“Blind Long-tailed Owl,” Desert Variant of Little Owl from the series, As Walked on Water, Institute of Critical Zoologists, 2011Â Installation of vinyl print, 280cm x 194cmÂ (Exhibition view)
Singapore based artist Robert Zhao Renhui is theÂ Institute of Critical Zoologists, an organization that â€” for any Doctor Who fans out there â€” would be the environmental analogue to the Torchwood Institute. Â 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 Â 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, Â 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,Â The Last Thing You See,Â up atÂ 2902 GalleryÂ 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 atÂ Gallery 400Â andÂ La Box.
“A spider web which is a flower,” Institute of Critical Zoologists, 2013,Â 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:Â How did the Institute of Critical Zoologists (ICZ) come about and what does “animal spectatorship” mean?
RobertÂ ZhaoÂ Renhui:Â The ICZ came about mainly because of my interest with photography and animals.Â A long time ago, I was involved with animal rights activism. At that point of time,Â I was curious with how photography was used in animal activism.Â 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:Â I feel like you’re interested in the way things are visible and invisible â€” 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:Â 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.Â For the longest time, nobody knew why certain spiders weave distinctive markings on their webs. It isnâ€™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. Â 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,Â Installation of diasec, eskimo knife, polyurethane, 200 kg of sodium bicarbonate. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 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 wolfâ€™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 worksÂ â€” Â I’m thinking of your bee trap for instance, or the wolf trap â€” 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?Â
RZR:Â Michel Foucault said that â€œvisibility is a trap.â€ 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. Iâ€™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 â€“ Â 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:Â You have a book that just came out! How long did it take for you to make it? What does it contain?
RZR:Â 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. Â 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 Brotmanâ€™s practice has hinged on relationships built between people. This has taken several forms over the years, and hopefully youâ€™ve had the opportunity of seeing some of her recent work at Bike Room in â€œI Dozed, I Napped, I Writhed, I Dreamed (reviewed here by Bad at Sportsâ€™s own Caroline Picard); at Slow Gallery with â€œNew Wordâ€; or at Gallery 400 in â€œWhisper Down the Lane.â€
For the exhibition â€œNew Word,â€ 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 pieceâ€™s manifestation by â€œnot touching the work,â€ 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 â€œ93 Dreams of Summerâ€ from â€œWhisper Down the Laneâ€ 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 â€œGood job,â€ 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 â€œTater.â€
In both these exhibitions, Brotman engages languageâ€” either via the written word, or words read aloudâ€” and they also both feature words or texts generated by her. Although she has stated sheâ€™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 withâ€” relationships.
Her interest in relationships has translated into a focus on narratives, especially love stories. Brotmanâ€™s tastes run the gamut from day time soap operas to tales of unrequited love, or unconventional, odd ball works that, while theyâ€™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, sheâ€™s as equally taken with â€œthe possibility that things will go wrongâ€¦â€
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; â€œâ€¦(I) lost the use of my wrist and I couldnâ€™t make anything and I didnâ€™t know if it was going to come back, and it was very depressingâ€¦ and people were saying to me, this is going to be an opportunity, and Iâ€¦ wanted to punch them, with the good hand (of course).â€
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, â€œfor the rest of (her) life.â€
“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. Thereâ€™s a certain amount of latitude in what they may choose to read, but Brotman requests that it be a text of meaning.
â€œCareful what you say, becauseâ€¦ 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,â€ 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 Brotmanâ€™s impetus for the projectâ€” 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 â€œfocus and presence.â€ The project seems to repay careful, thoughtful and active listening, but Brotman is honest about stating that, â€œâ€¦pivotal moments may or may not happen.â€ Although the action of being read to is repetitive, thereâ€™s so much variation within each discrete event that itâ€™s difficult to generalize. She does go on to say that, â€œâ€¦many of the readings have been exquisite and some have not been. Sometimes I canâ€™t wait for it to endâ€” and thatâ€™s usually when the reader canâ€™t wait for it to endâ€”â€¦. And then sometimes it really is like a little love storyâ€¦ I have this feeling of being carried away, thereâ€™s this falling in love moment, that, I donâ€™t know what else to call it, Iâ€™m inspired, Iâ€™m excited, Iâ€™m curious, I leave feeling like I have 300 times more energy then when I came in.â€
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 â€œThe American Dream: (W)holy Grailâ€ 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 Â the act ofÂ 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; â€œit has stripped down to the core what I care about most.â€ 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.
