October 26, 2010 · Print This Article
Our latest post for our Center Field column on art:21 blog is up! This week, Martine Syms talks to Derek Chan, whose 12 x 12 exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago opens on November 6th. A brief excerpt:
Derek Chan and I have been friends for a little over four years. We both moved from Los Angeles to Chicago in the Fall of 2005. We had several mutual friends and emailed back and forth a few times but never met up. I spent that summer in Los Angeles and unknowingly started talking to Derek at a party. Inevitably, our conversation turned to Chicago and I laughed when I realized that this was the guy I’d had so much trouble making time for. Since then we’ve stayed close, meeting often to check in with each other, share food, and hang out.
One of Derek’s large abstract landscapes, Eclipse, was stored at my house for a year. I was happy to look at it every day. While works like Eclipse captured autobiographical moments with grand gestures, Derek has since focused his attention on the quotidian. During his residency at Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Project in South Chicago, Derek began making daily ink drawings to document his thoughts and share them with his fellow residents. All 260 images are available for download on Derek’s website. As part of the Whitney Biennial, Derek presented Being/Becoming, a durational performance that included ink drawings and temporary interventions to the Whitney’s courtyard. Derek developed a system of marks, influenced by Tibetan rituals, to record the passage of time and his interactions with museum visitors.
Cries and Whispers from the Salt Song Trail is a continuation of this practice. This forthcoming book chronicles his recent journey to the Four Corners region of Arizona through drawings and writings about the sacred places he visited. Golden Age, the project space I run in Chicago, is publishing Cries and Whispers in conjunction with Derek’s upcoming exhibition Derek Chan: A Way of Life at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (November 6 – 28, 2010). Continue reading.
Chicago artist Caleb Lyons, who was interviewed way back when on Episode 95 of our podcast, recently had a solo exhibition at the MCA Chicago as part of the Museum’s 12 x 12 series. Lyons and his partner in life and crime Kathryn Scanlan are the forces behind Old Gold — the latter now continuing operations with new presentations at Heaven Gallery in Wicker Park. Caleb also co-directed the late great artLedge with Brandon Alvendia, and is involved in so many ongoing projects that I could never list them all in full here. The following interview focuses solely on his own, recent artworks, which include paintings, a video (of the nude artist, surrounded by potted plants, offering himself up as a readymade artist’s model), and a mixed media installation of various cactii potted in handcrafted pipe-pots (or, um, pot-pipes? ANYWAY). It was a smart and provocative show, but unfortunately I was only able to catch it the last week it was on view, hence the un-timeliness of the following interview. Lucky for all of us, Lyons’ paintings are now on view at Golden’s new auxilliary space, located at 3319 N. Broadway Ave, Chicago. (I also found some excellent pictures of Caleb’s work in situ at Golden on Strange Closets blog, so go check it out the excellent photographs on that blog and then head on over to Golden and see the actual works of art in person!).
The wall text for Lyons’ MCA show described him as a kind of Jack of All Trades, an artist whose practice “encompasses a diverse range of activities–gardening, DJing, and working collaboratively with other artists–reflecting his interest in the idea that ‘everyone is an artist’ and that everything can constitute an artwork.” Yet Lyons’ MCA show was called, somewhat ironically (and then again, somewhat not), “Abstraction in the 21st Century,” a title that was clearly designed to provoke a certain amount of bemusement and even incredulity on the part of viewers, given the relatively short history of 21st century painting in general. This provocative title was the first thing I asked Caleb about during our written exchange about his show, which was conducted several weeks ago while Lyons was on residency at The Philadelphia Art Hotel (Bad at Sports’ SF correspondent Patricia Maloney also happens to be on residency there this summer). I’m tremendously grateful to him for taking time out of his very busy schedule to answer my questions with such thoughtfulness and care.
Claudine Ise: “Abstraction in the 21st Century” is a ballsy title for an exhibition – at least for an exhibition by an individual artist at a major contemporary art museum. I really like the way this title appropriates the language of the encyclopedic museum (more specifically, the language that this type of museum would use to introduce its gallery exemplifying Abstraction in art), but here it’s used to frame a solo show by an emerging artist. I am also intrigued by the fact that such a title implies the promise of a representative sampling of artists – which of course it doesn’t. So can you tell me a bit about why you chose this title for your MCA solo exhibition?
