Domestic Intervention: An Interview with EXPO Chicago’s HOME

September 21, 2013 · Print This Article

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The following interview was published originally in The Expo Register, a print daily created by What’s the T? Dana Bassett with ACRE and Bad at Sports. “The vibrant, hand printed Register, designed by Chicago artist Clay Hickson of Tan & Loose Press, will highlight special events during the fair including reviews of special exhibitions and trends at the exposition.”  The paper is available for free in assorted newspaper boxes at EXPO, and can be downloaded here, on the Bad at Sports blog, by clicking on our front page banner. You can also read Saturday’s edition here.

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Sabina Ott, HOME, EXPO Chicago, 2013.

Under the eaves of Navy Pier, four artists install four iterations of domestic space. These spaces — a bedroom, kitchen, living room, and studio — are envisioned expressly as artist domiciles, fittingly embedded in the commercial throng and hype of a contemporary art fair. Fitting, I suggest, because they are interdependent while nevertheless at odds. The aroma, mess and casual experimentation of a kitchen is a far cry from the professional white sea of gallery cubicles. Yet of course they are interconnected; the artist must sleep somewhere, just as he or she must also engage a commercial market. This juxtaposition manifests like a dream; it is hard to know if the domestic space is dreaming that it is in an exposition hall, or if the exposition hall is dreaming that it harbors domesticity. Emphasizing this surreal tension HOME reminds fair-goers of the quotidian world behind the otherwise sharp and prestigious kingdom of commerce. In the following interview I was able to discuss the project with curator Tricia van Eck and its participating artists, Lise Haller Baggesen, Sabina Ott, John Preus and Jane Jerardi.

Caroline Picard: I wanted to ask you about your definition of “home” first — I feel like it’s a theme that you have been working with for some time with your project at 6018North.

Tricia van Eck: Home, for me, is simply where I am for any length of time. I have a loose definition of home and often call the place where I work, home. This is fortuitous since 6018North is a home — a dilapidated mansion in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood — turned into an experimental art space.

Since art is often made in one’s home — thought about in the tub, worked on in the studio, written about in the office, discussed at the dinner table, and then shipped off to be shown elsewhere — what if art was presented in the home where it was made? What if everyone’s home became an art space?

I believe people are yearning for unique, inclusive experiences and 6018North provides this experiential space and platform to connect with others through art. We encourage artists to take risks and to develop projects (often communally) that challenge what art is, who it is for, how and where it is made, and where it is shown. We encourage artists to think about audiences as if they were guests in the space (their home for the time being). My favorite experiences at 6018North are when the space is buzzing like a good party, where people are talking, meeting, laughing.

CP: Has your understanding of domestic places in your own day-to-day, non-art life changed as a result of these recent curatorial practices? 

TVE: 6018North’s events almost always involve food and conversation to provide time to connect, talk, and discuss the art on view, as you might if in someone’s home. 6018North also hosts conversational dinners for more in depth conversations related to its exhibitions or various concerns facing artists. In college, I lived in a cooperative vegetarian house and some of our conversations over dinner with friends and strangers alike, radically altered my thinking and worldview. This is the power of art and ideas shared in comfortable settings. If change begins within, it often occurs in homes, where we feel safe and secure enough to challenge ourselves.

CP: What made you want to do a series of “homes” at a place like EXPO?

