All posts filed under: Essays + Reviews

Eulogy: Jovan C. Speller at Aspect/Ratio Gallery

Featured image: Jovan C. Speller, “I sat there, Unafraid of the coming night.” Two wooden boards, split in the middle. Across the pair of them is an irregular black blob. On the right hand side, reflective wrinkles of light. In the bottom right hand corner, a seated figure with their back turned to us. Image by Avery Campbell. Courtesy of Aspect/Ratio Gallery. Imagine, you’re newly dead. You (the newly dead) have arrived from the world of the living by way of – you can’t quite recall: you remember a dark cloud branching out from the back of your head and you don’t know if it was spilled from your head or if it was being injected. You think you were seated when it happened, but who’s to say? You, the newly dead, are already beginning to lose conscious memories from your previous life. The experience of this makes you thirsty (or maybe you were just thirsty already, maybe you died from dehydration and your body remembers). In any case, you search for water. The underworld …

Review: Ronald Young’s The Prevalence of Ritual

Featured Image: Foreground (R to L): “Gatekeeper” and “(Wake Up Every Morning)”; Midground: “A House Divided;” Background: Inkjet Print. Courtesy of The Kranzberg Arts Foundation. “The objects of art jabbed the viewer low in the abdomen, squeezed his heart, pricked his mind. It communicated with those blind to its artistic excellence, as well as with those who saw.” Noah Purifoy, Junk Art: 66 Signs of Neon The twenty or so impassioned sculptures in Ronald Young’s solo exhibition The Prevalence of Ritual—on view for the summer season at The Kranzberg Arts Center Gallery in St. Louis, where Young lives and works—crack and heave with the blight of the city that birthed them. Invariably, their intensity is arresting, and mostly it’s to good artistic effect. Six large inkjet prints of gutted brick buildings, which hang along the gallery’s perimeter, provide clear context. In one of these photos, the contour of a halved and roofless structure cuts a seizing figure against the sky’s subtler ground. In another, the grain of an old door marbles nicely behind its firm …

Sincere Mark-Making & Tradition with Nishiki Sugawara-Beda

Featured Image: An installation view of I’ll Be There at Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts. Nishiki Sugawara-Beda’s “KuroKuroShiro Sacred Lot Four Seasons” hangs center frame. Four black and white paintings mounted using traditional Japanese practices. Image courtesy of Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts. As an artist who is deeply invested in my community, I have made long-lasting relationships with my fair share of creators by simply attending gallery openings, events, and art-related happenings. I have found that these settings make it quite easy to spark up a conversation with anyone in the room. In the Milwaukee art scene, Midwestern folks are more than willing to crack open a cold PBR in a garage gallery with a complete stranger and talk about local headlines. One can make fast friends this way. It’s unfortunate that networking with artists has been added to the list of things that have been made difficult by the pandemic. While the art world certainly came up with some unique and productive solutions to hosting gallery openings over the past two …

Breakroom Small Talk: A Review of Water Cooler at LVL3

Featured image: An installation view of Water Cooler at LVL3. On the left side of the frame is Rachel Youn’s piece “Lair”, and not he right are various textile pieces by KG with Youn’s piece “Prune” in the foreground. Image courtesy of LVL3. If you want to know the deepest, most personal information about someone, ask their coworkers first. Being confined to a small space with an island of misfits for grossly extended periods of time leads to intensely intimate conversations, bonds, and pseudo-friendships. Leading to uncomfortable chatter about your credit card debt with Phil from the department down the hall while you wait for your turn to use the microwave on your break, or confessing details about your partner’s bad habits with the hostess while you kill time between customers. Both learning and spilling graphic details from and to our coworkers aids in our survival of the work day. Both intensely awkward and oddly comforting, we create an environment of forced intimacy. Sterile, uncomfortable, familiar–this described environment is appreciated, mocked, and replicated precisely in …

Lion Cages and Lilac Fields: From Chicago Stages to Basements, Art, Work, and Other Pandemic Songs

