GUEST POST BY MARISSA PEREL
In this guest post, Marissa Perel talks with artist Justin Cabrillos about his studio practice and his recent performance of Following Dance at the MCA Chicago. Cabrillos will also be performing at: remixed/reimagined 2011 at the MCA Chicago Performance Benefit on Thursday, June 23, 2011, at 6 pm.
Marissa Perel: Tell me about your process for the Following Dance performance you did at the MCA as part of the Without You I’m Nothing: Interactions at the MCA.
Justin Cabrillos: I wanted to make a response to Vito Acconci because my work is largely inspired by his endurance pieces in the 1960-70’s. For this performance, I studied his Following Piece, where he followed around strangers in the city for minutes or days until they disappeared from his view. I combined techniques for following museum visitors by imitating their movements while I performed on his sculpture, Bridge Chairs for Sex and Gender.
I considered Acconci’s movements retroactively as a form of dance in Following Dance. It’s a triangulation of his voyeurism, how he moves his body motivated by that voyeurism, and the bodies of the people who lead him through space. I became interested in a public choreography.
MP: How did you take this public performance art piece and make into a dance?
JC: I started observing people in the museum in October before my performance in January. I’d go into the MCA and watch the public in museum mode. I studied how people hold themselves when they go to see art down to how they hold their weight or shift their gaze. It was a kind of movement analysis that informed how I would build the dance. I sought to embody how people interacted with the art. Or more to embody the relationship between the viewer, the objects and the space between them.
Because of the nature of the work in the Without You I’m Nothing Exhibition, viewers are moving more than they normally would, and I saw that as an opportunity for movement analysis. I also paid attention to people who didn’t choose to interact with the work, their stillness became a source of choreography for me.
Once I was performing, the ladders of the Bridge Chair enabled me to have a bird’s-eye-view of what people were doing. I could look through the Andrea Zittel piece, A-Z Cellular Compartment Units and see kids taking off their shoes and crawling around, so I’d take off my shoes and crawl around. The ladder really facilitated the voyeurism for the piece.
MP: Vito would love that!
JC: I know! I developed a system to call attention more to the viewers than to myself. If someone was directly looking at me, I wouldn’t follow that person, but the person could see who I was following. It’s like when you’re in a dance class, watching the teacher’s movements and trying to follow as best you can. In this case, the public is the teacher. The goal is not so much to parody to make fun of the viewer, but to reveal something about the viewers to one another, and to create a consciousness of the relationship between the viewer and the space of the museum.
MP: How is this experience different than your experience of stage-based performance?
JC: I had to think of a different way to structure the performance. Because it wasn’t about everyone being part of my time, but about the time people were spending in the exhibition. It was like a game where I had to be hyper observant of the audience. On stage you’re rarely aware of audience members as individuals. In this piece, I had to anticipate how people would respond to my actions. It required me to simultaneously observe and perform the audience. That was a lot of information for me to contain in my body! I felt like I was possessed, inhabited by the other bodies in the room.
MP: I find that to be a compelling aspect of your work in general, how you embody your research, whether it’s historical data, responses to sites or in this case, how you are embodying a relationship between art and the audience. It seems like you have to empty yourself of your own contents in order to become a vessel for the subjects of your performances. How do you make space for this, literally in your body and conceptually?
JC: When I was on a residency with Every House Has A Door, I had the opportunity to meet Netherlands-based choreographer, Meg Stuart. Once in a critique she said, “The body is not yours.” I think it’s important to let go of your body and see what happens. This can be liberating because you can see what your body is capable of.
By the end of my performances at the MCA, I could pan across the audience and string 6 different movement combinations together from the people I observed because I was totally invested in their vocabulary. My interests are now much more activated around the space of what I’m seeing in relationship to where I am in the moment.
MP: How long were you performing Following Dance?
JC: For two hours a day over the course of 6 days. I also performed for First Friday, artsmart [an event sponsored by the MCA’s Women’s Board], and I will be performing it again for the MCA benefit.
MP: This is definitely enough experience for you to perfect the art of “observational vocabulary,” how do you keep it fresh?
JC: A lot of people talk about the conceptualism behind performance art of the 1970’s, but what I appreciate is the childlike wonder about it. One thing that’s different about this piece from my other work is that it’s light. There’s an almost childlike sense of humor about it.
During the First Friday show, I noticed a man texting on his cell phone, so I started to act like I was texting . Everyone that was watching us noticed what I did and started laughing. Another day, I noticed a woman lying inside the Convertible Clam sculpture [also made by Acconci]. I laid down in the other half of the shell and slowly copied her movements. It took her a long time to figure out what I was doing.
People seem to be of two minds when they figure me out, they either revel in the attention and play with it, or they run away. Kids are endlessly stimulating because they are always moving and they are also willing to play the game.
