1. We are going to be in Miami.
2. We are going to make 48 hours of Bad at Sports in one weekend.
3. We are going to do that by broadcasting “pirate style” from a cabin at the middle of NADA.
5. Our Ox-Bow cabin is in fact an entirely separate piece of art by Jonas Sebura and Alex Gartelmann.
6. We have a limited amount of kick ass t-shirts which will be available for purchase.
7. YES – THIS MEANS FOR FOUR DAYS YOU CAN LISTEN TO US ALL THE FUCKING TIME. This could change your life.
8. Richard has promised to dress like a pirate.
That is all.
I had the chance to visit ACRE for a few days this summer. It was the first time I’d been to a residency. I was especially happy that my first experience of such a place would take place within a structure largely motivated by the same artist-run DIY ethos that has characterized so much of my contemporary art life. That isn’t to suggest there is anything piece meal about ACRE: on the contrary, they boast a variety of buildings and facilities in addition to an incredible menu. What I mean by “artist-run DIY ethos” has to do with the overall feeling of administrative transparency. Emily Greene and Nick Wylie are always present whether in Wisconsin making sure breakfast runs smoothly, or in Chicago putting up weekly shows from last summer’s residents.
A few weeks ago, someone asked a friend what he thought characterized the art scene in Chicago. Of course this peaked my interest — I always love hearing people make objective and general statements about the world, particularly when those statements involve a world so close to me. He suggested Chicago was characterized by it’s artistic and innovative administrative efforts. While artists don’t necessarily divorce themselves from object making, the production of objects and art is nevertheless contingent on idiosyncratic exhibition spaces which become community watering holes. ACRE strikes me as another example of such a place, though I find it difficult to fully imagine the work entailed. It’s a massive undertaking with different groups requiring beds over the course of a summer, each group demanding three meals a day, studio space, entertainment, freedom and very often visitors — somehow ACRE accomplishes it.
I am interested in the connection such a place has to the city (you can read more about that here) — the way the residency functions as a retreat from urban (and even cultural) life, just as it later soaks back into the city’s cultural landscape via gallery shows and screenings between September and June. With so many artist-residency programs based in Chicago (like ACRE, Harold and Ox-bow, for instance) our gallery season is especially flooded with residency-work. Certain architectural elements from those different places become icons of some sort — the pier at Harold, for instance, I have seen in at least six short films over the course of the last year — accumulating a collective significance even as their relation to each discrete artist project changes. Furthermore the communities that take up residence at these residencies, while not exclusively Chicago artists, are often Chicago-dominant. What does that mean? What is that we are getting away from — certainly not ourselves.
When I arrived, I definitely felt like my eyes were drinking green after having been so parched of vegetation I’d forgotten what it felt like to hear bugs or smell grass.
Someone told me he wanted to erect a series of letters in the hillside, after the style of HOLLYWOOD that just said LAND.
Someone else told me his favorite thing was to take walks in the dark, at night, because it was almost impossible to see.
There was a ritualistic and constant application of bug spray — various cans lay for communal use outside the doorway of almost every common space.
And one night there were fireworks and I kept thinking, I wonder if whoever is lighting them off knows what they are doing. It struck me then that there was something delicious about suspecting an amateur. The fireworks were much more exciting when I had to trust the fireworker, when there was just enough doubt in my mind to fear for his or her safety (it was dark and impossible to see who was down there). At one point a jean-clad effigy began to explode and I really seriously thought it was a person at first. That heart-in-your-throat kind of moment where it takes the calm of other observers alongside a rational belief that a person would never put themselves at such risk exhilarated and overpowered my fear. It struck me then that part of the appeal of these do-it-yourself endeavors stems from an assurance that a skill can be learned, an insistent belief in one’s own capacity that assumes on an open world: a world that is generous in so far as it teaches itself where we are patient enough to learn. It’s an attitude I find especially American because it’s tied to the pioneer imagination, immigration and daring and arrogance. The other part of the appeal, and maybe especially where the magic happens is that there is risk involved. And then it works, and everyone has the sense that they participated in the working-ness.
This week: Duncan talks to Chris Johanson and Jo Jackson from Ox-Bow this summer!
“Johanson was born in suburban San Jose, California in 1968. He has no formal training in art, learning some technique by painting skateboards and houses. He moved to San Francisco, California‘sMission District in 1989, where he became a member of the local art community, initially drawing cartoons on lampposts and bathroom walls using black Sharpies.” from Wikipedia.
Through out the nineties Johanna (aka Jo) Jackson found herself in art school in Maryland and later at SFAI but with her artistic sympathies moving toward a similar “street informed” aesthetic. In the late nineties and early “aughts” She and Chris both became associated with the SF Mission school along with notables Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen. Both were feature prominently in the documentary and publication “Beautiful Losers.” In 2004 they bought a home and moved to Portland, Oregon. They now split there time between Portland and LA.
Both are particularly rad people.