Featured Image: Jyreika Guest (left) performing in a music video for the livestreamed theater production grelley. Guest stands on a crate and gestures toward the video camera, surrounded by lighting equipment and a basic set design. At right are crew members (L-R) Eon Mora, Kevin Veselka, and Glamhag. In the background another actor checks their outfit in a mirror. Filmed in Chicago, May 2021. Photo by Sarah Elizabeth Larson. This is the first in a series of articles made in collaboration with the Chicago Arts Census to explore the living, labor, and material realities of art workers in the city of Chicago. To learn more about the Census, how to get involved, or how to take the survey, please visit: https://chicagoartscensus.com/ To get to the Internal Call Center you have to enter the museum’s loading dock, head down endless hallways of windowed offices—the home of Curatorial, Education, the Director, the President (a.k.a. the people who neither know nor want to know you exist)—hop down two or three flights of stairs, and weave through the maze …

Conspicuous Consumption: A Pop-Up Summer

Featured image: Jarrett Ellis, founder of hoopdreamstudios, in a pop-up at Congruent Space. Ellis is crouching down on a basketball court design that says “HOOP DREAM”. Photo by Dally Dew Drop. It’s late July in Chicago. Summer solstice has long since passed, the mask mandate has seemingly dissolved, and the in-person event has risen again from the ashes of lockdown. In a sudden lurch, a fantastical standard has been set: people with access and ability to be out and about will be out and about. Experiences will be had, and they will be exciting and valuable and make up for all the “lost” time of the pandemic. (Nevermind that the pandemic isn’t, indeed, “over,” or that “lockdown” never ends for people inside prison walls or otherwise forcibly disposed into ever-proliferating forms of criminalized life). This particular historical moment is being positioned by retailers and other state agents as an “out of the shadows and into the light” moment that celebrates an ostensible “return to normal” — an “after” crisis that urges people to exhale and …

Image: Mehran Salari, "Untitled," 2017. Monoprint and pencil and pen, 40×40 cm. A black and white image that is largely abstract with a group of organic shapes. Image courtesy of Didaar Art Collective.

Space: Chapter One – A conversation with Didaar Art Collective

Featured image: Mehran Salari, Untitled, 2017. Monoprint and pencil and pen, 40×40 cm. A black and white image that is largely abstract with a group of organic shapes. Image courtesy of Didaar Art Collective. Last Spring, Didaar Art Collective, a cooperative group of Iranian artists based in Chicago, organized a group show titled Space: Chapter One at Oliva Gallery. The exhibition was on display from April 9 to May 8, 2021, and featured drawings and printmaking by twenty-nine emerging Iranian artists. Toward the end of the lockdown, I visited the exhibition. I was yearning for a moment of reflection on the intricacies of our spatial bound beyond the insipid private experience in front of my laptop screen. This was an experience that I had greatly missed, and the exhibition, beyond its visualizations of space and possibilities, was uniquely positioned to give insight into the ongoing contested-over space in Iran.  It was refreshing to see how these artists work around the difficulties of the current moment while standing their ground during a time of mass oppression, …

Not Confession, But Investigation: Jubilee Turns Over Joy’s Hidden Corners

Featured image: A portrait of Michelle Zauner by Peter Ash Lee. Zauner is facing the camera holding a persimmon. She has her hair in a braid and wears yellow and orange make up. Persimmons hang by strings around her. “Audiences want confessional bits from rock icons,” reflected music critic Jessica Hopper in a 2011 review of St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy, “and expect them from female singer-songwriters.”  Anyone familiar with the contemporary indie-rock scene would agree that Hopper’s diagnosis has only grown more accurate over the past few years. In a 2018 album review, the New York Times’ Jon Pareles noted that “Soccer Mommy joins a wavelet of young women—along with Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Mitski and many others—who [write] songs that probe vulnerability and trauma, self-sabotage and self-preservation.” That same year, the New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino declared something similar: “I’m thinking of Mitski, Waxahatchee, Jay Som: women who […] explore everyday longing and disappointment in their lyrics, and cradle their songs in wryness and sincerity and guitars.” Digging through album reviews of female indie rock …

Six wooden frames are each filled with pieces of broken clay in different configurations; the voids have equal visual importance and presence. Gunjan Kumar, Broken Whole, 2021. Clay. Photo Credit: Jonathan Castillo, Courtesy of South Asia Institute.

