Spirit – maybe that can be interpreted as my home and culture. When I moved to San Francisco, I shifted my focus away from Hawaii and onto my observations about mainland culture and haole [pronounced how-lee] stereotypes.
B: Haole in Hawaiian originally meant “white ghost”, and today it commonly refers to a white person or foreigner. It’s used as a descriptive term, but it underlines a racist connotation.
J: That is so fascinating! I love white people and racism! Now I can say I love haoles.
B: A lot of people think that it’s interesting and unique that I grew up in Hawaii—
J: Myself included.
B: —but I do the same thing to mainland people. I actually exoticize mainland culture through mass media, television sitcoms, magazines, etc. That’s how my artworks started. A lot of the images that I work with are borrowed from these idyllic scenes – they’re staged scenes of a bedroom, a lady in a kitchen, kids playing in the living room. But, there’s always a twist that you have to find.
J: Okay, time out. I’m guessing that most of the Bad at Sports readers are haoles. When you say to them that their everyday lives are idyllic, I think it might sound a little weird and unexpected. What is so interesting about the everyday of an American person living in the United States of America, minus Alaska and Hawaii?
B: You mean the “contingent”?
J: Uh, what?
B: See, that right there is where language is already separating our biases: I’m describing the contingent United States as the “main” land. I feel like the outsider when I’m talking about the US.
J: Even though you’re a complete citizen. Didn’t our president have this same problem?
B: Probably, but he is half-black in a very Asian/Polynesian-centric island, so he probably had a harder time identifying with his culture, or his heritage.
J: Okay, so what is so interesting about the everyday of mainland culture?
B: Well actually, my exploration into mainland culture really stems from the fact that I grew up with my mother’s Japanese family in Hawaii. When I moved here, I became interested in learning more about my father’s haole family. They had all recently passed away at the time, so I only knew them from a distance through stories and brief phone conversations over the holidays. I romanticized their mainland lifestyle and started investigating their journals and documents. Hawaii culture is very different from mainland culture.
J: Like what? Generalize for me.
B: We don’t wear shoes in the house. We eat everything with rice. We never go to the park – we go to the beach! Mainland people assume Hawaii is paradise and that we don’t have problems.
J: Do you watch HGTV?
B: No, why?
J: There’s a new show called “Hawaii Life” – homebuyers seeking that epitome of the beachy lifestyle.
B: That’s exactly how people romanticize Hawaii! Hawaii is always paradise, it’s always lovely, but it’s not to me. I don’t agree because I didn’t grow up in that paradise. It’s not believable to me. But at the same time, it is believable, right? How do we complain about the weather in Hawaii? We don’t. I don’t. But we still have problems – money hardships, death…
J: I can’t believe what I’m hearing! I’m having love and relationship issues right now and I just want to move to Hawaii so all my problems can be solved!
J: Oh God, Brooke, you’re killing me! Sigh. Okay, so I know you mentioned these themes were primary when you first moved out here in 2008. Are they still evident in your newer work today?
B: My newest series of works are drawings titled White Lies—
J: Haole Lies?
B: Yes! To me, that word is intended. However, if you don’t know what haole means—
J: Then you’re confused.
B: Well, you don’t need to know what haole means to understand what white means. The title is literally about lies that are white – innocent, small. It’s also a layering of white paint. Even though the signifiers of Hawaii are not present in this work—
J: Like sandals and sandy beaches.
B: Actually we say slippers, not sandals, but exactly, none of that stuff. I’m always very self-aware of the fact that I’m from Hawaii and my biases are what make up these images. My newer works are abstractions. They’re about the ghosting of things—
B: I draw an image and then cover the image with another image. They’re layers of drawings made with white paint on navy colored paper.
J: Wasn’t there, like, a serious navy thing that happened in Hawaii like back in the 1940’s?
B: You mean World War II?
J: There you go – nailed it Brooke Westfall.
B: My idea behind the drawings is: you tell a lie and you tell another lie to cover that lie. Is it specific to Hawaii? Maybe not, but it’s an accumulation of all these ideas we’ve been discussing, all these thoughts.
J: Your blissful Hawaiian thoughts.
J: What were we talking about?
B: I don’t remember. So what do we talk about now?
J: Did you see The Descendants?
B: Yes, I did. I loved it.
J: Would you say that is an accurate portrayal of Hawaii in media culture?
B: I would say it’s the most respectful portrayal of Hawaii I’ve seen. But I can also say every other person I talk to about it disliked it. I particularly loved the beginning of the movie where George Clooney says something like—
J: Wait. Let me just google, copy and paste the Academy Award winning quote:
My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation – we’re all just out here sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips and catching waves. Are they insane? Do they think we’re immune to life? How can they possibly think our families are less screwed-up, our cancers less fatal, our heartaches less painful? Hell, I haven’t been on a surfboard in 15 years. For the last 23 days, I’ve been living in a paradise of IVs and urine bags and tracheal tubes. Paradise? Paradise can go fuck itself. -The Descendants
B: I think that quote explains how I feel mainland people describe and define me.
J: Whoa, I don’t want to end this interview on such a sad note!
B: I know! It started off with my Aloha Spirit and how nice I am, and now we’re at this point.
J: Okay, tell me a good Hawaiian joke.
B: I don’t know any. Google one!
J: Okay. [google] How many Hawaiians does it take to change a light bulb?
B: How many?
J: None. Lava Lamps don’t burn out, brah!
HUNTED PROJECTS presents Chicago based artist Scott Wolniak.
As many of you know this Friday will be busy.
If the regular handful of events and openings was not enough, then you will be excited to add the SAIC MFA show (of which I was involved as a guess curator) and then round out your night with a little bit of Ox-Bow benefiting. Many of the Bad at Sports family have participated in Ox-Bow and I am very fortunate to be teaching there this summer. If you have to pick one or the other here is a hint: the MFA show will be there Saturday, the opportunity to be in Bill Padnos’s home and collection will not be.
Here is their info.
After more than a decade of inviting you to the Chicago Winter Benefit, we are taking a break in 2013 to introduce: The Ox-Bow Drive Series. An amazing roster of Ox-Bow friends will open their homes to host small events in order to raise funds for Ox-Bow.
You are invited to the 2nd party in our series at the Ukrainian Village home of Bill Padnos, former Ox-Bow Managing Director, a long-time supporter and, collector of Ox-Bow art.
Featuring Mexican food by Ox-Bow Chef Eric May (http://www.ericchristophmay.
$25 per person.
2018 W. Thomas Street, two blocks south of Division
Damen Bus north to Thomas Street
Street parking available