More than a whisper in the ear: An interview with Matt Woodward and Linda Warren

January 27, 2011 · Print This Article

GUEST POST BY DAMIEN JAMES

77th Street installation view, each 9.5 x 11 feet. Graphite on paper, 2010.

Days before his solo show closed at Linda Warren Gallery, I briefly met Matt Woodward while he was on his way to the opening of yet another solo show of his work at the Union League Club. Warren had been raving about Matt for weeks, and when I finally made it to her gallery to see for myself, I understood why prior to even stepping inside. From the street through Warren’s window facade, Woodward’s art stood towering and vividly announced itself – nearly ten-foot square graphite drawings – with mastery. The pieces were streaked and smeared, rubbed away and sanded down and even ripped in places, but remained exquisite; each a rough Rorschach blot of the city from which emerged architectural forms, smooth buttery bright curves and repeated patterns that adorn so many of the buildings we walk past everyday. I won’t deny that I was instantly taken by Matt’s work, and I asked Warren how she came to know him.

Linda Warren: Artists that I represent or know at the New York Academy, where Matt had just graduated, told him to get in touch with me when he got back to Chicago, so he did. He sent a very, very polite, like the most polite email submission I’ve ever received, along with some images of his work. It was just weeks before I was printing an invite for a show called Somewhere, Elsewhere and I thought I was set as far as artists to include in that show. But as soon as I saw Matt’s work, I knew it was a perfect fit for the theme. I rarely do group shows, so it was kind of perfect timing to get his work into the gallery. I receive email submissions every day of the week from artists from all over, and it is rare, though it happens, that I respond immediately to work upon first glance.

Damien James: But your first impression of Matt’s art?

Surf Street, 50 x 51 in. Graphite on paper, 2010.

LW: That it was very unique. I had never seen anything like it. And that it was both haunting and mysterious – that it represented something literal but clearly so much more. This was just from an email image…not from talking to him or anything. Anyway, I called him immediately and without further ado, his work was in the show and I continued to be stunned and intrigued by its beauty and ambition.

Warren’s enthusiasm is often contagious, so I convinced Woodward to answer a few questions. Fortunately, he’s as eloquent with words as he is with graphite. Unfortunately, his answers inspire far more questions than can be asked here at the present moment.

Born in upstate New York, Matt moved to Chicago at age 21 to study at the Art Institute, then to the New York Academy of Art for grad school, spending about three years in each city. Since then, his time has been divided between New York and Chicago. Matt’s show at the Union League Club closes February 6th, and in 2012 he’ll be exhibiting at the Chicago Cultural Center. Between now and then, I’m sure you’ll have several opportunities to see his art.

DJ: First, I’d like to know about the process, and then the driving concept behind that process, what it is you’re actually saying?

Matt Woodward: My, those are some loaded questions to start off with. My process is a pretty filthy one, actually. I always start with a blank surface of paper. Usually it’s paper left over from other pieces, or paper that doesn’t fit together neatly so it has to be tiled together or constructed in some way.

And then I begin sanding into the surface. Actually, what I do is not so much sanding into the surface as it is beating the hell out of the surface. I’ll drag whatever I can find across it and throw things at it and generally get into a fight with it until it starts to let go of its face a little and dissolve out. I do this is because of the graphite; the paper is going to record just about everything I do to it, and when I get around to laying the graphite powder down it’s going to sneak into all of these grooves and tears and make what it is I have done to it into a more visible mark. It’s also going to make itself difficult to get out again. And, of course, it’s then that I go about trying to get it out again. I start scraping and sanding and erasing or getting it wet and pulling it out however I can. Sometimes I’ll add more paper to the surface, over the graphite and get back into it and repeat the process.

Eventually what starts to happen is that because the surface remembers just about everything, the paper and marks that have been built up create a kind of document, remembering what I’ve done to it, and all of this adding and removing, this deconstructing and reconstructing is clearly illustrated there. However, what I’m left with, essentially, is a surface covered in a field of graphite. And it’s from this field of graphite that I will start pulling out the image.

DJ: Tell me about that image, about your architecture.

MW: The work isn’t so much about architecture as it is about space and the way architecture, through a relationship with the space it occupies, is capable of forming an impression of time. The images in my work come straight out of the cityscape; they are representational objects, and so they are tangible and therefore form an expression of a given space. Taken in their original context, as public monuments or as symbols of affluence or what have you, they also represent not only a specific space and time, but also a value system.