Eric May is a founder of Roots & Culture, a nonprofit gallery space in Chicago that features stellar group and two-person shows throughout the year. May is also the longtime chef at Ox-Bow, a 95 year old summer school/retreat for artists located in Saugatuck, MI. (You can read more about Ox-Bow on Art21 blog here). It’s not completely uncommon to see houseplants in a contemporary art gallery, but the front-window “garden” at Roots & Culture is truly special – the first time I visited R&C several years ago, it was the foyer that really captured my fancy. It’s earthy, beautiful, completely unpretentious, and somehow those plants seem to encapsulate everything that Roots & Culture and its approach to exhibiting art (and creating community around art exhibition) is all about. Heidi Norton and I talked to Eric about how he came to found R&C, his passion for sustainable living, his life at Ox-Bow, and a range of other topics. We’re truly grateful to him for taking the time to talk with us.
Claudine Ise: Tell us about how you found the space that Roots & Culture is in. I’ve always been struck by the fact that although it’s a storefront space, the setup inside is really homey – and in fact, there’s a full kitchen in back, and you have a “garden” in the front, not unlike a home. You transplanted the kitchen from Ox-Bow – why? And what kind of plants are in the front window? They all seem to be thriving there.
Eric May: Initially, I had been shopping around for a space without a clear idea of what I had in mind. Really, I had been growing bored with the Logan Square area where I had lived for seven years and it was time to move. The Noble Square/ East Village area was appealing. It was affordable and seemed much more central. So I started looking in that area for a few months. My dad actually first came across the space at 1034 Milwaukee and let me know that it was a potentially interesting space to house many activities. I was looking for a place that would be multi- functional, a live/work type of environment but not exclusively an exhibition space. I was for sure captivated by the idea of art cohabitating with daily life which I had come to experience through apartment galleries and the like in the Chicago scene in the early to mid 2000’s. I was also working as a curator at another nonprofit gallery, so when we found the storefront it seemed like a natural choice to open as a gallery. And it had ample studio space in the basement and a modest loft that we built out as an apartment.
I really lucked out I think, because I had enough space to build out a clean, professional gallery. I remember consulting John Corbett about my initial plans to open an apartment gallery and he said, “just make sure that there aren’t stacks of pizza boxes everywhere”.
Also I was really impressed by spaces like duchess and 65GRAND, which I felt were very successfully exhibiting work in crisp, clean spaces while still feeling welcoming and homey. So a certain level of professionalism was always in mind as we designed the space. That said, I deeply believed in the idea that by creating an exhibition space which had a domestic, holistic feel, it could slow down the viewing process- a space in which an audience can linger and exchange. Offering food at our events seemed like a great way to encourage this type of viewing experience, since I have a background in cooking. As for the stove- Ox-Bow had begun renovating and rebuilding certain buildings on campus in late 2005, which included the kitchen. I asked them if I could keep the old stove (which I had learned to cook on), at the time having no idea what to do with it. My friends were kind enough to let me store it in their barn on the farm in northwest Indiana and fortunately a year later I had a space to move it into. The party is always in the kitchen, so we designed an ample kitchen as a reception area with the old stove as the focal point.
The hearth, a source of warmth and nourishment, is an essential nucleus of a happy, healthy home and I thought this would be a wonderful attribute of the space. I like to see Roots & Culture as a bigger project, an experiment in ecology both social, domestic, and also biological, more on the latter to follow.
Heidi Norton: My parents spent their 20′s living off the land- building cabins, raising animals, crops and subsequently it has influenced my art and life extensively in a variety of ways. You have been committed to Ox-Bow for many years, can you talk about how a space like Ox-Bow and it’s relationship to nature and land has influence your philosophies around art and food? What is Ox-Bow to you?
EM: Ox-Bow is my favorite place, my second home, and a place that has taught me a lot in my adult life. I grew up in places with access to nature and was super interested in plants and animals as a child. In fact I spent most of my summers in the Western Michigan area, so the Saugatuck area was very familiar and a landscape that felt native to me. Ox-Bow’s land is a treasure of untouched natural beauty in the Midwest and has a rich and diverse ecosystem. I have encountered many a breathtaking natural experience in my years- the mating dance of the ichneumon wasp, finding giant moths on my cabin, stumbling across a family of barred owl chicks, spotting a red fox darting across the meadow, foraging from a dead tree in full bloom with chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms. A few of my early co-workers in the kitchen grew up in rural areas, so they proved to be a wealth of knowledge in the old ways and taught me many old timey skills such as canning, pickling, homebrewing, slaughtering chickens, and gardening. We have an ethos of wasting as little as possible, composting everything, using scraps for stocks, etc. The area is a fecund and robust agricultural region and we have access to an amazing bounty of naturally raised produce. Its funny because the mantra of seasonal, local, farm-to-table eating has become so fashionable in the city and it’s the kind of philosophy that has existed in the Ox-Bow kitchen for decades. And our producers, until recently, did not have to advertise the virtues of their products because they have all along just adhered to the old ways, generations of sustainable farm practices. So clearly living and working in the heart of the country has had a huge influence on my approach to cuisine. There is a more meta influence that Ox-Bow has had upon my broader practice and I think its pretty simple- in this experience which is closer to the land, I have learned a sensitivity toward relationships between ourselves, our environment, and the other beings that populate it. Equally central to this is the closeness of the community and shared experience, which is focused 24/7 on the pursuit of creative endeavors. The proximity in which we work and live requires a sensitivity to others and a sense of collectivity. These are core values to what I do.
