Experiencing Medium(s), Archiving Medium(s): John Q’s The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration

June 27, 2013 · Print This Article

Introducing Essays

Atlanta-based idea collective John Q premiered its work The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration at the Atlanta Cyclorama on Friday, May 17, 2013 and Saturday, May 18, 2013. The performance, an essay as John Q calls it, insists on exploring the phenomenon of queer migration into urban spaces, Atlanta being one of them. Using the space, movement, and pictorial qualities of the Cyclorama along with archival materials of queer filmmaker Crawford Barton, native to Resaca (about an hour north of Atlanta), later based in San Francisco, John Q essays (used here as a verb) a narrative of history, creative production, queerness, and geography.

In the broadsheet for the performance, John Q lists the definitions for essay as a noun:

“1. a short literary composition on a particular theme or subject, usually in prose and generally analytic, speculative, or interpretive. 2. anything resembling such a composition: a picture essay. 3. an effort to perform or accomplish something, attempt.” [1]

Used as a verb, essay can mean: “to try; attempt” and “to put to the test; make trial of” [2] or “to put to a test” and “to make an often tentative or experimental effort to perform” [3]. Derived from Middle French noun essai, derived from the verb essayer, which comes from Late Latin exagium which means an act of weighing, the word “essay” refers to something active, performative. [4]

Similar in roots to “essay,” “assay,” as a noun refers to

  1.  archaic: a trial, attempt
  2. the examination and determination as to characteristics (as weight, measure, or quality)
  3. analysis (as of an ore or drug) to determine the presence, absence, or quantity of one or more components; also: a test used in this analysis
  4. a substance to be assayed; also: the tabulated result of assaying [5]

As a verb:

  1. a. to subject (a metal, for example) to chemical analysis so as to determine the strength or quality of its components; b. to bioassay
  2. to examine by trial or experiment; put to a test
  3. to evaluate; assess
  4. to attempt; try [6]

The two words, though originating in similar if not same roots (assay originates in Anglo-French), now aren’t used interchangeably (in a simple online search, I came across forums discussing if the two are interchangeable – this is a big deal). At some point, the Latin word which expressed the action of weighing and measuring was split into the action of weighing in thought and weighing concrete objects. How are these two distinct from each other, though? Does the decision to weigh a concrete object necessarily come from a weighed thought experiment, or vice versa? John Q’s weighing of the Cyclorama, the site of the performance, a 42 x 358 foot panoramic painting of the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta, a complex of history, politics, and space, straddles multiple methods of investigation and examination, perhaps similar to the divided essay/assay. Paired with the Cyclorama is the weighing of Crawford Barton’s archive. As Wesley Chenault of John Q states:

In some ways, the provenance of the Crawford Barton collection did similar work as the Cyclorama in that it allowed us to think about his life in other ways, as patterns of movements and migrations between rural and urban spaces, not primarily as it related to San Francisco. Through letters, films, and more, Barton’s personal papers document his connections to Resaca and Atlanta, archival traces that map over the military campaigns that occurred in both areas. Atlanta, as Sherman understood over a century before, is a city defined by its relevance as a transportation hub in the Southeast. For many, it has long served as a nexus, where motilities of bodies, desires, and histories converge.  Crawford’s correspondence from his time in the city, for example, illustrates how one young gay white man navigated the sexual landscape of the mid-to-late 1960s. Placing Crawford in the Cyclorama, then, allowed the collective to attempt – thus the essay form – to explore not just notions of movement and migration, but also the ways in which they relate to identity, place, archives, and memory. [7]

Description

The performance can be broken down broadly into three parts:

  1. Beginning: the standard Cyclorama narrative while the audience goes through the standard revolve around the painting
  2. John Q takes over the narrative, delivering its essay while the audience continues to revolve in the space while the programmed lights highlight particular aspects of the painting
  3. John Q’s members, one by one, leave the theater and move into the auditorium, inviting the audience members to join them for screenings of Crawford Barton’s films.

The ending space of the performance (the auditorium) is generally the starting point for a tour of the Cyclorama: a video presentation of a Civil War reenactment. In the script of the essay, John Q states: “During a regular visit to the Atlanta Cyclorama, the presentation would begin with an interpretive film in the auditorium and then move here into the space of the painting. Tonight we ask you to navigate the space of the Cyclorama backwards with us, moving metaphorically against the grain of history and exploring, perhaps for the first time in public, a sampling of the film work of our current queer subject, Crawford Barton.” [8] Later, John Q states: “Instead of following Crawford’s biography to its end, we bring you back to his migrations.” [9]

John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.

John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.

The films present the Castro, the famous queer district in San Francisco, and of travel. Minimal in their composition and editing, the films are observational in nature; unedited,  perhaps unscripted, they seem to hold the lives of those featured in the films. Resaca, GA, Barton’s hometown also happens to be “the site of one of the first battles in the Civil War military Atalanta Campaign.” [10] What seemed to draw John Q to Barton’s work was the potential to examine his migration to the Castro from rural Resaca in a larger phenomenon of migration, queer migration, and differentiations of space. One of the films depicts men running through golden fields, bare-chested. While watching this moving-image, I was struck by a deep-seated fear – something that causes one to run, to run fast and far away. Especially after witnessing a scene of carnage, destruction, and death represented in the Atlanta Cyclorama, the potentially and possibly joyful images of rural play take on a more morbid atmosphere. Are these fields that of “amber waves of grain” – fields that speak to the national project of America; the fantastic golden countryside? I have to ask then, if these fields aren’t filled with joy, what then are they filled with and why are these men running? Is this moving-image representative of the larger phenomenon of queer migration that prompted John Q to realize this project? What does this mass movement to urban centers mean for America’s rural spaces?

