All posts filed under: Essays + Reviews

Image: A group of poets in various poses under and on a structure in Humboldt Park.

Touchless Entry: A Socially Distant Art Collective

One of the first buzzwords to emerge from the pandemic was “mutual aid.” Quarantine’s stakes of survival reminded many of us of our fundamental interdependence, and the lack of coordinated leadership called for us to have each other’s backs out of necessity, compelling us to take care of each other in ways that our government refused. Of course, mutual aid is not something new that emerged out of a vacuum. DIY artist communities are one model for collectivity, for an alternative economy of care and co-creation. I couldn’t bear the thought of DIY becoming extinct in the midst of the global pandemic. Pre-pandemic, apartment galleries, basement punk shows, poetry readings, raves, afterparties, and other forms of underground events were vital forms of creative community-making on the margins of the mainstream. These are lifeworlds, and they sustain us. Unfortunately, most of these subterranean activities cannot translate safely into a COVID world. And every Twitch dance party I’ve been to pales next to IRL clubbing.  Months into missing all of this, my roommate and I banded with …

Too Many to Name? – Kathryn Andrews at DePaul Art Museum

Walking east from the Fullerton CTA station on a dreary, damp morning, I only had to take a few steps to reach the DePaul Art Museum and Los Angeles-based, Kathryn Andrews’s, site-specific work. Displayed on the front window are pictures of past Presidents, their faces covered with text. That morning, their visages seemed as grey as the weather. After the past few months, do we need to see more pictures of Presidents? After all, aside from the pandemic, no issue or event has dominated the news, and our lives, like the 2020 elections.  Among this cycle’s notable statistics is the fact that more women sought the nomination for President of the United States than ever before. Yet despite this surge in interest, men still occupy the top position of both major party’s ticket. Coincidentally, 2020 is also the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote. Both these occurrences are the inspiration for Andrews’ installation which “acknowledges the history of women in Presidential elections.”   The work lists the …

Image: Installation view of Out of Time at Aspect/Ratio. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Nick Albertson.

Out of Time by Cass Davis at Aspect/Ratio Gallery

The exhibition Out of Time by Cass Davis is an investigation of personal history, collective history, and gendered violence. The work oscillates between soft/tactile, and ghostly/alarming. Rooted in imagery that is (for better or for worse) deeply Midwestern, the work shown is aesthetically punctured by three-parts: textile works that hold faded images of religious revivals, assemblages of childhood objects embedded in earth and flowers, and photographs and moving images with lighting and tones that simultaneously haunt and render hyper-real. They are crisp as a recent memory yet as nebulous as a dream. Together, the works embody a deeply personal and real vision of the American Midwest—and when I say “real,” I don’t just mean the artist’s actual experience of it, which is also undeniably present, but also real in the sense that the images and text incorporated into Davis’s works are directly from historical documents located in their hometown. Davis grew up in Pekin, IL in an evangelical Christian community where speaking in tongues at revivals was commonplace. Much of the imagery uncovered and brought …

Review: Liz McCarthy at 062

I meet Liz McCarthy at her exhibition, Comprised Of, on the first day of October. Gusts of wind slap against me as I walk from one end of the parking lot to the other, where Liz is waiting to lead me inside. I awoke congested, my head and body heavy with pollen, stress, or both. Behind my mask, I feel my nose beginning to drip from the cold air, my eyes already streaming. Liz tells me she also feels congested—heavy with stress—as we walk against the wind and into the arts building.   Inside the gallery, I am met with a show that builds on McCarthy’s exploration of ceramic whistles and the vulnerability of bodily forms through the medium of clay. Perhaps, it’s more fitting to say the show disassembles this exploration into multiple inquiries. The ceramic works on view are humanoid forms, standing, drooping, sprawled, and, in many cases, pulled apart. As we walk through the space, McCarthy’s reflects on her job at an auction house and its influence on her thoughts about objects and …

Image: Kristoffer McAfee stands outside the School of the Art Institute Columbus building, where the painting students spend most of their time. He says his experience at SAIC “gave me confidence in my work and direction.” Photo by Kristie Kahns.

