Entering whitespace gallery from the hazy, sweltering Atlanta noon, escaping the cascades of kudzu and endless advertisements of the coming millennials, I walked through a wall of cold air into the artist talks for Soft Eyes, a group exhibition curated by Pete Schulte. I was shocked into re-seeing by the spareness and order of the exhibition. The show, a translation of an online exhibition, realizes an austerity and distancing of the internet. The works resist easy entry, forefronting carefully crafted surfaces. Each artist works with a unique language that feels distantly related to others spoken around the gallery.
There are limitations to the digital world and distinct advantages to pulling these physical works together. Cracks and fissures form in the reserved surfaces, drawing in the viewer. The resonances arising from the juxtaposition of Julia Fish’s pieces slow the crossing of the threshold they span. The vibrancy of Andy Moon Wilson’s colors and dense patterns call from across the room. The friction Katy Fischer describes between the arrangement of her small paintings and objects and their highly-studied and finely crafted surfaces compels close viewing.
Soft Eyes rewards slowing down at these entrance points to extend our vision beyond the individual artworks. Each of the works in the show ultimately unveils a depth of care and time that results in their quiet, reserved surfaces. The time spent laboring over the work is evident in Leah Raintree’s finely detailed, topographic map-like drawings. Time invested generating an artistic practice blossoms in Amy Pleasant’s reinvestigations into moments of creation and life buried within her studio. Each of the artists has honed a language uniquely their own, singular in its application yet resonant with the other languages that fill the gallery. All of the works are deeply considered, and, as with the best translations, Schulte has allowed each work the space and time to breathe lives from the others that would otherwise remain unspoken.
In closing the artist talk, Hamlet Dobbins talked of art being a river of time — teacher to student, artwork to artwork — each arising from and forming the river. This analogy, reflected in the multi-generational, multi-relational show, is comforting, as summer heat continues with no end in sight. I need reminders of time’s continuing presence and slow passage — tardier sunrises, grey hairs that suddenly appear, the rise and fall of a dog’s breath as we sleep and wake to slow accretions of a life built together.
I continue to live with Soft Eyes, exploring the depths and truths contained within its layers, and I have begun to modify the analogy to think of art as an oceanic current, flowing through the dynamic ecosystems of the world, pushing and pulling bits of plastic and phytoplankton into and out of its flow, one part of a water cycle so vast and far reaching into our past and future we no longer know if we are clouds or raindrops or ocean water shaping the course of the world around us.
Soft Eyes is on view at whitespace until September 12.
As I walk through exhibitions, I find myself staring around the works on display, straining to see how paintings are hung from the walls, how sculptures rise from the floor. I look for projectors and speakers. I stare at the benches and chairs, the corners of walls, electrical outlets and lights. I am not avoiding the artwork. I am searching for the whole picture, yearning for everything the works contain. I want the story of the work, a record of its history, not simply the final object.
I was absorbed by Mitchell Syrop’s steel wall pieces in Hidden at Midway Contemporary Art, intrigued by their static flow, the impermanence of their solidity. As others visitors were absorbed in reading the text of his massive, nine panel Hidden, I stared at the nails holding up Family of Secrets, wondering about the hands and machines that had pulled them from the earth, shaped, packaged, shipped, sold, and hammered them. What narrative unites these steel objects on and in the wall? What happens to the nails when Family of Secrets is removed? Will they be united again?
I visited the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota, and I fell in love with the artworks installed in a particular corner. I marveled at their seamless pairing with an incredible, ambient sound piece, until I remembered that the sound comes from the heating and cooling system. I could see the works without the rasping rumble from the depths of the building. Of course, the context of any artwork influences our experience of it. The temperature of the room affects the book we read. The argument we hear in the alley outside affects our experience in the gallery. The lighting, hardware, and soundscape of artworks shape our viewing. I am looking for those other aspects of the objects because I want to know the narrative held within them, the time they embody even if we do not know how to see it.
I was thrilled to see a Roman Opalka ‘detail’ in the Walker Art Center’s Art Expanded, 1958-1978. The rows and rows of numbers embody time, daily practice, a life of dedication, but that time is lost among the other “expanded” practices. I strained to read the numbers, searching for the hours of its creation, wanting to hear Opalka’s recordings and see his self portraits to begin to fill out the narrative of this singular painting.
I have been visiting artists’ studios and installing work, slowly seeing objects unfold and absorb layers of meaning. I have seen ideas and conversations transform through unknowing, testing, exploration into artworks that hold each incarnation, each thought within them. I have watched white walls fill with works that travelled across the country, bringing with them the time and miles they travelled, their stamps and handlers, the nails and screws upon which they balance.
When I see artworks in galleries and museums, I know I am witnessing only one small portion of their narrative, and I want more. I search for the out of sight parts of these artworks to begin to enrich their stories, to attempt to understand their lived experience as changing, mutable objects who contain our time with them as they move into their future.
There is a chill in the night air. Fall is here, carrying the weight of the year behind it, breathing changes into the trees and gardens that begin to show the passage of time, the slow revolution of the seasons. I return to Opalka. He writes, “Time as we live it and as we create it embodies our progressive disappearance.” Let us look to the objects we create to see our progressive disappearance. They reveal the briefest moments of that disappearance when we see them displayed, but they will hold the passage and passing of our lives long after we have disappeared.