An opening like no other took place on the last day of July at the freshly minted $250 million dollar Fashion Outlets of Chicago in Rosemont. Featuring 11 artists curated by miami based Primary Projects, the Fashion Outlet and newly formed collective, The Arts Initiative, did it up luxury outlet mall style at the preview of the various murals and installations throughout the mall. With work by Jen Stark, Jim Drain, Cody Hudson, Daniel Arsham and Bhakti Baxter, the art contained within might make this the edgiest mall ever.
Sam Vinz, Claire Warner and Aron Gent under the Friend’s With You inflatables installation at the Chicago Fashion Outlet.
A collision of Chicago’s and Miami’s most noteworthy in the arts, attendees danced the night away under the deft entertainment of DJ Sinatra and many many top shelf bars.
Friend’s With You’s Sam Borkson and fellow artist, Jim Drain, lovingly embrace at the reception.
Curious what was in the gift bag? A hat from Roxy, an iPhone 5 case from Coach (too bad I’m still only on that 4), a “The Arts Initiative” water bottle, a leather cuff from Ports, a security neck pouch from Samsonite, a “Fashion Outlets” pen and even a scarf from The Limited. Totally killer.
Drain’s completed mural.
Definitely recommend (even sans the gift bag).
Reading is Fundamental
Wait, I thought it was 2013!? If you like your iPhone and the internet, you would probably enjoy this sweet little read from the Summer 2013 issues of Artforum, 2011: Michael Sanchez on Art and Transmission. This recommendation comes from a bar, but is better than that makes it seem.
Trends Totally Trending: Not often is a gossip column the subject of gossip, but What’s the T? was recently featured in Art Info’s “In the Air: Art News and Gossip” spot for EXPO CHICAGO’s partners and special exhibitions. That’s right! WTT? is going IRL. We hope you’re as excited for The Expo Register as we are. Stay tuned y’all.
Total badass gets her due: Who knew that Ileana Sonnabend was so completely rad? She asked for a Matisse instead of a wedding ring. I mean, really. Thankfully, this piece by Kelly Crow for the Wall Street Journal sheds light on the major gallerist and collectors fascinating past. Sonnabend fans will be pleased to know that the MoMA just released plans for “Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New,” an exhibition which will feature some of Sonnabend’s most noteable discoveries and longtime friends.
Time to Slip at Gallery 400
Get back to the future at film screening
We heard a rumomr that the upcoming TIMESLIP film screening is not to be missed. Featuring 11 films by 10 makers, the screening is curated by Jesse Malmed and includes work by Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva, J.J. Murphy and Hollis Frampton.
From the horses mouth: This is going to be great. Time travel in the expanded field. Time-based media in the multiverse. Dream baby, trypp central, 2 Live Crew (seri), ducks, Adam and Eve, Judy Garland, hella headies, the first computer film, time tunnels, and on. And, like your mind, this is FREE. Surprises guaranteed.
A Miami Techno Transplantâ€™s take on the Demdike Stare Concert last Saturday
Iâ€™m here reporting from the Empty Bottle, celebrating my Chicago lifeâ€™s one week anniversary the way I prefer to spend all mildly festive occasions, by melting my brain with whiskey and dark techno. Tonight Iâ€™m all excited because I get to see one of my favorite bands live for the first time: DEMDIKE STARE. The duo is well known for merging occult, black magic vibes with droning electronics and sparse, off kilter beats. Demdike Stare have evolved their sound throughout the years from super dark horror movie vibes to dark worldly ragas and, finally, their latest releases reflect maturation of all these sounds with a bit of straight forward dark techno tastefully sprinkled in.
