“Sara Clendening’s show “Chaordic” at Green Gallery in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park includes eight new paintings in which variously textured shards scatter upon stretched brown Belgian linen in strategic constellations. Like pieces of blown up, cut up and discarded credit cards, each depicts the only recurring figure is a proportionately small dove, frozen in different stages of flight. The bird is instantly recognizable as an excerpt from a credit card hologram, locating the otherwise brand-less compositions within Visa’s corporate vernacular. Flattened in each every compositional iteration, the animal points to a larger socioeconomic web of credit, consumerism and debt.” Pick up a copy of Issue 302 and read the rest of the review here.
Published by Artforum in Dec 2014.
1104 S Wabash Avenue
November 20, 2014–February 14, 2015
Despite America’s espoused celebration of family values, the boundary between professional and family life is generally strict, especially within artistic occupations for which “motherhood in particular is often seen as the endpoint of a serious career.” So begins the curatorial premise stated in the catalogue of Glass Curtain Gallery’s current exhibition, “Division of Labor,” curated by Thea Liberty Nichols and Christa Donner.
The mess of parenting appears unapologetically, as does the energy of play, as well as practicality; Claire Ashley’s soft sculpture and neon-light installation, Sleepovers and Playdates, 2014, consumes the front window display with such exuberance that a few tendrils of the inflated fabric creep over a partition into the main exhibition. Cándida Alvarez’s napkin paintings hang nearby, made and framed in homage to bygone years of child rearing when going to the studio to paint was impossible. Each work inadvertently reveals an intersection of accumulated choices that ultimately reflect parenthood’s deeply personal logic. Looped through a speaker overhead, the disembodied voices of Alberto Aguilar’s family sing together; despite evident improvisation and the absence of any coherent lyrics, their abstract musical accompaniment is harmonious, even if we cannot hear the original Enya song with which they’re singing along.
There are sentimental moments as well, such as Andrew Yang’s index of materials that weigh the same amount as his daughter at birth. Or the shoes of Lise Haller Baggesen’s family, left outside her tent-cum–reading room/womb installation, Mothernism, 2013. Grouped together, the sixteen artists on view acknowledge the complex influence relationships—particularly custodial ones—have on the creative process. Read it here.
“The body is always a body that is an unfinished entity.”
—Lisa Blackman, The Body (Key Concepts), Berg, 2008
“We have a whole history of representation in which the black body was not the privileged body,” Kerry James Marshall said in an interview a few years ago. “So there was no crisis of representation for me, because the black figure is underrepresented.” Marshall has patiently, and masterfully installed black figurative paintings in predominantly white institutions for his entire career; this past fall he had a solo show at David Zwirner Gallery in London—what Culture Type hailed as one of six must-see exhibitionsduring Frieze. He is not alone, however. The figure has been steadily inching its way back into popular focus, and not just any figure either—it’s the plurality of figures that challenges a single ideal of what a body should be.
In 2014 Kara Walker’s A Subtlety: or the Marvelous Sugar Baby drew some 130,000 viewers while installed at the now defunct Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn. Along with its installation came a wave of controversy inspired by the white public’s tendency to take suggestive and derogative selfies beside the 30-ton sugar sphinx’s vagina. (A related lecture will take place this February at the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at the University of Chicago.) The body, and tension around racial identity in the US became an international priority as multiple cases of the police brutality captured media attention. One response came by way of Claudia Rankine’s 2014 book, Citizen. A finalist for the National Book Award, it carries an image of David Hammons’ In the Hood on its cover. “Even as your own weight insists / you are here,” Rankine writes, “fighting off / the weight of nonexistence. // And still this life parts your lids, you see / you seeing your extended hand…” Read more here.
Originally published by Artslant, Jan 2015.
I go back and forth between feeling like Anthropocene is a buzzword for contemporary hysteria—our generation’s equivalent to the Cold War—and recognizing it as a practical reality. Either way it is the nexus point between published facts and our dogged consumerist lifestyles: we live in the 6th Great Extinction, yet guzzle gas and consume plastic with aplomb. Responding to an already lush rubric of 2013 exhibitions, several 2014 shows explored ecocritical themes, as will a number of presentations in the coming year, all composing vivid curatorial landscapes that challenge our historical approach to the material world.
