“Out of the Mouths of Artists” is a new monthly series on the Bad at Sports blog. The series presents a space for guest artist bloggers– of varying career statuses– to write, to reflect, to pontificate on their current situations, failures and/or successes, and ideas on what it means to be an artist. “Out of the Mouths of Artists” also gives readers a glimpse into artists’ portfolios and studios.
“Untitled,” 2012. Acrylic and collage on paper. 22 in x 30 in.
Relocating a Center
By Nicole Mauser
Just last week, a question was posed to me: “Where is the epicenter of Chicago’s art scene?” This was part of a casual elevator conversation with someone who had just moved from the East Coast to Chicago. I was struck by this question because it made me pause and consider where I geographically invest my time and conversations about art and research. Having relocated back to Chicago from Kansas City, MO, for a second time this past summer, I found myself picking up where I left off. In some respects, I am engaged in existing dialogues and structures, while in other professional respects I have set out to tackle completely unknown territories and new challenges.
With the question, I realized how fascinating it is to be an observer on the periphery (even if only temporarily) and see what galleries have disappeared, endured, and emerged, while exploring a ‘new’ to me Chicago in terms of private collections and historic venues such as The Arts Club or Union League.
I had no short answer for the East Coaster-cum-Chicagoan: 119 Peoria has been all but dismantled (will Three Walls stay or go?); however, there is still a bastion of galleries in the West Loop on Washington. Mana Contemporary is becoming a household by name teaming up with various institutions. Each university with a MFA program from the universities—Northwestern, UIC and U of C—to the art schools—Columbia College and SAIC—has is its own mini-epicenter with concentric circles emanating outward into the art scene. A handful (a few handfuls, really) of Chicago artists are being highlighted in the upcoming Whitney Biennial by Michelle Grabner and Anthony Elms. The MCA has gone through upheaval. Art Expo is back. Ultimately, there is no dominant discourse. In dynamic and thriving arts ecologies, there is a multitude of rich conversations happening. These conversations are being instigated by the artists themselves and to varying degrees by the institutions.
One thing I do know: my life now in Chicago is an inversion of the one I led in KCMO.
After an initial brief stint as an art handler in Chicago, I learned a difficult lesson that not all businesses touting the arts support artists; some exploit employees who make the ultimate sacrifice to pay their bills: no longer making their work. Currently, I juggle a full-time administrative job at one local art school while teaching painting as an adjunct at another local university. And I recently struck up a relationship with Reynolds Gallery in Richmond, Virginia, to exhibit a few pieces of my work. While all of these roles help me pay the rent and gain professional experience, they combine to make ends difficult to support a studio practice.
This is the predicament that many conversations with artist friends revolve around: balancing studio/research time with demands of a job to afford overhead. Whereas in KCMO, many artists cobble together part-time teaching, waiting tables, and selling work to afford three times the living space and a studio. In that smaller metropolis, it is a choice to leverage income to focus on the studio practice. It is an option to survive on much less. Therefore, it has become an environment that lends itself to risk taking and igniting experimental collaborations. I found that I was able to do many things, and still work to afford an artist’s necessities. With a number of others, I founded and rigorously participated in two artist enterprises: PLUG Projects and Kansas City’s Plein Air Coterie (KCPAC), both of which are going still going strong. The collaborative work I did (from 2011 to 2012) with the always professional co-founders and artists at PLUG was rewarding, and I am grateful to my conspirators there for their mutual desire to shape unique exhibitions and ancillary programming, all from the perspective of the artist as curator. Also, this time at PLUG helped me hone my ability to simultaneously hold down a full time staff job at SAIC and an adjunct teaching appointment at UIC. I believe my experience as part of KCPAC, in which I was working from observation in the elements, helped to erode any assumptions about the relationship between abstraction and perception.
“Untitled,” 2012. Acrylic and collage on paper. 22 in x 30 in.
