From the Road: Outside In

January 20, 2015 · Print This Article

The highway passes quickly through Summerville, Georgia. The roadsides fill with small houses, businesses, and the ghosts of fastfood architecture. It is easy to miss the turn to Paradise Gardens. The houses that surround Howard Finster’s home, installation, and “life’s work” part suddenly to reveal the expansive sculpture gardens, rambling buildings, and layer cake tower of the World’s Folk Art Church.

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Howard Finster, World’s Folk Art Church

It is easy to think we know Howard Finster, “man of visions.” His paintings grace the covers of pop albums. His portraits and hand painted words fit into our perceptions of an outsider artist. He was outside enough to be embraced by the art world and savvy enough to know how to eat up the celebrity that came along with it.

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Mosaic Sidewalks

Paradise Gardens is empty, as I arrive. I talk to the attendant about the slowly unfolding and changing history of Paradise Gardens, hear his stories of coming to visit on a school field trip and being told to return to church on Sunday afternoons while peeking through the fences at Finster working. As recommended, I start at the back corner, and, before I get there, my preconceptions of Finster fall away.

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Mosaic Gardens

Paradise Gardens is a stubborn refusal of the outside world that embraced his artwork and public persona. It resists visual and economic consumption. It arises from an unassuming, largely poor, small Southern town that, at best, tolerated his work during and after his lifetime. The World’s Folk Art Church, the most striking and visually alluring building, has been closed for decades due to structural concerns. The work of other artists and admirers intermixed with Finster’s work blurs lines of authorship and individuality. Paradise Gardens is full of beauty and wonder, but it is also full of Finster’s enormous collections of the “inventions of mankind” that, under different circumstances, would be called hoarding.

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Bicycle handlebar grips

Life and death comfortably coexist in Paradise Gardens. The area surrounding Paradise Gardens abounds in life. Workers repair the sewer outside the fence. Neighbors come and go without giving Finster’s Mosaic Garden and paths a second glance. The Casket of the Unknown Body, which used to have a viewing glass so visitors could see the girl’s teeth, the constant reminders of the Christian life after death, and the many memorials to Finster embody and keep death present.

The many collections of bicycle parts, sewing machines, typewriters, Coke bottles, and more hold the lives of the people who made them and the man who placed them. They cast shadows of their original uses as they hang lifeless. The bicycles, televisions, and scraps writhing up out of the weathered, increasingly uniform mass in the center of the garden are transfigured into the Bicycle Tower and reborn into pop careers.

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Bicycle pedals

I recently visited an old bakery-turned-warehouse filled with tens of thousands of plates, saucers, coffee cups, teapots, ramekins, the remnants of restaurants closed in the ‘50’s, ‘60’s, and ‘70’s. The stacks and stacks of plates filling the warehouse were caked in dirt, filled with rainwater, surrounded by pigeon droppings. They are a treasure trove and a filthy testament to objects. They are the left overs of failed businesses and abandoned identities and the china that holds the memories of a generation of Americans who ate at roadside diners and fraternal order lodges. Like Paradise Gardens, this warehouse full of dishes straddles the line between collecting and hoarding, between objects and memories, between life that ends and death that continues. Life and death are so deeply intertwined they are indistinguishable from one another.

I just moved to a new town, a new climate, a new part of the country that has much to teach me. I cannot help but think of making a new life, of reshaping my inward and outward habits in conjunction with the physical move. Both Paradise Gardens and the warehouse remind me that the life we have is short, that the death that awaits us is not far. More importantly, they help me hold close the fact that life begins again and again, when we move to a new place, when we wake each morning, when death comes to find us. Finster believed in a very specific idea of life after death. Whether or not we ascribe to that belief, Paradise Gardens confronts us with death and the lives that come after. It is well worth the trip.




Cold Then Hot: One View of Twin Cities

December 16, 2014 · Print This Article

We are in the midst of a warm snap. The snow has receded. The ice has left the lakes and rivers. I dig out the fall clothes I had packed away, reluctant to leave warm hats and scarves at home. I know the cold is waiting just around the corner for me to let down my guard again, but I do not want to miss the brief reprieve. I walk through warm days and nights, trying to understand this seasonal contradiction, as I struggle to hold the contradictions that surround me.