Perhaps that’s why Philippe Parreno’s 2013 exhibition left such an impression when I caught the tail end of it in January 2014. Parreno gutted the Palais de Tokyo, creating a surreal, interactive environment that conveyed an end-times-feeling. A few months later Angelika Markul installed her three-part exhibition, Terre de départ (Land of Departure) in the same museum’s ground floor space, where she set a white stage for a large video screen. The platform extended to support a set of white debris: pipes that looked like they may once have been used in a playground swing set. On screen she projected footage from Chernobyl where the camera pans around, capturing a too-still forest punctuated occasionally by abandoned buildings. Everything feels frozen in time—a feeling I remembered when reading that trees in Chernobyl don’t decompose; latent radiation prevent fungi, microbes, and certain insects that would otherwise turn fallen trunks into dirt. An adjacent room in Markul’s exhibit opened up on the artist’s two-channel projection of twin backwards flowing waterfalls. They flickered cast light over Markul’s surrounding installation—hard to see in the dark, reading nevertheless like a pile of dead and inert bodies washed up in an oil slick. In her final video a 2001-like telescope shifts with robotic grace, presumably to see the sky beyond the human eye. Read more here.
I had a dream a couple years ago in which a new, previously unknown continent was discovered on Earth. The knowledge entered my consciousness first like the ambient news of a radio dispatch. It was an impersonal knowledge, born through the slippery medium of dream space, the source of the transmission overlooked as my dream self wondered instead about the profound consequence such a discovery might have on the rest of humankind. The next thing I remember is that I stood on the ground of the new country. It was made of gypsum, entirely empty except for many animals who seemed to have been living there for a very long time. I woke up shortly thereafter in a warm stupor. Imagine the way our concept of global space would change upon discovering that we had, for so many decades, overlooked an entire continent. It would offer so much to the imagination. A blank place to start again. To be reborn, as they say, with the luxury of retaining prior memories. In his first US solo exhibition, Josef Strau examines such a place. The New World, Application for Turtle Island at The Renaissance Society reflects a real new world: the Americas.
Leaving University of Chicago’s academic corridors behind, The Renaissance Society’s double doors act as a portal, opening up on a flood lit, counter intuitively large, modern gallery; Strau uses that sense and shock of arrival into a new space as a backdrop for a series of material assemblages. Positioned throughout the room on various low-lying plinths, or occasionally on the floor, these small islands contain the same family of objects repeated in different configurations: metal gates, or printed flags with those metal gates, or messily painted ceramic tiles so small in comparison as to be easily overlooked. There are a variety of IKEA lamps, the lampshades of which are in some cases still wrapped in plastic. Others are fitted with tasseled shades or garnished with elaborate and lush folk-art-esque sequin paintings of Pocahontas, the Holy Mother of Guadalupe, a bear and a wolf together—as they so often appear in the rest of the exhibit—a turtle, a priest, a purple bird. Ceramic bamboo sticks make a regular appearance as well in this tableaux, as do fabrics and flags with Strau’s text. Another recurring component is a ceramic turtle—its shell hollowed out like a dish—offering itself up, as if suddenly in service. read more
For its inaugural exhibition, Sector 2337 presents The New [New] Corpse, a group show produced by The Green Lantern Press with thirteen artists whose work in photography, sculpture, performance, film, and drawing wrestles with representation to show how the figure appears fragmented, distorted, or emphatically absent. These artists exhume the human body to study the material networks by which it is comprised. Xaviera Simmons shows an appropriated photograph of migrants on a boat. French artists Benjamin L. Aman and Marion Auburtin present ceramic music boxes that turn like grotesque curiosities. Recent Whitney Biennial participant Joseph Grigely offers expired New York Times clippings with the figure frozen and silent listening or mid-song. Heather Mekkelson includes the material excerpts of human activity and Rachel Niffenegger’s painted fabric hangs loose, torn and painted like a dress. Shoshanna Weinberger and Young Joon Kwak each explore an estranged and modified body, while Jason Lazarus photographs a blurred chair, emphasizing the body’s absence. Throughout each of these portrayals, representation is skewed, and unfixed — as copies of images in flux, emerging in foreign mediums that themselves have material properties: metal, cake, photography, facsimile, dust. Carlos Martiel documents a performance where he lay on ice for as long as possible, until his body temperature lowered to numbness. Shane Ward’s sculpture is a deteriorated cast of a Roman artifact, and Aay Preston-Myint installs an edible homage to utopic ideals. Within this constellation of works, a postulate emerges: the human figure is no longer defined by stable boundaries, but is rather embedded in a network of fluctuating nonhuman parts. You can see more about the exhibition’s affiliated catalogue here.
