Go Bitches! (to Betsy Odom’s Sis Boom Bah at Hyde Park Art Center)

April 5, 2011 · Print This Article

GUEST POST BY ELIZABETH CORR

Recently, I had the great pleasure of talking with Betsy Odom about her latest show Sis Boom Bah currently on view at the Hyde Park Art Center. Betsy, who lives and works in Chicago, received her MFA in Sculpture from Yale in 2007. Her fascinating body of work examines gender and sexuality in the sports world, highlighting the various ways in which these social constructs become public spectacle. Considering the nature of Betsy’s subject matter, we both agreed that there couldn’t be a more aptly named blog to host such a discussion.

Sis Boom Bah is on view until June 19th. For more information on this and other upcoming shows, please visit Betsy’s website.

Elizabeth Corr: One of the things that I find so striking about your work is your deliberate use of materials – leather, sporting equipment, auto paint – materials that traditionally evoke the masculine. You take these materials and incorporate them through feminine decorative traditions such as sewing and weaving, while also utilizing established masculine practices like leather tooling. Suddenly, everyday sporting objects are transformed. It’s like this “Ah-ha” moment, where the absurdity of society’s gender roles is highlighted and you realize just how much these notions permeate our daily lives. Can you talk about your fascination with the politics of gender and why you choose to use sports as a metaphor to investigate these issues?

Betsy Odom: I am extremely conscious of seeking out materials, techniques, and objects that I think contribute to that tacit construction of gender. Sex is infused in tooling leather. We drink from faucets that have grown ever more phallic as time has moved on. Decoration, carving, stitching, tooling – I suspect that many of these activities grew as a way to busy “idle hands.” And some of my own assumptions are way, way off, which I also enjoy. Like, I’m pretty sure that not many people see Emmylou Harris, a straight older country singer, as enough of a queer icon to merit her own sports-team. But my hope is that as soon as you start looking for signifiers, which are abundant in sports, you can conceivably see them everywhere.

In some ways I am trying to act out a fantasy where you can be aware of the absurdity of our cultural influences and still enjoy them, slipping in and out of social constructs like gender, class, race, and sexuality as you please. It’s sort of like the fun of mixing all the different sodas together to see what comes out. (Am I the only one who still gets a kick out of that?)

EC: I want to talk about your piece Double Whistle. To me this piece was so overtly sexual (all I could see was a double sided dildo, but that may say more about me than about your work…). I was fascinated by the fact that you chose to exhibit it within a Plexiglas box – essentially rendering it off limits. What are your intentions with this piece and what does say about female sexuality in the context of sports?

BO: The way I approach intentionality is a bit loosey-goosey. While I hate it when people say, “your interpretation is just as important as mine, my intent is not important, etc.”, at the same time, I do like to start from some pretty obscure or perhaps entirely invented associations. My take on it is this: not everyone reads the piece as a double dildo, or a curmudgeonly old man gym coach, or a tantric musical instrument, or an opulent and rare conjoined artifact. But hopefully, most people do read it primarily as one of the dozen or so things it can reasonably be. Then maybe the other interpretations seep in as well, showing how complicated even a simple gesture can be.

But, where Double Whistle actually came from: I had been mulling over the way my coach’s mouth seemed unnecessarily emphatic on her whistle. I tried a lot of things to express that such as playing with scale, materials etc. It took me a year before the idea of mirroring the whistle finally hit me. I suppose one of the cool things about interviews is that you can get into the stories about a piece’s process or origins, and about the artists themselves. On the other hand, I’ve had many an artist ruin my opinion of their work by revealing where they are coming from.

EC: Walking through the show, I was couldn’t help but think about the work of Judith Butler and her theories about gender and gender performativity. Butler, in a distinctly postmodern approach to gender, calls into question the idea that certain feminine and masculine behaviors are “natural.” She argues instead that the ideals that constitute ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ are socially constructed, in essence making one’s gender a complicated ritual of performance. Sis Boom Bah draws our attention to one of the places where gender is regularly performed – the playing field. Talk about the ways in which you and your work have been influenced by postmodern feminist and/or queer theories about gender?

