The following profile was originally published by Art ltd., in May, 2013.
A late winter sun falls through McArthur Binion’s studio windows, as train horns blare audibly from the neighboring tracks. Inside, the artist’s paintings hang on the wall, some still in process, others dating back to the 1970s. As is indicative of Binion’s life, his work draws on numerous influences; “Ghost: Rhythms”–a recent show of early work at Kavi Gupta Gallery–shows the influence of action painting, Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. Binion pulls stylistic tropes common to folk artists as well, borrowing quilting patterns, layering photographic imagery and motifs and grids. He does all this while using one implement: his characteristic “crayon,” or paint stick. With that in hand, the artist is emphatic about the primary importance of narrative, extolling his own personal history as his fount of inspiration. “I’m coming from some place that’s not part of an historical lineage,” Binion says. “I already had my voice,” he adds. “I had to find my hands.”
Binion was born in 1946, one of eleven children, on a cotton farm in Macon, Mississippi. He moved to Detroit where his father took a job in an auto plant. “I had a speech block until I was 19–I stuttered. I couldn’t talk. Up until that point, my whole life was about non-verbal communication.” The same year he stopped worrying about his stutter, he dropped out of college and moved to New York, and found his way into a museum on a work errand. “I’d never been to a museum before,” he recalls. “I never understood that painting could be of a philosophical nature. It really got me.” Binion returned to school, to pursue the arts. “It took me two or three years to build up the courage,Â most of the things I tried I could do really well–but drawing was the first thing I had ever done that I totally had nothing going. It was an emotional experience. All these other kids had been drawing all their lives and I was 22 without experience.” In 1973, he became the first African American to graduate from Cranbrook with an MFA. He returned to New York and found himself in a nexus of contemporary art, amid such figures as Dan Flavin, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gordon Matta-Clark, dealer Mary Boone, et al. “We were all there, and for me it was like I finally met my colleagues. It was like let’s get this motherfucker on!” (read more)
The following interview was published on Artslant in May 2013:
Chicago, Apr. 2013: Guy Ben-Ner began with an idea. He wanted to divorce a soundtrack from a film, then make a new film that accommodated the appropriated soundtrack. The idea provided a mechanism, defining the rules of a game which would yield Ben-Ner’s latest work, Soundtrack. He decided to appropriate eleven minutes of sound from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. In Ben-Ner’s version the world is not ending exactly, rather his kitchen erupts into chaos. The sound of rain in the Spielberg movie is described by a frying egg in Ben-Ner’s, just as the Hollywood sounds of robots are explained in Soundtrack by way of an everyday blender. Ben-Ner embodies the voice of lead as his three children, ages eighteen, fifteen and two, play their own parts in the score. His parents also make a debut appearance, as well as friends and Yaara Shehori, the mother of the two-year old child. Having enlisted this cast, Ben-Ner wrote, directed and edited the resulting film, intentionally emphasizing a disconnect between the overarching soundtrack and the visual actions that fulfill it. The effect is breathtaking—a ballet of everyday gestures in which a fried egg plays as much of a principle role as the children themselves. Consider also the lineage of this work: a piece originally written in 1938 by HG Wells; reworked for radio by Orson Welles and broadcast in 1938; to the 2005 adaptation by Spielberg; and now Ben-Ner’s translation in 2013. As with much of the artist’s work, he plucks up tales in the collective consciousness, borrowing the readymade structure of a family and grafting it onto the folk story of alien invasions and apocalypse. These structures provide an exterior framework within which Ben-Ner explores his own status as a divorced father failing to achieve a sense of order. Ben-Ner adeptly explores the relationship between global and familial worlds, between sound and image, between the impersonal and personal spheres of influence, begging the question of individual agency.
Soundtrack‘s U.S. premier took place at Chicago’s Aspect Ratio from March 15th to April 26th, 2013.
Originally published by the Art21 blog in March, 2013.