But I have also deliberately removed them from this context and presented them in such a way that their place in any particular index of ideas which would firmly locate them in history is called into question. In short, I have taken them from where I found them and where you might know them and brought them here to where you may not.

But getting back to the process, I’ve taken these objects, these images and I have put them in the dark, in the graphite bed that I have made for them. And, if you’ll humor my analogy a moment, after this I then begin to pull them back out. I do that by applying light to the object, by erasing the graphite out of the surface. It’s really your traditional reductive drawing, and in this way, I think, reductive drawing has more in common with a sculptural idiom, an architectural idiom than you might expect. I am letting the light of the image, which is the light of the paper – the paper that is buried beneath the graphite – signify the things presence by pulling and carving it out of the surface. It’s very much like a relief.

 

So, the use of reductive drawing in my work really is an attempt to mirror, metaphorically or literally or otherwise, the push and pull of deconstruction and reconstruction that shapes the ever-changing city as we come to know it. The city occupies a particular time, it is constantly ruined and put back together. All the while it is developing a memory of that process. It is recording its own indelible sense of loss. The drawing, then, becomes its own record of the effort it took to get it up there on the wall. Like I said, I have taken these things from where I found them and brought them here, where they mean nothing, essentially, where they depend on a particular history to define them and guide them out of anonymity. I have let whatever history, whatever motivation that put them where I found them begin to disappear. And I have let the meaning fall out of them by doing so. I have suspended them in a moment of unaccountable loss, of dark, bodily grief and in a presentation that confronts these things directly, forwardly.

DJ: It sounds as if we’ve arrived at bedrock. Talk about loss and dark bodily grief.

MW: Firstly, I think I should say that I’ve always been a little weary of the kinds of people who are quick to look down their noses at a thing and call it naive if at the core of it there is an emotive unfurling. If there’s something other than a center sound in conceptualism then they seem suspicious of it. And certainly, I understand how it can be overwhelming, else it seem a little solipsistic, a little insular. However, it’s a disproportion difficult to isolate. And at the same time, I’m immersed in it. Impossibly. These are very personal drawings that I take very seriously, they also happen to be about death in a lot of ways. And how do you talk about death without cheapening it, without watering it into particulars? It’s like fine tuning a little golden spider.

That being said, I’m interested in making work about this theme of loss, about a tremendous alone. What it does to you, how you find it in the world. I’ve spent a lot of time finding it there and I’ve also spent a lot of time looking for a way to emblematize certain things about it, realities against which you can follow or measure or locate certain pretensions of cultural and political upheaval and revival. A revival deliberately located in this absence.

But getting back to all that, yes, the work is specific to a lot of things, and I wouldn’t be very truthful if I said that so much of it isn’t that glaring deafening absence, that it didn’t come out of that first. Or if I didn’t say that at one point I felt compelled to stick a gate in front of someone in such a way that it was flat and so always confronting you; and figurative in that its proportion called the perspective of the body into denial, and the same if I said that I wasn’t trying to make it unclear whether you were inside of or outside of something, wanting to get out or get back in, or that I made it in such a way that you could no more see the thing that contained you here in this nowhere nothing city than you could understand the long historical story of its enfranchisement with the world it came from originally.  A world that seemingly left it behind. That is dead now accept for this, that it’s still here and here with you, drawing the past into the present, drawing you into the past.

They are sleeping. They mean nothing. They were waiting to be replaced before they were considered worth preserving and thus made obsolete in doing so. They are somnambulists and we too are somnambulists. The human world is, indeed, made by us; everything in it is made by us and what we encounter in it is already implicit within ourselves.

I’ve tried to balance it as well as I can on a conceptual platform in order to talk about it without really believing that there is such a thing, such a balance, with anyone. With anyone’s work. I like to believe that it’s possible but I’m not sure. Architecture has been supportive in that respect. But you could take it a step further and say that the work isn’t so much about architecture as it is about the drama of objects. How they represent a kind of hinge between the passing of things, like time, or like ourselves, and into something else. How objects when they’re denied, become people. And in the same way the memory becomes an object when it loses its context, and the world becomes around it. When the memory slips out of the knowing of its history it becomes the hollow shell of the thing it once considered to be sacred and profound.