The essay John Q presented during the second turn of the painting starts with General Sherman’s ability to really see geography and an aside about Napoleon’s extensive map collection, both juxtaposed with Borges’ map the size of the place it represents, an absurd exercise of cartography. At one point, John Q points out to the audience that how the painting is viewed is highly controlled:

“In the first turn around the Cyclorama, controlled light directs your attention to the scenes under discussion. The seating apparatus itself takes you on a turn that controls what spaces draw your attention and when. The narrative is set. Your gaze over this space has been determined in advance. It is a visual, pre-cinematic form, which presents the unfolding of geography and history as seemingly inevitable.5 You are a witness to History.6” [11]

One thing to consider, however: can my experience be completely controlled by another, unseen forces, or composition? Do the spinning gears and directed lights completely focus my attention to the spot I’m supposed to? Can I close my eyes, turn my head – experience this painting differently from the way it’s presented to me? This ability, to close the eyes, refuse to look at the space indicated, has much to offer the archival work that John Q does in its public projects and the ways in which they invite the audience to engage with the particular archives presented. In an interview with Julia Brock for History@Work: A Public History Commons from the National Council on Public History, they describe the way they view their work as public scholarship and what this means for its reception, particularly what their take on “public interventions” is. Joey Orr explains that “The learning that takes place in a publicly constructed project is not unidirectional and can never be predicted in advance, so I do not assume our job is to wake people up. I do hope some of our work intervenes in a more street-level, quotidian way into the spaces where people are carrying out their everyday lives.” [12] Andy Ditzler further adds: “I don’t think any of us see ourselves as ‘educating the public,’ partly because we’re members of the public as much as anyone else, and as much as we’re artists or scholars.” [13]

John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.

John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.

Experiencing Medium(s)

One aspect of John Q’s performative project is to examine the ways in which we experience painting, video, and installation: how we see; how we navigate the space that shapes and contains them. The painting, though it may appear to be a static entity that can be simply viewed and understood from any time or perspective, is shown to be extremely vulnerable to time and space, the order in which it is viewed in relation to the re-enactment video that is usually shown to the audience before moving into the space of the Cyclorama, facing the gigantic circular painting. When asked further about their take on intervening in a “normal” visual experience, Orr explained that the project is interested in

“how might we visualize the past in ways that foster different kinds of relation to place and history. How might we deal in fragments, the quotidian, memory, and weak theory instead of proliferating the kinds of power that seem structurally reinforced by forms like battle paintings and cycloramas … We understood from the outset that many people would not be familiar with the visual culture theory we were invoking, and this might mean that the connection between how landscape is visualized in cycloramas and how it is visualized through the lens of Crawford Barton’s camera would somehow seem strange. These two very different modes of visuality begin to reflect one another, though, in the context of a critical contemplation of how we do the work of invoking the past.” [14]

In Husserl’s essay “The world of the living present and the constitution of the surrounding world external to the organism,” he writes that space is a “system of places.” [15] In the case of the space of the Cyclorama, there is a multitude of places that coalesce in this one site. It is the site of John Q’s performance, the place of itself in this present moment, the place of the Civil War Battle of Atlanta, Illinois’ cornfields where it was commissioned, Resaca – where the Atlanta Campaign began and the birthplace of Barton, the migration telos for a queer community of which John Q speaks, a pre-cinematic place that records the history of technology in its 360o turn. The Cyclorama itself and its revolving proscenium seating affords the audience explicitly multiple perspectives; an exaggeration of the way we perceive and make sense of the world: “The entire present world which appears as actual is rather a totality of perspectives for me.” [16] For Husserl, there is phantom space, a transcendent space that gives space itself while still being able to change through time and with our changing orientations and perspectives, thus perceptions. The Cyclorama is constituted by this phantom space, but also by a plethora of phantom bodies: soldiers, civilians, slaves, Crawford Barton, migrating queer individuals and communities.

Underlying this space is the seemingly coincidental, the encounter that occurs during times of travel. John Q arrived at the Cyclorama and Barton through what would seem to be mere coincidental experiences that then led them down particular paths, which were manifested in the performative essay. Following the notion of “intervention” mentioned above, the surrealist found object presents itself as a model of surprise, the uncanny, and coincidence. Resaca, GA, only about an hour’s drive away from Atlanta, becomes an uncanny figure – simultaneously familiar and strange. One of the films of Crawford Barton’s John Q presented is of a car journey, passing by signs that advertise Georgia Peaches. The passengers of the car smile and look into the camera.

