On jonCates: 鬼镇 Ghosttown

Posted by | Nicky Ni | Posted on | November 14, 2018

jonCates, still from 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown), 2018. Image courtesy of the artist

The influential work of Chicago-based new media artist jonCates mixes the urgency of punk with the poetics of glitch. His latest project is a collaborative, multiplatform critique of the myths and ideology of the American west. Released as a feature film, virtual reality game, soundtrack, and book, 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) showcases the work of a number of activists, artists, musicians working with similar ideas.

jonCates, still from 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown), 2018. Image courtesy of the artist

The film stars Siera Begaye, a model, activist, and member of Diné tribe of the Navajo Nation, as herself; artist and cultural theorist Vanalyne Green as The Voice of the Future Cowgirl; photographer Emily Mercedes Rich as The Cowgirl; new media and performance artist Lal Avgen as The Voice of The Cowgirl; and new media artist Ei Jane Janet Lin as The Girl From Gold Mountain.

jonCates, still from 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown), 2018. Image courtesy of the artist

Music for the soundtrack for 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) was composed by multimedia artist Ambrosia Bardos, who performs under the name Morher,  as well as Hung Tzu-NiCyrus PirehIvor LanePREYER (Ebony Miranda and Adam Briggs), dolphin midwives, That Faithful Engine, and those Blessed Instruments, Josh Spelman-Hall, and jonCates. The artist, radio producer, and curator Jeff Kolar served as sound designer. 


jonCates, still from 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown), 2018. Image courtesy of the artist

Finally, the the design for the centerpiece of the project, an immersive, 3D ghosttown, for which the project is named, was led by the artist and game designer Evan Meaney, whose work centers around the critique and analysis of media.

jonCates: 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown)

Posted by | Nicky Ni | Posted on | November 12, 2018

jonCates in person

jonCates, still from 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown), 2018. Image courtesy of the artist

Chicago-based new media artist jonCates’ influential body of work mixes the urgency of punk with the poetics of glitch. His latest project, a glitch Western, takes shape as a feature film and interactive game that critiques the myths and ideology of the American West. Part essay, part documentary, and part genre fantasy, 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) traces the intersecting paths of Siera Begaye, Native American artist and organizer of the Diné (Navajo) Nation; the archetypal Cowgirl, a descendant of European settlers; and Girl from Gold Mountain, a deity dreamed into existence by Chinese immigrants building the transcontinental railroad. The Cowgirl journeys toward a hallucinatory ghost town, the Girl from Gold Mountain embarks on a mission to collect the bones of her believers, and Begaye sets a new course for the future. 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) disrupts the Western’s most pernicious tropes with glitches and noise, connecting yesterday’s traumas and technologies to those of today.

2018, USA, DCP, 55 min + discussion

jonCates is associate professor in the Film, Video, New Media and Animation department at SAIC. His work has been exhibited, screened, performed and presented internationally, including at the Hong-Gah Museum,Taipei, Taiwan; the MuseumsQuartier, Vienna; Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, Scotland; the Instituto Cultural de León, Spain; the Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada; the Wrong Digital Art Biennale, Babycastles Gallery, New York; SPEKTRUM, Berlin; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; and Rhizome. In 2005 he created the concept of Dirty New Media and is widely recognized as developing concepts, communities, and discourses of the unstable arts now known as glitch art.

Coco Fusco: Cuba Portraits

Posted by | Nicky Ni | Posted on | November 5, 2018

Coco Fusco in person

Coco Fusco, still from La confesión, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist

For more than 30 years, interdisciplinary artist Coco Fusco has explored notions of race, identity, and power through video and performance. In recent years, Fusco has examined a number of legendary stories that lack pictorial representation due to institutional censorship or an absence of governmental documentation. She presents two intimate artist portraits centered on concepts of the body, state control, and expurgation, investigating their effects on artistic production and political discourse in Cuba. Both created in 2015, La confesión explores the public confession of poet and accused counterrevolutionary Heberto Padilla, while La botella al mar de María Elenafocuses on the state intimidation of political reformer María Elena Cruz Varela. These portraits examine the relationship of art and artists to our contemporary political moment while charting a legacy of regime power and control of information.

Presented in collaboration with the Video Data Bank.

