Welcome to the first installment of a three-part artist/curator collaborative in which we visually and critically explore theoretical issues with direct relevance to students at the School of the Art Institute. I approached three practicing artists working inside our community: a first-year graduate student, a recently graduated MFA student, now teaching at the Institute, and an Associate Professor at the School, also a graduate. I approached these artists with a simple question…Where is the School? Not where is SAIC located geographically, but rather where do they locate the school in relation to their creative practices, as artists, students, professors, alumni. Within the mediated terrain of a print medium meant to serve this community, how might they formulate a visual expression that engages in praxis the institution that situates them professionally and often theoretically?
The first installment is the work of artist Ben Fain, a first year MFA student. While Ben’s work has historically taken the form of urban interventions, his current project takes this a step further by engaging with the tradition of the parade, coupling a personal mythos with the Baroque decadence of allegorical parade floats. About this work, Fain explains: “In designing the floats, I have taken many of my cues from early Mardi Gras parade tropes. Looking into its history, I discovered a long record of inserts and posters printed in local newspapers that presented the coming year’s float designs in a complex tableau. These were made specifically for the publication to advertise and help create interest in the parade, as well as used as collector and souvenir items. On another level, they were intended as a form of public dialogue, an extension of the parade itself, dealing with a lattice of interconnected social and political issues, using a form that was accessible, yet multifarious.”
Ben Fain performed his first parade in Atlanta on November 5, 2006, to a crowd of over 600 people. The work created here for the School of the Art Institute’s F Newsmagazine echoes many visual culture traditions, from Dadaist collage to Monty Python graphics, all with a kind of P.T. Barnum flair. While the floats themselves are allegories for the artist’s perceptions of and reactions to working within an institutional framework, there is plenty of room for playful interpretation within this illustrative, digital culmination of manipulated and found imagery. Ben Fain’s work will be covered further in an upcoming issue of Art Papers magazine.