TVE: I love the expressions: “make yourself at home” and “mi casa es su casa”. At the recent Venice Biennale, I loved the feeling within the Pelham Project, and HOME draws from Michalene Thomas’s popular apartment/bar space at Art Basel. I also like democratizing the experience of VIP rooms at Art Fairs where collectors can relax their eyes and get free coffee, champagne, or ice cream. For HOME I invited four artists whom together have created an amazing artists’ home with generous and experiential rooms — an artists’ studio, kitchen, living room, and bedroom to offer “an artists’ home.” Lise Haller Baggesen has recreated her artists’ studio replete with disco balls, glitter, and glam, while John Preus and Dilettante Studios’ kitchen, built from reclaimed cabinetry, hosts performances, talks, and discussions curated by Laura Shaeffer from SHOP. Sabina Ott‘s chill-out living room offers Expo attendees a captivating space to relax while Jane Jerardi’s performative bedroom presents a dreamy moment of longing. As a home within an Art Fair, whose intent is to sell artwork, the artists and I are experimenting with how to challenge and commingle ideas of capitalism and mercantilism with generosity and hospitality through art, food, drink, performances and conversations. We want HOME to offer a unique but comfortable way to experience art within the Fair but yet not pretend to remove ourselves from its contradictions of exclusion and inclusion, since these ideas are also intrinsic to our homes, which both separate and unite, as does the art world.

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Lise Haller Baggesen, HOME, EXPO Chicago, 2013.

CP: What is your definition of home? Or how do you think about domestic space?

Lise Haller Baggesen: The Studio is the home where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play and where Iggy Pop just wanna be your dog. The highway to hell runs through it as does the stairway to heaven. What I mean to say is that the studio is a “home” in a larger sense that the strictly domestic, or that it is a home to the undomesticated self. Since I am a very domesticated person, I am a wife and mother of two, it has always been very important for me to have a studio space that is separated (by at least a mile) from my actual home. I have to go to that place to get to that place.

Sabina Ott: Home, to me,  is a site of rest but mostly a place to build connections with family, friends, neighbors.  I am interested in spaces that are many spaces all at once — a home that becomes a community hall, that becomes an artwork, that becomes a nest.

John Preus: It is more an idea than a place.  A destination, a return, a longing, a loss, the place to which we are reconciled and always in the process of losing.  My interest in it is tied to my life with a family, and how that life clashes with, or bumps up against, or augments my life as an artist.  Much of the work on the theme of home started in graduate school when I had young children and was not home very much to see them, and the tension I felt around that condition.  Having children made me much more acutely aware of temporality because children grow and change so fast, and each moment is so tremendously beautiful (and mind-numbingly banal) in its own way.  Emotional extremes are exaggerated, and your sense of self is eviscerated and forced through the matrix of this other being that needs you but doesn’t care at all about you as a subject.  The reality that I am at once creating the idea of home for someone else starts to overlap with my own conception of it.  The title, Homemaker is really interesting because it is so literal and narrative at the same time.

I think of domestic life as the private arena within which we confront our thrownness.  We did not choose our life in most ways, but we can choose how we live at home, at least until we live with others, and then we are in a mini- political petri dish.

Jane Jerardi: A lot of my recent work has been dealing with displacement and longing, so the issue of home gets right at the heart of these ideas.  I think of home as not having to do  necessarily with a specific place, but with a certain familiarity and sense of comfort built up over time through everyday ritual as well as a community of people and relationships cultivated over time, and perhaps, even, a state of being.  In some ways, I think the body is the ultimate home and a way to be ‘at home with ourselves’ and as a deep, resonate place for connection and groundedness.

CP: What does it mean to you to fabricate and embed such a place (or installation) in a commercial art fair?

LHB: The artfair is the epitome of artwork as Product, whereas the studio represents the artwork as Process, or put differently the glamour of the artwork as a luxury commodity vs. the makeshift glam attitude of actual art making. I am more interested in the latter, so I am hoping that our installation can work as a respite from the commercial rush of the fair and be a reminder that art comes from somewhere and is going somewhere, outside of the ever-present “contemporary” that seems to be the event-horizon of the current art market.

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Jane Jerardi, “Nocturne, HOME, EXPO Chicago, 2013.

CP: How does your installation at EXPO respond to your idea of domestic space?

