At the Headwaters: An Interview with Lindsey French, A. Laurie Palmer, Sarah Ross, and Gulsah Mursaloglu

August 10, 2016 · Print This Article

At the Headwaters, Petcoke piles along the Calumet, photograph by Koy Suntichotinun, 2016. Photo courtesy of artists.

At the Headwaters, Petcoke piles along the Calumet, photograph by Koy Suntichotinun, 2015. Photo courtesy of artists.

Last winter, I had the chance to interview Lindsey French, Gulsah Mursaloglu, Sarah Ross, and A. Laurie Palmer, about a collaborative exhibition they participated in with artists and students at the Marshall J. Gardner Center for the Arts in Gary, Indiana. Featuring maps, photographs, videos, and books, At The Headwaters (November 6-22, 2015) explored the Calumet River—a series of highly industrialized waterways connecting Lake Michigan, Chicago, and Indiana. With its French Colonial name and a directional flow that humankind has changed to serve its trading needs over the years, it muddles any delineation between culture and nature. The Calumet is Anthropocenic and At The Headwaters traces its relationship to petcoke, steel, international trade, and the pollution it produced.

Caroline Picard: What made you all interested in the Calumet River? How did you decide to work with students?

Lindsey French: We were interested particularly in it as the site of petcoke deposits, a petroleum by product that was being stored open air along the Calumet River. When we decided to choose this site last fall, petcoke was in the news, and as we learned more, its reach spread not just airborne to the local community, but its effect and implication extended to sites like the Alberta Tar Sands and ourselves and the petroleum industry, of course. We also chose this site for balloon mapping because balloon mapping affords the potential to capture a map of a place in a particular moment of time – distinguishing it from a more standard, or maybe public, view from google earth. So while pet coke might have drawn us to the site, we were also interested in the Calumet’s particular as complicated role as an industrial river.

Gulsah Mursaloglu: Also we were interested in the Calumet river as a site that is so proximate to us, but one that we know very little about. In a way it was an attempt to fill one of the holes in our knowledge about the environment that surrounds us.As we started researching we became more interested in the pet coke deposits and how it was affecting the local community. Since Calumet is a particularly dynamic site as Lindsey said it became important to capture an image of the site at that specific moment in time.

A. Laurie Palmer: The Calumet also offers a condensed and multi-sensory experience of industrial history more generally, as others have said, at a particular point in time when it is disappearing, or has disappeared, leaving the mounds of jumbled parts, wastes, and abandoned steel yards now used for storage for another kind of materiality that is not so much human-made, as in manufactured, but machine-made, as in captured flue gas, pulverized coke. While none of us wanted to do ruin tourism, there is something to be said about the stimulating effects of a cold boat-ride on a clear november day with close to 70 curious people; there is something to be said about amping up sensory engagement even as the experience was initiated as a critical practice of DIY sensing, and of putting ones body there, in the thick of it, holding onto the other end of the balloon.

CP: Can you describe the project and how it came about? Why make an exhibition? How did the works on display come into existence for this project?

GM: The project started as a balloon mapping collaboration between three classes at SAIC. Our initial aim was to have a different perspective of the site through the balloon mapping process; all of the classes were interested in how we understand geographies and how our understanding of these geographies are so much determined by our limited visions. After our research and balloon mapping experience on the Calumet river and the things that we learned through conversations with the community members we wanted to present these findings in the format of an exhibition. We wanted this exhibition to be presented in Miller Beach which is one of the sites that are affected by the petcoke deposits and we wanted to share our findings and present a different vision on the location to the local community. The works in the exhibition vary from documentation of our boat trip to knitted maps, to  the balloon which was the departure point to everything, to works that are made after the boat trip as a reflection to our trip and findings.

At the Headwaters, Class portrait from the balloon, 2016. Photo courtesy of artists.

At the Headwaters, Class portrait from the balloon, 2016. Photo courtesy of artists.

CP: Would you consider the river a collaborator? How? And do you consider the river in the same way now that you did when you began?

LF: The river is perhaps the element in this project with the strongest, or maybe most consistent, influence. But strong and consistent in a more liquid sense, in the sense that it was a structural force that moved between the industrial sites on each bank and moved us between those sites. But also in the sense that it was this strong, central feature that shaped our understanding of the project, and also allowed us to think about its influence as it leaked out of this site and into neighborhoods, into the city, into the tar sands in Alberta, into us as inextricable from the materials it moved and the social and political spaces it shaped. As we were discussing how to organize the show the river as a structural feature came about really early, a form around which everything else was organized. Speaking for myself here, I think if we didn’t approach it as collaborators we might not have been as open to understanding our own liquid qualities.

