On Edward Owens

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | March 22, 2018

Edward Owens, still from Remembrance: A Portrait Study, 1967. Image courtesy of the Filmmakers Cooperative.

This week, we are thrilled to present a screening of rare films by the late Chicago-based artist and School of the Art Institute of Chicago alum, Edward Owens (SAIC 1966-67).
Owens, who was a native of South Side Chicago, made headway the 1960s New York City underground artistic scene with his beautifully crafted films that poetically explore heartbreak, queer desire, and his own family.

In the following excerpt, critic Ed Halter shares his insight on Owens’ work, reflecting on the filmmaker’s time in New York and his final years in Chicago.

Edward Owens: Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts
Ed Halter

In the mid 1960s, Edward Owens was an African-American teenager attending the Art Institute of Chicago when Gregory Markopoulos arrived to found the school’s film program. Owens, who was then studying painting and sculpture, had already been making 8mm movies for a few years; impressed by the maturity of his work, Markopoulos encouraged him to move to New York. Owens arrived in Manhattan in 1966 with Markopoulos, who quickly ushered him into the world of the city’s cultured demimonde, introducing him to figures like Andy Warhol, Gerard Malanga, Marie Menken, Gregory Battcock, and filmmaker-poet Charles Boultenhouse. Soon, Owens became romantically involved with Boultenhouse, and moved into the West Village apartment where Boultenhouse already lived with his lover of many decades, the legendary critic Parker Tyler, who accepted the arrangement.

Edward Owens, still from Remembrance: A Portrait Study, 1967. Courtesy of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative.

Over the next four years, Owens created a cluster of films that display an increasing mastery of form, inspired by Markopoulos’s style but transformed into something purely his own. ‘With each subsequent struggle to complete a film he will leave us breathless with anticipation for his next work,’ Markopoulos remarked around this time. Owens’s featurette Tomorrow’s Promise shows the particular influence of his mentor’s Twice a Man, telling the elliptical tale of a broken romance between a man and a woman through strobing edits, layered images, and dramatically lit nudes. The sophistication of the film is all the more impressive when one considers that Owens was only eighteen years old when he made it. The extant reel of Tomorrow’s Promise still bears the filmmaker’s editing marks, as if a work in progress, though this is the version placed in distribution by Owens, and likely screened at the Fourth International Film Exhibition at Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium in 1968. Even Tyler, who by the 1960s was highly critical of many new filmmakers, granted Owens curmudgeonly praise for the film, writing that Tomorrow’s Promise bore “a quality so pictorially exciting that the next thing he must do is listen to my advice.”

Read the full piece here.

March 22 – Edward Owens: A Portrait Study

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | March 16, 2018

Edward Owens, still from Remembrance: A Portrait Study, 1967. Image courtesy of the Film-makers’ Cooperative.

In the mid 1960s, Edward Owens (SAIC 1966–67), a young African American artist from the South Side of Chicago, burst onto New York’s artistic underground scene with a series of strikingly beautiful films of heartbreak, queer desire, and his own family. With their layered images and flickering edits, the films show the influence of Owens’ mentor, filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos, with whom he had studied as one of the first film students at SAIC. Yet, Owens developed a distinct style, particularly in his painterly approach to portraiture and allegory. These films were lauded by his contemporaries; for example, the critic Parker Tyler included Owens’ 1967 film Remembrance: A Portrait Study as one of the avant-garde’s key works in his landmark study Underground Film: A Critical History. Despite these achievements, Owens’ works have been largely overlooked until recent efforts by the critic Ed Halter and New York’s Film-Makers’ Cooperative to bring them to new light. Rarely screened in his own home town, this evening’s program is a unique opportunity to reassess Owens’ singular body of work.

1966–68, USA, 16mm to 2K digital file, ca 57 min + discussion
Introduced by critic Ed Halter

Edward Owens was an African American artist and filmmaker. He studied painting and sculpture at SAIC, in addition to making 8mm movies. Encouraged by his mentor, filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos, Owens moved to New York City. There he met filmmaker-poet Charles Boultenhouse, with whom Owens became romantically involved. Owens returned to Chicago for personal reasons in 1971, finishing his college degree but never completing another film. The time Owens spent in New York resulted in several films that showcase a unique approach to imagery, lighting, editing, and narrative that defines his brief yet meaningful career.

