Rocks. Knots. Lemons. A Conversation with Lisa Radon.

June 19, 2013 · Print This Article


Lisa Radon eludes traditional definitions. Occasionally a geologist, previously a critic, and perpetually a poet, she dabbles in all manner of creative work from performance art to small-batch publishing. Driven by research and aided by collaboration, Radon’s projects are buoyed by a multitude of voices that, knowingly or otherwise, are ushered into her game. Much of her work can be conceived as a playground—or temporary autonomous zone—in which she spins circles around the structures of language and ideas, drawing liquid connections between word, image, and concept to insightful and poetic ends.

I first became acquainted with Radon during her 2012 Resource Room Residency at Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, (PICA). She orchestrated a talk that invoked Emerson’s essay Circles, quoting: “The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary picture is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world.” (1841) Radon continued to articulate that our understanding of the world can be conceived as an ever-expanding set of concentric circles, always reaching out and beyond, informed by individual experience as well as by collective formations of society and culture. Her recently launched journal, EIGHTS, brings Circles into tangible form. Conceived as an “exhibition space on the page,” the publication assembles the works of artists and writers who explore, challenge, and upend traditional semiotic structures. Reinforcing Emerson’s assertion that, “the universe is fluid and volatile,” this initial volume of EIGHTS includes works by Alison Knowles, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and Shannon Ebner, artists and writers who navigate the space between text and image, transforming the publication into a veritable Hunting the Snark for the concrete poet.

I spoke to Lisa Radon following the release of the first issue of EIGHTS in Portland, Oregon.

David Abel, Listen, 2012

David Abel, Listen, 2012

Sarah Margolis-Pineo: Thumbing through EIGHTS, I was struck by it resistance to traditional categorizations. I was simultaneously reading and seeing—experiencing visual art and poetry—in a format that intersects exhibition and literary mag. This slipperiness seems conceptually crucial to the project, and I’m curious: how was EIGHTS conceived and formalized?

Lisa Radon: I have for some time been interested in the möbius strip of reading and writing, where reading is a kind of writing and writing is a kind of reading. And I imagine EIGHTS as being exhibition space on the page for writings-as-readings at the intersection of this möbius strip with visual art. So there are concrete poems, works of conceptual writing by artists and poets, works of conceptual art, and writings by artists. This is a beautiful field to consider. And I like the conversations these works can have with one another.

SMP: How has the knot become a significant allusion?

LR: You’re referring to the logo, which is a mathematical knot, the figure-eight knot. I like that it’s a prime knot, for one thing. But more importantly, the idea of the knot, an ordinary, non-mathematical knot, is significant to this project specifically, and more generally to my work, because it is the place where points in a line that would never touch one another, do touch. New frictions.


SMP: I’ve heard you reference Dick Higgins’s conception of art as a liminal zone—or horizon—that is in essence a meeting place for commingling and overlap. How did the legacy of Higgins and other Fluxus artists inform EIGHTS?

LR: Oh, interesting, well I know that’s a part of my own thinking, but I don’t think of EIGHTS as being particularly Fluxus influenced, although Higgins certainly made conceptual writings. It’s just an aspect of the whole. That said, Alison Knowles’ House of Dust is in Issue One. It is an early example of an artist collaborating with a computer to make a writing. Essentially it is an automated (FORTRAN-generated) reading as a writing. 

SMP: I’m hoping you can illuminate a bit about the curatorial process. How were the works selected and arranged?

LR: Considerations included giving primacy to works that function as both readings and writings. Works that expand the notions of “writing” (see works by David Abel and Shannon Ebner) and reading (Sydney S. Kim’s piece is a thermal reading of the covers of a selection of books of poems) are important. Incorporating works in English by artists for whom it is a second language was interesting as a way of raising questions about translation broadly. Including works by influential artists and poets like Ian Hamilton Finlay, Bernadette Mayer, and Clark Coolidge sets the groundwork for EIGHTS’ conversation.

Shannon Ebner, Subject Lost, 2012

Shannon Ebner, Subject Lost, 2012

SMP: While reading/viewing many of the pieces in EIGHTS, I found myself examining them almost analytically—looking for a cypher or code—all the while being aware of the visual and aural resonance. In a way, each work operates as a stand-alone game with its own internal logic. In my mind, the project became a collection of these magic circles and, I guess my question tends toward the relationship the pieces have to each other: what is the conversation you envision these works to have? Why bind them into a coherent volume versus displaying them in an exhibition format, through online infrastructure, or releasing them in individual volumes?

