September 20, 2013 · Print This Article
6 Must-See Discussions at Expo Chicago
by PADDY JOHNSON on SEPTEMBER 13, 2013
Joel Sternfeld | McLean, Virginia, December 1978 | 1978. via participating gallery Luhring Augustine
Expo Chicago launches next week and I’m already preparing. So far that means reading the website schedule and mentally preparing myself for reporting on the fair. I’ll be heading out to Chicago next Thursday to check out Expo and participate in “Dialogues”, a series of panel discussions on contemporary art launched in partnership with The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Contemporary Art Daily’s Forrest Nash, The Baer Faxt’s Josh Baer, and myself will speak on a panel about digital publication moderated by Bad at Sports Founders Richard Holland and Duncan MacKenzie.
Perhaps thanks to the fair’s partnership with the institute, the panel discussions look a lot more interesting than the normal gamut of collector centric talks fairs normally launch. As such, I’ve put together a list of the discussions I’d most like to see. Check out Johnson’s list here.
“Courage is the great enabling virtue that allows one to realize other virtues like love and hope and faith. To have courage is to be willing to look unflinchingly at catastrophic circumstances and muster the will to overcome the fear, never to fully erase and eliminate the fear but overcome the fear, so that fear does not have the last word or so that fear does not push one into conformity, complacency or cowardice. ”- Cornel West
I don’t know how to be courageous. I don’t think that I am now but I know, at least I feel, that I must be in order to make it through this moment. Recent months have seen us, as Americans, wrestling with the baseline hatred and oppression that we had so naively believed we had moved beyond, a desire we know now to be a desperate fantasy. I believe Cornel West to be true when he tells us that courage will lead us to other virtues, other strengths that might enable us to not only make it through our time but to imagine a real alternative, a utopian dream no farther than our beds. What I mean to describe here is not a kind of free imagination but, as Žižek has described, “a matter of the innermost urgency”, an imagined alternative to a situation whose solution is so far outside the coordinates of the possible that one is forced to imagine an alternative space.
There is a courage to performance, as there is a courage to poetry and criticism, to those forms whose goals, from the outset, are a freshly imagined future. Not just the courage of those taking to embodied action but a courage to witness those acts. A willingness to be changed by something, to allow oneself to feel what John Martin calls muscular sympathy. A kind of sixth sense that gives the viewer access to the work through the performers body. Not simply the courage of the stage but the courage of the street and bar. The courage to stand beside one another, to allow oneself to feel responsible for each other, for ourselves. Too often the heady dialogues surrounding the production of aesthetic experience call to mind a kind of aimless drifting identity. An abstract subject, tethered to nothing and no one, submerged in the machinic realities of our time but this is not true for all of us. For those of us operating from a place of difference, whose lives are not simply shaped but are out right controlled by social and economic oppression, there are other ways of being. New ways to gather, to love, to share. New economies. Strategies of resistance. Alternatives simultaneously imagined and enacted between sweaty down beats on crowded dance floors in rooms that are forced to accommodate us as we are.
I wish that I could tell you how to be courageous, that I had some great strategy for us, but I don’t know. All I have is a feeling of urgency, a sensation that drives me towards hope, towards an alternative. I can tell you that the work will be courageous and that with it so will we. I can tell you now that we will be in this together, as a community, as a collective. We who feel strongly, we will be the ones to make a practice of resistance. To turn ourselves towards a tumultuous present of catastrophic circumstances, where revolution and change are palpable events, the tyranny of unaccountable elites runs rampant, and the violence of our city howls just beyond our walls. We will be the ones to turn towards this moment, our moment, to face our oppressors courageously for each other.
“Who will fight the bear? No one? Then the bear has won.” - Bas Jan Ader
Public Collectors is a self-proclaimed paper blog, as well as a website and Tumblr feed, that seeks to archive and make freely available material that may have no other venue: lists, conversations, collages, notes, fliers, temporary tattoos, classified ads, etc. “Public Collectors” is library, museum, zine, reference center, and studio simultaneously (and probably – necessarily – it is more then that as well).
I may have been largely attracted by the gold sparkly cover when I picked up a copy of “Public Collectors” at Zine Fest a few weeks ago. The glittery paper is wonderfully complemented by the diagram of a fragmented and grimacing human face – shown both frontally and in profile, and topped by the caption “FEELING AND EMOTION IN EVERYDAY LIFE” (the image is scanned from “Psychology: The Fundamentals of Human Adjustment,” published 1946).
A disparate and well curated collection of images and ephemera, it includes such gems as a handmade flier for a lost hat, and a photo of a sign featuring an image of the drag queen Divine.
The project is run by Marc Fischer of Temporary Services. The material included is gleaned from Fischer’s own collections, but also is donated for public accessibility. The website version of “Public Collectors” is an amazing reference for – well, probably things that you didn’t know you had to be referred to yet but maybe, somehow, you always wanted to be. It has links to a woman’s blog on which she has posted PDFs of all her notes from college, a link to a fantastic video of Danzig discussing his book collection, a link to photos someone posted somewhere on the internet of the inside of their mother’s house (she’s a hoarder). There is a list of links to web documented collections, including cigarette lighters, “do not disturb” signs, hip hop party fliers, the sound of cats purring (a personal favorite of mine), pictures of celebrities playing tennis, and creatively designed periodic tables. The world is a wonderful place.
I don’t know what Fischer’s curatorial restraints are – perhaps it’s purely intuitive – but the general trend is towards subcultural ephemera, such as the poster for an Alice Cooper tribute band or the page from “New Dominant,” a British publication of dominatrix classifieds.
What strikes me most about “Public Collectors” is the nurturing formation of alternative collections – collections based on, formed and informed by a unique and maybe not coherently logical set of interests or constraints. I don’t know if I entirely agree with Fischer’s assertion in his curatorial statement that the material in “Public Collectors” is passed over by libraries and museums. I myself work in a library where one of my responsibilities is to file additions to our collection of ephemera related to the history of printing. This includes finely printed broadsides and prospectuses, but also just a lot of what would generally be classified as junk mail. Additionally, several collections from CPLs Harold Washington Library are referenced; the cover of the collection of non-musical recordings in included in the issue I own.
Also, an interview with the former curator of Harold Washington’s picture collection is included on the website in a download-able PDF booklet.
I think more to the point is the culling of these materials from their disparate locales into new aggregate collections. It is this method of collecting – both a relic of the victorian era and/or a focused re-interpretation of the image overload received daily from the internet and digital media – that is not fostered by many institutions. It is D.I.Y. collecting at it’s finest and most articulate. In scanning these images and re-blogging them, I guess I am adding “Public Collectors” to my own collection, and to the collection that is Bad at Sports.
Bailey Romaine is a printmaker and bibliophile (and maybe a collector of sorts) currently living in Chicago.