So what exactly are you to do when you’re at an outdoor music festival waiting for your favorite band — say Japandroids or Cults — to take the stage and it starts pouring rain? Why, you wait it out of course, because this show is exactly the moment you’ve been waiting for — torrential downpour be damned! That’s precisely what thousands of fans did a number of times at the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park for the three-day event that started on none other than Friday the 13th. In the end, though, the rain stopped, the sun shone, the mud dried and thousands went away happier to have withstood the elements.
Allotted a photo-pit press pass for the three days, I can emphatically say that I’m glad I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of some of those bands because, quite honestly, I might be a little too old for that shit. Of course, that’s said in hindsight after pouring (pun intended) through the thousands of images captured over the weekend. Had I been a diehard fan, maybe eating mud and feeling other people’s hipster sweaty bodies might have been more inviting.
So, what are my impressions from my very first indie music festival you ask? Well, for starters, the crowds were much, much kinder than any I encountered at old-school fests, such as the touring Lollapalooza or HFStival in Baltimore — two of my old favorites. Secondly, this generation of “rockers” amazes me in that they’re carrying the torch along as effectively as Led Zeppelin, Van Halen or Stone Temple Pilots ever did (even if in a less raucous way). Audiences will never change when they’re impassioned by a band or musician’s sonic weavings. To spend that moment with them playing and singing to you, for you, is all any fan really wants. The goosebumps and adrenaline rush of being a part of something special — that connectedness to the musicians and others — is really what it’s all about at the end of the day, and there was more than enough of that to go around at Pitchfork 2012. And that, my friends, is precisely the torch that’s getting carried along well into the twenty-first century.
Photos by Jaclyn Rivas
This axiomatically titled group show of current and recently graduated SAIC MFA students is a large, sprawling affair. Spread out over dozens of rooms and corridors in the labyrinthine Sullivan Galleries, it contains 30-some artists working in a variety of media. Sculptural installations, painting, and video predominate. Fortunately, all the artists are given ample wall and floor space — some have entire rooms — which places this show in sharp contrast to the chaotic clutter of recent year-end graduate shows. The overall installation bolsters the strengths of each work, and, if you have the time to devote undivided attention to each one, your efforts will be rewarded.
But whether the show fully succeeds as a curatorial statement is another matter. Title aside, the problem with “experience” as a curatorial theme is that it’s so open-ended, virtually any artwork could fit. It’s like curating a show around the notion of “time,” or “communication,” or “reality” — unless these themes are tempered with some specificity, they become vague abstractions.
Tellingly, some of the best works in the show address more concrete matters. Take Scott A. Carter’s “Of Private Devotion,” a room-sized installation just inside the gallery entrance. Evenly spaced on three adjoining walls is a series of small, white matte vertical wall paintings, created by delineating the surrounding space around each one with a glossy version of the same paint. Above each “painting” is a gaudy brass picture lamp, and on the floor in front, a single viewing bench made from old discarded picture frames. On one level, Carter’s piece is a cheeky send-up of the pieties of high modernist abstraction, and yet it still radiates something akin to spiritual aura.
Around the corner, both Craig Butterworth and Rafael Vega refer to modes of minimalist abstraction in novel ways. Butterworth’s freestanding sculpture, made with thin slats of untreated wood, resembles a trellis. But instead of festoons of garlands or ivy, it’s adorned with clamp-on work lamps. These dramatically illuminate the piece, and also turn it into a deft conflation of Michael Fried’s opposing notions of absorption and theatricality. Nearby, Vega is represented by a series of paintings, both large and tiny, that primarily consist of parallel diagonal lines, rendered with spray paint and other unconventional media. The combination of a dark gray palette with hard and soft-edged lines evokes the interplay of light and shadow within the urban landscape.
David R. Harper’s “Unrequited Needs” is equally evocative, but in a completely different way. This room-sized installation is comprised of three wall works and a sculpture, all of which are made with a striking crimson-colored felt. The sculpture is particularly noteworthy: a structure made with stark white logs, which supports a hanging, inverted group of red felt rabbits. With eloquent simplicity, the piece hauntingly explores the intersection of violence, trauma and memory.
Matthew Schlagbaum also works with a particular palette to unify two-dimensional work with sculpture. The former is comprised of 33 small, framed monochrome drawings in a variety of media, each frame and surface a distinct tint of gold. A large, boulder-like thing sits nearby, covered in painted patches of gold, bronze and copper. It’s called “Nothing This Pretty Could Be Real,” though some might beg to differ.
One work that completely stands apart in this context is an hour-long video by Benjamin Chaffee. It consists of a discussion between the artist and four participants regarding the introductory chapter to “Liquid Life,” a philosophical/sociological book by Zygmunt Bauman, which examines the fragmentation and disorientation of contemporary life (vis-à-vis the individual and the broader socio-economic sphere).