I support and enjoy the art installed in the long waiting room of Union Depot. I often eat lunch there. I linger with people in transition, crosstown bus riders and Amtrak passengers traveling to Chicago, and I am drawn to the gentle, rippling, summery reminder of Jim Campbell’s suspended 8 ½ x 11.

I simultaneously struggle to understand why the largest and most visible artworks are by artists from outside the Twin Cities (Campbell is based in San Francisco) and why artists from outside these communities and the legacies and present realities of injustice in those communities, like Ralph Gilbert from Atlanta, whose six large murals were recently installed, are asked to “reference the railroads’ impact on the Dakota tribes and their land; [and] the importance of railroad jobs for African Americans, especially in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood.”

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8 1/2 x 11, Jim Campbell

I want to support the artists and makers whose work fills the overwhelming number of recent and upcoming holiday markets, popup shops, and art fairs. I love and would love to take home their work. I want to support artists trying to make a living and their desire to do so through their artwork, through forging and finding new ways to economically support themselves.

I simultaneously struggle with the fact that economic survival in and economic diversification of the artworld often shore up the neoliberal, capitalist systems that benefit a handful of people and visit violence on the earth and the people outside of that small minority.

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Mural, Ralph Gilbert

I am filled with the deep pain, anger, frustration, hopefulness and solidarity of Million March MN and protests around the country over the weekend. I felt power dynamics being exposed when the march stopped traffic and stunned holiday shoppers looked on in disbelief and confusion. I believe the affirmation embodied in those marches that artists, that all people can come together to make change here and in cities across the country.

I simultaneously struggle with the fact that Midway Contemporary Art‘s Monster Drawing Rally fundraiser took place hours after the march. I support Midway, and the Monster Drawing Rally is an inventive, exciting way to bring together artists, collectors, and supporters to raise money. It was difficult, however, to watch hundreds of people pack in to watch artists make drawings and snatch up the drawings before they were hung on the walls. Consumption was conspicuous as people surged through crowds to be the first in line to buy a drawing, to buy drinks, to see and be seen, seemingly unaware of the larger issues and inequities in the world outside the white walls, deaf to the rallying cries still ringing in my ears.

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Monster Drawing Rally, via Midway Contemporary Art

I am leaving the Twin Cities soon, moving to warmer, greener climates. I have learned so much from and in this place, but I clearly have a lot more to learn. These paradoxes in the artworld and in the rest of the world happen everywhere. I must remember that I am not alone in trying to understand and make sense of these worlds, that we all must struggle to make meaning of the contradictions that surround us. I am reminded as I enter a new place, a new art community that all of the knowledge and experience I think I have is simply a place from which to start learning and growing.

I can hold complexity and contradiction; I can move with and through and around that uncomfortable unresolvability. I remember that I am privileged in ways I know and in ways I cannot see. I will continue learning. I will continue making. I will continue to use the privilege and access I have to reflect and shine light on the inequalities and injustice around me.




Blog10: A report from the UK blogosphere

November 7, 2014 · Print This Article

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In the popular imagination, bookshops in Notting Hill may be where bumbling Englishmen meet Hollywood filmstars. Last night it was where a bumbling art writer, played by myself, got to meet some of the UK’s most successful bloggers.

The venue was Book and Kitchen, who deserve props for the bohemian setting, mean jazz  soundtrack and fantastic three course meal. Since there’s no such thing as a free meal, we bloggers were encouraged, between mouthfuls, to discuss our medium of choice.

You can check out the results on @blog10, an enterprising venture by a PR agency called Marmalade. There was a lot of talent and success in the room: from a book blogger who’s landed a UK and US publishing deal (Ann Morgan) to a young vlogger who has the brands queueing up to feature on her profit-making lifestyle blog (Abisole Amole).

