On Courage

May 7, 2013 · Print This Article

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“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.

Bill T Jones

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.

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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




“Feeling and Emotion in Everyday Life” / Collecting and Collecting Collections

March 17, 2013 · Print This Article

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 




Con Ganas: some thoughts on “Kitsch” and “The Foreigner”

March 5, 2013 · Print This Article

I am typically one who shies away from meaning. I am more interested in use and value. What might we do with dance, for example, or how might we begin to revalue devalued objects and methodologies? Meaning, as Avital Ronell has pointed out, has “historically and intellectually very often had fascist and non-progressivist edges, if not a core.” Meaning is a preventative measure that keeps difference from gaining mobility, from entering into dominant culture. It for that reason that I find value in the usefulness of things, it is through an understanding of use that we might better grasp how to counter various forms of power, to develop tactics and strategies of resistance.

“I tell you, old weapons go rotten: make some new ones and shoot accurately.“ – D.H. Lawrence.

I am typically one who shies away from discussing meaning, I say typically because it is in this moment that I am motivated, after reading an article by another Bad at Sports contributor on ASCO, Kitsch, and The Foreigner, to discuss the meaning of terms like “Kitsch” and “Foreigner”. To discuss how the use of these terms, along with the meanings ascribed to them, perpetuate misrepresentation and misunderstandings of the unique legacies of those being labeled as “Kitsch” or “Foreign”.

img-asco-2_161302345237.jpg_standaloneThe Los Angeles based  art collective, ASCO, have been the subject of numerous exhibitions and publications. They have emerged and reemerged several times over, as museums and curators, become more and less interested in the experience and expression of the Chicano movement and the art it created. ASCO, which translates into English as nausea, operates in multiple mediums but are perhaps best known for their performance and film works which have an activist tendency.

ASCO formed in 1972 at time in which the Chicano movement in the southwest began to gain traction. Chicano, while a somewhat contested term, is used here to described those “born from the blood of the Spanish sword and the Indian temple.” It is a term used to describe politicized Mexican-Americans, who, while born on American soil, are attempting to reclaim a lost indigenous heritage. I point this out to remind us of the complexity of citizenship.

For those of non-white heritages the price of assimilation, even if the encounter between indigenous population and colonizer is no longer conscious in the minds of formerly free subjects, was no less than entire histories of colonized civilizations. While it is true that some empires opted to incorporate the beliefs of the colonized, more often than not, the role of the colonizer was to eradicate these histories through the use of fear, language, brutality, and the introduction of ownership and property. For some Mexican-Americans, particularly those in the southwest, the relationship between country of origin and chosen (or not) country of occupation is complicated by the redrawing of borders that occurred following civil and national wars. Texas for example was under Mexican rule until independence, at which time it became a sovereign nation, until of course it is made a part of The United States of America. How are we to describe the generations who lived through this transition? Mexicans? Texans? Americans? It’s also important to keep in mind is that freedom, independence and statehood is won only for landowners and the ruling elite. It wouldn’t be until the Chicano movement, when there is a shift in consciousness among America’s Hispanic population, that greater political mobility would be attempted by farm workers and urban dwellers living below the poverty line.

What does it mean then to label these Americans, many of whom are several generations into citizenship, as “Foreigners”? And what might one mean by “Foreigner”? If given the benefit of the doubt, one would have to suspect, as ridiculous as it may be, that the “Foreigner” would designate an other outside of one’s own country. That is a person who, after having developed up to a certain point abroad in some expansive global void, has found their way onto one’s Country of origin, whatever that might mean. Of course one could also consider the “The Foreigner” as a position from which one chooses to operate. This might be used to express some deep feeling of otherness rooted within an individual’s psyche. A feeling of not belonging, of being outside. A feeling that might motivate individuals to look towards an eradicated heritage as a place from which to become empowered. We could consider this a strategy of self-making. My point here is that in any scenario, imagined or unimagined, “Foreigner” means not from here. Here being the place of the main subject, the one speaking, the one in an ultimate position of power. It is a designation of otherness that indicates one’s place as not belonging. This is an internalized reality. One that is difficult to escape from.  Even if one were to use the term with good intentions in an attempt to illuminate some greater understanding of how typical Americans understand particular histories through Art, to label some Americans as foreign because they have a different heritage and speak a language other than English, is to perpetuate an understanding of American citizenship that excludes not only non-whites, but anyone who has a legacy of speaking a language other than English.

The article I am writing in response to, is not only guilty of ostracizing and essentializing an entire social group, of which ASCO is a part, but manages to dehumanize them as well. It does this in an attempt to describe the way in which “U.S. Culture” looks to the “Foreigner” as a “Kitsch” figure. They are “thing-like.” Again, I am left to ponder what might be meant by such an accusation.