Originally published by Artslant in September 2014.
“And we’ll pretend that people cannot see you. That is, the citizens. And that you are free of your own history. And I am free of my history. We’ll pretend that we are both anonymous beauties smashing along through the city’s entrails [She yells as loud as she can] GROOVE!”
— Amiri Baraka, Dutchman, 1964.
We gathered in the lobby of a recently renovated bathhouse at 1914 W Division Street in Chicago’s Wicker Park. The time was 11:00pm. Upon arrival, everyone received a large bottle of water, a bathrobe, sandals, and a locker key—though standard fare for any public bath, it isn’t typical theater attire. Yet this was the obligatory uniform for New York-based artist Rashid Johnson’s audience. We gathered to see his rendition of Dutchman, the historic 1964 play by Amiri Baraka, an indisputable forefather of American literature. Commissioned by Performa for its original debut at a New York bathhouse last November, Johnson’s cast reconvened for a second time in the artist’s hometown Chicago this fall. In the lobby, Johnson explained that this particular Division Street bathhouse had personal significance. During grad school, it was a place he regularly came to decompress and reflect. His studio assistant reminded us that the higher one sat the hotter it was, and to please drink water when we felt it necessary. Down the stairs we went thereafter into the men’s portion of the establishment until our assembly arranged itself on three tiers of wooden bathhouse benches, already sweating in the deep dark of a sauna. Johnson took the stage only once in the beginning of the work, standing before the massive great oven to throw two cups of water into the dark pit it contained. Above and behind his head, a sign in all capital letters reminds bathers to add water with caution, lest it get too hot.
The actors take the stage. Clay (Kevyn States) enters first. He reads the newspaper—a current issue of the New York Times. Lula (Tori Ernst) then walks on with a purse. With her bathrobe almost closed, a red bikini peers out nonetheless. Everything in the two act play occurs between these two characters—Clay, a 20 year-old black man, and Lula, a 30 year-old white woman—as they ride the New York subway. Each actor sits on facing benches, and the rest of the audience fills out the rest of our narrow, cramped quarters. Like a vampy character out of Tennessee Williams play, Lula aggressively goads her costar to his breaking point. She knows his type, she claims. She proves it, mocking his predictability, guessing the names of his friends, and the habits of his parents; mercilessly, she chaffs against his own sense of place in mainstream America. She mocks him for wanting to be a Black Rimbaud, casting racial slurs with stunning expertise, infusing the air with a sexual charge as unpredictable as it is inescapable. Clay is mild mannered by comparison. Level-headed even. Honest. He tends to give people the benefit of the doubt. Observant of social cues. He is the middle class black man and she belittles him for it, driving the history of slavery into his heart like a stake. “Boy, those narrow-shoulder clothes come from a tradition you ought to feel oppressed by,” she says—and on and on relentlessly, to such an extent that when he finally responds in kind, he unearths a latent rage so confusing as to destroy any sense of self he’d previously assumed. As though to further embody the extent of Clay’s crisis, Lula knifes him to death in the final moments of the play. She plans to throw his body outside without consequence while the rest of the audience—all of us sweating unbearably where we are stacked like sardines in the cramped/dim/hot box—watch silently like indifferent commuters. read more
The following interview was originally published in Artslant in September, 2014.
Chicago, Sep. 2014: Robert Burnier has a large body of work on display this fall at multiple locations all over the city. In addition to Inland Delta, a solo show in the West Loop at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, he is part of The Chicago Effect: Redefining the Middle at the Hyde Park Art Center on Chicago’s South Side, and presents a separate collaborative project, Inside Space, with artists Jason Lazarus and Molly Brandt at the Riverside Arts Center. As Burnier describes it, this latter project “investigates what is hidden and elusive” in material experience, isolating “what is activated for us by voids and gaps.” It’s a bundle of themes that reoccurs throughout his work. Finally his IN/SITU presentation will open at EXPO Chicago this week where the artist was curated by Renaud Proch.
Clearly Burnier is having a moment. It is exciting to witness. With a background in computer science and painting, his sculptural works interrogate material and philosophical concerns. In one ongoing series, he begins with a flat piece of aluminum, folding it methodically until further folds are no longer possible. The resulting elegantly crumpled objects are covered with a layer of matte paint, and thereafter appear like crumpled balls of thick paper; they evoke the residue of vibrant energies — sitting like cast aside experiments whose original purpose is not longer accessible. Burnier’s work reintroduces the process of thinking as a final object in and of itself.