Sarah Ross: I would just add that, for me, the river is a collaborator in the same way that a freeway is. The river is a highway for goods, raw materials, and only sometimes used for recreation. In this way, it is an ecosystem in the most broad sense. It is part of my ecosystem because it facilitates all manner of materials that I use. Other work I’ve done looks at river systems that move materials so I understood the way ‘natural’ features are part of industrial systems. But moving down the Calumet it was pretty amazing. The river was engineered and modeled for industry. The turning basins, concrete embankments, and lack of trees or marsh was pretty astonishing. It is all industrial.

AtTheHeadwaters1

CP: What privilege does/did the boat offer you all? And what about the balloon?

LF: The boat afforded this particular opportunity to travel while mapping. In earlier projects, mapping was done from a relatively static location. On the boat, we could move along the length of the river, generating an aerial view for a much longer length of the Calumet. Maybe even more significantly, it located us in the physical position of the river, and of the materials that travel down it. We could momentarily position ourselves as materials traveling the industrial river. The balloon gave us an extension of sight, an augmentation of vision, like other lens-based viewing apparati. We talked a lot about the balloon vision—the lo-fi but high-altitude perspective of the balloon.

ALP: and just to add to that, again, our bodies there too, being watched by the balloon too – not absent staring at a screen in a distant relation to the place being mapped—but feeling, smelling, sensing the place at the same time.

CP: How do your roles as teachers/students function within the process of organizing and producing this exhibition?

SR: We met with students over the summer, almost on a monthly basis to figure out how the show could work. Since we had collectively gathered data—images, video, sound, etc.,—we used that as the basis for the work. We thought of the work as a collaborative endeavor, which might be a different starting point for some students who are often encouraged to make their own work, for their own portfolio, etc. But since it was a huge group effort to do the balloon mapping, it only made sense to approach the work in this way. As teachers, we contributed the same way students did, sometimes more and sometimes less. We acted as initiators of the process, we set meeting dates, etc. but the production was quite an open, dialogic process.

ALP: To do the balloon mapping expedition, we had to be collaborative to start with, and since so much of the material generated from that initial trip was documentary, and it was shared experience that was being documented if by lots of different eyes, it only made sense to think together about the show. And then we invited other artists to join in at Miller Beach, some whom we knew had already been involved with thinking about the rivers in Chicago and related environmental justice questions.

At the Headwaters, 1. Aerial view along the calumet, 2016. Photo courtesy of artists.

At the Headwaters, 1. Aerial view along the calumet, 2016. Photo courtesy of artists.

CP: It sounds like you all are interested in a kind of mapping for this show. Is that true and if so, can you talk about how/why that impulse plays out in this project?

GM: Since everything started with the idea of balloon mapping—having a different perspective on a site—we wanted the idea of mapping to be the framework for the show. We knitted digital maps from  the images we have gathered through the balloon. We are interested in mapping as  a way of representing a space/location; because it is  a particular way that grants the maker agency and creativity. A map of the Calumet river that will be built in 3-d will act as a spine through the exhibition, both physically and conceptually. This format allows us as creative makers to both represent our findings and observations and reflect on it.   

ALP: That map or spine that structures the show was beautifully elaborated and manifested by Lindsey French’s current Experimental Geographies class, a group of students who weren’t even on the original boat trip. This was another kind of collaboration, their taking that idea and running with it. The idea of the map came in part because the exhibition space at Miller beach is so huge, and it is rare to have the opportunity to expand into such a large space. The map acts as a kind of locator for visitors, in an otherwise open space, providing potential paths, directions, way-finding, and complicating the space without putting up vertical barriers.

At the Headwaters featured the work of Marissa Lee Benedict, Nathan Braunfield, Samantha Chao, duskin drum, Corey Hagelberg, Brian Holmes, Sarah Lewison, Frances Emma Lightbound, Gulsah Mursaloglu, Thomas Newlands, Allyson Packer, Dan Peterman, Alix Shaw, Koy Suntichotinun, Jan Tichy, Fereshteh Toosi, Maurice Walker, Patrick Zapien, and students in KnowledgeLab, EcoSensing and the Soundscape, and Experimental Geographies classes at SAIC; with organizers Lindsey French, A. Laurie Palmer, and Sarah Ross.




Top 5 Weekend Picks! (5/8-5/10)

May 7, 2015 · Print This Article

1. After Today at Gallery 400

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Work by Lorelei Stewart and featuring artists Marianne Fairbanks, Fultonia, 96 Acres, Jason Lazarus, Cauleen Smith, Jan Tichy, and Amanda Williams.

