1. Beneath the Paving Stones, the Beach at Gallery 400
Work by Matt Brett, Houston Cofield, Colleen Kiehm, Melissa Myser.
Gallery 400 is located at 400 S. Peoria St. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.
2. From Utopia at SideCar
Work by Clare Britt.
SideCar is located at 411 Huehn St., Hammond, IN. Reception Saturday, 5-10pm.
3. Spring Undergraduate Exhibition at Sullivan Galleries
Work by 300 SAIC undergraduate students.
Sullivan Galleries is located at 33 S. State St. 7th Fl. Reception Saturday, 12-6pm.
4. Mary’s Room at Aspect/Ratio
Work by Martin Murphy.
Aspect/Ratio is located at 119 N. Peoria St. Reception Friday, 6-8pm.
5. Personhood at Paris London Hong Kong
Work by Kyla Mallett.
Paris London Hong Kong is located at 845 W. Washington Ave. 3rd Fl. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.
1. Ghost Nature at Gallery 400
Work by Sebastian Alvarez, Jeremy Bolen, Irina Botea, Agnes Meyer-Brandis, Robert Burnier, Marcus Coates, Assaf Evron, Carrie Gundersdorf, Institute of Contemporary Zoology, Jenny Kendler, Devin King, Stephen Lapthisophon, Milan Metthey, Rebecca Mir, Heidi Norton, Okosua Adoma Owusu, Katie Patterson, Tessa Siddle, and Xaviera Simmons with AOO.
Gallery 400 is located at 400 S. Peoria St. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.
2. Center of the Circle at Heaven Gallery
Work by Sarah and Joseph Belknap
Heaven Gallery is located at 1550 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
3. Pictures and Places at Links Hall
Work by Edie Fake.
Links Hall is located at 3111 N. Western Ave. Reception Friday, 7-9pm.
4. Walking Driftward at Spudnik Press
Work by Hannah Ireland.
Spudnik Pressis located at 1821 W. Hubbard St. Reception Saturday, 6-9pm.
5. Stone Throw at TRITRIANGLE
Work by Jake Myers.
TRITRIANGLE is located at 1550 N. Milwaukee Ave. 3rd Fl. Reception Friday, 7-11pm.
“Blind Long-tailed Owl,” Desert Variant of Little Owl from the series, As Walked on Water, Institute of Critical Zoologists, 2011 Installation of vinyl print, 280cm x 194cm (Exhibition view)
Singapore based artist Robert Zhao Renhui is the Institute of Critical Zoologists
, an organization that — for any Doctor Who fans out there — would be the environmental analogue to the Torchwood Institute. The fictional Torchwood was founded to protect the Earth from supernatural and extraterrestrial threats; with that mandate in hand its employees must remain open and unperturbed by a myriad of strange and uncanny possibilities within the universe. Shrouded in secrecy, however, it attempts to perpetuate the myth of everyday banality, to keep their fellow human citizens free from fear. Although similarly invested in strange zoological proclivities of our non-human fellows, the ICZ is not a secret society. It delves into the multifarious world around us to expose the strange assumptions humanity takes for granted about its surrounding landscape. Working primarily as a photographer, Renhui blends fact and fiction to emphasize the idiosyncratic relations between animals, their habitats, and the humans that categorize them. While the result is ecologically minded, the dominant effect is uncanny. The ICZ affectively unearths little understood behavioral habits of animals and re-presents them within gallery settings as representational photography, encyclopedic texts, and multimedia installations. Currently ICZ currently has an exhibit, The Last Thing You See
, up at 2902 Gallery
in Singapore until January 5th that examines the act of sight. By demonstrating the shift in perception that would result from a sensitivity to ultraviolet light, ICZ reveals a world familiar to insects while being totally divorced from human experience. ICZ is going to appear in an upcoming series of shows I’m curating at Gallery 400
and La Box
“A spider web which is a flower,” Institute of Critical Zoologists, 2013, 150cm x 100cm, Diasec
From the series, How to eat bees?
Under ultraviolet light, certain parts of a spider web glow, forming a a pattern that looks like a flower – this is visible to bees, which attracts them.
Caroline Picard: How did the Institute of Critical Zoologists (ICZ) come about and what does “animal spectatorship” mean?
Robert Zhao Renhui: The ICZ came about mainly because of my interest with photography and animals. A long time ago, I was involved with animal rights activism. At that point of time, I was curious with how photography was used in animal activism. I contributed a lot of photographs to talk about the plight of animals living in captivity in Asia. I got too emotional and personally involved at one point. On the other hand, I was also using photographs to create my own fictional narratives about humans and animals. In college, my tutor asked me to look at my photographic narratives with my concerns of animals rights together, instead of two separate projects. Slowly, the ICZ took shape. Animal spectatorship, in my work, is very much about the conditions of looking and understanding animals.
CP: I feel like you’re interested in the way things are visible and invisible — for instance how a human can all but disappear in a suit of leaves, or what a spider’s web looks like in ultraviolet light, can you talk more about how this series of works came together.