LR: Most of these works have a preexisting relationship with the page. And even in the case of those that don’t, their inclusion lets me think about what language does differently on a page rather than say, on a wall or in the air. Specifically, in a book, there is the magical thing of images on facing pages touching one another. Like a knot. I love the book as a form. And it’s the word’s natural home. Plus, it can move so nicely in the world.

SMP: I agree: the page allows language to play differently than language spoken aloud, but at what point does visual poetry generate meaning versus operating as a page-bound pun?

LR: That’s funny. I don’t think you would ask this question of an abstract painting. And I think it’s funny that we ask it of a concrete use of language, or any non-ordinary deployment of language.  Concrete or visual poetry as well as myriad other non-expressive ways of using language (operational, fragmented, repetitive) may make meaning in collaboration with the viewer (every reading is a writing, she says again), but their relationships to meaning are different. The words in one of these pieces are not used as mere tools, the way you and I are using words in this most banal of ways, to simply say what needs saying. They’re used in ways that expand and complicate their relationships to one another and to the whole, which results in complicating our relationship to language and its use. I think this is an enormously productive zone both for making meaning and refusing or confounding it.

In 1954 Eugen Gomringer wrote this on concrete poems:

“The constellation is the simplest possible kind of configuration in poetry which has for its basic unit the word, it encloses a group of words as if it were drawing stars together to form a cluster.

The constellation is an arrangement, and at the same time a play-area of fixed dimensions.

The constellation is ordered by the poet. He determines the play-area, the field or force and suggests its possibilities. The reader, the new reader, grasps the idea of play, and joins in.

In the constellation something is brought into the world. It is a reality in itself and not a poem about something or other. The constellation is an invitation.”

Tim Johnson, Bring / Banged / Singing, (insert), 2012

Tim Johnson, Bring / Banged / Singing, (insert), 2012

SMP: That’s lovely. It perfectly illustrates the relationship between lived experience and imagination and the potential for experimentation within even the most elemental structures. I want to learn a bit more about what you have in mind for the following editions in the EIGHTS series, but I’m also really curious about the work you’re doing with Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone, which, like the constellation or white page, are conceived as spaces to prototype new ways of being. Can you speak to this new project in the works?

LR: EIGHTS will be published annually. Contributions for Issue No. Two will include work by Madeline Gins and Buzz Spector.

The TAZ project is a book I am making called Prototyping Eutopias. And boy, even though I’ve been working on it for some time, I can barely talk about it. It is probably a poem, a manual, a history, a call, a horizon, a magic object. I originally conceived of it as a re-writing of the TAZ that would excise its war language, an enhancement of it to include considerations of the ethics of care and esoteric practices. Then Vaneigem came in and Retallack and Kropotkin, and on and on. I’m mostly researching opals and invisibility.

SMP: Interesting. I’ve always found the TAZ message contradictory to the media. Not to delve too deeply into this next project, but it seems to me that EIGHTS already exists as a simultaneous counterpoint and affirmation of Bey’s discourse. You can respond, but I was hoping to segue into your interest in words and things. Can you tell me how the web-based “supplemental” components came about?

LR: Sure. The supplements on the website can and will be anything from armature for thinking and process documentation to theory and talismanic object. I wanted a strict separation between the work and work about the work, so any theory will be on the website not on the white walls of the book. It is also true that in the two years it took to make the first issue, there was a necessity to embed a handful of images and objects as talismans.


SMP:  Any words or objects that have your interest at the moment?

LR: The number eight as vertical lemniscate as möbius strip. Rocks. Knots. Lemons, always. Not to drift too far off topic here, but they are powerful objects. And barnacles. Barnacles make a clicking noise at low tide which is super sci-fi. They’re blind as adults.


EIGHTS is published annually and is available by subscription.

Lisa Radon has exhibited at Hedreen Gallery, LxWxH, White Box, Car Hole, Worksound, and galleryHOMELAND. Her recent residency at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art resulted in a lecture and a publication entitled A Reading (2012, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art). Other recent publications include: An Attempt at Exhausting a Place (2013), The Book of Knots (2013, c_L), Sentences on Sentences on Paragraphs on Paragraphs (2011, Publication Studio).


