Conversations at the Edge

On Cao Fei…

Posted by | George William Price | Posted on | October 22, 2014

SAIC Art History student Ke Wang speaks to Cao Fei’s unique depiction of China—a country undergoing significant cultural change. Cao Fei’s new film Haze and Fog screens at Conversations at the Edge tomorrow, October 23rd, at 6pm.

Cao Fei in Venice

Cao Fei in Venice

Cao Fei’s works are based on the social environment of three major cities in Guangdong, China, known as Zhu Sanjiao, or Pearl River Delta. Guangdong is the epitome of a developing country where a cities’ economy and its population’s life-style has dramatically shifted within the past decade. Even though I have lived in Guangdong, I still find myself in a position of an outsider when I look at Fei’s work. Those familiar subjects were transformed through her work into something extraordinarily bizarre and excitingly refreshing. Fei’s unique depiction of a transforming contemporary Chinese society utilizes private narrative that she collages with social commentary, pop culture, surrealist element and documentary convention.

Unlike many of other internationally well-known Chinese contemporary artists such as Cai Guoqiang, Xu Bing, or Gu Wenda, who use easily recognizable cultural symbols in their works, Fei considers her work to be more confrontational and critically aware of current Chinese culture. She states:

“The 80s generation are way less critical (compared with Cai and Xu’s generation), their works are flat and abstract. They no longer care about collective narratives, but tend to immerse themselves murmuring within their own little intimate space. I am more drawn to the 70s generation, my works are not simply being critical, but also entertaining. It is a combination of reality and fantasy, looking at real life on the side but never outside of it.” 

 

Oct 23 – Cao Fei

Posted by | Conversations at the Edge | Posted on | October 20, 2014

Thursday, October 23rd | Cao Fei in person!

Still from Haze and Fog (Cao Fei, 2013). Courtesy of the artist.

Still from Haze and Fog (Cao Fei, 2013). Courtesy of the artist.

Chinese artist Cao Fei mixes fantasy, documentary, and virtual reality to reflect on the ways China’s rapidly changing economy has transformed the everyday lives and imaginations of its citizens. Her latest film, Haze and Fog (2013) is a darkly humorous reinterpretation of the zombie film set in Beijing. Here the undead are real estate agents, nouveau riche businessmen, security guards, and manicurists seeking contact in an increasingly individualized, materialistic, and alienating society. Cao accompanies the film with her haunting 2007 shorti.Mirror–recorded entirely in the virtual world of Second Life–and a discussion of her practice to date.

On John Smith…

Posted by | George William Price | Posted on | October 15, 2014

It seems apt this week that Chicago is experiencing such a torrent of rather British-like weather, as we prepare to welcome the legendary John Smith to Conversations at the Edge (CATE). This week is a very special event due to the fact Smith was the first artist to present at CATE in 2001. We are delighted to welcome him back to the Gene Siskel Film Center and Chicago. I would like to take this opportunity to thank one of our cosponsors Video Data Bank (VDB) for their continued support in bringing world class moving-image practitioners to Chicago. VDB has distributed much of Smith’s work for many years and I’m delighted to publish the following essay written by Lindsay Bosch, VDB’s Development & Marketing Manager (and avid John Smith fan.)

Still from Dad's Stick (John Smith, 2012). Courtesy of the artist.

Still from Dad’s Stick (John Smith, 2012). Courtesy of the artist.

I sometimes have the privilege of talking to classes and student groups about the history of the Video Data Bank.  The compilation I regularly show includes John Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum.  The work shows up in the lecture somewhere between the invention of the Portapak and the rise of installation art. I can always rest assured that no matter who has dozed off or is checking their phone, I will get a laugh and reel the group back in with this classic work.  A few years ago, I showed  The Girl Chewing Gum, along with John Smith’s Slow Glass and Associations to my parents at Christmas.  They had asked me to give them a better explanation of “What it is I do.” which leads inevitably to the question: “What is video art?”  (They loved the works, and have since stopped telling people that I am a librarian.)