Caleb Lyons: Well I do have balls, or a pair of testicles–they were on exhibit in my nude video: The Artist Is The Model: Do It Yourself, Still Life, Amateur Hour, Idiot Box, which was riffing on the ego and vulnerability of the artist, as well as the idea that through our immediate technologies everyone has become a producer, the “artist” has become the “model citizen” for exploitation.
I am interested in the way museums and other institutions feel the need to categorize and define genres for the public. It becomes generic. I use the generic as a catalyst in my own work –– as in, ‘this is what an American abstract painting is supposed to look like’. I wonder why we feel like we need themes so badly. Will we really find it that hard to make connections otherwise? If museums didn’t try so hard to define things, would the public be confused or would the public figure it out for themselves?
The presumptuous title also suggests that the work will be heroic in scale and intention, and I find it funny that the work is very modest, handcrafted and is both abstract and representational. There is no abstraction without representation and no representation without abstraction.
I think it is a symptom of our time (with best-of lists, and our need to categorize and rate the arts), the idea that abstraction would be surveyed only ten years into the century. The title also attempts to allude to our society’s growing disconnect with reality, and our increasing (as far as I can tell) loss of power and freedom. There is something attractive and deceptive about the anonymity of abstraction. Maybe in such an audacious title for a small solo exhibition some viewers will find the absurdity in genre-defining elsewhere, or maybe they will just think I am a pretentious asshole; either way, I’m happy. Read more
The MCA Chicago announced today that Michael Darling, modern and contemporary curator at the Seattle Art Museum, will be its new James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator. Darling will leave the Seattle Art Museum, where he’s worked since 2006, in July. Before that Darling worked at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Here’s an excerpt from the MCA’s press release:
Madeleine Grynsztejn, Pritzker Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, announced today that Michael Darling has been appointed the new James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator, concluding a comprehensive international search. Darling is currently the Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and plans to assume his new responsibilities at the MCA on July 12, 2010.
“Michael Darling is the perfect creative leader to evolve the MCA as a preeminent contemporary art destination in terms of reputation, influence, relevance, and visibility,” said Grynsztejn. “I am looking forward to joining with Michael to realize a compelling new vision for the MCA. We share the same goal to forge an artist-activated platform that engages audiences by producing art, ideas, community, and conversation around the creative process. His exhibitions and acquisitions are always innovative and relevant, yet grounded in a larger art historical framework, and fueled by his distinctive passion, knowledge and integrity.”
Darling said, “I am honored to lead the MCA’s curatorial team and to build on the museum’s momentum. I look forward to actively participating in the cultural community of Chicago — a world-class city with a long-standing appreciation for the vanguard — and balancing a local perspective with a global outlook. I am excited to advance the MCA’s tradition of groundbreaking exhibitions and programming into a 21st-century multidisciplinary museum model.”
And so on, blahbity blahbity press release so on. Although I think this is a fairly boring, business-as-usual kind of pick on the MCA’s part, my view was ameliorated somewhat by reading the glowing praise that respected arts writer Jen Graves of The Stranger has for Darling. She writes:
What distinguished Darling from the others was his genuine commitment to exploring and revealing the connections between here and abroad. He was seemingly at every opening, and his exhibitions and acquisitions reflect that he did not simply live and work here, he thought here.
Grave’s assessment strongly suggests that Darling will not be another “Chicago curator” in name only who dials it in from elsewhere. I’m sure he’ll be good at his job (what constitutes ‘failure’ when it comes to museum curation anyway?), but I find myself caring less and less about who holds what position at big institutions lately. In the three years that I’ve been living in Chicago, I’ve become way more interested in the curatorial programs of Chicago’s college and university spaces and nonprofit art centers, and in the plans and activities of the (relatively) unsung curators and administrators who work there. There’s just more room for interesting failures and fresh insights in those spaces (although they, like any organization, require increased funding, donations, membership and public support to keep doing good work). Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in but…my whole take on the “big news” of today is one big meh.
