On September 11, 2011, St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco was the site of a 9/11 memorial service and a large-scale projection by British artist Ben Wood. Working closely with curator Tamara Loewenstein, Wood created a melange of images invoking the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and traditional rituals of remembrance. In this interview Loewenstein and Wood discuss the process of creating something that was equal parts installation, performance, sacred rite and act of communal memory.
Jason Lahman: What was the genesis of the 9/11 memorial project at St. Ignatius and how did you decide to use the exterior of the building?
Tamara Loewenstein: When Ben Wood approached us at Manresa Gallery [the art gallery inside St. Ignatius] with a proposal for a 9/11 memorial, we began to discuss what that might look like. At first we planned an interior illumination using the existing LED lighting system within St. Ignatius Church. However, it became clear that an outdoor public project was more in line with our combined interests. Much of Ben’s work has included large-scale outdoor projections, including four different projections on San Francisco’s historic Coit Tower. Ben and I began to think about who our audience would be and how we would incorporate the architecture of the landmark San Francisco church. We decided on the east wall, which had the most visibility. Conceptually, we were seeking to break down the physical barrier of the wall to reveal the prayerful acts taking place inside the church. The four solid archways were transformed into windows by the projection.
For many people, getting an MFA is a way to further develop desired skills, whether theoretical or technical. For others, it is a path to networking, and cracking the hard shell of the Art World and finally “make it.” For me, it is an emergency raft. A sanity anchor.
Finding myself a single parent after earning my BFA and BA, I felt that an MFA was the only way not to get sucked into working at an unsatisfying 40-hours-per-week job that would have made it nearly impossible for me to continue being involved in art-making in a way that felt meaningful. I just wanted to buy more time before the tug of life outside of art pulled me under for good.
I moved from Italy to the U.S. right after I turned 20, with my two year old twin girls in tow. I needed to get away from violence in my family, from a macho culture with little space for women who didn’t want to be mothers, nuns, or TV eye candy, and from a society overburdened by its own history. Nine years later, I find myself at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, completely entrenched in this “art thing” as a second-year graduate student in the Painting and Drawing Department.
One of the most cherished aspects of going to school at SAIC is that we are not confined to one discipline, but rather we make up our own course of study as we go. I am not sure how I ended up in the Painting Department, besides the fact that painting is a medium I became familiar with in college. I think there was also a ridiculous stubbornness in knowing that SAIC’s Paintings and Drawings department was the hardest to get into, so I wanted to prove to myself that I could. In any case, I am not making paintings.
I am interested in issues of participation, social inequality, and the lived environment. I look at public space as a place where a sense of ourselves, both as individuals and members of society, is in a state of continual formation and reconsideration. As an artist, I seek to explore how aesthetics can interact with a public setting. I specifically want to investigate how art can “activate” an environment in order to expand how a place is experienced, or to revitalize a passive space. I identify with taking on a multiplicity of roles, and believe in having a flexible and dynamic practice to address the concerns presented by this particular historical moment.
Nancy Holt, perhaps best known for her Sun Tunnels installed the Utah desert, is currently the subject of a traveling exhibition, Nancy Holt: Sightlines, curated by Alena Williams. The exhibition originated at the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, and then traveled to Badischer Kunstverein in Karlsruhe, Germany. It is currently on view at the Graham Foundation in Chicago through December 17. The show will then continue on to Tufts University, Santa Fe Arts Institute, and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City. Accompanying the exhibition is the publication, Nancy Holt: Sightlines, which serves as a retrospective on Holt’s 45-year career.
This month, I spoke to Alena Williams about her curatorial process and, of course, the texts that influenced her the most in conceptualizing this exhibition. Williams was familiar with Holt’s earthworks, but became intrigued with learning more about the artist when she came across her video work in the archives of Video Data Bank and Electronic Arts Intermix in 2004. In thinking about ways to present Holt’s career, Williams kept returning to film, video and works on paper. In many ways, Williams’s approach is a study of the archive—what comprises an archive, what is needed to tell a story, what emerges through the process of uncovering material?