February 10, 2013 · Print This Article
This weekend, Every house has a door will be performing their original work, Mending the Great Forest Highway, onÂ February 15 and 16 at 8pm, and then again on February 17Â at 7 pm as part of the IN>TIME festival at Links Hall (3435 N. Sheffield Avenue) $15 general/$10 students. For information on this and other upcoming events, please visit IN>TIME’s website. You will find an interview between myself and Matthew about this same piece on the Art21 blog here. More recently, Matthew submitted the following piece of writing aboutÂ MTGFH’s latest iteration. – B@S
Returning to Theyâ€™re Mending the Great Forest Highway
by Matthew Goulish
When people ask about the name Every house has a door, I say it has to do with aesthetic hospitality. In a sense the name stands as an invitation, and the invitation takes two parallel courses. First, each performance as a project assembles a team of specialists in response to the specific demands of that performanceâ€™s set of ideas. In this way, the company remains open like a house, and collaborators come and go like visitors. Second, each finished performance demonstrates our ongoing interest in separating the elements of performance and weaving them in some configuration particular to that work. Different aspects of the work may appeal to different audience members. In this inflection, each mode offers a different door, standing open for a different audience member as an invitation into the house of the performance.
We made a performance called Theyâ€™re Mending the Great Forest Highway. The Chicago Dancemakersâ€™ Forum supported the original version, because choreography lent this work its core. We borrowed the title from a song by the twentieth-century composer BÃ©la BartÃ³k, but the choreography derived from his trio for clarinet, violin, and piano, Contrasts, composed in 1938 in response to a commission by Benny Goodman. We had the idea that three men would dance the parts of the three instruments, transposed from music to movement, adhering to the compositionâ€™s precise timing. Brian Torrey Scott danced the part of Benny Goodmanâ€™s clarinet, and John Rich that of Joseph Szigetiâ€™s violin. We listened to the original recording by those great musicians, with BartÃ³k himself on the piano. I claimed that part for myself. It was only fair. I had worn out the record through repeated listening in my undergraduate years, and already had it nearly memorized.
We presented the piece at the Holstein Park field house gymnasium in June 2011. Lin Hixson had guided the three of us in the first months of rehearsals, giving us directives for generating movement to retrofit to the score. The directives suggested a second degree of translation from the music; for the first movement: a dance in daylight, movements of labor, social/club movements, army recruiting song; for the second: sounds of a summer night in the country; the flitterings of nocturnal frogs, automatic insect chirping, a bird taps its beak on a hollow wooden tree trunk â€¦ concentric circles â€¦ restful â€¦ volcanic â€¦ human singing rises from far away in the darkness; for the third: the fast dance, furious, interrupted, side-slipping tri-tones reminiscent of the end of Bergâ€™s Wozzek.
We invited Charissa Tolentino to compose a score that combined found sounds and samples with original sonic inventions, and to present this live, sharing the stage like a DJ with us dancers. This music, twice removed from BartÃ³kâ€™s composition, responded to the movement, largely free from the scoreâ€™s constraints, but retaining its broad structure.
Finally, Lin and I collaborated on the writing of an extensive prose introduction. For this part, she, the director, would speak directly to the audience, detailing our intentions and processes, as well relating relevant, if somewhat fictional, autobiographical background from her directorâ€™s notes and journals. Lin would not deliver this herself, however. Instead we invited Hannah Geil-Neufeld, a young performer whom we had known since she was a child, to perform the part of the director Lin Hixson. We had in mind a contemplation of youth and aging, with which the introduction concerns itself, as well as that strange area in which the familiar becomes just unstable enough to appear unfamiliar. Hannah returned to conclude the piece, after the roughly 21-minute dance, with an epilogue that included all the performers in the staging of the last momentâ€™s of BÃ¼chnerâ€™s Woyzeck, taking those liner notes literally. Guided by the tone of Hannah-as-Linâ€™s semi-autobiographical monologues, a tone lifted from the dual inspiration of J. M. Coetzee and Robert Bresson, the piece somewhat unexpectedly became an indirect meditation on the fraught and sometimes brutal relations between generations, the anxieties of production and reproduction.
We finished the dance today.
Itâ€™s called Theyâ€™re Mending the Great Forest Highway.
I didnâ€™t think it was about mending when we started. I just liked the title.
Now think that thinking that â€“ that the dance was in fact about mending after all â€“ was what stopped me there on the sidewalk in the rain.
So says Hannah-as-Lin near the end. Each element â€“ words, dance, music â€“ had their own life, their own independence on the stage, no one of them as Â accompaniment to another, and often not even happening at the same time. Each performer, or set of performers, had been delegated to one of these modes. I hope the house/door metaphor is clear now. To divide the finished performance from the process of its creation is largely an artificial exercise, but one that helps clarify our intentions and the workâ€™s meanings and energy. The introductory speech makes some audience members impatient for the dance to begin. Others concentrate on the music as central, and still others need the words as their anchor. The piece asks everybody to assemble the parts into a coherent whole after the 65-minute structured sequence of their presentation.