2015, Cuba / USA, multiple formats, ca 65 min + discussion

Coco Fusco is a Cuban American interdisciplinary artist and writer. She is the Andrew Banks Endowed Professor of Art at the University of Florida and the recipient of several fellowships and awards, such as a CINTAS Fellowship (2014), Guggenheim Fellowship (2013), Absolut Art Writing Award (2013), Fulbright Fellowship (2013), United States Artist Fellowship (2012), and a Herb Alpert Award in the Arts (2003). Fusco’s performances and videos have been presented in the 56th Venice Biennale, two Whitney Biennials, BAM’s Next Wave Festival, the Biennale of Sydney, Johannesburg Biennale, Kwangju Biennale, Shanghai Biennale, InSite_O5, Bienal do Mercosul, transmediale, London International Festival of Theatre, Videobrasil, and Performa 05. Her works have also been shown at the Tate Liverpool, England; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, Spain. She is represented by Alexander Gray Associates in New York.

Refiguring Binaries

Posted by | Nicky Ni | Posted on | October 29, 2018

Curator Kelani Nichole in person

Eva Papamargariti, still from Always a Body Always a Thing, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist

In recent years, the contours of a new contemporary art movement have begun to emerge, forged in reaction to the ideologies of Silicon Valley, the platforming and globalization of culture, and technologies of power like artificial intelligence, photorealistic computer-generated images, and virtual and augmented reality. These “Simulists” simultaneously embrace and subvert technology as their means of interrogation–expressing humanist, nonbinary, and decolonized futures. Curated by Kelani Nichole and featuring works by Morehshin Allahyari, LaTurbo Avedon, Meriem Bennani, Faith Holland, Lu Yang, Lorna Mills, Eva Papamargariti, Tabita Rezaire, and SAIC faculty members Claudia Hart and Snow Yunxue Fu, this program explores identity, the body, and the politics of technology. Virtual space is inhabited with queer bodies and cultural identity is reclaimed through subversive uses of technology. The boundaries of technology and the body are blurred, as are the lines between author, image, and copy. Possible futures emerge as the layers of simulation that mediate contemporary culture are revealed.

2015–18, USA, Canada, China, South Africa, United Kingdom, ca 60 min + discussion

Kelani Nichole is a design strategist and exhibition maker based in New York City. Nichole is director of the Current Museum of Art, a cooperative collection of contemporary media art that examines technology’s impact on the human condition. She is the founder and owner of TRANSFER an experimental gallery supporting artists with exhibitions of challenging variable media formats. Since 2016, TRANSFER Gallery in Brooklyn has been dedicated to women refiguring technology through exhibition and curation.

An Interview with Peter Burr

Posted by | Nicky Ni | Posted on | October 26, 2018

Peter Burr, still from Dirtscraper. Image courtesy of the artist

During his visit to SAIC in this week, Peter Burr sat down with CATE Curatorial Assistant Nicky Ni for an interview about his background in painting and drawing, his iconic computer animation style, and his multimedia practice that spans from video, performance, to immersive and interactive game installation.

NN: Could you give a brief summary of where you’re coming from and how you got to where you are today? I notice that your earlier body of work is different from the program you screened at CATE last night.

PB: I went to Carnegie Mellon University for undergrad, a school that had so much expensive technology and radical professional discourse. I grew up using computers, but nothing to the magnitude of the access that I had at CMU. Initially I studied panting and enjoyed putting a lot of labor into each individual image. I gravitated toward time-based work in part because of the labor that was involved. After I discovered After Effects as a tool to collage things that I found on the Internet I got excited about using the media I grew up on—the games, movies and television—and reverse this firehose of mass media by switching from full-time user to full-time maker…There was something cathartic about it.

After CMU I started the video label Cartune Xprez, which was born out of my connection to the Bookmobile Project: An Airstream trailer that took yearly curated zines and publications on tour. I joined this project in the early 2000s and ran it together with a group of artists and activists from North America. One of the core goals of that project was to take art forms and ideas that are confined to a small output (in this case we exhibited zines and artist books) and distribute them to a larger community. My former interests in animation, performance, installation, and my exposure to the Bookmobile Project, made me realize that instead of making work for film festivals, I could create my own mechanism and take the work on tour. So, I started Cartune Xprez, sort of a touring roadshow, and my work became intertwined with a community of artists who worked at an individual capacity with a sensibility of bridging high-brow and low-brow cultures.