Tuesday April 20th (tomorrow!) at 6pm Bad at Sports hosts this month’s Cabinet of Curiosities at the MCA, an ongoing “grab bag of ‘un-lectures’” presented by different groups from around Chicago. Bad at Sports has curated an evening on the subject of Magic. Stephanie Brooks will speak on the Magic of Language and Love. Industry of the Ordinary (Mat Wilson and Adam Brooks) will explore the magical through an investigation of God, football, and extra-marital conduct. Elijah Burgher will give a talk on Sigil Magic, a system of spell-casting outlined by early 20th century occultist, Austin Osman Spare, and popularized more recently in occult movements such as Chaos Magick and Thee Temple of Psychic Youth. Ross Moreno will perform magic! And John Neff and Ivan Lozano will explicate the magic of materialist magic – presented immaterially.
Stephanie Brooks is a conceptual artist living in Chicago. She has exhibited her work nationally and internationally including exhibits in Berlin, Brooklyn, Chicago, Denmark, London, Los Angeles, New York, Vienna, and Phoenix, AZ. She is an adjunct professor in the Sculpture department at The School of the Art Institute. Her work is included in the collections of Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Microsoft Corporation, and Philip Morris/Altria. Her recent publication “Love is A Certain Kind of Flower” is published by Green Lantern Press; and upcoming exhibitions include Peter Blum, New York and Portable, Atlanta.
Industry of the Ordinary were formed in 2003. The two artists who make up this collaborative team, Adam Brooks and Mathew Wilson, have long histories as visual and performative artists. They bring complementary sensibilities to their activities.Their projects exist in temporal terms but have also been conceived to function on the web site associated with the collaboration, www.industryoftheordinary.com. They have had solo shows at the MCA and NEIU Gallery and performed at the opening of the Modern Wing of the Art Institute, as well as making work for a wide variety of private, semi-private and public settings. They will have a survey of their practice at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2011.
Elijah Burgher is an artist and writer based in Chicago, IL. He has most recently exhibited in a solo show at Shane Campbell Gallery in Oak Park, IL and a two-person exhibition at Peregrine Program in Chicago, IL. He will exhibit work in group shows at Johalla Projects in Chicago and Envoy Enterprises in New York this summer. He maintains a hybrid studio wall/magick diary blog at http://ghostvomit.blogspot.com/. Burgher co-founded and co-edited the now-defunct art publication BAT. He has written reviews and essays for ArtUS and several small art publications in Chicago, as well as contributed writing to Art:21′s guest blog. He received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004, and a BA from Sarah Lawrence college in 2000, where he split his credits amongst Literature, Visual Art, and Cultural Anthropology.
Ross Moreno earned a master’s degree in sculpture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005. It was during this time he developed a passion for hotdogs, and he has been living and working professionally in Chicago ever since. Ross’ is a member of the Chicago Chapter of the Society of American Magicians and recently completed the International House of Pancakes Balloon Twisting Training Program. Ross can be seen performing his unique blend of performance art, stand-up comedy, and magic at different venues all over the city. More information about Ross can be found by visiting his website at www.rossmoreno.com.
John Neff produces works of art, organizes exhibitions and practices critical writing. He lives and works in Chicago.
Ivan Lozano is a (mostly) video artist currently working on an MFA in Film/Video/New Media at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In another life, while living in Austin TX, Ivan was the programming director for the Cinematexas International Short Film Festival, and an arts writer for various publications.
Irena Knezevic is a young Serbian artist living in Chicago. Before leaving Serbia, she was a student organizer rallying against Slobodon Milosovic’s government (1). She moved to Chicago after receiving a scholarship to attend college, where she studied mathematics but later switched to art. She studied at the University of Illinois at Chicago and earned an MFA there in 2007. In 2008, she had a solo exhibition at the MCA Chicago as part of its 12×12 series. That show, like much of Knezevic’s work, examined “the search for knowledge and the dangerous avenues through which people seek and receive it,” according to the press release.
