Interview with Jose Muñoz, author of “Cruising Utopia” and SAIC Visiting Artist Lecturer

February 7, 2011 · Print This Article

The School of the Art Institute’s Visiting Artist Program kicks off its Spring 2011 series tonight with Jose Muñoz, chair of NYU’s Performance Studies department and the author of several books, including Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. (You can download a .pdf file of that book’s introduction here). The talk will take place at 6pm in the Columbus Auditorium, 280 S. Columbus Drive. In advance of Professor Munoz’ talk, I asked him a few questions about his work and the performance artists who inspired it. I’m very grateful to him for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer them!

*******

Claudine Ise: Tell us a bit about what you plan to discuss during your lecture at the School of the Art Institute.

Jose Muñoz: I plan to present work that bridges Cruising Utopia and my next book project The Sense of Brown. In Cruising Utopia I considered the work and life of figures from the historical queer avant-garde. I will discuss the life and work of Warhol superstar Mario Montez. Montez collaborated with Warhol, Jack Smith, Ronald Tavel and many other key figures from that scene. But Montez dropped out of the art and performance scene in the 1970s. He has recently reemerged and has great stories to tell. I look to him as a “Wise Latina” which was a phrase used by republicans who attacked Sonia Sotomayor when she was nominated to The Supreme Court. I describe Montez as a Wise Latina because she made a sort of “sense” that I think is worth considering today.

CI: The prose style of your 2009 book “Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity” is at once poetic and deeply rousing. In particular, I’m enamored of this statement from your book’s Introduction:

“We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there. Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds. Queerness is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing.”

I love the radical openness of that idea. Can you talk a bit about the ways in which you want to re/define the concepts of ‘hope’ and ‘utopia,’ particularly when it comes to queerness and what you describe as a ‘queer aesthetic’?

JM: I was advocating an idea of hope that refuses despair during desperate times. I reject naive hope and instead offer a version of hope that is counter measure to how straight culture defines our lives and the world. I was trying to describe an idea of utopia that is not just escapism. Queer art or queer aesthetics potentially offer us blueprints and designs for other ways of living in the world. In Cruising Utopia I look at performances and visual art that are both historical and contemporary. But what all the work has in common is the way it sketches different ways of being in the world.

CI: Which contemporary performance artists do you think best represent your idea that ‘hope’ can be more than just a critical affect, but can also present us with a viable methodology for mapping utopias?

JM: I am interested in so much work that happens under the rich sign of performance. For years I have been following the work of artists like Vaginal Davis whose performances always insists on another version of reality than the ones we are bombarded by. I could substitute Vag’s name in the previous sentence with that of artists like Nao Bustamente, Carmelita Tropicana, Dynasty Handbag, My Barbarian and so many other artists that I have encountered. I look forward to seeing more work that helps me glimpse something beyond the here and now.

Dynasty Handbag at Transmodern Festival, 2008.




SAIC Curators Explore the Meaning of Having and Being Had

December 9, 2010 · Print This Article

Tomorrow students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago will unveil four new exhibitions in the Sullivan Galleries, including Having and Being Had, a show that explores “the ritual of curatorial practice and meaning-making in museums.” The latter exhibition also includes a website featuring Q&As on curatorial practice with Chicago curators, cultural practitioners, and me, whose ‘practice,’ such as it is, falls into neither category. All four shows look really interesting – an opening reception for them all will take place tomorrow evening, Friday, December 11, from 4:30-7:00 p.m. in the Sullivan Galleries, 33 S. State St., 7th floor. Read on below for details on Having and Being Had, along with descriptions of the three other shows on view.  All shows run through January 22nd (note that the galleries will be closed for the holidays from December 24 – January 2nd).

Having and Being Had

Having and Being Had stages a performance on the ritual of curatorial practice and meaning-making in museums. As the title suggests, curators and audiences are as much authors of a legitimizing narrative as they are framed by it. The curators of this exhibition complicate our expectations of museum display by inviting the dynamic participation and active imaginings of the viewer. Having and Being Had invites audiences to reconsider the ways in which language, collections, object value, and display technique seduce audiences with illusions of access and objectivity. Art exhibitions educate and entertain, but do they also mislead and deceive the viewer? Having and Being Had exposes curatorial hierarchy, dismantles curatorial voice, and manipulates display space to engage audiences in the power of their own experiences. On display are the ethics of curatorial practice and the viewers’ imagination.

All the best,

This exhibition features new work by the artists and writers in Text Off the Page 2010, including collaborative projects, performances, installations, and language-based projects.
Featured artists: Shanita Bigelow, Troy Briggs, Annette Elliot, Sarah Jones, Nazafarin Lotfi, J.M. Lowe, Joel Parsons, David Scheier, Corkey Sinks, Jillian Soto, Hurmat Ul Ain, and Colin Winnette.
An evening of Readings/Performances in response to works in the exhibition will be held on Saturday, December 11 at 6:00 p.m. in the Sullivan Galleries.