RZR: My interests are very much shaped by my medium, photography. Photography has always been about a way of seeing. In this exhibition, I was interested in how not seeing is as important as seeing. For the longest time, nobody knew why certain spiders weave distinctive markings on their webs. It isn’t logical for spiders to make these markings because then they render an otherwise hard-to-see web visible. Scientists came up with a theory that the markings are made to warn larger animals to not walk into the spider web and destroy it. In other words, the insect trap had a defense mechanism. It was not only recently that we realised that most insects see in the UV spectrum, a visual spectrum invisible to humans. Under UV light, the web mimics the shape of a flower. These markings are also visible on flowers in UV light. A spider web that wants to be a flower. I like that idea. A mimic and an invisible trap. Like a photograph.
Institute of Critical Zoologists, “Eskimo wolf trap often quoted in sermons,” 2013, Dimensions variable, Installation of diasec, eskimo knife, polyurethane, 200 kg of sodium bicarbonate.
Eventually, a wolf will approach the knife and begin to cautiously sniff and lick the frozen blood. After believing it is safe, the wolf will lick more aggressively. Soon, the blade of the knife becomes exposed and it begins to nick the wolf’s tongue. Because its tongue has been numbed by the cold of the frozen blood, the wolf is unaware that he is being cut, and the blood it now tastes is its own. Excited at the prospect of fresh, warm blood, the wolf will hungrily lick the blade all the more. In a short time, the wolf will grow dizzy and disoriented. In a matter of hours, it will die from blood loss, literally drinking itself to death. As horrible as this picture is, it illustrates an important truth.
CP: Traps come up in several of your works — I’m thinking of your bee trap for instance, or the wolf trap — in both instances I feel like you’re somehow able to tap into an animal semiotics, almost, using the bee’s attraction to blue to bring them into the gallery, or using the wolf’s appetite for blood to disguise its sense of pain. What draws you to traps?
RZR: Michel Foucault said that “visibility is a trap.” He meant it in the case of the Panopticon, a prison where the all the inmates were visible to one another, hence creating a system of totalitarian, mutual surveillance. I’ve been thinking a lot about this statement, but with the trap not relating to the observed, but the observer. Visibility is a trap because we imagine we know a lot through empirical evidence. But what is beyond the visible? Even my interest with animal traps is linked to my interest with photography. A photograph can trap us rather than liberate us. Seeing can be dangerous and misleading because we always have an eye out for the truth. It narrows our vision and the price to pay is not really knowing the bigger picture. That’s how animals get trapped – they fail to see beyond what is already presented to them.
Institute of Critical Zoologists, “World Goldfish Queen,” 2013, from the series A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World,
CP: You have a book that just came out! How long did it take for you to make it? What does it contain?
RZR: A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World is an encyclopedia of man-made nature. It started of with the goldfish. Why doesn’t the goldfish have a scientific name? Why is it not included in any natural history encyclopedia? Today, the goldfish is a very common fish and in China, they recently held a competition for the World Goldfish Queen. I wanted to find out if there was a book that the goldfish can exist in other than a decorative aquarium trade fish. I started looking at other aquarium fishes that were artificial and slowly branched out into other animals and plants affected by aesthetic modification, ecological conservation, pollution, evolution and genetic-modification. It took me about a year to create the volume. Included in the book are my past projects like Acusis and A heartwarming feeling. So you can say the book has almost 3 years of my research. At the end of the book (there are about 3 books in this book, all housed in a box) there is a book that talks about Tropical Bonsai, specifically the Banana Bonsai Plant. My father keeps a dwarfed banana bonsai plant of 6 years at 15cm tall. Bonsai is the art of miniaturising trees. It is man controlling nature in a very obvious and aesthetic way. There are rules to create bonsai and there are also rules to view bonsai. There are front views, side views and back views. This is a very important part of the book. It offers a way to think about the way we have controlled nature. As a species, we have always defined and controlled the way nature existed with us and this is nothing new. Brocolli and Cauliflower are not natural although we have become so familiar with them. Man has always determined what nature should look and feel like. The way we think and look at Bonsai may offer us a way to contemplate our complicated existence with nature.
“The 93 Dreams of Summer,” mixed media with audio, 2013.
For over two decades now Judith Brotman’s practice has hinged on relationships built between people. This has taken several forms over the years, and hopefully you’ve had the opportunity of seeing some of her recent work at Bike Room in “I Dozed, I Napped, I Writhed, I Dreamed (reviewed here by Bad at Sports’s own Caroline Picard); at Slow Gallery with “New Word”; or at Gallery 400 in “Whisper Down the Lane.”
For the exhibition “New Word,” Brotman used the Jewish Kabbalistic prompt of finding a word to follow for the rest of your life as an impetuous to generate 1000 new words, including some of the following examples:
Brotman relinquished some control over the piece’s manifestation by “not touching the work,” tasking the organizer of the exhibition to fabricate the piece by inscribing the words on the wall for her. Although many of the words are humorous sounding, and the project on the whole involves a certain amount of playfulness, it forces a certain obligation and responsibility on the viewer as well.