Knezevic’s current solo show at threeewalls, titled Gesture Guild, closed last weekend. Since Knezevic’s installation had the (fairly unusual) ability to leave me at a loss for words, I’ll rely on the show’s press release to describe it:
FOLLOW ME SAILORS! WHOEVER TOLD YOU THERE IS NO
AND ETERNAL SEA? MAY HIS BLISTERING TONGUE BE CUT OUT AND SEWN SHIT WITH SHIT! FOLLOW ME, MY SAILORS, AND ONLY ME,
AND I WILL SHOW YOU SUCH A SEA! (2)
Friday, March 19th at 6 pm sharp, the Gesture Guild will open its doors at its new headquarters at 119 N Peoria in unit 2C. Join us at 8 pm for the commencement dirge, absinthe induced and sailor sung. (Ed. note: Sailor attire is strongly encouraged, those who do not arrive as sailors will be made into sailors.) The League of Dark Departments have joined forces in the Gesture Guild, a bureau for the recovery and acquisition of lost gestures. The Gesture Guild aims to return and reinforce the primordial anxieties responsible for head-bending weight and other liquid spiraling disasters, topical and tropical. The public, inflicted with involuntary movement, nervous twitches, and ticks, due to the loss of solid surfaces and time-space incongruity, can join various Guild programs in search of gravitational re-calibration. Determined via a brief questionnaire, members of the public are initiated into the Guild, thus participating in prescribed Guild activities at individually appointed times. Throughout the exhibition the Guild will change weekly – please return for: - Duplicate Office of the Dead - Department of Repetition - Department of Manual Re-Education - Department of Polychoral Antiphony - Department of Trade Secrets - Department of Denial Operations and Barriers
On the night I went to see Knezevic give an artist’s talk at threewalls, held in conjunction with this exhibition, I was feeling especially lazy. I didn’t want to do much more than lean back on my wobbly wooden folding chair and let Ms. Knezevic do all the talking while my own mind drifted desultorily from one thought to another, as my mind is wont to do.
Alas, this was not meant to be. I should have known that Knezevic wouldn’t let me off the hook that easily, given her history of crafting installations and other situation-based events that challenge linear paths of understanding. There’s a strong sense of the cryptic and the mysterious and even at times the dangerous surrounding all of her projects–the secret society-like Gesture Guild, sponsored by something called “The League of Dark Departments”(3), being no exception. Since I’m a girl who likes a good mystery I set out to discover for myself what membership in The Guild would actually entail. Knezevic’s talk seemed as good a place as any to start.
Knezevic, seated behind a big wooden kiosk of the sort you might encounter at the Department of Motor Vehicles or the post office, asked everyone arriving for the talk if they wanted to fill out a card (like this one) in order to be initiated into The Gesture Guild. Knezevic herself projected a warm and friendly persona which was not at all off-putting–the polar opposite of the type of bureaucratic interpersonal discourse that the desk kiosk signified. Knezevic directed me to the adjacent gallery space in the room next door where the talk would take place. Clutching my pen, clipboard and sign-up sheet, I was the first to head to the next room. Rounding the corner, I came face to face (give or take a couple of feet) with a man in a black ski mask who was bending over. He may have been tying his shoes. He was also wearing a sailor suit.
The sailor scared the crap out of me, just for a second. I quickly regained my composure after realizing he was one of the performers, but what can I say? I walk into a darkened, nearly empty room by myself, I see a guy wearing a ski mask– yeah, I flinch! I took my seat, and not too long after that the talk commenced. Two masked performers, one of which was the aforementioned sailor-suited man, seated themselves at a table in front of the audience. The performer designated as “The Scribe” wore the sailor suit, while Knezevic, who appeared here in the guise of an all-knowing Oracle, wore a glittery black ski mask and a nondescript outfit that may or may not have included black leggings.
The Oracle informed us that the talk would proceed in the form of a Q&A. (4) Audience members could ask any question they wanted to, and they could direct their questions to the Oracle or the Scribe or to both. We could ask as many questions as we liked but were required to ask at least one. The Scribe would select the next questioner by pointing at him or her with a long stick that had a small heart-shaped spear at the end (the stick reminded me of Satan’s tail, except that it was straight, not curved). It was also the Scribe’s job to record all of the questions and answers in a huge notebook resting between the two performers (5).
The Sailor/Scribe began by reading a quote from a notebook in front of him on the table (6), however, the subject of that quote I cannot for the life of me now recall. After this, the audience questions began. Here are some of the questions asked, and the answers given, during the event (please note: I am paraphrasing all of the below based on my notes and memory, and I make no guarantees of accuracy or authenticity):
Questioner: What is an appropriate gesture for expressing joy, thanks, and grief?
Oracle: Jumping up and down.
Questioner: For all three?
Questioner: Should I buy a banjo?
Oracle: Depends on what you want the banjo for. What do you want it for?
Questioner: To play it.
Oracle: Then no.
Questioner (to the Scribe): What happened to the decapitated head (lying on a chair in the next room)?
Scribe: Loss is something on which we fixate instead of what is happening now.
Questioner: What is the question that you cannot answer?