Recently, in Chicago, a few artists and I rekindled a critique group consisting of grad school colleagues (and friends!) for studio visits. Inscribing this regular practice into our studio research is gaining terrific momentum. I truly value these relationships and the quality of our conversations. I am continually blown away by the multitude of in-depth cross-conversations, generosity, and ferocity of investment in each other’s development. In this context, which is a kind of epicenter for me, criticality is not a rebuff but a way of asking better questions. I find that I am now breaking rules that I once set for myself in the past. I am working to explore abstraction through a host of reference materials, including still lifes, photos, Xeroxed images, and art historical references, in order to push against my own non-objective proclivities.
Studio Experiments, 2014
Studio Experiment, 2014
Studio Experiment, 2014
Through it all, though, I find myself returning to ponder the eternal question, what is the healthiest scenario to support my work? It is the gallery system? Is it the academic system? None of these scenarios are necessarily the sustainable answer. Constantly having open conversations negotiating alternative models and redefining healthy arts ecology seems the best start for me.
In summary, it appears that the current epicenter in Chicago, and in all cities, is a moving target—for me and for others. This scenario seems to simultaneously present plural opportunities and elusive support mechanisms for one’s longevity in the arts. And yet, it feels like a great time to be an artist in Chicago.
I hope someone asks me where “the epicenter” is again in five years.
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).
Warning: In this piece I talk about movies. I’m not sure what it has to do with art. Also, if you haven’t seen the Disney films Brave and Frozen, and you care about knowing what happens in them, you might go watch them before reading this.
Taking a look at American popular culture, originality looks to be on the decline. We live in the age of the remake, the cover, the mashup. Doesn’t a lot of new music sound like shitty covers of old music? (Or perhaps we’re just getting old; does every generation live its whole life thinking music hit its zenith when they themselves were teenagers, a cycle of criticism that repeats itself with each new generation?)
The problem appears most acute in cinema, and I’m not talking here about independent or foreign film, but in mainstream Hollywood. Not film, but movies. “Reboot” has become a household word in an entirely different context than restarting a computer; a series of movies is now a “franchise.” Star Trek and Spiderman have run through enough sequels that they just started over again at the beginning. Total Recall, Judge Dredd, and now Robocop have been subjected to entirely unnecessary (though in the case of Judge Dredd, interesting; Total Recall not so much) remakes. And even the “new” movies are just combinations of the old: Vampire Academy might as well be titled Twilight Goes To Hogwarts. The Legend of Hercules looks like 300 meets Gladiator, and while that sounds awesome, it’s not. Not at all.
I have been pleasantly surprised, then, to find some original storytelling in an unexpected place: Disney princess movies. I know, I know. I’m as skeptical of Der Maus as the rest of you, and deeply appreciated the humor (with a rich undercurrent of biting satire) in the Charnel House’s recent in-house production of…take a minute to appreciate this title…They Saved Hitler’s Brain…And Put It In Walt Disney. Hilarious play, so perfect. Performance was excellent. And when a company has such a stranglehold on a genre, when fairy tales have become synonymous with the company’s animated version and the originals, compiled from folk legends (mostly German) by the brothers Grimm, almost totally forgotten…Disney is an easy company to hate.
In its princesses, particularly, Disney has a long history of perpetuating harmful stereotypes, and standards of beauty, in this movies (and tie-in merchandise) marketed to young girls. Ariel looks like you could snap her in half at the waist. Jasmine…I’ve never asked a Middle Eastern woman what they think of her, but I can imagine it’s similar to how some ethnic Persians responded to seeing their race depicted in 300. Overall, the characters have been overly frail, meek, and utterly dependent on the male characters with whom they were besotted. Romantic love, we are told, is the woman’s…well, then adolescent girl’s, sole reason for existence. (The depictions have generally given us the idea that anyone who isn’t married by seventeen is an old maid.)
I’m making broad generalizations here, and to be sure, there are exceptions. In fact, I make these generalizations specifically to call attention to a couple of these exceptions. While still perhaps imperfect, the last two Disney princesses (that I’ve seen) have been markedly better role models.
