Family was most certainly on my mind as I traveled to the Southwest this past month. My immediate biological relatives all currently reside in the Phoenix-metro area, where they’ve either retired or chosen to start new families of their own. As a single, unmarried, sorta-employed, queer, urban artist-type in my late twenties, the experience of visiting brothers and babies, parents and grandparents, is often fraught with self-conscious anxieties over belonging, and adulthood, and dependency, and mixed feelings of togetherness. While I am privileged to have my connections to blood-relatives be strong and loving, when left alone to wander I found myself not only imagining, but actually encountering, unconventional and affectionate familial bonds existent outside the heteronormative nuclear unit, outside of a romantic or sexual dyad, and even outside of this, perceived, time period.
Yes, I went to The Annual Arizona Renaissance Festival & Artisan Marketplace. Sure, there were obscene amounts of turkey legs and synthetic fairy hats. But, there were also inventive, and unusual, and entirely self-determined lives being lived by an all female group of traveling weavers, by a motorcycle posse displaying self-designed insignia, by the self-described ‘Family of Artisans‘ hand-making gorgeous moccasins as part of Catskill Mountain Leather Co., by the cute fire whip master being assisted by the falconer’s girlfriend, and even by the falcons themselves – rescued and rehabilitated by this hodgepodge group of folks. I met an older gentlemen carving wood spoons and thought to myself, despite my complete lack of artisan skill, that I could do that too. I wondered about apprenticeship as a possible alternative for the establishment of intergenerational connectedness. I encountered an oddball bunch of chainmaille artisans who looked at me knowingly, with love, as I admired their sexy two-tone halter top – the one with a silver women’s symbol subtly entwined with classic gold chain.
I neither want to reduce nor romanticize the profundity with which I felt the recognition of a feeling, and felt recognized by this feeling, from these encounters. It’s a feeling I’m attempting to call familial. It’s produced, in part, by observing the craft, the labor, of people doing things together, of living lives made possible because of that craft, that labor, that togetherness.
Angela Ellsworth is not only an artist I’ve worked with, but one that I’ve enjoyed knowing for many years. Much of Ellsworth’s recent performances and artworks (as with Lady Ties for a Line Dance, appearing at the top of this post) situates domestic handicraft, pioneer-era material culture, and visual archetypes of the Mormon sister wife within decidedly feminist, erotic, and often irreconcilable contexts. Her 2009-2010 series of pearl corsage pin adorned cotton bonnets (known as Seer Bonnets) produces this irreconcilability with great impact. These are glorious, textural, glistening objects – like fetishes – elevated through Ellsworth’s resourceful, laborious application of pins into cloth, producing heavy, dangerous, intimidating, and (thereby) thrilling compositions. Varying in height, sometimes connected by cotton, and altogether arranged into indecipherable arrangements, there is both uniformity and uniqueness amongst this work.
Ellsworth happens to live in Phoenix, and teaches at Arizona State University. Upon my arrival, much of my aforementioned family-visitation anxiety was quickly alleviated because of one simple invitation she extended; “Two words for you: Line Dancing.” Within 24-hours of my arrival to the Valley, I found myself at the wondrous, decidedly lo-fi lesbian bar Cash Inn Country literally able to enter, in unison, a queer, alternative context. Variation and variability was everywhere (in fashion sense, in gender expression, in age, in line-dance know how), and the silliness of dancing came with the relief of realization that this was, indeed, an integral, important, beloved part of Ellsworth’s uncommon art practice.
As luck, or a severe Chicago winter storm, would have it, a delayed flight allowed me to meet up with another craft oriented queer artist occasioning Phoenix for biological family, as well. LJ Roberts and I first met in San Francisco, when I was too young to truly realize how much we have (or would come to have) in common. I knew Roberts as the artist who in 2005, with great aplomb, re-added the word ‘Crafts’ – in bright pink furry yarn – to the signage announcing a reconverted warehouse space as the current, recently retitled home of the California College of the Arts. However, it was Roberts’ sprawling, dazzling work The Queer Houses of Brooklynâ€¦ (2011), that I had just recently seen at the Renwick GalleryÂ in Washington, DC, that was on my mind when we met in Phoenix. The piece operates like a soft, interactive map of radical queer lives lived politically otherwise both past and present. Appropriately, I was fascinated to learn that the work was produced while Roberts was living collectively in an anarchist household outside Richmond, VA. This added bit of information only helped make more clear what I already suspected about this work; it is a testament, a document and gesture, honoring the families we can choose – be them queer, Renaissancian, whatever.
