The latest issue ofÂ SHIFTERÂ comes out this Friday with a launch at MANA Contemporary from 7-10pm, featuring lectures and performances byÂ Simon Leung, Kelly Kaczynski and Zach Cahill, with a Cake Installation by Tara Lane. A Cultural Conversation with Alan and Michael Fleming on Saturday in case you want to sleep over. RSVP here.
Shifterâ€™s 21st issue, Other Spaces, considers the body as a site where architectureâ€™s traditional polarities of private and public collapse. This polarity, mirrored in the distinctions we draw between individual and social freedoms and domestic and political action are challenged every day by spontaneous, collaborative re-imaginings of space.
In this issue artists, writers and critical thinkers reflect upon and imagine those other spaces that are coming to be and that are yet to be imagined in the social transformations of our present. While Other Spaces may appear to be an Atlas, it may just as well be read as a diary.
Number 21 features contributions from Jeremy Bolen, Luis Camnitzer, Tyler Coburn, Julia Fish, Beate Geissler & Oliver Sann, Sheela Gowda, Joanne Greenbaum, Tehching Hsieh, Kitty Kraus, Dan Levenson, Blank Noise, Alison Oâ€™Daniel, Sean Raspet, Blithe Riley, Jacolby Satterwhite, Greg Sholette & Agata Craftlove, Lise Soskolne, Mariam Suhail, and Josh Tonsfeldt.
This week in the podcast realm of Bad at Sports: I had the great opportunity to sit down and talk with Claire Doherty in Portland this last May. Doherty was a keynote speaker at Open Engagement where we met. She initiated Situations, where is is currently the Director, in 2003 following a ten-year period investigating new curatorial models beyond conventional exhibition-making at a range of art institutions including Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, Spike Island, Bristol and FACT (Foundation of Art and Creative Technology), Liverpool.Â Listen to our discussion about art in public space, alternative models for funding and curatorial practices here.
Edition #16 came in this week with notes about the magnetic field of Roger’s Park galleries, the pilot episode ofÂ â€œBetter Luck Next Time,â€ (a newlyweds-style game show for artistic duos), dispatches from ACRE, and noted recent popularity of the sahrong. That and much much more here.
Paul King kicked things off on Monday with a vivid description of Protues, an a-typical, evocative video game:
To move past the title screen and into the game, you begin by clicking the silhouette of a distant island. After fading, the screen opens from a murky black into a gently disappearing elliptical shape, as though you were slowly opening your eyelids. Youâ€™ve awoken in what appears to be an endless ocean, a muted sea-green punctuated by the gentle lapping of white reflections. In the distance, you begin to make out the outline of a shrouded landmass. As you trudge towards it, the only anchor in the gameâ€™s ceaseless sea, you can practically feel the sunlight of the raincoat-yellow orb shining in the sky.
Everything inÂ ProteusÂ is rendered in a blocky, colorful style that should be familiar to everyone whoâ€™s ever seen an early pixelated video game. (Think the â€œballâ€ of pong, or the sharp edges of Mario.) But the style isnâ€™t due to a lack of processing power or graphical method; instead, the worldâ€™s lack of texture translates into a picturesque canvas of flat colors, almost as though you were gazing directly into a visual interpretation of one ofÂ Brian Enoâ€™s ambient tracks.
This week, James Pepper Kelly submits The Greatest Proposal for hi-fiving high culture, via an imaginary embodiment ofÂ Judith H. Dobrzynski and James Durston:
Imagine thatÂ a writer named Judith H. Dobrzynski boards a plane. Sheâ€™s ambivalent about her recent op-ed for theÂ New York Times, â€œHigh Culture Goes Hands-On,â€ in which she mourned the loss of a classic, passive museum experience. The response was decent (63 comments and a spot on the â€œmost-emailedâ€ list), and the negative response didnâ€™t go much beyond baseless ad hominems (â€œcrank,â€ â€œelitistâ€). But real-world impact? Judy sighs. She tries not to think about institutions these days, their obsequious rush to digitize, crowdsource, and create a â€œfun experienceâ€ for all. Instead, she thinks about real change: about her upcoming fellowship at the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria, and how sheÂ helped influenceÂ the countryâ€™s new Holocaust restitution laws. Judy sinks back into her business class seat (being a Fellow has perks!), orders a tomato juice and relaxes, thinking of all the reading sheâ€™ll be able to catch up on in the air.