MP: What is it like for you to leave that way of performing and return to your studio?
JC: Even when I have physically left the space of the MCA, I’m not sure if my experience leaves me -it’s never completely over. As artists, we’re constantly living with the material of our work. I sleep and eat my material, and I try to pay attention to how my daily life is affected by the focus of my work, how my intention is shaped or directed by my interests. I work very hard to make ephemeral art, and I often ask why I am doing this. I don’t have an answer,but I think the intimacy that I get to share with the audience, based on my intimacy with the material is one of the reasons I make ephemeral art. So, it’s about sharing and extending that intimacy with the audience.
For more information on Justin Cabrillos, visit his website here.
Marissa Perel is a performance artist, writer and independent curator currently working in Chicago, IL.
Our latest “Centerfield” post is up on Art:21 blog today. This time, I write about the multiple presentations of Susan Philipsz’ works on view right now in Chicago at the MCA and the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. An excerpt from the piece follows; click on over to read it in full.
…My husband and I realize that it’s kind of weird to sing our kid to sleep with a song about men dying of silicosis, but then again the lyrics to “Rock-a-Bye Baby” are pretty disturbing too. Still, the question of why someone would sing a protest song as if it were a lullaby was very much on my mind during several recent encounters with the work of Scottish artist Susan Philipsz. She has three installations on view right now in Chicago: We Shall Be All and Internationale at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Pledge at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum on the University of Illinois, Chicago campus. The winner of this year’s Turner Prize, Philipsz is widely acclaimed for her use of sound — and more specifically of voice — in works of art that engage the history and culture of protest. Almost all of Philipsz’s installations rely on her own, untrained vocals to weave densely allusive tapestries that commemorate the experiences of those struggling for a better world — something we don’t normally associate with the soothing nature of lullabies.
Commissioned by the MCA, Phillipsz’s We Shall Be All references Chicago’s labor movement and its legacy of social reform in the context of worldwide struggles for worker’s rights. I think it’s partly the fact that public-sector labor unions are so much in the news nowadays, due to the efforts of numerous GOP legislators to quash the collective bargaining power of those unions (or even its mere visual representation) that lends such a sharp sting to Philipsz’s Chicago presentations. Consisting of several speakers and a projection screen arranged within a completely darkened room, We Shall Be All takes its title from Melvyn Dubofsky’s We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World. This book provides the definitive history of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Chicago-born labor association whose influence was especially strong during the years before World War I. In particular, Philipsz’s piece alludes to the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, whose anniversary is commemorated on May 1st of each year in honor of International Workers Rights.
Jessica Labatte’s just-closed exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art marked the 100th artist featured in the MCA’s long-running “12 x 12″ series, which focuses exclusively on emerging Chicago artists. The series, which was launched in the Fall of 2001, has been going strong for almost a decade now (for more on the history of the 12 x 12 series, see here) . Even a cursory glance at the MCA’s 12 x 12 archive makes it clear that it has showcased some of the best young artistic talents currently working in Chicago (some of the best, but certainly not all of them). Indeed, at times it almost seems like a 12 x 12 show is an inevitability for any Chicago artist who hangs around long enough, though I know that there are plenty of artists still waiting patiently for their 1/12th slice of the MCA pie. After all, who doesn’t want a Museum exhibition on their resume?
And that’s the problem that I have with the 12 x 12 series as a whole. It’s too much about giving every artist their turn, and not nearly enough about ambition, innovation, and critical expansion of an artist’s practice (and an audience’s understanding of it). I’ll be even more blunt: 12 x 12 shows rarely feel special. The work by artists that is exhibited in this smallish gallery off the MCA’s main entryway is no better, and more often than not it’s significantly less good, than the work that that same artist has shown at a local gallery. Take Labatte’s exhibition. I’m a fan of Labatte’s work, and have written positively about it elsewhere. But her MCA show was a bit of a letdown. The exhibition consisted of two large-scale photographs, one of which was exhibited in her recent gallery show at Golden and another large-scale work that to my knowledge hasn’t been exhibited before. Mostly, however, the show was comprised of a large series of smaller-scale photographs that were, in essence, variations on a single idea. Significantly, selections from this same body of work were displayed concurrently at GOLDEN’s solo booth at NADA Miami Beach.
I saw Labatte’s MCA show last weekend, and since then I’ve been trying to parse through why I was so underwhelmed by it – and why I’m not all that surprised at the fact that I was. I don’t think the disappointing aspects of Labatte’s show are due as much to the work itself (which was fine, if not, in my opinion, some of her best). Instead, I think Labatte’s show exemplifies a growing failure on the MCA’s part to think big when it comes to showcasing local artists.