The first was Merida, from 2012′s Brave. A female co-director (Brenda Chapman) may have played some role in the film’s treatment of its heroine, whose development included a lot of work on her relationship with her mother. The usual plot, of beautiful (basically skinny) princess meets handsome (muscular with a jaw like the 1998 version of Godzilla: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120685/) prince, is totally absent. In fact, while the common trope of an undesired-by-the-princess arranged betrothal is, as is often the case, the starting point of the film, Merida rejects the idea not in favor of a preferable relationship (usually based on superficial attractiveness) but rather to live her own independent life. Of all the Disney princesses, Merida was the first with whom I could really identify: strong, independent, a believable young woman, and with a more realistic body type than the usual sequined Barbie doll…at least until Disney fucked it up by tarting her up like JonBenét Ramsey (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/08/merida-brave-makeover_n_3238223.html).
More recently, Frozen (still in theaters as of this writing) took an even more subversive twist on the usual princess-meets-prince story. I’ll warn you again, this plot has some twists and turns, and I’m about to discuss them, so if you haven’t seen it, and would rather not hear what happens, turn back now. While Brave was essentially a mother-daughter story, about a girl who wasn’t ready to settle down yet, Frozen was more of a sister story. And, while the protagonist of Brave wasn’t ready for a relationship, the princess in Frozen (like many young women) was all too eager to settle down.
There are actually two princesses in Frozen: the older, Elsa, who has crazy ice-magic, and the younger, Anna. The movie is essentially a story of the two sisters growing apart, and then the younger sister falling in love, and then everything going to shit. But a few interesting things happen along the way. The first is, when Anna announces that she’s in love, Elsa says what is perhaps the smartest thing any Disney princess has ever said: “You can’t marry someone you just met.” Fucking A. And what’s more, and here’s the spoiler, Elsa’s not just being an unromantic bitch here. She’s absolutely right. The dude, Hans, while apparently quite handsome and charming (the picture of a Disney prince), he turns out to be a scheming, murderous prick. Along the way, Anna meets a rough-around-the-edges type, Kristoff, who seems perfectly placed to take Hans’ place as Anna’s beloved. But that’s not quite how it plays out. It’s complicated, but basically the endgame is that the two sisters’ love for each other wins out, and romantic love takes a back seat. I was disappointed, of course, that the movie didn’t end with Hans killing Anna and then Elsa flipping her shit in a Carrie-like rage, impaling everyone present on giant stabby icicles of blood, but then…there’s a reason I don’t write for Disney.
Like Brave, Frozen is ultimately a feel-good kids movie, the kind of nepenthe parents administer to shut the kids up for an hour and a half, but that’s inherent to the medium. As kid-fodder go, Brave and Frozen are better than most of their predecessors. Is there a greater lesson here, for those of us outside the field of making animated films for children? Hell, I don’t know. But I’ll say this: Frozen gets a hell of a lot better once it’s been run through the creative filter of the Internet, which has already yielded two excellent spinoffs: the movie’s “hit single,” Let It Go, being performed in a plethora of languages (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALUVJ_tyQ-E), beating Coke’s Superbowl commercial to the punch, and clips from the film rendered hilarious through the unnecessary censorship of innocuous lines of dialog (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0v7rFSUrGE).
Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you can’t be hot.
Beyoncé. I know, as if you needed me to tell you this. But did you see that even the Art Institute of Chicago is crazy in love, recently releasing an internet marketing campaign superimposing Jay & Bey into famous paintings in the collection. What?!
Freaky Beyoncé and Jay-Z American Gothic.
Trans is Trending, are the first three words in this piece for Bullett Media by Fiona Duncan. Pointing to a pretty fab recent Barney’s campaign featuring all trans models, she also points out Laverne Cox, Carmen Carrera and Chelsea Manning as trans poster children of the past year.
