Alberto Aguilar announced his Instagram takeover of the @artinstitutechi feed in a bathroom mirror selfie. He positioned the cellphone to obscure his face and captioned the post with the deadpan statement “This is a takeover. I am Alberto Aguilar. This will last one week.” With that single post already several people vowed to unfollow until “the art returned”, while others were convinced that the feed had been “hacked”, while still others lamented that selfies “degraded” the museum.
The Chicago-based artist Aguilar is the Art Institute of Chicago’s 2015-2016 Artist in Residence for Museum Education. He was chosen because education features prominently in his artistic practice through his professorship at Harold Washington College. The residency includes an on-site studio housed embedded in the Ryan Education Center, various opportunities to lecture and conduct public events and the Instagram takeover at hand. From January 11th to the 18th Aguilar regularly posted his activities within the museum and selectively interacted with the Institute’s followers. That his actions could provoke such an extraordinary response, both positive and negative points to the power of social media and the effectiveness of Aguilar’s approach.
A photo posted by The Art Institute of Chicago (@artinstitutechi) on
The takeover phenomenon itself comes from a marketing strategy wherein corporate brands partner with “influencers” in order to heighten their credibility and deepen their “brand engagement” with consumers. Influencers are considered influential because they are authentic and credible examples of the brand image to the brand’s target audience. In this case Aguilar is a living example of an artist in a museum that celebrates art. The Art Institute of Chicago, which declined to comment for this article saying instead in an email that they wanted to “keep the focus on Alberto’s practice and his ownership of the creative process on the Instagram project” presumably wanted the artist to perform contemporary art for the audience.
The two previous AIC social media takeovers from LA-based artists Frances Stark and Charles Ray delivered tepid posts. Charles Ray seemed largely disinterested and Frances Stark’s output was subsumed by her already voluminous social media presence. Aguilar approximated a living specimen of an artist inside the hallowed repository of mostly dead-artist’s art, like a genetically engineered T-Rex on view next to Sue at the Field Museum. Why then would people prefer to view the plaster casts when the real thing was available? The takeover and its response charts a competing trio of interests between the venerable museum, an irascible artist and the expectant Instagram audience.
rosiefomalley @artinstitutechi what kind of horseshit
For Aguilar’s part he was given the account for Instagram for a week without restrictions. The canon for Instagram artworks is still being written but his approach was unique in several ways. The most comprehensive work to date is probably by the artist Amalia Ulman who over the course of months believably transformed her feed into a record of her life as a vapid LA impresario. Photos of brunch and breast enlargement scars were all faked for a scripted 175 post drama presented as if it were her real life. The piece called, “Excellences & Perfections” functions as both feminist and social media critique unveiling the double desire to share and to craft one’s image at the same time; a.k.a. to not really share.
Alberto Aguilar instead reinforced the believability of the Instagram image by performing simple actions in the recognizable space of the museum and by responding selectively to the instructions of certain followers. He roamed the galleries opening telephone panels, propping open doors, overturning chairs, placing a half styrofoam cup in front of a Magritte, arranging a floor full of doilies in the room with the paperweights and other forms of aesthetic littering. Aguilar’s approach to objects is inflected by Minimalism, frequently using simple geometries like grids, lines and zig zags that make the actions seem deceptively matter-of-fact more akin to crossing items off a to-do list than making a drawing. This functional relationship between his activity and the resultant situation bolstered the trustworthiness of the feed at the expense of artifice.
A photo posted by The Art Institute of Chicago (@artinstitutechi) on
Aguilar describes this approach as “using a regulated form in a very regulated building in order to have a moment of intimacy myself in this space.” Aguilar’s language in the posts also plays to this calculated blankness. “I don’t like being overly poetic. I like when I state facts and those things act as poetry also.”
rs_gould Sweet litter. Good thing you got that MFA
Not that Aguilar’s practice doesn’t also rely on metaphor. In one of the earliest posts he and fellow artist Alex Bradley Cohen held up homemade cardboard signs that read “Trouble Maker” or “Problem Solver” as an introduction to the takeover. Other works refer to issues of accessibility by opening “doors” or creating “bridges” within the museum experience. Here the artist functioned as a surrogate museum goer, a tester of the institution by filling voids, mimicking gallery architecture and associating objects of the present with the past, culture outside the museum with culture inside and personal history with art history.