Portuguese Synagogue, 63 x 59 in. Graphite on paper, 2010.

DJ: I’m curious what first drew your attention to the architectural embellishments? Was there a definitive conscious choice to take these symbols and remove them from their environment? Maybe what I’m really asking for is this: Was there a moment of inspiration, a moment that the idea simply came to you, or was it a more labored exploration full of evolving interpretation?

MW: Definitely the decision came as an organic one at first, out of other ideas out of other labors. So, yes, it has evolved over time and is still evolving. I can’t name any singular event, you would’ve had to have been there, I guess. I walk a lot. I walk everywhere and I’m alone when I do it. And this is what I look at when I’m walking. When I moved here I wasn’t ready for it and so I went out walking around often, trying to find something. I’d get lost for hours. I took these things out of their environment because when I was taken out of mine I was effected greatly. To be honest with you, when I came here I lost touch with something and I spent a lot of time trying to get it back. And when I started making these drawings I wanted to make sure that the documentation I was talking about earlier was there in the work, was visible, present. I hope that’s appreciable. But it wasn’t enough to me that I made them and in making them was saying how I felt about them. There was more.

One summer at the Art Institute I had the chance to take a class with James Yood, who had more to say about architecture than I thought you could possibly say. I took that class simultaneously with another taught by Paul Ashley, and both of these two were about as smothering a pair of minds as you can imagine. Paul was teaching Going to Hell at the time, a class about Dante and Milton and the infernal city and Blake and Sylvia Plath. And I started to gain on this a little. The city repeating everywhere in an arcana table of timelessness, fecund and extending everywhere at once in a way that made it empty and that meant nothing. A maze. Like an illusion. There was nothing there. And I was there in it. Walking. Waiting. Walking like in a giant delusional memory recalling itself, deformed by the redundancy, the repetition of objects. Of language, printed on everything like a mirror and I hadn’t noticed it before. And outside of my apartment was a row of cast iron flowers, like a machine had made them there. They were everywhere. They had been everywhere.

Lincoln Ave, 60 x 81 in. Graphite on paper, 2010.

DJ: Though you’ve removed these architectural fragments from their history by taking them out of the space in which they reside, do you cast your own history into them in some way beyond the act of building and reducing them on paper?

MW: Certainly I change them, I edit them or what have you. I mean, I try to remain as close to the original as possible. I do try to make work that is as indistinguishable from the model as possible, which is what all representational art does. Only in this case, the model isn’t so much Architecture as it is, say, this issue of displacement.

And the kind of displacement I’m trying to represent here is an arranged kind, a kind that produces an equivocal domain somewhere between where I found them and took them from and their place here, in the same way as it was before, only now as this representation. A representation that isn’t the same thing as the object but refers to it, relying on the appropriation of its displacement. So that when you stand in front of them it starts to talk on to you about what it used to say before I put it here in a drawing. That’s what it was made to do. I’m trying to get it to do that again, and I think it does. It’s like hearing a sound when you’re sleeping and it makes its way into your dream. It’s like being able to take the voice out of the face and make it sing again. What does it say if the face, in death, has become part of the head? Like when my dad died I kept calling his voicemail and listening to it. I just kept calling his voicemail and listening to his voice. Only it wasn’t his voice.

DJ: In your experience thus far, I’m curious about the response you’ve heard from others, how people read and interpret the work?

MW: People have responded quite well, actually. They take the work seriously and respond with candor. And I’m very fortunate for that. I get a lot of emails from people just wanting to write and say hello and this is what I think of your work. Which I love. That anyone would put time into writing me is gorgeous, let alone the energy it takes to go about sharing really very thoughtful and complicated and personal emails. It’s befuddling, it befuddles me with gratitude. I went back and forth with an artist in Upstate New York named Dave Dorsey, on whom nothing was lost. In fact, a lot of what we talked about was defining to me; he brought up some things that I wasn’t seeing and I ended up paying closer attention to it and bringing it further into the work. That kind of thing is encouraging and it happens quite often. And I get to work with Linda [Warren], who’s more like a really good friend than a dealer. I trust her. She’s a visionary. She has this incredible way of listening and coming back to you with a profoundly sympathetic and vigilant reception. It’s brilliant. Her attention to detail is inescapable.

