Curt Cloninger, “Twixt The Cup And The Lip #3 (Letting the language speak itself?),” 2011. On view in “glitChicago” at the UIMA.
By Jason Foumberg
A museum survey of Chicago’s innovative glitch art scene opening this month provides a good moment to revisit the city’s deep legacy of media arts. This is where contemporary art intertwines with emergent communications technologies—video, analog and digital computers, and repurposed commercial imaging technology—whatever artists could get their hands on. The local scene is today propelled by many do-it-yourself makers, but heavy academic support in decades past helped media arts flourish here. Some observers have noted that new media art evolved out of Chicago’s experimental music subculture. Curator of “glitChicago,” Paul Hertz says that glitch art, like hacking, is an artist’s answer to Big Media; the movement revives discarded electronics and advocates for open sharing of tools and content. “glitChicago” shows August 1 through September 28 at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, 2320 West Chicago.
1936: Nathan Lerner, a student at the New Bauhaus in Chicago, stands in traffic medians to photograph the patterns of traffic lights. Lerner later invents the light box.
1947: “Vision in Motion,” Moholy-Nagy’s manifesto, is published in Chicago one year after his death. The book makes a case for the marriage of art and technology, and would inform art and design curriculums for decades at the School of the Art Institute and the Illinois Institute of Technology.
1968: Artists Bill McCabe and Robert Frontier put their penises on a copy machine, creating some of the first copy-machine art in Chicago. By 1970, these alternative printmaking machines become the basis for the Generative Systems program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, spearheaded by Sonia Landy Sheridan. Read the rest of this entry »
“Pearl,” acrylic and nail polish on digitally printed spandex, sequins and velvet
“I was very little when I went as Glinda for Halloween one year, with very patient parents,” recounts artist Vincent Tiley as we met for coffee in Bushwick, the neighborhood in Brooklyn where he resides. Costumed as the good witch of Oz was one of Tiley’s earliest forays into the effervescent world of drag. “I take a lot from my experience coming out in college in Baltimore surrounded by a queer punk scene, making looks and going to a club and feeling all the feels that you get being weird at a place where people want you to be sexy.” For Tiley, bodies contain these tensions between the desire to be desired and a nearly contradictory one to challenge and affront. His first solo exhibition, “New Skin” at elee.mosynary gallery in Pilsen, is populated with heavily adorned bulbous paintings on digitally printed spandex that are “Blob Portraits” of club kids and drag queens that Tiley has befriended.
Read the rest of this entry »
Susan Giles. “Untitled (Humayun’s with Cultures),” drawing paper, 2013
In both Susan Giles and Jeroen Nelemans’ practices, video and sculptural works borrow content from tourism and art history as the basis for re-imagining the material representations of place.
Susan Giles’ video “Pulling Out the Words,” 2011, is a series of interviews with five subjects about favorite landscapes in which all of their spoken descriptions have been cut. Landscapes are conveyed only through the speakers’ gestures, stutters and breaths, with Giles’ camera tracking the speakers’ hands, upper body or face.
The perceptual shifts afforded by lacunae continues into the next small room with Nelemans’ Flavin-esque “from the Postcard Series, Untitled #3,” 2012. An enlarged postcard of Dutch tulip fields is sliced vertically and wrapped around slender fluorescent tubes. Colored diagonal lines illuminate the space in between the rows, neatly continuing the image as light spilling onto the wall. Nelemans, Dutch but Chicago-based, is interested in cultural pilfering: tulips originate from Turkey but are a national representation of The Netherlands. Read the rest of this entry »
Ariane Littman. “The Olive Tree,” video (still), 2012
This group exhibition of contemporary artworks from around the globe focuses on the way humans have engaged with the potent longevity of trees to establish borders and identity. The forests in many of the works are both witness and collaborator to mass violent acts; the trees become sinister national monuments.
Andreas Rutkauskas’ “Cutline” photo series shows a straight path through the wilderness between Canada and Vermont. The clear swath cut through the forest evokes an interminable road to nowhere, remote and isolated, yet manicured to perfection. Steven Rowell’s photographs of the Brandenburg forest reveal ruins of Nazi and Soviet camps, mining operations, and nuclear waste storage facilities. Many of the documentary images in “Encounters” expose how the use of trees as natural barriers manufactures the natural and conceals power. Read the rest of this entry »
Sarah Morris, video still from “Chicago,” 2011
“Chicago,” a 2011 film by Sarah Morris, is the centerpiece of the MCA’s new exhibition, “City Self.” Morris’ flood of telescopic images of our city, accompanied by an electronic score written by her husband Liam Gillick, and projected on a movie screen, presents a seamless digital spectacle of the twenty-first-century city. The camera never lingers on anything or anyone too long; its detachment mirrors our own loss of agency in the phantasmagoric flow. Gallery visitors can screen the entire film or wander in and out.