The inclusion of his personal life was another source of audience annoyance and yet another way Aguilar aimed to disarm them. When Alberto wasn’t in the museum, he was frequently at home.
“People were annoyed about the home photos and would try to tell me what they wanted to see and what they didn’t want to see. So I thought that it would be funny to put a picture of my kids all playing [the board game] Trouble while my wife was sleeping just because I wanted my family to be recorded forever on the Art Institute’s Instagram feed. Because anybody would want to make their presence known! Right? Isn’t that what Instagram is all about? That’s also why I kept saying “This is a takeover”. Someone who was angry called it something else, they said this is a hijack!” So the next post I used that. “This is a hijack.”
The pedestrian nature of Alberto’s life, indeed that of most working artists when viewed up close, was off-putting to people who tuned into the museum’s feed for Culture with a capital “C”. The personal moments presented within his factual, monotone voice were disarming to the point of becoming intimate. The high point of this being a touching snippet of song performed on ukulele by Aguilar’s two kids on the final day. What becomes clear through reading comments is that the dissenters find Aguilar’s lowering of the Art Institute’s high cultural voice disrespectful. But why is this act disrespectful when the institution has invited him to do it?
A video posted by The Art Institute of Chicago (@artinstitutechi) on
andiamojoe @mimi_marg @eggwithoutyolk @artinstitutechi all that wonderful art around should be inspiring to this feed, the content is lackluster and not representative of the great works and artists within one of the greatest art museums in the world… Step it up or face a mass unfollow!
The answer, at least partially, seems to be that the Art Institute was operating outside of its understood brand identity, or were purposefully trying to expand it to encompass more contemporary art. There was a general tone in the comments of dissatisfaction, not with the idea of a takeover per se, but with the particular type of plain dealing, found-object arranging, conceptual social practice that Aguilar uses. The only charge directed at Aguilar as a person was that of self-indulgence. Presumably this was for the posts that actually contained his image, not for posting his artwork because that was at least part of the point.
robby47 Blame Andy Warhol. But compared to this, Warhol looks like freakin Rembrandt.
Aguliar’s “lazy Dadaism” as one follower put it, in turn led to charges of “pretentiousness”, where pretension is understood as thinking oneself important when in fact you aren’t. These commenters saw no value in his use of simple arrangements of recognizable material through easy to replicate gestures. As a counterfactual, it’s hard to imagine any controversy over a representational artist painting museumgoers as they tour the galleries, a kind of museum-cum-landscape.
A photo posted by The Art Institute of Chicago (@artinstitutechi) on
Other moments pitted the artist’s interests more directly against that of the institution. The museum has always catered to the civic pride of Chicago through various means, including the decoration of the famed entry lions with whichever sports team is prospering at the time. Recently that has been the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. An ill-advised attempt to find common cause with fans in anticipation of a Stanley Cup playoff game resulted in an image of a Medieval knight’s helmet adorned with the Blackhawk’s logo being posted to the account. Considered alone, the Blackhawk’s logo is controversial enough, but to layer onto a stereotype of indigenous peoples an item symbolizing the systematic religious violence of the Crusades defies common sense.
A photo posted by The Art Institute of Chicago (@artinstitutechi) on
Aguilar at this point had been “building bridges” between separate time periods of the museum collection by holding up gift-shop postcard images in front of related artworks. Now he responded by holding up a phone with the Instagram of the knight’s helmet in front of a display of a Native American ceremonial headdress and pressed the send button. The image pits the legacy of American oppression of indigenous peoples through caricature and confiscation of property against the museum’s desire for greater mass media relevance beyond expected elite cultural circles. The reaction from the audience was swift and intense and for the first time Aguilar himself felt conflicted about his usage of the takeover.