Blissing Out. I don’t actually know what this means but if Extinct Entities’ Anthony Stepter is doing it, it must be cool. For more proof, see Father Finger’s Kylie Lance blissing out in her new video, “Body of Bliss” off her new album of the same name. It still sounds like some hippy yoga thing to me, but whatever man. Bliss on.
E-Cigs inexplicably STILL trending. Now there’s a forum about it? Featuring contributions by Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal, Orit Gat, Mat Dryhurst and Brian Rogers, and a video intervention by Karthik Pandian and friends, “This is the ENDD” was created by Rhizome to examine the broader context of the Electronic Nicotine Delivery Device (ENDD). Worth it if you’re still into that sort of thing and nearby the New Museum on February 22nd.
Logo by Nick Bastis.
The Weatherman Report
For Chicago IL
Robert Ryman, Untitled, 1962, Oil paint and viynl on streched raw linen canvas, 62 3/4 x 62 5/8″. Image via Pace Gallery.
Extinct Entities Gone but Not Forgotten
Mixtape Lecture Packs Hall Despite SubZero Temps
Dedicated fans flocked to Links Hall on Saturday, January 25th, on the closing night of Extinct Entities, to experience Borderless Musical Imaginaries Mixtape: House, Chances and Recuperating Queer Genealogies. Micah Salkind and Latham Zearfoss opened the evening with a back and forth lecture on the history of House music in Chicago and Chances Dances, respectively. A disco light flashed in the corner of the packed house and a projection behind the artists displayed the mix tape info and documentary style footage of the former monuments of the House scene.
The interplay between Salkin’s academic history and Zearfoss’s personal essay on the development of the 8 years running so-much-more-than-a party, Chances Dances, was completely engrossing. Zearfoss behind the scenes on Chances “blissful resistance,” from gender neutral bathrooms to Off Chances and the establishment of the Critical Fierceness and Mark Aguhar Memorial Grants. Salkin elaborated on the movement of the queer Black and Latino avant-garde through legendary clubs like The Warehouse and the Music Box. Not to mention the soundtrack was banging, and the dancing in between sets made giving a lecture look fun for the first time ever. Feeding off the presenters energy a decidedly dance-y vibe infected the entire audience at Links Hall. Lectures will never be the same.
Salkin and Zearfoss’s collaborative “mixtape.”
After a short intermission, the second half of the program featured a panel of queer nightlife movers and shakers (pun intended). Drawn from distant corners of the party spectrum, all of the panelist shared fascinating and revealing anecdotes. Praise for Chances was also universal. I was taken by Rosé Hernandez’s “pearls of wisdom” on nightlife, commenting that “partying is an art form” and “social sculpture.” I also though Davis’s description of “the jump” from drag queen to trans diva was beyond inspiring. The audience was accordingly interested and asked questions about the ability of the body and dance to communicate some sort of “Utopian rehearsal room” (in Zearfoss’s words).
Artist Presents Anti-Super Bowl Exhibition on Facebook
Work by Jacob Goudreault goes AWOL After Lame Event
Jacob Goudreault posted this message in advance of last nights boring as hell game: “Do not support the NFL. Do not watch the Super Bowl! ” an online exhibition brought to you by FACEBOOK. The post, which was deleted late Sunday night for reasons yet unknown, also featured eight images that straightforwardly referenced the transgressions of NFL players and fans. WTT? is so regretting not taking any screenshots sooner!
Header image features a detail of work by Alex Chitty on display on view in Codification with Zach Reini at LVL3 in Wicker Park.
At the mini mall where I buy my art supplies, next to Starbucks and Whole Foods, there are two design furniture stores to supply the well to do urban area where we live.
In the window display at Design Within Reach is a Fritz Hansen Egg chair, designed by Arne Jacobsen for the Radisson SAS hotel in Copenhagen in 1958. Originally produced in green wool, the most popular model, like the one it the window, was upholstered in black leather.