Open Engagement 2013 no. 02 : A Utopia of Dispute Might Be Better / Regarding Ethics & Failure

May 18, 2013 · Print This Article


I keep trying to trace emergent themes at Open Engagement. Our organizers have done a good job of marking three umbrella categories, under which each panel, presentation or discussion resides. These headings, Publics, Contexts, and Institutions, feel like hubs through which a larger, interconnected current runs. One conversation bleeds into the next. Institution could be one example of a context, for instance. An institution could also be populated by a  public, but neither “Contexts” nor “Publics” rely exclusively on “Institutions.” The project of this particular conference, one might say, is to investigate the way socially engaged art practice runs through (or negotiates) those headers.

That said, I am hunting around for additional trends, for theoretical concerns that crop up continually in the subtext of various presentations, reflecting perhaps on a collective undertow that Social Practice artists are preoccupied with. There is something problematic about my efforts. It’s an artificial exercise in a way, especially when the subject of presentations — not to mention the styles of address — are so broad. My insights are additionally subjective, stemming from what panels I’ve seen and how the concerns therein stick to my ribs.


Still, I persist. Obviously this is a post that I deliberately published. Obviously I am interested in failing a little bit. I’m emboldened by the fact that failure, as a topic, is one of those recurring themes. Failure and the equally nebulous question about ethics. These subjects bubble to the surface not only in talks themselves, but also in audience questions. For instance, “I feel there is a danger that the projet you described could waste someone’s time. Someone in your intended audience for instance. How can you be sure you’re not doing that? What can you guarantee your public?” It suggests the artist ought to deliver something, and ideally that whatever is delivered is good, or worthy of (in this instance) one’s time. Ethics and failure are linked up with responsibility in this regard — conveying a feeling that something in works of art that rely on audience participation ought to offer or fulfill something.

First let me make a case for the #EthicsTrend. In an account of Friday’s panel, “Sociology (of and) for Socially Engaged Practice, Institute for Art Scene Studies” I was told Pablo Helguera, Barbara Adams, David Peppas, and Adeola Enigbokan staged a kind of reductio proof of what not to do as a social practice artist. I missed it, unfortunately, but heard that someone posed as an artist, presenting a series of ill-advised projects to the panel, pretending to be an artist. (For instance, the acting artist claimed to have done a project where s/he gave up all possessions in order to see what it was like to live under the poverty line.) The panel then critiqued these projects, highlighting what exactly was ill-advised about them. (Using the same example, the panel pointed out that the artist was able at any time to reenter her/his life of material stability). This was relayed to me by a rather horrified member of the audience who, at the end of her account, leaned in conspiratorially and whispered “And it was all a hoax! The ‘artist'” (she used scare quotes) “was making it all up!” seeming at once relieved and frustrated that she had been duped. In a later panel that same day, “What’s the Harm of Community Arts and Social Practice? The Ethics of Engagement and Negative Value,” Marnie Badham, Amy Spiers, Claude Schryer, and Dr. Kathleen Irwin wrestled with questions of how and when artists intrude on a public. In her opening remarks, Badham noted first, “this turn to community is rarely explored critically,” and then asked “is social change always good?” An ethical approach is often taken for granted in socially engaged art. There is an implied use or service tends to go hand in hand with these social experiments. A desire to save the world, or at least some very small piece of it.


Here the idea of failure comes in — because, in a way it is impossible to save the world. However in articulating an attempt, I would argue, the art project sets out to “do” something. As such it becomes easier to measure and assess.  Rakowitz rebuffed this point yesterday when he suggested that art didn’t necessarily have to do anything. But if that’s the case, one’s ability to measure success and failure becomes more difficult. And, perhaps, more interesting. For instance, this morning at “Craft + Social Practice: A Roundtable Conversation” at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, a group of panelists (Gabriel Craig, Ayumi Horie, Stacy Jo Scott, Michael J. Strand, moderated and organized by Sarah Margolis-Pineo) described their relationship to failure. Many suggested that failures provided new opportunities for insight — Gabriel Craig talked about “Slow Gold,” a project based on ethical metal sourcing, where he and four collaborators went to the Black Mountains in South Dakota to find gold for a couples’ wedding bands. (The betrothed couple participated in this project.) They could only find .4 grains. His conclusion, “Mining, no matter what scale it’s on is absolutely catastrophic for the environment.” On that same panel, Stacy Jo Scott of the Craft Mystery Cult confessed, “Occult is always dealing with failure. That’s because we have this desire to speak of ideals, in terms of an ideal poetic space, but also in terms of utopic vision. Knowing the failures of past utopias, but still desiring Utopia. What results is the absurd: optimism in the face of futility.”