Juliana Driever interviewed Chris Stain who’s “characteristic large-scale murals evolved out of his practice as a graffiti writer, and stand today as a kind of contemporary nod to WPA-era portraiture, featuring the faces and plights of everyday people in all of their affecting, confrontational realism.” When asked about how graffiti has changed since the 80′s, and whether there is a difference between graffiti and street art, Stain replied:
In one sense itâ€™s all art but there are different energies to what is known as â€œgraffiti,â€ mostly lettering based primarily using aerosol paint, and â€œstreet artâ€ which runs the gamut of various mediums. As for the letter-based movement, it has changed quite a bit since the 80â€™s. Technically, its reached levels unimagined back then through the help of all the newer spray paints on the market with lower pressure and cap options. The introduction of the internet helped styles develop more rapidly as it was easier to access photos from all over the world, get new ideas, and spark creativity.
I reposted an interview with EXPO’sÂ Stephanie Cristello, and Bad at Sports’ own,Â Richard Holland and Duncan MacKenzie. They discuss the upcoming newsprint publication Dana Bassett is spearheading, exactly how much gossip said paper will contain, and the interviews Bad at Sports will be conducting on site at the art fair:
Duncan MacKenzieÂ andÂ Richard HollandÂ ofÂ Bad at SportsÂ are two of the best in town to talk with about art. Known for their witty commentary and contemporary art talk platform Bad at Sports, they are most admired for their weekly podcasts and blog. The three of us sat down to discuss their involvement with EXPO/2013 â€“ the recent venture of a newspaper that will be distributed throughout the fair spearheaded byÂ Whatâ€™s the T?columnistÂ Dana BassettÂ entitledÂ The EXPO Register, and the live interviews they will be fielding from their booth next to the /Dialogues stage. The lineup for this yearâ€™s panel is impressive, titled â€œOne-on-One,â€ just one of many sports puns, MacKenzie and Holland will be in conversation with gallerists, directors, and curators, such as Solveig Ã˜vstebÃ¸ of the Renaissance Society, Elysia Borowy-Reeder of the MOCAD Detroit, and Director Charlie James, as well as artists William Powhida, JosÃ© Lerma, and Sanford Biggers. While the details of these interviews are kept secret (you will just have to see them in person to find out), our conversation breaches the extent of Bad at Sports coverage at the fair, their plans for the paper, and MacKenzie and Hollandâ€™s bucket list â€“ like an interview about interviews, or something along those lines.
Monica Westin interviewed Zach Cahill about the third and final installment of Â ”his epic USSA 2012 project,” presently on view at the Smart Museum and now called USSA 2012: Wellness Center: Idyllicâ€”affair of the heart. In this interview Cahill composes as imaginary travel brochure for the USSA, flowers on facebook, and art mourning:
I mean I very much like the direct experience of being in front of an art work, but I enjoy being haunted by art works tooâ€¦a visceral quality that occurs with the work of some of my favorite artistsâ€¦they infect me and I canâ€™t stop thinking about itâ€¦Ideally, Iâ€™d like my work to do both: give off an affecting sensation for the viewer and to haunt them afterÂ they walk away from itâ€¦ my work wants to have its cake and eat toâ€¦.Â
And last but not least, I posted a series of upcoming opportunities including the call forÂ Anchor Graphics’ Artist in Residency program at Columbia College. That and much more here.
Two years after the first iteration of his epic USSA 2012 project opened at threewalls in 2011 in the form of the hyper-conceptual “orphanage project” (after a controversial Bad at Sports podcast about an orphanage the artist had allegedly proposed on the South SideÂ drew confused ire), Zachary Cahill brings the third and final installment of his world to the Smart Museum. USSA has grown up and outward over the years, its hallmark institutions morphing from orphanage to gift shop (the People’s Palace Gift Shop at the Cultural Center last summer) and now a riff on a mountain sanatorium. Each iteration has also gotten even more ephemeral, diffuse, and challenging: the Smart Museum show, entitledÂ USSA 2012: Wellness Center: Idyllicâ€”affair of the heart, consists of a banner declaring “A Sea of Wellness,” a number of watercolor paintings scattered in offices around the museum, and both analog and digitalÂ postcards from the Wellness Center. (There’s also some heart-wrenching confessional poetry and estranging emoji, among other digital objects, on the show’s website.) For Smart Curator Sarah Mendelsohn, the challenging evasiveness of the show, and Cahill’s world, is part of the pleasure: “The difficulty of locating the USSA is part of what makes the conversation around this work so enjoyable,” she reasons.