Why do we turn to Smith in these introductory situations? I’m continually drawn to Smith’s film and video work because it offers a certain core accessibility.  Smith’s pieces are a video art gateway drug—translating the world of artists’ moving image to the uninitiated.  One need not be among an art school in-crowd to “get it,” to feel like Smith’s work is addressing you.  Smith’s videos posit the existence of the massive audience that I want for video art; an audience encompassing young students, fans of popular cinema, my parents (and yours too!). Much of Smith’s work offers a certain viewing pleasure, dare I say it, even entertainment—that is often deliberately withheld in video art. This is not to say Smith’s work is ever simplistic.  Instead, he savvily speaks of complexity in readily available languages: those of humor, of quick Brit wit, of direct and personal voice-over, and recognizable cinematic tropes.

As a viewer I’m also drawn to Smith’s use of his immediate surroundings to point fully outward.  The artist’s meditations on the objects (unusual Red cardigan, Dad’s Stick), or places around him (Flag Mountain, Worst Case Scenario, Hotel Diaries) fascinatingly connect the mundane and personal with their more universal and politicized reverberations. “Nothing in any of my films is researched; I come across things,” Smith modestly told Sight and Sound in 2010.  Smith’s close consideration of those elements he “comes across” allows us, as his audience, to do the same.  We read Smith’s images thoughtfully, accepting small and specific observations as a bridge through which to engage the wider world.  Throughout the Hotel Diaries series, Smith relates the microcosm of his lodgings to the ongoing strife in the Middle East.  In these and other works, Smith achieves a unique position, balancing between the opposing artistic poles of personal diary (it’s all about me) and impartial documentary (it’s all about the subject). I find this is a relatably human and truthful point-of-view.  As subjects, we are neither standing fully outside the larger movements of history and politics, nor are we at their epicenter. We are always poised somewhere in-between, attending to both our own small world and the world at large. I’m so grateful that John Smith has allowed us to stand, sure-footed, in this place and to “come across things” with him; and I’m thrilled that he is joining us for Conversations at the Edge.

Founded at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in 1976 at the inception of the media arts movement, the Video Data Bank (VDB) is a leading resource in the United States for video by and about contemporary artists. The VDB Collection includes the work of more than 550 artists and 5,500 video art titles, 2,500+ in active distribution.

The VDB makes its Collection available to museums, galleries, educational institutions, libraries, cultural institutions and other exhibitors through a national and international distribution service. VDB works to foster a deeper understanding of video art, and to broaden access and exposure to media art histories, through its programs and activities. These include preservation of historically important works of video art, the perpetuation of analog and digital archives, publishing of curated programs and artists’ monographs, the commissioning of essays and texts that contextualize artists’ work, and an extensive range of public programs.

Operating under SAIC’s not-for-profit status, the VDB is supported in part by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency, and by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Art Works.

October 16 – John Smith

Posted by | Conversations at the Edge | Posted on | October 13, 2014

Thursday, October 16th | John Smith in person!

Still from Dad's Stick (John Smith, 2012). Courtesy of the artist.

Still from Dad’s Stick (John Smith, 2012). Courtesy of the artist.

In his playful and thought-provoking short films and videos, UK filmmaker John Smith explores the language of cinema and reflects on the image’s role in politics, war, and the global economy. The 2013 Jarman Award winner presents a selection from across his 40-year career, including the seminal The Girl Chewing Gum (1976), an absurdist fantasy applied to the banal setting of a busy London street; Throwing Stones (2004), a personal and political meditation on ongoing conflicts in the Middle East; Dad’s Stick (2012), a surprising personal history; and the Chicago premiere of Dark Light (2014), among others.

Presented in collaboration with the Video Data Bank, Northwestern University’s Department of Art Theory and PracticeMary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, and the University of Chicago’s Film Studies Center. Smith presents his work at the Block Museum of Art on Wednesday, October 15 and at the Logan Center for the Arts on Friday, October 17.

An Interview with Jonathan Monaghan

Posted by | Conversations at the Edge | Posted on | October 10, 2014

During his time in Chicago Jonathan Monaghan sat down with Kayla Lewis, a second year Art & Technology MFA candidate here at SAIC, to speak about his surreal explorations of power, value, and the role of technology.