DJ: Is the reductive nature of your art something that has manifested – now, in the past, ever? – across other aspects of your life? Is it part of your nature, or strictly relegated to artistic practice?

MW: I think so, certainly. That’s really an interesting question. Yes, there’s very much a rhythm blinking out of it, out of the chiaroscuro difference in ruin to proliferation. I was a terribly impatient painter and ended up making mud out of everything. And what I liked so much about drawing was its ability to bridge how we see the world with what it is we’re actually looking at, how drawing allows recourse to the entirety of a particular episode. And what’s more, I think the record of an artists’ attempting to create something is much more interesting than a record of an artists’ misgivings. And the paper itself provides access to that, it provides that recourse. It refuses to be polished and this unstomaching palimpsest of layers accumulates so that when you see someone like Auerbach insist the drape of skin over a face you know that he could not have painted it that way. If he could have painted it that way he would have painted it that way. And I think that’s really quite important, especially with artists like Auerbach, or even with Kurt Schwitters, or Wyeth. There is an excitable piney down in their drawings and you can see them at a most impossible vulnerability trying to get at it and there’s this lasting molt of ephemera gathered there like debris and brine on the surface. And also not on the surface. Not anywhere.

Look at Kentridge. As if Kentridge in drawing isn’t making loveless indifferent dead tin charcoal men, laid in, taken out, laid in again. Taken back out. Men who at their centers are better machines than children and even better ghosts than machines.

Fuller Street, 54 x 70 in. Graphite on paper, 2010.

DJ: When we spoke at Linda Warren Gallery, you talked about how these architectural ciphers are a kind of forgotten lyric, a music of a particular space and time. Can architecture function as a voice of the people?

MW: “Voice of the people?” Sounds like some kind of a manifesto. I’m not an architect and I’m not qualified as some kind of architectural historian. I’m not trying to be either of those things. I simply have a working wide-eyed and gleeful awe for architecture and for the nature of the city. I think that you can’t help walking through a city and noticing that certain streets, certain neighborhoods are a kind of public, inclusive expression of different and specific stages of human development. You can watch them pour into and anticipate one another, you can see one remembering the last like rows of great, intelligent faces. The activity of their event contained like a ghost in a glass. And all of them seeming to have a preoccupation with symbols. A language of symbols. Symbols upon symbols like a massive, inclusive library in perfect proportion with every philosophical, every religious, every dogmatic block that we position ourselves up on.

So, in terms of a voice of the people, sure, I think if art is a kind of voice coming up out of history and singing, if you will, for humanity, singing into the space that people occupy everywhere, then you might say that architecture is, indeed, the form of that voice, the shape of it, since it’s everywhere people are and since it has been the principle expression of this language contained in the symbol. Furthermore, I think that what is intolerable in life is decorous in art, and in architectures ubiquity you may find that, historically, for every infraction of tolerance there is an underlying shift somehow, there is a dogmatic shift, is there not? I think you could make an argument that there is. There is a building for every shift and for every building there are lyrics, or a language; there is a symbol for that shift. Every building seals in itself the time and the pressures of that time and the people replete with those pressures.

DJ: You take these dead flourishes and emblematize loss and death through them, and though the nature of the work itself is reductive, the scale turns these flourishes into monuments, grand works of aloneness. I love the overwhelming scale you work in, and I’m curious if it relates directly to the size of your own entrenched consideration of absence, aloneness, loss? And is this absence something you can talk about?

MW: I’m glad you pointed that out, the idea that the work is reductive but, in contrast, will fill a room. There’s a lot of that in the work. Definitely the scale is something I take personally. The scale but, furthermore, the repetition of things at that scale. They work in service of one another. There’s a relationship between them that engages, tacitly, this issue of absence. Of loss. In having done something again, tried it again, why is there a swallowing ‘again’?