JJ: The installation at the EXPO of ‘Nocturne’ deals with the idea of the body as an archive of memory and as a home or container for somatic experience.  In the work, the virtual body moves and responds to a real body — either the body of the viewer or of a performer (during the two scheduled performances).  It gets at the idea of everyday choreographies and rituals that create a sense of intimacy and connection — and a sense of home.  While of course alluding to the bedroom and sleep — which  we spend a lot of time doing in domestic space — the work also relates to dreams and virtual spaces.  I also think sometimes of home as a place where I can slow down, and this particular work shifts a sense of time to a slower one, inviting the viewer to also slow down, in a hopefully meditative, relaxing way.

LHB: My installation at EXPO plays with the idea of the studio as “the space where your voices can live”.  Or in other words, the space where your different influences can confluence and mingle and interfere with each other in a new set of relations. In that way it operates as a sourdough, rather than an archive. Of course, this being an artwork, it doesn’t pretend to work as an actual studio, but as a model of a studio, a mise-en-scene.

SO: Tricia has been calling my room “The Chill Room.” I have taken a kind of chant and tweaked it and used it as the sound accompanied by almost psychedelic imagery designed to transport the participant to an unfamilar place outside of measured time. It is a relaxing place that, through the repetition of the video, almost hypnotizes those resting on the faux fur covered bean bag chairs. There are three fish bowls on mirrors — the fish simply swim in circles and reflect the liminality I hope the visitors feel. It serves as the living room in this quartet of rooms, where there are many people relaxing and the conversation can be  especially unguarded, especially intimate, because of the dream – like atmosphere. I am fascinated by the affect of objects and spaces- especially those that combine multiple functions and references. I am not interested in reflecting how we already experience domestic space, but making a site of different associations and experiences outside of  what we already know. I hope the room is a respite and a counterpoint to the art fair experience, and I am hoping that the dreamy quality of the space will almost suspend of time. Perhaps people will find that they have been dreaming and chatting in this room for hours, perhaps just a few minutes.

JP: EXPO is in a way the polar opposite of a domestic space, and any attempt to make it domestic becomes sort of absurd.  The idea of creating a pseudo-domestic space within an exhibition hall strikes me as a longing to somehow conflate the private and the public.  It’s something like wanting to have sex in public, that the intensely personal and subjective act requires an audience to consummate it, so to speak.  I’m interested in the phenomenon that homes look increasingly like stage sets that nobody lives in, and become glorified storage space for furniture that is never used, combined with an opposing interest in main street, in making public life feel more homey.  The point of contact is the liminal zone, the place where the public and private lives of a community intersect through socioeconomic interdependencies. Our interest in the home is maybe something like our interest in nature-it becomes active on the occasion of loss.  We are homeless.

JJ: While an art fair may be the ultimate place for securing artworks that might decorate or become the accouterment for a domestic space, and our expression of home might indeed be the ‘things’ we consume, I also believe ‘home’ to be something completely intangible.  In this way, this installation emphasizes everyday ritual and embodiment as a part of our experience.  While all art operates on an experiential level, I hope this work emphasizes a resonance between the experience of the installation and the viewer.

SO: I hope the room is a respite and a counterpoint to the art fair experience, and I am hoping that the dreamy quality of the space will almost suspend of time. Perhaps people will find that they have been dreaming and chatting in this room for hours, perhaps just a few minutes.

John Preus, HOME, Expo Chicago, 2013. Photo courtesy of Deborah Doering.

John Preus, HOME, Expo Chicago, 2013. Photo courtesy of Deborah Doering.

JP: The frenetic beating heart of EXPO is the spectacle, consumerism, the ambitious energy to outdo each other, to be noticed, to be visible and relevant, all of the opposite qualities from being at home. Maybe EXPO HOME is a way to interject some small degree of homeliness into that environment, and a small gesture of resistance to the market aspect of the whole affair.  It is also a way to think about the varied art economies.