That changed a lot several years ago. I was turning 30, and there were just a lot of factors in my community and in my values that were changing. I realized that my practice as I had built it thus far wasn’t serving the person I was becoming, so I took a break. When I reemerged, my practice looked more like the work we saw at CATE.

Peter Burr, Cartune Xprez event documentation. Image courtesy of the artist

NN: You once said that you wanted your work to be scalable — from festival screening, performance, to Time Square take-over — how is this versatility important to you both conceptually and strategically?

PB: For me that doesn’t seem to be a very conceptual maneuver. I get motivated to make new work by thinking of some radical formal gestures that I have never made before. Like Dirtscraper, I was motivated to make a room-size multi-projection interactive computer simulation. I was able to devote an entire year making a work that thus far has only been seen in one room in Richmond, Virginia, in part because of the knowledge that I could fluidly translate it into other forms. In terms of access, I want people to see this work, so I think of it in an open-ended capacity. As the CATE program revealed, all of this installation and performance work has the potential to become a work of cinema to continue its life long after the genesis form has disappeared. I guess you could also trace my interest in this approach back to the moment when I graduated from university. At the time I no longer had access to a computer after primarily making computer-made time-based work for the previous few years, so I just started to make zines and comics. I think this idea of scalability and self-sustainability has always been at the core of how I operate.

Peter Burr, still from Dirtscraper. Image courtesy of the artist

NN: I was re-reading Hito Steyerl’s “In Defense of the Poor Image” and was thinking about this question of accessibility. She argues for wider accessibility at the expense of sacrificing some quality, and it seems to me that your being very fluid about translating your work into various forms is aligned with that.

PB: I love that. One of the things that plagues me is that I don’t always have access to spaces that have a high standard of quality to show the work. I make work to each individual pixel, and the way I have been dealing with this over the past few years is to simplify the resolution of the materials. Now I have a 4k monitor and I spend a lot of time working with all these images, feeling really bound to the integrity of each individual pixel. So, when shown at places without certain standards of output, the work just won’t be as powerful—I know that and I’m fine with it. It still has these visceral and blunt gestures, but there are details that are lost–the micro nuances that create certain key effects.

NN: Indeed, you have a very iconic animation style that visualizes every pixel and generates dazzling moirés, which seems to underscore the digital nature of the work. Can you talk a little bit about this aesthetic choice and how it conceptually folds into the narrative?

PB: As I said, I was using digital tools as a way to collage different sets of imagery, but when this strategy no longer served me at an emotional level I stopped making work. When I came back to my practice after a healthy break I had begun Freudian psychoanalysis and was encouraged to dig into older aspects of my own life. I thought a lot about the first tool I used to make digital graphics: a software called MacPaint on a black-and-white Macintosh computer. So, I started to make drawings using a MacPaint emulator and I got really excited playing with different fill patterns. There I saw a formal continuity between the maximalist collage work I used to make and the much more sober work coming out of this MacPaint doodling. Over time I taught myself to translate these tools into more contemporary technologies. The works we included in the CATE program underscores the continuum of this translation.

There are also practical reasons this work looks the way it does. This aesthetic sensibility you’ve pinpointed is also a workflow in which broad strokes can contain a lot of detail.  I can make longer films from larger gestures that otherwise would take a huge team to accomplish. Like if I were to make the next Red Dead Redemption game, I would need to hire 400 people and it would still take over five years, haha.

Peter Burr, still from Special Effect (cinema edition), 2014. Image courtesy of the artist

NN: One of the films you screened at CATE, Special Effect, originally was a performance. Do you still perform it?

PB: I think after I had traveled for some 50 shows over the course of a couple of years, the act of performing started to lose its shine. As a result, I was thinking more about how to archive its liveness within a digital spectrum. And that’s how I got thinking about video games and how to translate this project into something where I replace myself as the actionable center with someone from the audience.

NN: You have done some VR projects and have expressed interest in turning existing work into more immersive installation. What do you think full immersion can provide to the participants in relation to your work? From what I observe there are so much skepticism and hype around this type of technology.

PB: Sure, I would say that there is a lot of hype around all kinds of new technology. Comparing forms of media, AR, VR, cinema, painting, and games, I think books are still the best interactive medium. When I’m reading a good book and I’m immersed in it, it creates this fusion of my own experience and the world that I’m living in. Perhaps what I find exciting about VR—or WR for “whatever reality”—is that the rules around it haven’t been so codified yet. Cinema, for example, has been around for more than a century and many core conventions of how to tell a cinematic story have already been discussed. For these newer technologies, the grand scheme of things hasn’t been set yet and it feels very exciting to be making these discoveries.

