Guest post by Lise Haller Baggesen
IN THE YEAR OF THE SCAVENGER, THE SEASON OF THE BITCHâ€¦
â€¦ in the fossil fueled states of American gloom and doom, we are headed south on LSD, a donnerwetter looming on the horizon as a tic in the corner of our left eye. Shot-size raindrops splatter against the wind-shield from the sky turning from gunmetal grey to violaceous to petroleum green behind the silhouetted skyscrapers, swaying gently in the balmy November breeze as the wind picks up and a tornado warning ticks in on the mobile device, interrupting Kanye West suggesting that this would be a beautiful day forÂ Â jumping out the window/letting everything go/letting everything goâ€¦
Indeed it is a beautiful day!
This apocalyptic weather, reminding us that the doomsday prophets were probably Â right, that this is not the 11th hour, that we are already fashionably late, makes it the perfect day for checking out a couple of shows in Chicagoland contemplating our speciesâ€™ self-destructive impulse.
Hamza Walkerâ€™s modern day vanity Suicide Narcissus at the Renaissance society reads like a visit to the menâ€™s department at Barneyâ€™s: tight and tasteful grey-tones with a splash of lush jungle green thrown in. Not unlike, in fact, its 17th centuryâ€™s Dutch counterparts careful rendition of bridles and soap-bubbles, tulips and skulls, reminding us that the world is forever coming to an end.
The super symmetrical show is arranged on both sides of a corridor leading up to Katie Patersonâ€™s All the Dead Stars, a map of said stars corresponding to the place on earth from where they were discovered laser etched into a matte black anodized aluminum sheet, creating an eerie map resembling a burnt out earth as observed from space. Observation posts glow-in-the-dark with the half-life luminescence of radioactive material, our radio signals still on their way to infinity and beyond long after weâ€™re gone. From here we can turn left or right (or right and three quarters or maybe not quite) but either route will coil back on itself into a cul-de-sac, a dead end from where we can only retreat the way we came.
Each of the works in the show display the mechanics and dialectics of their creation in plain view, if not front and center to our reading of the works, like the endlessly similar variations of rope, pulley and mirror of Thomas Baumannâ€™s perpetuum mobile Tau Sling or the dead pan unedited single channel registration of Nicole Six and Paul Petritschâ€™ Spatial Intervention, showing a lone figure hacking his way through the ice, in a circle surrounding himself. Not really sure if this unromantic reference to Kaspar Davids Friedrichâ€™s Eismeer (the Sea of Ice from 1824), is going anywhere outside of its own hermetic picture plane, but whether we are witnessing a painfully slow suicide attempt here, or just some Sisyphus slow-motion slapstick, as a viewer you feel as frozen in time as the lonely man on the ice.
The row of vitrines that make up Harris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramerâ€™s Infinite Library display a collection of reappropriated books -by the looks of it European post war encyclopedias and reference books with faded color reproductions of artworks and plants, painted over with geometrical figures that seem to suggest some obsolete world order, while Lucy Skaerâ€™s Leviathanâ€™s Edge, a whale skeleton boxed in a drywall space, opened up in three narrow slits, through which we can only partially admire the brittle grandeur of the beastly remains would not be out of place in a gentlemenâ€™s explorers club, that other society, where adventurers who come back to tell the tale can compare their booty- Jolly good!
In a darkened cinema space, similar to a home entertainment den, Daniel Steegmann Mangraneâ€™s 16mm, 2009-2011 the exhibitions only truly juicy work, is contained -as if its lush Amazonian green would otherwise spill out and contaminate the rest of the show in a toxic spill of unbridled fertility. Like decorative kale in a millionaireâ€™s front yard its nutritious value is rendered void, and we are left with eye candy. This is our reward. The five minute 16mm film loop leaves us ample time to contemplate the cable running near the top of the picture frame along which the camera pulls itself still further in to the heart of darkness, the whirring of the projector behind us competing with the dense cacophony of jungle sounds on the soundtrack of the projection before us, until the movie without further ado comes to a dead stop and the screen goes black. The End.
On the surface, Suicide Narcissus mainly examines and admires its own elegant rhetoric. Initially I considered this the exhibitionâ€™s demise, but on reexamining it I have come to think that perhaps this is exactly its point: Like Nero playing the fiddle as Rome burns, you find yourself confronted with your own disengagement, as you consider the aesthetic possibilities and fashion choices of the world going to hell in an evening clutch. It is an uneasy notion, like deleting yet another petition appeal from you e-mail inbox.
As an antidote to this tasteful ennui may I suggest a visit to Dana DeGiulio @ The Suburban, which will tear you out of your inwardly spiraling anxiety attack and throw you right back into the real with the welcome catharsis of your friendly neighborhood suicide bomber.Â The battered backed-up Buick sedan is ramrodded into the cinderblock structure that makes up the central exhibition space at The Suburban with a precision that sits in the sweet spot between demolition and embellishment.
The curious fact that the car is damaged front and rear gives the impression not so much of a drunk driver swerving out on control, tearing through the front yard in the early hours of a sleepy suburban Sunday morning, but more of the feel-something- anything of a soccer momâ€™s revenge, later same morning, her anniversary.
And the shattered head answers back And I believe I was Loved I Believe I loved Who did this to us?