Gallery 400 is located at 400 S. Peoria St. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.

2. Song of the Summer at Roman Susan

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Work by Maddie Reyna.

Roman Susan is located at 1224 W. Loyola Ave. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.

3. Oh! Oh! Oh! at PeregrineProgram

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Work by Kelly Kaczynski.

PeregrineProgram is located at 3311 W. Carroll Ave. Reception Sunday, 1-4pm.

4. A House of Dust at Heaven Gallery

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Work by Marissa Lee Benedict and Phil Peters.

Heaven Gallery is located at 1550 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception Friday, 7-11pm.

5. Láldish at Ordinary Projects

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Work by Noelle Garcia.

Ordinary Projects is located at 2233 S. Throop St. 5th Fl. Reception Saturday, 6-9pm.




Top 5 Weekend Pics! (2/27-3/1)

February 26, 2015 · Print This Article

1. Future Proof at LODGE

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Curated by Phil Peters, with work by Sarah and Joseph Belknap, Marissa Lee Benedict, Liz Ensz, Parsons & Charlesworth, David Reuter, Manuel Rodriguez, Jiyoung Yoon.

LODGE is located at 1850 S. Blue Island Ave. Reception Saturday, 6-9pm.

2. Nacelle at Blanc Gallery

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Work by Margo G. Ferrari.

Blanc Gallery is located at 4445 S. Martin Luther King Dr. Reception Saturday, 6-9pm.

3. Five Steps to Hell with Poverty at Defibrillator Gallery

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Work by Dao Nguyen and Tom Friel.

Defibrillator Gallery is located at 1463 W. Chicago Ave. Closing event Saturday, 7pm.

4. Techno at Night Club

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Work by Paul Levack.

Night Club is located at 2017 W. Moffat St. Reception Friday, 7-9pm.

5. Red & Cyan 3D Anaglyph at Degenerate Art Gallery

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Work by Sasha Andruzheychik, Matt Wojtan, Christopher Schneberger, Brian Hofmeister, Nestor Photo, Philip Hughes-Luing, and more.

Degenerate Art Gallery is located at 5554 N. Winthrop St. Reception Saturday, 7-10pm.




EDITION #39

October 27, 2014 · Print This Article

Arnold Johnson as Putney Swope.

Comedian Shows Funny Movie

Yesterday afternoon we took a trip to the new Black Cinema House space on 72nd and Kimbark to see the 1969 film, Putney Swope. The screening featured an introduction by comedian, Wyatt Cenac, who was wearing a knit sweater like you wouldn’t believe. Cenac’s choice for the screening felt uncanny in the gorgeous new home of the Johnson Publishing House archives, including a very 1970’s light up table from their offices.

BCH Program Manager, Penny Duff, introduces the film with Wyatt Cenac.

After the film was over a robust discussion started on the reception of the film when it was originally released, Robert Downey’s dubbing of Arnold Johnson’s voice, blacksploitation films, hip hop history, education and possible proscriptions for current day cultural production.

Cenac was an excellent moderator, letting others direct the conversation. Amongst other insightful contributions, Pemon Rami, Chicago’s first black casting director and the current Director of Educational & Public Programming at the DuSable Museum, discussed his impressions of the film having seen it in ’69 and again Sunday at the Black Cinema House (he mentioned he was fazed by the “buffoonery” on his recent viewing).

Black Cinema House is hosting more great programming at their beautiful brand spanking new space throughout the rest of the year, including hosting experimental filmmaker Akosua Adoma Owusu on November 14th. Check out their calendar of events here.

