GUEST POST BY HEATHER MCSHANE
I arrived late in the evening to the opening of Jason Lazarusâ€™s The Search at Andrew Rafacz Gallery. Left were the previous climbersâ€™ footprints on the white-painted steps of The Search, which resembles a pyramid. Wearing a skirt and heels, I hesitated to ascend the stairs, but the footprints enticed meâ€”and thankfullyâ€”because at the top awaits a surprise, an opening down into which a ladder leads to a space where two chairs and a table sit, illuminated by a hanging lamp. The night of the opening, two people occupied this denlike interior; one of the people seemed absorbed in drawing on the pages of, I later learned, the ledger for the signatures and comments of the pair of interlocutors. I looked on briefly, feeling voyeuristic.
The same night, outside the building, a friend introduced me to Lazarus who, upon learning I am a writer, invited me to be paired with a stranger (of a different vocation) and talk with the stranger inside The Search. (This proposition was perfect for meâ€”I love talking to strangers.) A few days later, I received the formal invitation in my inbox to participate. Near the end of the email I read:
â€œIâ€™m asking you to be onto The Search.
You are invited to be in conversation with:
Name:Â Scott Hunterâ€
From googling â€œScott Hunter,â€ knowing from his email address his affiliation with the University of Chicago, I learned he is Scott J. Hunterâ€”notice the Jâ€”an Associate Professor of Psychology and Pediatrics there. After a few email exchanges with him to coordinate a date and timeâ€”Lazarus had instructed us to meet for up to an hourâ€”and Hunter befriending me on Facebook, on September 30, around 5:00, I recognized Hunter (from Facebook), approached him on the sidewalk as he paid the parking meter fee, and introduced myself. He was impeccably dressed, his patterned shirt crisp, tucked in, and he smiled and talked easily. We chatted with each other and with the employees of the gallery before we were allowed entrance to The Search. Upon our arrival, it was still occupied with two other people, who were eventually politely told their hour was over, emerging happy, almost jubilant.
Then it was our turn. We climbed the stairs and each awkwardly brought shoe to ladder rung and lowered ourselves into The Search. (Me first, again in a skirt, probably the same skirt.) Inside, it felt cozyâ€”the warm, inviting, natural-colored wood of the walls; the soft light; the comfortable chairsâ€”and perhaps this setting helped for the ensuing conversation. However, during the conversation, I did notice Hunter occasionally shift in his chair, I caught myself sometimes fidgeting with my pen, but these movements seemed more natural than uneasy.
Although Iâ€™m inclined to reproduce the conversation as fully as possible, Lazarus did not intend for the dialogues in The Search to be recorded. I did not bring a recording device into the space, nor did I write much in my notebook (see the image below). The following snippetsâ€”from my faulty memoryâ€”are meant to give an idea of the conversation.
For example, as initial how-do-you-know-whoâ€™s go, I learned Hunter knows Lazarus through his art because Hunter is an art collector in addition to being a psychologist. A future purchase, he hopes, is a photograph taken by Lazarus of the ceiling from Sigmund Freudâ€™s couch.
We talked about Hunterâ€™s work as a child psychologist. Many of his patients are cancer survivors. Radiation, chemotherapy, and other procedures performed to rid the patientsâ€™ bodies of cancer can be detrimental to the patientsâ€™ learning and thought processes. I started to think about how visceral fear is, how frightening it would be to have cells in my own body attack other cells, how fear hampers learning. I told him the original word for bear in German has been lost because to utter it, was to call it and so a euphemism was used instead.
Our discussion turned to other animals, the animals in Chicagoâ€”squirrels, opossums, foxes, wolvesâ€”yes, wolves. Hunter and his old 40-pound dogâ€”he didnâ€™t tell me the dogâ€™s breedâ€”encountered a city wolf before, running along train tracks.
Despite seemingly wild jumps in topics, most talk revolved around memory, language, and attention. Marcel Proustâ€™s In Search of Lost Time was brought up often. We discussed Freud again (his psychoanalysis and idea of the uncanny). We talked about words as metaphors, active versus passive reading and writing, learning versus teaching, and attention spans and text in the digital age. Hunter remarked he felt refreshed after our conversation ended. He included as much in the ledger.