“Kitsch” tends to be used to describe the mass produced, market driven, empty object that in some conversations has historically represented  the aesthetic of “low” culture. Putting aside the unproductive binary of “High” and “Low” for a moment, designations that do nothing but contribute to a cultural value system that has slowly been dismantled over the last 20 plus years of Art Historical and Cultural criticism. The use of the term “Kitsch” here is not attempting to subvert a traditional hierarchy but instead seems to imply that “Americans” still feel this way. To be more accurate, it seems to suggest that White Americans of a certain statue feel as though non-English speaking non-whites are “thing-like“. If this is true, it is a reality only because it has been written into being. “Kitsch” as a go to term to describe the work of a group like ASCO, while it may be attempting to speak to pervasive cultural opinions, does nothing but legitimize their work through a traditional hierarchical system of value. This is to say, that while they may be “thing-like”, we’ve been given the go ahead by the author to appreciate them as “things.”

The power of what we do as cultural critics and producers lies in our ability to make real our aspirations. Our power lies in our ability to simultaneously imagine and enact realities. This is the reason why, so many of us are drawn to the work of groups like ASCO, because they made real the nausea they felt in a time of war and social strife. The plight of the Chicano movement is not some isolated “Foreign” experiment. It is a social movement against violence, oppression, and unnecessary death, during a time in which other American collectives were also publicly struggling for their livelihood.

“But these forms of persistence and resistance still take place within the shadow-life of the public, occasionally breaking out and contesting those schemes by which they are devalued by asserting their collective value. So, yes, the ungrievable gather sometimes in public insurgencies of grief, which is why in so many countries it is difficult to distinguish the funeral from the demonstration. “ – Judith Butler

To banalize them, to other them, is to render them powerless, to prevent their history from becoming American history. It is to prevent their struggle from being incorporated into the democratic pursuit. The struggle of the Chicano movement means too much to let that happen.

 




The Incomplete, Self-Generating Exhibition

February 1, 2013 · Print This Article

by Abraham Ritchie

Match of the Day II, 2005 Industry of the Ordinary, as Old God and Young God, play table football, first to 100 goals, on the promontory point by North Avenue beach. Photo credit: Greg Stimac

“Match of the Day II,” 2005, Industry of the Ordinary, as Old God and Young God, play table football, first to 100 goals, on the promontory point by North Avenue beach.
Photo credit: Greg Stimac

When is the proper time to review an exhibition? It’s a seemingly simple question that has become complicated because of another question: what constitutes an exhibition? Concluding on February 17, the Industry of the Ordinary’s sprawling retrospective Sic Transit Gloria Mundi pushes these questions to their limits, mirroring the shift in contemporary practice from traditional expectations.

Industry of the Ordinary (IOTO) is a collaboration between artists Adam Brooks and Mathew Wilson, and as this exhibition demonstrates, IOTO is also a collaboration between their collective and other artistic collectives, the artists and the viewers, the artists and the general public. The objects on view reflect these interactions: photographs document various interactions both with a participating audience and with the unsuspecting public; an entire section is set apart by a kind of wooden mobile home-like structure that contain contributions from a healthy percentage of Chicago’s art world.

Given the artists’ wide-ranging connections to the art community it seems relevant to say that I have almost no connection to IOTO aside from meeting Mr. Brooks twice. However Bad at Sports as an entity does, and so may some of its constituent members, depending on the person.

Throughout the course of the exhibition, framed as a mid-career retrospective, a multitude of events have been scheduled and taken place. These have spilled out of the main exhibition hall into other galleries, into the interstitial spaces of the building, and to other locations throughout the city. They’ve branched off into multiple sub-events—the month-and-a-half performance series from the Happy Collaborationists featured no less than seven artists.

It should be abundantly clear that these events are to be considered just as much a part of the exhibition as the physical objects on display, which are themselves often documents of those events. Certainly a visit to the Chicago Cultural Center could yield a variety of experiences depending on the day, and the gallery has refigured itself over the course of the exhibition. A recent visit on a weekend day was the kind of experience that would be typical of a mid-career retrospective, with documentary materials and art objects occupying the space, whereas at the opening the art itself was set in motion, literally being actively created.

The crucial point above is that the exhibition becomes self-generative and therefore is not complete until the end. This is, of course, in contrast to the traditional art exhibition that is at the outset self-contained and complete. Therefore, one can only review and assess an exhibition like this at the end, when all of these elements have been realized.

