I first encountered the work of Chicago-based photographer Heidi Norton only recently, when one of her photographs was included in landscape/portrait/still life, a group show curated by Philip von Zweck at Hungry Man Gallery. For me, von Zweck’s show provided the curatorial equivalent of a restaurant tasting menu: it offered small but pungent bites of different artworks, laid out according to a fairly broad curatorial premise. I came away with a short list of artists about whom I was curious and eager to learn more. At the top of that list was Norton, a photographer and an instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she teaches color photography and multi-level studio. Norton earned her MFA from SAIC in 2002, and has participated in numerous group shows in Chicago, New York, London, and Spain. She will be exhibiting her work at Next / Art Chicago (April 30 – May 3, 2010) with Swimming Pool Project Space. Heidi was kind enough to engage in an in-depth Q&A with me about her current photographic practice and the state of the photographic arts in general. I’m very grateful to her for the time she took to answer my questions.
CI: You seem to move easily in and out of three traditional photographic genres–portrait, landscape, and still life–without residing solely in any one. The photograph “Deconstruction/Rebirth” in “landscape/portrait/still life” seems to fit into at least two of the categories that that show was exploring. Can you talk a bit about the ideas behind “Deconstruction/Rebirth,” and how that image fits into the tradition of landscape and still life while subverting them as well?
HN: The relationship between photography and painting will always be a subject worth exploiting. For years the two have worked reflexively, borrowing from one another when it suited them, dissing one another when they felt inferior. Photography lagged behind for many years until its introduction to the art world via the museum institution. However, Modernism also brought with it a tremendous number of failures within the medium of photography itself, i.e. technical prowess dominated by men exclusively. Works by Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and Minor White, for example, use landscape, figure and still life in a highly vapid yet monopolizing way. Their works lacked any conceptual content, relying instead on technique and shallow representations of beauty. In these works, nature, light, and the female form are reduced to popular notions of the sublime and the meditative. This becomes problematic in that beauty is classified as idyllic, cliched and subsequently artificial. In all of my works I am interested in reexamining these traditional ideas, but also in deconstructing them by using more contemporary and conceptual methods.
With the painted plant works I am interested in simultaneously preserving and deconstructing the idyllic beauty represented by the the plants, through the application of paint. The paint initially concerned me because I thought it would kill the plants. However, the plants soon begin to grow out of the center, shedding the acrylic paint and moving back into the their natural forms. This is where the subversion begins. The paint is the medium added to the still life, interrupting its identity as the “perfect” formal still life. The green paint is strewn onto the image in a chaotic and “messy” manner, the forms are no longer perfect, and the plants sit somewhere between life and death.
Times are tough, but there’s a lot to look forward to with the coming Fall art season in Chicago. Here’s what Meg and I are most looking forward to seeing over the next three months — and be sure to check out Stephanie’s guide to Friday and Saturday openings below!
9/11 Philip Von Zweck at ThreeWalls (M, C) The title of this show is “The Fortieth Anniversary of the First Anniversary of May ’68 (in September).” Von Zweck is a significant and much-beloved figure in the Chicago art scene who ran a highly respected apartment gallery for a number of years. This exhibition marks his return to a more traditional solo artist exhibition framework.
9/11 Luis Gispert at Rhona Hoffman (C) New large-scale photographic portraits and videos by the Miami-born, Brooklyn-based Gispert that focus on immigrant sectors of the American workforce and the search for expressive outlets outside the realm of labor. A three-channel film focuses on Gispert’s friend Rene, a Cuban immigrant who works in a Miami restaurant supply store.
9/11 Jessica Labatte at Scott Projects (M). Labatte’s exhibition Bright Branches documents found objects collected from Chicago alleys and junk stores.
9/11 Craig Doty: Women at Roots and Culture (M,C). The women in Doty’s new photographic series have been described as appearing “physically exhausted as well as ethically or morally debased,” i.e. a wet and shivering woman looking out past viewers with few narrative clues as to why, etc. Given Choire Sicha’s description of Doty as “a sick little pervert” whose previous body of work was “very John Hughes meets John Waters meets John Lydon,” well, let’s just say we can’t wait to see his approach to the subject for ourselves.