The following is Alena Williams’s reading list for Nancy Holt: Sightlines:
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space [La Poétique de l'Espace] (1958)
Mikhail Bakhtin, Discourse in the Novel (1935)
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Conceptual Art 1962–1969: From the Aesthetic of Administration to the Critique of Institutions (1990)
Eugen Gomringer, From Line to Constellation [vom vers zur konstellation] (1954)
Nancy Holt, Hometown (1969)
Nancy Holt, Ransacked (1980)
Lucy Lippard, c. 7,500 (1973)
Ann Reynolds, Robert Smithson: Learning From New Jersey and Elsewhere (2003)
Kelly Huang: What led you to the texts you listed above? Which were you familiar with prior to organizing the exhibition, and which were you led to through the process of looking at Nancy Holt’s practice?
Alena Williams: There are a handful of these that I was already aware of before the show started—Michel Bakhtin’s writings on the dialogic imagination, Benjamin Buchloh’s analysis of authorship in conceptual art, Ann Reynolds’ monograph on Robert Smithson—and then as I started working on this exhibition, these other things began sifting in. Of course, Nancy Holt’s artist’s book, Ransacked, I also knew before the exhibition. My relationship with those texts changed as I worked on the exhibition because I started to see things relevant for her work that I would not have otherwise assumed.
This past spring at the National Art Education Association’s annual conference in Seattle, Art21 brought Mark Dion not only as a keynote speaker, but also to explore his work and consider the possibilities for interdisciplinary teaching, especially through his interactive Neukom Vivarium.
On the heels of last week’s post, I would like to share a few excerpts from a group conversation that took place last April in Seattle between Art21’s Director of Education, Jessica Hamlin and the following panel members:
- Jenn Wilson, manager of education and school programs at the Seattle Art Museum
- Kristin Jamerson, an ambassador at the Olympic Sculpture Park and one who works directly with the Neukom Vivarium helping facilitate dialogue with people who come to see the work
- Jessica Levine, a 6th grade middle school science teacher in Seattle
- Tamara Moats, an art history teacher at the Bush School in Seattle
- Mark Dion
Jessica Hamlin: We have a lot of documentation about Neukom Vivarium but it’s a very different experience to actually be in it and to think about it as a living, breathing thing. And after you make something like Neukom Vivarium, what happens when you have a really dynamic, living, breathing thing that’s both a work of art and an ecological system? What does it mean for both how we teach art, for how we think about what museum education does, for how we think about talking to other people who are not necessarily looking for art or science, but are simply interested in coming in out of the rain one day? And what does it mean as an artist to create something like this and then think about what its legacy is afterwards?
Jenn Wilson: We get to have a place like Olympic Sculpture Park that allows us to kind of push the boundaries of what an art museum conversation is into the world of environmental science, sustainability, and ecology. For me, I get to work a lot with teachers and educators to kind of push the boundaries of conversations about not only what art is but also what science is.
Jessica Levine: I come to my science education from a background in biology and environmental studies. I’m also an artist and photographer doing my work in the Seattle area. I consider the work that I do teaching about the science of sustainability and that means that thinking about sustainability as a context is more a methodology in teaching science and approaching that work, so arts integration is of course very important and the inquiry spirit of both science and art is essential. But I also come to the work in the classroom from being a wilderness educator and a landscape ecologist, so for me Neukom Vivarium is an important piece in Seattle as a place-based educator to have a space to go to within the city to experience the wilderness that is just west of here. I think my first initial connection with the piece was sort of it as a specimen and looking at the connection between small detail and large scale understanding of, in this case, sort of an ecosystem. Having the nurse log taken from a forest and brought to the city environment allows that juxtaposition to sort of come right into your face and say: What is wilderness? What is natural? What is nature? It gives us that opportunity to sort of really investigate and be in that green space to confront those questions personally. I’m particularly impressed that the piece also reveals the human aspect of natural history and so it pays homage to our natural history’s greatest with Rachel Carson’s name on the wall and others that are there. If one is to look at the log itself and then turn around to see the artists interpretations, the things on the tiles, and the curiosity cabinet that exists there, you discover that science is a human endeavor and art of course is a human endeavor and those two, both art and science, those are at the very nature of what it means to be human and that process of asking questions. Continue reading »
Jenny Marketou was born and raised in Athens, Greece and educated in the United States. She lives and works in New York. Marketou earned a BFA from the Corcoran School of Art in Washington DC, and an MFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. She also studied photography with Duane Michaels at the International Center of Photography in New York and has participated in numerous workshops during the summer breaks as well as residency programs in the United States.
