Thursday, March 26, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
63 Wareham Street
Boston, MA O2118
On his seminal essay Of Other Spaces (Des espaces autres, 1967) French thinker Michel Foucault pointed out that “our life is still governed by a certain number of oppositions that remain inviolable, that our institutions and practices have not yet dared to break down. These are oppositions that we regard as simple givens: for example, between private space and public space, between family space and social space, between cultural space and useful space, between the space of leisure and that of work.”
There are some spaces where these dichotomies are juxtaposed and may converge, and some even more interesting spaces where these oppositions may be contested or inverted. The art gallery contains a paradoxical mixture of public and private, of proximity and detachment, of work and leisure, of “omnipotence and impotence”. Within the space of the art gallery one retreats into a private place where a personal experience takes place. However, the private, subjective experience elicited by the work of art occurs in public, in the midst of others. The participation of the viewer can be simultaneously alienating and communal.
When I moved back to Boston from New York on 2001, I noticed a vast discrepancy and distance between what I saw in the institutional art spaces and what could be found in the local galleries. It seemed that Boston’s art scene was composed of spaces of cultural confinement and circumscription. Of these spaces, the so-called contemporary art gallery was posed as a problem. Boston and Cambridge prepare and export a substantial number of the great American and international art professionals and audiences of the future in its ivory towers, however, in contemporary art, beyond academia, there appeared to be a limited infrastructure or ecology to keep them interested in staying.
In contrast, the institutional critical discussions seemed predominantly propagated by the curators and directors of the very same institutions, and they were usually far beyond, opting, rather than for or against the local galleries.
The response to a domesticated answer must be an irreducible question. Could an art gallery function as a ‘body without organs’ or desire machine? How could an exhibition or event venue work from the interstices to engage a community and its institutions? What should a 21st century art gallery be? What is an art gallery beyond selling art? To whom is an urban contemporary art gallery addressed? Can a commercial operation be a part of a critical vehicle with theoretical assumptions? Should something be planned without knowing exactly the final result? The panorama seemed like one of opportunity, and there was a personal need to address a nostalgia for autonomy. The Boston gallery was not only a problem, but also could be a solution! The art gallery can function as a node for cultural production by sponsoring, reinforcing and sharing critical attitudes towards the consumption of art, notions of public and private and the viewer and the viewed. Spatial discourses may be employed as rhetorical means to search for insightful connections with the general conditions of aesthetic production, invoke reflection about the status of contemporary art in our community, and stress the importance of meaning on the personal and institutional level.
Gamaliel R. Herrera
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Some of these questions are easy to answer and some are not. Some may seem off the wall and some might seem tired. They are in no particular order, and may be redundant. My hope is that there are provocative moments for the reader and they help people to think about ways of pushing what I see as the important, continuing, collective project of making alternative spaces and doing independent cultural work. I choose the phrase “alternative space” not because I like it but because I like the way it seems to make room for the shedding of the established divisions of labor and boundaries of the art world.
Isn’t a cultural space a social space? Don’t our social lives tend to revolve around cultural spaces? Isn’t culture more than installations and openings? Isn’t it also, books, posters, movies, furniture, food, the internet, conversation, education, toilets, lodging, cleaning, clothing, drinks, warmth in the winter, and cool in the summer? Don’t we need culture and furthermore don’t we need to feel like we are agents of culture? Don’t we need participatory culture? Who does cultural education and what are their interests? What are the dominant cultural institutions? What institutions do we depend on? Who makes the decisions at those institutions and what are their interests? Why have they defined culture and art as they have? Is an MFA program the best way to answer the cultural needs we face? How can our cultural work transcend deep social divisions, like class and ethnic lines? How can we interrogate the entrenched interests of our own cultural work? Can we do cultural work that experiments with humane economic forms and systems? Can alternative spaces be a place to concentrate and make visible humane economic gestures? Can people of privilege redirect that power to serve cultural needs without simply dominating and exerting power? Do alternative art spaces have to be practiced for the commercial art world? Can alternative art spaces be a part of democracy? Can alternative art spaces facilitate the speech of marginalized voices? Can they facilitate politicized speech that has no other venue? What risks can be taken in alternative art spaces to make them more interesting? How can we question the logic of capitalism if we depend on it? How is our art and cultural work constrained by the logic of capitalism? Can questioning the logic of capitalism in our cultural work broaden the social possibilities it allows? Can alternative spaces be places for education? Can they serve as a nexus to bring people together to learn from one another? Is not-for-profit status the best economic arrangement for an alternative space? What constraints are put on a space that goes not-for-profit? Aren’t our alternative spaces dependent on a network of sharing and mutual support to keep working? How can we push this economy of sharing and support to make it more substantial? Can we establish a strong network of material and information sharing that will allow us to accomplish our work on a larger scale and involve more people? How can we find ways of legitimizing alternative cultural work without falling back on the individualistic art star system? Is it really that important to always maintain well-defined boundaries between artist, curator, and viewer in alternative spaces? Can we use the resources we control to make it easier for more people to speak and participate in culture? Would you like to add to this list of questions? Would you like to help answer these questions? Should we get together and talk about it? Please contact Mike Wolf (firstname.lastname@example.org)or maybe even Caroline Picard or your local alternative space if you want to get together on this.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
The Mattress Factory is a museum of contemporary art that exhibits room-sized works called installations. Created on site by artists from across the country and around the world, our unique exhibitions feature a variety of media that engage all of the senses.
