Walking to Mordor

June 3, 2014 · Print This Article

My wife and sometime collaborator Stephanie Burke and I recently completed a 140-mile walk as a perforance piece called “Walking to Mordor.”  The walk was based on an Easter egg introduced in Google Maps three years ago:  if you asked it for walking directions from “The Shire” to “Mordor,” instead of the usual “Walking directions are in beta” warning, a pop up announced, “Caution:  One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor.”  The line is Boromir’s, from The Fellowship of the Ring.  Ignoring his naysaying, the two hobbits Sam and Frodo proceed to do exactly that.

The line, as spoken in the 2001 film, spawned an Internet meme which consisted of a still image of Boromir, hand in mid gesture, coupled with a line of text reading, “One does not simply…” followed by whatever the author wished to decry.  Instances date back to at least 2004.  In 2011, Google Maps joined the party by adding the Easter egg to their walking directions.  Along with the warning, however, Google actually did provide a map and directions, from a restaurant called “The Shire,” in Chehalis, Washington, to a tattoo shop called “Mordor Tattoo,” in Arlington, Washington, 138 miles away.

When I showed Stephanie the joke, she mentioned that, coincidentally, she has family in Chehalis, and had spent some time there growing up.  It didn’t take long for us to decide that it would be fun, and funny, to take Google Maps’ directions at face value, and walk the route.  Almost immediately thereafter we realized we had to commemorate the journey by getting tattoos at Mordor, and that the tattoos should be of the map of the route.  We documented the project with a series of photographs called “Instagram vs. Holga.”  Stephanie, a trained photographer, shot on the cult classic crappy medium format film camera, while I, with  no more than a couple of undergraduate photography classes under my belt, used my phone’s camera and the everyman’s favorite app.

As has happened with more than one previous project, we didn’t set out to make art.  Our process is more often that we have an idea for something we’d like to do, and then, almost against our wills, we realize that it is starting to look quite a bit like art.  Or at least like things that other people call art.  And certainly, going for a long walk has quite a history as a form of performance art.  It has spawned books, blogs, and even a society.  Well-known examples include Francis Alÿs,Regina José Galindo, Simon Faithfull.

The history of walking as a form of performance art can never be severed from its history as a form of protest.  Galindo’s 2003 walk from the Congress of Guatemala to the National Palace, her feet dipped in blood to leave red footprints, was intended as a protest against Guatemala’s former dictator, José Efraín Ríos Montt.  Montt had formerly led a military regime known for widespread human rights abuses, and at the time of Galindo’s performance was running for President in a democratic election.

Not all of those who have walked in protest have identified as artists.  Perhaps the most famous example, internationally, is Ghandi’s Salt March or Salt Satyagraha.  By directly and pointedly disobeying a British law against domestic salt production in India (forcing Indians to buy imported British salt), the march essentially started what became the international Civil Disobedience Movement.

Inspired by Ghandi, A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  The march itself covered barely more than a mile, from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, though the 250,000 participants (60,000 of them white) had traveled from much farther away by bus, rail, and plane.  Some spent 20 or more hours on buses traveling as far as 750 miles.  Two years later, voting rights activists marched 54 miles, from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery.  The Selma to Mongomery marches are commemorated by a National Historic Trail.

America’s racial history (obviously still in the making) continues to inspire performance artists.  In 2009 I reviewed Meg Onli’s Underground Railroad project for Art Talk Chicago.  (Five years later, her work holds up better than my early efforts at writing.)  Presented as part of Twelve Galleries Project and curated by Jamilee Polson (who is also this blog’s managing editor), Onli’s project consisted of her retracing, on foot, the route of the Underground Railroad: a 440-mile journey, in Meg’s words, “in search of blackness.”