On Laura Huertas Millán

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | March 8, 2018

Laura Huertas Millán, still from Sol Negro, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

We look forward to this week’s Conversations at the Edge screening of Sol Negro (2016) and La Libertad (2017) by French-Colombian filmmaker, Laura Huertas Millán. By combining an exploration of political history with personal narrative, Huertas Millán’s films culminate into what she calls “ethnographic fictions”.

For additional context and insight into Huertas Millán’s work, below is an excerpt of her essay Fictions Ethnographiques.

Laura Huertas Millán, still from Sol Negro, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

Fictions Ethnographiques
Laura Huertas Millán

Shards and disappearances. Ethnographic Fictions develops a survey around ethnographic representation, giving birth to a series of films in which anthropology and fiction intertwine.

A first series of films created between 2009 and 2012 around the notion of exoticism constitutes the theoretical and iconographic beginnings of this research. On the one hand, this first movement analyses the construction of the “native” in the “New World”, paying special attention to the moments of the “first contact” between travelers and indigenous people. This moment of mutual discovery is referred by the term “flashes” – moments of light, fulgurant traces of a possible encounter which turn out to be the preamble of a conquest through violence. This first series features in vivo and in vitro “jungles” in Europe and America, linking botanical gardens and tropical greenhouses with the archives of colonisation. In the films Journey to a land otherwise known (2009) and Aequador (2012), part of this series, fiction gradually emerges as a narrative strategy to counteract a story mostly told from the point of view of the conquerors.

Laura Huertas Millán, still from La Libertad, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

A second series of films develops between 2012 and 2017: the “ethnographic fictions”. This series establishes a dialogue with visual anthropology: it involves a displacement in Jean Rouch´s “ethnofiction”, while including the practices preceding and those subsequent to him, with an intrinsic ambiguity between ethnographic immersion and fiction. A constellation of practices emerges, from Edward Curtis to Chick Strandt, from Mapa Teatro to Juan Downey, including Aby Warburg, Robert Flaherty and Maya Deren. This constellation gives rise to an abundant cartography of authors who, in the succession of their travels, put into perspective the fusions and the frictions proper to an encounter. This series is also enriched by one year passed at Harvard University´s the Sensory Ethnography Lab, where modes of expression other than discursive language are experimented to address intercultural relations.

Read the full essay here.

Laura Huertas Millán, still from La Libertad, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

March 8 – Laura Huertas Millán: Ethnographic Fictions

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | March 2, 2018

Laura Huertas Millan, still from La Libertad, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

Investigating the terrain between fiction and ethnography, French-Colombian filmmaker Laura Huertas Millán has created a multifaceted body of work where political history and personal narrative meet. Her 2016 film Sol Negro is a portrait of Antonia, a Colombian opera singer, her sister, and her niece. Empathy and anger are exchanged between the women as they each reckon with feelings of deep sorrow and entrapment—within themselves and within the family. Huertas Millán’s La Libertad (2017) centers on a Mesoamerican matriarchal family that has inherited and mastered the art of weaving on the backstrap loom to explore the ties that bind labor and creativity. Across both of these ethnographic fictions, Huertas Millán’s careful attention to detail reflects the exquisite experience of everyday life.

2016–17, Colombia/Mexico/France/USA, DCP, ca 72 + discussion
Laura Huertas Millán in person

Laura Huertas Millán is interested in exploring what she calls “ethnographic fictions.” Her works have been internationally screened in museums, galleries, and cinemas including the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín, Colombia; and Instituto de Visión, Bogotá, as well as film festivals around the globe. In 2017, she was a featured artist at the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar. She has received numerous prizes, including the Grand Prix of the Biennale de la Jeune Création Européenne in Montrouge, France. She holds a practice-based PhD from Université PSL (Sciences, Art, Création, Recherche doctoral program), Paris; an MFA from École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, Paris; and an MA from Le Fresnoy, Tourcoing, France. She has held fellowships at Harvard University; École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, Paris; École européenne supérieure de l’image, Angoulême & Poitiers; as well as through the Colombian Cinema Fund (Proimagenes FDC).