Later, upon reflection, having mentioned David Antin to Hunter, I thought more about how talking can be writing. I like how the following recording begins with Antin saying â€œwith the search . . . â€ (heâ€™s talking about The Tempest, but listen on for a great story about a woman who lives her life poetically):Â David Antin
And later still, I remembered one of the first questions I asked Hunter about his own photographyâ€”whether he preferred to work by chance or to construct a setting. My experience with The Search involved both.
The show continues through Saturday, October 15.
Heather McShane is an associate editor of Dear Navigator and a regular blogger for The Lantern Daily. She worked as an editor at World Book Encyclopedia before earning an MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.Â
Work by Jason Lazarus and Cody Hudson, respectivily.
Andrew Rafacz Gallery is located at 835 W. Washington Blvd. Reception is from 4-7pm.
Work by Rob Carter.
EBERSMOORE is located at 213 North Morgan, #3C. Reception is from 6-9pm.
Work by the collaborative Public School.
The Family Room is located at 1821 W. Hubbard St. Suite, 202. Reception is from 6-10pm.
Curated by Jefferson Godard, with work by Candice Breitz, Manon de Boer, EJ Hill, Diego Leclery, and Casilda Sanchez.
The Mission is located at 1431 W. Chicago Ave. Reception is from 6-9pm.
Work by Ed Valentine. Tom Van Eynde in the project space.
Linda Warren is located at 1052 W. Fulton Market. Reception is from 6-9pm.
Work by Lorraine Peltz, Doug Smithenry, and Bill Harrison, respectively.
Packer Schopf is located at 942 W. Lake St. Reception is from 6-9pm.
Work by Nathan Vernau.
Robert Bills Contemporary is located at 222 N. Desplaines St. Reception is from 6-9pm.
Work by Jason Robert Bell and Bret Slater, respectively.
Thomas Robertello Gallery is located at 27 N. Morgan St. Reception is from 6-8pm.
Work by Barbara Kasten.
Tony Wight Gallery is located at 845 W. Washington Blvd. Reception is from 6-8pm.
Western Exhibitions is located at 119 N Peoria St. Reception is from 5-8pm.
Curated by Jason Lazarus, a group exhibition of 45 artists addressing the idea of MOTIVATION.
Co-Prosperity Sphere is located at 3219 S Morgan St. Reception is Friday from 7-10pm.
Work by Patrick Bobilin, Nick Cueva, Matthew Cummings, Wyatt Grant, Anthony Lewis, Nicole Mazza, Chiara No, Stephanie Plenner, William Sieruta, Cait Stephens, Clare Torina, Allison Wade, Erin Washington and Travis Wyche.
Autumn Space is located at 1700 W Irving Park Rd, #207. Reception is Saturday from 6-9pm.
Work by Olivia Swider and Julia Asherman.
Pentagon is located at 2655 W Homer St. Reception is Saturday from 7-11pm.
Work by Paul Chan, Olivia Ciummo, Coco Fusco, Jillian Mayer and Chi Jang Yin.
Museum of Contemporary Photography is located at 600 S. Michigan Ave. Reception is Friday beginning at 5:30pm. Screenings from 6-8pm.
Work by Hope Esser and Christalena Hughmanick.
Murdertown is located at 2351 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception is Saturday from 6-9pm.
This week: One of our favorite artists, Jason Lazarus is a slightly odd interview where we talk in a cave surrounded by SAIC students.
You can read more about Jason in a interview he gave to Caroline Picard in January.
I am about halfway through a two-week period of guest blogging on the Art21 site. It’s been fantastic. Suddenly I had an opportunity to engage 11 artists in conversation, asking them questions Iâ€™ve always wondered about. I began to see the possibility of an arc in the interviews. On the one hand each interview is independent, on the other there is a thread of interest that flows through each postÂ. I thought I could think through the progression here.