Exploring another form of blackness entirely, Chicago-based curator Amelia Ishmael co-edits Helvete, a journal of Black Metal theory, in the first issue of which was published David Prescott-Steed’s “Frostbite On My Feet:  Representations of Walking In Black Metal Visual Culture.”  (If you’d like to read the article for yourself, the entire journal is presented for free, as a downloadable PDF, at the above link.  A print edition, also available, is well worth the price.)  “Frostbite” tracks a few reference points linking walking with Black Metal culture.  Principally, it finds the common ground between a grueling trek into the Norwegian tundra, led by Gaahl (former Gorgoroth frontman), and the author’s own experience walking the mundane streets of an Australian metropolis while listening to Burzum:

In this case, “blackened walking” is seen to be less about the activity of walking itself and more about the circumstances under which one can move through space—walking not just for the sake of exercise, pleasure, or getting to the shops on time. With the modern world (invested in trains, planes, and automobiles), the slow, simplicity of a walk (Walking? How pedestrian!) seems to have lost some of its value. However, walking is capable of bringing one’s focus back to a fundamental question of what a body physically needs to do in order to transition through, and therefore go on, in the world. Perhaps mourning the forgetting of the existential significance of walking, “blackened walking” pays respects to walking as the chance to explore self-determination and a readiness for the unknown.

We hadn’t conceived of the “Walking To Mordor” project initially in terms of its connection to Black Metal, but as we walked, Prescott-Steed’s phrase “blackened walking” echoed in my mind.  The connection, however ephemeral, clarified itself in my mind as I looked over Tolkien’s maps of Middle Earth, and researched his languages.  Two of the bands mentioned in “Frostbite” take their names from Tolkien’s writing.  Gorgoroth is an arid plateau in the northwest corner of Mordor, surrounding Mount Doom; the name comes from Sindarin (the Gray Elven tongue) and means “dreadful horror.”  The name of another band, Burzum, means “darkness” in the Black Speech of Mordor.

Far from the tradition of protest marches, whether as performance art or otherwise, “Walking To Mordor” was in some was a playful exploration of what happens when a joke is taken 138 miles too far.  A linguist became an author.  His book became a movie.  The movie spawned a joke.  The joke became a meme.  The meme became an Easter Egg embedded in the principal means by which Americans today naviage their world.  With every breath spitting in the face of Alfred Korzybski, originator of the phrase, “the map is not the territory,” most of us today confuse a glance at Google Maps, followed by a drive in the car, with exploration.    We think of distances first in minutes of driving, or hours of flight.  The landmarks we note are gas stations and Starbucks locations.  Google Maps has become the average person’s understanding of the world.  Moreover, our culture is becoming one of remakes and mashups.  References have taken the place of wit:  “that’s clever” has been replaced with “I have heard that before.”  Tolkien has been reduced, in the public imagination, to the origin of nerd-chic Internet memes, and we have tried in our way to be true to his work by dragging a piece of derivative humor, kicking and screaming, into meatspace.




Edition #31

May 27, 2014 · Print This Article

Scraps by Emre Kocagil

Delicious Emre Kocagil Leftovers.

Local Boutique Sells Studio Floor Scraps; Calls it Art

WTT? is always on the lookout for a good bargain (aren’t we all?), and this fire sale is the cheapest/ best deal since Kate Ruggeri’s public drawing trade. After Scrap Heap’s drying rack debut was unfortunately dampened by rain last summer at Medium Cool, Sofia Leiby is back with an even bigger roster of artists willing to sell their tra$h for ca$h. Putting her scraps where her mouth is, Leiby will be hocking studio ephemera for $20 or less.

Delightfully affordable work by Leslie Baum for Scrap Heap II.

Flyer by Louis Doulas.

Featuring artists such as Ryan Travis Christian, Ron Ewert, Magalie Guerin, Ben Foch, Josh Ippel, Leslie Baum, Aron Gent, Emre Kocagil, Tyson Reeder and Aya Nakamura, the fragments and sketches will be available for a limited time only from 11-5PM, June 7th at TUSK.