Thankfully, eclectic London blogger Katie Antoniou had plenty to say, recalling the time when blogs first emerged as the honest antidote to “bullshit” editorial. (Integrity, it seems, is still a blogger’s best friend, even in the current climate of bribery and gifting.) “I don’t have the ego for journalism,” she explained, which seemed to resonate around the table.

Rona Wheeldon has a niche even more obscure than contemporary art. She is a flower blogger, who waxed lyrical about the potential for filming posts and hosting a YouTube channel. “Vlogs can show emotion!” she insisted, even though last time I checked, the written word can sometimes do the same.

Things turned comic when book bloggers Morgan and Kim Forrester revealed statistical spikes from wayward web users who stumble upon their sites in search of resources for  sex tourism. We laughed about it, but it was a reminder that despite its academic origins, the web is still not the best place for serious discussions. Nevertheless, with their literate audiences, both bloggers have built readership and communities within their crowded field.

Indeed it was widely reported that finding an audience and a network of peers could still be the number one reason for starting a blog. Even if in recent years comments are very hard to come by (“Who’s got time to comment?” we asked). Time is an increasing issue, as one faces the introduction of a two speed internet where large web corporations choke smaller players. Morgan raised fears of losing the level playing field bloggers now enjoy.

Several of us bemoaned the encroachment of social media ads and promoted posts. The latest platform to introduce ads appears to be Instagram. Starbucks and UK supermarket Waitrose had reached out to a couple of the photobloggers among us. Although to be fair, their presence wasn’t totally unwelcome. Amole revealed a thriving existence of the coffee giants’ #redcups hashtag. She is relaxed about it.

As the meal drew to a close we took questions about blogging from twitter. One eager user requested three tips from each of us in turn. Find a niche. Use social media. Build a brand. The wisdom was flowing by this point. But perhaps interiors blogger Kate Baxter had the last word. Don’t get into blogging to get free stuff or money. It probably won’t happen. You may however one day be invited to a West London blogging salon. Things could be worse.

Mark Sheerin blogs at www.criticismism.com and can be found on Twitter.




EDITION #39

October 27, 2014 · Print This Article

Arnold Johnson as Putney Swope.

Comedian Shows Funny Movie

Yesterday afternoon we took a trip to the new Black Cinema House space on 72nd and Kimbark to see the 1969 film, Putney Swope. The screening featured an introduction by comedian, Wyatt Cenac, who was wearing a knit sweater like you wouldn’t believe. Cenac’s choice for the screening felt uncanny in the gorgeous new home of the Johnson Publishing House archives, including a very 1970’s light up table from their offices.

BCH Program Manager, Penny Duff, introduces the film with Wyatt Cenac.

After the film was over a robust discussion started on the reception of the film when it was originally released, Robert Downey’s dubbing of Arnold Johnson’s voice, blacksploitation films, hip hop history, education and possible proscriptions for current day cultural production.

Cenac was an excellent moderator, letting others direct the conversation. Amongst other insightful contributions, Pemon Rami, Chicago’s first black casting director and the current Director of Educational & Public Programming at the DuSable Museum, discussed his impressions of the film having seen it in ’69 and again Sunday at the Black Cinema House (he mentioned he was fazed by the “buffoonery” on his recent viewing).

Black Cinema House is hosting more great programming at their beautiful brand spanking new space throughout the rest of the year, including hosting experimental filmmaker Akosua Adoma Owusu on November 14th. Check out their calendar of events here.

Reading is Fundamental

  • Chloé Griffin presents Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller. Tomorrow night get yourself to Quimby’s to see and hear one of our favorite local writers, Britt Julious discussing the life and legacy of actress, Cookie Mueller, with author Chloé Griffin. Tuesday, 7PM at Quimby’s. Free, our favorite flavor.
  • Inside Views: Micro Publishing at Spudnik Press. Featuring artists Charlie Megna, Veronica Siehl and April Sheridan and the The Perch, this Wednesday evening event is a no-brainer for lovers of community based art making and publications (like ourselves). We’d be loathe not to mention the world premiere of the short animations of Fred Sasaki’s & Fred Sasaki’s Four Pager Guide to: How to Fix You!. The Sasaki guides are already killer, and the film promises to knock you off your socks (and to fix you, of course!). Don’t forget to RSVP!
  • Fred Sasaki’s “Table of Value” prep for Wednesday. Stolen from the writer’s instagram account.
  • What is a work of art in the age of $120,000 art degrees? Sometimes trends are actually important and right now, statistics are #trending. If you haven’t seen the BFAMFAPHD video report yet, let us help you get up to speed. Watch the video, then listen to B@S interview Caroline Wollard. You should probably also read Abigail Satinsky’s questioning “Who Pays Artists?” and possibly also this statistics filled response from the Washington Post. Caught up? Ok, great. Now let’s do the damn thing!
  • We’re pretty sure you know what Mexico-based artist Andrew Birk is talking about in his comment above. But if not, here are the pieces on Grabner and Prince. Talk amongst yourselves.
  • A Poet on Drake’s Poetics. So you know it must be true. Read Dorothea Lasky’s ode to Drake, where she sings the praises of his direct address on the occasion of the Canadian actor turned something like a rapper’s birthday. We feel you, Dorothea. But if you’re looking for some “real” poetry, check out her killer new book of poems, ROME.

The Weatherman Report

Sunday Thoughts by Clay Hickson from the artist’s tumblr.

Happy Dog Resurrects for Film Release

Talk about a #tbt. When was the last time you visited Happy Dog? The former SAIC party rocking spot is way cleaner than you remember and the bathrooms have upgraded from their former horror-movie quality. Oh, and they hosted last Saturday night’s extravaganza for the DVD & VHS release of Lindsay Denniberg’s Video Diary of a Lost Girl.

Monica Panzarino’s video installation featuring Erica Gressman. Photo by Mikey McParlane.

The evening started with performances by Denniberg and self-surgery maven Erica Gressman aka Boogita. The space was scattered with video installations by Monica Panzarino on stacks of TV screens throughout. Happy Dog’s head dog, William Amaya Torres, had gigantic inverse prints of what appeared to be sketchbook pages installed throughout the house. We hadn’t seen work from Amaya Torres since our days at SAIC together. His prints were bold and appealing, they also had the benefit of darkening the space for the screening.

Alongside VDoaLG in the program was first year UIC MFA, Jimmy Schaus, with a 16 minute short titled Kangaroo. Schaus is the protagonist in the surreal dream scape of a film, which vacillates between the main character’s boring everyday life and the business casual demons who haunt him. Kangaroo impressively manages to riff on VHS effects and color distortion without being cheesy. We hope to see more from this budding filmmaker in the near future.

The world premiere of Kangaroo by James Schaus.

Video Diary of a Lost Girl looked better than ever Denniberg’s handmade VHS packages. We highly recommend getting your hands one of these beauts, even if, like us, you don’t have a VHS player. Yes, they are that cute. We’re not really sure where they’re available aside from in-person, but the filmmaker’s website is probably a good start.

T around Town

We loved this exhibition by Daniel Arnold in Paris London Hong Kong, that’s the Billy Goat Tavern in the photo!

The current crop of Art Admin MAs at SAIC hosted mural making an other arts & crafts at the Logan Square Comfort Station just outside of the penultimate neighborhood farmer’s market.

Greg Stimac and his coy grin at his Document opening on Friday night. We’re so in to those we’re gun sculptures that look kind of like legs!

Sense of déjà vu overwhelming at photo exhibition.

We’re not really sure how, but Paul Germanos (the man with the camera and the motorcycle) somehow managed to assemble an impressive array of artists and makers for his exhibition at Antena Gallery in Pilsen last Friday night. Artist sat casually under photos of themselves, and as participators ourselves WTT? couldn’t help by snap a few re-takes.

Marissa Lee Benedict and David Rueter pose in front of themselves at Antena.

Daviel Shy and Hope Esser creatively interpret their photo on the wall. Cute!