Crawford Barton. Film still. Courtesy of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

Crawford Barton. Film still. Courtesy of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

Ross McElwee’s film Sherman’s March follows a different path than General Sherman’s March to the Sea, begun in Atlanta, which is the end point of the Atlanta Campaign and the site of the Cyclorama. [17] Initially a project that intended to follow Sherman’s destructive path, McElwee ends up following women he becomes intrigued with and attached to; a journey back home to the South. Desire, violence and war, and geography become entangled in the movement through the space of the South. Ross McElwee is attempting, trying, experimenting with what love may be for him in a time of nuclear proliferation, the subtitle of the film and recurring theme that continues to creep into his thoughts and dreams. Pat, the woman introduced to him by his parents who becomes somewhat of an obsession for him, an ambitious actress who is herself searching and trying to become what she wants to be, takes McElwee to Atlanta. There, McElwee describes Atlanta post-Campaign; it was a city composed of children, women, and elders – supposedly a weakened and helpless place without its male influence.

What are cities, urban spaces? What do they mean to us? What are we to make of Atlanta? A southern metropole, remnant of war? What of the space surrounding the city? The space between Atlanta and other US cities? John Q’s use of the Cyclorama signals the ways in which urban space becomes a nexus of lives, loves, losses, and travels. Not only does the performance question who is allowed the position of contemporary flâneur, [18] but also who must take up this position and where. The performance shows us that the metropole and its varying representations hold within them an entanglement of histories, memories, and modes of visuality and experience. 

Notes:

[1] John Q Broadsheet

[2] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/essay

[3] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/essay

[4] Ibid.

[5] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/assay

[6] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/assay

[7] Personal interview with John Q, June 16, 2013

[8] John Q, The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration, 2013.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Personal interview with John Q, May 30, 2013.

[11] John Q, The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration, 2013. Here, they footnote [5] Jonathan Crary’s Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture and Anne Friedberg’s “The Mobilized and Virtual Gaze in Modernity: Flâneur, Flâneuse” and [6] Alison Griffiths’ Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums, and the Immersive View.

[12] http://publichistorycommons.org/library/brock-john-q-interview/

[13] http://publichistorycommons.org/library/brock-john-q-interview/

[14] Personal interview with John Q, June 3, 2013

[15] Edmund Husserl, “The World of the Living Present and the Constitution of the Surrounding World External to the Organism,” trans. Frederick Kersten and Lenore Langsdorf, in Husserl: Shorter Works, eds. Peter McCormick and Frederick A. Elliston (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 250.

[16] Ibid., 239.

[17] Ross McElwee (dir.), Sherman’s March: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation (1986).

[18] Susan Buck-Morss, “The Flâneur, the Sandwichman, and the Whore: The Politics of Loitering,” New German Critique, vol. 31, no. 2 (April 1989): 217-236.

Top 5 Weekend Picks! (6/28-6/30)

June 26, 2013 · Print This Article

1. 2 of a kind at LVL3 Gallery

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Work by Mike Andrews, Andy Jordan, Sarah Belknap, Joseph Belknap, Wyatt Grant, Mike Paro, Chelsea Culp, Katy Cowan, Alan Fleming, Michael Fleming, Jacob Goudreault, Sofia Leiby, Michael Hunter, Rachel Niffenegger, Matt Nichols, and Josue Pellot.

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

2. Binary Love at Threewalls

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Work by Edie Fake and Brenna Murphy.

Threewalls is located at 119 N. Peoria St. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.

3. RAZR: Left Over Mythologies of the Best Selling Clamshell Phone at The Milk Factory Gallery

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Work by Jon Chambers.

The Milk Factory Gallery is located at 907 N. Winchester Ave. Rear Apt. (ENTER THROUGH THE RED GATE). Reception Saturday, 7-10pm.

4. FLAT 14 at Floor Length and Tux

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Work by Aaron Delehanty, Max Garett and Hui-min Tsen.

Floor Length and Tux is located at 4125 W. Melrose St. Reception Saturday, 7-10pm.

5. Parallels: Part 1 at The Mission

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Work by Celeste Cooning and Heather MacKenzie. A collaboration with ACRE.

The Mission is located at 1431 W. Chicago Ave. Reception Friday, 5-7pm.

Artist Profile: Angela Washko

June 26, 2013 · Print This Article

Angela Washko has been busy. Between working on ambitious new media projects, performances, residencies, curating exhibitions, and organizing events – all while forwarding a feminist agenda – she has an energy that seems hard to quell. And, good thing. Confronting oppressive cultural attitudes fuled by media representations of women in contexts outside of the art world bubble, Washko’s work incites an important dialog about the value in various forms of femininity. Here, in a “rebellion against concision,” she muses on World of Warcraft, Millionaire Matchmaker, the importance of community, and so much more.

 

You’ve been pursuing an overtly feminist line of inquiry in your work. What are your thoughts on the current feminist discourse in the art world? How is it still relevant?