Channel Channel Channel Channel Channel Channel Channel Channel

The eight artists participating in the Video Installation course attempt to investigate, analyze, and confront various aspects of this practice by focusing on issues of separation and contact. Their work tackles formal questions emerging from constructing multichannel installation, as well as from the intersection of a single-channel, time-based medium with a given space and performed actions.

Featured artists: Emilie Crowe, Lindsay Denniberg, Marco Godoy, Mikey McPariane, Brianne Milder, MZL, Wang Ye-Feng, and Courtney Bird Ziegler.

Stories of Relativity

How do we relate to one another? The nine artists in this exhibition explore the complex nature of human connectivity, considering how time, identity, and interpersonal tensions shape our relationships and affect our interactions.

Featuring recent work by: Hope Esser, Jang soon Im, Je Je Je Jiyeon Lim, Zihan Loo, Cheryl Pope, Casilda Sanchez, Chryssa Tsampazi, Andrew Norman Wilson, and Wei-Hsuan Vicky Yen.

Curated by Amelia Love (MA 2013), Curatorial Assistant, Department of Exhibitions




The Art Critique: Its History, Theories, and Practices Panel at The New School

November 22, 2010 · Print This Article

I’m off this week on vacay to sunny Sarasota, Fl., hometown of the Ringling circus and Pee-Wee Herman, too. Someday, there will be a museum dedicated to Pee Wee, and its curators will write sober wall text on the semiotics of the Big Shoe Dance and the erotics of chairy. But not today. Today, I bring you this video, which hopefully will not feel too much like a homework assignment. I personally was psyched to find it, anyway. Over the weekend, that ol’ leftie-pinko group the Platypus Affiliated Society sponsored an all-day conference called What Is Critique?  Two School of the Art Institute critical-types, James Elkins and Chris Cutrone, were on panels, and though the ensuing discussions were predictably jargon-ridden, they were also pretty meaty. How do I know this? The organizers were nice enough to put the second of the panels on U-Stream, which I’ve embedded for your link-free viewing pleasure directly below. Enjoy. A brief description of the event follows.

What is Critique? is an all day symposium that consists of panel discussions with artists, critics, teachers, and students city-wide that investigates the role that art critiques and criticism play in art production. The first half of the day will focus on the nature and function of art critiques as a form criticism and pedagogy. The latter part of the day will be a panel discussion addressing the relationship between critical theory, art production and art reception.

Participants include Jay Bernstein, Tom Butter, Chris Cutrone, Simone Douglas, James Elkins, Lydia Goehr, Gregg Horowitz, and more.




Interview with Martha Wilson, co-Founder of Franklin Furnace Archive

November 8, 2010 · Print This Article

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of interviewing Martha Wilson via email in conjunction with the Visiting Artist Program lecture she is giving at the School of the Art Institute tomorrow night. Wilson is a significant figure in the history of feminist art, but even more important has been her championing of the artist’s book and her historic work as co-founder and director of Franklin Furnace Archive, which launched in 1976 as a performance and exhibition space located in Wilson’s loft. Today, 30+ years later, the core mission of Franklin  Furnace seems just as urgent as ever: “to present, preserve, interpret, proselytize and advocate on behalf of avant-garde art, especially forms that may be vulnerable due to institutional neglect, their ephemeral nature, or politically unpopular content.”  I asked Ms. Wilson some questions about several different areas of her practice, and am extremely grateful to her for taking the time to answer. You’ll be able to ask Martha Wilson questions of your own tomorrow, Tuesday November 9th, at 6pm at SAIC’s Columbus Auditorium, 280 South Columbus Drive. Directions and info here.


Martha Wilson, A Portfolio of Models (The Working Girl), 1974.


Claudine Ise: Much of your early conceptual/performative work dealt with identity and the exploration of what you’ve described as “personality sculpting.”  In the piece titled A Portfolio of Models, for example, you enacted “the models society holds out to me: Goddess, Housewife, Working Girl, Professional, Earth-Mother, Lesbian.” Being an artist was one of very few categories that encompassed all of these identities (or none of them) – a way to avoid getting stuck as either one or the other. I’m curious if now, more than thirty-five years after you did that piece, you think that that range of popular models for women has expanded?

Martha Wilson: Certainly the range of popular models for women has expanded!  I guess what annoys me is that there remains a double standard for the assertive behavior necessary to get ahead:  In men, it is seen as appropriate and desirable, while in women it is seen as aggressive and bitchy.

Martha Wilson. I make up the image of my perfection / I make up the image of my deformity 1974.