Michelle Grabner exhibited at Autumn Space last month. Her show, DRAFT, ran the gamut of Grabner’s practical, visual, and material practice. A black and white print of two San Francisco 49ers hung in a frame by the front desk near a round, black field painting of white dots. One side of the grand warehouse windows were dressed with larger-than-life red and white gingham curtains. Across from this hung a white gessoed painting and beside that a too-large-to-be-casual Post-it Note doodle adhered to the wall. A fifth long and heavy-looking sculpture of wood and cement lay diagonally across the floor. This last work was produced by Grabner and her husband Brad Killam. The two have been working collaboratively for many many years and the piece supplied a grounding, perpendicular line amongst otherwise vertical planes. In addition to being a painter and writer, Grabner is a professor and chair of painting at the School of the Art Institute. She co-curates exhibitions at The Suburban and Poor Farm with Killam, exploring the potential in rural and suburban curatorial sites. She is represented by Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago, and will co-curate the 2014 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Whether operating as a teacher or facilitator, or as a painter, printer, collaborator, and sculptor, Grabner returns again and again to marginalized and overlooked frontiers for aesthetic inspiration, culling a minimalist sensibility from the banal pattern of picnic table place mats, gessoed cloth onto a canvas, white dots in a black field, or black pixelation on a white print. By juxtaposing scale and material she tills a subtle American vernacular, and by this constellation of works explores the pursuit of happiness.
This article was originally published by Bad at Sports on March, 2013.
Ann Toebbe is well known for her stylized, architectural paintings — paintings of empty rooms occupied only by objects. These are rooms at rest, between uses, and the furnishings within them stand enigmatic and remote, at once pointing to a network of human relations while being simultaneously autonomous; it is as though these things are preoccupied with a non-human work. Toebbe’s chairs seem to be doing very well for themselves, even when not fulfilling their intended, anthropocentric function. In her latest solo show at ebersmoore, The Inheritance, Toebbe introduces humans for the first time. The human figure shares space with its furnishings, pointing to a narrative that seems, at first, more accessible. It is a narrative that invokes the artist’s biography as well. By way of a press release, we learn that these ornate tableaus tell a story of inheritance and greed — “Dorothy and Jessie also left shares of their P&G stock to their handyman and caretaker, Ron; to their church pastor, and to a man from their church named Loreaux. But when Dorothy and Jessie died, Loreaux claimed a greater share and sued the estate. While the lawsuit was pending the stock market crashed; by the time it was all over, the fortune was all but wiped out. Toebbe’s parents had counted on the inheritance for their retirement, but because of Loreaux’s greed, all they inherited was frustration, disappointment, and anger.” While this narrative hovers like a background noise, the figures depicted seem remote from it at first. They stand or sit, static as any area rug, bed or book case. Together, these various, human and non-human, elements conspire to create an illusion of stability and cohesion, an illusion that ties in directly with our expectations of domestic life. The home is supposed to be a solid and reliable structure. It never is simply that, however, especially when one considers the transmission of its objects between generations. As a result the given narrative reminds the viewer that what one assumes based on a constellation of objects is only ever half of the whole story. While Toebbe presents calm scenes of the home, she nevertheless reminds us of an unpredictable and dynamic vitality therein, incorporating shifting POVs and gestural marks that evoke the emotional somersaults in a home and its family. Somersaults not always visible from the sphere of personal affects. It is perhaps the way any home works, being at once functional and flighty, recognizable and strange.
“There is no more chastity in the Young-Girl than there is debauchery. The Young-Girl simply lives as a stranger to her desires, whose coherence is governed by her market-driven superego.”—Tiqqun, Preliminary Materials for a Theory of a Young-Girl, 2012
Aida Makoto’s retrospective exhibit, “Monument for Nothing,” is a stunning body of work, taking full advantage of its towering exhibition site. The Mori Art Museum sits on the 53rd and 54th floors of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower—a massive skyscraper built in 2003. It is the fifth tallest building in Tokyo. As part of one’s ticket price, visitors have access to a sky deck where the whole city extends beneath your feet. On clear days Mt. Fuji juts up from the horizon, as iconic in person as it is in any woodblock print. It’s a museum in the clouds. What better site for one of Japan’s most controversial and celebrated contemporary artists?
The following artist profile was published in Art ltd, in January 2013:
Laura Letinsky’s well-lit apartment draws you first into the dining room–a fitting entrance, given that so many of the artist’s photographs took place at this table. “I got a studio in 2006,” Letinsky says, at the table’s head. “Before that, I always worked out of my home. This table is where 90% of that work was made.” Surrounding cabinets contain countless ceramic dishes–satin, white painted bowls clearly made by hand. They stand in perilous stacks, both poised and ready to crash to the ground. While Letinsky isn’t known for her ceramics, they complement her fine art photography: their palette, relation to food, and even precariousness reflect themes present in the rest of her work.