Needless to say, Iâ€™m fucking pumped.
I arrive at the venue â€œMiami timeâ€ which turns out to be just when shit starts everywhere. My circadian rhythm must be super on point today and I show up just as the first act, Stave, is going on. The set is some heavy industrial tech vibes. I am feeling it. A cigarette. Duane Pitre is up next delivering on some soothing melodious drone incorporating guitar loops and electronics. Lots of people are talking and not really listening but the vibe is right and everyoneâ€™s sonic palette is cleansed.
Iâ€™m in the ally evening out my buzz and the walls start to pulse. Demdike-fucking-Stare. I run inside. They spend the beginning of the set evolving drones, feeling out the crowd, reacting. What does the spirit of the crowd say? Probably something like, â€œTECHNO!â€ The bass kicks into 4/4 and as the crescendo of the track â€œDysologyâ€ hits everyone knows its getting serious. The visuals that accompany their live set become more frantic. The main themes of the video include babes and esoteric rituals, everyone approves. Just as my mind is about to transform into pure jelly, the set ends abruptly, like all good things in life. And everyone goes home to dream about robots and witches. The End.
The view inside of Praire Production.
Medium Cool and Partly Cloudy.
Despite cloudy weather, New Art Fair Shines.
Shame on you if you didn’t make it out to Sunday’s Medium Cool Art Book Fair, we know you heard about it. Rising like a pheonix, the fair was organized by Ria Roberts and brought out the most delicious coffee-table eye-candy ever seen in the West Loop.
These button’s were seriously trending.
Limited edition poster by Carson Fisk-Vittori
Fashionistas, Chelsea Clup and Ben Foch modeling the necklaces by Vincent Uribe and NoÃ«l Morical they picked up at LVL3’s booth.
Medium Cool Continued.
Trendsetter, Hamza Walker, models sunglasses (obviously) by Josh Reames from the LVL3 booth.
Issue Press‘s booth featuring a “Book Box” vending machine, manned by George Wietor.
Sofia Leiby‘s SCRAP HEAP booth featured scraps and ephemera from Chicago artists’ studios.
Header image features a detail of work by Justin Schmitz on display at Medium Cool.
Chicago Artist Writers hosted a workshop with Lori Waxman at Gallery 400 on March 14, 2013. The following is an attempt to collect some of the many illuminating moments of her two-hour lecture and Q&A session.
â€œToday Iâ€™m going to talk about a lot of forms of art criticism that donâ€™t actually exist — yet.â€
Lori Waxman has her feet in two critical worlds. As a regular contributor to the Chicago Tribune, she takes on the role of a traditional art critic: she has a large audience, keeps her distance from the artist and organizers of the exhibitions she covers, and maintains an objective viewpoint. In contrast, her personal project 60 Wrd/Min Art Critic takes a more experimental approach. Â The public is invited to come with their work for a review written by Lori live, in person, with a secondary monitor displaying her writing process as it evolves. The project has been featured numerous times domestically and most recently at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany.
Lori posited that criticism has largely not changed much since its first appearance with Diderotâ€™s reviews of the Paris Salon of 1765, and the writing that we see in major outlets like the Tribune or Artforum holds the same basic values of that style to this day. This default approach to art criticism doesn’t reflect the drastic changes in art and technologyâ€™s influence on the contemporary conversation as much as it could.
She used Documenta as a case in pointâ€“-it embodied a sprawling, time-intensive experience for the viewer, and the critical responses to it suffered as their structuring was inadequate to cover the exhibitionâ€™s curatorial conceits. Critics who were only able to visit 3-5 days and print 1000 words were ill equipped to critique the event in its totality. â€œWho goes to NYC for a weekend, and tries to see everything, and if they canâ€™t, itâ€™s New Yorkâ€™s fault?â€ Lori asked. She used Dieter Roelstraeteâ€™s review of the Documenta in Artforum as one example; one of his main critiques was that it had too much going on. Similarly, Roberta Smithâ€™s review in the New York Times was schizophrenic, unable to deal with the scope of the massive three-month undertaking. Lori suggested that despite the stubborn precedent of â€œobjective distanceâ€ in traditional criticism, she herself might be the best critic of Documenta, having spent her entire summer there.