Friday, January 30, 2009
A few days ago three Austrian artists who were visiting Chicago came out to Oak Park to see The Suburban’s summer exhibitions by Minneapolis-based artist, Joe Smith, and St. Louis-based artist Michael Byron. They also viewed The John Riepenhoff Experience, a small white box that is currently tied high up on the trunk of the maple tree in the yard adjacent to The Suburban spaces. This white box with a hole to stick your head in is an extension of John Riepenhoff’s Milwaukee Wisconsin’s Green Gallery. Its summer show hosts an exhibition by Paul Dreucke.
The first thing the Austrian artists said after finding me in my house making muffins with my two-year old daughter, is that the gallery is hard to recognize. And they are right. The Suburban is as much an idea and an attitude as it is a physical exhibition space. It is comprised of three pale yellow buildings on the corner lot at Lake Street and Harvey Avenue in the Chicago first-ring suburb of Oak Park. It is a unique Chicago suburb because one hundred years ago Frank Lloyd Wright chose this leafy location to set-up his home and studio.
The reason The Suburban is hard to recognize is that from the outside it doesn’t look like what an art exhibition space should look like. It is also located in a suburb, typically a site void of cultural imagination. So when an avant-garde exhibition space sets up a practice in a suburb it is difficult to recognize from the sidewalk. Of course the Austrians also pointed out that we have no proper signage. And again, they are correct. But the yellow stucco four square house, the unkempt garden, the N55 LAND pod and the pair of tombstones by New York artist Gabe Fowler inscribed THEM and US residing in the yard is its own, more accurate, type of signage given the definition of The Suburban. Most simply put, it is purely a pro-artists exhibition space. The Suburban is not interested in sales, curators, critics, or collectors. Its values are more closely aligned with the activities of the studio, the site where artists make decisions, experiment, and take risks. The Suburban hopes to offer an exhibition platform for these activities minus the pressures of the commercial or curatorial distribution system. Sales, press, and attracting a curator’s eye are not The Suburban’s goal. It is a space offered to artists who reside outside of Chicago with the opportunity to explore an idea in front of an intimate, mostly local, albeit art literate, audience.
To date The Suburban has worked with nearly one hundred artists. The Suburban has been supporting artists’ projects and good ideas for nine years. And because it is tethered to a family household with three children, it operates on a timeline and economy different from most alternative or institutional spaces. The Suburban is driven by my own curiosity and deep-seated desire to be continuously confronted with artistic thinking as it is committed to a protraction of studio practice. The Suburban is as much fueled by institutional critique as it is pragmatically concerned with the proximity of my children(‘s) with public schools.
An essay written a few years back by Peter Ribic, my oldest child, insightfully sums up The Suburban this way:
One of the first things my Advanced Placement European History teacher, who I have grown to thoroughly respect, said to us, came in a class discussion about the children of historical figures. “I want each of you to go home and thank your parents for not being artists,” she said. “The children of artists are the ones who lose their minds, fall into madness or commit suicide, and I wouldn’t want any of you to turn out that way.”
Her commentary was obviously striking: I am not only the child of two artists, but I am constantly surrounded by art and its supplementary activities (its viewing, selling, and making). The nucleus of this part of my life lies in the tiny yellow building formerly attached to my garage. My parents call it The Suburban.
The Suburban is a social perculiarity that I have not yet learned to cope with. Since its conception in my preteens, The Suburban has created a varying array of effects on my life, the majority being positive. I have dissected my entire record collection with a British artist named Simon, I have shared fruity nonalcoholic drinks with my friend Sam at a fully functional tiki-bar-cum-art-installation, and developed to some degree, an understanding of what constitutes contemporary art.
However, life within intimate proximity to an art gallery is not entirely beneficial for a self-conscious teenager and his ten-year old brother. While awkwardness does arise when sharing a house with half-a-dozen large, unshaven Scandinavians, the major difficulty of living with The Suburban is explaining the idea and function of it to the more traditionally “suburban” mothers of my friends.
“Were your parents throwing a party at your house on Saturday?”
“Yes, it was an art opening.”
At this point I try to convince her that The Suburban is a serious pursuit of my parents, and that is has a “real” significance in the art world. What this significance is I do not know.
Among my peers, The Suburban has brought me neither recognizable fame, (I can’t imagine “My garage is also an art gallery” would serve as a successful pick-up line) nor overwhelming scorn. My general rule is to discuss the gallery and its work only with close friends or those who question what “The Suburban” means on our household’s telet answering machine prompt. My reasoning for this is simple; debates about the artistic merit of a fictional Swedish Citizen Recruitment Center are not something I enjoy taking part in, let alone fully understand.