In the adjoining shop window, they have a very similar chair. It is an egg-shaped swivel lounge chair in white leather with curvy lines and a star shaped aluminum base. The outside of the shell is covered entirely in aluminum, riveted together with chunky bolts, giving the whole thing a patchworked steam-punk-Barbie-in-an-Amsterdam-hair-salon aesthetic.
My daughter, who just turned eight, thinks this chair is dreamy. I think it is an abomination. But I’m having a hard time explaining to her why, and why this is a bad thing —after all one woman’s homage is another woman’s pimping—and we can’t even just err on the side of good taste.
Beyond the field of good and bad taste is the boundary of the shocking, and out there Allen Jones’ Chair is back in style –in Bjarne Melgaard’s pimped up “retoxified” version of it — now available in black.
“The racist chair” as it has been dubbed—because now it is apparently the chair that is racist, not the artist who made it, not the patron who bought it, not the editor who published the photo which is currently being circulated, not the context of the international art elite (—who already included Jones’s original into our canon as part of the TATE’s permanent collection. A Pop art classic. )
Jones considers the threesome (the chair is accompanied by a table and a hat stand following the same design philosophy) his boldest statement. In reference to his work, he explains that:
The erotic impulse transcends cerebral barriers and demands a direct emotional response. Confronted with an abstract statement people readily defer to an expert; but confronted with an erotic statement everyone is an expert. It seems to me a democratic idea that art should be accessible to everyone on some level, and eroticism in one such level.
This abstract statement makes me wonder about the democratic implications of making one half of the population accessible as furniture for the other half, but off course I’m no expert on democracy.
If the image of a rich, beautiful white lady perched on top of a contorted busty black woman in bondage sits uncomfortably, it could be because it reminds us of how comfortable we have become with the idea of our bodies being commodified, black and white, black by white, female and male, female by male.
The Russian art world super nova Dasha Zhukova, for it is she in the picture, claims that the outrage over the picture was caused by it being “published completely out of context,”. She claims that it is in fact “a commentary on gender and racial politics,” implying that in these international art world matters, she is the expert and we, the internet mob, are not. That we don’t get it.
Melgaard’s art-world buddies have come to his defense, one of them claiming that: “He is not racist. He even dated a black man,”. But, like with Jones’ defense of his original when he said, “I love women. I was using misogyny ironically!,” you can love and debase somebody at the same time. Forniphilia (human furniture) is a fine example of this.
That is called pimping.
No stranger to pimping, Melgaard in fact started off his career with (beautiful) watercolors of himself jerking off on the grave of his idol, Paul Gauguin, it is hardly surprising that he has not apologized as much as philosophized about the incidence. His press statement, released to Art Info through Gavin Brown enterprise, ends with the following:
We see this photograph to be extraordinary. We see this debate to be a distraction from the true challenges that face us. We applaud both the sitter and the seated. To fault the sitter, now in the age of the Anthropocene, in the midst of enormous and REAL obscenities that threaten our actual existence, reflects a civilization that is not dying but already dead. Turn your outrage upside down.
This reference to the “age of the Anthropocene” basically means: this is nothing compared to global warming. But the statement skirts around the fact that global warming is the result of an economy that hinges on the continuous commodification of bodies. The REAL obscenity in this context is the business as usual of employing the “end of history” rhetoric by those who consider themselves “winners” —feminists are not “done” with history, nor is the civil rights movement –but Melgaard in his statement turns the moral responsibility for this upside down.
To a certain point he is entitled to this position –after all artworks can operate in this field beyond moral good and bad, because of their dual relationship with form and content –artist’s statements, on the other hand, cannot since they are only really dealing with content.
Pimping (like irony) in a sense relies on the knowingness with which we acknowledge the relationship between form and content, and how we are able to destabilize it, in the knowledge that (to use Melgaard’s phrase) both the sitter and the seated “gets it”, although it does not always sit comfortably.