On Lee Anne Schmitt

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | March 1, 2018

This week, we are excited to welcome Los Angeles-based filmmaker Lee Anne Schmitt for a screening of her latest film Purge This Land (2017), made in collaboration with her partner, experimental jazz and rock musician, Jeff Parker.

LeeAnne Schmitt, still from Purge This Land, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

Through the life and legacy of the radical abolitionist John Brown, Purge This Land reflects on how the shadows of slavery and systemic, violent racism continue to shape the United States’ psychic and physical landscape.

View the following excerpt of Schmitt’s film below to see how site and landscape intertwine with the lingering vestiges of a country’s problematic, violent history.


March 1 – Lee Anne Schmitt: Purge This Land

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | February 23, 2018

LeeAnne Schmitt, still from Purge This Land, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

Just before his execution, abolitionist John Brown wrote, “I am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” Brown was hung on December 2, 1859, less than two months after he led a raid on a federal armory in an attempt to incite an armed rebellion against slavery. In her new film, Purge This Land, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Lee Anne Schmitt uses Brown’s legacy to consider the long shadows of slavery and systemic, violent racism on the United States’ psychic and physical landscape. She interweaves shots of rural back roads and urban centers throughout the country, memorializing the sites of Brown’s radicalization alongside those of race riots, police shootings, and other forms of White racial violence and Black disenfranchisement throughout the last 150 years. Set to a score by Jeff Parker that references histories of Black music, the film resists easy resolution, modeling resistance instead.

2017, USA, DCP, 80 min + discussion
Lee Anne Schmitt and Jeff Parker in person

Lee Anne Schmitt’s films and related projects have addressed American exceptionalism, the logic of utility and labor, gestures of kindness and refusal, racial violence, “cowboyism,” trauma and narrative, and the efficacy of solitude. She has exhibited widely at venues that include MoMA, New York; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, Los Angeles; Centre Pompidou, Paris; and festivals such as Viennale, Austria; Copenhagen International Documentary Festival, Denmark; International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, Germany; International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Netherlands; Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, Argentina; and Marseille Festival of Documentary Film, France. Schmitt is a recent recipient of both a Graham Foundation Grant and a Creative Capital Award.

Jeff Parker is an American jazz and rock guitarist based in Los Angeles. Parker is best known as an experimental musician, working with avant-garde electronic, rock, and improvisational groups. Parker plays guitar in the post-rock group Tortoise and was a founding member of Isotope 217 and the Chicago Underground Trio in the 1990s and early 2000s. He is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and has worked with George Lewis, Ernest Dawkins, Brian Blade, Joshua Redman, Fred Anderson, and Jason Moran, among many others.

On Ephraim Asili

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | February 22, 2018

We are delighted to welcome Zach Vanes of the Video Data Bank to write for us. In this essay, Vanes discusses The Diaspora Suite, a series of films on the African diaspora by Video Data Bank artist Ephraim Asili. Screening this week at Conversations at the Edge, these films bring together archival research and Asili’s travels to chart cultural connections across time and space.

Ephraim Asili, still from Many Thousands Gone, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist and the Video Data Bank.

Ephraim Asili’s five-part Diaspora Suite was created over the course of seven years.  While every film in the series has a unique rhythm, each is built around a specific amalgam of footage shot in American and international locations–each site an important within the African diaspora. In Forged Ways (2011) it’s Harlem and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; in American Hunger (2013), it’s Philadelphia, Ocean City,  and Cape Coast, Ghana; in Many Thousands Gone (2014), it’s Harlem again and Salvador, Brazil; in Kindah (2016), it’s Hudson, New York, and Jamaica; and in Fluid Frontiers (2017), it’s Detroit and Windsor, Canada.

Asili edits his 16mm films by mixing and matching footage from the two locations. Often, he shuttles the viewer thousands of miles with his cuts. One trip fragments into dozens, each with differing emotional textures and tenors. Sometimes, as in the self-deprecating end of American Hunger, the effect can be humorous. Here, Asili cuts between a foam-headed Mr. Frosty mascot in Philadelphia and a group of Ghanaian school kids. Both wave to the camera with big smiles–only in America the grin is painted on. At other points, the change of location communicates an bemusement toward the isolation of American life. For example, in Kindah, an empty apartment and looming brick walls in Hudson provide a somber note of impasse in comparison to a constantly moving Jamaican parade. More often than not, transitions between the American locations and their international counterparts happen so smoothly that the differences are registered only through Asili’s subtle inclusions of national markers–an American flag in the distance or a Yankees hat in the crowd. Through the disidentification brought on by the incessant cutting between “here” and “there,” Asili encourages the viewer to recognize difference as a projection of lingering colonial fantasy and disrupts geopolitical borders and the visual regime that supports them.