The ensuing discussion documented here is profoundly thought-provoking. Significantly, each person is obscured by a sheet of wood, cut to the outline of his or her silhouette (Chaffee himself is not on screen). This clever distancing effect seems to mirror Bauman’s tenets concerning the pervasive destabilization of identity. And yet, by forcing us to pay attention to voice over appearance, the subjectivity of each participant is strangely fortified. Matters are complicated even further by the uncertainty over whether these participants are reading from a script, or voicing their own individual thoughts.
Near the beginning of the video, Chaffee says something that resonates with the exhibition as whole: “This would be something new, relatively new for everybody.” Perhaps the overall curatorial theme would be much tighter if the curators paid particular attention to this statement by focusing on experience’s antonyms: inexperience, novice-hood, new beginnings. Given that this show inaugurates the new academic year, the theme would be particularly apt.
Experience is Never Unattached
August 16 – September 22
33 S State, 7th Floor
Of all the maxims that might apply to summer, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” comes to mind most readily for a Chicagoan. Because it’s hot and sticky and we complain; because of slow-walking/Segway-mounted idiot tourists; because it’s August, and before you know it you’ll be wading through daily Snowmageddons in thermal underwear. Our short summer gives us a window into a place like Florida, whose sunbathed brilliance comes to represent the long, lazy summer ideal. We ought to be a little more appreciative of our last few weeks of warmth and sunshine, since after the leaves fall there we’ll be hard-pressed for any such echoes of an idyllic, blue-skied playground.
Photos on the first page are by Oscar Loo. Photos on the second page are by Greg Granaghan.
June 27th, 2011
June 27th, 2011
The sun was shining and the folks were fabulous this Sunday as Chicago kicked off its 42nd annual Gay Pride Parade. All along Halsted St at Broadway Ave, vast crowds could be found — an early estimate numbered total attendance at approximately 750,000. In the hours leading up to the parade, fluttering rainbows of gay pride flags could be seen dotting the horizon on every side. With an amazing amount of color, hooting and hollering (not to mention an ample flow of booze), the day presented itself as the friendliest frat party you could have ever attended. The spirit of excitement and celebration was further bolstered by recent news from New York, where a bill gave same sex couples the right to marry. As the day progressed, I found myself at the corner of Halsted at Roscoe St, the site of noted Boystown gay bar Roscoe’s, and watched in wonderment as merrymakers of all races, creeds, and colors ambled through the crowd.
All photos by Brandon Goei
The 6th Annual Guerilla Truck Show took place in the 1000 block of Fulton Market St on Tuesday, June 14. Coinciding with Neocon, North America’s largest design exhibition, the Guerilla Truck Show featured furniture, art, and designed objects exhibited primarily inside the back of a large truck. The one-night-only exhibition allowed attendees not only to browse the art and furniture galleries in the surrounding Fulton Market District, but also to step into dozens of different temporary truck spaces showcasing art and furniture that’s often so new that it has yet to be seen outside of the truck. The event also featured pop-up storefronts, performances, and Pecha Kucha presentations.
All photos by Jennifer Swann.
An MFA student reflects
Words & illustration by Eric Baskauskas
Photos by Alli Berry
It’s funny. I ditched the working world to come to graduate school so I could avoid feeling like a piece of machinery for a couple of years. I guess it worked, but I must admit that the MFA Thesis Exhibition 2011 installation has left me feeling like I just got churned out of a meat grinder.
That sounds worse than it really is. In fact, it’s a very efficient and relatively painless meat grinder. All people involved in the exhibition process were incredibly pleasant and helpful, from the exhibition staff, to the Media Center folks, to the security guards, and everyone in-between and beyond. As expected with any huge production, I observed plenty of difficulties, but as far as I can tell, each was resolved calmly and effectively. It’s a product of the fact that they do this every year, and that by the time we’re done installing I’m sure they’re already looking toward next year’s show. Hence the feeling of being processed. It’s a privilege to get chewed up and spit out by such a well-oiled machine.
But if the MFA show is the meat grinder, then the School itself is the slaughterhouse, and I’ve got a bone to pick. Have you heard of those curved pathways for the cows? They make them that way at the stockyards so the cows can’t see the blood-curdling instruments of death that await them at the end of the line. A stress-free cow makes for a tasty steak. They leisurely round curve after curve until, suddenly, they are decapitated. In contrast, here at SAIC they set you up on a straight-line death march toward the end. “MFA show” this and “Thesis” that. I understand that the whole reason we undertake graduate study is to produce a thesis, sure, but I think that the emphasis on final production has a paralyzing effect on a good number of the graduate students I’ve talked to in line. Around here, “What are you doing for the thesis show?” is a question far more common than “What are you researching?” I think that can dampen the exploratory spirit and make us feel, once again, like machines.
Fortunately, the clean exhibition process gets rid of much of the anxiety, and keeps us from running around like headless chickens.
You can’t have your burger and be it too.