Stacy Jo Scott, "Mobile Craft Utopia," 2011, Fufu bowl, indigo-dyed sponge, 500 year old vietnamese pottery, iron oxide rock, mold, Anasazi pottery shard, fragment from Donald Judd's studio wall, chakusa, hand-blown glass, Chartreuse liqueur, wild rabbit fur, iron tumbler, wax drip, earthenware marijuana pipes, iron lingam, Josef Albers color theory cards, book, photo of Shunryu Suzuki, 8"x16"x34"

Stacy Jo Scott, “Mobile Craft Utopia,” 2011, Fufu bowl, indigo-dyed sponge, 500 year old vietnamese pottery, iron oxide rock, mold, Anasazi pottery shard, fragment from Donald Judd’s studio wall, chakusa, hand-blown glass, Chartreuse liqueur, wild rabbit fur, iron tumbler, wax drip, earthenware
marijuana pipes, iron lingam, Josef Albers color theory cards, book, photo of Shunryu Suzuki, 8″x16″x34″

Keep this idea of ethics in one hand. Hold in your other hand the idea of failure. Now imagine yourself in the Shattuck Annex, sitting (like I was) in chair with a small desk attached. It is the sort of desk students often use. The sort of desk I haven’t sat in for years. Keep in mind it is raining outside and the opening bars of Woody Guthries’ “This Land is Your Land” is playing on a loop. People shuffle in slowly. Some are ushered to an overflow room when the room is at capacity. In that room this afternoon, Claire Doherty gave a fantastic keynote, opening with an observation that keynote speakers have the ability to highlight and anchor conversations in a conference. The keynote provides a kind of watering hole – a central point in the middle of the day during which most conference-goers sit in the same room, sharing the same experience, after scattering out again to different panels, rendez-vous, and performances. Doherty hastened to remind everyone about the underbelly of social practice — that many projects, while on the one hand providing photographs of an engaged and happy public digging ditches and/or eating ice cream often come out of duress or protest. These works have the ability to engage a collective, public imagination because they tend to address points of tension. She went on to discuss Nowhere Island, a project by Alex Hartley produced by Situations — the organization Doherty directs. As a travelling landmass, self-designated as a site belonging to no-country, Nowhere Island became another version of Utopia. Pulled by a tug boat through international waters, it visited many ports, acquiring 23,003 citizens over the course of a single year. There is much more to the story, of course, but I like situating this island in this post because the land mass in an of itself is what Doherty might call a “charismatic object,” a physical object both engaging and alluring to a public imagination. This object was capable of, again in Doherty’s words, “Nourishing the capacity for creative illusion, [such that a public was able] to act and think as though things were different.” In and of itself the island is not ethical, but it enables a public to explore their own Utopian expectations thereby exploring the problems that such ideals might subsequently create.


Now, open your hand.



In Tim Etchells words, “A Utopia of dispute might be better:”

Dear Citizens of Nowhereisland

as we stop in the shelter of a doorway in the thunderstorm
S. holds out his hand to check the rain.

The hand. The flatness of it. The open-ness. The question of it. The directness. The simplicity. The pragmatism. The straightforwardness. The sunshine.

And maybe just the repetition of this gesture, which must be as old as the hills, as old as the co-presence of hands and rain. 

(read more of Etchells’ Nowhere Island response)



March 20, 2013 · Print This Article



It seems impossible to enter an exhibition with the title WHEN WILL MY LOVE BE RIGHT without the expectation of heartbreak. This provocative phrase, taken from a 1980s soul classic by Robert Winters & Fall, reads as an ominous declaration of sentiment that, beyond unrequited, has been relegated to a realm of social and cultural taboo. In a moment when debate over DOMA abounds, the political and personal are inherently interwoven in this new body of work by Arnold J. Kemp, a Portland-based visual and performing artist who is recognized for using glitter and a Duchampian sense of humor to explore issues related to identity and subjectivity.

WHEN WILL MY LOVE BE RIGHT, recently on view at PDX CONTEMPORARY ART, was not all political machination wrapped in clever art-speak. Kemp certainly took a cue from the spirit of Robert Winters’ early-80s falsetto, (a sound that can only come out of Southern California by way of Detroit!), to imbue his performance and handmade readymade objects with an endearing tenderness—sentimentality pervasive in popular music and cinema but still somewhat disconcerting in the realm of fine art. Stand out were Kemp’s two pairs of handmade men’s shoes each accompanied by two seashells, two-by-two creating a veritable Odd Couple of characters marooned on adjacent islands just barely raised above the gallery floor. Thinking about shoes in contemporary art—Christian Boltanski’s piles and Bedwyr Williams’ crusty size 13s, for example—there’s something tragic and futile with these works that is entirely absent when viewing Kemp’s stunningly crafted footwear. His sculptures, contentedly paired in convivial conversation, exude a humble opulence. Though alienated from each other, the shoes seem at home with their chosen partners, both pairs of empty vessels enlivened by the echo of past and future inhabitants.