CI: You made another piece in 1973 called “Selfportrait,” where the audience was integral to the work. They were asked to write down who they thought you were on pieces of paper and give them to you. Among other things, you were exploring the notion of the self as something malleable, and which also perhaps could only be known as a reflection of other people’s projections. I find the idea of ‘personality sculpting’ to be really suggestive in terms of how people present themselves on the Internet today. I don’t know how personally engaged you are with social media, but it does seem to be the case that nowadays people are constantly in the process of shaping their personas for public consumption – it’s a form of self-portraiture that we all engage in.

MW: After the Culture Wars of the 80s and 90s, I noticed that the concern of artists in the new millennium shifted from sexuality to concern for privacy in the online environment. Now there has been yet another shift, to the polar opposite:  Everyone posts private information on blogs, on YouTube, on Facebook, on Twitter.  The networked environment started to level the social playing field, and this trend will only continue as the Guggenheim solicits YouTube videos from regular folks and exhibits them in the museum environment.  A century later, the desire of the Italian Futurists to make art that appeals to the hoi polloi is being fulfilled by the hoi polloi itself.

CI: The collection of artist’s books that Franklin Furnace has amassed is amazing and historically unique. You were one of the first people to recognize the importance of artists’ books, and the necessity of documenting and historicizing them. I’m curious about what led you to become such a passionate advocate of the book/publication format given your own early work had been so rooted in performance?

MW: The connection between the text and performance for me was through the practice of Conceptual art in the early 1970s.  The artists invited to visit the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design–such as Vito Acconci, Carl Andre, Joseph Beuys, Dan Graham, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Peter Kubelka, Sol LeWitt, Dennis Oppenheim, Ian Wilson– blurred the distinctions between thought and action, words and deeds.  For example, here are Lawrence Weiner’s thoughts about the existence of a work of art:

1.    The artist may construct the work/
2.    The piece may be fabricated/
3.    The piece need not be built/ Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership

Here is one of the pieces in Weiner’s 1968 book, Statements:

One regular rectangular object placed across an international boundary allowed to rest then turned to and turned upon to intrude the portion of one country into the other.

Because the type of this text is set in the form of a brick, word and image intersect in the idea of the artist.  Are these not instructions for a performance?  In fact, when I founded Franklin Furnace in 1976, I invited artists to read to the public.  (The term “artists’ books” did not exist as yet to describe contemporary, and cheap, publishing by artists.)  Every single artist chose to manipulate the performative elements (light, sound, relationship to the audience, props, costume, time) as part and parcel of the work.  (The misnomer “performance art” had not as yet taken hold either.)  The word in vogue at the time was “piece,” which encompassed the thought, the action, the documentation-drawn or photographed or filmed or published or taped-whatever.

CI: You started Franklin Furnace out of your loft, in part to showcase your growing collection of artists’ books and also as a performance venue. Franklin Furnace grew and evolved after that to become an organization dedicated to presenting all kinds of nontraditional art forms (especially performance art and printed matter). Its impact has been immense, and yet the concept of Franklin Furnace as a “space” has undergone some radical changes over the years. Franklin Furnace is now “dematerialized,” although its work has gone on as before. Can you talk a bit about why it made sense for you to move away from Franklin Furnace as a physical venue and towards an internet-based space?

MW: In the wake of the Culture Wars, the Board and I had a series of discussions about how Franklin Furnace could provide artists with the same freedom of expression they enjoyed in the loft in the 70s.  We decided that the Internet- perhaps not forever, but for now–was that free zone where artists could experiment freely, so we “went virtual” during Franklin Furnace’s 20th anniversary season.  At first I thought that since we were leaving physical space, we would leave the body behind; but instead we discovered that artists exploited the body of the net in addition to their own bodies.

CI: Chicago has a strong history of alternative art exhibition spaces, including artist-run spaces located in apartments or other domestic environments. Given your own decades of experience with this type of space, what advice do you have for others involved in running their own nonprofit venues? I’m particularly interested in the question of sustainability– not just in financial terms, but emotional and spiritual and creative sustainability as well. Sometimes when you’re running things on a shoestring (or no-string) it can be really hard to find the wherewithall to keep on keeping on!

MW: Knowing what I know now, it amazes me that people continue to found organizations and collectives.  Don’t they understand that they will NEVER STOP WORKING?  Yet what I have also noticed is that the art space movement readily adapts to current conditions.  For example, during the 70s, not-for-profit organizations in Soho and TriBeCa served the New York art community, while in the 80s, small, for-profit galleries on the Lower East Side flourished. Nowadays, there are hybrid forms that mix non-profit and for-profit strategies, with collectives of artists teaching classes or making equipment available to members who pay hourly rates.  I guess my advice to prospective art space founders is to understand that there will never be a “formula” that will work year after year; change is the only constant!

CI: What are you working on right now in your art practice? What are you working on now in your role as Founding Director of Franklin Furnace?