Platforms for alternatives to the traditional model exist in small handfuls but some are promising. Lori noted that online versions of specialty magazines like Artforum fail to leverage the malleability of the web and stick to the values and format of their print counterparts. Websites like hyperallergic, the former artnet.com, and temporaryartreview.com (which covers cities off the major art map) may increase turnaround time and coverage of lesser-known projects, but again resist transforming the dynamic of the critical approach itself. Â Triple Canopy is a capable platform, for not only its scholarship but, in the case of Davidâ€™s Levineâ€™s take on the dissolution of the Rothko estate, its willingness to embrace an insiderâ€™s view at the sacrifice of traditional objectivity. Â Art Fag City features critical writing but is bolstered most importantly by the active comments sections as a new center of gravity in critical writing. Â This very blog (the Bad at Sports blog) also embraces the more diaristic, personality-driven, multi-tangential style of critical reflection over objectively toned assessment. Â In the early 2000s, Lori contributed to Fucking Good Art, a feverishly produced zine spearheaded by Pedro Velez and Michael Bulka. Critics would go out to openings, type up reviews as soon as they were sober (or not), and photocopy and distribute the zine for free the next day. The reviews, sometimes nasty and anonymous, were the main way apartment spaces were getting critical feedback.
Lori wondered if models like Facebook and Twitter could be used seriously as venues for criticism instead of flippantly; these platforms have a multi-directionality that could support a more nimble and relevant conversation to artwork being produced. Â In addition, their immediacy has the potential to be paradigm shifting–what happens if something is written in front of/within the work? â€œGonzoâ€ reviews — long form, unedited stream of consciousness reviews — also have yet to be fully realized in art criticism.
Perhaps criticism that leans towards more relational and embodied writing is called for by today’s art practices. Â Lori suggested â€œembedded criticismâ€ â€“ a term borrowed from journalism, in which journalists are â€œembeddedâ€ with soldiers â€“ as a term for art writing that celebrates, rather than discourages, the subjective experience in order to strike a critical observation. In her piece Practicing Trio A in the Spring 2012 issue of October, Julia Brian Wilson spoke about taking a class with Yvonne Rainer in which she learned how to perform Rainerâ€™s seminal The Mind Is a Muscle, Part I (Trio A) from 1973, and how this direct involvement in the piece changed her mind about it. Hannah Higgins is well known as a scholar and writer about Fluxus in part because of her upbringing in a canonical Fluxus household; her embeddedness creates a unique opportunity for scholarship and complexity. Â Later, during the Q&A, an audience member suggested Kathy Acker as an additional example of someone who writes about artwork while having a close relationship to it.
Art writing authored from a fictional perspective or persona is another area ripe for exploration. Lynn Tillman has written fiction at the artist’s request (perhaps skewing its definition as “criticism,” but an example of a new form of art writing nonetheless). Her short story â€œMadame Realism Lies Hereâ€ from 2002 is composed from the perspective of a woman who dreams she has turned into a Jeff Koons sculpture, experiencing life in a weird and grotesque way that mimics Koons’ work. Tillmanâ€™s series TV Tales about Barbara Kruger from 1976 also is another example. As well, we can look to novelists: Gertrude Stein wrote in a “cubist” style, coming out of a deep experience with cubist painting. This kind of art writing acts as an analog to the work itself. Stein’s unique, unexpected way of using language sidesteps â€œInternational Art Englishâ€ altogether: it doesn’t even require a dictionary. One can hold up a piece of hers in front of a painting and see how they work together. The Family Fang, a novel by Kevin Wilson, consists of a fictional narrative about a family of performance artists. Philadelphia artist Jayson Mussonâ€™s satirical comedy as Hennessy Youngman occasionally offers thoughtful and to the point responses to art, although Lori noted that Youngman can be surprisingly conservative â€“ here she reminded us that a new form doesnâ€™t necessarily mean a radical idea, as form and content are extricable. But an outside-the-art-world persona like Mussonâ€™s can make it easier to call the emperor naked. Another example brought up by the audience was artist Sean Joseph Patrick Carney, who produced a collection of erotic fiction about James Franco.