All was not harmonious in Kemp’s installation, however. Photographs of portentous empty masks lined the gallery walls, and an index card reading: EYES REMAIN RIVETED ON THE MOON THAT’S RISING FROM THE EDGE OF MAN’S SORROW, added an uncanny punctuation mark to the entire tableau. When will my love be right? The specifics of to whom Kemp asks remains ambiguous. What can be gleaned from this body of work is that love and alienation, fulfillment and pain, presence and absence, all operate in tandem, and it is the space of art—abetted by pop music—where these dichotomies can meet.

I spoke to Arnold J. Kemp over chilled rosé and cured meats in downtown Portland.

photo: Matthew Miller

photo: Matthew Miller

Sarah Margolis-Pineo: I was hoping that you could begin by elaborating a bit on your most recent body of work, WHEN WILL MY LOVE BE RIGHT, which seems to speak very much to your multidisciplinary and multisensory approach to making. How did the show come together?

Arnold J. Kemp: I come at things like a sculptor who is trying to make paintings. When I moved to Portland, I was very involved in making paintings that had a sense of humor. Sometimes they’d be all black paintings—Vampires—named for the idea that vampires don’t have reflections when they look into mirrors. Another series were these glittering pink and black paintings that completely resembled the disco-era. But with this new work, I think it started with wanting to make something that people could really see my hand in. So, I don’t know precisely how I arrived at it, but I was messing around in the studio with aluminum foil and what emerged were these mask-like objects. I have a history of drawing and creating things that resemble masks, but what was interesting about the aluminum foil, is that it really conveys the movement of my hand manipulating the material. I never thought to exhibit the objects themselves; instead, I used the quickest, easiest, and dumbest way of rendering them into an image, which was to use a scanner. With this series [of Aluminums], I began to play with framing—the frame around the image—as a way to emphasize the idea of painting.



AK: Other elements of the work are the handmade shoes and the 15-foot leather belts with the belt buckles spelling “shy,” which were displayed very low to the ground in steel trays that functioned almost as a piece of furniture. There was also the performance, In Arms. In Arms is sort of an abstracted, sad, love story that really relates to the main theme of the show: when will my love be right? As I was making this work, I got really involved with this one song with the same title from the 80s by this group Robert Winter & the Fall. I found it on YouTube—it’s amazing!—the vocals are amazing. It’s all about longing, yearning, and impossible love.

Having the play as a piece in the show—it was on the checklist, performed on one night only for 50-people—was very important to me because it made the exhibition something really special… [During the performance,] the gallery was completely dark and we all were wearing handmade headlamps so we could read the script as we were performing. And when I say “performing,” we were more giving a good reading than actually performing. My direction to the actors, [Travis Nikolai and Sara Jaffe,] was to speak slowly and clearly so people could actually hear the words because the text is somewhat abstract. There are parts that are narrative that resemble what you would hear if you were walking down the street and hearing fragments of various conversations, or eavesdropping on hearing two lovers talking.

IN ARMS, performed at PDX CONTEMPORARY, 2013

IN ARMS, performed at PDX CONTEMPORARY, 2013

SMP: I’m interested in your use of the term readymade for something that is ephemeral—text based—distinctly non-material. I remember reading in an interview that Jonathan Lethem is not interested in originality, but rather, in expressing the grain of human experience, even if that means sourcing from plagiarized material. How do you approach using readymade text and is there a limit to sampling and re-sampling existing creative work?

AK: It’s not about originality, and it’s not about waiting for inspiration as an artist. Ezra Pound said: to make it new; and Gertrude Stein said: I’ve read everything! Which I love! By using texts or words as readymades, I feel as though this play is put together like a sculpture—all these parts just come together. All of this stuff is in the world to play with and make with, and I just want to use it all. We have so much at our fingertips with the Internet, although I’d prefer to be in a library surrounded by books, which is where the material for this play comes from. To resist that would be resisting the whole way our culture is going with mixing and remixing, DJ-ing, and mashing up. The whole idea of the hip-hop posse has really fascinated me for quite a while. Warhol referenced the factory, and I think about the posse, and how it’s fairly impossible for a single, autonomous artist working alone to make it—legitimately make it in the art world—whatever that means.