Grids and infrastructure are foregrounded in Morris’ sixty-eight-minute film, creating the visual implication that the gridded surfaces of Mies’ buildings are truly an expression of the deep structure of the city, and some breathtaking shots of the Lake Shore Drive apartments set Chicago aside from any other global city. Extended sequences of the giant presses where the Tribune and other papers are printed, the still-modernist compositions of pipes that protect the miles of filament and cable at Fermilab and huge mainframe computers (humming electronically like the score) there and other places. Morris and her cinematographer David Daniels reveal the blank material structures and technological non-places that create cyberspace and control the flow of digital images. Read the rest of this entry »
Tony Tasset, “Robert Smithson (Las Vegas),” 1995
By Jason Foumberg
The exhibition begins on the left, and ends nowhere. The MCA’s expansive new group show, “The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archaeology,” bores wormholes through the Rocky Mountains, to Baghdad and Belarus and over the North Pole, through the psyche and into the past. “The past is a foreign country,” wrote L. P. Hartley, and artists are explorers. This is the guiding theme of curator Dieter Roelstraete’s exhibition, which tasks itself with explaining nothing less than the history of the Western world—and who has access to it. The ambitious exhibition with an international roster of artists is “a philosophical speculation,” explained Roelstraete at the media preview. Roelstraete’s show proposes that artists create art, and make meaning, in a new way. That is, artists dig, uncover, exhume, mine, bring to light (and other “digging” synonyms) issues and characters from the past. What artists find (artifacts, secrets, ghosts) is of equal importance to how they found it (research, inquiries, investigations). There are no accidents in this show, only strategies. Read the rest of this entry »
Chelsea Knight’s twenty-three-minute short video, “The Breath We Took,” is a completely absorbing experience. Shot earnestly in documentary style, the work weaves its matriarchal narrative around four generations of Knight’s family, exploring differing views on marriage and motherhood and how those notions—and their attendant trepidations—inevitably affect their relationships with each other. The pastoral New England setting, the intimate, confessional style interviews, and an abiding sense of authenticity envelope the viewer in this vivid, emotionally rich portrait. Read the rest of this entry »
Chris Jordan, from “Midway Message from the Gyre,” 2009–2010
A gamut of environmentalist photography cataloging the depredations that our species has wrought on planet Earth is on display here, ranging from Terry Evans’ series that make destruction look seductively appealing (usually not the shooter ’s intent), through images that aestheticize spoliation with a disturbing undercurrent, to outright assaults on the eye that leave us in no doubt that we are witnessing something awful. Of the seven practiced artists here, working predominantly in color and in different corners of the world, only Chris Jordan dares to lacerate our sensibilities to the max, with his series, from the Pacific Midway Atoll, depicting dead albatrosses, their guts open revealing a mess of plastic garbage that they have snarfed up in their quest for a meal. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jason Foumberg
The smell is unavoidable, and it’s distinct: a brew of dust, armpits and dried urine. Strangers’ old clothes just smell that way, especially when they come from a thrift shop like the Salvation Army. Artist Heather Mekkelson compiled hundreds of these used, pale-colored garments to build a retaining wall nearly ten-feet high and twenty wide, referencing a mass grave but also death’s wholesale opportunism: everyone must go.
After it dries, a portrait painting in a museum has no scent at all, but the stink of secondhand clothes is difficult to ignore. Here, the clothes are a reminder that history is like food: it constantly needs to be freshly killed or else it is no good. The stench of Mekkelson’s artwork is a convincing theatrical stand-in for the stench of rotting corpses in “Embracing the Farb: Modes of Reenactment,” a group exhibition that’s populated with new ideas about death and how people die, from lynching to old age.
It’s not just artists who have the keen skills needed to re-imagine historical facts; educators and scholars and journalists—even observers—keep the clay ball of history wet with the labor of their sweaty hands. Everyone must keep pressing and passing this clay thing we call history. Otherwise, it dries out and falls apart. “Embracing the Farb” was convened to keep that ball rolling, but also to breed the dust bunnies of history. The more that historical “facts” get multiplied, the better we can see and understand them. This isn’t simply a symptom of our age of creative nonfiction, but a necessity of being a curious, engaged citizen. Read the rest of this entry »
As a child growing up in London, Steve McQueen—not the deceased film star, but the contemporary film artist—says that seeing the 1981 Irish hunger strike on television was one of those “impressionable moments,” the kind that carries with you into adulthood. In 2008, seventeen years after that initial haunting, he released his first feature-length film “Hunger,” a hyperrealistic, oft-times completely gruesome look at the 1981 hunger strike inside the HM Prison Maze. McQueen captures the demise of Bobby Sands, a member of the British Parliament and volunteer of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who starved himself to death between the prison’s cinder walls. McQueen followed up on this breakout movie with his 2011 film “Shame,” about an attractive thirty-something New Yorker named Brandon through the tunnels of his sex addiction. But McQueen did not start out as a feature-length filmmaker; rather, this newfound vision came out of more than twenty years of shorter works in mediums such as 8mm film, 16mm, 35mm slides and color video, all of which are represented in this stunning survey of his work to date. Read the rest of this entry »