MW: In March of 2008, I had my first solo exhibition in New York at Mitchell Algus Gallery, “Martha Wilson: Photo/Text Works, 1971-74.” My friend Robin said, “Now that you have had one show, you can ask your dealer for another one.”  I replied, “I showed work I did in the 1970s; I don’t have any new work.”  But as soon as these words were out of my mouth, I thought, “I could revisit my Deformation piece as a 60-year-old lady.”  So indeed, during the last year I have been creating new photo/text works as well as performing as Barbara Bush, mother of the ex-President; she is feeling “all washed up.” In August, 2010 Franklin Furnace was awarded full funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and matching support from the Booth Ferris Foundation for a two-year project to digitize our second decade of event records and publish them online in the Franklin Furnace Database.  This effort will, we hope, embed the value of ephemeral art practice in art and cultural history.

Martha Wilson as Barbara Bush, 2008 performance at ps122.




art21:blog interviews Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner about SAIC’s Summer Studio

September 6, 2010 · Print This Article

We’re back from vacay this week, and catching up on a few weeks’ worth of happenin’s and art chatter. Last week, Georgia Kotretsos of art21:blog posted an interview with Mary Jane Jacob, Michelle Grabner and Kate Zeller on the School of the Art Institute’s “Summer Studio” program (at which Bad at Sports happily pinged, ponged, and otherwise partook) as well as their recently published The Studio Reader, a critical anthology of writings on the artist’s studio. An excerpt from art:21′s interview is below; click on over for the full-length interview.

Georgia Kotretsos: Within the first few lines of The Studio Reader preface, your words speak of a condition that sum up the essence of the artist’s studio: “Even when the making is not so visible, it is always present.” Is it that “presence” that Tehching Hsieh is exhausting by keeping a studio space without having made any kind of art for over a decade as we read in Barry Schwabsky’s essay, The Symbolic Studio?

Mary Jane Jacob: When I said that “the studio is more than a physical place and even more than a mental space; it is a necessity of being,” I intended to convey that making art is an omnipresent thing; it works in consciously, semi-consciously, and in unconscious ways. It is always just below the surface, if not right there — in the head and hand. Yes, one can also think of this as non-studio practices that are less material and in The Studio Reader, we have such discussions of Tehching Hsieh or Kimsooja’s thought that her body is her studio. But it is also true for the painter, the sculptor, the printmaker, and we could go on with this list; it is not media specific.

How we locate an idea for art, a solution to an artistic problem, and especially the development of a work and of an ongoing practice is by living art — and this happens in the very being of being an artist. So when I speak of consciousness, I mean that we bring to our work a certain perception and mindset, and that also is present in our life. The relation of art and life is not just a 20th-century, modern, or avant-garde position; it is an essential art condition. Cultivating a deep and wide consciousness is important to many artists because, then, that just-below-the-surface state can be called into operation, seamlessly, and with this openness or permeability, a natural flow can occur that can contribute to the making of art in the studio that we take on our back.

GK: I appreciate an introduction that offers insight and a cohesive historicity on a subject, such as the one you wrote about the studio in The Studio Reader. Your closing sentence — “Critical, ironic, sentimental, and practical, the practiced place of the studio is no longer the fixed space of inspiration that Poussin laid eyes on four hundred years ago” — wisely makes room and gives reason for the rest of the book to unfold. So, what is the studio today? What does The Studio Reader tell us?

Michelle Grabner: I believe that the idea of the studio today is unambiguously foundational to the complications and contradictions of contemporary art practice.

At its most pragmatic, it is simply a necessary space of production and display. After researching the multitude of shapes and forms comprising the contemporary studio, they are no more fascinating than oil stick, video, clay, or canvas: the studio akin to a medium. However, the studio can also be a subject. And this is where it gets interesting and I hope The Studio Reader points to conditions in contemporary art production that can be sussed out through the lens of the studio.

For example, the many artist’s contributions to The Studio Reader are intriguing and insightful accounts into day-to-day studio engagement, yet it is only in their collectivity that one can start to assess how the space of production, invention, creativity, and meaning are being culled by artists today.

I think one of the most interesting disagreements in contemporary art exists between the totalizing embracement of the studio and art’s democratization: “People just make things. And so I don’t know whether it’s so necessary to ‘reveal’ anything anymore,” writes Cory Arcangel. With a swift retort, Houston-based critic Mary LeClere writes, “The question isn’t whether it’s art, but whether it needs to be. Why hold onto the name if it no longer refers to something that has a cultural, and therefore shared, meaning?”

So why the need for studios? Here within lies a complex web of contradictions that configure contemporary art and culture. The contemporary studio lays the foundation for new research into those long disparaged notions of authorship, talent, and métier.

Read the full post at art:21 blog here.