My piece in the show directly references Mike Kelley’s piece, More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid.  It is partially a tribute to what is for me a really affective piece, but I like it for all of the wrong reasons.  He sees the gift economy as manipulative, leading eventually to an incremental and collective sense of shame and indebtedness.  The fact that the love hours can’t be repaid for him is because we don’t know what we owe in return for a hand-made doll.  Money creates at least the potential for a clean slate, a perfect exchange, but does not generally account for all of the forms of cost offsets that we all engage in, to avoid taking full account.  The thing about a gift is that it is often something that you would not have paid good money for.  You receive it with gratitude as a gesture of friendship, or obligation, but you might rather have the money if you were to look at it pragmatically.  The market determines value through supply/demand…as the theory goes, while love-hours are a social economy.

For my project, over 30 artists, builders and friends have agreed to collaborate with me.  I designed a kitchen, and suggested conflating cabinets and vitrines-kitchen as exhibition-and they are all building the cabinets, whatever that means to them.  So it will be a hodgepodge, collective kitchen that we will try to unify in some way on site.  Maybe they all agreed to work for no money because they like me and enjoy working with me, or being involved with my projects? Maybe it’s because EXPO is sort of a big deal to put on your resume?  Maybe they hope their piece will sell and they might make a little money?  Some are young artists and happy to have so many eyes on their work. Or, maybe they like the idea that the project forms a temporary community, and considers the social and political possibilities of temporary action communities? So, in terms of exchange, they are getting something-cultural capital, money, associative capital… and I am getting something-labor.  But whether or not the exchange is even is yet to be seen.  The surplus of the exchange is the emotional remainder, somewhere along the spectrum from gratitude to resentment.  Every single one of the people involved has some spoken/unspoken expectations, or wishes for the show, (myself included) and how their work might be received in it.  They are all contributing Love Hours, in exchange for exposure, fun, associative capital, communitarian good will … As artist David Wolf put it, the makers of the cabinets are all like one of the stuffed animals, and the kitchen becomes the afghan.  But the major difference is that I don’t intend it as a critique as much as a kind of revelation.  I intend it as a big happy love fest in a place where that will probably be considered uncool.  The 2nd, and not yet articulated part of this project is to consider whether the debts have been discharged, and how, and why, which will hopefully include the added complication of money.




Talking SLOW in Ad Hoc: Seven Interviews with Exhibition Projects

October 17, 2012 · Print This Article

Slow curated a small 7-person exhibition, “miniature GIGANTIC,” for Clutch Gallery. They brought it to Washington D.C. for its official opening.

Last month, I compiled a collection of interviews with a curatorial projects operating in the city of Chicago. In it, Happy Collaborationists, LVL3, New Capital, slow, Roxaboxen, Plaines Project, and Johalla Projects all answer the same four questions, discussing their respective curatorial agendas. I always love to hear the back room story behind spaces, the way administration and practical impasses influence day to day decisions. I would love to post all of them here, but as it is, I’m only going to wet your whistle on this Internet-machine. After all, the interviews were intended to go together. While the resulting zine, “AD HOC,” was available for free in the Bad at Sports booth of the Chicago EXPO, you can download the entire booklet via the following link: EXPO_Bas_pamphlet_for_web. Below I have included an interview from that collection with co-director Paul Hopkin from slow gallery — a wonderful space that straddles the line between apartment space and storefront gallery. At present, slow is exhibiting Benjamin Bellas, Represent the sound outside these spaces wherein”Benjamin performs herculean tasks and shows what is produced by his efforts.” That exhibit is open to the public until November 10th. For information about what they’re up to, the show they have installed in Clutch Gallery (a portable exhibition site in founder Meg Dugid’s purse). Hopkin’s co-director, Jeffrey Grauel is carrying it around at present, and even brought it to Washington DC for its official opening. Visit their website here  and don’t forget, the following interview is just the tip of the ice berg. Each of those seven spaces has a interesting and varied way of thinking about their curatorial work.

Clutch at The White House

Caroline Picard: What kind of exhibitions excite you generally?