Ephraim Asili, still from American Hunger, 2013. Image courtesy of the artist and the Video Data Bank.

The most recent work in the collection, Fluid Frontiers, provides both a fitting end to the cycle and a marvelous leap forward.  Asili reaches for more than cinematic hybrid cities and countries. Against the two geographic locations that anchor the film (Detroit and Windsor), Asili creates a third, cinematic, space– the black screen. In an essay on the films of Kevin Everson, Emmanuel Burdeau suggests: “The black screen is the abyss where…cinema catches its breath: an annihilation, but also a reservoir of images, the neutral gear through which every film passes before starting up again.”

Throughout the Diaspora Suite the black screen is at once a cinematic wellspring and bearer of the inscriptions of history and theory. Starting with American Hunger, Asili fills the black screen with the theoretical writings of Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and Hollis Frampton. In Many Thousands Gone, Asili presents a homily by the fictitious Saint Tula, patron saint of cinema; in Kindah, the beat poetry of Bob Kaufman.  He juxtaposes these free-wheeling textual intervals with  ruminative scores. Experimental jazz musician Joe McPhee contributes a rasping, strangled live score to Many Thousands Gone, and Kindah features a similarly breathy woodwind and percussion track. The combination of increasingly poetic texts and breathless music communicate a struggle to speak. It also expresses the desire to project a voice rather than merely bear the inscriptions upon the black screen.

Ephraim Asili, still from Forged Ways, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist and the Video Data Bank.

Asili seizes this voice Fluid Frontiers. Text completely disappears. Instead, it is translated into speech and infused into nearly every moment of the film.  Unlike previous works, Asili intervenes within the space by enlisting Detroit and Windsor citizens to read the poetry of Margaret Walker, Sonia Sanchez, Haki R. Madhubuti, Dudley Randall and others published by the Detroit-based Broadside Press. In an interview with Ekrem Serdar, Asili stated, “I told them that I don’t care how long it takes you to read the poem, just that you don’t stop no matter what. Even if you get a word wrong. [It’s about] this idea of people struggling or not struggling with language on camera.” Parallel to locating a shared geographical and historical lineage, the Diaspora Suite charts a movement from decoding to encoding, writing for oneself to speaking aloud, documenting difference to creating within the landscape.  Another way of saying this might be through the words of poet Haki R. Madhubuti, read by Teajai Travis, and recorded by Ephraim Asili: “not quiet now- trying to speak,/ What did he say?/ ‘Back again,/ BLACK AGAIN,/ Home.”

Ephraim Asili, still from Fluid Frontiers, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist and the Video Data Bank.

Zach Vanes is the Distribution Manager at Video Data Bank. While at VDB, he has presented video art programs at the Cairo Video Festival and Oberhausen Short Film Festival. He’s also a volunteer projectionist at Doc Films and an MAVCS candidate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

February 22 – Ephraim Asili: The Diaspora Suite

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | February 16, 2018

Ephraim Asili, still from Many Thousands Gone, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist and the Video Data Bank.

In 2011, New York-based filmmaker, DJ, and traveler Ephraim Asili began an extraordinary series of films on the African diaspora. These films—Forged Ways (2011), American Hunger (2013), Many Thousands Gone (2015), Kindah (2016), and Fluid Frontiers (2017)—bring together archival research and Asili’s travels through Brazil, Canada, Ethiopia, Ghana, Jamaica, and the United States to chart cultural connections across time and space. Fluid Frontiers, for example, explores ideas of resistance and liberation through Detroit’s Broadside Press, one of the most important presses for Black poetry. Asili asks residents of Detroit and nearby Windsor, Ontario, to read these poems without rehearsal, potently collapsing history, contemporary politics, and art through their magnetic performances. In earlier works like American Hunger, Asili knits together images from downtown Accra, Ghana’s coastal slave forts, and the Jersey Shore in an effort to understand his own relationship with Western colonialism and US imperialism.