Lori stressed that to write about museums and commercial galleries is to write about art that has already been filtered and processed, versus writing about experimental spaces showing lesser-known artists who have yet to be critically acknowledged. When writing about the latter spaces, one should remember that criticism of ephemeral or emerging practices may be the only record that exists, and so one must be intentional as his or her writing will eventually become historical fact. â€œSome dogged art historian in 20 years will rely on these reviews, and they will quote [them]; and if you got it wrong and weird, theyâ€™re going to think thatâ€™s what happened.â€ For this reason, she also suggested inventing a way to respond to a work instead of writing something explicitly negative.
Television shows such as Work of Art and School of Saatchi, whether we like them or not, are emergent examples of new forms of art criticism. Â While only persisting for four episodes, BBCâ€™s School of Saatchi featured six artists, asked them to make interesting commissions, and gave them a decent amount of time and money to do so. The show rendered the actual process of making contemporary art transparent, â€œand was surprisingly accessible and intelligent.â€ After the work is completed, a good fifteen minutes of each hour-long show is devoted to serious discussion of the artwork that is then communicated to the artists. The judgesâ€™ remarks are often off the cuff and funny, speaking with authority but sometimes contradicting one another. Their multiple voices created a critical environment similar to a class critique. Bravoâ€™s Work of Art, in contrast, equated art with other subjects like cooking or getting married. Artists were given $100 and 24 hours to make a series of asinine projects. Notable, however, was the involvement of Jerry Saltz, the most recognizable critic in the U.S. Â Most of the criticism on the show was demeaning, puerile, dumb and one-liner; criticism was consistently of the lowest-common-denominator variety. Yet, Lori said, Work of Art nevertheless represents one of the ways that art is being thought about today by the general publicâ€”and perhaps even some parts of the art world; this show is part of the publicâ€™s access to the art world, and it is sadly misrepresentative.
Some of Loriâ€™s more experimental ideasâ€”stolen, she willingly admitted, from her students at SAICâ€”included gif criticism (what can a gif do that words canâ€™t?) or criticism using image combinations (like on tumblr). During the Q&A, the audience pitched in: we suggested hyperlink criticism â€“ a review composed entirely of links, in line with the ways we read, think and click; another participant proposed a review composed over Skype, where one person views the exhibition at home, one in the museum, highlighting the differences; or a (live/recorded) performance positioned as a review. Does criticism need to be site specific to the work â€“ like the precedent of dances that directly respond to artwork?
If criticism can be art and vice versa, how can one be sure these forms donâ€™t stray too close to art and too far from criticism? Where is that line placed and is it important? Lori pointed out that studio experience might be valuable for a critic, â€œand who thinks criticism is so objective anyway?â€ 60 Wrd/Min Art Critic attempts to take some of the agency that the art critic normally assumes away, and to see what happens when itâ€™s given to the artist him or herself. The agency Lori gives up is the ability to choose who and what she writes about. But if this critical agency we assume is important is taken away from the critic, can something of substance still materialize? What happens if criticism is available for the asking? Is it still interesting, critical?
Another participant asked Lori about What Happened to Art Criticism, the 2003 panel discussion and book in which Jim Elkins and others complained that the majority of art criticism being written today is “descriptive.” Lori responded that she believes there’s no such thing as a truly factual description” of something. She pointed out that one can’t recreate a painting backwards from a description, no matter how detailed or “straightforward” it is. A good piece of description, she noted, can do “almost anything.” One can’t have criticism without description; and in shorter lengths, these combinations can be powerful — look at the New Yorker’s 100 word reviews of exhibitions in the Goings On section.