A Path Turned Inside Out: A Conversation with Kristoffer McAfee

Through his use of bold color palettes, meticulous details, and iconic symbols, artist Kristoffer McAfee displays technical rigor while provoking questions about the allure of consumerism that permeates our lives. Kristoffer is a California-born, Chicago-raised artist and a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, whose practice focuses on confronting political and social issues through intricate paintings and large-scale three-dimensional objects. His artistic voice and the intent of his work has surfaced in a myriad of ways: through life experiences, like growing up with the disparities and segregation within the southside of Chicago; by travelling the world, spending many years in Paris; by channeling the influence of other artists, like Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons; or through rigorous training, which he received at SAIC. But perhaps a less considered factor, and one that has impacted the development of Kristoffer’s path, is timing. He was skeptical of higher education and traditional art school, and only made the decision to enroll at SAIC once in his late twenties – a choice he acknowledges was …

AMFM and the Lifespan of Chicago Artist-Run Spaces

Chicago’s artist-run spaces are key players in the creative ecosystem. They stretch down all avenues in the city and beyond into the sprawling suburbs. Whether they are found in old storefronts, auto shops, backyards, or basements, some hold their space for decades while others reconstruct or retire.  Succumbing to the rise of rent and the heavy financial responsibilities that come with running an alternative venue can play a large role in the changing of spaces or changing of hands. Artist-run spaces go through fluctuations, especially those who persist for a few years. Some turn into non-profit gallery spaces, while others host a few pop-ups or begin satellite locations. Others simply shutter.  Deciding to close an artist-run space shouldn’t equate to failure. The conditions for closure—or change—are endless. The lifespans of DIY spaces don’t eradicate the work that was done. And often, the spaces simply exist in a new form. For Ciera McKissick of AMFM, that’s exactly what happened.  For over a decade, Ciera’s project—whose original form was a web magazine—has developed and transformed into various …

Artist Residencies, Collaboration, and Alternative Models of Education

In 2018, artists Julia Holter and Olivia Block came together to write and compose a new piece titled Whenever the Breeze, creating immersive sound by combining voice, instruments, bells, and recording of wind and water. The making of this piece culminated in an album recording and a live performance at the May Chapel in Rosehill Cemetery. This dynamic, collaborative piece was created during Experimental Sound Studio’s Outer Ear Residency. Artist residencies offer a place for artistic exploration, a space where artists can work and think collectively, and potentially collaborate with like-minded individuals as well. Although this environment sounds similar to a classroom, residencies often subvert the power dynamics found in traditional academic settings. Without a type of hierarchical knowledge structure, residencies often form an alternative learning space. bell hooks describes this kind of learning community in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, saying, “Since the vast majority of students learn through conservative, traditional educational practices and concern themselves only with the presence of the professor, any radical pedagogy must insist that everyone’s presence is …

Review: Windows to Our World

Walking up residential Kenmore Avenue, you might do a double-take when you pass 6018North and notice that the fence, yard, porch, and windows are adorned with banners, sculptures, and other objects. While the décor may seem unusual for a dilapidated mansion, it is on par for the artist-centered organization named after its address. Under normal circumstances, the house’s interior would be filled with art, but the stay-at-home order and city-wide protests prompted 6018North to create Windows to the World, an outdoor exhibition that promotes the organization’s social justice mission. Considering our current crises and noting that “the pandemic of America is racism,” the team of ALAANA (African, Latinx, Arab, Asian, Native-American) curators asked artists to consider:  How do we want to see the world when we get out? Who do we want to be individually and collectively? The works they selected address COVID-19, systemic injustice—or both—and raise questions with complex answers.     Artworks in the exhibition are made from everyday materials and often adopt commercial formats, such as neon signage and banners. Efrat Hakimi’s Time, depicting …

Featured Image: Work by February James. We Laugh Loud So The Spirits Can Hear, 2020. Installation view. Five highly expressive, framed watercolor portraits hang in the gallery. Image Courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery.