NN: Thank you Peter!

Nicky Ni is a graduate student in art history and arts administration at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Peter Burr: Pattern Language

Posted by | Nicky Ni | Posted on | October 22, 2018

Peter Burr, still from The Mess, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist

Artist and animator Peter Burr creates videos, performances, and video games that conjure virtual spaces and illusive patterns. Burr’s singularity not only resides in his mesmerizing moiré sequences but also in his aesthetic of privileging every crisp pixel. This program features a series of single-channel computer animations extracted from Burr’s expanded projects. Derived from Aria End, Burr’s collaborative project with game designer Porpentine, The Mess (2016) follows a solitary woman who is absorbed by the process of cleaning an abandoned arcology, while Pattern Language (2017) uses architect Christopher Alexander’s design theories to produce a self-generated labyrinth of flickering pixels. Originally created as a media performance and digital tribute to Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker, Special Effect (2014) follows unnamed characters searching a lost landscape. Burr discusses the inspirations for his work and introduces his latest project, Dirtscraper, a series of iterative animations.

2012–18, USA, digital files, ca. 60 min + discussion

Peter Burr in person

Peter Burr is an artist from Brooklyn, New York, specializing in animation and installation. His work has been presented at venues across the world including Documenta 14, Athens; Le Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; MoMA PS1, New York; and the Barbican Centre, London. Previously, he worked under the alias Hooliganship and founded the video label Cartune Xprez in 2006, through which he produced live multimedia exhibitions showcasing artists working in experimental animation. He has received numerous grants and awards including the Guggenheim Fellowship (2018), the Creative Capital Grant (2016), and the Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Fellowship (2016).

Daniel Eisenberg’s Introduction to Les Messagers

Posted by | Nicky Ni | Posted on | October 18, 2018

To recapture yesterday’s screening of Les Messagers by French filmmakers Hélène Crouzillat and Laetitia Tura, we are sharing the text of Daniel Eisenberg’s beautiful introduction to the program. Daniel Eisenberg is Professor in Film, Video, New Media, and Animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has been making films and videos at the edges of documentary and experimental media for thirty years.

In the late winter of 2017, as I was just beginning a stay in Berlin, my friend Nathanäel sent me a link to Les Messagers.  The film you are about to see describes a condition of extremes; of economic and political hardship, and a confrontation with the post-colonial condition that’s been sustained for decades. The situation of African migrants to Europe has ebbed and flowed over many years, but at this very moment has reached crisis condition…

Over the past few months, as Libya has cracked down on African migrants seeking to flee to Europe, and as Italy has clamped down on migrants who make it to their shores, Morocco has become the latest jumping-off point from the African continent for those who’ve given up everything to go to Europe. One flash point is Ceuta. It’s a Spanish enclave at the northern tip of the country, just 14 km from the European mainland. And although Ceuta and the other Spanish-flagged city on the African mainland Melilla, are just the latest points of departure for those desperate enough to risk their lives and whatever resources they may have for the unknown journey to Europe, this migration becomes visible to us only in moments of crisis.

Since the catastrophic migration of Syrian and Afghan refugees from their homelands in 2015, the silent and segregated presence of the foreigner, the stranger, and the exile, became ubiquitous on the streets of Europe’s major cities, a daily confrontation with the assumptions of privilege and distance… as we well know, our northern, western privilege allows us to live at a distance from the effects of that privilege: the colonial and post-colonial legacies, the dominion of economies that are based on remote cheap labor, resource extraction, and client state control. Who would want to live in these places?  The better question to ask is, how dire must life get to leave one’s home, family, culture, language and way of life? For leaving is a wager against the long odds of losing everything, including your life.

Differentiation begins to be felt… one is classified as a war refugee, another someone seeking amnesty, yet so many others, who do not fit into these neat European, juridical classifications remain present.  They are classified as economic refugees, and suffer the fate of in-between-ness. They are mostly Black, mostly African, and come from places as extreme as these others, but are not legally recognized as being in life-threatening conditions. Searching for subsistence, survival, or better job prospects and a higher standard of living is not something ones does easily. Economic refugees see little opportunity to escape poverty in their own countries and are willing to start over in a new country for the chance at a better life.