An audience member asked if art history helps or hurts art criticism. “If you love October, you should stay in art history and not try to be an art critic,” Lori responded. Most critics come from art, not art history, and there’s “plenty to make of that, in terms of experience and commitment.” She relayed the under-discussed fact that most of the notable art critics working today do not have art history degrees. Peter Schjeldahl started out as a poet; Saltz was a painter and truck driver; Robert Storr and Matthew Collings trained as painters.
How about artists criticizing their own artwork as an interesting new form of art criticism? Lori responded with an anecdote from her husband, the artist Michael Rakowitz, who had recently been part of a discussion in which the moderator complained afterward that the panelâ€™s artists hadnâ€™t talked more about their work’s problems. Her husband countered that he didn’t know of a professional artist who would do that, that it’s not their job: let the critics take issue, and the artists deal with the problems in their own way. One takeaway for us is that the space for self-criticism in between the artist statement and the art review is ripe for experimentation.
We left thinking about the burgeoning potency of crowd-sourced criticism.Â Mimicking the current form of value-production bolstered by the Internet, where value is dispersed into tallies, â€œaggregate,â€ rhizomatic or crowd-sourced criticism may be starting to replace the good old New York Times review. One audience member wondered if all types of feedback to an artwork could be located in a single place, including documentation, short and long reviews, responses on Twitter, Facebook, etc.? Although Google might seem good for this on its own, it isn’t organized: someone should take advantage of this opportunity for a new start-up.
We found this sentiment the driving force of Loriâ€™s presentationâ€“an implicit and collective call to action:
â€œTechnology has changed and art has changed, and that should be radically impacting the kind of art criticism that we write, how it gets published, how it gets received and who we write it for, and how it gets commented on.â€
Chicago Artist Writers is a platform that asks young studio artists and art workers to write traditional and experimental criticism that serves under-represented arts programming in Chicago. CAW was founded by Jason Lazarus and Sofia Leiby in 2012. This is our first guest post on Bad at Sports.Â www.chicagoartistwriters.com
Click here to download an mp3 of Loriâ€™s lecture.
A graphic, editorial overview of art, artists, and visual art events, found in and around Chicago over the course of the preceding month. All artwork copyright original artists; all photography copyright Paul Germanos.
Daniel Shea @ Gallery 400
Above: Daniel Shea with his photography in Gallery 400, as seen on April 13, 2013, at the closing of UIC’s third MFA exhibition.
Above: Christopher Ottinger, background, at the opening reception, his uncovered, kinetic light art seen rotating in the foreground.
April 12 – May 2, 2013
Chicago Artistsâ€™ Coalition
217 N. Carpenter St.
Chicago, IL 60607 http://chicagoartistscoalition.org/
Lossless @ Chicago Artistsâ€™ Coalition
Above: Matthew Schlagbaum’s kinetic light installation visible within its smoked vitrine housing.
April 12 – May 2, 2013
HATCH Projects Residency
Chicago Artistsâ€™ Coalition
217 N. Carpenter St.
Chicago, IL 60607
Curated by MK Meador
Artwork by Jordan Martins, Matthew Schlagbaum and Theodore Darst http://chicagoartistscoalition.org/
The Wail of Silence @ ROOMS Gallery
Above: Alex de Leon lifts her veil in “Ritual No. 4 – Toll of Eyes,” a three-hour performance, 7:00-10:00 PM, March 8, 2013.
Above: “Psychosexual” curator Scott Hunter in the foreground, with artwork, left-to-right, by Nazafarin Lotfi, John Neff, and Peter Otto, visible in the background.
Above: Artwork by Peter Otto, Rachel Niffenegger, and Brenna Youngblood, seen left-to-right in Andrew Rafacz Gallery.
April 6 – May 25, 2013
Andrew Rafacz Gallery
835 W. Washington Blvd.
Chicago IL 60607
Curated by Scott J. Hunter
Artwork by Lutz Bacher, Tom Burr, Edmund Chia, Matthias Dornfeld, Jayson Keeling, Jutta Koether, Nazafarin Lotfi, Jeffry Mitchell, John Neff, Rachel Niffenegger, Peter Otto, Kirsten Stoltmann, and Brenna Youngblood http://www.andrewrafacz.com/
Lauren Edwards & Kera MacKenzie @ ACRE Projects
Above: Lauren Edwards and Kera MacKenzie, participants in UIC’s first MFA exhibition of 2013, seen within their subsequent show at ACRE Projects’ home site in Pilsen.