Matisse much? Aya Nakamura’s painted scraps.

Already jealous of whoever picks up this glorious scrap by Edmund Chia.

More information and preview photos can be found on Leiby’s Facebook. All proceeds will go to participating artists. Tusk is located at 3205 W Armitage in Logan Square.

In Memorandum

Diane Arbus, Veteran with a flag, N.Y.C. (1971). © The Estate of Diane Arbus.

Who Wore it Better?

Shannon Straton dressed in Renovar for the Threewall’s Skywalker Benefit on June 7th VS Kimye’s post wedding gown.

The Weatherman Report

Alex Katz, Late Summer Flowers, 2013, 38 color silkscreen on 4-ply, 40 × 55 in, Edition of 50. Vertu Fine Art.

BREAKING: Fitzpatrick to Go Out with a Bang. And a Stage Show. And a Magazine Portfolio.

If you’ve been awe-struck and slack-jawed since Jason Foumberg broke the news of Tony Fitzpatrick’s departure in April, you may also be wondering where the artist will hold his final exhibition as a Chicago resident. Pick up your face, the wait is finally over: Fitzpatrick’s last show, The Secret Birds (knack for titles, huh?) will be held at the Poetry Foundation from July 1st – September 12th.

Fitzpatrick’s Ice Bird.

Formerly only a student of Studs Terkel and the streets, the 55 year old is leaving his lifelong home for the University of New Orleans. His interest in birds not confined to printmaking, Fitzpatrick will study ornithology and natural history in the fall. In addition to the exhibition in the Foundation’s gallery, Fitzpatrick will also produce a stage version of the show, drawn from his poetry and other writings, of the same name. The performance will feature Martha Lavey (Steppenwolf) and music by Frank Orrall (Poi-Dog Pondering). It will premiere on July 31.

Walk on the Wild Side (Drawing for Lou Reed)

In case you’re not totally Tony’d out, Poetry will also run a portfolio in the July/August dedicated to Lou Reed entitled “The Day Lou Reed Set Me Free.” After that it’s time for Fitzpatrick to update his bio before he spreads his wings and flies away.

Look out for info on the opening and performances related to The Secret Birds. Definitely serving high-quality snacks. The Poetry Foundation is located at 61 W Superior in River North.

T around Town

Artist, Matt Schlagbaum, convinces viewers to stare at “blank” wall at the opening for In the land of thieves and ghosts at Heaven Gallery in Wicker Park.

Eileen Mueller really collapsing the distinction between art and life at the Girl Don’t Be Dumb opening at Forever and Always in Pilsen on Friday, May 16th.

GDBD bathed their viewers in their signature pink in and outside of the F&A.

SPOTTED: Chris Hammes and Michelle Harris at In the land of thieves and ghosts.

More ethereal work by Matt Schlagbaum at Heaven Gallery.

Conceptual Artist Lecture Even More Perplexing Than His Work. Richard Tuttle speaks at The Logan Center on the evening of May 13th

A Tale of Two Anthony’s. Romero and Stepter outside the The Artists’ Congress held at Northwestern May 17th. If you missed your chance to discuss radical politics in the arts, you’ll have another chance June 22nd at the follow up picnic to be held at Mana Contemporary in Pilsen.

Good luck ever looking cool again if you missed the Chicago Looks Spring Swamp held at Elastic Arts Sunday May 18th. You already know we love a bargain! Featuring an unbelievable record swap, boozy punch and choice Buffalo Exchange worthy clothes all for free, the event also had local vendors like Leah Ball and Kokorokoko selling affordable duds and accessories. Shout out to the vivacious Isa Giallorenzo of Chicago Looks and the lovely Leah Ball for hooking it up!