Presented in collaboration with SAIC’s Video Data Bank.

2011–17, multiple countries, digital file, ca 92 min + discussion
Ephraim Asili in person

Ephraim Asili’s films have screened in festivals and venues all over the world, including the New York Film Festival; Toronto International Film Festival; Ann Arbor Film Festival, Michigan; San Francisco International Film Festival; Milan Film Festival, Italy; International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Netherlands; MoMA PS1, New York; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Whitney Museum, New York. As a DJ, Asili can be heard on his radio program In The Cut on WGXC, or live at his monthly dance party Botanica. Asili currently resides in Hudson, New York, and is an Assistant Professor in the Film and Electronic Arts department at Bard College.

On Latham Zearfoss

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | February 15, 2018

Our spring 2018 season premieres today with work by Chicago-based artist and School of the Art Institute of Chicago alum, Latham Zearfoss (BFA 2008).

Zearfoss produces time-based images, objects, and experiences about selfhood and otherness. Outside of the studio, they contribute to collective motions toward joy and reflection through social projects.

This week, we welcome School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduate student Evan Fusco to examine Zearfoss’ work in a reflective essay interlaced with additional insight from artist Aay Preston-Myint

Latham Zearfoss, still from Three Scenes from Last Summer, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist.

(This essay on the work of Latham Zearfoss can be read four different ways: first is reading only the interview I conducted with Latham’s friend/collaborator Aay Preston-Myint), second is just the essay that I have written on the work of Zearfoss, third is all the way through, allowing the interview to interrupt your reading of the essay and inform it, and fourth is to read the essay through, and then the interview, so as to not allow either to interrupt the other. In this way, you have the opportunity to choose how you read and understand this essay, giving you a certain amount of power in interpreting. I don’t want my voice to be the only one heard.)

In attempting to understand what makes a good artist I wonder if it’s someone who understands what they’re talking about and exists within the spaces they want to work. Rather than taking up a position of absolute authority on any particular subject, this artist allows their unique position in the world to dictate the work. They position their point on a level playing field with that of the viewer, creating a dialogue as opposed to preaching from a pulpit. The artist Latham Zearfoss truly embodies this kind of artist, modeling their approaches to art on the way they want to see the world.

Evan Fusco: First, I want to ask you about your relationship with Latham, both as a friend and collaborator, and how that has both changed over time, and affected how both of you work as artists.

Aay Preston-Myint: Hmmm that’s kind of a long conversation so I’ll try to be brief… we’ve known each other for what must be 14 years now… maybe even fifteen. We’ve been through every possible permutation of acquaintance, roommate/housemate, collaboration, friendship, cohort, and dating that you can think of. So, it’s an interesting relationship to say the least. While we both work across media, we have really different technical training. Latham comes from a time-based media background and I come from object making… I feel like I’ve probably learned a lot about storytelling from them, while maybe I’ve offered my experience with materials, composition, viewer-object relations, and the like in return. When we collaborate or do group projects (like the Body Doubles catalogue) they’re really good at making prompts for the various people involved and finding threads through the material we collect, I tend to take more charge over things like format, design, installation, etc. I’m pretty messy in the studio but in group situations I lean towards process and structure, while Latham is maybe a little bit more into seepage and vulnerability as generative devices. But it really depends, it’s never as polarized as that. 

In reference to their approach to art-making, Zearfoss has asserted: “Pop cultural debris serves as an emotional referent: indices of personal history – the poetic cataloging of lived time… Culture is a cluttered map of selves and others. It is here that you and I make meaning as much out of sameness as we do out of difference.” When they write about their work, they are not some disconnected observer of the world; they are working to better understand it, just as much as anyone else. They want to “move away from a frigid preoccupation with form and distanced irony.” This is most immediately obvious in their collective projects to engage communities like Chances Dances, a queer dance party, Make Yourself Useful, a critical space for White “allyship,” and Open Engagement, an itinerant conference on socially engaged art. It is this collaborative and participatory way of thinking that drips into the works that would typically “represent” Zearfoss’ practice so that they are always working through their projects just as much as the audience.

Latham Zearfoss, still from Love Is A Stranger, 2012. Image courtesy of the artist.