For the last couple years I’ve had a growing interest in celebrity culture. Not simply for its own sake, but rather as a particular reflection of the social structure in which we live, (i.e. post-industrial, capitalist America). Within that culture, celebrity provides a kind of apex or pinnacle of success. At one point, Young Joon Kwak equated them with the Greek Godsâ€”as though Marylyn Monroe serves a parallel, cultural purpose in America as Hera did in Greece. At the very least celebrity provides a model for success and recognition, a model that translates into other fields, particularly in the arts, where tokens of legitimacy are rather slippery to grasp. As people working in a field with no direct use-value, the translated monetary/cultural value of a given object is highly subjectiveâ€”something steeped in the momentum of the contemporary art dialectic. One way, then, to attain a sense of success is to become the famous Picasso, to be inducted into the Western Art canon. Or, the more immediate rock star artist option like, say, a Dash Snow type. Or, the shorter-lived 5 minutes of fameâ€¦”Even if youâ€™re a flash-in-the-pan artist,” I remember a professor telling a class, “even if you just get famous for 5 seconds, at least youÂ were famous. At leastÂ that one [painting] mattered. It’s better than nothing.” It’s the “nothing” that I’m interested in: the undefined, highly personal (and maybe less legitimate?) way of recognizing value in one’s work. Because I can’t define that “nothing” alternative, I’ve spent some time thinking through it’s dominant reflection: this whole Famous thing.
In lieu of those thoughts, I asked a series of artists to talk to me about their practices. I began with photographersÂ Melanie Schiff andÂ Jason Lazarus, asking about the gaze of the camera and how photographs memorialize events, or create opportunities to personalize mainstream culture. I then spoke toÂ Young Joon Kwak, about his strategies of assemblage as a means to avoid commodification (oddly enough, he was also a finalist in the infamousÂ SJP artist-reality-TV show), andÂ Irina Botea about reenactment, revolution and film. That first segment of my guest-blogging was about the camera, in some way, or about our relationship to the camera.
My subsequent conversation with Anne Elizabeth Moore functions like a bridgeâ€”her interest inÂ branding, for instance, crosses various mediums, even resisting the traditional “artist” label. She is a publisher, she is an educator and she also happens to make objects. All of her work is about self-empowerment in a context where that empowerment is difficult (if not, some might argue, impossible). Following Anne, I spoke with Brandon Alvendia who, like Moore, investigates self-publishing strategies. That is only one arm of his practice, however and working in different mediums, he locates “the art” primarily in himself. With Deb Sokolow, I asked about the characteristic second person pronoun throughout her workâ€”here I feel like the interview-gaze shifts from Alvendia’s “I” to Sokolow’s, perhaps more aggressive “You.” (Agressive in so far as the audience becomes complicit with her work by reading/engaging in it.) At this point, the interviews start to shift towards an investigation of structure. Tsherin Sherpa talks about his relationship to the history and rigor of Tibetan religious painting, and what it means to step outside of that. He offers interesting reflection on the self, how he negotiates it. Here too, in some way I was surprised that the conversation became about the â€œself.â€ That theme is predominant in these interviews, and though I hadnâ€™t anticipated it, it makes sense. After speaking to him, I interviewed Hiro Sakaguchi, Nadine Nakanishi and Ellen Rothenbergâ€”artists working in very different ways, I was nonetheless especially interested in talking to them about the structure of their work and the places they work within. Hiro works in a museum, paints and teaches, occupying many different scales at once. Nadine boast a pragmatic optimism, running a print shop, participating in a printerâ€™s guild and making her own work. Ellen takes advantage of overlooked portions of structure, in order to co-opt them for her own use. In all instances, the structure is both advantageous (in so far as it creates a context within which to work) and somewhat overbearing, insofar as it establishes standards and taboos. Ultimately I realized my thoughts about celebrity are really questions about structure.
Celebrity is a standard that reflects a structure, or style of thinking. The nothing, is the uncharted wilderness around that structure. Yet, that uncharted â€œwildernessâ€ is actually more real and more vibrant. It is a more familiar context, and in taking time to better consider it, I realize that the fairy tale â€œfameâ€ is actually the curious mistake. Because this whole gamut isnâ€™t really about fame, itâ€™s actually about doing good work, and thinking about the world with critical openness.