Reading is Fundamental

  • Chloé Griffin presents Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller. Tomorrow night get yourself to Quimby’s to see and hear one of our favorite local writers, Britt Julious discussing the life and legacy of actress, Cookie Mueller, with author Chloé Griffin. Tuesday, 7PM at Quimby’s. Free, our favorite flavor.
  • Inside Views: Micro Publishing at Spudnik Press. Featuring artists Charlie Megna, Veronica Siehl and April Sheridan and the The Perch, this Wednesday evening event is a no-brainer for lovers of community based art making and publications (like ourselves). We’d be loathe not to mention the world premiere of the short animations of Fred Sasaki’s & Fred Sasaki’s Four Pager Guide to: How to Fix You!. The Sasaki guides are already killer, and the film promises to knock you off your socks (and to fix you, of course!). Don’t forget to RSVP!
  • Fred Sasaki’s “Table of Value” prep for Wednesday. Stolen from the writer’s instagram account.
  • What is a work of art in the age of $120,000 art degrees? Sometimes trends are actually important and right now, statistics are #trending. If you haven’t seen the BFAMFAPHD video report yet, let us help you get up to speed. Watch the video, then listen to B@S interview Caroline Wollard. You should probably also read Abigail Satinsky’s questioning “Who Pays Artists?” and possibly also this statistics filled response from the Washington Post. Caught up? Ok, great. Now let’s do the damn thing!
  • We’re pretty sure you know what Mexico-based artist Andrew Birk is talking about in his comment above. But if not, here are the pieces on Grabner and Prince. Talk amongst yourselves.
  • A Poet on Drake’s Poetics. So you know it must be true. Read Dorothea Lasky’s ode to Drake, where she sings the praises of his direct address on the occasion of the Canadian actor turned something like a rapper’s birthday. We feel you, Dorothea. But if you’re looking for some “real” poetry, check out her killer new book of poems, ROME.

The Weatherman Report

Sunday Thoughts by Clay Hickson from the artist’s tumblr.

Happy Dog Resurrects for Film Release

Talk about a #tbt. When was the last time you visited Happy Dog? The former SAIC party rocking spot is way cleaner than you remember and the bathrooms have upgraded from their former horror-movie quality. Oh, and they hosted last Saturday night’s extravaganza for the DVD & VHS release of Lindsay Denniberg’s Video Diary of a Lost Girl.

Monica Panzarino’s video installation featuring Erica Gressman. Photo by Mikey McParlane.

The evening started with performances by Denniberg and self-surgery maven Erica Gressman aka Boogita. The space was scattered with video installations by Monica Panzarino on stacks of TV screens throughout. Happy Dog’s head dog, William Amaya Torres, had gigantic inverse prints of what appeared to be sketchbook pages installed throughout the house. We hadn’t seen work from Amaya Torres since our days at SAIC together. His prints were bold and appealing, they also had the benefit of darkening the space for the screening.

Alongside VDoaLG in the program was first year UIC MFA, Jimmy Schaus, with a 16 minute short titled Kangaroo. Schaus is the protagonist in the surreal dream scape of a film, which vacillates between the main character’s boring everyday life and the business casual demons who haunt him. Kangaroo impressively manages to riff on VHS effects and color distortion without being cheesy. We hope to see more from this budding filmmaker in the near future.

The world premiere of Kangaroo by James Schaus.

Video Diary of a Lost Girl looked better than ever Denniberg’s handmade VHS packages. We highly recommend getting your hands one of these beauts, even if, like us, you don’t have a VHS player. Yes, they are that cute. We’re not really sure where they’re available aside from in-person, but the filmmaker’s website is probably a good start.

T around Town

We loved this exhibition by Daniel Arnold in Paris London Hong Kong, that’s the Billy Goat Tavern in the photo!

The current crop of Art Admin MAs at SAIC hosted mural making an other arts & crafts at the Logan Square Comfort Station just outside of the penultimate neighborhood farmer’s market.

Greg Stimac and his coy grin at his Document opening on Friday night. We’re so in to those we’re gun sculptures that look kind of like legs!

Sense of déjà vu overwhelming at photo exhibition.

We’re not really sure how, but Paul Germanos (the man with the camera and the motorcycle) somehow managed to assemble an impressive array of artists and makers for his exhibition at Antena Gallery in Pilsen last Friday night. Artist sat casually under photos of themselves, and as participators ourselves WTT? couldn’t help by snap a few re-takes.

Marissa Lee Benedict and David Rueter pose in front of themselves at Antena.

Daviel Shy and Hope Esser creatively interpret their photo on the wall. Cute!

Erik Wenzel does the Wenzel in front of his small likeness in the corner.




EDITION #17

September 9, 2013 · Print This Article

Fall already freaking jam packed with openings

It’s official, Chicago artists are back from their residencies and vision quests and it is time for the fall gallery season. Inaugurated this weekend with about a million openings from River North to the ‘burbs and back again, we’re still reeling. Here are some photos while we iron out our thoughts:

Oh, this brave new art world! We didn’t know QR codes could actually do something but this interactive curiosity greets you at the entrance to Technoromanticism, a strictly new media show curated by Alfredo Salazar-Caro at Jean Albano Gallery on Friday night.

Performance finally showed some skin at the second iteration of THIS IS NOW A MAGAZINE: Dwyer/Fraccaro/Wylie in Logan Square last week. Things were anything but comfortable at the Comfort Station during a performance using CAM4 and something having to do with Buffalo Bill that we wish we could erase.