I am less interested in a feminist discourse specifically in the art world than a feminist discourse in contemporary American culture.  This is why I’ve shifted from making work exclusively for audiences that will view the work in galleries, and have additionally taken feminism to video game spaces (which, as most people are probably learning from increased media coverage of the issue, are generally incredibly misogynistic spaces) and am also working on projects in other public spaces. Ann Hirsch and I recently started a podcast called A Cups in which we discuss pop culture using a feminist lens with different guests (ranging from artists to reality TV stars to writers to comedians to scientists…). I’m excited to talk to people who work in different spheres, and hopefully access audiences that aren’t always exclusively a part of “the art world.” In terms of feminist discourse today – I still think it is a term that many consider antiquated, or as “a way to separate women from men to make women think they are better,” but fuck that.  Feminism is as relevant today as ever, in any context. Many women I know (and myself included) can’t walk in the street alone without feeling unsafe because of men who think that it’s OK to grab a woman’s arm to tell her that she is beautiful, ask her if she is single, and then get angry and call her a cunt when they say that: 1. Grabbing me is inappropriate and 2. I’m not single and 3. Even if I was single this is no way to try and get my attention.  I’ve been pinned against a wall in the subway for reading and not responding to sexual harassment. Yesterday I got a list-serv email from a college campus stating that women who run around the campus area should be on the lookout for a man who has been running up behind women and sexually assault them from behind. WTF. Ahem, anyway – that was ranty, sorry.  Women are still judged upon for their beauty as their highest value and regularly treated as objects in all spheres + public spaces.

But in the art world (since this is what you really asked): I think there are still issues in the representation of work by and about women in gallery, museum, and art market contexts. Women’s experiences + perspectives + positions as sexualized objects, constantly under scrutiny, are still not generally considered. And, even though there are women in certain positions of power (largely gallerists, curators), it is still an uphill battle for women artists, and often those women in power have to sexualize themselves to get there.  I also encounter a lot of (generally male) arts administrators and gallery owners who have this dated notion that all feminist performance work is supposed to mean hot women taking their clothes off and talking aggressive dirty talk. Some of those gallerists are attracted to it because they get off on that shit (not saying that the work itself is shit because it’s often incredible…historically two of my favorite artists present their bodies in confrontational ways – VALIE EXPORT and Carolee Schneeman).  I am interested in a lot of feminist work that’s happening now because it is revealing in its sincerity, abject + frank depictions of sexuality, fragility, and is approached with a brave self-deprecating sense of humor – and also overlaps with sociology… Ann Hirsch, Nao Bustamante, Dynasty Handbag, Jennifer Chan to name a few artists I’ve been inspired by in the last couple of years.­­  I really loved this recent essay by Rachel Rabbit White as well.

Chastity & The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft, 2012, Part 1 of 3

You have also been working quite a bit in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game, World of Warcraft. This includes public performances of the game in which you abandon the conventional goals of gamers and instead expose a variety of sexist attitudes by posing questions to various players about the nature of feminism. And, to further this aim, you’ve created “The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in the World of Warcraft.” Your video work, Chastity – which recently won the Terminal Award from the Center of Excellence in the Creative Arts at Austin Peay State University – takes the viewer on one such meander through WoW. Focusing on your encounter with a player named Chastity, a 19 year-old married woman, pregnant with her first child, the video shows presents a frank and meaningful exchange about your divergent perceptions on the role of women. What did you find so compelling about WoW as a space for this conversation?

I had gotten so used to being able to talk about feminism in contemporary art contexts because (largely) within the art/activism communities I generally work in I found that (for the most part) people in my community were in agreement that feminism is something that is important to talk about and the ways in which women are still today treated, evaluated, and commodified are indeed problematic.  When I go back to my hometown (rural Reading, PA) I’m always shocked by the inexplicable outrage people have when the idea of feminism is mentioned.  I mean, there’s a reason why there are 91 definitions of feminism in urban dictionary (see page 7 for a sampling). Anyway I became interested in the different ways the idea of feminism and the ideas of what women “should be/do” in general are interpreted when you change geographic, economic, political, and social spheres throughout the United States.

So I thought of a couple of reasons why WoW would be a great place to discuss feminism.

1. WoW is geographically, economically, politically, socially, and racially diverse. Discussing feminism in WoW is like going to a virtual (but still very physical) city and having access to people who are also inhabiting many, many disparate places but simultaneously inhabiting the same virtual space.

2. WoW is an environment in which people talk a lot in a variety of different channels. You can access thousands of people on a server at once.  Granted, not all 1,000 will want to discuss feminism with me….but it’s still a better, bigger, and more diverse sampling than I can get on a city street corner. I want to hear from rural + urban attitudes, “conservative” + “liberal,” worldly + isolated, antisocial + popular, blue collar + white collar + the unemployed + freelancers + students, etc…WoW is great because the anonymity of the space allows for a frankness that is both frightening and also impressive, because no one is held accountable for what they say.  This could mean that people can lie, but more often it means that they can be as extreme as they like in their beliefs and not be judged for it (and are actually generally rewarded for it socially).

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Video still from Chastity, 2012

3. WoW is a community that I participate in and understand. I’ve been playing for a long time. I did take a hiatus for a while but returned without skipping a beat. I am comfortable there, I know the social cues, commands, communication channels. I am in guilds that I like. I used to raid a lot. This project relies heavily on my ability to play the game and my ability to create trust in the people who I talk to. Without my gaming skills, I would be a n00b and everyone would smell the exploitative aspect of the project right away (even though I do disclose that I am recording/performing/using the conversations for a research project – all true). I don’t know any artists who play WoW. I have access to this group of really diverse, interesting, unabashed people to discuss feminism with using the communication skills I’ve developed in my other lives as a facilitator/mediator/arts administrator/performance artist/actress/college athlete!