Monaghan presented a series of his works entitles Alien Fanfare at CATE September 18th 2014. He creates sculpture and animated video installations that challenge the boundaries between the real, imagined, and virtual. Receiving his BFA from the New York Institute of Technology in 2008 and his MFA from the University of Maryland in 2011, Monaghan currently lives and works in Washington, D.C.

Jonathan Monaghan

Jonathan Monaghan

Kayla Lewis: Can you give a summary of where you’re from and how your upbringing or places you’ve lived have impacted your work?

Jonathan Monaghan: I was born and raised in Rockaway Beach, Queens.  It was a pretty Irish enclave, fairly poor, and it was desolate during the winter. The Ramones wrote a song about it. I went to a Catholic School, so there is that connection to some of the religious iconography I use. But beyond that, in my short lifetime I saw Manhattan go from being a prison for the poor to a fortress for the rich. I identity with New York, and seeing its changes, influences the way in which I deal with wealth and power in my work.

KL: Which artists, writers, designers, and directors do you look to for inspiration?

JM: There is so many. I think I steal from Kubrick a lot; there is such a detailed sharpness to his cinematic compositions, which in a way creates this constant menacing sense that something is wrong. Likewise in Franz Kafka and Haruki Murakami, there is this surreal imagery interjected with the banalities of everyday life. I also steal from design magazines. I steal from Pixar. I steal from dead artists, like when Rembrandt paints something gold or furry, or when Zubaron makes a bound lamb seem like a god. I like the saturation in early Netherlandish painting, and I sometimes steal their drapery. Recently I’ve been enjoying the work and writing of Hito Steyerl.

Still from Alien Fanfare (Jonathan Monaghan, 2014). Courtesy of the artist.

Still from Alien Fanfare (Jonathan Monaghan, 2014). Courtesy of the artist.

KL: Your works are permeated with many political and cultural references that could be perceived as rather oblique, yet your work has been shown around the world. How pertinent is it that people understand the references when viewing your works?

JM: I don’t think it is that important. The work is designed to maintain an unsettling ambiguity where meanings barely materialize, or are purposefully hidden. Additionally the reasons for my choice of imagery are due to their universal qualities. There is something menacing and evil looking about the Technodrome, even if you’ve never seen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

KL: I noticed Kawara’s Oct.31.1978 on the wall in Rainbow Narcosis. Would you consider this to be a type of Easter egg, given your interest in video games? What was your reason in including it?

JM: When I was designing video game levels in high school, I would incorporate these “Easter eggs,” such as hidden rooms or environmental details like signs, which had specific references into the designs. I do similar stuff in my work today, with fragments of information that most people will never pick up on. It all comes from the nature of the process; you have to make and design everything, so when I am placing a book for instance in this computer-generated environment, I’ll have to pick what book that is. The On Kawara piece isn’t so hidden, but it is certainly intentional. I was creating this luxurious loft, which of course would have your iconic postwar, interior-design-friendly, expensive artwork. Gerhard Richter is placed in that environment too.  But I also like the notion that these worlds I create, operate in some alternate time and place and so On Kawara’s meditations were in mind as well.

Still from Mothership (Jonathan Monaghan, 2013). Courtesy of the artist.

Still from Mothership (Jonathan Monaghan, 2013). Courtesy of the artist.

KL: Your work is hyper realistic, but the characters and settings are often completely bizarre, would you explain what that conflation brings to the work?

JM: There is an environment in my new piece, Escape Pod, which is taken almost straight from an advertisement for a luxury designer walk-in closet. The only difference is there is an escape pod hovering over this designer bed, and it is a cross between a science fiction spaceship, a baroque reliquary and a WiFi router. I think the fantastical interjection into something banal and commercial can help uncover some critical insight on the apparently seamless condition of our lived experience. Media’s distortions of our perception of reality seem to increase exponentially with new digital technologies. When making work with these same media, I think its important the work understands its own artificiality.

KL: What is the process like behind your animations as far as choosing themes and then creating environments and characters?

JM: Things usually start in an art museum, looking at works of art from Western history. Then I create crude little sketches of objects and environments, often with word descriptors, like “spaceship disco,” “oculus anus,” “ATM egg,” “Whole Foods altar,” or “Eames hospital equipment.” From there I begin gathering reference images and I start modeling and assembling my worlds virtually.