“People were confused as to what I was trying to say. I didn’t want to offend Native American people, but that’s what started happening right away. There was this young Native American commenter who took it out of context and didn’t realize it was a takeover. He was angry at the museum for putting up this image and began swearing in his comments. So the museum’s social media manger deleted them which I was told is regular practice whenever people swear in comments. And he would come back and wonder why he was being censored on top of being offended by the image. I went to sleep and had a terrible dream that night. I woke up and decided that I was going to delete the image all together. I just didn’t feel right about it anymore, mainly because I was offending Native Americans but also because I didn’t think that it was fair to the institution that had given me this freedom.”
The ingenuity of this takeover is the way that it placed the artist at the ethical intersection of several public discourses.
Who is the artist responsible to represent? For Aguilar, what began as an attempt to confront an ethnic stereotype instead ended up propagating it. The museum, for it’s part, has the difficult task of picking artists as influencers because of the legacy of avant-gardism still ingrained in contemporary art. They will be critical of their museological handlers, which both present dangers for their brand identity and simultaneously reinforces the credibility and authenticity of the influencer. Meanwhile the audience has to decode the layered experience of these images and deal with their frustrated expectations. Social media seems to give viewers a sense of propriety over the institution that is illusory. What ability does the Instagram public have to shape museum policy or image? Not much. The tradition and cultural prestige of their brand expectations had been substituted with contemporaneity and uncertainty.
“People were telling me what they wanted to see and what they didn’t want to see, they were angry. I said something like “This is a takeover. I will decide what is shown.” Then I said “I will use whatever is around me as a tool. I was referring to the physical objects around me I used as a tool for revealing and concealing but also to the camera which can serve the same function. I’m wasn’t trying to be arrogant, but the truth is that it was a takeover, I did have control but I also personally have control of what I show and don’t show of myself.”
The ironic thing is that the space of institutional (or branded) social media requires an audience, no matter how inflexible. The commenters certainly weren’t worried about the authority or appropriateness of their comments in their ill-conceived defense of the museum. The social media space requires a back and forth in which Aguilar fully engaged. He would take suggestions from the comments about what to do next actually giving the audience some ability to interact with the museum that they love. Instead of getting into a comment tit-for-tat he would perform actions just to show them that he was open to their input. And for all of the dissenters there were also people who appreciated the unique perspective on the museum that Aguilar came to offer. The masterful nature of the takeover was the way that it revealed the contours and fissures of the public’s relationship to 21st century institutions. It showed the historical problems and contemporary possibilities while insistently, even stubbornly, keeping the approach intimate and personal.
Dan Gunn is an artist, writer and educator living and working in Chicago. Dan writes about Chicago art, including a history of alternative and apartment spaces in conjunction with the Hyde Park Art Center’s “Artists Run Chicago” exhibition and the Artist Run Digest published by Threewalls and Green Lantern Press. Dan has written for for Bad at Sports, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Depaul Art Museum, Loyola University Museum of Art, Newcity Magazine, Proximity Magazine and ArtSlant.com. He was a contributor to Fielding Practice podcast, a collaboration between Bad at Sports and Art21.
This week: BAS on the west coast! We talk to Adriana Salazar and John Spiak, director and chief curator of the Grand Central Art Center, which has an exhibition of Adriana’s work up currently. Also, we talk to Sabina Ott about The Terrain Exhibitions Biennial which is this coming weekend!
Plan your life around seeing us at EXPO!!! You know you want to.
ADRIANA SALAZAR: NOTHING ELSE LEFT
2013 California-Pacific Triennial Partnership with Orange County Museum of Art
July 6 through September 22, 2013
Is there an end to our existence? Can we be separated from our bodies and be transformed into something else? Adriana Salazar’s work has continued to revolve around these questions in different ways. This is why the realm of mortuary customs appeals to her: it presents numerous ways to approach the ultimate unknown.
Her past series of works have attempted to bring inanimate objects to life; crystalize human actions into mechanical devices; worked to blur the line that separates the natural and the artificial. Death has been an ever-present part of her work, understood in a broader sense, in her own words, “I want to address death as a dare to the certainties of knowledge, and as a challenge to deeply rooted traditions. Thus, my work has taken its course transforming mechanical actions, obsolete objects, fading plants and passing life into installations and objects that could become questioning situations themselves.”