9/12 Doug Ischar at Golden (M,C). A body of work from 1985, never before seen in its entirety, is the enticement here. Ischar’s show is titled Marginal Waters and features images taken in Chicago’s now-defunct Belmont Rocks.
9/19 Jonas Wood at Shane Campbell Gallery (C). He’s from L.A. and showed at Black Dragon Society, plus he’s collaborated with painter Mark Grotjahn…for now, that’s all I need to know to want to see Wood’s show.
9/19 Jason Lazarus, Wolfgang Plöger, Zoe Strauss at The Art Institute (M). A show of recent photographic acquisitions of these artists’ works by the Art Institute.
9/20 Allen Sekula, Polonia and Other Fables at The Renaissance Society (C). New photographs by anti-globalization hero Sekula that focus on Chicago’s rich labor history, its Polish working-class population along with The University of Chicago’s famous lineage of economic theorists. Heady yet vital stuff from this woefully under-recognized L.A.-based artist.
9/25 – 9/27 Mikhail Baryshnikov at Harris Theater (M). It’s Baryshnikov dude. ‘Nuff said.
9/30 Heartland at the Smart Museum (C). Coorganized by the Smart Museum of Art and the Van Abbemuseum, a survey of artists from the Midwest aka the American Heartland. Hopefully it’ll subvert the syrupy connotations of it’s title, or at least be the kind of show that people argue, bitch and moan about rather than simply ignore.
10/2 – 10/4 Western Exhibitions and Golden Age at the NY Art Book Fair (M). The only event to make it to our list that is not in Chicago. If your in New York at the beginning of October check out two Chicagoans holding it down at the Fair.
October, opening date TBA, Carroll Dunham at He Said/She Said (C). Carroll Dunham shows in a suburban apartment gallery: the Oak Park home of Pamela Fraser and Randall Szott. Can’t wait for this.
10/8-21 Chicago International Film Festival (M) In it’s 45th year the film festival the two week festival is the hub for all film fanatics. This festival might be the only time to catch certain films so be sure to check out their schedule in advance.
10/10 Jeremy Deller: It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq, at the MCA (M) Commissioned by The Three M Project Jeremy Deller will invite numerous participants to discuss their knowledge of the Iraq War. Some guest will include verterans, and scholars.
James Welling at Donald Young (C)
10/10 Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage at The Art Institute (C). I’m a sucker for Victoriana, and this exhibition –the first “to comprehensively examine the little-known phenomenon of Victorian photocollage, presenting work that has rarely—and in many cases never—before been displayed or reproduced” — is probably the one show I’m most looking forward to seeing this fall. A medium mostly practiced by aristocratic women, Victorian photocollage combined human, animal, and botanical forms in all sorts of wacky and whimsical ways, and I’m looking forward to reading the accompanying full-color catalogue to learn more about the ways that female artists of this era approached the form some sixty odd years before Picasso and Braque started playing around with it.
10/13 Alex Halsted and David Moré at Gallery 400 (C). Chicago-based Moré “collaborates” with an elephant nose fish, who emits an electrical pulse as a navigation tool which the artist then amplifies. I love the gallery’s blurb on this show: “This performance duo mixes issues of displacement, communications, commercial sound and inter-species contact in a singularly engaging bio-tech format.” Yep, pretty much says it all.
10/16 In Search of the Mundane at ThreeWalls (M) Organized by Randall Szott and InCUBATE According to ThreeWalls this series will , “include boozy brunches, a lecture on the art of storytelling, various leisure excursions, and a tour of personal collections.”
10/17 Liam Gillick Curates the MCA Collection (M, C). We love the way that the MCA is experimenting with the curation of its permanent collection. The MCA has invited Liam Gillick to select works for its next hanging.