AK: As for the text in the play, most of is was drawn from sources that came from a practice that was almost like contrived community building, rooted in my personal desire to have conversations with people like Angela Davis, Brecht, Billie Holiday, Mallarmé… There could very well be 100 different people quoted in that script. There is a line that reads: don’t explain; that’s Billie Holiday. The whole thing is very research process-oriented. It’s about being part of a community. And it’s about love.

SMP: Is it a collaborative work then?

AK: Me and Angela Davis! A collaboration? Truly, I do consider my work a collaboration between myself and who the piece is dedicated to… The characters in the play are specific people, and I don’t know if I want the public to know this, but one of those characters is me and the other character is someone I’ve been romantically involved with since 2003. For ten years, we’ve had this very intense, serious, in love, calling each other fiancées relationship, but there are impossible things and we’re not together. He and I have performed this play once before at California College of the Arts, (CCA), as part of Bay Area Poet’s Theater. We got rave reviews and I thought I would never have to perform it again—I would just publish it, but then this show came up: WHEN WILL MY LOVE BE RIGHT.

People should ask: who is he talking to? It could be those shoes. The shoes are very abstract to me—they could be very simple—but their simplicity is complicated by the fact that my father is an incredibly well dressed man who is very critical the way that I dress. His father made men’s suits, and my mother’s father made shoes. My mother comes from a family of six daughters and no sons, and my grandfather made the entire family’s shoes—this was in Panama.



SMP: Is that biographical reference important to the work?

AK: Yes, it is. In addition to the shoes, there are seashells that certainly refer to my Caribbean heritage, but they also are echoes of the shoes. A seashell has a similar function and a similar shape to a shoe, and if you hold a seashell or shoe up to your ear, you’re going to hear the ocean.

SMP: In graduate school, Renée Green had us read Muriel Rukeyser’s Life of Poetry, a text all about the revolutionary potential produced by the emotional stuff of poetry. Why bring poetry and love into your work?

AK: Even when I was doing a lot of curating, I was always watching other artists. I had to write these curatorial essays and there was always this point in writing that I wanted to write about love—what love has to do with art making. It’s not just a love of objects or love of museums, but heartache, the blues, jazz, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Horn, Betty Carter… All these amazing people who do take on love, bring it into themselves, and translate it into something that resonates with others. Love is very personal. I’m not talking about a universal love, although love is universal. My experience with it, which has to do with being black, being an artist, being queer, being a teacher, being part of a family, is very intense. This exhibition was really hard to put together emotionally and I’m always thrilled when even a bit of the conceptual intent comes through.

SMP: It seems as thought you’re able to leverage you love of idols—Angela Davis and Billie Holiday—with a very personal, day-to-day, lived version of love, and the art making is where those two meet.

AK: I don’t know how, but I know it’s purposeful.



SMP: What is your relationship to craft? Is there something about craft-based materials and processes—shoe making, for example—that allows you to approach a subject or articulate something differently than your work that comes from the trajectory of fine art painting and photography?

AK: That’s an interesting question. When I teach, I say to my students: you can’t make art by making art. They might not know what that means at first, but I say it over and over again, and I applaud them when they don’t make art. Making art by not making art is really a Duchampian thing, and it’s funny to talk about Duchamp relative to craft, but someone made the toilet—it was porcelain—so someone had to make it! But anyway, back to the shoes. To give a little back-story, for a long time, I’ve wanted to do a project where I make mirrors by hand. I want to present handmade mirrors as paintings—I still want to do that project—but when I was about to, there was a shift in my social world that made me not want to make mirrors anymore. So, instead, I thought: I’ll make shoes.



AK: When people would ask what I was working on, I would say: handmade readymades. This idea of the handmade readymade, (and I thought was being clever), was a first a way to get Duchamp. Not, get Duchamp, because you really can’t get over him or his work, but, I thought they could look, simply, like a regular pair of shoes—not like art—but like a finely crafted, all hand, no machine, leather shoe. I was able to connect with a very skilled shoemaker who is a cobbler from a really old Romanian family that had been in the business of making shoes for about 200 years and he has been making shoes since he was 12 years old. I saw an advert that someone had tacked up reading “Shoemaking Course,” and because there was no venue for the class and people were flying in from all over the country to take it, I was able to offer space in the PNCA sculpture studio in exchange for taking the class for free, (although I did pay over $1000 for a set of tools).  The shoes that I made are not perfect. People ask all the time if I wear them—I could wear them—but I wouldn’t sell them to someone to wear, because I think of them as sculpture, and I believe in this craft of shoemaking so much that I feel that I’d have to make 20 or 40 pairs of shoes before I was really able to sell a pair of shoes to somebody.