4. WoW is a notoriously misogynistic space (like most massively multiplayer online games).  I originally thought of this project as activism – me going into the space asking lots of questions about feminism, revealing the obvious misogyny therein, uniting all the women in the game to revolt together to change it!!! This was an unrealistic goal. It shifted as the complexity of the responses I got made me question my own ideas about what being a woman means toda­y and I started realizing that thoughts on the issues are so tied to our own perspectives – where we are, how we live, who we’re exposed to. And this space is a refuge for all kinds of ideologies that get less fashionable/acceptable in today’s increasing politically correct culture because it is harder to access, and thus not policed. But I am interested in these attitudes that still exist and are not often expressed in physical public space, but thrive and become the dominant language in internet spaces like WoW (and forums, other games, etc) and I’m glad that I now have the ability to get people to discuss them with me in a (seemingly) sincere way inside those spaces.

 

Do you see your work with WoW as a durational project? If so, what are some of your long-term goals?

Yes.  I have been working inside WoW for a while now and I hope to continue. I am getting better as a facilitator each time I do it, so I think I am definitely getting somewhere – and it feels like I should keep doing it. I recently made a text transcript from some of the most interesting conversations I had with players…it includes the text from “Chastity” and is also 24 pages long…Ultimately I want to continue the conversations and make a book from the transcripts and screenshots.  I also hope to start doing the live performance version in larger theater contexts with improved sounds, additional live-players on stage with me participating and a longer time frame (1.5 – 2 hours) to really get into more intense discussions. The live version of the performance suffers from a severely short time frame – which forces me to be in panic mode just hoping that SOMEONE will talk to me. More time = more casual and closer to how the conversations unfold when I’m conducting these conversations in my bedroom or studio. 

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Video still from An Irregularly Shaped Pearl, 2011

OK, we have to talk about boobs. Big, pink, balloon boobs. They crop up quite a bit in your projects. In fact, so do other exaggerated and artificial notions of stereotypical femininity, which you reappropriate and perform. 

So, yeah. I’m interested in advocating for a more diverse idea of what kind of woman is acceptable, beautiful, and valued.  In a lot of my performance and video work I try to step into the norms of what is popularly considered desirable (long hair, big tits, big ass, revealing clothes, feminine, fake eyelashes etc), norms that don’t apply to me – and end up failing. I’m not saying women who fit that description aren’t beautiful…I think they totally are, I just find that there are a lot of women who are incredible that don’t. I try to exaggerate the ridiculous idea that one must subscribe to these culturally imposed ideals in order to attain the person they want to be with. It’s bullshit. And if ultimately those things are exclusively what one feels bonded to…seems like a pretty weak connection, no?  I agree that sexual attraction is in some way important to finding a partner, but in an age when anyone who can afford it can manipulate just about anything about themselves physically – perhaps we could also expand our culturally enforced ideas of what is desirable to be a bit more creative, too. I love Adam Zaretsky’s research on art and gene expression. Taken from a talk of his I listened to recently, he advocates for aiming (in genetics) for “the widest range of aesthetic bodies possible and this doesn’t just mean the widest range of beauty but the widest range of feelings a body can have…aesthetics doesn’t just mean good and there’s a lot of that going on here in this sort of ‘we need to go toward the pleasant, better feeling, longer living, more beautiful, more stable emotionally…’” I like this video of him talking about it.

I just watched 5 1/2 seasons so far of Millionaire Matchmaker (it’s “for a project” lol). I’ve been archiving the descriptions of what every male millionaire specifically asks Patti Stanger to find for them in a woman. Almost all of the men lead with physical attributes (though of course this could be a result of the show’s editing – which then I find also the show at fault for reinforcing this issue). I’ve been making spreadsheets of different data from the show, and the most popular responses to what male millionaires report to be looking for: #1 brunette, #2 beautiful, #3 petite, #4 able and willing to have children, #5 short, #6 hot, and finally coming in at a whopping #7: intelligent (big boobs and nice ass follow). In my work, I’m advocating for a massive mainstream beauty value re-assessment in whatever media and sphere that I’m working in. In an era in which you can pay to play in the “beauty standard department” (boob jobs, boob reductions, lipo, botox, incredible makeup, personal trainers, special diets, hair dyes, $1000 hair extension jobs), I hope that the projects I’m working on now promote a reconsideration of genetic otherness as being more valuable and beautiful than ever? eee?

Tits on Tits on Ikea, 2013

You also have the distinction of being the first artist to sell a video work formatted Vine, which was in The Shortest Video Art Ever Sold (#SVAES), a project of the Moving Image fair, and a development that received wide press attention, including coverage on Bad at Sports.  I think one of the best points made in that piece was that much of the coverage emphasized the project’s commentary on patronage and the economic structures of the art world, and that the work itself was eclipsed by this focus. The piece that sold, Tits on Tits on Ikea, like many of your other works, offers a critical look at the mediated images of women. What was your specific focus with this work?