For this current series, created during a two-month residency at Grand Central Art Center, the artist desired to go deeper into that moment of transition between life and death, finding out as much as she could about what happens with our bodies, with our consciousness and with everything we build around the death of others. In her words, “I found, amongst other things, that there is an aesthetics of transition, that there are rituals trying to maintain life after death, and laws which govern our bodies, even when we are not fully present. I also found out that there are transitional techniques and an intricate industry around them.”
Some of these techniques of transition have the purpose of dematerializing the body – its physical presence, associated to life and its impermanence – replacing it with a different kind of immaterial presence. In the crematory, a compartment ignites at a very high temperature until the body is almost entirely dissolved. In order to secure the transparency of this transition, all particles of bone are carefully separated from any other solid object that might exist in our remains. These foreign bodies – implants, replacements, metal bodily parts, and every sign of our artificial self – must be removed. All that is left are bones, which are then reduced to the size of grains of sand. These remains are kept in homes, spread at symbolic locations, interned at traditional burials site, or used in other creative manners. The artificial parts, on the other hand, are usually recycled for their metals or tossed away.
Salazar has decided to rescue as many cremated artificial body parts possible. These parts remain as solid as they were inside their bodies and are nevertheless considered residue. She found their value in this very ambiguity. They embody the question of the status of our own existence on a physical level: their materiality creates confusion between those objects as parts of a physical body and our own body, thus opening the gap between our certainties and uncertainties, beyond the matter of human death itself.
The simple presence of these objects puts the status of life into question, allowing us to see, on one hand, the death of usage and value as something applicable to our own bodies. They allow us to see, on the other hand, the possibility of our existence as purely impermanent, earthly and physical. They allow us to see our possible becoming.
Terrain Exhibitions Biennial September 15 – October 19, 2013 Opening Block Party: September 15, 1 -10 PM
Utilizing multiple homes on the 700 Highland Avenue block, nine artists have created site-specific interventions for this month long event.
Megan Taylor Noe
Opening Block Party:Â
Terrain artist Claire Ashley will produce an event featuring her inflatable sculptures. Ellen Butler, neighbor, will exhibit her paintings and Elizabeth Rexfordâ€™s The Harmonia Quartet will play on the Longfellow Elementary school steps. A reading from Ames Hawkins’Â Paper VioletsÂ will be performed in addition to Paul Hertz conducting the interactive â€œIgnotus the Mageâ€ at intervals throughout the afternoon. There will be a plethora of activities and constructive projects for the whole family, such as bookbinding, fluxkit exchanges, Exquisite Corpse drawing games, and a chance for all to participate in creating a surrealist poem imagined by Stephanie Barber. The Taco Bernardo Food Truck will be in Oak Park serving dinner from 5:30 â€“ 8:00PM, an assortment of treats will be provided by neighbors and all are welcome to add to the potluck! The dayâ€™s activities will be accompanied by the DJ styles of Rae Chardonnay then followed by neighbor Ryan Todd’s band Officer Friendly. Terrain artist and Director of Aspect Ratio Gallery, Jefferson Godard, will wrap up the event with a curated video program that will be shown from dusk until 10PM.
Rogers Park was the place to be Saturday night with killer back to back openings taking place within blocks of one another. The weather couldn’t have been better and both shows had robust turn outs. Unioned Labors at the aptly named Bike Room featured not one but three different collaborative projects from duos. Small and whimsical, this show packed a big punch. Alberto Aguilar & Alex Bradley Cohen filled the space’s hallway with a mural pieced together with delightfully bold and colorful paintings on cardboard and complimented by a playful soundtrack. Inside the gallery itself a video of Aguliar’s & Cohen workin’ it out in the Bike Room’s backyard that shared a similar soundtrack. Amanda Ross-Ho and her father, Ruyell, used one of his playful abstractions that reads “Less is Not More” to adorn one of Ross-Ho’s signature oversized t-shirts. The most somber offering, Frank Piyatec & Judith Geitchman‘s rhythmic black and white text and abstractions were arranged into a giant checkerboard.