Calling the Ravens and the Raven are Coming In, 2009

Calling the Ravens and the Raven are Coming In,

SMP: It seems to me that in this exhibition and your past work as well—and I’m thinking of the glitter works here—that you’ve intentionally played with concepts relating to luster and artifice, drawing attention to a painting as a painting or a poem as a poem in a very post-Brechtian way. Why this interest in artifice?

AK: When I work, I try to make myself laugh. When I first made the masks, I had an a-ha moment: no one has made this before and it is so dumb! It was so dumb, and that’s why it was so good. When I make the masks I’m laughing. Each one is unique and each one of the frames is also unique, (there’s no edition), and there is some process to them, but in some sense, anyone could go to a hobby shop, pickup some black glitter and doll’s eyes, and create something that looks very close to one of my paintings. In a way I’m daring them to—the black glitter is sort of a dare, as is the aluminum foil. (I dare someone to make the shoes!)

SMP: My immediate referent with the glitter and dolls eyes is not necessarily this hobby shop kitsch, (although that’s there), but instead, my first thought is of the counterculture—the Cockettes—and glittery gestures of resistance.

AK: There’s a reason that all the glitter paintings are small—they’re resisting the idea of the masterpiece, resisting master narrative, resisting hyper-masculine painter. When I went to the Museum School, I was taught by third-generation abstract expressionists who told me that I was too smart to be an artist and I would be a better artist if I thought less. I really struggled in art school to figure out how to be an artist—how to resist and persist—which is what my whole life has been about. And really, my work may come from thinking too much, but it also comes from looking at Jasper Johns, and I guess it all comes back to figuring out what art is for me.



AK: One of my first big breaks was Freestyle at the Studio Museum, (2001), an exhibition that featured the first generation of black artists after Carrie Mae Weems, Fred Wilson, Lorna Simpson, and many others that our generation really respects. There was a point though, when we had to consider: we love that conversation, but does it benefit us to be a part of that conversation or to try and move this conversation in different directions? I am continuously addressing this issue relative to my work: Freestyle and the post-black ideas about blackness, which really matter to me as someone from a really racist part of the country. The other piece here is my gay identity, which is maybe what you were getting at with the Cockettes reference and all the 60s glitter. I did spend 15-years in San Francisco, and a show that really changed my life was curated by Nayland Blake called Situation at New Langton Arts in 1991. The exhibition was a survey of queer artists. I walked in not knowing anyone in San Francisco at the time, and I thought to myself: I want to work here. That happened, and that led to everything else.

SMP: I’m curious: what is the Black Monochrome Machine?

AK: Black Monochrome Machine is an idea I came up with as a way of producing work. I’ve also created: Arnold J. Kemp, Principal of Invisible Inc. and Black Arts Index. These are entities that I was producing work out of—not as if I’m not the author—but as if I wasn’t by myself. Black Arts Index was an idea that began in college; it was an actual index of references to blackness, from race to the occult and black magic. Another project under Black Arts Index and Invisible Inc. was an idea I had for a book about slavery. In 1993, I was walking with David Hammons and we walked by the work of an artist from his generation and he said to me: Why is she making work about slavery? Everyone knows that we were slaves. Art is not to tell us about what we already know, but there definitely is a market and a curatorial push that supports artists who deal with struggles of Africans derived people in this country. In my youthful naiveté I wanted to write this book to free those artists, but i could never write that book.


Arnold J. Kemp’s recent exhibition, WHEN WILL MY LOVE BE RIGHT, was on view at PDX CONTEMPORARY ART January 22 – March 2. Currently, Kemp is Chair of the MFA in Visual Studies Department at Pacific Northwest College of Art, (PNCA). In 2012, Kemp was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and his work has been collected by a number of institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Berkeley Art Museum. 1993-2003, Kemp was Associate Curator of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.

Images courtesy of the artist PDX CONTEMPORARY ART unless otherwise specified.

Epsiode 386: Matthew Stadler

January 21, 2013 · Print This Article

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This week: Duncan, Brian, Abigail Satinsky and special guest host Jacob Wick talk to author and publishing guru Matthew Stadler.