Failing Together: One View of Twin Cities

May 16, 2014 · Print This Article

On billboards, online ads, the exterior of the building, and the entrance to the gallery, the larger than life title of the ongoing Edward Hopper exhibition at the Walker Art Center, via the Whitney and the Dallas Museum of Art, Hopper Drawing: A Painter’s Process, informs us that we will witness that process through which Hopper progressed as he made his paintings. The opportunity to see an artist’s process is rare. We do not often see the fits and starts behind the works in galleries and museums unless we seek them out in the artist’s studio or, like Hopper, after the artist is long ensconced on postcards and will safely draw a crowd.

rsz_2

Courtesy of Gene Pittman and the Walker Art Center

The Walker’s galleries are filled with drawings, sketches, studies, correspondence, photographs, and extensive explanatory text. These other materials are intended to bring the paintings to life, to reveal the technical depth, tremendous labor, and detailed forethought behind the surface of the paintings. They are elevated to the level of paintings; framed, carefully displayed in vitrines, they create a false narrative of a relatively linear progression from experience or idea through studies and sketches to the finished painting. Even in the particular pieces that show a direction Hopper did not ultimately pursue, there is no room for multiplicity in the narrative, no space to consider the failure of a particular sketch to capture the desired lighting within the crafted momentum toward the completed painting.

rsz_1

Courtesy of Gene Pittman and the Walker Art Center

I have desired failure recently, wanted to see the failure of artists and the art world, the works that do not leave the mind to become reality, the realized projects that are never shown, the disastrous performances we do not record, the social engagement with zero participants. We must understand our failures and shortcomings, the false starts, the flops, the imperfections we cannot help but embody. Only then can we begin to understand and learn from the ways in which failure is defined for us.

rsz_photo-1

Saint Paul is one of the few cities to receive significant arts funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. As part of a larger investment in the arts this spring, the Knight Foundation announced that Saint Paul would be the fourth city to host a Knight Arts Challenge, with $4.5 million available over the next three years. The rules for submitting a proposal were open and meant to expand foundation funding to ideas from individual artists. The rules for the Knight Arts Challenge are simple:

  1. The idea is about arts.
  2. The project takes place in or benefits Saint Paul.
  3. You find other funding to match the Knight Foundation grant.

The application was brief. They encouraged individual artists, collectives, and businesses to apply, specifically mentioning that the idea was of primary importance, not the future concerns about funding or sustainability. It was an open call to experiment, to bring forward the best and brightest ideas that will shape Saint Paul for years to come.

$9 million, including the matching funds, is a tremendous amount of money, even for the already generous Minnesota arts funding landscape, and it will inevitably shape the future of the arts in Saint Paul and the Twin Cities generally. That money, of course, will not fund the hundreds of proposals that do not meet the Knight Foundation’s criteria for success.

As a community, we must ask ourselves how we can salvage those alternate futures, the failures we may not have the capacity to realize as millions of dollars and thousands of hours support the selected ideas. We need to capture and bring forward all of the ideas submitted to the Knight Arts Challenge and every other arts funding and exhibition opportunity. They will not all be perfect, but they contain the possibilities for reimagining and remaking the future we need. We can be ready to meet the real and pressing challenges of the future – growing inequality, the effects of climate change, lack of substantive communication between people – but to do so we must first learn together from our failures, from our imperfections, from our very human selves.




Edition #30

May 12, 2014 · Print This Article

Disco Fever: Isa Genzken’s Retro-spective at the MCA

You probably know of Isa Genzken as the iconic German artist famous for her wild sculpture assemblages. And you may have heard that her MCA exhibition which opened mid-April had a lot to do with 9/11, but what’s suspiciously absent from the reviews of the show is that Genzken is a super freak. References to disco, colorful music and clubs are constant throughout the exhibition. Genzken’s cement boom box table is solemn but still lyrical, and the 2002-2003 series “Social Facades” are like flattened disco balls. Mirrored plastic panels and bright club kid colors are incorporated in many of the sculptures and 2-D works on view at the museum.

Isa Genzken cement boom box sculpture

One of the most prominent sculptures included in the show looks like and is called “Disco Soon” from the “Ground Zero” series. A multicolored party light in a shopping bag stands out in a room of installation behind the disco sculpture.

Disco shopping mall.

Aside from the disco vibes, the video work on display is pretty entertaining. One piece is a lo-fi amorphous melodrama featuring fellow German art superstar, Kai Althoff. At one point Genzken waxes poetic on the weather reporting in Europe and how much better it is in the US. She also made a tourist-y video of skyscrapers and facades in Chicago called “Drive Chicago” when she visited the city for a show at the Renaissance Society in 1992. It’s presented in a room that’s kind of too bright for video, but you can lounge in those comfy Pippiloti Rist bean bags while you watch.

Disco Soon Sculpture

Disco ‘Soon’ (Ground Zero), 2008.

In addition to video and disco, Isa is the OG queen of selfies (telling you, there’s a lot more than 9/11 and mannequins). Portraits comprise a subtle but sustained presence in her work. Genzken is seen at various points in her life: as a young artist in various statues of undress for a video performance, in still photographs amongst a collage of other artists, as an x-ray image drinking wine and then there’s the photo of her ear taken by Gerhard Richter.

Disco might be silly, but it’s way less ridic than that other major solo retrospective in town. The exhibition is on view at the MCA until August 3rd.

#T of the Town

And you thought there were a lot of openings during the winter.

Caroline Carlsmith’s work at the Northwestern MFA exhibition at the Block made viewers get down. Literally. Emily Kay Henson and Robert Chase Heishman underneath Carlsmith’s table with precisely arranged pyrite.

Diana Harper reading Carlsmith’s poem “The Procedure of Pyritization”.

Way easier to fit entire Northwestern MFA class in a single photo. Raphaël Fleuriet, Caroline Carlsmith, TJ Proechel, Nicole Wilson and Jason Dixon.

Cardinal Cross entrance

The spooky entrance to Cardinal Cross. If you missed the opening you can still visit the exhibition (if you dare!) on May 17th from 3-10PM.

This is your brain on Tony Balko. Peep this video from last weekend’s Cardinal Cross.

Work by Michael Kloss in If I had my life to live over, I’d live over a delicastessen on view at Johalla until June 15th.

Thorne Brandt, Chris Cook, and Anna Cerniglia at the opening for “If I had my live to live over, I’d live over a delicatessen” (mouthful) at Johalla this past Friday night.

Work by Ilie Paun Capriel on view at Johalla until June 15th.

The Weatherman Report

David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) – 18 December, 2011. IPad drawing printed on four sheets of paper, mounted on four sheets of dibond
92 9/10 × 70 1/10 in. Edition of 10. Annely Juda Fine Art.

All T All Shade

PS- did you hear that the #Logansquarist is “hiring”?

THIS happened Saturday night. You’re welcome. Photo by Mike Paro.

Work by Anaïs Daly (ceiling) and Ron Ewert on view at Johalla until June 15th.

18th street was packed on Friday night as art lovers (?) came out of the woodwork for Pilsen Art Walk. This is the scene outside of ROOMS gallery during a performance in the front window.

Work by Jeremiah Jones on display at rooms. Watch the video (of the video), it’s really cool!

Christian Cruz with Elee Eck at the ROOMS gallery opening for Jones Friday night.

The opening for Miss Kilman and She Were Terrible Together curated by none other than Matt Morris at The Hills Esthetic Center on Saturday night.

Morris with Ben Foch and Chelsea Culp at the opening for the exhibition, Miss Kilman and She Were Terrible Together at The Hills Esthetic Center on Saturday night.

Giving good face: Andrew Holmquist with Eric Ruschman in front of a painting by Joan Snyder at The Hills.