In a classic strategy of nationalist and racial politics: those on the right have instrumentalized the migrant as a threat to their own national way of life – an economic and cultural interloper, threatening cohesion and continuity. But the reality is quite different:  In the June 20, 2018 issue of Nature, the International Journal of Science, the headline reads:

“Migrants and refugees are good for economies”: Analysis of 30 years of data from Western Europe refutes suggestions that asylum seekers pose a financial burden.

So the real question is: what are the real motivations for these xenophobic responses? And perhaps a deeper question? Where does the responsibility lie for the historically catastrophic upheaval of peoples and cultures that the colonial adventure produced in the global south over the last 500 years?  That’s a big question indeed… but we shouldn’t shy away from asking it.

As for Les Messagers, I would only say that the film is not interested in a particular moment of crisis but the larger crisis in general. Seeing the larger condition through personal terms allows us to confront it with our senses, and through the poetic powers of cinema. That’s a power unique to this space and these tools.

In a letter to a friend just after the war in 1946, the prescient Norwegian writer Stig Dagerman wrote:

“A journalist I have not yet become, and it doesn’t look as if I’ll ever be one. I have no wish to acquire all the deplorable attributes that go to make up a perfect journalist. I find it hard to understand the people I meet at the Allied Press hotel – they think that a small hunger-strike is more interesting than the hunger of multitudes. While hunger-riots are sensational, hunger itself is not sensational, and what poverty-stricken and bitter people here think, becomes interesting only when poverty and bitterness break out in a catastrophe. Journalism is the art of coming too late as early as possible. I’ll never master that.”

I made a commitment to Nathanäel to find a way to bring the work to our students, to make visible one of the most important and chronic crises of our age.  I am thankful to Amy Beste and Nathanäel for their persistence in finding the right time and place for the film, and of course, to Letitia and Helene for their extraordinary, poetic work.

On Les Messagers

Posted by | Nicky Ni | Posted on | October 17, 2018

Hélène Crouzillat and Laetitia Tura, still from Les Messagers, 2014. Image courtesy of the artists and Prima Luce

Throughout their individual careers, artists and filmmakers Hélène Crouzillat and Laetitia Tura have produced works about borders and individuals made most vulnerable by them. The two introduce their starkly poetic feature Les Messagers (2014) which presents the harrowing testimonies of migrants traveling from African into Europe. In advance of tomorrow’s program, we repost an interview of the directors conducted by Laetitia Jourdan from Prima Luce, production company and distributor of Les Messagers.

Why did you decide to make the film?

We initially decided to focus our work on the migrants who crossed Morocco toward Europe, and particularly at the Melilla border, a Spanish city, plot of land at the edge of Morocco. After hearing numerous stories from migrants about others who had died or disappeared, we began focusing our interviews around this question. We found out that, unfortunately, these disappearances and deaths were very frequent, but also due to a collective logic difficult to understand and to demonstrate.

We decided to base our film on this idea. According to our research, the root causes of this disappearance phenomenon are blurred. European policies, surveillance devices, and border walls have forced migrants onto a very dangerous path, and increased their criminality. For instance, when migrants want to cross the border, they have to change their identity, and if they die during this unfortunate travel, no one could know their real name, nor where they came from. They disappear.

Moreover, the criminalization of migration allows third-party coastguards (contract workers from Morocco, working in exchange for development aid from Europe) to commit abuses, deportation, and exactions outside of the legal framework. In short, migrants are treated like subhumans and no one who’s in charge of these abuses is brought to justice. Besides, the disappearance of the bodies hinders any precise accounting: there is no visibility. Most of the stories we collected have never been reported in the media, so we suppose that this phenomenon affects more people than officially estimated.

Hélène Crouzillat and Laetitia Tura, still from Les Messagers, 2014. Image courtesy of the artists and Prima Luce

What are your conclusions after making the film?

The disappearance of migrants is proof of a deep dehumanization in our civilization. What we refuse them is the right of humanity — in that human society is based on the respect of its dead. By removing this human right – which distinguish us from the animals – we’re opening the door to any form of barbarity.

What do you think of the recent crisis in the Mediterranean?