Matthew Stadler is a writer and editor who lives in Portland, Oregon. He has written four novels and received several awards and fellowships in recognition of his work. More recently, he has compiled four anthologies about literature, city life and public life. His essays have been published in magazines and museum catalogs around the world, and focus on architecture, urban planning and the problem of sprawl.

“Sprawl is the disappearance of an idea,” Stadler writes in the annotated reader, Where We Live Now, “So how can we go on speaking of the city and the country, yet not remain fixed in the downward spiral of loss?” Stadler’s numerous essays and larger projects, such as explore this question by looking for better language and new descriptions. While there is significant overlap, Stadler’s work can usefully be broken down into three areas: novels; sprawl and urbanism; publishing and public space.

Play By Play : What to Expect in the Coming Months

January 18, 2013 · Print This Article


I came on as the Managing Editor of the Bad at Sports blog about a month ago. It’s been an exciting turn and I hope to do well by it. A few people have asked what my vision going forward is, and I thought I might say something about it here. I hope to continue reflecting on the dynamic energy in Chicago’s contemporary art world while connecting to conversations and aesthetic agendas in other cities and disciplines. That agenda was set in place a while ago and I believe I can continue to guide and focus that intention. There is room for experimentation in that vision, which seems necessary to me. Bad at Sports has never presented a tidy, singular package and as such, I believe it would go against the nature of the project to filter content and tone through a single, editorial lens. Its roots in independent, DIY and Punk Rock collectivism remain at the heart of the project’s vitality and the blog is a platform for unique and individual voices that pass through the subject of contemporary art and culture. As such it becomes a nexus of concerns and responses to culture at large. That is something I hope to preserve under my stewardship. As an artist-run forum, Bad at Sports has the unique capacity to reflect on a host of subjects, exposing the intellectual, aesthetic and social networks that define and subsequently influence cultural production. I believe it is our job to explore and discuss the contexts we inhabit. In doing so, we further establish a living touchstone and future archive of contemporary discourse.

Some changes should be apparent already — others will fall into place like pieces of a puzzle in the coming months. The process is organic, but I’ve been trying to set up a casual, thematic architecture  that unfolds over the course of a given week. Eventually, I hope to schedule two posts a day, one before 2pm and one after. Built in to this, is room for special occasions and guest writers — those posts would either go live in the evenings, or fill in existing gaps. To that end I’ve been inviting a number of new writers, many of whom I have admired for a long time.

Here is something of a loose schedule:

Mondays: Essays and reflections from old favorites Jeriah Hildewin, Shane McAdams and Nicholas O’Brien — writers who have been posting with consistent dedication. In addition, I’m excited to announce a new bi-weekly column by Dana Bassett, whom you may know for her ACRE Newsletters.

Tuesdays are dedicated to three subjects: Performance, Social Practice, Language (or the performance thereof) and Object Oriented Ontology. Confirmed participants include longstanding contributor Abigail Satinsky and Mary Jane Jacob (Social Practice), Anthony Romero and João Florêncio (performance), Gene Tanta (language), Robert Jackson (OOO).

On Wednesdays, we will read about artists and art in other cities. The following writers will post on rotation: Jeffery Songco is covering the Bay Area, Sam Davis continues to represent Bad at Sports’ Los Angeles Bureau, Sarah Margolis-Pineo is writing about Portland. Juliana Driever will be relaying posts, interviews and artist profiles about New York, and then we’ll bring it back to the Midwest with Kelly Shindler’s dispatch from St. Louis, and Jamilee Polson Lacy writing about Kansas City.

Thursdays herald our illustrious Stephanie Burke’s Top 5 Weekend Picks and a new monthly contribution from author/translator Johannes Göransson whose writing you can also find here.

Fridays have been set aside for art reviews and artist profiles with contributions from Danny Orendoff, Monica Westin, Abraham Ritchie and myself.

WEEKENDS will feature a range and flux of the above, plus Brit Barton’s Endless Opportunities, cultural reflections and short essays by Terri Griffith, continued posts from Jesse Malmed, in addition to a monthly contribution from the newly confirmed Bailey Romaine and Adrienne Harris.

My last note is this — there is room in this schedule for additional posts, posts that would feature special events, festivals and conferences in the city. That space would also be available to, at times, connect the blog and the podcast. As a first indication of this, we will be highlighting IN>TIME, a performance festival that is going on as we speak, from January until March.

Otherwise if you have any comments, suggestions or, even guest posts you would like to submit, please feel free to contact me at: