All illustrations from “You’re So Sexy When You’re Not Transmitting STD’s” by Isabella Rotman 2013.
Testicles, breasts, internal condoms and sex toys abound in a guide to sexual health published last month by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Wellness Center, the department devoted to the physical and mental health of the school’s students. When Isabella Rotman (BFA, 2013) was selling her comics at last year’s student art sale, a former Wellness Center employee took notice. “She saw my ‘Animal Sex’ comics and suggested I make a safe sex comic book for the Wellness Center.”
The school’s Executive Director of Counseling, Health and Disability Services, Joe Behen, said the Wellness Center received a Garrett Lee Campus Suicide Prevention Grant to “tap the boundless innovation, ingenuity, and creativity of the SAIC community to positively impact student health.” Rotman was awarded a portion of the grant to produce a safe sex comic, and the result is “You’re So Sexy When You Aren’t Transmitting STDs.” Behen said part of the goal was to turn resources like the grant toward SAIC students, “and the comic does an excellent job of bringing really important information to the student body.”
In the comic, Captain Buzzkill, a.k.a. Dick McClean, discusses the importance of communication between sexual partners, STD testing, contraception and what STDs actually are. “My goal was to be funny, to be entertaining and to provide information without the reader really noticing, just like in ‘Animal Sex,’” Rotman says. Rotman’s series of comics about sexuality in the animal kingdom includes “Animal Sex (You Might Not Want to Know)” and three other comics detailing the curiosities abounding in the mating habits and sexual anatomy of Earth’s fauna: males carrying babies to term, corkscrew vaginas, homosexuality among species and prehensile “peni,” among many others.
What’s unique about “You’re So Sexy” is more than its use of whimsical drawings and colloquial language to address an important and sometimes grave subject. “Safe sex manuals are almost always aimed at hetero couples or gay men, in which case they’re only about HIV,” Rotman said. But her comic includes examples for sex partners of all kinds, including same-sex couples and transgender people. “If you’re a man, and you have a vagina, you still need to get a pap smear,” said Rotman.
“It really reaches all kinds of people in the student population,” said Fay Nowitz (BFA) during a recent talk given by Rotman at SAIC’s Neiman Center. “The health center at my undergrad school would never have done this,” said Josh Kibert (MFA, Writing). And Jack Carter, a software engineer and fan of Rotman’s work, said outside of Rotman’s comic, a resource about public health of this nature in a format so easily relatable to young people “just doesn’t exist.” In an ideal world, presumably one in which materials like “You’re So Sexy” are more available, Carter says he “can see this next to other sexual health materials at any health center.” The artist did months of research for the comic. “I didn’t know silicone lube breaks down silicone dildos,” she said, and a registered nurse at the Wellness Center fact-checked the entire book before it was printed. So far, around 800 copies, available for free to SAIC students, have been distributed on campus at events and at the Wellness Center, located on the 13th floor of 116 South Michigan Avenue.
Since graduating in May with a focus on printmaking and comics, Rotman has been marketing the comic to other colleges. Columbia College Chicago has bought rights to print 1,500 copies with others following soon, she hopes. New projects that incorporate art and science are also on the artist’s horizon. “What I like are the practical applications of art, art that’s useful in an immediate way.”
Too Much Salt in Your Popcorn? No, Those Are Just Your Tears
“Like Father, Like Son” (2013)
“Like Father, Like Son” (2013) (“Soshite chichi ni naru”) is an extremely touching Japanese film by director Hirokazu Koreeda about what it truly means to be a family. Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) and his wife Midori(Machiko Ono) are confronted with the awful news that their six-year-old son, Keita, might not actually be their biological child; he may have been switched with another boy at birth. From then on, the narrative poses the question, “is it in the blood?”
This brings up the issue of “old” ideas versus “new” ideas in Japanese culture. The idea of “old” and “new” is a conversation that has been going on for a while in Japanese society, with the younger generation being fairly critical of the older generation’s unwillingness to change and the older generation criticizing the younger generation for not sticking with traditional Japanese ideas and behavior. This has even come into play in politics, as very conservative Japanese politicians will tend to criticize younger generations for becoming too “Americanized” and losing their “traditional” Japanese morals. Ryota’s father, who, sticking with “old” ideas, tells him that “for humans and horses, it’s all in the blood.” Ryota’s stepmother, a believer in the “new,” tells him that being a parent isn’t only about blood.
Other prevalent themes that addresses the “old” and the “new” are class and the work/life balance. When the Nonomiyas meet the family with whom their child was switched with all those years ago, Yudai (Lily Franky) and Yukari Sakai (Yoko Maki), there is a striking difference between the family dynamics. The Nonomiyas live in a beautiful and spacious apartment right in the middle of Tokyo (and can even see the Tokyo Sky Tree from their apartment window) and drive a very nice car. The Sakais live in a much more down-to-earth home that is attached to the tiny hardware store that they own, the store itself being in a small town a few hours away from Tokyo (Ryota at one point calls the Sakais “country bumpkins”). While Ryota believes himself to be the superior father because he earns more and can therefore provide more for his family, Yudai shows that what is most important is actually spending time and playing with one’s children.
“Like Father, Like Son” is visually very sharp and detailed, which I really think compliments the movie’s serious and realistic approach to the issues tackled. It really touched on all of the social anxieties that surround the construction of “family,” and especially the work/life balance that is a real concern in modern Japanese society. The best thing is that it does so in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s an easy way out of addressing this problem. There is no quick and simple ending, but instead a very real and difficult conclusion that makes it all the more beautiful.
Another recommended Japanese film that addresses these same themes (work/life balance and the importance of being “blood” related) is “Bunny Drop” (2011) (“Usagi Doroppu”). Although it tackles similar conversations about family, it does so in a much more idealized and less realistic form. Not to say that “Bunny Drop” doesn’t have its serious and tear-jerker moments, but it would be a good film to watch in conjunction with “Like Father, Like Son” to see how two different movies deal with the same issues.
A Dispatch From The Chicago Internet Cat Video Festival
Illustration by Emily Haasch.
There is something inherently voyeuristic about watching the cat videos that populate our social media feeds, YouTube favorites and email chains. Cats are private creatures by nature, but to show their antics (or lack thereof) can be a budding filmmaker’s chance to courageously tackle the trickiest kind of film: home movies.
What was once the private ritual of indulging in short, out-of-context viral pet videos has exploded into the realm of mass entertainment. But what exactly happens when thousands of people step away from the virtual reality of their laptops and get together in the flesh to watch cat videos? The self-reflective practice of cat-obsessed link sharing has now become a roadshow spectacle thanks to a project from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The very first Chicago Internet Cat Video Festival, which invaded the Northwest side’s Irish American Heritage Center on October 19, brought area ailurophiles together in a celebration of the short films that show how cats indeed control the very heart of the Internet.
In 2012, Walker curator Scott Stulen organized the first Internet Cat Video Festival as an exploration of the nature of what happens when private experiences (such as watching a kitty clip on a smartphone alone) translate to public events (watching the same video with thousands of other people on a big screen). Thousands of people flocked to the free screening on the museum’s lawn and a new tradition was born. This past August, the festival moved to the Minnesota State Fair Grounds, where about 11,000 people willingly paid admission to watch beloved memes, schmooze with Internet cat celebrities such as Grumpy Cat and Lil’ Bub and partake in a whole other slew of cat-themed entertainment. The recent Chicago incarnation was the city’s first time participating in the phenomenon with their own satellite festival.
Stulen, who joked at the Chicago event that he calls himself “the curator of all things that are barely art,” explained that this project could have been anything, but that cat videos are a perfect fit. Notwithstanding the idea that the human brain prefers images of cats to pretty much anything, cat videos have provided an interesting, and extremely accessible, opportunity to explore what happens when creative endeavors straddle the line between “art” and “entertainment.” The biggest plus of the project is that it fosters a sense of wider community involvement and fundraising opportunities to help cats in need; the entirety of the $10 cost of admission to the Chicago screenings acted as a donation for a local rescue group.
I consider myself to be a connoisseur of cat memes, and jumped at the chance to see this year’s offerings. I attended the second-to-last screening of the night, and arrived early to check out the festivities. Upon arriving, I was greeted by a chirpy woman with a clipboard informing us that one of the entrances to the venue was only for the guests of a wedding reception. Indeed, as I made my way to the proper door I noticed a very odd mix of smartly dressed gawkers. The bride, who strode down the hallways of the first floor around the auditorium where the screenings were taking place, was obviously dismayed that a growing array of people in bejeweled cat ears and painted-on whiskers were congregating around her invitation-only cocktail party.
While I waited for my screening to start, I puttered around the exhibition rooms. There was some bizarre non-cat-related stand up comedy, a makeshift bar selling “Kitty Cocktails” and an array of cat-friendly organizations and crafters. One could buy everything from handmade catnip toys in the shapes of fruit to framed x-rays of shelter cats. Several people were getting into a heated discussion over trap-neuter-return, a method of humanely controlling feral cat populations.
Illustration by Meghan Ryan Morris.
There were no actual cats allowed on the premises.
Finally I filed into the auditorium, where a slideshow akin to the pre-show entertainment at movie megaplexes displayed photos of heartbreakingly sweet shelter cats up for adoption mixed in with random cat trivia (did you know that Issac Newton invented the cat door?)
On to the cat videos.
There was comedy:
There was drama:
There were the Hall of Famers:
As I sat there, at first I felt like I was in on some randomly curated clip party, but with each successive meow, I got into the groove and lost in the waves of emotion that can only come when watching the innocent. It was only towards the final third of the reel that I actually noticed that I was sitting among other people having similar experiences; we had all become lost in our own personal absorptions of cuteness. The deafening guffaws of my neighbor’s reaction to a cat dressed as a shark riding a Roomba struck me out of a personal reverie and reminded me that I was part of a community of compassion.
Something shifted into the transformative experience that only comes from the dark world of the cinema. We all laughed together, gasped together, “awwww”-ed together. When it was over, there was a sense of calm release. We filed out. I had a strong urge to run home and see my cat.
“Slow Read” at Glass Curtain Gallery Inspires a Laid-Back Engagement
Photo by Clare Britt. Courtesy of Glass Curtain Gallery, Columbia College Chicago.
Time is a rare commodity, but a visit to “Slow Read” at Columbia College Chicago’s Glass Curtain Gallery inspires leisurely delay in even the most harried of circumstances. Showing until November 2, the exhibition brings a level of novelty to the gallery experience. It presents the works of five Chicago painters with each body of work flanked by shelves of books curated by the artists themselves. The selected books both perplex and intrigue the viewer, raising as many questions about the artist’s meaning as they appear to answer.
The idea that viewers should “slow down” as they move through a gallery is the driving concept behind the show. As a part of Columbia’s “Student Powered Spaces,” it is fitting that Glass Curtain has transformed itself into a space that reads much more like a library than a traditional gallery. Simple plywood chairs and end tables are scattered throughout the interior, reminiscent of cheap Ikea furniture that would look perfectly at home in any college dorm room. Books are shelved adjacent to the artist’s work while others are arranged on the end tables as carefully as a bookstore display window.
Photo by Clare Britt. Courtesy of Glass Curtain Gallery, Columbia College Chicago.
All of the paintings featured in the show are abstract, making the inclusion of the literature that inspired them all the more compelling. Surprisingly, artist Emiliano Cerna-Rios has read none of the books in his selection, but he feels that all of them conceptually represent his work. His very obviously unread choices, all fresh off the shelves of the local Barnes and Noble, contrasted with the well-worn tomes presented by other artists. A glance at the circus revelers dancing across the cover of Rabelais’s “Gargantua and Pantagruel” dissolves some of the abstraction surrounding Cerna-Rios’ vast canvas of color swatches.
Literary aficionados, analysis addicts, or anyone who simply enjoys solving a puzzle are sure to be delighted by these kind of “reveals” that “Slow Read” offers its viewers through the inclusion of artist-curated books. The conclusions that viewers can draw are endless. The artist statements provide some clues, but many of the connections are left up to the reader to decide.
With the exception of Cerna-Rios, the majority of the artists featured in “Slow Read” selected books that they were already well acquainted with. Magalie Guerin presented the journals of Anaïs Nin as part of the inspiration behind her collection. Guerin’s work distinguished itself from that of the other artists by repeating the same imagined shape reminiscent of a cloverleaf exposed to radioactivity in every one of her paintings. The wonder of Guerin’s work stems from the different images she is able to evoke from the same basic shape on nearly identical sized canvases.
Photo by Clare Britt. Courtesy of Glass Curtain Gallery, Columbia College Chicago.
Ears, antique furniture, and illusions of geometric rooms all flow from her manipulations of one organic shape. While her art intrigues by itself, it gains considerable depth through her inclusion of the diaries. “Even in the context of diary writing…the line between fiction and reality is shaky,” explains Guerin in an artist statement. Her fixation on the line between truth and fiction offers an unexpected context for her depiction of the various guises that the same fundamental idea can take. This sense of revelation and voyeuristic insight about the artists’ work is the biggest success of “Slow Read.”
At its core, “Slow Read” is a leisurely experience. Set in an open room littered with chairs, it does not impose the sense of exhaustion that sometimes accompanies other gallery and museum settings. Burnt-out tourists hunched over their smartphones on the only available bench are not part of this equation. The structure and curatorial choices of the space itself encourages the viewer to frequently stop and sit next to the art in question. Repeat visits are easy to slip into, especially when tempted by irresistible offerings such as Cesar Aira’s “How I Became A Nun.” This cannot be conquered in one visit and extends a subtle invitation for visitors to return for a long, slow read.
An Exhibition of Modern Conceptual Photography at the MCA
Photo by Patrick Reynolds
“Think First, Shoot Later,” organized by MCA curator Michael Darling and on view until November 10, is one of an ongoing series of biannual shows drawing from the MCA’s permanent collection. It works well as a complement to the abstraction-heavy works in neighboring group exhibition, “Homebodies,” while providing the guests of the MCA with an easily digestible primer for modern and contemporary conceptual photography.
The introductory space of the show’s four occupied galleries presents a selectively assembled collection of images that have been primarily executed as large-scale, attention-grabbing prints.
The first two photographs that greet the viewer upon entry to the show are Rodney Graham’s “Small Basement Camera Shop, circa 1937” and Jeff Wall’s “In front of a nightclub.” A brief, bold wall description of the idea behind the show explains: “Like much photography produced after the 1960s, these works are highly premeditated, systematic, and staged: in other words, they embody an ethos of ‘think first, shoot later.’”
Not only have both the Graham and Wall prints been produced in the past ten years (being completed in 2011 and 2006, respectively), they are also marked by similar aesthetic tendencies and technical specifications. Graham’s “Small Basement Camera Shop” presents a seemingly innocuous scene of a man working behind the counter of a 1930s-style camera shop (costumed in wire spectacles and a shiny red bow tie), while Wall’s photograph depicts a dynamic but ominous scene of people assembled on a sidewalk outside of an urban nightclub. While the narrative content differs in each of these images, they are notably similar in that each natural-looking scene was executed using a meticulously crafted set inside the artist’s studio (Graham, in fact, is the man in his own photograph).
The remaining prints in the initial gallery space follow the lead established by Wall and Graham. Two large Thomas Demand prints explore the intersection of photography and sculpture as he creates naturalistic scenes of real-world locations out of paper and subsequently photographs them. Stan Douglas’ “Hockey Fight” (1951) recreates the look of a vintage press camera photograph through the presentation of a carefully-articulated narrative in yet another artificial environment.
The exploration of concept-based applications of photography in “Think First” narrows its scope to three separate themes: naturally occurring visual diversity stemming from historically- and technically-informed photography, the self-aware self-portrait and the steadfast dedication to predetermined aesthetic principles.
The second and largest gallery in the show features works occupying a variety of aesthetic spaces, but they are thematically connected through their collective exploration of photographic processes as means to achieve visual abstractions. The presented works of Wolfgang Tillmans, Roe Ethridge, and Elad Lassry, for example, all serve to illustrate the photograph’s potential to simultaneously occupy artistic and commercial spaces by borrowing from the aesthetic tendencies of advertising images. Walead Besthy, Pamela Rosenkranz, and James Welling explore texture, light and color through a variety of experimental printing processes.