There’s a kind of portent that arises with repetition. And I think this is essential to the work. There’s an anticipation in repeating something, as if it will, naturally, be repeated again. A waiting for it to repeat again, to return to repeating itself. Like a machine or a pattern locked so deeply in place it doesn’t know it’s there. If it’s there at all, having forgotten the name of the world that put it there. It presents a kind of impasse, it either will or will not repeat itself again, since that’s what it clearly wants to do and hasn’t done. That impasse, in terms of scale, becomes literal here. I mean to seriously confront the viewer in their space, physically confront them in the crushing powdering dim. And stuck in this meantime, it calls into question memory, the memory of a city or person or both, working in tandem, which is what we were talking about earlier. I’m presenting the event of an archetype, an archetype confirmed in its repetition and stimulated by the viewers relationship to that archetype.

State Street installation view, each 100 x 88 in. Graphite on paper, 2010.

And at this perspective it rather earnestly calls to attention the absurdity in making monuments for monuments. And there again is a contrast, commemoration and denial. I mean, thinking of the key each confirms his prison. Anyway, I think what is important here is this intersection. Certainly; this impasse presented. And history and everything in it belongs to that intersection. The gloamy static memory of having died in a place that still remembers you everywhere. The work, having called on its own place in history, also calls on the epitomes of every person since they belong to that history, too. And there nothing happens, until you are aware of it, aware of this impasse, then you are waiting in it.

DJ: You mention vulnerability and displacement, and I can’t help but wonder if your art is about a certain vulnerability in yourself as well, if it nests somewhere in an attempt to find a home?

MW: Am I casting about for that? I think you’d have to have loved me in order for me to answer. I think if you’re talking about vulnerability as a kind of subject matter that’s there – that’s there in the work because in making it I am susceptible to it – then I think you’re on to something else. And, yes, I agree with you, there’s certainly something in what I’ve been saying or something present in the work that alludes to this. To vulnerability.

As an issue of subject, I think, if it’s something that’s always there then this is something you take with you and, indeed, try and apply somewhere else. Home; exile; you take it with you like a device and you commence things with it. Like turning people into places. Into a value gathering and borrowing somewhere between being temporary and being indifferent. Like home to house. Hydra to head to head to.

And somewhere in there is this vulnerability, coming up, prompting itself. Whether you’d like it to or not, it’s there. Procuring the doubtful Pygmallion.

So, in this case, if the subject is this occasion, if you will, the occasion in Vulnerability, then it’s probably something you’ve had in you to make art about, beyond the need to make art and make it with trivial subject matter. And it’s probably something that began long before art making had anything to do with anything. And with me, the better I’ve gotten at looking at it, the better I’ve gotten at looking right at it – vulnerability or not vulnerability, absence or not absence – the better I’ve gotten at being able to trace it against certain contexts. It may even be that locating it in certain contexts is the occasion that more completely designs the content. The two correcting obsessively. You’re hydra again.

Like I said; leaving. The tax in leaving and having become alone in doing so and it your home thereafter until you forget or leave. Having lost something in doing it. But, then again, the ear you’re whispering in might be your own.




Top 5 Weekend Picks! (12/10-12/12)

December 8, 2010 · Print This Article

Select Media Festival 9: Infoporn II Exhibition & BYOB (Bring your own Beamer) at Co-Prosperity Sphere

Select Media Festival 9: Infoporn II Exhibition includes work by work by Tom Burtonwood, Dayton Castleman, Caleb Charland, Jeremiah Chiu, The Center for Urban Pedagogy, Column Five Media, Theodore Darst, Louis Doulas, David A. Garcia, Firebelly Design, Francesco Franchi, Cody Hudson, Gary Kachadourian, Derek Lerner, The New City Reader Classifieds project by Kazys Varnelis and Joseph Grima & others, MaTeVoS, Serifcan Ozcan, The Present Group, The PMIRL library Infoporn Collection, Adam Lonczynski, Adam Lonczynski and Joshua Clarfelt.

Opening is Friday night from 8pm – 1am. $6

BYOB (Bring your own Beamer): “We take down the Infoporn II exhibition and leave the gallery walls blank for use in Chicago’s first Bring Your Own Beamer (BYOB) event. BYOB is a series of exhibitions hosting artists and their projectors. Started by Berlin-based Rafaël Rozendaal, we are excited to host the Chicago version during SMF9. Please show up with a projection source and a projector.”

BYOB is Sunday night from 6pm – 10pm. FREE

Co-Prosperity Sphere is located at 3219 S Morgan St.

2. While What Waits at ROOMS Productions

The second performance of While What Waits featuring performers Holly Bittinger, Erin Briddick, Veronica Bruce, Jim Dee, Chad Duda, Aaron Gang, Danielle Lavoy, Gino Marconi, Vince McClelland, Katy Nielsen, Rebecca Pyles, Christopher Smith, Jackie Sestak, James Strzelinski, and Adam Todd.

ROOMS Productions is located at 1835 S. Halsted St. Performance is Friday from 7-10pm.

3. A Loss Like the Rome of Waiting at Linda Warren Gallery

Work by Matthew Woodward. Jennifer Presant: Surface Tension in the project room.

Linda Warren Gallery is located at 1052 W. Fulton Mkt. Reception is Friday from 6-9pm.

4. Wet Affairs at Swimming Pool Project Space -

Work by Jesse Butcher.

Swimming Pool Project Space is located at 2858 W. Montrose Ave. Reception is Saturday from 6-9pm.

5. Melodie Provenzano and Rachel Hovnanian at Carrie Secrist Gallery

Two still life painters showing minimally colored works.

Carrie Secrist Gallery is located at 835 W. Washington. Reception is Saturday from 4-7pm.




Falling with Lora Fosberg

July 26, 2010 · Print This Article

GUEST POST BY DAMIEN JAMES

Great art shows always seem to find me. I don’t really check the listings or catch the buzz, but if it’s a show I’m meant to see, it somehow happens and I don’t like to think too much about the mechanism at work which makes this possible – whether it’s “fate,” blindness,  or happenstance – for fear that I’ll lose that mechanism. Sometimes the right person will give me the tip or I’ll be wandering around and just fall into a room full of amazing. Regardless, when I do find my way into such a show, it leaves an often indelible mark on me. Lora Fosberg’s show at Linda Warren Gallery is no exception.

(Nice preamble, right?)

Liza Berkoff, a photographer whose work is worth your attention (I’ve been watching for a while now and it’s been fun), told me about the show. She conspiratorially stated – through email, if that’s possible – that she was collaborating with Lora on three pieces.  “I am beside myself excited,” Liza typed. I asked if I could visit the gallery while Liza and Lora were installing, and the answer – again via email – was given as  “‘yes’ with exclamation points.”

On the scheduled day, I walked into the gallery and met more people than I expected. The music was turned up and there was food and it felt very relaxed, like walking into an intimate party with friends you just know have some fascinating piece of information to impart since you last saw them. Then you remember that they are mostly strangers, so you hope they have something fascinating to say because you’ve volunteered to spend time with them. Lora Fosberg was installing the final piece, you can’t fall off the floor, and Liza, along with Forsberg’s paramour and the incredibly competent staff of Linda Warren were helping. Warren herself was there to offer a sort of moral support and occasional direction.

Lora Fosberg building you can’t fall off the floor.

After introductions, Berkoff showed me the collaborations. All three were made with some kind of rare equilibrium which allowed each artist to completely state themselves without losing clarity. Liza’s black and white photographs are of buildings and streets given to the kind of quiet ruin we imagine our future to be made of in darker moments, dizzyingly recognizable and Cormac McCarthy-esque. On those photos, Fosberg painted and collaged her own colors and variations, wryly balancing on a tightrope between pessimism and its inverse.

Lora Fosberg and Liza Berkoff, dare to fail, 2010, gouache and collaged digital photograph on paper.

dare to fail is a gray cityscape with brightly painted billboards advertising the ideas of truth and belief, all set against a chaotic sky full of searchlights. i fall in love every day and yes can be such a surprise are quieter gestures from Fosberg, but those gestures imply a narrative between the two photographs which allow us to project limitless meanings into the work. Her collaged paper on the photos feel like satellite transmissions emanating directly from the brains of the solitary men in each photo. Maybe they connect or mingle in space or maybe they miss each other by light years; either direction is worth considering for it’s social implications. (Or just admire how great they look.) One leads to the hope for connection and the other to empty space. Berkoff’s work has often been aimed at some iteration of that empty space, which contrasts curiously well with Fosberg’s spark for filling it.

Lora Fosberg and Liza Berkoff, yes can be such a surprise (top) and i fall in love every day (bottom), 2010, gouache, collage, and photograph on paper.

Liza and I walked through the whole gallery for a cursory look before getting back to Fosberg’s installation. Everyone had already resumed the banter that had been going before I interrupted with my entrance, and that banter seemed to almost propel Forberg as she paced along the wall to finish her piece, never missing a beat in the conversation though acutely focused on the task at hand. The energy of the whole group seemed to be hyper-focused on one single point in the gallery: Fosberg’s hands as she made – or remade, rather – you can’t fall off the floor.

Watching Lora work, the thought struck me that she might actually see the world in terms of flowing energy. Not in some Oprah-endorsed-“Secret”-or-“Dr. Phil”-The Forum- pop-psychology-Ponzi-scheme-seeming-Church-of-Scientology sort of way, though. Rather, that she understands the way we connect and uses her own expressive energy to do just that; you can even see it in her posture. She’s a walking “fuck yes” of cellular awareness.

“It’s all about flow,” Fosberg said. “Nothing can be preconceived or preplanned. It just has to happen.”

And it does. She walks back and forth before a 14-foot assemblage for hours, rarely taking her eyes more than a few inches away from the surface while looking at thousands of shapes and shades and sizes of paper to be pressed down with adhesive goo, each paper strip covered in words and strange scrawls which upon focus reveal themselves to be little vaginas and penises, breasts and severed heads, random thoughts, lyrics, and bits of collected conversation and spare words which chaotically make their rounds through Fosberg’s internal processor. But taken in together – while watching her flow and receive and transmit – the thousands of parts which make up you can’t fall off the floor speak with each other, a breathing and moving organ. The piece practically blushes at you from a distance a la Robert Irwin.

“It’s all current, you know, everything I’ve been thinking about for the last year. And I’ve been so stuck on 80’s art. Warhol and Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, I just can’t get enough of it,” Fosberg said as she filled in the lower right corner of the collage. Nothing about the work feels retro, however. It’s as tied to the present moment as Lora Fosberg is. “I want to cover the Guggenheim with this. Think big, right? It can just go on and on. It’s a piece that will never be finished.” you can’t fall off the floor is a different work every time it’s installed, which means, among other things, that it will always surprise you.

“I need more boobs!” she emphatically announced as she leaned over the table covered in pieces still waiting to go up. Everyone began looking through the strips of paper for the elusive little drawings while chuckling and cracking wise for a moment. Then there was a discernable change in atmosphere as the boobs eluded discovery, which made me realize just how much everyone wanted to please the artist. I myself considered joining the search, interested only the progress of the installation. Fosberg shrugged it off, though, refusing to lose momentum. I’m sure she knew they would turn up, despite the hundreds of pieces to sift through over the course of the evening. Occasionally pieces were discarded, having been found incorrect in some way, either with unintentionally elided words or spelling errors, and dropped in a box-top beneath the table. There weren’t many, maybe a dozen give or take, and I only actually saw one with a misspelling, which I found just as interesting as those deemed wall-worthy. Were those discarded pieces ever to be resuscitated as a collage of their own, I might argue that you could, in fact, fall off the floor.

Fosberg’s prints and paintings and collages simply work. Sure sure, it’s great art and maybe that’s all that really needs to be said. You should see it and have your own experience with it, give some time to it, get close and look at the individual lines and where they intersect. Look at the tiny roll of toilet paper she draws on if it’s heavy, put it down, a modern Atlas not yet ready to shrug off the planet-sized ball of everyday objects crushing down on bent back and stooped shoulder. And the stacks of records and books and furniture and boxes which make up the refuse-laden sprawl of 10,000 different versions of myself. It’s like a tribal tattoo of stuff, manmade objects which only have the meaning we give them and only for as long as we allow. We can see ourselves there as well. There are so many little details to see and each one is ready to soak up your stories by offering you excerpts of Fosberg’s stories, beginnings and ends, fragmented middles, threads waiting to be picked up and carried indefinitely.

Lora Fosberg, 10,000 different versions of myself, 2009, gouache on paper.

“I found them,” said Dain, an employee of the gallery, holding up a piece of paper no larger than a half-inch square with breasts drawn on it. There were cheers.

So many different things have been said about Lora Fosberg’s work; that it confronts our nearly gleeful destruction of nature, how it wittily illustrates our cognitive dissonance and invites the sharing of personal narratives, or that it asks us to engage with ourselves and with the artist, all of which ring true. It’s highly interpretable work which also happens to be beautiful to look at. But not much has been said about being around Lora Fosberg, which is why you’re not reading the standard-issue boilerplate “art review” here. You can get that in pretty much anywhere else you go for reviews. I just don’t want to read theory right now. I’d rather have the experience.

Regardless of how alluring, provocative or simply gorgeous her work may be, I’ve been leaning toward the idea that the real beauty and genius of art occurs in the making of art rather than in the exhibition of it; that the quiet and laborious and countless hours of creation are where the true brilliance resides. (No, I don’t think I’m the first to have ever thought such a thing.) And spending time with Fosberg while she remade her massive collage of concentrated and effusive thoughts gave that idea some real flesh for me. I asked her if this was how things simply were for her, a constant party with her posse? “No, this is the fun part, the sort of crazy social outcome of making art. The rest of the time I’m alone, sitting there just writing and painting, in total solitude.” Plucking our stories out of the air, putting them on paper and turning them into art. you can’t fall off the floor is the inevitable social outcome of Fosberg’s greatness.

There will be an artist’s talk at Linda Warren Gallery on Tuesday, July 27th, from 5 to 7:30pm. With Chris Cosnowski, whose show Apocolypse is in the project space. Conrad Freiburg will also be on hand performing music inspired by the art. 1052 West Fulton Market.

All images courtesy of Linda Warren Gallery and Liza Berkoff.




Top 5 Picks! (3/5-3/7)

March 4, 2010 · Print This Article

1. Containers at DIG

A space over by Monument 2, DIG looks like it could be a new place we all might want to start going to. As usual, it is hard to tell from the photos what the actual work will be (when it’s 3-D), but the light box Rorschach thing going on looks interesting. What to see a “new” place (new to me at least)? Head on over.

DIG is located at 2003 N Point #3. Reception is Friday from 6-9pm.

2. Anatomy in the Gallery at The International Museum of Surgical Science

Now, I will admit a “conflict of interest” here (if you believe in those), I am good friends with Annie Heckman. Now that the formalities are taken care of, HOLY CRAP, these shows are going to be awesome. I’ve known Annie’s work for a while now, and saw Lauren Kalman’s work at, I think, SOFA. Heckman’s exibit is called “You thought that you were alone but I caught your bullet just in time,” and Kalman’s is called “Blooms, Efflorescence, and Other Dermatological Embellishments.” Glow-in-the-dark bones and skin rashes made of precious stones? How can you go wrong?

The International Museum of Surgical Science is located at 1524 N. Lake Shore Dr. Reception is Friday from 5-8pm.

3. Twelve Hundred Miles Down the Street at Linda Warren Gallery

I think I’m attracted to this work because it reminds me of my own photography, in a weird, round-about way. Depressed places rendered formally for contemplation, I guess you could say. I am generally a lover of Linda Warren’s place, and this looks like another good show for the books. All the paintings in Twelve Hundred Miles are by Joseph Noderer. Michael Stillion will be showing in the Project Space.

Linda Warren Gallery is located at 1052 W. Fulton Market St. Reception is Friday from 6-9pm.

4. Carnival of Curiosity at Holy Mountain

You ever heard of Holy Mountain? I hadn’t until earlier this week. For those of you new to it, Holy Mountain is a women-owned BDSM Studio in the West Loop.  And I quote, “Carnival of Curiosity is intended to bring a new audience into an environment they might not otherwise explore, and to showcase the talents of a collective of Pro Dominas who already contribute to Chicago’s artistic zeitgeist in their own ways.” Sounds like a party to me!

Holy Mountain is located at 120 N. Green. Reception is Friday from 6-9pm.

5. The Strange Case of William Mumler at The Renaissance Society

Spirit photography is rad! Now Louis Kaplan from the University of Toronto will be discussing the work of one the most famous, William Mumler. And I quote, “As Kaplan’s case study of William Mumler shows, faith in the truth-telling abilities of photography has always been accompanied by skepticism about the objectivity of the photographer. Beginning in the early 1860s, Mumler became famous in Boston and New York for taking “spirit photographs” in which ghostly images of departed family members or friends appear in portraits of living subjects.” Hooray for ghosts!

The Renaissance Society is located at 5811 S. Ellis Ave. The lecture will be held Sunday in  Swift Hall, Room 106 at 2pm.