BO: This is probably going to be my longest answer, as I am casually passionate about gender theory. But, before I get into it, I’d be interested in your take on the notion of making art that talks to bigger issues. I personally needed a big dosing of queer and gender theory to even get comfortable with even the idea of making work that is explicitly about sexuality and gender. This is probably a bit of an aside, but I think a lot of artists have to deal with the discomfort that comes along with sometimes wanting to make work that is queer or political.

My discomfort is basically this. I had to face a fear of self-ghettoizing or even pandering in order to participate in a cause I care about, but I also had to cope with the awkward phase of early queer art, and more than that, a fear of continuing in a tradition that tends towards the cheesy. But, at the same time, there is a lot of great stuff actually going on by artists who are able to move in and out of a queer dialog pretty comfortably: Nicole Eisenman’s fan drawing of Shane from The L Word with a fist coming out of her vagina, Collier Schorr’s cover on the latest Aperture, Girls Like Us: Lesbian Quarterly for whatever that’s worth. Do you think I’m just paranoid in still worrying about this stuff?

EC: Paranoid? Absolutely not. Actually, the feelings you mention constitute a real rift within in queer theory relating to feminist standpoint theory and identity politics as useful paradigms for understanding the world. As you point out, while there is this element of freedom and empowerment in being able to speak from a certain perspective (queer or female in this case) there is also the very real threat of alienation and co-option (while certain commonalities may exist, certainly not all queer or female perspectives are universal). And so, as the artist, your worry about viewers taking one perspective (yours) and extrapolating into some kind of universal political statement about said groups (queer and/or female) is very real.

BO: At any rate, I am pretty revved up by Foucault’s idea that our discourse around sexuality tends to be, in truth, the total opposite of what it claims (i.e. the confession of sexual sins propagates more sexual sins for which to confess). I translate this into something of a bait-and-switch in my work: a lot of my pieces try to draw you in with materials, content, color, etc., only to bring you close enough to see something a bit more provocative, then question why you were attracted to the object in the first place. Sort of like your question about interpreting Double Whistle. I very much like the idea of the viewer wondering, “Maybe it’s just me?”

Judith Butler’s work on the performance of gender and her thoughts on sameness and otherness were a driving factor in me getting into this work. I’m especially interested in the way Butler points out gay and lesbian creative use of gender performance. But I wonder if queer play with gender comes from a larger cultural desire (imperative?) to point-out a hegemony, or does it fall into the same heteronormative fallacy of a sense of “naturalness:” i.e. “but I really feel like an androgynous jock,” which I often do, by the way, minus the actual athletic prowess. The need for consciousness of gender as a construct goes both ways I guess. And then there’s the whole other question of how this applies to the very real social issues riding on a perception of queer difference. How do we negotiate all this information?

EC: For me, part of what is so appealing to Butler’s approach to gender is how radically it disrupts normative ideas of heterosexuality. Can you tell me a little bit about how your works challenges these notions, and the ways in which queer culture and sexuality inform your practice and use of language?

BO: Butler is pretty convincing in pointing out that our focus on the biologically gendered body (or that gender is born of the body) encourages us to chain a big ol’ leash on the much wider and more interesting discourse around gender formation. I use sport as place to play with the body, joking with the unnecessary weight we give the body in connoting gender. I enjoy digging into ideas like Butler’s and others that gender is mostly relationary (the concept of female exists in relation to the concept of male, and vice-versa.). I am conflating those relations and projecting them back onto the body – in gear, skin-like materials, etc. What comes out may be a glimpse into what would happen if the performance we have all agreed upon as a society just suddenly ended.

EC: There is a long history of uneasiness with ambiguous gender and sex in sports, and this is partly because the sporting world so heavily relies on neatly packaged ideas of what constitute “female” and “male” especially as they relate to athletic ability. Your drawing, the only drawing in the show actually, references the most recent example of sex testing, which concerned Caster Semenya, a South African runner whose sex was called into question after her gold medal performance at the 2009 World Championships. What did you make of this story and can you talk about your appropriately named piece Un-titled (for Caster)?