Jeremy Bolen. “CERN,” 2013. Courtesy the artist.
CERN, an exhibit of Jeremy Bolen’s documentary photographs, is on display at Andrew Rafacz Gallery until March 30. Here, Bolen presents a series of work that measures phenomena invisible to the human eye. Bolen has made a habit of such investigations. With a solid background in American landscape and survey photography, he has gone on to make the environment itself a lens for exposure, exposing film to bioluminescent plankton underwater by using the lake as a camera lens. He has buried film underground in order to capture traces of buried radioactivity on photographic paper, and exposed film in radioactive rivers.
In this latest series, Bolen spent a week at CERN, the site of the only Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in the world, leaving film in different parts of the laboratory and surrounding landscape to measure the effects of particle acceleration. Bolen’s resulting photographs vary. In some cases we are givin only the ambient, abstract trace of invisible phenomena. In other instances, Bolen inserts a traditional landscape portrait—like a caption—into his ambient fields as a way of presenting another kind of image that explains where the film was exposed. In still other instances, the relationship is inverted: the traditional landscape image of Geneva’s pictueresque environment frames a black square in which we see a slight trace of color: a portrait of anti-matter. Although these images read like abstractions, they are entirely literal. One might even suggest that Bolen is trying to exhaust every mode of site documentation, incorporating different angles of the same location into one frame, while adding site specific materials. At CERN, 600 million collisions occur each second. These collisions are attempted reenactments of the Big Bang. Bolen is working to document the otherwise invisible effects of that staged, scientific reproduction. (read more)
Originally published by Bad at Sports on February, 2013.
By the time I got there, it was standing room only. Everyone crowded around two small tables under minimal but nevertheless theatrical light. We stood this way, waiting for Korean sound muscians Hong Chulki and Choi Joonyong to play their experimental music sets. We stood in the converted ball room of a once-great mansion in Old Town. Of course the mansion is still grand, but instead of providing residence to humans it is the home base for The Graham Foundation — an organization that dates back to 1956. Dedicated to the architecture and its role in the arts, culture, and society, The Graham Foundation offers “project-based grants to individuals and organizations” while producing public programs. I had come to see one of LAMPO’s productions — one of many in an on-going experimental sound series; in order to access the ballroom, however, I had to pass through a stunning exhibit of Soviet Modernist Architecture installed in the rest of the mansion’s first and second floors. The buildings in this series are so strong and immovable in their position against the sky — and would prove to be an excellent foil to the immaterial, unfolding sequence provided by Chulki and Joonyong.
Choi Joonyong and Hong Chulki have been pioneers in Soel’s emerging experimental music scene for the last 15 years. Choi Joonyong started Astronoise — South Korea’s first noise group — with Hong Chulki in 1997. Later in 2000, the pair co-founded an experimental record label, “Balloons and Needles;” they have released a number of records since . Together, this collaborative duo embody a nexus being both community advocates and practitioners who have been called“acoustic explorers” in a “Bermuda Triangle of Sound,” creating “non-conformist, post military service” music.
Originally published by Bad at Sports in January, 2013.
As I mentioned yesterday, there is a great performance festival taking place called IN>TIME. Organized by artist Mark Jeffrey, IN>TIME features both international and local artists exhibiting in 14 diverse venues across the city between the months of January and March. Bad at Sports will be posting a mini-series of interviews and essays about this festival, including an upcoming interview with Mark Jeffrey himself. This particular post is dedicated to two concurrent exhibits at threewalls that are also part of Jeffrey’s festival. On January 11th, Mary Patten’s performance/sound/video installation, Panel opened in the main space. Mathew Jinks’ began screening his new 73 minute, single-channel HD video, The Unreliable Narrator, in the project space. While these artists are distinct from one another, exhibiting independent projects, I was interested in facilitating a conversation between them, particularly as both negotiate film, performance, history and collaboration. These exhibits will be on view until February 23rd, with an artist talk from Jinks on January 31st at 7pm, as well as a performance, SCHIZO CULTURE: A Collaborative Reading, and publication release of the catalogue associated with PANEL. On February 9th, there will be another performance, SCHIZO PANEL, at 7 PM.
“The Unreliable Narrator,” Single channel video still, Mathew Jinks, 2012.