One of the most important residencies that gave a new direction to Marketou’s life and work was a three-month program at Banff, Canada in 1998. That experience fed her practice through continuous collaborations at Banff and with some of the residents through 2002. At Banff, she had the opportunity to meet and later collaborate with international artists as well as some of the hackers and anarchists who initiated the net art movement–Heath Bunting, Alex Shulgin, the Yes Men, Critical Art Assemble, Vuc Gosic, Natalie Bookchin, Fran Ilich and others under the mentorship of people like Sara Diamond, Sylvère Lotringer, Peter Weibel, Kathleen Hayles, Bruno Latour, Lev Manovich, and Tom Levine. The friendships that developed during that program have had an enormous influence on Marketou’s subsequent practice.
Earlier this month, Paperophanies was commissioned by the Praxis Project Gallery at Atrium Art Museum in Vitoria, in collaboration with local communities, artists, universities, and foundations as well as the Guggenheim in Bilbao. The project was inaugurated in the Basque Country in Spain and was curated by Blanca de la Torre. According to the exhibition description, Paperophanies “offers new kinds of mechanisms to explore collaboration, social relations, identity, fashion, action and the commons. Marketou has transformed the PRAXIS gallery into a fashion atelier where workshops take place daily, which after two months culminates into a public event in the form of a public protest ending in the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca.”
Marketou taught for many years at The Cooper Union School of Art in New York City and has lectured world-wide as a visiting artist at colleges and universities such as Parsons/the New School in New York City; Rutgers, NJ; Harvard, Cambridge; Montclair University; University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, among others. Her work can be found in public and private collections from the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens, Greece to Museo Reina Sophia, Madrid, Spain, and has been featured in numerous publications including Flash Art, Art Forum and Spiegel.
She is the epitome of a “busy-bee,” with the energy and critical insight that today’s art world requires. Marketou’s studio is located in DUMBO, Brooklyn, by the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge. I have followed her work since 2005, yet I rarely have the opportunity to indulge in a good art conversation with her due to the ocean that separates us. When we do talk, Marketou makes every word and every minute count. I’ve made a job out of hunting down good art conversations, and it’s not often that I come across an artist who can play art ping-pong with words, without necessarily referring to their work or mine. I am a devoted fan of artists who can think and speak about issues taking place outside of the limits of their studio walls. Marketou is certainly one of them.
In the past decade the visual arts have seen a retreat from traditional locations of meaning making and power. This retreat can be partially attributed to the increasing disparity between artists with professional training (BAs, MFAs, various forms of apprenticeship), and those who are able to make a living through their work, let alone become “stars.” This exodus, to use a term of the Italian critical theorist Paolo Virno, has taken shape as a mass movement under the radar of official art history, art institutions, and art “world” marketplaces, and yet as a response to the aporia these very histories, institutions, and economies present us with.
The trajectory of Maureen Connor’s work, which moves from investigations of feminism and the critique of (institutional) spaces in the 70s and 80s and 90s towards service and labor-related investigations in the late 90s and 2000s, parallels a recent trajectory among visual artists, some of whom have been covered by this column. In this trajectory, artists have become increasingly interested in service (what Cuban-American artist Tania Bruguera calls “useful art”) and “mock institutions” (Gregory Sholette’s term for organizations that appropriate corporate and governmental bureaucracy).