Now we return to the piece for three performances at Linkâ€™s Hall on February 15, 16, and 17, as part of the IN>TIME Festival, and with the support of an Illinois Arts Council fellowship. Brian Torrey Scott has moved to Providence, Rhode Island. Jeff Harms has taken over the violin part. Charissa Tolentino has also departed the piece. Now Liz Payne performs the DJ role, with her own original sound composition. In this series of rehearsals, Lin has asked us to revisit the third movementâ€™s choreography. She put it this way in an email from January 2nd:
Dear Jeff, John, and Matthew,
At our next rehearsals, I would like to work on new choreography. Below are YouTube sources for these new movements, divided between Lower Body and Upper Body. I used the Mending video from Holstein as a reference to locate the choreography Iâ€™d like you to change, embellish, or hybridize. Many, many thanks, Lin
30:57 – 31:35
Embellish the repetition of this movement using the Lower Body sources.
John and Jeff
31:56 – 32:24
This is after the shaving bowl move and around 28 seconds of material. Keep all your timings and positions in the space but consider using a different vocabulary from the Upper Body sources. So, for example, if you are doing something together this would remain. What you are doing would change.
32:24 – 32:35
Matthew – replace somersault
Jeff – replace head movement
Both using Upper Body sources
32:36 – 32:49
Embellish leg slapping using Lower BodyÂ sources
Matthew, Jeff, and John
37:43 to end
Keep positions in space and timings but change the vocabulary using Lower Body/Upper Body sources
Lower Body Sources
Hungarian Folk Dance
Arms/Upper Body Sources
See a longer version of Forsythe’s SoloÂ here.Â
Lin sent three links for each source, but I have only included one of each type here. I asked the performers about their thoughts on returning to Theyâ€™re Mending the Great Forest Highway. John responded with this paragraph:
I counted my jumps one day. There are several hundred â€“ not big jumps, mostly hops. I did not realize this in making the piece, did not realize it even until well after we finished and someone pointed it out. The dance acts as an accumulation that way. It is a complex field, but it is built by simple acts.
Jeff Harms wrote this:
The way in which I am finding the meaning of the piece is a physical process, born of patience and repetition. It seems that the art world often replaces meaning with â€œintentionâ€, as if we were all in art school, or as if we all agreed on the path or even method art should use. The methods of Every house seem to be humble in this regard, and I think itâ€™s for that reason, if we do succeed here, it will be a rich and meaningful experience for the audience.
In the years since we began working on this piece until our February performances, Hannah will have nearly earned her entire undergraduate degree from Macalester College. She answered this way:
What is exciting to me aboutÂ Theyâ€™re Mending the Great Forest HighwayÂ is the realization that one can mend something without being entirely sure of what one is mending.
We have been working for almost three years now to mend somethingÂ that was not oneÂ thingÂ to begin with.Â This is like darning a sock that does not exist before one begins to darn.
Bodies engaged in speaking the thoughts and dancing the labors of other bodies is, I think, necessarily an act of mending, regardless of the thing being mended.
We prepare for February by rehearsing, I imagine the way musicians would, our collected movements, playing and replaying them alongside Lizâ€™s composition, to fix in the mind and body these odd new aggregates. In his book Music and the Ineffable, the philosopher Vladimir JankÃ©lÃ©vitch wrote of how a musical work does not exist except in the time of its playing. Can one say the same about a work of performance? He further distinguished that one does not think about music as much as according to music. With that in mind, please click the link below to hear a sample of Lizâ€™s composition, from the second movement of Theyâ€™re Mending the Great Forest Highway.
Thanks, and see you soon.
Matthew Goulish, dramaturg
[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/75059086″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
MatthewÂ GoulishÂ co-foundedÂ Every house has a doorÂ with Lin Hixson in 2008. His books includeÂ 39 Microlectures â€“ in proximity of performanceÂ (Routledge, 2000),Â The Brightest Thing in the World â€“ 3 lectures from The Institute of FailureÂ (Green Lantern Press, 2012), andÂ Work from Memory: in response to In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, a collaboration with the poet Dan Beachy-Quick (Ahsahta, 2012). He teaches writing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
On this weeks roundup we look at some really bad art of Obama, Paul McCarthy speaks with the people over at BOMBSITE, and Art Observed checks in to see the love Steve Powers is spreading. Have a good weekend everyone.
Paul McCarthy interviewed by Benjamin Weissman on BOMBSITE.
Preservationists attempt to save Chicago’s Gropius architecture threatened by Olympic planning.
Jerry Saltz’s picks for Fall shows in NYC.
Tribune covers what Chicago galleries are doing to get by.
I know it doesn’t say “Best New Websites of 2009” but Time’s picks feel unbelievably obvious.
NoCoast will be hosting a silkscreen workshop this Saturday and Sunday.
Watching the trailer for The Mockumentary.
Chicago Printers Guild is currently offering a mystery pack of prints. via The Post Family
Art Observed discusses the “Love Letter Project” with Steve Powers.