The recent crisis in the Mediterranean has been made visible as “crisis” in mainstream media because of the close succession of wrecks and the number of people who are concerned. It is an “event” in our lives. However, this is nothing new. This phenomenon has been going on for many years, without anyone understanding the role that the European policies have played in it. And because there is a real eclipse on what really happens in the European border, we introduce this phenomenon as a crisis. I [Hélène Crouzillat] would assert that it is not a “crisis” but a phenomenon built over years, whose the violence will continue to increase as long as we refuse to understand what is happening and why. The more violent and coercive control and surveillance devices are, the more the ways of travel are industrialized, the more deaths and disappearances there will be.

Hélène Crouzillat and Laetitia Tura, still from Les Messagers, 2014. Image courtesy of the artists and Prima Luce

What can be done to dignify the bodies of the migrants that drown? What can be done to identify and repatriate them?

It is essential to honour each migrant’s memory, although because of the reasons discussed earlier, we often don’t know their real identities. Families, friends, migrants themselves, need to memorialize these deaths, whatever the way to do it. Unfortunately, these acts of memory make sense only when the reasons of the death are known and understood, and it’s rarely the case here. In fact, it is rare to be able to identify and repatriate the bodies. It might be possible with many human and financial resources, but I don’t know how Europe could participate in a system like that without acknowledging its role in the deaths and disappearances itself?

What we have observed during shooting is the fact that for now, the memorial process (keeping the identity and sharing it, taking care of the bodies and burying or repatriating them) is based on individual initiatives.

Where do these bodies mostly end up?

It’s difficult to say something about it… During our work, we followed no association (for example, the Red Cross, or other international organization charged with the collection of bodies). We discovered in Zarzis, in the South of the Tunisia, two common graves in the middle of a vacant lot. Concerning these two common graves, the authorities just have moved the bodies from the coast, and buried them discreetly, aside. Clearly they didn’t have the means to identify the bodies. They acted quickly, confronted by the broad scope of the facts.

Founded in 2012, Prima Luce is a production company based in Bordeaux, France.

Oct 18 – Hélène Crouzillat and Laetitia Tura: Les Messagers

Posted by | Nicky Ni | Posted on | October 15, 2018

Hélène Crouzillat and Laetitia Tura in person

Hélène Crouzillat and Laetitia Tura, still from Les Messagers, 2014. Image courtesy of the artists and Prima Luce

Throughout their individual careers, artists and filmmakers Hélène Crouzillat and Laetitia Tura have examined the harrowing histories of borders and the individuals made most vulnerable by them. Their starkly poetic film Les Messagers (2014) focuses on the border at Melilla, a Spanish city at the northern edge of Morocco. Through the testimonies of migrants attempting to cross into the European city by land or to the continent by sea, Crouzillat and Tura expose the dark irony of a guard’s claim that the border “does no harm.” Each migrant recounts the ways they escaped death over the course of their individual journeys. Each also tells the stories of those who did not—adults and children dying of exhaustion, violence, or drowning. With carefully composed shots of the Mediterranean, Moroccan desert, and migrant grave sites, Crouzillat and Tura convey the desolation of these “messengers” who bear witness to the metaphysical costs of geopolitics. In French, Arabic, English, Spanish, and Pulaar with English subtitles.

Presented in collaboration with SAIC’s Department of Liberal Arts and Department of Visual and Critical Studies.

Hélène Crouzillat is a documentarian. Her fields of investigation focus on labor, processes of relegation, and resistance in society. Speech—its collection and formulation—is at the center of her practice. She works at the intersection of cinema and live performance, experimenting with different forms of narrative. Crouzillat’s principal artworks are: Corps de métiers (2011–12), En travail (2014–15), St-Ouen 01(2016–17), Amnia (2016–17). She is currently working on a feature-length film, L’Effet Bahamas. She is a lecturer at Université Paris XIII.

Laetitia Tura is a photographer and filmmaker whose projects focus on geopolitical borders and the invisibility of the experiences of exiles. In addition to projects related to Les Messagers (2014), she has made works on the border of Southern Lebanon (Jnoub, 2001) and the border between Mexico and the United States (Linewatch, 2004–06). She is currently finishing production on Ils me laissent l’exil, a film on the memory of the Spanish dictatorship. Tura’s work has been exhibited at Galerie du bar Floréal, Paris; Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration, Paris; Galerie d’Art de l’Instituto Tecnológico de Sonora, Mexico; International Biennale de l’Image Possible, Liège, Belgium; as well as the film festivals Cinéma du Reél, Paris and Pan-African Film Festival of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, among others. She has held a résidence de réalisation du Grec at the Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration, Paris and a residency at Périphérie, Montreuil, France. Tura studied at Université Paris VIII.