Connor’s recent work departs from projects like Personnel, which attempts to critique labor conditions in post-Fordist work places while also attempting to make those environments more livable for those who must inhabit them. See for instance her project, Fresh Windows, in which the artist points to the dystopian aspects of a windowless office culture, while offering the best possible solution to this problem—barring the creation of windows themselves (curtains and video monitors merely depict life outdoors). One may also check out Connor’s project for an office in Gdansk, Poland, in which she preserves vestiges of the previous post-industrial space by printing a photograph of the space on curtains. In her renovation she uses casts of toilets for seating, which she says she hopes will maintain a sense of humor in the work environment.
Canceled: Exhibiting Experimental Art in China, presented at The Smart Museum of Art in Chicago in 2000, was a metaphorical representation of It’s Me, a 1998 Chinese experimental art exhibition that was canceled by the Chinese government the day before its opening, not just because of its contents but also for fear of the public gathering and seeing it together. With hundreds of protesters being arrested across the US, it is important to ask, what is the danger in peacefully assembling and associating? Could it be that it leads to conversations, debate, and dialogue?
Following up on my last blog, where I asked the question “what is to be done?,” I now look to curator Naomi Beckwith’s Art 21 Blog post Lily Ledbetter*Art, and the ability of the 3R’s of the green revolution– reduce, reuse, and recycle–to affect change. To these I add the 3C’s–conversation, commerce, and collaboration.
While Chicago’s Experimental Station on the South side and Mess Hall on the North side for years have fostered communal space encouraging conversation and critical thinking, increasingly more artists, galleries, and institutions are initiating conversations. Artist Jason Lazarus’s recent exhibition The Search invited a cross section of strangers to engage in an hour-long conversation within a ziggurat that they ascended and descended together. From Green Drinks to the upcoming Motiroti pot-luck by Columbia College Chicago, to reading groups organized by Alderman Exhibitions or Brian Holmes’s Slow-Motion Action/Research Collective at Mess Hall–which helps explain and analyze the current economic and political situation–artists are gathering together.
For me, the opportunity for public discussion within the public realm and open to all is one of the unique opportunities created by Occupy Wall Street. All types of people are engaging in debates touching on topics ranging from questioning short sales, to founding a third political party in the US, to asking if given the opportunity would the 99% become the 1%? Amidst this is the People’s Library–donated books for people to become educated on a number of issues–as well as a Food Station, a Media Station, a First Aid Station, a PR Station, a Silk Screening Station, and an Empathy Station. When I asked a woman named Susan who was working at the Empathy booth how she defined empathy, she said empathy starts with sharing a common ground–which reminds me of my favorite poster: 99% + 1% = 100%. If we are all in this together, what should we do together?
The unpredictable and often ephemeral encounters that occur when art, community, audience, and ideas intersect are what excite me most about working with artists. For my last project at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (MCA)– I left in June 2011 to start 6018NORTH, which I will explain below–we invited artist Mark Bradford to do a community residency. It began immediately at our staff meeting since, instead of me introducing Mark to the staff, he turned it around. He wanted to know what it was the staff did, saying that because they work at the MCA, they each have cultural capital. He then asked, how could they share that capital with others in their field, and in their community? This type of generosity–which Mark brought to the communities in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, where he sited his ark for Prospect. 1– is important to foster, and it is especially important during a time of economic instability and uncertainty: we need to share our cultural capital.
With Interactions: A Four-Month Companion Series of Artist and Audience Activations, an MCA show which involved 17 artists or artist groups (one each week from Jan – May 2011), I asked how each could encourage audiences to perform, engage, or open up to an artistic experience. The last work, Mnemonic, by artist Katrina Chamberlin, invited the public to receive an actual tattoo of a small black dot. An elderly woman asked for a tattoo. Sitting in the chair, she gathered a crowd because it meant something different for her to get a tattoo as opposed to someone young. During the process, she said to Katrina: “It’s so important that you have done this. You’ve brought so much love and connection to people.” Partnerships and participation are key: people want to be participate in something larger than themselves.
Participation also builds empathy. “Change the environment and you change the people.” I copied this from somewhere, so I can’t take credit for it, but in curating or creating art, architecture, or design, we are changing the environment. We provide the opportunity for people to see the world around them with new eyes. On September 27, 2011 in Chicago at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum’s weekly RE-THINKING SOUP series, farmer/activist John Kinsman from The Family Farm Defenders asked, “How can we change competition into cooperation?”