Can’t decide if I was more into this belly button eye print or the painting of Tupac. Like Chromatic Consortium, we loved this show for the effortless mixing of more recognizable names like Richard Hawkins, Miller/Shellabarger and Alex da Corte with students from Morris’s undergrad studio seminar.

Ladies Who Wear Leopard: Curator Kristin Korolowicz VS. The Franklin’s Edra Soto at Dock 6 Design + Art #7 this past Friday.

Trending

Vitrines

If you’ve been to the SAIC MFA show, you know the process and trappings of exhibition display are IN. Here are just a few recent encounters.

Matt Morris sculpture

With back to back exhibitions at Peregrine Program and The Hills, Matt Morris is right on trend. His exhibition i’m issue; i’m free is on view at Peregrine until May 25th.

OG exhibition practice: work by Larry Bell on display at the Art Institute. Did you know Bell was born in Chicago?

Arguably one of the contemporary kings of vitrine making, Dan Baird has impeccably executed work on display in There is a Screen with Ryan Lauderdale at LVL3 until June 15th.


Happy Mothergirl Day

Mothergirl “What You Look Like, Now” performance at the MCA. Photo by Abraham Ritchie.




Images of Our Future: One View of Two Cities

April 18, 2014 · Print This Article

Changes are coming to the Twin Cities. Spring is slowly arriving. Daylight lingers. I can look up and around when walking outside. I notice the holes from trees felled in last summer’s storms, but I find the tulips poking through in their place. We need this renewal. We need these moments to gather strength after winter’s long cold nights before heading out into the rush of spring. I have seen great shows throughout the Twin Cities, great works of art, openings and closings left and right, an embarrassment of riches. I am, however, still lingering in the quiet moments, the eddies in the cultural stream rushing around us.

I have been consistently impressed with the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s New Pictures exhibition series. Last year’s Stan Douglas and Sarah Jones‘s exhibitions were excellent, expanding into multiple places throughout the MIA, engaging other works in the collection, rewarding multiple viewings. Tucked into a small gallery, next to flashy 20th century design and big name artists, New Pictures 9 features Rinko Kawauchi’s works from Illuminance. They are quiet, thoughtful moments that stretch into deep concentration and surprising connections

rsz_rsz_photo_3

Rinko Kawauchi, Untitled

Kawauchi’s investigations of light, as the title suggests, come forth in large individual prints and clustered groups of smaller images. The arresting images of a dead deer with livid blood, a cluster of fish eyes, a sparkling diamond are quickly lost in the iterations of light. The exhibition builds a language of light, but there is no need to become fluent to be absorbed in depth of her process, her exploration as end not as means.

rsz_rsz_photo_5

Rinko Kawauchi, Untitled

The looping video, Illuminance, extends and enlivens the process, endlessly teasing out the subtleties of light in the everyday situations it presents. The subtle, ambient audio soundtrack was barely audible at times, but the suddenly louder rushing of water or rustling of leaves brought her abstracted process back from the realm of static image making to the world around us. The beauty of the exhibition is that Kawauchi presents no conclusions, but it prepares us to see the world differently. I left full of questions. I struggled to distinguish the works in the rest of the museum from the play of gallery lighting, the wash of grey, clouded light from the windows, the sudden shadows of people walking past.

rsz_rsz_photo_2

Rinko Kawauchi, Untitled

Whenever I visit the MIA, I am drawn to the period rooms, sparsely populated, austere, in sharp contrast to the lines for the cafe and the children running between family activities. They are moments of concentrated attention and time. They simultaneously hold the past of their objects and the past of their meticulous reconstruction in one moment. I entered the period rooms to consider the light they would have seen, the electric light that illuminated it now never envisioned in their original homes.

As I exited The Providence Parlor, I saw a little girl pull on her father’s hand, point excitedly to a portrait of George Washington, and exclaim, “Dad, look! It’s President Obama.” I could not have said it better. The world is new with spring, with refreshed eyes that allow us to see our future in our past, to see our presidents for who they really are.