Because of The Suburban and my parents’ choice of career and life style, I have seen and learned to appreciate art on levels unknown to my peers. From Marfa, Texas, to Budapest, I have traveled the world to see it. I have eaten bratwurst in my yard with those who make it. I have traded my bedroom away for weeks to Englishmen for duty-free tubes of Toblerone chocolate. For this uncommon exposure, it should have been the request of my history teacher to come home and thank my parents for becoming artists.
Michelle Grabner is a artist, critic, and professor in the Painting and Drawing Department at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She lives and works in Oak Park, IL where she runs The Suburban. Her work is represented by Rocket, London; Southfirst, Brooklyn; and the Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago. Her writing is published in X-tra, Artforum, Artlies and other art publications.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
The San Francisco Center for the Book is devoted to teaching the many arts and crafts that go into making books by hand. We introduce and foster the joys of books and bookmaking—their history,artistry, continuing presence in our culture and their enduring importance as a medium of self-expression. We provide both a home for Bay Area book artists and a place where the wider community can discover book arts. Everyone is welcome here, experienced practitioners and newcomers alike. Our scores of workshops foster learning at all levels:from introductory classes to yearlong courses, from traditional bookbinding to cutting-edge printing techniques to experimental book forms. There’s always an exhibition up at the Center, designed to inform and delight visitors. Free public programs abound, too, from poetry readings, to book signings to gallery talks. We hope you’ll visit us. But if you can’t, you can still share the excitement by browsing our Book Pix pages, our Workshops or our Online Gallery. Welcome!
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
By Nell Taylor
Collecting ephemera is an act of city beautification. Cities look their best in detail. I could describe Chicago as a large midwestern area on Lake Michigan populated by sports fans and colorful politicians and composed of a series of communities linked together by common streets and not much else. There are some tall buildings that have become relatively less tall in the last couple of years. You would know this is Chicago.
Creative people seem obsessed with the lack of attention their work receives in this overcrowded stadium-in-a-cornfield; having bought into the myths promulgated by this “big picture” vision of the city, they despair at their own artistic marginalization. They look out over the horizon (—is that Naperville, getting even bigger? And is it coming this way?) for an audience or even just a sounding board, another artist with whom to compare notes and ideas. On the off chance that they find one another, they immediately set about building a bunker, stocking it full of their pooled resources, and disseminating exhibitions and publications of each other’s work to the outside world. They defend their fort, tooth and nail, from interlopers. They spread out. They divide and conquer. They hide themselves so well in these small spaces that the new arrivals seeking out community can’t see the bunkers for the shiny new residential developments and overstuffed shopping carts rising higher and higher into the air.
The new crop finds the old myths justified and begin the cycle again.
Now say you took the output from all of these art-shelters and lined them up on a shelf; the project documentation, the journals, the handmade books, the zines, catalogs, manifestos, newsletters, magazines, chapbooks, programs. For the sake of argument, include works by those sports fans and news on those colorful politicians, particularly if it was written anonymously in all block-caps and shoved into your hand by a guy with a bullhorn as you walked to work. And force yourself to look at them as if it was your first moment to discover each object; it might not be to your taste, it might seem shoddily assembled; you find it pretentious or simplistic, you don’t agree with the point of view, it’s covered in mold from someone’s basement, the author declares that their dog peed on the very object you hold in your hand (edition 3/50). But there are individuals behind each one and at some point, they have witnessed things you haven’t. And you’ve never lived in their heads (of course not, you’ve been holed up in your bunker). Despite your initial (and often better) judgment, you learn something. And another city starts to emerge.
In the course of running the CUL, I have found myself fascinated by the passions ignited in a ten-year old Museum of Science and Industry controversy; moved by a 16 year old stoner’s alternate party documentation and musings on 9/11; reading an entire zine on home-schooling cover to cover that doubles as a critique of the CPS; lost in a series of 25 year old newspapers that are nothing but gorgeous advertisements; and discovering political actions that literally took place outside my door. These ephemeral objects cause me to reconsider my own ideas of the city’s history as all of these details begin to fill in the rich tapestry subsumed by the “Hog Butcher for the World” view of Chicago. Beyond that impersonal historicism, though, I appreciate that these works make me question where I was at that particular time. What I was doing and what I was contributing to that tapestry at that moment.
Documenting the creativity of the city is an excellent weapon to use against apathy. To those who complain that the city isn’t what it used to be and that there is nothing to do here anymore, I like the idea of sitting them down in front of a pile of works from our collection and saying: Here are your tools, figure out what you’re going to do about it. It’s not only about documenting the past; it is meant to inspire and to incite people to create new work and to be more active — in the present and for the future.
Ephemera presents a holistic view of Chicago’s creative communities by using tiny little details found in the cracks and crevices of our bunkers to help break them down and encourage the kind of collaboration necessary to, as your local street corner waste basket would say, keep Chicago beautiful.
Nell Taylor began the Chicago Underground Library