More in Common, a review of The Sindhu Project: Enigma of Roots

Who could have imagined that a casual conversation in Chicago in 2016 between Mahwish Chisty, an American-based artist from Pakistan, and Gunjan Kumar, an American-based artist from India, would result in the compelling exhibition currently on view at South Asia Institute? During their chat, the artists discovered that their family homes were only four hours apart. But, in an interview with the artist Chisty notes, “Due to the tense political relations between India and Pakistan, we could not have met if we lived in our respective countries, even though we share the culture, traditions, and Punjabi language.” Their conversation and the realization that despite the political situation, they had more things in common than divided them became the genesis for The Sindhu Project: Enigma of Roots. The project focuses on the archaeological sites and artifacts in the Sindhu (Indus) watershed, a region stretching across northwest India and much of Pakistan. This underpinning in specific place ties into the processes both artists use—digging, rubbing, engraving—which mimics archeological ones. All the pieces were created specifically for the …

Featured image: “Body” Digital collage, risograph print by Whitney Humphreys. The piece shows an image of a woman with part of her face missing, revealing cyborg-like parts underneath. Underneath are various machine parts. The right side of the piece shows a robot arm and text that reads: "Robot brides that free themselves become a paradox: objects with agency". The piece is mostly pink, green, and tan. Image courtesy of the Internet Archive.

When Archival Bodies Collide: Rupturing Gender Through History

Artists have always relied on the archive and material history in their work, whether it be in the emulation of a specific style, the expression of a historical moment, or in a particular medium such as collage. The practice of exhuming images from archives necessarily carries these histories and styles along with it, no matter what the artist might attempt otherwise. But they can also refigure old art by placing it in conversation or contradiction with the new. Two artists, Whitney Humphreys and Sarah Tyschenko, are performing such insightful and disruptive reconfigurations with images of gendered bodies from the archive. I discovered San Francisco-based artist Whitney Humphreys’ zine series Gendered Machines a couple months ago, after I was browsing the Internet Archive—a free, digital library of websites and digital materials—looking for zines. I came upon her series, a collaboration with the Internet Archive and Tiny Splendor Press, and requested a copy of each zine, not thinking much about it until they arrived a few weeks later in all their risograph beauty. Humphreys told me she …

Featured image: An installation view of Longing Compass at Chicago Artists Coalition, featuring the work of Karen Dana Cohen. The view of the gallery shows five paintings against white walls and four sculptural pieces with various additional three-dimensional pieces accompanying some of the canvases. The paintings all portray groups of people with large, gestural strokes of blue and red paint. Image courtesy of the artist.

One Half Digs Deeper, The Other Extends Further: A Review of Longing Compass

I dig deep into the caverns of my memory in order to recall the first time I used a drawing compass. My elementary school classroom appears, and I remember being enamoured by the simplicity of the concept: one compass leg serves as the anchor, the other as the mark maker. When these equally important legs come together, precise circles result. Not long after the experience, I took a trip to the beach. Still fascinated with the physics of this object, I used my body as the anchor, a stick as the mark maker, and twisted around, leaving perfect circles in the sand. All of these memories flood back to me with clarity upon visiting Longing Compass, featuring the work of BOLT artist-in-residence Karen Dana Cohen at the Chicago Artists Coalition.  In the accompanying exhibition text of Longing Compass, Cohen compares herself to the mark maker of the familiar object of a compass due to her having to relocate her studio to the basement of her home. It is important to discuss the complex circumstances that …

Featured image: Both sides of the image are filled with layers of graphite powder with that euphoric and turbulent energy being represented by the gestural marks in between those graphite margins. The left and right sides of the image are dark grey and the middle is red. Image by Damiane Nickles.

A Topography of Dreams: Collective Care

A trilogy of unfurlings and web castings of the makings towards a radical love practice. Isra Rene invites you to share your own ponderings, wonders, and unravelings of your own love practice, knowing that our collective experiences build a stronger net that supports our interconnected worldbuilding. This story has no beginning or end, it just appears to be happening now. I’d imagine it was always happening somewhere just within reach, on the margins, tethering at my attention. Maybe lying somewhere in the wake, or in the break; a glitch in my ecosystem with the most gentle effect. A story that disrupts and blurs that has pervaded in our current state of violence. This story is a dream of mine made true. A dream where we are loved, cared for, uplifted, and challenged. A dream coming into fruition through the labor of tender love and care created through kinships, loveships, and every affective connection. A dream made possible by rest and leisure. A dream not deferred. A dream guaranteed to be in flux but crafted intentionally …