Paul Hopkin: I like an exhibition that gets under my skin. Art is best when I am not sure whether I like it or not, but I can’t stop thinking about it. I always try to get artists to present work in ways they would be less likely to without me, or the kind of space I run. That means pairing people who otherwise would not be paired, encouraging a new direction in the work or taking more risks in its presentation. I have been really lucky to have worked with a lot of really fantastic artists, but I have two favorite shows: one was called the low down and featured the work of Jeffrey Grauel, Caroline Allison, and Danica Favorito. Jeffrey covered all the windows with panels of crocheted video tape. It brought a darkness to the space — clearly because it was a sort of blackout curtain, but it also just pushed its presence into the space generating a kind of tension. Well, the fact that you also walked straight into a slowly spinning baseball bat maybe helped that a little too. I also really loved the play between Caroline’s gorgeously printed and beautifully framed photos with Danica’s that were off her junky inkjet she had at home, wrinkled and hung with obvious pieces of masking tape. I think one of Danica’s photos had a coffee stain on it.

The second show was last spring, titled, it ain’t over. Brent Garbowski and Joe Mault collaborated on this work that was not just designed for the space, but for people who come to it, for me. There was a kind of specificity to the work that was truly remarkable. They cut down a power pole and lay it down on the floor so that it cut through the gallery, through the entrance of my apartment and ran alongside my bed. They fabricated a swing arm with the familiar arch of a streetlight, so that the bulb illuminated my bed, complete with the way-too-bright light of an outdoor fixture. They are in the process of installing parts of that pole in another space and it is becoming a wholly different work. I also love that I got Barbara DeGenevieve to make work that was really light-hearted. I was really excited that she, one of my more established artists, was excited to work with Brent and Joe, two boys still in undergrad.

it ain’t over, installation shot, April 2012

CP: Do you have a particular story about what the back-end of your space is like? Something perhaps indicative of your administrative process? 

PH: I would probably not be running a gallery if there were no separation between my private apartment and the storefront gallery. It is funny to me now, but I thought I wanted to keep people in the public space and keep my home out of the mix. A couple of shows into it I just realized it was ridiculous — it was more comfortable to use my home as the space to hang out in. If I haven’t swept the floor in my apartment and there is an opening, I just let it happen anyway. “Y’all come to see the work and enjoy a beverage. Hell, some of you seem comforted that there are little mounds of my dog’s hair everywhere.”

I made a rule — if I find you difficult to work with, it is not worth it to me. I will also not work with you if I don’t trust you to be alone in my home. I do this because I love it, and it is important for me to continue loving it. I have only had a few conflicts, and I hope I have resolved them well. Most of the artists I have worked with have truly been a pleasure. Not that there is never stress; stress is part of getting something worthwhile to happen. But the artists I have worked with have been helpful, resourceful, and interested in having good shows. I have been thrilled to see it work that way. I have had artists who have shown in my space just jump in and help with practical chores even when it is not their show.

I keep a running list of artists that interest me. Some, I check in with from time to time. I throw ideas around, often in casual conversations with friends. Just keep at things until an idea clicks. Then I approach the artists. Sometimes that doesn’t work out and it means I have to start again. Maybe an artist is unavailable, or sometimes just not into the idea. I usually have three or four studio visits with each artist leading up to a show and I always run my show ideas by Jeffrey Grauel, my co-director.

The biggest practical decision I make is to avoid shipping work. I have done it, and it has worked, but I mostly show Chicago folks. I find the practical matters to be a part of the scene, so working within the resources and space I have is a part of the fun. I don’t choose in a terribly practical fashion. I mean I had a power pole hovering over my bed for two months, and I let a performer live in my space drunk for a week.

I write for every show. It brings clarity about the show and why I put the artists together in the first place, and it helps the artists understand it too. When I get it right, the writing also helps generate some interest in the shows. But I try to avoid describing the work. I want to generate experience with the work on its own terms. I have my ideas, but I don’ t ever want to impose them on the work in a way that overshadows the work itself. I don’t have my writing in the space at all during a show. It resides on the internet on purpose.