During my year-long MA course at University College London, nearly all of our readings and texts were available at the library, as PDF files, or online, unlike my experience during undergraduate coursework back home in the US. As a result, I had a lot less books as souvenirs to take home with me. However, out of a combination of convenience, intellectual interest, and self-indulgence, I did wind up buying a number of books that ended up being key texts for the papers I wrote this year. As much as I cringe to think about looking back on my dissertation, I imagine myself looking fondly at my bookcase, these bright covers with dog-eared and underlined pages as little reminders of my course.
For my paper on General Idea’s Imagevirus, many of the key readings I used as sources came from the AIDS Riot anthology. I bought the book at the Le Palais de Tokyo giftshop during their conveniently timed General Idea retrospective. I enjoyed Gregg Bordowitz’s One Work title on Imagevirus as well.
If you’re not familiar with Ambrose, well…. you should be. A few months ago on a trip to work with teachers at the Holland Area Arts Council in Michigan I was fortunate enough to meet Adam Weiler, the creative director of this atypical after school club, and immediately became interested in the work his high school artists were producing. The website for Ambrose perhaps says it best:
Ambrose is the greatest after school club in the world. Every month we feature a guest artist, develop a new tee, and complete a skill building collaborative project. Our goal is to grow citizens with strong capacities for creative problem solving, design thinking and entrepreneurship.
I became interested in Ambrose not just because they produce really cool t-shirts, but also because of the buzz that surrounded this group from the moment I landed in Grand Rapids. Many people, including teachers taking the weekend workshop with Art21, had nothing but positive things to say about the work Ambrose has done and the effect it has on kids who participate. Below is part one of an interview I conducted with Adam Weiler this summer:
Joe Fusaro: Tell me a little about how Ambrose is different from other “after school clubs” and how do you sustain participation in this kind of thing when so many projects like Ambrose start strong and then fade over time?
Adam Weiler: When we were first starting the program we surveyed both local business owners and creative professionals to see what they were looking for in potential employees. We found both sides wished they had a deeper understanding of the other- businesses wished they were more creative and creatives wished they had a better understanding of business. This focus on the business side of art and the art side of business sets us apart. Since we’re not associated with or funded by a school system we’ve been forced to take our own medicine and find a funding model that works in order to keep the program going. This year we launched a new line of shirts where our visiting artist of the month designs a shirt that we print with students. We’re constantly trying to find new workable ways for students to be involved in all aspects of the project such as planning, production, branding, etc…giving them more ownership and say in the direction of the workshops.
Regarding student participation – in a lot of ways Ambrose is like any other after school program. Every year students graduate and new students enter – group dynamics and energy are variables that constantly change. I think the personal attention of committed volunteers have helped retain students over the last three years. Professional adults in our community have been really excited about giving back in a way that connects with their passions. We have a solid group of weekly volunteers that are talented, genuinely like each other, and care about students’ development. It’s a trifecta, if you will, and I think it creates a culture that students want to be a part of.
JF: So how do you select artists to work with the group?
AW: The guest artists thus far have been friends of our community and friends of friends. It’s pretty grassroots. There are some really well organized creative networks in our region…and generous. When we’ve reached out to individuals they have been more than willing to help out, which is encouraging.
JF: And when you say students “graduate”, do you mean from high school, or is there some kind of graduation from Ambrose? Do students have the option of working with Ambrose after they are out of high school?
AW: Graduate from high school. We’ve noticed a real need for creative community amongst students who have graduated from school but aren’t pursuing college degrees. Up until this year the program hasn’t had any hard boundaries so those students still stop in for the occasional workshop. Occasionally during college breaks we’ll have “alums” come back to share what they’ve been learning, what whey wish they knew, and validate the importance of foundational skills (drawing from life / observational skills). This year we’re doing things a little differently. There will still be an open door to alums coming back but we’re going to have a hard graduation that marks a student’s initiation into the next phase of development.