Caroline Picard: You both call on speculative fiction in your respective projects. What does it mean for each of you to employ the fantastic?
Mathew Jinks: The idea of alternate histories is very resonant for me, not necessarily in the reconstruction of various alternative spaces, but aiding in imagining that sense of an ‘other’ space that can be inhabited by a narrative. Fictive narratives do not interest me. They seem too comfortable as a source of abstract invention in some way, which I see as an escape from reality and a dead end street; a more complex and evocative device for me is to sow seeds of doubt, to introduce situations and characters with a set of dynamics which have been loaded from the start and see how they play out. The origination in my practice was at the point of departure from personal histories and the evolution of expansive political histories.
Mary Patten: Mathew’s articulation of alternate histories, his desire to “sow seeds of doubt,” the leaking or trespassing of “personal” histories into the territory of “the political” are all-compelling to me… and describe sensibilities or impulses that have shaped my own work for many years. It’s very difficult, maybe even pointless, to draw an easy divide between “fact” and “fiction,” despite persistent claims of “objective journalism” or “scientific truth.” This is well-trodden territory: what “we” (in the most capacious sense) collectively and cumulatively “know” is subject to constant revision and reconstruction. We understand that “facticity” doesn’t equal truth, and that what passes as fiction is not a series of falsehoods. One of the oldest cultural practices, the oral tradition — often taking the form of what we call fables or myths — has been a crucial element in constructing “history.” And yet “telling stories” is still a euphemism for telling lies.
“Speculative” introduces the possibility of wonder, a wandering imagination, the work of invention to heal or bridge inescapable gaps in any historical record. It is a kind of affective, archaeological process to make empirically un-provable connections between obscure, unknown or little-known histories. “Speculative” need not connote the fantastical, however — at least not in the “spectacular” sense. These words are funny… so interconnected, but full of paradoxes.
In the case of Panel, I was drawn to an obscure transcript, photocopied many-times over, given to me by the only participant still living, my friend Judith Clark, herself a survivor of a barely-remembered radical history, serving a 75-to-life sentence in Bedford Hills prison in New York State. (Judy’s story deserves its own independent telling; I would ask readers to please check out judithclark.org.)
Originally published by Bad at Sports in January, 2013.
We are in the midst of a winter festival. Its occasions take place at a variety of locations across the city, featuring a variety of performance artists from all over the world. In each case, the art work at hand is dynamic and ephemeral; the culmination of hours/months/years of work fit into a small, public window of time. Audiences come to experience that time-concentrate and in so doing are transported. Born in the UK, Chicago-based performance artist, Mark Jeffery, is similarly invested in temporal, aesthetic exercises. Over the course of his career, he has a regularly incorporated collaboration and experimentation into his work. It seems fitting that he would address curation as well, opening the field of performance into an administrative capacity. The result is a bi-annual festival, IN>TIME. There have been two other iterations of this festival, in 2008 and 2010 — both of which were co-curated by Sara Schnadt and took place at the Cultural Center. This year Jeffery has expanded the scope of the project, curating roughly 26 different events at 15 different venues from January 11th – March 2nd, 2013. I wanted to ask Jeffery about the origins of this bi-annual festival, as well as how it fit in with his overall practice as an artist.
Caroline Picard: Can you talk a little bit about how IN>TIME 13 came together?
Mark Jeffery: There have been two previous editions of IN>TIME in 2008 and 2010 at the Chicago Cultural Center that I co-curated with artist and Chicago Artist Resource webmaster, Sara Schnadt. Sara has since now moved to Los Angeles, but during the summer and fall of 2011, before Sara left, we discovered that our contact at the Cultural Center, lost her job. At the time there was no support for this program to continue. As a result, we considered how we could expand this festival from a one-night event at the Cultural Center to a multi-venue festival throughout the city of Chicago. We were both excited to contact and connect with local venues and spaces that we already respected for their public programming of performance, symposia, exhibition, talks, and/or readings — spaces that already had an affinity towards IN>TIME’s desire to showcase performance practices in the broadest terms. We met with curators, directors and programmers of spaces in their venues, at the Palmer House, on rooftops of hotels, in phone conversations, in meeting rooms to discuss the possibility to program work in the winter of 2013. What we didn’t expect when we cast this net was that the community would be equally excited to focus their programming on performance, giving an extended platform to this experimental form.