We are in the midst of a winter festival. Its occasions take place at a variety of locations across the city, featuring a variety of performance artists from all over the world. In each case, the art work at hand is dynamic and ephemeral; the culmination of hours/months/years of work fit into a small, public window of time. Audiences come to experience that time-concentrate and in so doing are transported. Born in the UK, Chicago-based performance artist,Â Mark Jeffery,Â is similarly invested in temporal, aesthetic exercises. Over the course of his career, he has a regularly incorporated collaboration and experimentation into his work. It seems fitting that he would address curation as well, opening the field of performance into an administrative capacity. The result is a bi-annual festival, IN>TIME. There have been two other iterations of this festival, in 2008 and 2010 â€” both of which were co-curated by Sara Schnadt and took place at the Cultural Center. This year Jeffery has expanded the scope of the project, curating roughly 26 different events at 15 different venues from January 11th – March 2nd, 2013. I wanted to ask Jeffery about the origins of this bi-annual festival, as well as how it fit in with his overall practice as an artist.
Caroline Picard: Can you talk a little bit about how IN>TIME 13 came together?
Mark Jeffery: There have been two previous editions of IN>TIME in 2008 and 2010 at the Chicago Cultural Center that I co-curated with artist and Chicago Artist Resource webmaster, Sara Schnadt. Sara has since now moved to Los Angeles, but during the summer and fall of 2011, before Sara left, we discovered that our contact at the Cultural Center, lost her job. At the time there was no support for this program to continue. As a result, we considered how we could expand this festival from a one-night event at the Cultural Center to a multi-venue festival throughout the city of Chicago. We were both excited to contact and connect with local venues and spaces that we already respected for their public programming of performance, symposia, exhibition, talks, and/or readings â€” spaces that already had an affinity towards IN>TIMEâ€™s desire to showcase performance practices in the broadest terms. We met with curators, directors and programmers of spaces in their venues, at the Palmer House, on rooftops of hotels, in phone conversations, in meeting rooms to discuss the possibility to program work in the winter of 2013. What we didn’t expect when we cast this net was that the community would be equally excited to focus their programming on performance, giving an extended platform to this experimental form.
CP: Does IN>TIME reflect on your own orientation/aesthetic agenda as a performance arts practitioner?
MJ: I was a member of the performance group Goat Island for 13 years and have collaborated with Judd Morrissey for the past 10 years. I take collaboration and working with fellow artists very seriously. I learn so much from working with others and during my time of making performance work I have had multiple opportunities to be in many diverse and interesting contexts to present my work since 1994. For me, I grow from conversation. I learn from working with others and I see that permission, openings and discovery happen when doors are opened. I think I discovered this as a student at Dartington College of Arts from my teachers Sally Morgan, Sally Tallent, Nancy Reilly, Rona Lee, Gillian Dyson, Roger Bourke and Tim Brennan. My teachers gave me access to being curious, to being open, to allowing my voice to grow, to not be isolated, but to discover other artists and other ways of working through connecting with others.
In Goat Island I leant from my fellow collaborators and performers and director Lin Hixson to open up a space, even if this was an uncomfortable risk. In coming to America, and in the ending of Goat Island in 2009, I suddenly had to be on my own feet, here in this Midwestern city, as an Assistant Professor in Performance Art. I had to be engaged. I had to become an adult. I had to share my knowledge of the spaces, networks and connections I had made now over the past 20 years.