The 12 x 12 series has grown programmatically automated in spirit. It’s as if the MCA believes they need to do little else than place their institutional stamp of approval on the groundwork that Chicago’s gallerists and indie cultural producers have already laid. I have no idea what kind of budget each 12 x 12 project receives but I’ll bet it’s pretty small. This is fitting and often necessary for a Museum project series – up to a point. But in my opinion a museum show by a local artist whose work — let’s be honest — is already well-known to the local art community should be a step beyond the normal gallery fare. A Museum show–even a smaller-scale project-type show–should strive to be ambitious in some way, a knock-your-socks off occasion for the artist to create something that would not otherwise be possible without the museum’s support. I think an important correlary to this last idea is that a 12 x 12 artist should be given the institutional freedom to make a project that is not necessarily the kind of thing that their dealer would want to show (i.e., not easily sellable to collectors).
A brochure prepared for every 12 x 12 exhibition would be another step in the right direction. Take the beautifully produced 3-fold brochures for the Hammer Museum’s Project series as an example. The Hammer’s brochures are produced cheaply. They contain full-color illustrations of the artist’s work and, most importantly, each one includes an engaging critical essay written by a museum curator, another artist, or a well-known writer or cultural figure. So not only do Hammer Projects artists get a show, with a curatorial mandate to “think big,” but they get something that lives on afterwards – an essay written about their work that helps expand critical awareness of their practice. I think the MCA should be doing this too. What if the MCA were to invite emerging, local-area writers and curators to occasionally pen brochure essays for its 12 x 12 artists? Not only would the artist receive lengthy critical assessment of their work, our local writers (many of whom also fall into the “emerging” category) would receive the obvious benefits (and honorarium) of having their work published by a museum. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
If budget is an issue, I think the MCA should cut down on the number of 12 x 12s it does each year (12 is already far too many, in my opinion). Why not do 6 x 6 and up the budget for each show? That way, each exhibition can be more ambitious in scope, include an accompanying brochure/essay, and have more of a lasting impact on the artist and the museum’s audience.
I’m not sure if I would have written these comments at all if an MCA staffperson hadn’t called me at home one evening several weeks ago, shortly before Labatte’s exhibition opened. The staff person asked me if I would be interested in writing about Labatte’s show and/or the fact that it also marked the 100th artist in the 12 x 12 series. So, you know, here you have it, here’s what I think. The MCA staff person was extremely nice and I always welcome such calls, but I couldn’t help thinking that, to a certain extent, the Museum was asking me and other local arts writers to do their interpretive work for them. Those little wall labels provided for each show, which are invariably written in bland museum-ese and which seem to boil every artist’s concerns down to the same three or four issues, are not sufficient. In many ways they do a disservice to artists who have worked so hard to “earn” their MCA slot and are justifiably thrilled at the opportunity to exhibit in one of the country’s top contemporary art institutions.
The MCA needs to do more to make this opportunity count. 100 shows and almost 10 years is long enough to prove the Institution’s commitment to emerging local artists. Now, I think it’s time for the MCA to expand that commitment into something more lasting and meaningful by taking a long look at how they allocate their resources and at what they, and more importantly what their artists, truly want and need from a 12 x 12 exhibition.
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.
Liam Gillick. That is right, the man whose imagination can take him anywhere. A transparent master of the question of Modernity? Cat lover? Designer/author/theorist/artist/architect? The son Donald Judd never wanted? Enigma cloaked in riddle? Relational Aesthetic celebrity? All these things and more… We at Bad at Sports try and get to the bottom of Liam’s magic in this hour-long interview.
The last element in Liam Gillick’s 4 part global retrospective, “Three perspectives and a short scenario” will run through January 10th at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
Accompanying that exhibition, Gillick has produced “The one hundred and sixty-third floor: Liam Gillick Curates the Collection,” which is also be on view.
Liam Gillick emerged in the early 1990s as part of a re-energized British art scene, producing a sophisticated body of work ranging from his signature “platform” sculptures — architectural structures made of aluminum and colored Plexiglas that facilitate or complicate social interaction — to wall paintings, text sculptures, and published texts that reflect on the increasing gap between utopian idealism and the actualities of the world.
His work joins that of generational peers such as Rirkrit Tiravanija and Philippe Parreno in defining what critic Nicholas Bourriaud described as “relational aesthetics,” an approach that emphasizes the shifting social role and function of art at the turn of the millennium. Gillick’s work has had a profound impact on a contemporary understanding of how art and architecture influence, and are themselves influenced by, interpersonal communication and interactions in the public sphere.
This exhibition is presented in association with the Witte de With in Rotterdam, Kunsthalle Zurich, and the Kunstverein in Munich. It is the most significant and comprehensive exhibition of Gillick’s work in an American museum to date, comprising a major site-specific installation in the gallery ceiling as well as a presentation of his design and published works, and a film documenting projects from the entirety of his career. The MCA is the only American venue for the exhibition. Read more