Oh gosh, I could go on and on about the weird economically-focused reactions to the sale of the video I made using Vine, but I won’t.  I made the piece in Helsinki, Finland while I was at the HIAP artist residency program. The work is a video, made using the Vine app (which at the time was only supported by iPhones, so I didn’t even have it myself), which I had to borrow from Eleni Tsitsirikou (HIAP employee and performer in the video!).  Vine was the curators’ specification for format. So because I found the format so odd, I wanted to respond to the medium’s restrictions – 6 seconds and square and looping.  I read a lot about the early impulses of Vine users to use the medium immediately to create homemade porn or dick pics – an impulse popular in a lot of social video formats – Chatroulette being a famous one. So my piece is a performer showing her tits, which are my tits from a longer form video of mine, which are big pink balloons being massaged – producing a very irritating, high-pitched, plastic, rubbing sound.  I wanted to sneak a longer video into an incredibly short format and have essentially two videos in one. I wanted to create a very disappointing version/reenactment of what would otherwise be a sexual act.  I was also commenting on the lack of consideration that people often have regarding their “set design” in these chatroulette masturbation videos and homemade porn..,and thus you have “Tits on Tits on Ikea.”

 

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 Washko (center) performing with collaborators at Flux Factory, NYC

You’ve talked a lot about your work in connection to your community. It’s funny that this should be striking, but less and less it feels like artists are running in definable packs. How has your socialization within your community influenced your work?  

My community has been incredibly important to my work. I’ve moved around a lot and have really been scraping to get by since 2009 – living on couches, relying on artist residency programs to provide temporary refuge from living on couches, getting travel grants which again provide temporary refuge from living on couches.  But during this time I’ve always been compelled to organize events surrounding the works of people who I’ve met along the way that really speak to me. These artists create works critiquing cultural ideals and providing alternatives that have really impacted the way I think about my own work.  My earliest socially engaged projects weren’t my own art projects, they were shows (exhibitions/experimental lecture events/performance events) that I organized including artists who were doing the kinds of work that resonated with me.  The work of The Yes Men, Adam Zaretsky, Boryana Rossa + Oleg Mavromatti, Nao Bustamante, Chris Skinner, Jeff Stark, and The Center for Land Use Interpretation were all introduced to me when I did my first residency at CAC Woodside in Troy, NY.  If it weren’t for the experience of meeting and learning from these artists that make challenging, multi-disciplinary, activism-oriented work, I might still be sitting in a studio trying to make + sell paintings –  hoping that someone might knock on my door and say I make prettier paintings than every other painter and give me a gallery deal. My time in Troy was extremely formative.  In Troy, there isn’t a lot going on, so it’s up to everyone there at any given time to create culture.  NYC will always have enough venues and enough artists (“there’s something for everyone!”). But in Troy, like many artists there, I was moved to organize and participate to ensure that the community thrived.  In that small town the community and the pool of artists is tiny, but the people participating are incredibly tight-knit and innovative.  When I moved to Flux Factory in Queens (I was an artist-in-residence there for 2 years and the Residency Coordinator for 1 year), I found a similar vibe there. I also immediately got to make work collaboratively with a lot of very different artists and cultural producers, and was able to meet an incredibly massive network of people upon arrival in NYC, which is a pretty amazing opportunity. Flux also provided a platform for a lot of my community organizing.  I produced a lot of events there and included a lot of the people I’d met in Troy and other residencies with the community I had found in Flux.  As I’ve been able to gain some attention for my projects, I always try to bring people I believe in who aren’t getting the spotlight they deserve with me, as a lot of more-established people I care about have done the same for me. I’ve slowed down on the frantic curating/organizing (the demand of curating the Conflux Festival in the fall and a permanent collection exhibition at Southern Queens Parks Association that directly followed took its toll on me) but still maintain a critique group I started that meets monthly to discuss work (which has been really helpful for the development of my work –  thanks Ann, Nathaniel, Jason, Alex, Man, Nate, Michelle and Sunita). I’m also organizing a performance event in late July.  Lately, I find that a lot of my community is also online and equally as meaningful. My work has shifted a lot because of my community. I prefer to work from ideas and then choose what media is appropriate instead of defaulting to painting like I would have a few years ago, and I am much more interested in working my somewhat academic criticality into my practice, and creating new ways to display research-oriented projects. Despite being geographically separated, with the seemingly increasing importance of social media as a way to communicate what you do, it’s easier to find like-minded artists and activists in these formats as well, and I learn a lot from what other people are doing globally. I’d say that the days of the “artist hiding in a studio making magic” are limited and that “participating” should not be limited to going to openings. My advice for people moving to new cities or students graduating from art schools is always to find a community that interests you, attend what they do and get actively involved somehow. Keep making your own work, but don’t forget to take things in.  The advice I was given when I graduated was “go get a studio and just make a lot.”  In retrospect that advice might work for some, but that formula always left me feeling like I needed to be engaged with something more – I’m glad I figured out what makes sense for me. But I’m not sure I’m qualified to give advice anyway. <3

An Unstable Projection: James Turrell’s Pleiades

June 26, 2013 · Print This Article

I was reading about James Turrell’s epic series of museum shows in The New York Times recently and recalled a moment of my own recollection of his work.

It’s simple enough: I follow The Mattress Factory on Twitter. On November 26th, they tweeted an image of a room being painted.