EF: How does Chances Dances (and maybe their other social projects, but mostly Chances Dances) figure into Latham’s practice? I also wonder about what you think of the importance of including those kinds of projects as a part of an artist’s larger practice, including how it affects your own. 

APM: I think making the decision to actively include all of that work in a larger practice has been important to both Latham and myself, but I don’t want to be prescriptive in terms of whether that could work for everyone. Some people are, or would be, really bad at “social practice” …while other people might choose to act out their politics, or at least consciously so, through activities that are not art-related. I’m not even sure if social practice is the right phrase because that sounds very institutional… while Chances has definitely engaged in a lot of institutional work, it was never part of our core mission, and we could just as well have never set foot in a museum or gallery under that collective umbrella. That said, Chances, despite not being art, has been a major part of both of our “practices” and enabled and supported other people’s artwork as well…I think what both of us have been doing lately is trying to understand how these different facets of our practice inform and influence each other. For me, working on this weird community/thing that is Chances, I learned to stop worrying if what I am doing will yield any kind of recognizable art object… and in the process I also learned a lot about how art and art labor are valued, about how non-artists interact with art, and what kinds of stories I want to tell with my studio work. 

Latham Zearfoss, still from Home Movie, 2012. Image courtesy of the artist.

In HOME MOVIE (2012), originally titled RECYCLE BINGE, we see Zearfoss’ attempt to “aestheticize the contradictory impulse to capture and record moments that are either personal or of little interest to a public audience.” Throughout the video you hear a voice trying to grapple with the problem of the separation between yourself and the world, beginning with the question, “How do you describe how you feel?” Language is a powerful tool, but ultimately fails us in our attempts to communicate with others. The feeling always sits on the tip of our tongues, yearning to get out but trapped by some unseen barriermaybe our teeth? Either way Zearfoss has defaulted to image as a way to invite the viewer to empathize with them. They present us with intimate images, documentation of public performances, random cell phone footage of a palm tree and a praying mantis. However, the climax comes in a video of a raging building fire. You can hear who I assume to be Zearfoss say, “I feel sort of guilty… I mean there’s nothing we can do right?” and then someone else say “There’s nothing we can do.” This bit in HOME MOVIE, the title of which implies more domestic and innocent content, ends up being quite tragic and potent, working in tandem with the voice carried throughout the video. The voice states, in an attempt to describe the problem of how to describe how you feel, “How do you describe red to someone who is totally blind?” We may never meet Zearfoss after encountering this video, or we may meet them, but never truly get to know them. If we do get to know them, we will never fully understand them, but Zearfoss doesn’t see this as a reason we shouldn’t at least make an attempt.

EF: How do you think the catalogue and conversations you both created and facilitated for the MCA show Body Doubles figures into Latham’s practice as an artist, and do you see the concerns of the artists in that show as concerns Latham tackles in their work.

APM: Well, I think maybe in the case of that project, it’s very in step with their (and our/mine Chances’) way of collaboration…the natural inclination is to spread resources and access to everyone’s mutual benefit. Going back to Chances, we chose “Platforms” as a title for our retrospective because the practice is not just about producing concrete objects… the practice is a platform on which other people’s lives and work are supported and take place. In the case of the MCA show, we used the publication as a platform to showcase the work of local artists that were doing work similar to what was in the show and positioned them as authoritative voices… this was meant as a bit of a corrective to the fact that the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago doesn’t offer a lot of direct support (at least comparative to what they spend most of their space/money on) to actual emerging contemporary artists in Chicago. This has maybe started to change a little bit with their new “Commons” space and major exhibits by folks like Amanda Williams, Bill O’Brien and Michael Rakowitz, but even still those are folks that already have a ton of support outside of the museum…the Museum is still more of a follower than a leader when it comes to local talent. Ironically we got into a huge fiasco with the museum around the labor, expectations, and power relations surrounding that project but there isn’t room to spill that tea here. 

In terms of the relationship to Latham’s studio work, it certainly ties into this idea of bodily presence, as your next question suggests, this idea of “the body as an object and a tool.” The connection to the show was the idea of admitting the vulnerable fact that you have a body too, even if you might be in a position of authority or remove (artist, author, spectator, judge, teacher president)…like, let’s all stop projecting the fact that we are bodies that hurt, are stupid and mean sometimes, that make mistakes, and need to be accountable, let’s stop projecting that onto other people, and sit back and take in what that means and what other kinds of relationships could be built from that. 