Scrolling Thru Air Max 90’s, Trying to Run from Black Pain

Everybody loves the sunshine. Have you heard the song by Roy Ayers? It’s incredible. “My life, my life, my life, my life. In the sunshine.” If you close your eyes and listen closely, you’ll be transported to another world, a golden world filled with Black joy, a sanctuary filled with every Black nostalgic favorite thing, and “bees and things and flowers.” If I listen really close, I can smell BBQ and even feel a cool breeze. It’s the same feeling I get from Will Smith’s song, “Summertime,” or the feeling I get when I watch a Spike Lee movie, or when I get to laugh loudly with my family, or reminisce on early 2000’s BET: pure, unadulterated Black joy. A feeling like this only happens at home, with my folks (friends included), or in my Black-ass mind. Outside of those spaces, and the feeling is fleeting.  I want to soak up Black joy as much as possible. It’s my duty. I want to revel in Black joy like it’s my church. I want to wear …

Image: Don't Matter How Raggly the Flag, It Still Got to Tie Us Together by Thornton Dial. A large, mixed-media piece that looks like a tattered American Flag. © Estate of Thornton Dial. Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio/

Black Artists Deserve Better: Thornton Dial at the IMA

Regarding the state of Indiana, I would say that it benefits from the perception crafted in our history classes that racism only exists in the south, and the northern states have always been a bastion of acceptance. Let me disabuse you of that belief. I went to college in Muncie, Indiana, where one of my professors quipped that Indiana is “the northernmost southern state.” In 1843, famous abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Pendleton, Indiana and was nearly bludgeoned to death by a white mob of anti-abolitionists. Additionally, Indiana has historically been a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity, (a fact that was shared with me repeatedly, almost gleefully during the time I lived there) and Confederate flags are the norm. Anecdotally I’ve seen them on car bumpers, proudly displayed on front porches, sewn onto jackets as patches, and on the wall of a frat house, just to name a few. All of this matters because The Davis Lab at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) at Newfields is currently hosting an …

Review: 36° 15’ 43” N 29° 59’ 14” E at Goldfinch Gallery

Texture as memory, as language, as impression of thought and purpose; this is what is brought forth onto and within the imprints on the surface of objects made by SaraNoa Mark. Tactile and intricate, the artist’s mark making oftentimes reads like indecipherable words, while other times appears as imagery unfolding within the cracks of the surface, much like a relief. These carved and etched lines are akin to the marks made in drawing, which is at the heart of the artist’s practice. “Drawing is the lens through which I experience the world,” says Mark. “I view the earth, itself, as a drawing — continuously drafted by environmental and human gestures.”  Earthy and mineral-esque, Mark’s objects appear as solid as a rock and as precious as a relic. Manifesting their pieces from carved ceramic, clay, and stone, the artist has chosen a monochromatic palette that accentuates their mark making. With difference in color out of the way, the rich, lush texture is left bare for us to examine and search, so dense and palpable that I can almost physically …

Bodies Immersed installation overview

It’s On Us to Change Our Own Worlds: A Review of Bodies Immersed, at Roots & Culture

What feels particularly acute and tender in Bodies Immersed, the exhibition currently on view at Roots & Culture, is the urgency underlying the artists’ contemporary visions. While utopian ideals are not new in art and architecture, the work by Chicago-based artists Megan Diddie and Jacquelyn Carmen Guerrero in collaboration with ColectivoMultipolar (Sandra Oviedo) questions what it means to be vulnerably human in the Anthropocene—coexisting uneasily in late capitalism with other creatures, elements, and natural and unnatural forces as we navigate the Covid-19 pandemic and other compounding crises. This work imagines and documents intimate ways of being in sustainable communion with self, with others, and with natural and built environments. In so many ways, the work of Bodies Immersed asks and imagines how we might make life more livable.  im·merse/iˈmərs/verb 1. to dip or submerge in liquid The exhibition’s works (installations, photographs, videos, sound, and mixed media on paper) meet in water, dwelling in and through it. Each artist raises implicit questions about water rights, water circulation, sustainable water use, and ecologies—broadly conceived. Fluidity is thus …