This kind of logic is certainly in line with Cahill’s larger themes. USSA 2012 has taken on vast aesthetic, political, and increasingly personal topics for the artist over the years, and this latest iteration is no exception, with references to different kinds of modernisms within the history of painting, Thomas Mann, and the relationship between wellness and art, within his ever-present wide-ranging institutional and cultural critiques. I spoke with Cahill over email after the show’s soft opening last week. (nb all strikethrough text is intentional)
Idyllicâ€”affair of the heart banner
MW: Can you write an introduction to an imaginary travel guide for USSA? The culture, the people, the flags,Â the scenery depicted in the postcards, the social institutions, the art, the vibe… Is it an Olympic village? Cosmopolitan (as I imagine sanatoriums to be, as the art world is?)
ZC: ok here goes:
Sochi 2014 Cultural Olympiad
2013 – The Year of the Museum
USSA 2012:Wellness Center
The fourth year of the
Sochi 2014 Cultural Olympiad USSA 2012:Wellness Center is devoted to museums. As always, the organizers of the first Winter Games in the history of Russia USSA will present the public with hundreds of the best cultural events. They include dozens of exhibitions, shows, competitions, festivals, and special exhibitions, as well as forums, workshops and educational programs that will be held throughout the country.
Sochi 2014 Cultural Olympiad Wellness Center is a unique project by the organizers of the USSA 2012, offering theÂ best cultural events in the country. In 2014, visitors to the Olympic host city will not only be able to evaluate the sporting competitions, but also Russia’s the USSAâ€™s cultural diversity at dozens of performance venues located in Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana. Therefore, since 2010, the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee, along with dozens of regions throughout the country, has been carefully selecting the best of Russian USSA culture. Between 2010 and 2014, thousands of diverse cultural events have and will be taking place throughout the entire country. Each year, the Cultural Olympiad is dedicated to a different art form: 2010 was the Year of the Cinema, 2011 the Year of the Theater The Orphanage Project, 2012 the Year of Music The Peopleâ€™s Palaceâ€™s Gift Shop, and 2013 is the Year of the Museum/WellnessÂ Center 2014.
The national scale of the project will make it possible to involveÂ every resident of the country in this grand celebration of musicÂ wellness, maintaining and increasing the cultural riches ofÂ our country. All of the events of the Cultural Olympiad can beÂ followed on
Thatâ€™s kind of what I imagine it would sound like, but maybe written in the style of Thomas Mann (who is something ofÂ a spiritual grandfather to the wellness center-his book The Magic Mountain is especially important)…The artist Susan Hiller I think once said about her projectÂ From the Freud Museum…something like, â€œI think we all live inside the Freud Museum, metaphorically.â€..not meaning (obviously) that we live inside her installation but i think something along the lines that today we all are are living in and through the influence of Sigmund Freud and the life of the unconscious…possibly the Wellness Center is a bit like that…itâ€™s not something I made exactly…itâ€™s just something we all are living in…wellness as a perfume-y like presence that canâ€™t be nailed down to any one specific location…
Wellness Center watercolor 13
MW: What do you think of USSA as a kind of “worlding”? What is its ontological status?
ZC: I am sure that is probably right but I feel like maybe theÂ USSA isnâ€™t so much a form of â€œworldingâ€ but rather marks the condition of being world-ed…moving in and by forces that areÂ in many respects beyond our control…maybe the difference is negligible … I guess Iâ€™d say for me that the project…the totality of the USSA 2012 is really ontologically unstable and thatâ€™s kind of the point…itâ€™s not that I am looking to create fiction….or create an alternate universe or what have you… it flickers…my understanding is that these alternate universes are what we all create and inhabit everyday…we canâ€™t stop doing it…even theÂ most so-called unimaginative person is a hardcore world-builder and imagineer…they maybe even the best at it… seeing as itâ€™s their boring hum-drum world that we (for lack of a more credible option) seem to buy into and slog through most often….I guess everyone is worlding…so many worlds colliding…
MW: The project has reached the end of its lifespan–Â the orphanage story, childhood to adulthood, and now (after) the end. It’s also getting arguably more conceptually challenging as well as seemingly more personal. Is it getting more permeable with the real world for you? Where do you leave the world?