Caroline Picard: Is there any synergy between the different contexts and sites where you are currently presenting work?
Robert Burnier: Given the theme of Inland Delta, my solo show, it’s been serendipitous to have different views of my work in disparate locales. To me, it all gathers around the solo show at the gallery, which becomes a kind of central node. I hope people will get something special out of piecing the different locales together if they happen to see my work in more than one place.
CP: This fall I noticed a new development in your work, where you started to install modified and deconstructed crates. Where did the inspiration for those works come from? Were you looking through your storage unit when you suddenly felt obligated to use them somehow?
RB: There wasn’t one moment where I decided I’d work with the crates. It’s been on my radar for some time. Still, one of my favorite moments in thinking about them happened a few years ago when I was talking to David Dobie of Heaven Gallery. While unpacking work for a show there, he admired the crates I made to house the work. As soon as he said that, he immediately apologized — he didn’t mean that he didn’t like the work in the crates! I was happy to agree, saying that I definitely wanted to explore that issue someday. Whatever happened and wherever I lived, I’ve been dragging the crates around with me, even paying to store them until I felt ready to figure them out. Now they’re back! But in a way I kind of “disappeared” them again with my modifications.
As Chicago approaches the four day run of its annual art fair, the art world becomes increasingly animated with preparations. This is the moment backstage of an as-yet empty auditorium; red carpets are cleaned one last time as painters touch up their back drops and technicians in black clothes hastily test light and sound sequences. Dancers stretch. Producers sweat, fiddling their mobile devices unconsciously. There is a palpable buzz of anticipation — an energy not yet disseminated into the greater public, rumors nevertheless spread wildly about what one might expect on opening night. When EXPO CHICAGO opens this Thursday, it will be as if the red curtains have drawn up at last, revealing with it a precise choreography of energy and effort. So begins the musical.
In addition to the booths of over 140 international galleries exhibiting select artists, EXPO CHICAGO platforms IN/SITU works. It’s a bit like a play within a play. The fair itself is one production within which another spectacle — its own exhibition — plays out. This year the series is curated by Renaud Proch, Executive Director of Independent Curators International who describes his selection as “an homage to the city, to what artists take from and give to it, to the abundance of artistic creation and experimental practice that exists here [in Chicago] amid an intense exchange of ideas.” Robert Burnier, Fernando Pareja and Leidy Chavez, Cheryl Pope, Michael Rakowitz, Jessica Stockholder, Saya Woolfalk, Ken Gonzales-Day, and Elijah Burgher all install works that “provide occasions for pause and reflection throughout the exposition.” In so doing they impose different techniques that expand a viewer’s physical, political, and historical perspective. read more
The following essay was published by Andrew Rafacz Gallery in a catalogue for Robert Burnier’s solo show, Inland Delta.
“Imagine a vast sheet of paper on which straight Lines, Triangles, Squares, Pentagons, Hexagons, and other figures, instead of remaining fixed in their places, move freely about, on or in the surface, but without the power of rising above or sinking below it, very much like shadows — only hard and with luminous edges — and you will then have a pretty correct notion of my country and countrymen. Alas, a few years ago, I should have said ‘my universe:’ but now my mind has been opened to higher views of things.” — Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, 1884.
Two eyes set parallel in the front of the human head provide a line of sight with limitations and subjective peculiarities. Objects observed by other methods likely appear fundamentally different. Take the rabbit who, has eyes on either side of its skull, can see 360 degrees around its body at once. Their visually immersive experience of the world nevertheless affords a central blind spot in front of their nose making any three-dimensional experience of nearby objects impossible. A tennis ball by their feet, for example, would read like a flat circle. Or consider the Barreleye fish, a strange deep sea creature with tubular lenses inside of its semi-transparent head. Its lenses are sensitive enough to recognize flitting prey as it swims overhead, like shadow puppets passing across a back lit screen. Any time they direct their attention to the ceiling of the ocean, they invariably look through their own semi-transparent gelatinous matter. Add to that their additional ability to look straight forward, over top their very small mouths. Such fish must experience depth in an entirely different fashion, but countless other examples exist. Different modes of sensory apprehension — sight, smell, touch etc. — combine with physical constraints — the setting of one’s eyes is just one example — to engender different systems of logic, and desire. Within each logical system, the same objects appear to one another: the tennis ball, the ocean, the rabbit, the plastic bag, the human, all manifesting differently according to the subjective proclivities of its beholder.