11/TBA James Welling at Donald Young (C). New work by L.A. photographer Welling, whose ongoing interest in the experimental and abstract possibilities of photography set his work apart from contemporaries like Sherrie Levine and Cindy Sherman as well as today’s younger generation focusing heavily on portraiture. Welling’s last show at Donald Young featured photograms of flowers and “torsos” (the latter actually made out of screens sculpted to resemble human curves) made without the use of a camera; the results were gorgeous, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he delves into next.
12/4 Carrie Schneider at MCA 12×12 (M, C) Often using herself as her main character, Schneider melds several genres of art-making including body art, performance, self-portraiture photography and film in images that are haunting, creepy, and hallucinatory in their resonance. If someone ever gave Schneider a huge project budget she could give Matthew Barney a run for his money, but for now we’ll look forward to seeing the new short film Schneider plans to premiere in her first solo museum outing at the MCA. According to the MCA’s website, the film, made in Helsinki, Finland while the artist was there on residency, continues the artists’ ongoing exploration of doubled selves and the uncanny.
1. Green Lantern says it’s the end but we can still be friends…
After 4 (or so) years going strong, the Green Lantern is closing it’s doors. Unfortunately The Man clamped down, and now we must say good bye, though hopefully only to the current space. Hopes are high for the Green Lantern re-opening in 2010 in a new locale, but for now we celebrate the end of an era. So head over on Saturday the 13th for It’s Your Turn, and rock out with Caroline and the rest of the crew. BBQ and copious toasts will be had. Afternoon to 2am.
2. ebersb9? WTF is that?
I’m glad you asked. ebersb9 is a (relatively) new apartment gallery in the Noble Square neighborhood. Everyone likes new apartment galleries, right? Well, now you have the chance to check it out and go see some weird looking work by Krista Hoefle. The show is called The girl who stopped being human, and opens Friday night from 6 to 9. And just remember, people live there, don’t barf on the bathroom floor.
3. Jim Nutt (and others) talk dirty too you at the Smart Museum.
Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, and Dennis Adrian talk about the work of H. C. “Cliff” Westermann on Sunday at the Smart Museum. Come on, Jim Nutt is awesome, I’m sure the other two are smart, and you’ll probably learn something. What else do you have to do on a Sunday? Come on down for an enlightening afternoon, Sunday the 14th at 2pm.
4. Western Exhibitions presents…PORN!
Not just porn, but that’s what caught my eye (no surprise there). If you’re ambiling ‘roung the West Loop drop in, there are two shows opening. The afore mentioned porn is part of The Ecstasyis,work by Dutes Miller. Also opening is they will not ruin us through the things that we like, a show curated by Philip von Zweck and featuring the work of Joel Dean, Anthony Elms, Carol Jackson, Andy Moore, Mindy Rose Schwartz, Deb Sokolow, Amy Vogel. Two for one, and in the West Loop. Sweet. See yout here with Grolsch in hand. Opens Friday night, from 5 to 8.
5. The weather is better down where it’s wetter, under the sea (in a window on Armitage).
Art on Armitage is a strange place. It’s a window, rather than a whole gallery, and shows an array of work some good, some…Well, this week we’re going for a trip under the sea. Usually I’m not big into crafty work, but this stuff is just friggin’ cool looking. A whole coral reef made by knitting? How can you hate on that? Drive by, or stop and take a closer look ( and drink some wine) Saturday 2 to 5.
In January I had posted about the Renaissance Society‘s roundtable “Is there such a thing as a Chicago artist anymore?”. I was unable to attend but I just stumbled on The Ren’s Youtube page. They have not only the full panel separated in 12 segments but also a bunch of interviews that they have done over the course of this year. The panel includes: Elizabeth Chodos, Director of Three Walls; Paul Klein, critic; Chuck Thurow, Director of The Hyde Park Art Center; Philip Von Zweck, artist; and Lynne Warren, Curator at The Museum of Contemporary Art. I haven’t had a chance to finish the series but it seems worth checking out.
view video here