Lauren Edwards & Kera MacKenzie
“Burden of Proof”
April 14 – 28, 2013
1913 W. 17th St.
Chicago, IL 60608 http://www.acreresidency.org/
Michael Ian Larsen @ PEREGRINEPROGRAM
Michael Ian Larsen
“The Tree, the Gift, and the Amphibian”
March 10 – April 7, 2013
3311 W. Carroll Avenue, #119
Chicago, IL 60624 http://www.peregrineprogram.com/
Tina Tahir @ Gallery 400
Above: Tina Tahir at her closing reception with the installation “41.876503,-87.649666,” an ornamental ‘rug’ made of ash and magnetite mineral, whose title provides its GPS co-ordinates. Intentionally made available to foot traffic throughout the course of the exhibition, said piece is shown disturbed from its original state.
“A strange house in my voice.”
2013 UIC Art MFA Thesis Exhibition 2
April 2 â€“ April 6, 2013
College of Architecture and the Arts
University of Illinois at Chicago
400 S. Peoria St.
Chicago, IL 60607
Artwork by Cameron Gibson, Ben Murray, and Tina Tahir http://www.tinatahir.com/
Laura Wennstrom @ The Peanut Gallery
Above: Gallery patron interacts with Wennstrom’s “Block City” during the opening reception; cameras hang ready to document the action.
Jesse Butcher & Anthony Romero
“Cyclical, Circular. Like Vultures.”
April 6 – 27, 2013
Happy Collaborationists, in partnership with ACRE Residency
1254 N Noble
Chicago IL, 60642 http://happycollaborationists.com/
Michael Robinson @ Carrie Secrist
“Circle Spectre Paper Flame”
April 6 – May 11, 2013
Carrie Secrist Gallery
835 W. Washington Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60607 http://www.secristgallery.com/
Above: A Co-Prosperity School student’s presentation on March 18, 2013.
Above: “The Index for an Encylopedia” by Daniel Rosen
Above: “Smell.RB.MFA 2013″ by Maymay Jumsai
University of Chicago MFA Show 1
April 5 – 14, 2013
Logan Center Gallery
915 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637 http://arts.uchicago.edu/
Christopher Meerdo @ Document
March 15 â€“ April 20, 2013
845 W. Washington Blvd. Suite 3f
Chicago IL 60607 http://christophermeerdo.com/
Juneer Kibria @ The Sub-Mission
Above: Juneer Kibria in his installation, opening night.
March 8 â€“ April 20, 2013
The Mission (The Sub-Mission)
1431 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60642 http://themissionprojects.com/
Rebecca Beachy @ Iceberg Projects
Above: An audience member views “Warm (bed)” through a rectangular aperture just above the floor; 109 dozen factory-farmed eggs, ground, lit by heat lamps, lie within the piece.
Above: Iceberg Projects proprietor Dan Berger within the gallery space on June 23, 2012
March 10 -April 1, 2013
7714 N. Sheridan Road
Chicago, IL 60626
Artwork by Rebecca Beachy and Walker Blackwell http://icebergchicago.com/home.html
Lisa Walcott @ threewalls
“Pretty Good Shape”
Artists in Research – Residency
(Closed on March 21, 2013)
119 N. Peoria #2c
Chicago, IL http://www.three-walls.org/
Paul Germanos: Born November 30, 1967, Cook County, Illinois. Immigrant grandparents, NYC. High school cross country numerals and track letter. Certified by the State of Illinois as a peace officer. Licensed by the City of Chicago as a taxi driver. Attended the School of the Art Institute 1987-1989. Studied the history of political philosophy with the students of Leo Strauss from 2000-2005. Phi Theta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi. Motorcyclist.