Recently Miley Cyrus was given a fair amount of push back for pimping a content she didn’t entirely get both in the form of the Afro American phenomenon of Twerking as well as the feminist legacy of Sinead O’Connor’s shaved head. In Rolling Stone Magazine Cyrus explained how her Wrecking Ball video is a tribute to O’Connor’s majestic crying game, Nothing Compares To You:
I wanted it to be tough but really pretty – that’s what Sinead did with her hair and everything. The trick is getting the camera up above you, so it almost looks like you’re looking up at someone and crying.
O’Connor called her out and replied with a talking to in the “spirit of motherliness”:
It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether it’s the music business or yourself doing the pimping. […] The look I chose, I chose on purpose at a time when my record company were encouraging me to do what you have done. I felt I would rather be judged on my talent and not my looks. I am happy that I made that choice, not least because I do not find myself on the proverbial rag heap now that I am almost 47 yrs of age… which unfortunately many female artists who have based their image around their sexuality, end up on when they reach middle age.
Miley’s response was to repost O’Connor’s two-year-old tweets, in which she calls for help in treating her mental malady and suicidal impulse, along with an old photo of O’Connor tearing up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live.
(Not getting how absolutely radical that gesture was at the time, and still is. How could she—she wasn’t even born then! But some of us remember.)
Proving, if nothing else, O’Connor’s point about the pimping.
But, as I was hinting in the beginning, one woman’s pimping is the other woman’s homage– after all there is no pimping without love.
To that point, I must confess I love that song, which hums like the pimped up cyborg love child of James’ Browns Sex Machine and David Bowie’s TVC 15, even if I’m told that Robin Thicke is the new exterminator in the “War On Women,” but I don’t love Miley Cyrus enough to go to one of her concerts.
Instead, I went to see Sinead O’Conner when she was passing through town, and although it was weird sitting in that winery surrounded by middle aged fans like myself, when the lights dimmed and she took the stage she was as bald and as beautiful as ever. She was wearing a low cut washed out shirt that read “Rasta at Heart”. I started dreaming about egg chairs in red, gold and green wool upholstery.
We are embarking upon a new little project. Over the next 80 or so weeks we are going to do a series of micro broadcast studio interviews with the local heros that we have some how forgotten or over sited in our slapdash and ramshackle scheduling.
That’s right, I said we are going to be live on the radio – boom – step back. Minds blown. But sadly, only for the few blocks around the interviewed artists studio. How it will work is, a few days before the broadcast we will let you know roughly where and roughly when we are going to do the chat. Then we will rock it out, if you are interested show up in the neighborhood with a radio and find us. We will, of course, archive the conversation and release it at our leisure some time in the near-ish future.
We are going to get started Monday around 8:30 pm in Albany Park near Lawrence and Kimball with Carl Baratta and Oli Watt. I’m pretty sure we are going to rock 91.1 fm. (#neverforget) It is going to be magic.
As we move forward with micro broad casting chicago art or the MBCCA project we need a little help from you. Here is how…
We need to figure out our initial list of the people whose contributions to our art history or the Chicago arting life have been so big that it is embarrassing that we have not already had them on the show. We have been compiling a list (which I have carved into my studio wall) but it doesn’t feel complete.
We have a lot of the obvious people Jessica Stockholder, Michael Rakowitz, Jeanne Dunning, Dan Peterman, Barbara Rossi, Phil Hanson, David Hartt, Karl Wirsum, John Sparagana, Susanne Doremus, Gladys Nilsson, Doug Ischar, Kay Rosen, Phyllis Bramson, Jim Nutt… I could go on, possibly forever, but what we would like to know is, who do you think it is important to get on the record? Who do you think that it is tragic and disappointing that we have not already rocked the mic with? To that end, I am enabling comments again, but just for this specific post, in the hopes that we collectively can produce a list which reflects the gaps in Bad at Sports audio production and archive. That being said, I’m reserving the right to delete any comment I want for any minor infraction upon human decency.