Because we can only contemplate art from our personal vantage point, just like we can only imagine Armageddon in our own time, I will approach this from the angle of Burn Out with their totaled car park in the center of Copenhagen and their smashed up ticketing booth for DeÂ Appel’s Crap Shoot (-a memorable show that culminated for my own part in a visit to the ER after a visit to the exhibitionâ€™s socially (un-)engaged Absolut-free-for-all-vodka-bar and a subsequent act of cycling under the influence ending abruptly when my front wheel got stuck in an Amsterdam tram rail and sent me to a dead stop against the wet asphalt). Curiously, these works originated round about the time when the 1996 LeSabre was still a classy car, but seem almost quaintly didactic now, in their 90s engagement with institutional critique, compared to this work which points only to its own calibration of annihilation through acceleration, suggesting that we are all flying solely by our instruments by now, no line on the horizon: In a godless universe you need to rely on your own moral compass, or perhaps some secular religion. Art for arts sake can be just that. It can be itâ€™s own means and end.
It is an appropriation and an approach, but how do you approach appropriately, being in a banged out car and your aim the feel of not to feel it?
This is subtle and has to be premeditated. Premeditation is available in the form of a brochure which contemplate the estimated market value of the Buick before and after impact as compared to a circular silverpoint painting by Michelle Grabner, as consigned by Dana DeGuilio to James Cohan gallery and sold before the Buick hit the brick wall, perhaps to offset the costs of a second hand car and a cinderblock shed? The end is a zero sum game.
On the 10th anniversary of the suburban, this will be that last one for this building where it all began. Now structurally unsound, It will be torn down at the end of the show, or when the Oak Park police and zoning inspectors step in and say that it is time to clean up the mess, whichever comes first.
In Michelleâ€™s own words: â€œThis is the end of the suburban as we know it!â€
Credits: Dana DeGiulio would like to thank her pit crew. I would like to thank you for reading.
Lise Haller Baggesen (1969) left her native Denmark for the Netherlands in 1992 to study painting at the AKI and the Rijksakademie. In 2008 she relocated to Chicago with her family, where she completed her MA in Visual and Critical Studies at the SAIC in 2013.
In the meantime, her work evolved from a traditional painting practice toward a hybrid practice including curating, writing and immersive multimedia installation work.
Â Her book â€œMothernismâ€ will be published on Green Lantern Press and The Poor Farm Press in 2014.
In 1999 artists Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam co-founded The Suburban, a domestic art space in Oak Park, Illinois that in its decade of existence has become one of the Chicago area’s most highly regarded alternative galleries.Â This coming weekend will mark a new chapter in The Suburban’s history with Grabner and Killam’s launch of The Poor Farm and Poor Farm Press.
Located in Waupaca County in central Wisconsin, The Poor Farm (aka the Waupaca County Home) was built in 1876 as part of the American Poor Farm system. Now, this 2.7 acre compound will function as a larger offshoot of The Suburban, its “rural cousin,” as Grabner and Killam put it. They’ll be mounting yearlong exhibitions in the Farm’s over 8,000 square feet, which includes 2500 square feet of dormitory space for artists and writers to live at the Farm for extended residencies. Poor Farm Press will produce catalogues and other printed matter that normally fall outside the purview of larger publishing houses. In short, a place that once represented the end of the line for the region’s poor–an institutional space of despair, destitution and servitude–will now be an open-ended space of transformative possibility and creative intervention.
Although the Poor Farm itself is still under renovation, Grabner and Killam are ready to kick off their newest venture by welcoming everyone who wants to join them for a weekend-long camp-out/inaugural exhibition opening this weekend, August 7, 8 and 9. On view will be numerous works of performance, painting, sculpture, and installation by artists such as Lesley Vance, David Robbins, Shane Aslan Selzer, Olivier Mosset, Philip Vanderhyden, Brad Kahlhamer, Shane Huffman, Sabina Ott, Pedro Velez, Guillaume Lebion, Nicholas Frank,Â Joe Pflieger and many others that engage the The Poor Farm’s history as well as its many idiosyncratic spaces, which include a jail in the basement and a cemetery in the back cornfield. If you go, you can camp out on the grounds or stay at a nearby hotel, if camping’s not your thing, and dive into a range of super family-friendly activities like river tube floating, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. And, of course, there’ll be cookouts galore.
About the upcoming Poor Farm ventures, Grabner and Killam note,
Like the Suburban, The Poor Farm will be dedicated to artists. In a recent interview we stated that “we believe in artists and we believe in the imagination.” We also happen to delight in and value our mid western, middle class, middle-age life with a mortgage and three kids. Voila: The Suburban, The Poor Farm and Poor Farm Press. Now, we can further negotiate our beliefs, share resources, and widen a space for artists and other curious minds.
What a beautiful way to spend a weekend. If you’re interested, you can download more information on The Poor Farm/Poor Farm Press and the opening weekend “jamboree” by clicking below.
Grabner and Killam are already well known to this blog’s local readers, but if you’re from outside of Chicago and want to learn more about the incredible history of artists’ projects that The Suburban has presented over the past decade you can start by visiting The Suburban’s website. Then, listen to Grabner discuss how she and her family blend art and everyday life on episodes 12 and 19 of Bad at Sports’ Podcast (Grabner also interviewed artist Gaylen Gerber for Episode 93). And finally, the Highlights conducted a terrific interview with Grabner just last June; you can read it here.