Chicago is my home, it is a place where I can engage through teaching, through making, through performance and exhibitions â€” and now also through curation, as another way to open up spaces for? collaboration. I am grateful to be here and I am grateful that 14 venues are willing and interested in working with each other to make this dream come true. For the 2008 edition of IN>TIME Sara gathered a group of makers, curators into the Chicago Cultural Center in the summer of 2006. At that time I remember saying that I would love to see how we as a city could have a multi-venue performance art festival, similar to the one where I was first curated into in 1994 as a 21-year-old in Glasgow by Performance Art Curator, Nikki Milican and her National Review of Live Art Festival. Now, seven years later we have arrived.
CP: I am always suspicious of generalizations about localized styles or approaches to a given medium, but specific environments seem to facilitate peculiar dialogues. I have heard, for instance, that New York art performance is more integrated with dance, or that Europe is more open to experimental works. I don’t know if those comments are true or not, (they certainly came out of casual and speculative conversations) but I’m interested in whether or not you feel like Chicago has a particular conversation of its own. Does IN>TIME 13 respond to that at all?Â
MJ: Good question. I remember being in the library as a 19 year-old at Dartington College of Arts studying Visual Performance in the UK, (Dartington was a similar place / space to Black Mountain College). In the library I would read the High Performance and P-Form journals and read reviews about performance in Chicago. In 1996 I came to Chicago for the first time to join Goat Island Performance group. For me the roots of performance came from reading those articles, from being part of Goat Island and seeing the trail end of Randolph Street Gallery â€” a non-profit performance/gallery space here that ended I believe in 1998. In the past 15 years that Iâ€™ve been here, I have seen some extraordinary work from performance makers in their studio performance spaces and venues here with Lucky Pierre, Dolores Wilber and her collective, Julie Laffin, Joe Silovsky, Cupola Bobber,Joan Dickinson, Larry Steger, and more recently Erica Mott, Justin Cabrillos, Joseph Ravens and Peter Carpenter. Â More recently I think of Chicago as a place for experimentation, a place for artists to really explore and test rigorous ideas. It is a place for research to take place, and for non-traditional, informative intersections and overlaps that to spring up unexpectedly via collectives and collaborations. That is what I get excited about. My training at Dartington and also in Goat Island taught me to be open, to be curious, to not be hierarchical, to give permission, to open up new spaces. I am about to hit 40 in 4 months and to have known this practice now for over 20 years and still be working: thatâ€™s is what I am grateful for. Performance is a medium that is forever shifting, one of the things for me about coming to Chicago and living and working in America is that things can happen. I am ambitious and a workaholic and in a funny way I am thinking of this festival as my mid-life crisis! (this is my sense of humour btw). Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to ask and see what is out there. I am lucky now to be here two decades into this practice and that when I ask certain things, like a 14 venue performance festival where hybridity, where venues that wouldn’t normally work with each other have an opportunity for exchange, for dialogue and conversation. Where doors open and the container of performance can be a storefront gallery, a video installation, a reading, a movement art endurance work, a reenactment, a meeting between museum spaces, schools, galleries, DIY spaces.
CP: How did you go about organizing the programming?Â
MJ: The programming of the festival came firstly from Sara and I meeting with all the venues in the summer and fall of 2011 and then slowly from there having conversations to see about what would be the best fit for each of their spaces. Some venues suggested if a particular artist would be a good fit for the festival in regards what they were already considering, venues like the Dance Center of Columbia College with Zoe I Juniper or Museum of Contemporary Art with Miguel Gutierrez and Threewalls with Mary Patten and Mathew Paul Jinks. All the venues have really exciting work that will enter their spaces and showcasing incredible talent. I am excited about the three venues I have just mentioned in the openings these spaces can present these artists. I am also excited to see how these artists present their work here in Chicago. These are highlights, other highlights for me are being able to go back to the Cultural Center and have the US premier of Spanish, Swiss based artist Maria La Ribot perform her 5 hour work Laughing Hole. I have never seen her work live but have followed her work closely with a video work of hers I show in the classroom, a documentary called La Ribot Distinguida filmed at the Tate Modern in London and the Pompidou in Paris. Through the new director of Performing Arts, Shoni Currier at the Chicago Cultural Center we are able to showcase her work. Also at Joseph Ravens Defrillator performance gallery we are able to bring Singaporean artist Lynn Lu, she will share an evening with British visual art poet cris cheek from Ohio and two emerging local artists Kitty Huffman and Hope Esser. Croatian Movement Art Group OOURR, local dance artist Peter Carpenter will be on the same bill and have been excited to follow him theseÂ past two years. at Links Hall local Chicago Artists Every House as a Door, Erica Mott and Trevor Martin, Hyde Park Art Center and having artists in residents Minouk Lim from Korea and Croatian born London-based Vlatka Horvat.Â The challenge to me is to keep curious and to put things together that normally wouldnâ€™t be together in a program. I like group exhibits where experimental forms of performance, movement. Language, actions, durations, emerging, established can come together. Again, to me this comes from my training and also wanting to connect people. The curator / caretaker is first to open up a space and the last to leave.