The Artist as Changemaker: A Conversation with February James

I’m not even going to belabor the conversation about how we are all living through some of the most challenging times that we may ever see in our existence. We are simply trying to survive a global pandemic amongst civil unrest in the wake of police brutality and efforts to dismantle white supremacy, all during an extremely high stakes election year.  As an artist, I know I’m not the only one who has received these types of emails over the past few months,  “We hope you understand that your exhibition has been postponed due to circumstances surrounding the global pandemic.”  “The gallery has implemented a virtual platform to promote your work in lieu of an in-person exhibition opening.” “Your health and well-being is extremely important to us, which is why we have decided to cancel your upcoming event.”  The pandemic has changed every aspect of our daily lives. Schools, jobs, social gatherings, shopping, exhibitions, festivals, events, and countless others can be added to the never-ending list of things that no longer operate as they once …

Roland Santana: the gum beneath your shoe at Baby Blue Gallery

Upon entering  Mana Contemporary building wearing a cloth mask, my temperature is taken before I am invited to sign in. My healthy temperature is recorded and I am now able to enter the building and be brought to the fifth floor. Exiting the industrial elevator, I follow the instructions given to me by the masked elevator attendant and walk down the hallway until I find the door marked 518. Walking into Baby Blue’s new gallery space I am immediately struck by the natural light that pools over colorful paintings and gestural works. Already recognizable to me are the large scale paintings and modest-sized painted sculptures by Chicago artist Roland Santana. the gum beneath your shoe is Roland Santana’s first solo exhibition at Baby Blue Gallery. Santana has a prolific studio practice and a strong entrepreneurial mindset that has helped him gain momentum as an exhibiting artist in recent years. In addition to his career as an artist, Santana works in art administration and developed RUPTURE, a Chicago BI-POC Maker/Visual Artist Directory alongside designer Ashley King. …

Heaven Gallery: Relic, Ritual, and Remedy

Wading through the sea of people in Wicker Park—masks-off—wasn’t the most relaxing Sunday. Patio seating, pop music blaring, horns honking, and shops bustling all appeared to be so much louder since the last time I was in the neighborhood (prior to the pandemic). Ah, but then, there it is—Heaven.  Heaven Gallery, that is. The gallery space and its current show, “Relic, Ritual, and Remedy,” is a sanctuary amongst the bustle of the streets below.  Objects and archives are exhibited alongside textiles in the exhibition as artists explore history, ephemera, every-day objects, and texture.  This group show, curated by Lauren Iacoponi, features 11 artists, including Allen Moore, Rebecca Griffith, Judith Brotman, Naomi Elson, Nick Van Zanten, Anne Yafi, Elyse Sawka, José Santiago Pérez, Betsy Odom, Millicent Kennedy, and Ryan Burn, who work significantly with craft materials: weaving, quilting, sculpture, and every-day objects. Rebecca Griffith’s bold black VHS tape quilts blend memories from her childhood when her mother ran a video store. When Griffith was six years old, her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis—the video store …

Louise LeBourgeois: Life on the Great Lake

I first met Louise LeBourgeois on the rocks. I’ve called myself a “rock person” for a few years, ever since I first landed in Hyde Park and my skin was warmed by the large formations that line the shore of Lake Michigan on the Southside. I’ve formed friendships with fellow rock people throughout the years, but it was only recently that I decided to finally meet up with the Point swimmers, a group of open water swimmers who meet in the early morning (some even swim year-round). I’m more of an afternoon swimmer myself, but there’s something exhilarating about seeing folks kicking in the waves of Lake Michigan while the sun rises—the sun rearing its pretty head and reflecting on their pink and yellow swim caps. After grabbing coffee with the swimmers, we went our separate ways. But before I departed, Louise LeBourgeois handed me her card. LeBourgeois’ large panel paintings confront you with their vastness; a neverending-type-of-feeling. You want to sit inside of them. Do you dare to touch it? Do you find yourself …

Featured Image: The marquee of The Art Theater in Champaign, Illinois reads “For Sale or Rent.” The Art Theater’s sign is red and retro. The brick building is located on a downtown street, with residential apartments above the theater. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