Caribbean American Bakery located at 1539 W Howard Street.
The Weatherman Report
For Chicago IL
Max Ernst, Humboldt Current, 1951-52. Oil on canvas, 36 x 61 cm. Photo: Foundation Beyeler.
The scene at Iceberg Projects Saturday.
Better Luck Next Time leads to Hilarity, Danger
Game show pilot debuts in Steuben, WI
Fed up with the lack of cable television at the Steuben Lodge, ACRE residents and staff took matters into their own hands last weekend recording live the first ever episode of “Better Luck Next Time,” a newlyweds-style game show for artistic duos. Hosted by Carlos Danger and Vanna Ruffino, collaborators were pitted against each other to see who’s vibin’ the hardest.
Hosts Carlos Danger and Vanna Ruffino.
Carlos Danger valiantly and hilariously lead the unwilling contestants to reveal some of their deepest gripes with one another. Points were awarded on a somewhat unconventional basis after the audience mutinied against the show and its producers, demanding sympathetic half-points for weary contestants. Danger and Ruffino were ultimately able to win over the unruly mob and the pilot was a huge live success.
Live from the Chalet Studio.
Lucky to see this early preview, WWT? has heard that there are plans to put the show into syndication in Chicago.
Over the past ten plus years, Laura Shaeffer has been the entrepreneur and custodian behind a number of projects housed within a handful of unconventionalâ€” and often under utilizedâ€” spaces on the Southside of Chicago, including Home Gallery, The Op Shop and Southside Hub of Production (SHoP). Her approach is a combination of activism and common sense; community building and home-making. She honors domestic spaces as sites of radical, informal pedagogy, and this manifests itself in an important through line that runs across her projects; they act as platforms for kids to express their creativity and imagination, and indulge their curiosity. Alongside immersing them in art and cultural production, an important byproduct of this is kids’ engagement with other kids, families, neighbors and neighborhoods.
By remaining open, nurturing organic expansion and leveraging intuition, Shaeffer stewards growth rather then shoehorning artists into rigid themes or mapping them onto discrete timelines. She recounts the combination of circumstance and serendipity that led to the recent closing of SHoP and subsequent re-opening of Home Gallery for us, and outlines her influences, collaborators and thoughts on sustainability and longevity below.
When John Preus, Mike Phillips, founder of South Side Projection, and I first started thinking about SHoP as a community cultural hub, we talked a lot about a need we all saw for a more un-programmed life, where idle time can be productive and where relationships have time and space to develop, between people, artists and generations. I love the idea of stewarding growth, looking after, caring for and managing an exhibit as a way of curating through encouraging artists to be more present and participate in the exhibit after the opening in ways that could make their work more accessible to others and in return inspire further thought and exploration on what it means to be an artist in our current culture, especially a more publicly or socially engaged artist. I tend to work intuitively and gravitate toward others who do as well. Working on shows with John and Alberto Aguilar was incredibly inspiring, they are both extremely challenging and creative thinkers. I found that a very good sense of humor and irony is most important in this kind of work and we were able to make each other laugh at the most crucial times.
One common interest John and I shared with others who helped found this project, as parents and artists, was to create spaces for exhibitions, learning and socializing where children and older folks alike would come and be in an environment that was heterogeneous and allowed for spontaneous interactions.Â We talked a lot about the Piazza, the Town Square, the Adventure Playground movement, public places where everyone gathered, young and old to have a drink, converse, play freely, or make things… and to linger into the evenings. We also wanted a cultural space where we could bring our kids and they’d have their own environment in which to create together so we set up what we called the Autonomous Making Space (silly name we know) for them to explore their own ideas, and make up their own activities, structures, and games. SHoP drew much of its inspiration from the Junk/Adventure Playground movement begun in the 30’s in Europe by C. Th. SÃ¸rensen, a Danish landscape architect. These playgrounds become centers, accessible to the entire community, a place to gather and play freely and to develop intellectually, physically, and emotionally. Like the Adventure Playground, we wanted our Hub space to encourage children and adults to interact with and learn from each other. Ultimately, we wanted to create a space for people to feel ownership and take responsibility for the space itself because it exists as a result of their own efforts and brings the larger community together.