Turrell_mattressFactory

I suppose because they mentioned that the lights were actually on, I assumed it referred to Turrell’s pitch black piece, Pleiades (1983). (It does not — as I was told later, but bear with me, I’ll account for that discrepancy in the end).

Screen-shot-2013-06-26-at-2.01.52-PM

I understood it to be a picture of a James Turrell’s Pleiades (1983) installation getting repainted. The image drastically transformed my reaction to the installation. Indeed, I had such a profound reaction to the tiny, banal image, I pulled it off twitter, and put it on my desktop where it has been sitting ever since.

There is no reason that that image should be particularly captivating. It is a familiar enough: gallery walls must constantly be painted and repainted, and if it didn’t have anything to do with Turrell, it would hardly be of interest. However, appearing as it did within the context of social media (and all the misunderstandings tweets can lead to) that is exactly why it made my jaw drop: because this tiny image challenged everything I had assumed via sensory experience of Pleiades.

Pleiades, is the first of Turrell’s “dark pieces.” At The Mattress Factory, as I recall, you go up an elevator and on the designated floor, you go through a doorway, down a pitch black corridor and into a pitch black room. You stop a metal rail. I have visited this room about three or four times over the course of ten years. Each time that one room has baffled me.

Pleiades1

I went there first as a Sophomore in college with a group of friends. One friend in particular was an upper classman and seemed to have a better handle on contemporary culture. As such we deferred to his authority; to do so was pleasant; he rattled on about various rumors (and possibly fictions) that seemed to walk a tightrope between gossip, mysticism and art history. As someone with very little contact to contemporary art at the time, I relied on the banter of my peers to overcome whatever sense of alienation I might carry into unfamiliar situations. Standing in a pitch black room for an indefinite period of seemed both provocative and confusing. If I thought about it too much I wouldn’t know what I was doing there. Still the narrative of the artist had me intrigued. Stories about Turrell’s alleged arrest for helping young men dodge the draft. His Quaker background. His life in California that yielded an interest in minimalism, light, and science.  As I prepared myself to walk down this very dark corridor in the year 2000, I was told that at the end, in the pitch black (and if I waited long enough) I would begin to see light, like stars (I thought), or a halo. My friend suggested it was the result of a primordial and biological fear of nothingness.

Whatever his prescribed cause, this is what is supposed to happen:

“Pleiades, a work of darkness, utilizes the difference in function between the two types of photoreceptive cells, that is, cones and rods. The cones are suitable for discerning colors at light places. crowding toward the center of the retina. The rods serve to make out delicate shades in dark places, mostly gathering near the periphery of the retina. In the darkness designed by Turrell, the viewer experiences the difference between the two kinds of cells during the period of time when the eyes of adaptation to darkness takes place.”

According to another visitor, you are supposed to see this:

terrell

It never happened to me. I waited in the dark for that thing to take place for about thirty minutes. Or maybe it was an hour. It could have also been 10 minutes that were simply so distilled from movement that they slowed and lengthened my sense of time. As I waited, all of my attention strained toward an event that was supposed to take place within my body and end up projected outwards, as a type of vision. I waited to see a white eye-shape in the dark. I was excited at first, and then defeated, slightly. Nothing happened. I remembered looking at countless Magic Eye posters in dorm rooms; I could never make out the subliminal texts/images in those either, no matter how many times I had been instructed to fuzz out my vision with the image pressed up against my nose.

Subsequent visits to Pleiades were no different. No vision appeared before me in the dark. Because I no longer expected it, however, I had grown more interested in thinking about the darkness that space afforded. I suppose I still waited, in an almost existential way, for something to happen, but the sense of waiting became more interesting than the event I waited for. I realized that the whole project of Pleiades was existential — whether something emerged in the darkness or not. I began to appreciate the feeling of that darkness, the way it seemed to extend endlessly, the slight terror at its unknown breadth. I distinctly recall a very faint breeze which enhanced the dimension of the room, but that too could have been my imagination. I preferred to inhabit the space by myself, perhaps it seemed more noble that way. When strangers came and stood beside me, I was  distracted by my attempts to anticipate their movements and, even, their physical shape. Remember, it’s impossible to see anything, even another form. It was more complicated to inhabit an Unknown when others, particularly people you don’t know, are trying to do the same. On several occasions, I accidentally stepped on a foot and had to apologize, breaking the spell of silence through my clumsy, miscalculated movement. The moment of contact, my foot on the strangers, the exclamation of paint — it established a common, temporal location in the room, overshadowing the otherwise relentless blankness everywhere else. I stepped back. Held my breath for a moment and settled again into my feet. The room would grow still once more and with it our sense of the darkness grew. At times it felt oppressive, at others benign, certainly it felt ambivalent towards me. It was larger, more constant and self-assured than I was. I sort of enjoyed being intimidated by it — because I began to develop a relationship with that room. I didn’t see any lights, but the darkness became “something.” I’ve ever experienced such spatial endlessness. And while I never saw those lights, there was some part of me that enjoyed the incongruity of my own experience; perhaps I felt I had a more “true” experience because it seemed more nihilistic to experience nothing.