CP: Maybe because the title of your festival is IN>TIME, I’m reminded of the ephemerality of performance, and various conversations I’ve picked up on peripherally about how to document performance, how the documentation can eclipse the performance itself as an art object, or what happens to a piece when it is recreated in a different time and context, by different performers. I realize those conversations are vast and intricate, but it occurred to me that you might be negotiating some of those as an organizer, putting together a multi-faceted, multi-venue festival. How you have been dealing with documentation?
MJ: Last week eight students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago worked with London Based artist Kira O’Reilly with the three-week visiting artist class called FROZEN IN>TENSITIES that is a course driven exhibit at SAIC. Each week there is a presentation at SAIC of the work they have been doing with the artists. With Kira the students found an old filing cabinet that has been in the green room this past semester. The filing cabinet was full of files that is an archive of the performance department when it was being chaired by the departments founder Tom Jaremba and former chair and now Graduate Division Chair, Werner Herterich. I site this filing cabinet as it became both a rich treasure trove of correspondence and a source of material for students to respond to. There were files from Linda Montano for example, and Alistair MacLennan when they visited the department. This cabinet has been making me think about how do we document our lives now in 2013. What are our filing cabinets? How do we store and retain this information, this memory of being here, especially with performance? For the class we also have 3 rooms in the Sullivan Galleries, and so we are also having this conversation about the document, of how to archive what remains. It becomes an exciting challenge. Yesterday I helped Sabri Reed, the teaching assistant for the class, take the filing cabinet on a cart from the Columbus Drive building to the Sullivan Galleries. It was quite unwieldy and heavy, but became this opportunity to walk and mark those moments of exchange spanning the past 30 years across Monroe Street. The students are also going to insert a record of their work in the class into a file and put it back into the filing cabinet for the exhibit and this will remain.
Last week I also renewed the Goat Island website as it was going to run out, the domain name in five days or something. This position between the physical and the virtual, the mixed reality of archive and document is a really interesting question for me. If we don’t maintain the upkeep of our websites what does remain. What are our filing cabinets of 2013?
CP: This image of time keeps coming back…
MJ: To me this is an experiment. Since 2006 I have also been curating and have developed series of OPENPORT A performance, sound and language festival (2007) co â€“ curated with Nathan Butler, Judd Morrissey and Lori Talley at Links Hall, Intimate and Epic (2006) co â€“ curated with Sara Schnadt in Millennium Park and The Simulationists (2011) co â€“ curated with Claudia Hart and Judd Morrissey at SAIC as well as the IN>TIME series. Time becomes an important thing and I often think about how to stamp time now as it moves so quickly (the 40 thing again ;)) – yet, if you take time to make something, I think something can come through and with Sara and I meeting all the venues 18 months ago, the results of this time has come through. I come from a father who was a herdsman who milked 200 Friesian cows each day, woke at 5 and worked till 8, seven days a week. A life’s work, working for over 30 years on the same farm. There is something in building a life through projects, through ritual, through time that you can get a lot done and through the creative make a place and space for opportunity to enter. Again for this I am grateful and I always thank my teachers for giving me the space, time and attention. You work towards something to thank them.
Further Information: Â http://www.in-time-performance.org/