KL: How do you see your style evolving in the future?

JM: Well I have been focusing on some sculptural works. I have started on a piece that takes a very direct and potentially controversial approach to looking at imagery of authority, so I’ll let you know how that goes.

Kayla Lewis graduated from Ohio State University with an English degree and is currently a second year MFA candidate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her focus is in Art and Technology Studies, which centers around the meaning of using technology in art as much as the technical skills themselves.

“Current pursuits include chemical structures, outer space, and the nature of language. I don’t limit myself to one focus or medium. Everything overlaps with everything else, and that overlap is where my work lies. “

On Andrew Lampert…

Posted by | George William Price | Posted on | October 8, 2014

You lucky blog readers are in for another treat this week, with second year graduate Art History student Elizabeth Metcalfe’s musings on how Andrew Lampert as both a producer and a conservator questions, reconstructs and ultimately expands what we as an audience perceive the scope of Cinema to be. 

Still from El Adios Largos Y Mas (Andrew Lampert, 2013). Courtesy of the artist.

Still from El Adios Largos Y Mas (Andrew Lampert, 2013). Courtesy of the artist.

The term curator derives from the Latin word cura, meaning “care.”  As an artist, archivist, and Curator of Collections at Anthology Film Archives, Andrew Lampert’s practice fully embraces the role of caretaker. Often preserving fragile, outdated technological forms and placing them in contemporary contexts, Lampert encourages viewers to consider the ways in which our interactions with technology transform over time. Working as a type of archaeologist, Lampert discovers what is lost and forgotten—as in the case of the found Spanish language-dubbed print of Robert Altman’s 1973 film The Long Goodbye—and then reconstructs, reenacts, or repeats his discoveries in order to form new narratives.

As an art history student, the anachronistic themes within Lampert’s films appeal to my interest in a dynamic, living history. While an object can be preserved, its surrounding environment is constantly in flux, therefore altering the object’s relationship to history itself. In an age where obsolescent or outmoded technologies are romanticized, Lampert reveals the meaningful relationships that emerge when the past and present are conflated. By blurring the borders of film and performance, Lampert makes these interactions even more apparent. He contracts cinema rather than expanding it, emphasizing the social space that emerges between the projectionist, the flat screen and the active audience.

On October 9, Lampert will bring his “contracted cinema” to the Gene Siskel Film Center for Conversations at the Edge, giving viewers the unique opportunity to actively participate in his site-specific live media performances. I for one am so excited not only to see how Lampert discusses his relationship to the archive but also to experience how he performs that relationship. See you there!

 

October 9 – Andrew Lampert

Posted by | Conversations at the Edge | Posted on | October 6, 2014

Thursday, October 9th | Andrew Lampert in person!

Still from El Adios Largos Y Mas (Andrew Lampert, 2013). Courtesy of the artist.

Still from El Adios Largos Y Mas (Andrew Lampert, 2013). Courtesy of the artist.

Artist, archivist, and curator Andrew Lampert is known for his mischievous live media performances and hilarious short films and videos, many of which cheekily turn “cinema” on its head. Lampert uses improvisation, unusual projector placement, and sets of game-like instructions to explore (and exploit) the dynamic relationships between projector, projectionist, audience, and screen. For CATE, Lampert turns his attention to the Gene Siskel Film Center in a site-specific performance created especially for the evening. The performance is accompanied by a series of Lampert’s shorts, including El Adios Largos (2013), an inspired reconstruction of Robert Altman’s 1973 feature The Long Goodbye from imperfect source material.

On Carlos Motta…

Posted by | George William Price | Posted on | October 1, 2014

This week SAIC graduate student Charles Rice writes about how he has drawn inspiration from Carlos Motta’s work in order to develop a practice informed by abandonment, autobiography and memory.

Still from Nefandus (Carlos Motta, 2013). Courtesy of the artist.

Still from Nefandus (Carlos Motta, 2013). Courtesy of the artist.

My own artistic practice is centered on my own (queer) body and how I may establish a narrative that acknowledges my own lived histories. I am interested in how one can relate the epistemological significance of pre-Hispanic culture to that of contemporary Queer culture—a culture that, although it may not trace its heritage to any specific location, is nonetheless operating as a diaspora within a postcolonial framework. How can one create a personal and collective identity through the transgression of an imposed “colonial” language?

