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 FranklinÂ 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.”Â 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.
Claudine Ise: Much of your early conceptual/performative work dealt with identity and the exploration of what you’ve described as “personality sculpting.”Â 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!Â I guess what annoys me is that there remains a double standard for the assertive behavior necessary to get ahead:Â In men, it is seen as appropriate and desirable, while in women it is seen as aggressive and bitchy.
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:Â Everyone posts private information on blogs, on YouTube, on Facebook, on Twitter.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â For example, here are Lawrence Weiner’s thoughts about the existence of a work of art:
1.Â Â Â The artist may construct the work/
2.Â Â Â The piece may be fabricated/
3.Â Â Â 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.Â Are these not instructions for a performance?Â In fact, when I founded Franklin Furnace in 1976, I invited artists to read to the public.Â (The term “artists’ books” did not exist as yet to describe contemporary, and cheap, publishing by artists.)Â 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.Â (The misnomer “performance art” had not as yet taken hold either.)Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â Don’t they understand that they will NEVER STOP WORKING?Â Yet what I have also noticed is that the art space movement readily adapts to current conditions.Â 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.Â 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.”Â I replied, “I showed work I did in the 1970s; I don’t have any new work.”Â 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.”Â 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.Â 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.
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 artistâ€™s studio: â€œEven when the making is not so visible, it is always present.â€ Is it that â€œpresenceâ€ 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 Schwabskyâ€™s essay, The Symbolic Studio?
Mary Jane Jacob: When I said that â€œthe studio is more than a physical place and even more than a mental space; it is a necessity of being,â€ 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 â€” 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 Kimsoojaâ€™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 â€” 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 â€” â€œCritical, 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 agoâ€ â€” 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 artistâ€™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 artâ€™s democratization: â€œPeople just make things. And so I donâ€™t know whether itâ€™s so necessary to â€˜revealâ€™ anything anymore,â€ writes Cory Arcangel. With a swift retort, Houston-based critic Mary LeClere writes, â€œThe question isnâ€™t whether itâ€™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?â€
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 mÃ©tier.
Read the full post at art:21 blog here.
Ever fantasized about being interviewed by the venerable Richard Holland and Duncan Mackenzie of Bad at Sports? No? Well….maybe you’re feeling bored and just need something to do tonight? Okay, good enough! Come hang out with Duncan and Richard from 5-7pm tonight at the Sullivan Galleries at SAIC, where our podcasters-in-chief will be ready and willing to interview all comers. So come! Talk to Richard and Duncan about your art, your life, your secret hopes and most shameful desires. Get it all out there and off your chest. Interviews may be broadcast on a future episode of the podcast…you never know.Â This is part of the Summer Studio program taking place right now at the Sullivan Galleries, and there are a bunch of other acts, I mean artists, who are opening up their on-site spaces for you to check out as well. The full lineup includes the aforementioned Bad at Sports along with Elise Goldstein, Georgia Kotretsos, Diego Leclery, Adia Millet, Jennifer Mills, Libby O’Bryan & Elissa Papendick, John Riepenhoff, Miller & Shellabarger, Cauleen Smith, and Marjorie Welish. Hope to see you there!
A gift which provides studio space and funding for 12 to 14 students from art schools across the country to spend their summer at Ox-Bow.
Both LeRoy and Janet are alumni of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago & Ox-Bow.
“LeRoy Neiman has been intimately involved with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Ox-Bow for many yearsâ€”as a student, then a faculty member, and now as a wonderful benefactor with his wife Janet, herself an alumna of SAIC, LeRoy is particularly sensitive to what Ox-Bow offers to the working artist, and comments often on the productive time he spent there and how the bucolic serenity of that special place was crucial to his development as a painter. These generous scholarships are especially significant as they are a gift from one remarkable artist to many young artists. Because of the Neimans’ gift they’ll be able to study at this unique open-air studio for many years to come.”
It has been announced today that Dr. Walter Massey has been named the new President of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This is a really hard article to write since it’s difficult to find much about Walter Massey in any kind of Art context and his business context is pretty basic as well.
Walter Massey, who currently sits on the board of McDonald’s (which is headquartered in Chicago letsÂ remember), recently retired from the Bank of America board, presidentÂ emeritus of Morehouse College in Atlanta, has worked in the Unviersity of California system and at Brown University, former board member of BP, National Commission on Smoking and Public PolicyÂ & ran Argonne National Laboratory is more like a madlibs result for the executive level ofÂ Chicago Business/General Science Education world. It’s a little of this and a lot of that.
The resume reads like aÂ interimÂ president who was a Chicago culture buff and said “yea, I’ll do it” when no one else would?
I know I am not the only one that realizes there is 15% unemployment (even for executives) but there is no one elseÂ eligibleÂ for this position? Someone who is a tad more focused in areas of use to the SAIC? Someone other then a 72+ year old scientistÂ whoseÂ college administration background is “leading” his Alma mater (the self described “only all male historically black institution of higher learning in the United States”)Â for 12 years after he had retired from a career ofÂ Â Science advocacy?
How is this even close to the needs of the SAIC and ArtÂ communityÂ in the 21st century other then he is a warm body that I am sure has aÂ Rolodex (a literal Rolodex I mean) full ofÂ moneyedÂ contacts.
I know the Art world lives on nepotism and dresses it up as “vetting someone” but could you at least try to hide it more in the future cause it really reads poorly to a lot of people right now?
More information has come out from, SAIC Chairman of the Board,Â Cary D. McMillanhas (who is also on the McDonald’s board)Â who by telephone from vacation in ItalyÂ told the Chicago Tribune that Walter Massey is aÂ interim President brought on to release pressure from Elissa Tenny, who has been appointed to the newly created position of SAIC provost and senior vice president of academic affairs.
By end of the first semester, we’ll probably have a good idea of what direction we want to go, and probably begin a search some time after that. We didn’t want to be feeling that we were rushed to hire someone, and Walter is just such a great guy
Nowhere in the press release that the School issued is the term Interim even mentioned or hinted at. I am sure Dr. Massey is a great person, wonderful guy and might via his connections or mereÂ presenceÂ help others feel more free to make the changes or growth they need but no one thought to mention that in the press release? That the Chairman needs to clarify while on vacation in Italy 7 hours ahead of Chicago for the Tribune’s late night post; the fact this in actualityÂ anÂ interimÂ position?
More can be read at the Tribune’s Article here