This pink combo stole our heart at LVL’s opening for Quandry on Saturday night.

Volume Gallery debuted their completely amazing and beautiful renovated space on Friday night with a show by Jonathan Muecke. Despite all the new space (or maybe because of it) the gallery was totally packed. This photo is from SightUnseen


Tyson Reeder’s opening at Peregrine Program celebrated some of Club Nutz greatest hits, and reminded us that we need to hit the beach one last time before fall!

Sterling Lawrence was super conceptual and all, but we thought these Alain Biltereyst pieces at Devening Projects + Editions were cute in a good way and would fit way better in my studio apartment.

Also, this?!

Reading is Fundamental

  • Cave of Lascaux blows everyones mind:
    Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux at the Field Museum closed this weekend and if you didn’t make it we are truly sorry. This show had more new media than the SAIC BFA exhibition and we swear those cave paintings could be hanging in Shane Campbell and no one would bat an eye. We would go into greater detail, but fortunately for you, dear reader, Daniel Baird’s already wrote a piece on the exhibition and it is awesome. Who knew that ancient cave paintings were so totally superficial? Totes recommend you read it, we’ve been using Dan’s ideas to sound smart at openings all weekend.
  • Woman makes strong case for ladies:
    In case you couldn’t tell, WTT? loves the ladies, and we couldn’t be more excited to see the rest of the art world catching on. One lady show opened up this weekend with two to follow next week at Heaven and at the Frogman Gallery. “Lady Painters” curator, Gwendolyn Zabicki, sent us a hot tip on some required reading by participating artist, Sarah Weber. “Had I written a critical essay for Lady Painters, I would have liked to have written the very excellent one by Sarah Weber for Being a Woman in an All Woman Show.” WTT? couldn’t agree more. You can prep for both of these openings next weekend by reading Weber’s statement now.
  • Art Newspaper on artists in newspapers:
    Writer, Martin Bailey, covers the seriously late breaking news of Van Gogh’s ear incident after re-discovering an article from the Parisian paper Le Petite Journal published shortly after the incident on December 26, 1888. While doing research for his book on the artist, Bailey discovered the clipping, shedding new light on possibly the best artist gossip of all time. Making news in Paris all the way from Arles? Van Gogh is just lucky that the Impressionists didn’t have Facebook.
  • Extra, Extra: Art group travels to space, reports in NewCity?
    Speaking of newspapers, we almost forgot that people print those things anymore (oh wait, did we mention the newspaper we’re printing during EXPO?). Thankfully, we were reminded this week by the totally out of this world spread by Sarah Belknap, Marissa Lee Benedict and Joseph Belknap in NewCity. The photos are completely gorgeous and worth seeing in IRL.
  • Stop by LVL3’s MRKT and pick up a FREE copy of San Fransisco Arts Quarterly featuring an interview with the gallery’s director, Vincent Uribe, and artist, Josh Reames.

Reed’s drumkit.

Artists confused, think they are musicians

Last Thursday night WTT? made our first outing to Constellation. The venue’s unassuming brick facade under the overpass on Belmont and Western betrays the clean yet cozy interior of the bar. Intent on seeing live music on a Thursday night, Constellation was a great option. That is to say, the show was free. This art reporter was intrigued by the line-up: two reasonably well known visual artists (1/2 of Sonnenzimmer, Nick Bucher, and recent Hatch resident, Jordan Martins) performing with Constellation’s purveyor, Mike Reed, on drums.

Not to be mistaken for real musicians, the artists turnt virtuosos played an assortment of objects that would have made any dadaist proud.

Martins started the set playing guitar, but soon switched over to two broken guitar necks on a table which he “played” by jamming screwdrivers between the strings while strumming with chopsticks. Butcher wasn’t any more conventional “playing” a record player and what looked like a jumble of assorted cables that we’re not even sure were plugged in.

Even real musician, Mike Reed, got into the readymade spirit. It was weird enough that he played the drums with a tiny rake, but what was next to the drums was a regular Duchamp. Was it a rice cooker on a styrofoam cooler? Some instrument we’ve never seen before? We’re still not sure.

Despite using what appeared to be broken instrument pieces and household bric-a-brac, the trio was other wordly, playing a set that meandered through melodic ups and downs, punctuated by Butcher’s off beat electronics. Super chill for a Thursday night, I just wish they had better cocktails. (The Pimm’s cup was alright.)

Constellation is located at 3111 N Western Ave.

Header image is a photograph from inside Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux at the Field Museum.

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