“New Word,” words written directly on gallery wall and scratched off when selected by someone, 2013. Photo by Robert Chase Heishman.
In her piece “93 Dreams of Summer” from “Whisper Down the Lane” she generated several texts, related to koans in both their brevity and enigmatic nature, and created a sound recording of her reading them which viewers were invited to listen to over headphones. The phrases, while often absurd, are also witty and poetic, reflecting the skill and comfort with which Brotman writes:
Dream 6. You invent a machine that can play the violin, devein shrimp, and shred documents all at the same time.
Dream 27. You live in a world where there are restrictions to saying “Good job,” to your children. Saying it too often leads first to fines, then imprisonment, and ultimately the death penalty. You breathe a sigh of relief.
Dream 55. You are twelve years old, and God comes to visit dressed as a lawn chair. You say hello and sit down.
Dream 87. You legally change your name to “Tater.”
In both these exhibitions, Brotman engages language— either via the written word, or words read aloud— and they also both feature words or texts generated by her. Although she has stated she’s as influenced by visual phenomena as she is by literature, Brotman also views both works as engaging with that same, singular, overarching concern that continues to occupy her regardless of the medium she is experimenting with— relationships.
Her interest in relationships has translated into a focus on narratives, especially love stories. Brotman’s tastes run the gamut from day time soap operas to tales of unrequited love, or unconventional, odd ball works that, while they’re well known pieces of literature, may not typically be thought of as love stories (take Frankenstein for example, one of her favorites).
The pivotal moments, or moments of drama that these stories often hinge on, draw Brotman to them, and while she can appreciate the tension and theatricality that arise from their seemingly unending series of climaxes, she’s as equally taken with “the possibility that things will go wrong…”
In a cruel example of life imitating art, Brotman had just such a pivotal moment this past summer, in the form of a hand injury; “…(I) lost the use of my wrist and I couldn’t make anything and I didn’t know if it was going to come back, and it was very depressing… and people were saying to me, this is going to be an opportunity, and I… wanted to punch them, with the good hand (of course).”
This did lead to an opportunity however, and it took the form of a long-term project that, although she claims to have no idea how it may develop over time, imagines it going on, “for the rest of (her) life.”
“The Reading Project,” Rebecca Duclos reading to Brotman in her home, 2013.
The parameters of the project involve Brotman visiting the homes of friends and near strangers alike. She asks them to read to her aloud for forty-five minutes to an hour while she audio records them and takes some still photographs. There’s a certain amount of latitude in what they may choose to read, but Brotman requests that it be a text of meaning.
“Careful what you say, because… when I started at the School of the Art Institute in the late eighties I said there is one thing I will never, ever do, and that is performance,” jokes Brotman. And while her artistic overture is somewhat fluid in this project, she is still interested in the same kinds of dramatic tensions and relationship cultivation.
Generosity seems inherent in the act of inviting someone into your domestic space, thoughtfully selecting a text of meaning, and then sharing both your time and energy in reading it aloud, but the work is complicated by some of the quieter, darker reasons for Brotman’s impetus for the project— a cultural critic of a fast paced, compartmentalized, multi-tasking society that listens to books on tape, reads off a tablet, and texts or emails instead of making face time.
Although the project is only newly underway, Brotman has noticed that it asks a lot of her as a listener as well, and requires a heightened level of “focus and presence.” The project seems to repay careful, thoughtful and active listening, but Brotman is honest about stating that, “…pivotal moments may or may not happen.” Although the action of being read to is repetitive, there’s so much variation within each discrete event that it’s difficult to generalize. She does go on to say that, “…many of the readings have been exquisite and some have not been. Sometimes I can’t wait for it to end— and that’s usually when the reader can’t wait for it to end—…. And then sometimes it really is like a little love story… I have this feeling of being carried away, there’s this falling in love moment, that, I don’t know what else to call it, I’m inspired, I’m excited, I’m curious, I leave feeling like I have 300 times more energy then when I came in.”
The act of reading aloud to someone is usually an intimate affair, but Brotman is experimenting with performing the readings publicly, and recently had the opportunity of being read to for part of “The American Dream: (W)holy Grail” in Edgewater. And although previously her site-responsive installations constructed largely from objects crafted from paper were exceedingly fragile and ephemeral, she is deriving a certain amount of pleasure from the act of archiving, cataloguing and retaining these readings. It’s clear that the performance itself, rather then it’s mere accumulation, is still what’s most compelling to her though; “it has stripped down to the core what I care about most.” Perhaps as the project marches on, she will find herself generating love stories instead of merely listening in on them.
Interview conducted in October 2013.
The author would like to thank Judith Brotman for her assistance.
All images courtesy of the artist unless otherwise noted.