In terms of spaces that have provided a source of inspiration, there are so many. Several are in Finland; Hirvitalo, aÂ Contemporary Art Center, founded in 2006 as a cultural space inÂ Pispala, Finland, a deeply kindred spirit;Â Pixelache, a transdisciplinary platform for experimental art, design, research and activism co-created by artist Andrew Paterson whom I had the good fortune to meet in 2007 at the Pedagogical Factory by Jim Duignan, founder of Stockyard Institute, who is a very significant inspiration for SHoP. Places like Experimental Station, Co-Prosperity Sphere, Mess Hall, Comfort Station and North Branch have provided guidance and inspiration as well. There are too many individual artists, projects and people to mention, who have been collaborators and co-producers over the years. Collaborations like Material Exchange, Kultivator and WochenKlausur have also been very influential.
After the Fenn house was supposedly sold (it is now back on the market!), we were charged with the daunting task of reducing the accumulated contents of a 16 room mansion to fill a 20 foot sea container,Â to be driven away and parked on the Resource Center’s land (thanks to the generous help and support of both Ken Dunn and Ken Schug and some wonderful volunteers). We had all grieved the loss of that beautiful space before we moved, but the lightness of being I personally experienced shortly thereafter made it clear that it is not the space itself, but the people who make the space meaningful through their care, their energy and their creativity.Â That location, while at once magical and wonderful, and which provided so much space for learning for us all,Â was also much more demanding than any Op Shop or Home Gallery exhibit and we really needed time to reflect, regroup and re-organize ourselves if we were to become aÂ sustainableÂ center for the community.
I suppose the decision to open up Home Gallery again was a combination of circumstance and intention. We invited some of the artists that played a large role in SHoP as well a few new ones to our private home to intervene with our “private lives” in ways that would alter or disrupt our routines and as well, help us ease the transition back home and frankly, tend to the spaces that had been neglected while running a 16 room grass roots community arts center for almost 2 years. Our tiny home became the focus for the continuation of concepts and ideas we had been working with on a larger scale at Fenn House, allowing us to explore the more domestic and private side of these ideas.
The question of how we will continue to nurture and grow our projects outside of the traditional constraints of traditional organizational structures and frameworks is a very good one. We are discussing and further questioning this all the time. What might we gain by adopting a more organized structure and what might we stand to lose? As an art project, The Op Shop had a sense of freedom and extreme fluidity, SHoP for the 15 months of it’s existence at Fenn continued to enjoy that fluid, flexible and organic quality… but how long can that be sustained? Eventually a project has to grapple with these questions, I admire projects like Mess Hall who knew from the get go that they would not opt to become a non -profit and had a very clear vision for their mission in this sense. I feel we are still questioning the whole issue of becoming a non-profit and what that implies and how it impacts the project itself. In some ways we will not know before hand but one suspects that there might be a loss of this sense of intuitive process, fluid practice and to be honest, we may get away with much less. On the other hand, money is an issue and funding is needed if we are to continue in any long term way. I am and we are obviously conflicted about this issue!
Maybe artists and others who are attracted to unconventional spaces to view and think about art, like the mansion, the small townhome, the porch, the back yard gallery, the storefront, the park, and various unexpected public spaces, are more likely to want to examine their role in social change, themes of modern urban life in spaces that are themselves a challenge. There are artists who have certainly been repelled. I like the story of one artist who had proposed a project for an exhibit at SHoP, was invited to participate, and showed up on a typical day for us, where kids were hammering pieces of wood together on the front steps, students were running a yard sale in the front yard, some seniors were playing bridge inside, the house was buzzing with activity preparing for the installation of the next show. I saw a looming figure outside the house and then I saw him disappear, I asked a friend if they knew why this artist left the scene without coming in to meet us (I knew him from his resume and photos) She said that he â€˜didn’t want to show his work in a house run by unprofessional hippies.’ This artist never responded to us again.Â I could see his point, but I love general (orchestrated) chaos, so I guess that’s my fate.
As told to Thea Liberty Nichols via email, June 2013.