Carlos Motta’s practice directly engages with South America’s visual and vernacular landscape in order to establish counter narratives that recognize those that are suppressed. Motta employs the use of quotation and repetition as a method of reinforcing the suppressed individual’s absoluteness, allowing community members to reinforce their own (collective) self-esteem and worth. This use of self-quotation and self-reflexiveness can be seen in other politically oppositional and combative movements, including the gay rights movement and feminist movement, as embodied by the slogan “The personal is political.”

It is this political gesture found within Motta’s body of work that has made me so excited to see The Nefandus Trilogy at CATE tomorrow. Motta’s concepts of how memories become embedded into a cultural and physical landscape fascinate me. His work allows for these hidden memories to come forward as an act of self-knowing emergence. I believe that this act is an important political statement.

Charles Rice is a second year MFA candidate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago working in the Performance Department. Charles was born and raised in the northern suburbs of Chicago. He graduated from Arizona State University in 2011 with a BFA and was awarded JurorsFirst Choice Award in undergraduate juried exhibition for video To My Mom and Dad. Charles has participated in exhibitions at several spaces across Arizona and Illinois, including: Sullivan Gallery, Mana Contemporary, Harry Wood Gallery, and Gallery 100.

October 2 – Carlos Motta

Posted by | Conversations at the Edge | Posted on | September 29, 2014

Thursday, October 2nd | Carlos Motta in person!

Still from Nefandus (Carlos Motta, 2013). Courtesy of the artist.

Still from Nefandus (Carlos Motta, 2013). Courtesy of the artist.

Carlos Motta’s practice draws upon various political histories in an attempt to articulate counter narratives that recognize suppressed histories, communities, and identities. Composed of the three films “Nefandus”, “Shipwreck (Naufragios)” and “The Defeated (La visión de los vencidos)” his 2013 “Nefandus Trilogy” is a haunting examination of pre-Hispanic homoeroticism and its brutal stigmatization during Europe’s colonization of the Americas. Motta accompanies the trilogy with excerpts from his ongoing “Democracy Cycle”, including “We Who Feel Differently”(2011), a database documentary that addresses critical issues of contemporary queer culture, and “Gender Talents” (in-progress), a multiplatform documentary on international trans and intersex activism.

On Jennifer Reeder…

Posted by | George William Price | Posted on | September 24, 2014

I’m delighted to publish SAIC graduate student Cassie Carpenter’s short text on why she, as a woman who traces her roots to the Midwest, is so excited to see Jennifer Reeder’s work at Conversation at the Edge (CATE) this week.

Still from A Million Miles Away (Jennifer Reeder, 2014). Courtesy of the artist.

Still from A Million Miles Away (Jennifer Reeder, 2014). Courtesy of the artist.

Regional identity has always been somewhat of a challenge for me. I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but spent my formative years in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. While I spent twelve years on the East coast, I felt strongly tied to my Midwestern roots. There is something about life here that is complex in its assumed simplicity, an attribute that tethered me to the Midwest. Since my return to “the heartland”, I have immersed myself in the narratives that construct the ethos of the region. In my search, I’ve found that the heartfelt tales of honest hard work and pulling one’s self up by one’s own bootstraps only scratch the surface of the Midwest landscape.

This is why I am excited to see Jennifer Reeder’s A Million Miles Away (2013) as part of her show at CATE this week. The film peers into the lives of adolescent girls in small town Ohio and explores some of the complexities of coming-of-age in such an environment. I’m interested to see the ways in which she engages her narrative craftsmanship to expose the volatile moment of entering adulthood in a place fraught with failures but determined to survive them. Similarly, my own search to understand my connection to the Midwest has been integral to my embrace of adulthood. The opportunity to explore that experience through Reeder’s lens is thrilling.

Cassie Carpenter is a third year, dual-degree graduate candidate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Having roots in both Milwaukee and Philadelphia, she brings a diverse set of values to her professional career. Her unique perspective has contributed to projects at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Evanston Art Center, Miller Beach Arts and Creative District, and the Sullivan Galleries.

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