Support for the Arts Supports Us All

Before I moved to Central Illinois, I hadn’t spent much time thinking about the ways arts and culture programs affect a community. Living in a mid-sized town/small city/micro-urban area for a little over a decade has changed the way I think about community and what it means to have access to those types of programs. Dynamic arts and culture programming signals that residents are engaged and active, that this is a place people should want to live. It signals that a municipality values its citizens, and is interested in helping create a community where a rich quality of life is revered. An engaged arts community celebrates and challenges its members and residents; it’s more than a collection of people making stuff or putting on performances. These programs indicate there is an infrastructure that supports community connection and potential for conversations about difficult subjects that can advocate for change. Active and critically engaged arts support systems within communities are vital to the growth and progress of small towns like Champaign-Urbana. In a diverse community like C-U, …

Blackness, Images & the Space Between

A conversation with Milwaukee based fine artist Nick Drain and Genesis Gallery owner, artist, and organizer Randy Brown. Nick recently held his first solo exhibition “In Plain Sight” at Genesis and our collective discussion quickly found its way circling around and through larger topics like race, identity, viewership and the politics of the Milwaukee art scene. Over the course of the last few months, I let our conversation sink in and settle where it needed to in order for me to get down to the guts of what the discussion meant for all of us. I have a distinct memory of the moment I stood in front of Picasso’s “Guernica” at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain. It was the summer before college, I was only 18 years old and I didn’t think of myself as an artist then. I think back to that trip reflecting on the enormity and impact of viewing that painting in the flesh, and I realized it was a moment that hit me too early in …

On Hoarding Love Notes, and Other Gifts of Community and Anxiety

Last month I learned that I hoard love notes. Shortly after the shelter-in-place mandate I had a particularly tough day, which concluded with a bout of uncharacteristically convulsive crying and me deciding I could do nothing else that evening but clean. As I organized papers on my desk, I unearthed a handwritten letter my friend Udita gave me at her wedding earlier this year. Its contents were precise but not precious, making me feel known not only for my “positive” qualities but also my flawed and idiosyncratic humanness. Though technically a thank-you card, I don’t know what else to call it but a love note. How lucky for it to turn up right then! I texted Udita to say her note was just what I needed that night. She responded that my message was just what she needed, too. These days “love notes” have been appearing to me in diverse forms, by various paths. Another week, I texted my friend Myrna to check in, writing the words sending an e-hug. When she sent back an …

A Projection Into ‘Paths Between Two Steps’ by Soo Shin

The lymph nodes in my neck are swollen. Poisonous balloons expanding in my throat. I am guilty of my breath, my touch, how they could infect others. I bike to see my partner at Rosehill Cemetery, where we had planned to meet, and I tell him about the wretched mass I sense inside me, surrounding me. So we decide to stay safe, six feet apart, where we will stay for at least a week. We visit his grandparents’ graves, stones placed upon them. He is saying something to me as I draw in and out, in and out wet salty breaths, six feet away. I have never missed a touch so close to me so deeply—I can’t stand it. I go, six feet, then 20, then miles, until I am separated from the one I love. And I am thinking now, as many of us are, what it means to love and to live from a distance.  I am wondering the same thing as I again click through the virtual version of “Paths Between Two …

Image: Installation view of Gordon Hall’s Chicago exhibit USELESSNESS, courtesy Document Gallery.

Slanting Towards Uselessness

“All art is quite useless.”—Oscar Wilde You can’t really step on a slanted step. The Slant Step’s so-called “step” inclines at a 45 degree angle, too steep for a foothold. It is an object that teases utility, like Meret Oppenheim’s fur-lined tea-cup, or Marcel Duchamp’s inverted urinal. What is it for? Nobody could figure that out, and that’s the point. It is an inside joke: a found object whose elusive purpose made for a compelling and enduring art mystery. It is an invitation, a riddle, a call for response.  As legend goes, William T. Wiley found the Slant Step in a San Francisco thrift shop for fifty cents in the Sixties and bought it as a gift for his student—the artist Bruce Nauman, who went on to cast molds in homage. With time it became an object of fixation for a funk art movement of Bay Area artists and poets, culminating in a group show, The Slant Step Show, at Berkeley Gallery in 1966. When Richard Serra stole the Slant Step from that show and …