BO: I was really blown away by this story because it is one of those instances where I really cannot get my head around what the “right” answer should be in terms of oppression vs. the roles of normativity in culture. Obviously the way this was dealt with is atrocious and inexcusable, which strangely seems to happen a lot when women’s sports are finally noticed. (Imus, anyone? Or the constant focus on the fact that you don’t see dunking in the WNBA?)

But, I don’t know for sure. Is it fair for Caster to run? Can we just think of her mildly intersexed physiology as a genetic advantage similar to height or big lungs? Or should there be events for men, women, and “in-betweens?” I love that this story made the world deal with how complicated gender actually is. Caster is now officially allowed to run in women’s sports and kept her title, by the way, but many speculate that there must be a caveat about testosterone suppression.

But honestly, my main interest in Caster’s story was a glaring omission in the coverage. Namely, no one seemed to publicly care about her sexuality! It is such a rare moment in our culture where gender and sexuality are kept separate. I’ve always thought that separating these is something I would like to see; but in this instance I think it is another form of imposed gender-enforcement. I personally think that, whatever we feel about Caster’s eligibility in sport, we should all agree on one thing, which is that s/he is amazingly sexy. So with the drawing, I simply wanted to celebrate her, well, hotness, the way we do with other athletes. Something like fan art meets the life-sized Michael Jordan poster for the back of your door.

EC: I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but after seeing Sis Boom Bah I started thinking a lot about the lingerie football league! To me, your work represents one side of the spectrum of gender and sexuality that, excuse the pun, gets played out in sports. And, lingerie football it seems must exist on the exact opposite side of that spectrum. Here we have women sexualized in an overtly heteronormative manner, whose athletic ability and prowess are undermined by uniforms (or lack thereof) and (tit)illating team names like Philadelphia Passion, Dallas Desire and San Diego Seduction. What do you make of this? And, can you talk about how the queering of well-established sexual mores in your work relates to (or makes necessary?) this type of performance of sexuality.

BO: Oh boy is that funny! I’d love to see actual women’s contact football teams doing lingerie football- pitting the Chicago Force against the Dallas Desire. I think it would put an end to the practice forever. Or maybe start a whole ancient Greco-Roman revival of naked athletics. Who knows!

 

Elizabeth Corr received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in African Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her graduate work focused on contemporary African art in post-apartheid South Africa. She lives in Chicago and works at NRDC, an environmental nonprofit.




Top 5 Weekend Picks! (3/18-3/20)

March 17, 2011 · Print This Article

1. It Is What It Isn’t at Hyde Park Art Center

Work by Conrad Freiburg.

Hyde Park Art Center is located at 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Reception is Sunday from 3-5pm.

2. dichroma at Pentagon Gallery

Work by Jason Smith, Caroline Carlsmith and Leo Kaplan.

Pentagon Gallery is located at 2655 W. Homer St. Reception Friday from 7-11pm.

3. Post-Smithson at Noble & Superior Projects

Work by Isabelle Gougenheim, Emily Irvine, and Emilie Crewe.

Noble & Superior Projects is located at 1418 W. Superior St. Reception Friday from 6-10pm.

4. BFA Show at Sullivan Galleries

School of the Art Institute of Chicago Spring BFA Show.

Reception Sullivan Galleries is located at 33 S. State St., 7th Fl. Friday from 7-9pm.

5. Frank Frazetta Tribute Exhibition at Gallery Provocateur

Exhibition to benefit JDRF juvenile diabetes. $1 at the door.

Gallery Provocateur is located at 2125 N. Rockwell St. Reception Saturday from 8pm-midnight.