Oracle: One where I lose my hands.
Questioner: When will you lose your hands?
Oracle: With too much repetition.
Questioner: What can you make out of chaos?
One of the questions whose answer I failed to write down was ‘Do you think the critique of instrumental reason has run its course?… Is it useful for us to spend our time still critiquing humanism?’ One of the answers whose question I failed to write down was delivered in the form of song sung by the Oracle:
“When you’re sad and feeling lonely, just remember my friend, that death is not the end…”
The scribe requested that The Oracle repeat her answer one more time so he could write it down. She obliged, and sung,
‘When you’re sad and feeling lonely, just remember my friend, that death is the end….”
It seemed clear that Knezevic was trying to provide answers to questions of Cosmic breadth and humanistic depth in as straightforward and genuine a fashion as possible, that this was indeed an attempt on the artist’s part to establish a meaningful channel of communication between herself and her audience. I don’t believe that it was performed ironically (which is why I myself cared enough to write about it) and yet, that being said, I must also admit that I wasn’t all that interested in what the Oracle had to say. After all, why should the Oracle/Artist’s answers to “the Big Questions” be any more interesting than anyone else’s? Nevertheless, as the talk progressed, the Oracle and the Scribe seemed to get into an almost magical sort of groove, hitting their marks with uncanny sharpness and accuracy. I wouldn’t deny that there was something there, some type of knowledge (if not wisdom) in the process of being conjured. Maybe it was just the Magic 8 ball kind of knowledge, maybe it was something more, something having to do with human empathy and the ability of the Scribe and the Oracle to feed off the combined energies of the group.
And then there’s the matter of the masks. The masks hid the performers noses and cheeks and pretty much all of the face other than the eyes and mouth. But they highlighted each of the performers’ mouths in a manner that I found mesmerizing and strangely significant. Especially in the case of the Oracle/Artist. Knezevic’s lips kind of naturally turn up at the corners, which makes her look as if she’s always laughing just a teeny little bit. It is an extremely charming quality. Knezevic’s upturned mouth, which the ski mask neatly abstracted from the rest of her face in the manner of the Cheshire Cat’s bodiless grin, perfectly encapsulated the nonsensical logic of the evening’s event: You can find answers anywhere, anywhere…as long as you’re willing to look, listen, and consider everything surrounding you as a sign. (7)
Alice: Oh wait!
Cheshire Cat: [reappears] There you are! Third chorus…
Alice: Oh, no, no. I was just wondering if you could help me find my way.
Cheshire Cat: Well that depends on where you want to get to.
Alice: Oh, it really doesn’t matter, as long as…
Cheshire Cat: Then it really doesn’t matter which way you go.
An interview with Irena Knezevic, by way of footnotes.
(1) Can you tell me about your experiences in the student protest movement? I organized the gymnasium students and did the pamphlet printing and dissemination, most days I would help keep the student radio broadcast station from being shut down by moving it around the city, and I marched daily.
(2) What is the source of this quote? Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, describing a love of a woman for a man.
(3) Who/what is the League of Dark Departments? League of Dark Departments is an overlord of secret Masonic organizations, it only knows all the lists of members and complete list of lodges. How many members, approximately? The Dark department can confirm that the Gesture guild has a 198 members.
(4) Why did you choose this format? See the question on the book; I chose the format because I wanted the talk to be in the pace of the scribe’s hand. He was to write it all down in the Ledger, stopping and starting the talk in the speed of his pen. I also employ the audience as the main protagonists during all my “art talks” because I am bored as well by silence, predictability and overall boredom of click, click, click, powerpoint, does anybody have any questions?
(5) Did the notebook have some kind of official name and/or function? The note book is the official Gesture Guild LEDGER, it lists all appointments, members, black lists, plans and programs, and corresponding scores including the talk, the Guild determined all the initiations in advance and the space in the ledger was allotted for every one.
What are the ‘black lists’ you refer to? You mean like, black-listed people? Or verboten subjects? Naturally this kind of work, like a manifesto, has supporters, soon to be supporters and enemies. The black list is a collection of enemies. People who have betrayed an oath, or who stand against the ideals of the Guild. The list is secret, of course.
(6) Where did the scribe’s texts come from? The scribe holds the discretion of this answer.
(7) How can people find out more about The Guild? The guild endures online until it reconstitutes in 7 years.