ZC: I always hoped that the USSA 2012 project would have something like a life span that could be mapped onto the different iterations…youth (the orphanage project)…middle age (the gift shop) and old age (wellness center)…and maybe..who knows …an afterlife?
Yes, it is getting more overtly personal in a sense… and these different life phases are meant to reflect a kind of growth through time…
MW: Re: getting personal: is the painting genre as personal a genre for you here as the confessional poetry? What kinds of approaches do you take to both?
ZC: I think so…in each instance [painting and writing] forÂ the Wellness Center Project I try to be as honest and forthcoming as I can…Still, the confessional poetry piece is difficult for me to talk about…I wrote it…Itâ€™s out in the world and thatâ€™s about all I can manage to comment on at this times….
Some of the paintings work this way too…but I suppose different modes of working are put to use for different parts of the project…so for example, with some paintings I try to imagine what the wellness center patients would make…what kind of paintings they would do as guests at an early 20th century European sanatorium…Of course, the imaginary is pretty close to the real in these efforts…I think the choice
of color gets at the personal for me…especially the use of fluorescent…I think if Munch were alive today…heâ€™d probably use a lot of fluorescent paint…is that a way of answering the question?
MW: You have talked about the difference between internal and external experience, which also comes up in the curatorial writing for the show. Those experiences seem to map onto the painterly influences here: the small human figure in an overpowering landscape (Friedrich), the hugeness of subjectivity and interiority in expressionism. I guess this isn’t really a question. Here’s my question: is this hunch right? How is it more complicated than I suggested?
ZC: The blurring of the internal mind scape and the outside world is definitely an interest…In fact, I am teaching a class on the subject next year [Cahill is aÂ Lecturer & Open Practice Committee CoordinatorÂ in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago]. I have been pretty influenced of late by a book a friend of mine recommended, Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition, by the art historian Robert Rosenblum, where he describes the psychic economy of painters like Van Gogh, Munch, and many others while tracing a Romantic lineage back to Caspar David Friedrich…It is a fantastic book of art history!…Illuminating sections abound. For instance,I had always wondered what is the opposite of the notorious commonplace â€œart for art sakeâ€…Rosenblum points out that Van Gogh was interested in art for lifeâ€™s sake…I never heard it formulated so simply and that is something that interests me…
For the banner at the Smart Museum I was thinking about CDF…it is â€œafter himâ€ as they say, or some sort of perversion of his Monk by the Sea painting… which has always held a special place in my artistic heart because it so vividly merges an inscape with the landscape…I am sure youâ€™ve experienced that feeling when…itâ€™s raining and somehow it just suits your mood perfectly and some kind of equilibrium is reached between your mood and your surroundings…that was what one of things I was going for in that painting…and how the psychic landscape might attach itself to the â€œreal worldâ€ of human activity too.
MW: Past iterations of the USSA seemed more explicitly political than this one. How cynical or sincere are you politically in this show? Aesthetically?
ZC: Well I am sincere but I am not sure that matters much…my sense it is of little consequence to viewers whether I am sincere or not…they donâ€™t need me to be…that said the politics are there… in other projects of mine the political element has been pretty foregrounded and some might say strident…like nails on a chalk board (or so I hoped)… but this project for me has to do with psychology… a turning inward and trying to a concoct propaganda of the self…like what if your unconscious started to make banners and agitate… a revolution of the psyche…could that be political?
MW: What’s with the flowers you’ve been posting on Facebook?
ZC: Slow to the party…I recently began to grasp the significance of flowers after talking about them with a couple of friends…and I started taking photos and looking closelyÂ at them over the summer around my neighborhood andÂ discovered…shocker…flowers are amazing…they do all sorts of crazy things to light to get the colors they do…natural fluorescence…
I started thinking about bees and pollination…and how people use flowers in front of their homes, at weddings, funerals, …rituals…and I concluded that flowers must perform some apotropaic function….like a teddy bear or church gargoyle… they are meant to keep the bad vibes away…
and then I starting thinking of flowers in relation to propagation and propaganda..etymologically tied…and realized flowers are supremely political…so with all the NSA data collection going on I thought…well, if they want to know something about me…let them know that I love flowers..so the flowers on Facebook were a kind of protest but also a kind of advent calendar before the project at the Smart Museum opened.
Flowers for Bad at Sports
MW: Art and mourning: these are the two huge driving themes for the show. What is art mourning? You’ve talked regarding previous USSA projects about economic depression, the way we’reÂ all “waiting for recovery,” and healing from the trauma of the Bush era. Can art help us mourn? What is mourning?