Latham Zearfoss, still from Something to Move In, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist.

If language is a problem that we encounter in trying to understand others, then a possible answer comes in a later work titled Something to Move In created in collaboration with the artist Joel Midden for the Chicago Film Archives. In this video Zearfoss and Midden return to the political era of the late 60s, specifically to the dialogue of a film titled Black Moderates and Black Militants. The solution these artists have come to is found in the power of music and dance. The two remix of the political discussion into a music track and pair it with footage of a dancer in silhouette from the same era.  In doing so, they have created a contemporary attempt to “resuscitate a bygone revolutionary thrust”. In the remixing political speech of the 1960s, Zearfoss and Midden find new hope in it, communicating through words, bodily movement, and a beat you can dance to. Here we see–maybe a bit clearer–the political power of hosting parties like Chances Dances, which in its creation of a queer space to dance, allows for communication between people and their bodies without ever having to utter a word.

Yet, Zearfoss does return to language to answer why we would return to the past in order to look towards a productive future. Towards the end of Something to Move In the voice Zearfoss and Midden have been remixing for the beat becomes clear and says: “You can’t build a building until you get rid of the building that’s there.” In the dialogue, this is a metaphor that advocates for the destruction of capitalism through revolution. If returning to the past seems to be sympathetic towards the building that’s there, you have to remember it’s not the systems of the 1960s Zearfoss and Maddin are remixing; it’s the people.

EF: How does the body as not just something we have but an object and a tool factor into Latham’s work? in asking this question I’m think specifically about the voices in Dirge, the dancer in Something to Move In, as well as the footage of bodies and the footage those bodies are juxtaposed with in Home Movies,

APM: I’m not sure how well I can speak about Dirge in relation to that question, especially since I’ve spent the least amount of time with that work, maybe Home Movie… but, definitely in Something to Move In…I think there is an intentional layering of form there. The modern dancer with the political panel….remember, these things are going on in the same place and the same time, but we historicize them as being worlds apart. I think the layering serves as a cue that the body-as-art or body-as-art-object is often apoliticized by dominant standards of formalism and beauty, but the video asks us to remember that the body contains multiple ideas/uses/intents at once, these things don’t need to be compartmentalized…the idea that these things are separate (beauty, art, politics, human rights) constitutes a means of controlling and limiting historical narratives.

In that case, even if the center does not hold, Zearfoss and artists like them are still hopeful we’ll find a new one.

Latham Zearfoss, still from extrae, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

February 15 – Latham Zearfoss: Home Movies

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | February 9, 2018

Latham Zearfoss, still from Home Movie, 2012. Image courtesy of the artist.

Chicago-based artist and organizer Latham Zearfoss (BFA 2008) has built a multifaceted body of work that unites themes of love, community, family, political legacy, personal agency, and collective action. Their poetic and pop-infused videos mine the territory between public and private, reason and emotion, the extraordinary, and the everyday. In HOME MOVIE (2012) cell phone videos of social gatherings and public performances are layered with close-ups of nature, naked bodies, and domestic interiors to form a kaleidoscopic notion of home—as a shared space, a sense of belonging, and a site of intimacy. In extrae (2016) shots of cats, unmade beds, and dried flower petals are paired with an irreverent ode to Tyrone Garner, one of the plaintiffs in the 2003 Supreme Court case that overturned archaic sodomy laws throughout the United States. Zearfoss presents a collection of videos spanning the last decade, including the premiere of two new works, Goth Party and White Balance, and restages Something to Move In (2014) and Love Is a Stranger(2012) as live, responsive performances. With Darling Shear, Caroline Campbell, Amalea Tshilds.

2008–18, USA, multiple formats, ca 70 min + discussion
Latham Zearfoss in person

Latham Zearfoss produces time-based images, objects, and experiences about selfhood and otherness. Outside of the studio, they contribute to collective motions toward joy and reflection through social projects such as the queer dance party Chances Dances, Make Yourself Useful, a critical space for White “allyship,” and Open Engagement, an itinerant conference on socially engaged art. Latham holds a BFA from SAIC (2008) and an MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago (2011). They have exhibited their work, screened their videos, and DJ’ed internationally and across the United States.

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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.