Doris Salcedo. “Untitled” works, 1989-2008,
wooden furniture, concrete, clothing, steel and glass
The very first retrospective of Colombian artist Doris Salcedo’s thirty-year career begins with her recent “Plegaria Muda,” a maze of more than one-hundred upended tables sandwiching a thick layer of dirt between their backs and appearing as coffins. Tiny blades of grass grow out from between the wood planks, a subtle indication of the time poured into the growing and crafting of each blade and table. “Plegaria Muda” is created from Salcedo’s research into gang violence in Los Angeles combined with viewing the mass graves of grieving mothers’ sons in Colombia. The piece is a meditative entrance into Salcedo’s content, an attempt to erase the anonymity of those disappeared in her home country and abroad. Read the rest of this entry »
Salvation Army in South Africa anti-abuse campaign image
By Matt Morris
Seeing is not a solitary activity, and it’s not simple. Perception is first of all dependent on context, not only because the specificities of an experience are ascertained through contrast, but also due to the ways each of our unique acculturations informs how we see. Comprehending visual information then turns out to be a social activity, evidenced most clearly in the debates that arise when we don’t see things the same way. And of course, these turbulent discourses around what is perceived are at the expense of appreciating just how much goes unseen—through suppression, movement beyond our sensory faculties, or systemically strategic elisions in how the seen social is structured. This then is one of the often tacit but urgent responsibilities of visual culture and art: to pressure and interrogate the boundaries of perception, to render the invisible visible. Changing how we see is first perceptual but actually political work, and it’s being done across viral Internet memes, sharp-witted turns in how organizations understand multicultural diversity, and artistic research into invisibility. Read the rest of this entry »
Lori Felker. “A Trip to Always Falls,” 2015,
video projection and headphones, seventeen-minute loop
“Extraordinary Effort, Spectacular Failure” declares its ethos with clarity and directness in advance of any art. There is no irony in this claim nor in the work, a diverse presentation of mixed media that represents the culmination of six artists’ recent Chicago Artists Coalition HATCH residencies. Curated by HATCH resident Erin Toale, the exhibition meditates on David Foster Wallace’s notion of the “anti-rebel,” an imagined figure whose earnest and dogged effort, Foster suggests, might be the much needed antidote to all that is too cool in today’s hip culture. Accordingly, the artists here are visibly struggling, not with the quest of “making it” but with questions of practice and identity, among many others. Read the rest of this entry »
Meg Duguid standing with her installation “Supercomputer” at Slow in Pilsen.
After a dreary trek through Pilsen’s sludge-laden sidewalks, I’m happy to see Meg Duguid waving enthusiastically to me from inside the fogged windows of Slow. Paul, the gallery’s director, stands to her left and Yesterday, the gallery’s canine mascot, faithfully on her right.
On an evening just as dreary in 2005, Duguid entered a tiny bookshop in Brooklyn. Browsing for nothing but a way to kill some time between her side jobs and studies, she happened across a book that contained a screenplay James Agee wrote for Charlie Chaplin in 1947. Inspired and intrigued, she sent an unsolicited letter to the Agee foundation, requesting to bring to life the script that had—for whatever reason—remained unproduced. The foundation’s answer was no, and Duguid moved on.
Flashing forward in time and back to the Midwest, the backsides of fifteen stacked televisions rise to greet me as I enter Slow. Large blue and orange extension cords twist and tangle their way toward electrical outlets on either side of the gallery, powering the luminescent glow coming from the anterior of the electrical blockade. The piece is silent, save for a high-pitched drone coming from the circuitries. Read the rest of this entry »
Claire Pentecost. “Our Bodies, Our Soil,” 2014-2015, installation view
Soil is a catalyst for riveting conversations at the DePaul Art Museum’s current exhibition “Rooted in Soil.” Environmental awareness, life cycles and science are a few of the ideas explored in this captivating exhibition co-curated by a mother-daughter team, Laura and Farrah Fatemi. This multi-sensorial and interactive show consists of thirty-seven artworks by fifteen artists, and emphasizes an often overlooked—but essential—part of life: soil.