Erik Wenzel does the Wenzel in front of his small likeness in the corner.




Reproductions: One View of Twin Cities

October 21, 2014 · Print This Article

Fall lingers, with warm days and fiery trees, longer nights and frosty mornings. Daylight has changed, striking us at more oblique angles, lengthening shadows even at noon. I follow my shadow farther and farther from my center, looking back to where I stand, doubling, tripling, multiply exposing and bodily reproducing fall days and perspectives.

The sunny gallery at Highpoint Center for Printmaking is a lovely site for Aaron Spangler’s new exhibition Luddite. The massive woodcuts simultaneously invite viewing their totality from across the room and detailed examination. The broad stroke of the prints overwhelms the walls, forcing out the white space around them. The figurative pieces begin to resolve into senses of shifting meaning; the more abstract prints resist resolution, push against meaning making within their patterns and eye movement across the paper. Upon closer inspection, Spangler’s hand is very present, in the patterned marks of tools, the subtle gradations in pressure applied to the tools, the grain of the wood, the creases and folds in the paper. They are multiples, so clearly prints in their materiality, yet they resist. They are not simply mechanically reproduced objects. They manifest the human, maintain the layers of work, the hours of crafting that went into their making.

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Aaron Spangler, Constellation

Instead of Benjamin’s mechanical reproduction and the digital reproduction that is happening even as you read these words, what happens when a work of art is biologically reproduced? How is our experience altered when we cannot simply consume the work in the gallery or the comfort of our own homes and screens?

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Aaron Spangler, Bananas

I saw Anne Theresa de Keersmaeker’s Rosas Danst Rosas at the Walker Art Center last week. I have not been able to get it out of my head. The dance is simultaneously deathly serious, paring down movement, facial expression to the barest framework of a dance language we start to recognize. The first section is silent, slow, laconic in comparison to the later three sections. The dancers’ breath and the slap of arms and legs onto the floor resonate within the silence of the theatre. The dancers individually and collectively lay perfectly still to the point that we wonder if they are still connected to the movement. The dancers shift and cascade in patterns of coordinated movement that struggle to coalesce. They seem to unite, but they crumble, decompose, reform, find their footing, and slip amid silence and stillness. This extended, protean formation of language with which the dancers assault their own bodies gathers momentum, collapses, rolls over, accretes into the flurry and avalanche of activity of the later sections of the dance.

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Rosas Danst Rosas, Photo by Herman Sorgeloos

Throughout the dance, the dancers verge on the mechanical. At first look, they seem to become machines reproducing everyday movements we know, repeating movements with inhuman regularity in patterns beyond human comprehension, but the dancers each move with their own slightly inflected accents. Each dancer’s movements comprise entire sets of linguistic encyclopedias. Each time we begin to grasp the movement language they dance, it slips between our fingers. We are travelling through a foreign land with shifting dialects and argot. The regularity, the patterning, the building, dismantling, permutational collection of individual movements lures us into believing we can gain an understanding of what is happening, that we can know and predict what comes next. We begin to understand the foreign language, feel like we know the tense, what should be the next subject, object, verb, dangling participle, but we are jarred into awareness by the strange gesture we have never seen, the new part of speech we cannot parse. Beyond simply seeing live bodies before us on the stage, the biological reproduction of and within the dance is constantly foregrounded, never absent from our perception of the dancers.

De Keersmaeker reinforces this biological reproduction in opening the Rosas Danst Rosas choreography to everyone. Whether in celebration of the thirtieth anniversary or in response to the Beyoncification of her work, the choreography is explained in great detail in step by step videos. The reproductions, covers, remakings of this second section of the dance model a new method of dancemaking that draws from the movement vocabulary from which de Keersmaeker crafted yet is clearly distinct, a new direction in movement language. They expand the conversation in dialects across dancers throughout the globe. They arise from the best of digital reproduction to magnify and unite the individuality of dancers, drawing us closer together in the potentials of common understanding while reinforcing the individuality that resists the mechanical, the faults that maintain our humanity.