ZC: I suppose I can only answer for myself here…But speaking in generalities (knowing I am going to say this all wrong and embarrass myself) …I think art is a very fundamental human thing… By that I mean art is a lot like one of the  senses…itâ€™s a way of apprehending the world around us…now Art clearly gets caught up in all other types of associations like the art market and folks tend to get hung up on that stuff but I think art is just something we do asÂ people…market or not…
Therefore, I guess Iâ€™d say art can be an outlet forÂ mourning …or that grief can pour out into your art …just
like it can pour out into any other aspect of your life…art might be a healthy outlet and also a way of sharing the experience…commiserating…when you suffer a major loss in your life you look for ways to cope …perhaps if you’reÂ an athlete your pour that energy into competition, or ifÂ you’re a writer you write, but sometimes the grief can beÂ so overwhelming that none of the things that once made you strong and â€œtogetherâ€ can fend off the sorrow…so ifÂ art fails itâ€™s a bit like having another part of your body cave in…but hopefully you find the resources to just hang in there…friends and family are important here and…well… so is therapy.
In terms of a larger geo-political situation that you mention…I do think art can have a similar function, it can help society recover, but it can no more make the worldÂ a better place than breathing…or sleeping… basic things humans do…true, when put to good practice things like breathing and sleeping and even art can make an enormous impact on the state of the body politic…thatâ€™s encouraging and why I am big fan of political art and art that may or may not realize its political efficacy.
MW: People are going to be really confused about this show. At least I still find it ineffable and often difficult to parse symbolically, like a warren of rabbit holes. At lunch the other day you talked about an artist (I forget his name) who loved Apollinaire because his criticism was always wrong. You’re interested in misinterpretation. Are you interested in critics getting this show wrong? Is this why so much of thisÂ project is oblique: to allow room for misinterpretation? What do you think about calling this show anÂ inhibition instead of an exhibition?
ZC: The quote, if i remember right, was from Georges Braque, whose work I adore…and itâ€™s not so much that I am interested in people getting my work wrong or baffling the critics…itâ€™s just in some sense people will always get it right …even if I have no idea what they get out of it … my take on the project is simply one view among others…which is to say I am a tad mistrustful of artistâ€™s intentions (not that i unreservedly accept other interpretations)…Itâ€™s just I think we often tell ourselves what the work is about for a whole host of reasons but there is (I think) always this weird secret cause behind the work…maybe itâ€™s not always secret exactly, but maybe some artists (myself included) have to look past that secret thing in order to create the work…itâ€™s a blind-spot that helps animate the work…this is a good thing…do people instinctually connect with that blind- spot…my guess is that they do…they donâ€™t know how or why they feel that blind-spot but when it gets to them if stuff is working right…maybeÂ the rabbit hole analogy is a good one…I guess my work is made for the diggers…people who like to get down into things….and I hope that I create enough spaces for them to tunnel into….because I have that interest….I like being onto something too…
I mean I very much like the direct experience of being in front of an art work, but I enjoy being haunted by art works too…a visceral quality that occurs with the work of some of my favorite artists…they infect me and I canâ€™t stop thinking about it…Ideally, Iâ€™d like my work to do both: give off an affecting sensation for the viewer and to haunt them afterÂ they walk away from it… my work wants to have its cake and eat to….
To your last question…I am very much interested in what I think of as in-hibition, as a kind of balance to the idea of exhibition…perhaps stemming from a sense that we share a fatigue of living in public constantly…and wanting to create work for specific people that might not get seen by the â€œviewerâ€…this is why I made works to be displayed in the offices at the Smart…they are on view but just for the people that work there, not the generally audience…itâ€™s for the people that live and work at that institution everyday…or: the material posted to the Smart Museumâ€™s website, the post cards in the gift shop, the Smart phone performances… in each case I am looking for another type of connection to the viewer that play off one another….
So while i do think the traditional the exhibition setting of the gallery is great and the most efficient format for artâ€” having potential to form something like a commons…which is how IÂ hope the banner functions….I am interested in other ways people might encounter the wellness center too …live with it and in some sense make it their own…Â in-hibition and exhibition…perhaps itâ€™s a type of swinging door
Various exhibition and performance elements of the “USSA 2012: Wellness Center: Idyllicâ€”affair of the heart” Â show will take place between now and August of 2014 at the Smart Museum of Art. More information is available on the museum’s website.Â