Methodical Handprints: An Interview with Stephen Lapthisophon

March 2, 2011 · Print This Article

Once a resident of Chicago, Stephen Lapthisophon has since moved to Texas where he continues to write and make work while teaching at the University of Texas at Arlington. His ties to Chicago remain strong–what is most recently evidenced by his exhibit, The Construction of a National Identity at the Hyde Park Art Center. Running concurrently in Dallas, Stephen exhibited a second body of work, Spelling Lesson, at Conduit Gallery. In both exhibits he investigates the source and strategies of identity, integrating text and found materials. Recently I had a chance to ask him some questions about his work–Devin, Stephen and I have been working together over the last several months compiling a series of Stephen’s essays for The Green Lantern Press. In the midst of that process, I did not steal an opportunity to ask him about his visual work–what continues to play such a prominent role in his life. The more I learned about his practice, scouring through older publications, (Whitewalls published Hotel Terminus in 1999, as well as an artist catalogue, Writing Art Cinema 1977-2007 ) the more I began to wonder how he negotiates his own identity as an artist, particularly when his work seems so porous. It’s a strange idea, I’ll admit, to think of an art practice as being porous. What I mean is that Stephen seems to pass through accumulations of objects and ideas, undeterred by the cultural status of those materials (whether based in popular culture, day-to-day banalities or philosophy). He collects certain elements, one-liners and imagery, in order to then recompile those remnants through his own lens. Throughout everything he maintains a steady, personable voice. His work is warm, messy, I’d even say generous in its accessibility and boasts a consistent character–which of course points back to identity.

Caroline Picard: At your Conduit Gallery show, “Spelling Lessons” you address the question of a “signature.” As I understand it, you employ a variety of mediums, as well as text, to undermine/explore the question of a concise artistic identity. Can you talk a little bit about that? And maybe what you think a signature represents? (I’m also interested in this because of your regular incorporation of text, which seems to become it’s own kind of signature…

Stephen Lapthisophon: Yes.

First of all, I have this difficult, hard to spell (and hard to pronounce) last name. So names have been on my mind for a while—the way that names are not really words but instead serve as markers of a sort. I am interested in the way we mark ourselves, mark our place and mark our moment. I am also interested in drawing. And for me writing is closer to the act of drawing than it is to Painting which carries with it a number of assumptions and heavy background. Drawing is mark making, notation, surface and hand.

Also, as we move away from the hand we move away from a different kind of object. Picture making, works of art are no longer “signed” in the same way as they were in the past. Yet artists persist in making works that carry a recognizable identity, via repeated form. I am aiming for an everydayness of experience—signing, marking, making a notation, drawing, scratching and spilling.

I am also interested in the signature’s ability to call into question our thinking about the idea of authenticity. Signatures should not be pre-meditated, forced or over thought. They should just “happen.” We expect signatures to be “natural” and part of our selfhood. Odd then, that we sign a work of art –potentially full of artificial marks? To mark its authenticity…

CP: Following up on that last question, do you think of “text” as a kind of medium in and of itself? One not necessarily relegated to the page of a book, for instance, but even a free standing element? I suppose another way to ask that question is what is your relationship to text? How does that compare with your relationship to an art object?

SL: I am not sure if text is another medium but it is the element that makes certain media unstable. Is a drawing with text the same as a sign? I mean like a hand painted sign for a yard sale? Is a drawing/ painting with words an agreement, a caption for something else…or a list? I think text in visual works of art chips away at the solid place where we see a work of art as self contained and whole and moves it to an in between place–an object without a home.

CP: You have a show, “The Construction of a National Identity” up at The Hyde Park Art Center right now. Here too, you seem to examine traditional ways of locating a self in space and time. On the one hand, it seems like you rely on those traditional mechanisms (i.e. national identity, which relates to place and, even more basic, I think, a kind of “naming” or identification of a particular aspect) and on the other deliberately undermine their integrity (in so far as you point to Paella, for instance, or the idea of hybridity in general). Can you talk a little bit about that tension?

SL: Definitions always fall apart. Either breaking away into tautology or crumbling under the weight iof their own defining terms. We are given many terms with which to define ourselves yet none of them match perfectly. We don’t really add up…Given the hallway space at HPAC it seemed to make sense to push the transitory, ambulatory nature of identity—and the walking nature of the way that we exchange messages with each other in public. The installation is a poem with recipes written on colored walls or recipes for poems drawn on walls or walls marking overheard pieces of recipes signed by a writer. The food materials used to make the piece (saffron, rice, salt, coffee, olive oil, sesame oil and tea all hold associations with place and are part of our everyday lives. We build our sense of self through the repetition of daily rituals of food and drink and mark the day with words and gesture.