CI: Do you have a garden at home? If so, what’s in it?
EM: You might call our horticultural dabblings at R & C “gardens”. I like to keep a diversity of plants and animals around me, so I have always kept pets and house plants. The foyer garden at the gallery began as a collection of my houseplants. It’s probably the efforts of Mike Wolf, who has been a resident of the space for four years, that nudged the houseplant zone into what you might call a garden. Over the years, he’s started fruit trees up there. Green onions grow pretty successfully. I was really impressed when he pulled up some voluptuous bulbs of ginger out of one of the pots recently. He has also ran a compost program in the basement and always has seeds germinating down there. Last year I built out an unused room in the basement into a garden and contemplative space that I call the “Grow Room.” I successfully grew lettuces, radishes, and herbs, but ultimately felt like the produce was lacking in a robust flavor that I reckon is developed from natural sunlight. The electric bills also did not exactly make the endeavor a sustainable practice in terms of energy produced versus energy consumed. I also have grown mushrooms down there, which require far less light, and now I primarily grow exotic mushrooms down there these days- shitakes, blue and pearl oysters, and lion’s mane mushrooms.
HN: Claudine and I recently stumbled upon this restaurant at the Crocker Museum for Art in downtown Sacramento, opened by a “philosopher”, chef and artist, Jonathon Keats. Keats says, “this is not a restaurant for humans to eat plants; rather, it is an exercise in creating a dining experience for the plants themselves, with a menu of enhanced sunlight that is designed to appeal to their sophisticated sensory apparatus, providing them with not only energy, but also a satisfying, piquant, and delightful experience.” In your opinion, what does this “solar gastronomy” offer to human mankind and to plant/botanical mankind? What are your views on this dining by the electromagnetic spectrum philosophy? Gimmick or cool?
EM: This “plant restaurant” project looks pretty silly to me. I like the idea of revering plants and drawing focus to their life cycle. But to call it a restaurant and to frame the serving of light to organisms that do not perceive pleasure to cuisine seems a bit of a stretch. And this is coming from someone who has hosted dinner parties for wild animals. In my work, though, I am highlighting the differences in consumptive habits of people to animals and unpacking the anthropomorphizing of animals. I’m having a hard time locating intention for Keats’ framing this work as cuisine. In my grow room project I have been interested in the co-presence of consumption and production of horticulture. That said, an aspect of this work, the idea of granting plants their own time and space to consume is kind of cool. Maybe it would be more complicated for an audience if they were invited to dine upon plants as the plants “dine” upon light. I like his cookbook format though, recipes are a great discursive tool for work like this, a strategy I’ve used in some of my own writing. It kind of harkens back to the old school conceptualists and their lists of directives for recreating their work.
CI: To me, the name ‘Roots and Culture’ has a kind of retro-hippy vibe that doesn’t scream out “Contemporary Art shown here!” What does the name of your space mean to you?
EM: The name, I get this question every once in awhile. Retro- hippy vibe works for me! The name comes from my love of reggae music, Roots & Culture was a movement in Jamaican music during the early to late seventies, which is aligned with the Rastafarian movement and Garveyism. Of course it’s more than a little clumsy to reference such a specific historical moment that my only real connection to is through cultural fandom. More generally though, the music represented a shift from more base, popular subject matter to socially conscious meaning. I like that as a metaphor for our activities. I like the slipperiness of signifiers too, and I like the openness of the name. It is very clear in a way, but also layered with other referents, like to botanical and fungal ideas. This kind of broad way to talk about ecology is at the core of my practices and I couldn’t really articulate that when I first opened the space, but have now come to as my practice has expanded.
A gift which provides studio space and funding for 12 to 14 students from art schools across the country to spend their summer at Ox-Bow.
Both LeRoy and Janet are alumni of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago & Ox-Bow.
“LeRoy Neiman has been intimately involved with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Ox-Bow for many years—as a student, then a faculty member, and now as a wonderful benefactor with his wife Janet, herself an alumna of SAIC, LeRoy is particularly sensitive to what Ox-Bow offers to the working artist, and comments often on the productive time he spent there and how the bucolic serenity of that special place was crucial to his development as a painter. These generous scholarships are especially significant as they are a gift from one remarkable artist to many young artists. Because of the Neimans’ gift they’ll be able to study at this unique open-air studio for many years to come.”