Turrell_mattressFactory

You can imagine then, what shock that tiny jpeg. of boys painting a room would give me. It looks like they could be in a closet! I was so shocked at the thought that I had misunderstood the room, I instantly believed it to be true. The vague confirmation provided by the tweet-conversation I had with The Mattress Factory seemed to confirm my sense, which was so exuberant as to lack self-consciousness, that everything I assumed to be true about that dark room was wrong in so far as it could have existed in a tiny-tiny-tiny room. I realized that even though I did not see “the light” I was still projecting dimension and psychology into Turrell’s darkness. It was affecting me. I was affecting myself through the medium of darkness provided by Pleiades.

As I said, I since learned this is not Pleiades itself, but rather an image of the elevator landing on the Turrell floor of the Mattress Factory. While the true dimensionality of that room remains a mystery, I am all the more certain of the evocative uncertainty it yields.

Pleiades is a Dark Piece where the realm of night vision touches the realm of eyes-closed vision, where the space generated is substantially different than the physical confines and is not dependent upon it, where the seeing that comes from ‘out there’ merges with the seeing that comes from ‘in here,’ where the seeing develops over and through dark adaptation but continues beyond it. It is the first piece in a series of works. While it relates to the last piece of the Mendota Stoppages, 1969-70, in that it develops over time, it is definitely a departure in that after the seeing develops, it is no longer static. The thing that gave me the idea to do this was the fact that I needed to work with very low levels of light for the night seeing in the crater piece. The last time that I had really worked in that arena was with the Mendota Stoppages where I had some very dark pieces that took a long time of dark adaptation, sometimes as much as fifteen minutes. When you actually had that seeing, though, the space that was generated was a static space – you saw it and could walk in it, but it didn’t change. In this work, what is generated in you and what is actually out there become a little more equal. - James Turrell, The Mattress Factory

 

 

 

 

Chicago Art in Pictures: SAIC Fashion 2013

June 25, 2013 · Print This Article

A graphic, editorial overview of art, artists, and visual art events, found in and around Chicago over the course of the preceding month. All artwork copyright original artists; all photography copyright Paul Germanos.



On Friday, May 3, 2013, within a 15,000-square-foot tent erected upon Chase Promenade in Millennium Park, The Fashion Design Department presented The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s 79th annual fashion show.

And what did it have to do with visual art?

Well, more recently, on June 22, 2013, Cheryl Pope, longtime studio manager for SAIC Fashion’s Nick Cave, enjoyed the public opening of her first solo exhibition, “Just Yell,” at Chicago gallery moniquemeloche. Pope, like Cave, is employed by SAIC’s Fashion Design Department. Meloche served on SAIC’s 2013 Fashion Committee.

A profile of Monique Meloche’s parallel interests in fashion and art was published by Andrea Morris one month ago; Chicago-ish artists Conrad Bakker and Rashid Johnson figured prominently in Morris’ piece. And SAIC Board of Governors member Dr. Daniel S. Berger has been a collector and supporter of Johnson, among other artists, showing with Meloche.

In short: Chicago’s “art world” is in no way distinct from fashion–especially as it’s located within SAIC–but rather it’s intimately connected to it.

What follows is a hint of this year’s production, as experienced on and around the runway at SAIC Fashion 2013. Special thanks to SAIC and Carol Fox and Associates for facilitating Bad at Sports’ access. If you, gentle reader, are able to assist with the identification of any designer or model depicted but not yet named, contact: paulgermanos(at)msn.com

SAIC Fashion 2013
Above: Designer Roy Lee’s garment on the runway.

Cheryl Pope @ SAIC Fashion 2013
Above: Cheryl Pope, SAIC Fashion Faculty, at the 2013 show.

SAIC Fashion 2013
Above: Model Marissa Banks/Factor on the runway.

SAIC Fashion 2013
Above: Designer Tosha Sherman’s collection on the runway, model Valerie foreground.

Tosha Sherman @ SAIC Fashion 2013
Above: Designer Tosha Sherman at left; model Valerie at right.

SAIC Fashion 2013

SAIC Fashion 2013
Above: SAIC Fashion 2013 pavillion exterior, Chase Promenade North, Millennium Park, Chicago, Illinois.

SAIC Fashion 2013
Above: Designer Caroline Hougen’s retro collection, seen front and back, on the runway.

Conrad Hamather @ SAIC Fashion 2013
Above: Conrad Hamather, SAIC Fashion Faculty, Graduate Coordinator, producer of the 2013 show, at work.

SAIC Fashion 2013

SAIC Fashion 2013
Above: Model Marissa Banks/Factor on the runway.

SAIC Fashion 2013

SAIC Fashion 2013

SAIC Fashion 2013
Above: Designer Elaine Hoang’s collection on the runway.

SAIC Fashion 2013
Above: SAIC Fashion 2013 volunteer, between shows.

SAIC Fashion 2013

SAIC Fashion 2013

SAIC Fashion 2013

SAIC Fashion 2013

SAIC Fashion 2013

SAIC Fashion 2013
Above: Designer Francisco Gonzalez’ garment on the runway.

SAIC Fashion 2013

SAIC Fashion 2013

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Fashion Design Department

Millennium Park
Chase Promenade North
201 E. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL

http://saicfashion.org/