I don’t understand your question about, “engaging a public audience”— I mean, people come; the events are, in some direct way, public. It is a bit of a mystery to me that I engage a consistent crowd of undergraduate artists, and a consistent crowd of adults who have been out of school for a good long while, whereas I don’t draw a ton of graduate students. It is a little frustrating to me, because critical attention has a way of following the interests of those grad students. But I think the shows at slow are better than that. And not that the projects haven’t received attention, because they have. But sometimes I still feel like slow is a secret. I have had a couple of grad students tell me straight up that it doesn’t seem like a place where they can figure how to get in —and if it doesn’t present them with opportunities then they don’t get invested in the space. The funny thing to me is that it can present them with showing opportunities. And then there’s the flip side of the same question: what good does it do for anyone if the venue will show anything that comes along? Editing, some kind of vision and hierarchy, seem to facilitate better things all the way around. I guess I am still figuring out some things, and those artists are too. But I want to maintain a kind of criticality, a kind of rigor, and I don’t mind that there are interesting artists who remain outside my radar.

CP: Do you think non-traditional sites for exhibition are important?

PH: Important is a funny word. Curators that work in canonized venues rely on the rest of us to decide what is worth thinking about, worth seeing. But what burbles to the top is just that; it is the thing that garnered attention. Local food and local art — you know? A lot of the best stuff will remain unknown to most, and that is why we visit the places that produce locally. It isn’t so much that  that venues like mine are important, but we do a kind of work that isn’t done by important venues. Not so long ago Hamza Walker spoke very directly about waiting in the wings until a certain few venues have chosen first to pay attention to an artist, or to a new kind of approach. I think it is common for important critics and curators to wait and see what the lesser of us do. If a non-traditional venue bites on a new hook, and the results are well received, it can move through a system and become important. But I want to work from a messier place that is full of risk and opportunity. I love to play with ideas on their own terms. I love the heady space of “why the hell not” and “it’s about time.” That can happen when there is no bureaucracy. I can risk a big failure because nothing so terrible happens when I do fail. The payoff can be so much more satisfying when it comes from that sort of space. It isn’t all just freedom and light, but it is so much closer to the fantasy of how the art world works. I support what strikes me, what feels ignored or absent from the scene, but nevertheless compelling. I hope to bring a critical eye to my part of the art world in a time where criticality is threatened and disappearing.

The television show The Wire changed how I think about storytelling. You get such a deep version of a really compelling story if you see the entire 5 year arch of the show. Artists usually work more like the storytelling in The Wire than in, say, Gilligan’s Island. But we tend to see work that is from the fresh young thing just out of school. Or the work that has become important in the meantime. We see the same details, the same place in the storyline, repeated over and over. It is set up in this way that we think we are seeing a serial, but we’re really seeing one or two pieces of a story set on constant repeat. But there is so much more happening than either of those snippets. And I get to pay some attention to work in a way that has a different piece of the puzzle precisely because I do not aspire to become important as a venue.

Importance is overrated.

CP: What are some administrative influences and how have they colored your own approach to running a space?

PH: Artists need good opportunities to exhibit. I feel privileged to have such a big part of my own creative process that functions through the work other artists have made. I try to make the work and the show the focus of the experience. As much as I have a point of view in this, I want that to support the artist’s work, and not the other way around. I have worked as an administrator in several other capacities, and what everyone seems to want is freedom to choose things that have an importance, and for the things that aren’t valued by the individual to just disappear, to be done by elves. I work to make everything simple, approachable, and pleasant for the artists. If I can’t be the elf, I let them know. But if I can make something easier, I certainly will. My structure, my approach, is built on the philosophy that this will be what I want it to be, and what the artists want it to be, as much as possible. This is the place where you can ask to do anything, and it is a simple conversation. I am very aware that I am not an institution. I am not aspiring to be a lucrative business. I am opinionated, invested in fearless and sometimes transgressive art, I have a sense of humor, I have a sense of style, I am social and chatty, I enjoy a good beverage with friends, and I am intellectually motivated. I try to structure the shows to take advantage of all those qualities.

slow is located at 2153 W 21st Street, Chicago, IL.