This seems to be the essential point that the Wall Street Journal ignored to their own detriment.

 

 




An Ill Wind Blowing: Kevin Blythe Sampson

January 25, 2013 · Print This Article

Installation

The boat was supposed to be five times this large. Kevin Blythe Sampson was slated to create an epic vessel for “Vision and Vernacular: Eight African American Artists in Venice,” an exhibition of African-American self-taught artists and graffiti muralists organized by the American Folk Art Museum in New York for the 2011 Venice Biennial. But as the troubled museum faced collapse, sponsor funding was pulled and the show canceled. A year later, the former executive director of Intuit, Cleo Wilson, who knew of the artist’s frustrated plans for the epic ship, began talking with Sampson about traveling from his hometown of Newark to Chicago to be the second artist in residence at the museum and create a site-specific sculpture related to his original plan in Venice. Sampson arrived on January 11th and has been putting together An Ill Wind Blowing for the two weeks since, using recycled material from previous work and found objects from the back rooms of Intuit. The result is a multimedia interactive installation with an aesthetic of contingency, vulnerability, and stratification that corresponds shrewdly to the thematic content of the show.

sketch of Sampson's proposal for Intuit

sketch of Sampson’s proposal for Intuit

Now retired, Sampson worked for twenty years as a composite sketch artist while a police officer in New Jersey, after a superior in the department noticed the cartoons he doodled of everyone and sent him to sketch artist school. There, Sampson jokes, he discovered that he actually had to learn to draw, but when he enrolled at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art, he was immediately recruited to teach airbrushing there and stayed for decades. Now focused on teaching younger students, Sampson collaborates extensively with graffiti artists and muralists and dismisses the label of “outsider,” dryly noting that the label tends to make contemporary African-American art more palatable to certain white collectors. Sampson has been focusing on sculpture, particularly movable memorials, since 2000 (he’s been struck in Chicago by the white painted bicycles of cyclists killed by cars); and his first vessels and ships, now a common theme, began as responses to family tragedies. But it’s Sampson’s background as a self-identified “ex-cop with lots of Tea Party friends” as well as a “civil rights baby” that helps to explain the surprising complexity and ironic humor that coexists with An Ill Wind Blowing’s deadpan directness about politics and history.

The conceit of the ship is a way of conceptualizing the brokenness of contemporary America. Divided into three sections, with space in between filled by rubber rats (“You think about rats jumping off a sinking ship, but I think of them as the waves floating the boat,” Sampson mused during a Q&A yesterday at Intuit), the prow of the ship is filled with artifacts of the “liberal elite,” including work by established artist friends, copies of The New Yorker, and other cultural superstructure signifiers. A fishing net repurposed as a basketball hoop stands as an homage to Obama, and visitors are encouraged to write their own political frustrations onto scraps of paper emblazoned with pictures of politicians, crumple them up, and try to make a shot. (Sampson, whom I spoke to during the installation process, originally wanted to create an analogous interactive “penny toss” for the poor at the back of the ship but couldn’t fit it in to the space). This kind of provocative, deceptively simple trope marks the piece as a whole; the middle section of the ship, representing the “nasty” contingent of politics and the “24 hour news cycle of insanity,” obstructs and separates the front of the ship from the stern, which is filled with debris and objects of the poor and working class, including a picnic basket of Cheetos and white bread, plastic coins, and chicken bones. Deeply textured and layered, even burdened, with physical symbols, the boat is the clear star of the exhibition; but related drawings that fill the gallery walls (including one of the best abstract portraits of Mitt Romney I’ve seen, depicting him as a tentacled alien driving a car with a shark-toothed grill) offer charged but more delicate, often humorous counterpoints. Earlier sculptures by Sampson, including an early ship, give a sense of the artist’s larger sensibility. And lyrics to folk songs (Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” and the African-American ballad whose tune Dylan appropriated) face off from the walls on either side of the ship; Sampson is deeply interested in the history of folk music in America, and the opening of An Ill Wind Blowing at Intuit tonight will feature folk ballads by Mark Dvorak.

An Ill Wind Blowing

An Ill Wind Blowing

But the symbolism of each individual element in An Ill Wind Blowing matters less to Sampson than process, whether political protest or art-making. He collaborates as a rule, constantly recycles work, and considers most of the finished work disposable. “I never work alone, and I work listening to CNN instead of music,” he laughs.

An Ill Wind Blowing opens tonight at Intuit, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, and runs through April 20th.

[Monica Westin is a member of the collections and acquisitions committee at Intuit. She is not involved in the exhibitions committee, including any planning related to Sampson's residency, nor on the board of Intuit.]