“Soil is undervalued,” Laura Fatemi explained in an interview. “People recognize you need clean air and water. But do they recognize that soil needs to be free of pollutants to be healthy?” The show’s interactive component tactfully answers this question. Read the rest of this entry »
Alison Ruttan in her installation “A Line in the Sand,” at the Chicago Cultural Center
“My husband says the FBI knows what I’m doing because I have a heat signature constantly going,” chuckles artist Alison Ruttan as she leads me into the basement of her cozy Oak Park home. We pass from her living room lined with artworks by Ruttan’s husband Scott Stack and neighbor Sabina Ott into a series of chamber-like rooms with low ceilings and cement floors, all brimming with remnants of unused pieces from “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” which occupies the Cultural Center’s three Michigan Avenue galleries. Read the rest of this entry »
Anna Kunz. “Peel,” latex on all and fabric, latex and enamel on canvas
As evinced by the prevalence of “Zombie Formalism,” abstraction is currently coasting: reanimating movements without contributing new ideas. Paintings by Michelle Bolinger, Samantha Bittman and Anna Kunz are a refreshing contrast to lifeless painting that threatens visual communication itself in a hunger for conceptual novelty. Together they confirm that a voice can still be found in purely formal painting about the process of abstraction itself. Read the rest of this entry »
Jesús Rafael Soto. “Pénétrable de Chicago,” 1971. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Randall Shapiro.
By Matt Morris
Friends of mine are used to me bristling against the word “normal,” and many of the art students I teach have opted to avoid it lest they elicit a mini-lecture that questions the production of normalcy as an underlying societal force. At issue is how normative conceptions of being come about in relation to what is deemed abnormal: this could be queer, minority or, as I’m considering here, the production of the category of disability. 2015 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), leaving me with questions of what the art world has done over these decades to not only comply with government-mandated civil rights law but to actively imagine modes of engagement that appreciate differently abled bodies and minds of both art audiences and artists as an opportunity to create new forms of meaningful experience.
In his 2011 essay “Beautiful Progress to Nowhere,” Chicago-based artist, writer and educator Joseph Grigely wonders, “…The arts need disabled people; but it’s not clear what exactly defines this need. Is it because difference is ‘good’? Or is it because the experience disables those who interact with us, thereby rewriting the tacit rules by which we share space together?”
Perhaps innovations in how art can be a place of interaction for low and non-sighted individuals, those who are deaf, people with special needs for mobility and other perhaps difficult to predict differences in bodies stresses the incommensurability of shared experiences in art: it’s not the same for any of us, no matter what shared abilities we might have. I spoke with Dr. Carrie Sandahl, head of the Program on Disability Art, Culture, and Humanities at UIC, “Everybody can get some experience of the artwork with their own history and apparatus, but it doesn’t have to match. Why do we think that it’s ever going to match? Audiences are going to bring different things.” Read the rest of this entry »
Installation view of Creeping Toward The Light at Julius Caesar
Described as a “collaboration” between organizer and artist, rather than a straightforward comparison, “Creeping Toward The Light” at Julius Caesar features artist Stevie Hanley alongside one of JC’s directorial personalities, Roland Miller. The small exhibition space, dominated by Hanley’s large, banner-like assemblies, has the effect of a curious, colorful maze.
The floor is chrome throughout, treated with a foil wrapping. Miller has installed several slightly larger-than-life-sized prints of women cut out and affixed directly to the wall. Their color and visual texture is glitched, implying inversions, blow-outs and missing data. Brilliance and lurid aesthetic moments become occlusions—obnoxious, pink rhinestones are glued to the picture glass floated just a hair above a collage by Miller, covering a serial repetition of sexual penetrations. Glints that blind, rather than illuminate. That these explicit moments are not totally concealed gives way to that naughty impulse to peak around the glittery censor. Read the rest of this entry »
Leslie Baum + Allison Wade. Drunken Geometry, installation view, February 2015.
“Drunken Geometry,” the new collaborative exhibition by Leslie Baum and Allison Wade, is a risky proposition. By tackling the classic conventions and traditions associated with the still life, these two Chicago-based artists seek to extend our preexisting notions of the genre by, in effect, taking them apart. The approach is as pregnant with possibility as it is fraught with travails.
Sculptural formulations are particularly susceptible to problems inherent to deconstruction since a table displayed without substantive transformation remains merely a table, an artifact of our mundane world rather than an active agent in the world of art. Though reasonable people can (and should) disagree, objects placed within the environs of gallery are not art by default. The wall-mounted “Many Things Conspired #1” as well as the floor-bound “New Things (the persistence of ordered objects) #1,” which both seem a little too self-satisfied as minimally altered objects, are the most problematic in this regard. Read the rest of this entry »