CP: Here too I am interested in how you incorporate those elements into tactile mediums. How do you characterize your relationship to your work–in a physical sense? Like when you’re looking at what you make, in your studio, or in a gallery–even when you first approach materials with an intention to “fashion” them–what is your experience of yourself in those moments?

SL: I want my experience and the audience’s experience to be of the moment–in process and in flux. An experience of everything around and in the piece. I want the experience to be heightened by a sense of the transitory and fleeting and of the potential for change. Not that the pieces change but that they have changed.  Materiality is important as it claims or sense of space and makes us aware of our body and all aspects of the sensory world. I use a lot of found objects and like to call into question what makes one object “art” while excluding another object from being art. I am drawn to material, older physical objects made by hand—objects that contain handmade marks.

CP: When do you find yourself most “the artist”?

SL: I guess I enjoy the making and the time and place when the surprise happens. I am an advocate of the irritation, of mystery and of ambiguity And I need to have a  sense of discovery as I return to the work. I like being in the space.

 




Art in the Middle | Roger Brown: California U.S.A

August 10, 2010 · Print This Article

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This week over on  Center Field | Art in the Middle with Bad at Sports I had a chance to interview Nicholas Lowe, curator of  Roger Brown: California U.S.A at the Hyde Park Art Center. Check out the teaser below and read the entire article over on art21.

After passing away in 1997, painter, sculptor, and notorious collector, Roger Brown bequeathed his homes and collections to his alma mater, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). His Chicago home located at 1926 N. Halsted became what is now the Roger Brown Study Collection (RBSC). Known as an “artist’s museum,” the study collection houses Brown’s work and collection intact. His New Buffalo home, which was designed by his partner, architect George Veronda, has become an artists’ retreat for SAIC staff and faculty.

Unlike his other residences, Brown’s home in La Conchita, California, was sold in 1998 and the contents were archived and moved to the RBSC. With the help of the study collection’s curator Lisa Stone, assistant curator James Connolly, and SAIC alum Dana Boutin, Chicago-based artist and curator Nicholas Lowe has organized an exhibition based on the work that Brown made and the objects he collected while living in California. Roger Brown: California U.S.A, currently on view at the Hyde Park Art Center, explores Brown’s Virtual Still Lifepaintings and the intricate relations that formed while working in his home in California.

Meg Onli: How did this exhibition evolve and how did you decide to show Brown’s collection outside of his homes?

Nicholas Lowe: This exhibition grew from a discussion about what would be the best way to show [Brown’s] Virtual Still Life object series. There are 27 of these [paintings] and they were all made [from] 1995 to 1996, while Brown was living in La Conchita, CA, in the house that he commissioned Chicago architect Stanley Tigerman to build. Brown died in November 1997, and the house was subsequently sold in 1998. The contents, including all Brown’s personal possessions, from inside and outside the house were documented, cataloged, and packed. These items were placed in deep storage at the museum, and in 2008,  with the help of Lisa Stone and her staff we began to unpack and assess the material.

Read the rest of article on art21.




Art Center’s Mischief Night

July 12, 2010 · Print This Article

hyde-park-mischif-nightIt’s the night before Halloween – the night when pranksters come out of the woodwork to wreak havoc on their neighbors. It’s called “Mischief Night,” and this year artists are taking it over.

Artists are masters of constructing moments of subversion, spectacle and illusion. On Saturday, October 30, the Hyde Park Art Center is asking artists to create those moments. From 3pm until 10pm, they will have games, art-making workshops, and performances taking place in and around the Art Center – all with the prankster in mind.

Sound interesting? They are looking for artists who would like to be a part of the mischievousness by concocting artist-run workshops, performances, temporary installations, public programs for kids and/or adults, or any other creative ideas you can scheme up.  They are open to input.  If you’re interested, please send a proposal including:

  • Your name and contact information
  • Name and description of your event/workshop/prank/performance
  • Any supplies you may need

Deadline for submissions is July 14. Please send your proposals to Crystal Pernell at cpernell@hydeparkart.org.