The School of the Art Institute’s Visiting Artist Program kicks off its Spring 2011 series tonight with Jose MuÃ±oz, 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 MuÃ±oz: 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.
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.
This looks to be a great lecture!
Monday, February 22, 6 p.m.
Fullerton Hall, The Art Institute of Chicago,
111 S. Michigan Ave FREE ADMISSION
Widely known for his innovative fine art installations, Doug Aitken is at the frontier of 21st-century communication. Utilizing a wide array of media and artistic approaches, Aitken’s eye leads us into a world where time, space, and memory are fluid concepts. Aitken’s work effortlessly slips into our media-saturated cultural unconscious allowing the viewer to experience cinema in a unique way by deconstructing a connection between sound, moving images, and the rhythms of our surroundings. Treating the world as his studio, he edits together frenetic and unique models of contemporary experience. Aitken has had numerous screenings, and solo and group exhibitions around the world, including the 1999 Venice Biennale, where he won the International Prize for his acclaimed installation electric earth. He’s exhibited work in institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Pompidou Center in Paris.
The School of the Art Institute kicks off its current Visiting Artists Program with a lecture by Saya Woolfalk tomorrow, Tuesday February 2nd, at 6:00pm. From the Visiting Artist’s Program website:
SAIC alumna Saya Woolfalk (MFA 2004) will present her ongoing project No Place, a multimedia, fictional future that reworks tropes of sexual, racial, and gender difference. The characters and stories in Woolfalk’s constructed reality evoke travel narratives, science fiction, and the rhetoric of anthropology to investigate human possibilities (and impossibilities). Through diverse forms of installation, video, painting, drawing, performance, and sound, she reflects on human life and its future through configurations of biology, sociality, and the environment. Woolfalk’s selected exhibitions include PS1/MoMA; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art; Studio Museum in Harlem; and Momenta Art. She has been an artist in residence at Skowhegan, Yaddo, Sculpture Space, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Presented in collaboration with SAIC Alumni Relations.
Want to bone up on Woolfalk’s work prior to the lecture? Here are some links to get you started:
Saya Woolfalk Artist’s Page at Zg Gallery, Chicago
Saya Woolfalk Performs No Place: A Ritual of the Empathic at Performa 09
Woolfalk’s lecture will be held at the SAIC Columbus Auditorium, 280 S. Columbus Drive.
This round of VAP lectures is especially strong. Don’t forget to mark your calendars for these upcoming SAIC Visiting Artist Program lectures (click here for further details):
Doug Aitken, Monday, February 22nd, 6pm
Amy Franceschini, Thursday, March 11, 6pm
Doris Salcedo, Monday, March 15, 6pm
Matt Keegan, Tuesday, April 6, 6pm
Ryan Trecartin, Wednesday, April 14 and Thursday, April 15 at 6pm
Tuesday, April 7, 6pm
Fullerton Auditorium, 111 South Michigan Avenue
via the Visiting Artist Program at SAIC
“For the past four decades, SAIC alumnus Joe Zucker (BFA 1964, MFA 1966) has made idiosyncratic and humorous paintings and drawings that have mined and remixed the territory between the formal achievement of modernism and the allegorical potential of postmodernism. Zucker will discuss his career with New York-based curator and writer Klaus Kertess, who founded the Bykert Gallery with John Byers in 1966 and served as its director until 1975, representing Chuck Close, Ralph Humphrey, Barry Le Va, Brice Marden, and Dorothea Rockburn, among others.
In collaboration with the SAIC Office of Development and Alumni Affairs & the Department of Painting and Drawing.”
For more information please visiting VAP.