The adjacent gallery examines the role of the self-portrait in conceptual photography, with photographs illustrating a variety of interpretations of the self-portrait as a photographic device. Cindy Sherman’s work on display draws from two of her well-known series, one of which involves the depiction of fictitious film stills from classic Hollywood films, while the other creates surrealistic crime scene-inspired compositions using prosthetic body parts.
The intersection of Sherman’s visually independent works provides an appropriate complement to Matthew Barney’s macabre “Cremaster 2: The Drone’s Cell,” in which the artist depicts himself as the notorious murderer Gary Gilmore. Gillian Wearing’s stunning nearby print (“Self-Portrait at Three Years Old”) makes further use of prosthetics and theatrical elements, but in this case the artist has used these tools to transform her adult face into an eerily-realistic version of herself as a toddler, with only her eyes peeking through the illusion.
The final gallery space switches gears, analyzing the roles of aesthetic form and visual structure in photography through the work of students of renowned photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher (known collectively as the Dusseldorf School). The Bechers are widely known for their grid-inspired arrangements of photographs depicting different types of industrial structures in similar compositions. “Cooling Towers,” a self-explanatory series of twelve black-and-white prints, is on display. The Bechers’ primary principle — maintaining visual consistency across a body of work as a means of developing a long-term aesthetic — is apparent within the works of the artists sharing the space, but with differing applications depending on the photographer. Andreas Gursky’s “Avenue of the Americas,” for example, uses both architectural and grid-based elements, but it is composed as one single image, as opposed to the Bechers’ series. Thomas Struth’s photos are on a similar scale to Gursky’s, but while he also explores the special examination of architectural feats, he does so without the explicit geometric influence that is so readily present in Gursky’s work.
The works in “Think First, Shoot Later” present a variety of perspectives and ideas that have influenced the photographic world for the past 40 years, but its installation fluidly connects these oppositional viewpoints through the exploration of the artists’ multidimensional motivations.
Columbia College Galleries kicked off EXPO weekend with its Wabash Arts Corridor Crawl (WAC) last Wednesday. Unlike most neighborhood “crawls,” this event didn’t involve hopping from pub to pub. Instead, students and the public were invited to leisurely make their way through Columbia’s affiliated galleries and exhibitions sponsored by partner schools. A selection of participating local businesses also ensured visitors could score a good drink special after it all.
A complimentary trolley service escorted guests through several blocks of events and activities, completing this bar crawl simulation. However, guests were much more likely to utilize its services to escape the pouring rain that endangered the event’s success. The rolling thunderstorms competed with the ambitious sprawl of the WAC; guests were drenched just from crossing the street to travel to a new location, leaving more remote attractions left out to dry.
The Fashion Studies Launch was awash with innovative designs and an army of wet umbrellas. During the Beats and Greets demonstration of student work from Columbia’s Club DJ classes, even the room-shaking rhythms of DJ K-LOCK3 couldn’t drown out the sound of the thunder.
Despite the rain, the WAC Crawl still managed to garner decently sized crowds of an encouraging mix of students and the public. Features for the night included free access to Joffrey Ballet dress rehearsals of classic works by Russian masters and Dance at the Crawl!, which featured Columbia student performances of West African dance. Events ranged from the conventional, including gallery viewings and musical performances, to the delightfully unconventional, featuring a button-making workshop and a hula hooping demonstration showcasing the performer’s expert hoop dance skills.
In total the Crawl featured forty events held exclusively in Columbia buildings with supplemental activities at partner schools and businesses. Almost every event featured a reception with complimentary food and drink; lucky early bird visitors were rewarded with San Pellegrino and mini-cupcakes.
Greater community engagement was an underlying theme for this year’s WAC Crawl. After running through several high-energy choreographed numbers, the student performers at Dance at the Crawl! roamed the audience, dragging people onstage to join the improv fun.
“It’s this huge, giant, new baby,” gushed Columbia College senior Sebastian Spiegel.
Spiegel, who has observed past Crawls during his four years at the school, noted that the event’s planning committee promoted this year’s event much more aggressively than in the past. Outside collaborations, such as the Joffrey rehearsal viewings, are also a recent addition to the event. “This year they wanted more of the city’s broader art scene to be incorporated,” explained Spiegel, “if this is meant to be our version of ‘homecoming’ then it’s a great one.”