On Stephen Varble

Posted by | Nicky Ni | Posted on | October 10, 2018

Daniel Cahill as Sage Purple Pythagoras from Stephen Varble’s Journey to the Sun, ca.1980. Photographer unknown.

In the 1970s, Manhattan-based artist Stephen Varble gained infamy for his gender-confounding costume performances. Art historian and curator David Getsy, who will present excerpts of Varble’s ribald unfinished epic, Journey to the Sun (1978-1983), at the event tomorrow, shares his research on Varble’s artistic practices in relation to the video. This screening coincides with the exhibition, Rubbish and Dreams: The Genderqueer Performance Art of Stephen Varble, that Getsy curates at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York. The following excerpt comes from his curatorial text for the exhibition.

Stephen Varble’s last five years were consumed with working on an epic, operatic work of video art: Journey to the Sun. It started in 1978 as a performance about the mythology of Greta Garbo, and Varble invited friends to his Riverside Drive apartment to view his monologues accompanied by projected slides. His ambitions soon outgrew this format, and he turned to video for its ability to combine text, image, and performance. He considered these videos to be revivals of illuminated Medieval manuscripts with their rich visual play between words and pictures, and he called his group of collaborators in the video the “Happy Arts School of Manuscript Illumination.” The aim of the “school” was to promote Varble’s vision of societal transformation through the making of modern fables in the form of videos, books, and prints.

Still from Stephen Varble’s Journey to the Sun (1978-1983)

Journey to the Sun tells the story of a musician, the Grey Crowned Warbler, who undergoes tribulation and metamorphosis on a journey to transcendence. The tale is a loosely autobiographical fable of an artist who encounters a stern mystical teacher, Sage Purple Pythagoras (played by his partner, Daniel Cahill) who tests the Warbler. Many of Varble’s iconic costumes feature in the video, and he combined elements of his own history with references to literature, religion, and popular culture (notably, Garbo). Combining heavily scripted monologues with improvised performances, Journey to the Sun does not offer a tidy or easily understood narrative. Rather, it sketches a fantastic and surreal visual world in which dreams are realized through the transformations of everyday objects, popular imagery, and rubbish.

Still from Stephen Varble’s Journey to the Sun (1978-1983)

To make this “rodeo-paced” video, Varble filled his apartment with drawings and writings on the walls, blacked out the windows, and began filming scenes both scripted and improvised with collaborators. Journey to the Sun is remarkable for its time due to the complexity and density of the video editing — all of which was done by Varble in the apartment. He liked video tape for its ability to be reproduced cheaply, and he hoped to make multiple “video books” to send into the world. Varble only completed about thirty percent of his planned work before his death from AIDS-related complications in the first days of 1984. This is but a fragment of the much longer video epic Varble hoped would be his major contribution. It is being shown publicly for the first time in relation to the retrospective exhibition Rubbish and Dreams: The Genderqueer Performance Art of Stephen Varble at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, from 29 September 2018 to 27 January 2019.

David Getsy is an art historian, art writer, and curator. His books include Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender (2015) and Queer (2016). His other recent curatorial projects are Jared Buckhiester: Love Me Tender, a 10-year survey of drawings, for the Bureau of General Services—Queer Division in New York (2017) and an exhibition of Stephen Varble’s xerographic prints for Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky (2018). Getsy holds a BA from Oberlin College and a PhD from Northwestern University. He has received fellowships and awards from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Queen Mary University of London, the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Clark Art Institute, and the National Gallery of Art’s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, among others. He teaches at SAIC, where he is the Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of Art History.


For further Reading:

New York Times feature on “Rubbish and Dreams

David Getsy interviewed by THEM magazine on the Stephen Varble’s retrospective

Essay by David Getsy previewing the exhibition

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    Conversations at the Edge is a weekly series of screenings, performances, and talks by groundbreaking media artists.


    CATE is organized by SAIC's Department of Film, Video, New Media, and Animation in collaboration with the Gene Siskel Film Center and SAIC's Video Data Bank, Conversations at the Edge is a dynamic weekly series of screenings, performances, and talks by groundbreaking media artists.


    Programs take place Thursdays at 6pm at the Gene Siskel Film Center (164 N. State / Chicago, IL / 312.846.2600), unless otherwise noted.