October 19 – The Real-Fake

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | October 13, 2017

AES+F, still from The Feast of Trimalchio, 2010. Image courtesy of the artists.

In an epoch defined by avatars, reality bubbles, and the rapid spread of alt-facts, the role of computer simulation technologies and the parallel worlds they produce take on new dimensions. Curated by Claudia Hart, Rachel Clarke, and Pat Reynolds, The Real-Fake brings together 23 artists working with 3D simulation tools to produce a new esthetic and ethic of the fake. For example, the Russian collective AES+F turns geopolitical hierarchies upside down in an uncanny digital trompe l’oeil; Moreshin Allahyari creates an imaginary space to explore the communication breakdowns caused by limitations to Internet access; and the avatar and virtual artist LaTurbo Avedon explores the Internet’s physical manifestations in a new work commissioned for this show. This program is part of a much larger and ongoing project, including additional screenings, gallery exhibitions, and writing. Hart and Clarke will introduce the program and be joined by Avedon for a discussion afterward.

2006–17, multiple artists, multiple countries, digital file, ca 80 min + discussion

Artist LaTurbo Avedon and curators Rachel Clarke and Claudia Hart in person

Claudia Hart (b. New York) has been active as an artist, curator, and critic since 1988. She works with digital trompe l’oeil as a medium, directing theater and making media objects of all kinds. Hart’s works deal with issues of representation, identity, and the natural, and her project is to de-masculinize the culture of corporate technology by inserting the irrational and the personal into the slick, overly-determined Cartesian world of digital design. She is widely exhibited and collected by galleries and museums including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum, the New Museum, and Eyebeam Center for Art + Technology in New York, where she was an honorary fellow in 2013–14. She is a Professor of Film, Video, New Media, and Animation at SAIC.

Rachel Clarke (b. Shropshire, United Kingdom) is an artist and professor of new media and digital art at California State University, Sacramento. Her work intertwines themes of nature, culture, and technology. Combining physical and virtual modes of making, it involves video and animation, installation, augmented reality, and experimental 3D. She has shown at ISEA in Vancouver, Canada; Another Year in LA; Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria; Aggregate Space in Oakland, California; WORK Detroit; and Currents International Festival of New Media in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Clarke serves on the board of the College Art Association’s New Media Caucus and is the founding editor of its international journal, Media-N.

LaTurbo Avedon (b. Internet) is an avatar and artist originating in virtual space. Their work emphasizes the practice of non-physical identity and authorship. Many of the works can be described as research into dimensions, deconstructions, and the explosion of forms, exploring topics of virtual authorship and the physicality of the Internet.Their works are regularly distributed online, and have been exhibited internationally–including Somerset House, London; transmediale, Berlin; Mutek Festival, Montreal; NRW Forum, Düsseldorf; DEF CON Hacking Conference, Las Vegas; Museum Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt; Transfer Gallery, New York; Jean Albano Gallery, Chicago; and Galeries Lafayette, Paris. LaTurbo is currently an artist resident at Somerset House Studios.

On Jim Trainor

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | October 11, 2017

Jim Trainor, still from The Pink Egg (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

Our fall 2017 season kicks off this week with a screening of The Pink Egg, the first live-action feature by Chicago filmmaker and animator Jim Trainor.

Featuring his trademark dark comedy and fascination with the natural world, Trainor’s The Pink Egg explores the complex and curious lives of insects by casting humans in the starring roles.

This week, we are excerpting Trainor’s conversation with Irene Borger, writer and Director of the Herb Alpert Awards, of which Trainor was a recipient in 2010.

In this in-depth interview, Trainor discusses his work through the topics of line, voice, sources, animals, and transgression.  

Filmmaker Jim Trainor in conversation with Irene Borger, September 2010.

Irene Borger: A number of your key films have animals as the protagonists and tell the stories from their point of view.

Jim Trainor: Let me start by pointing out that in recent years my films have segued from animal themes to human themes. The Bats [1998] and The Moschops [2000] are anthropomorphic only to the extent that the animal narrators use language–rather fancy, poetic language–to describe their emotions and their life cycles. But their behavior is purely animal. I tell people over and over that my animals really are just animals, they are not stand-ins for humans, but nobody believes me.

People get a little dewy-eyed and platitudinous about nature, so I enjoy troubling them about it. Right now I’m working on a film on parasitic wasps – which Darwin himself said were incommensurate with a benevolent deity.

Since the harmony of nature is actually based on an unhappy system of things destroying other things, I am continually struck and amused by nature documentaries’ almost compulsive tendency to try to comfort us instead of leaving us stranded in existential horror, where we belong.

Still, I am not completely unsentimental, and even I root for the baby lost penguin, or the gazelle that escapes the lion’s claws!

IB: How has your work changed over time? How will the new film differ from–and carry on threads of–what you’ve already created?

JT: Certain artists make the same work over and over, and I think I am one of those. It is as if I’ve found all my themes and will keep working on them, and never be able to get them out of my system. I am very excited about the wasp movie, The Pink Egg. For the first time I’m making a live-action film (with a proper screenplay), with actors (actresses, mostly), enacting the life cycles of insects.In my quiet way I enjoy bossing people around and the idea of directing actors tickles me. Even though I’m going out on a limb here, I’m confidant that this wacky concept will work, and work as a funny, austere horror movie, as improbable as that sounds.

Read the full interview here.

October 12 – Jim Trainor: The Pink Egg

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | October 6, 2017

Jim Trainor, still from The Pink Egg (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

Featuring his trademark dark comedy and fascination with the natural world, Chicago-based animator Jim Trainor explores the complex and curious lives of insects in his first live-action feature. Casting humans in the starring roles, The Pink Egg follows life-cycles of “The Seven Sisters,” a group of evolutionarily related wasps and bees. Unitard costumes and candy-colored props set the stage for the feeding, mating, and hunting rituals of a civilization as successful as our own, yet founded on utterly alien principles. The narrative advances without dialogue or narration, leaving the audience to puzzle out its mysterious goings-on, evoking a Mother Nature who keeps her cards close to her chest.

2016, USA, digital file, 71 min + discussion

Jim Trainor in person

Jim Trainor (b. New York) is a filmmaker and animator based in Chicago. His films explore the grim and realistic habits of animals in their natural habitats, illustrating the divide between bestial instinct and human emotion and logic. His films have screened at the Whitney Biennial, New York; Anthology Film Archives, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Chicago Filmmakers; Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Utah; New York Animation Festival; Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, California; Nashville Film Festival; International Film Festival Rotterdam, Netherlands; Thessaloniki Film Festival, Greece; Golden Horse Festival, Taiwan; and La Xina A.R.T., Barcelona. He has received awards from numerous film festivals, including San Francisco International; Black Marial; New York Underground; Cinematexas; Big Muddy; and the Ann Arbor. Trainor is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Film, Video, New Media, and Animation at SAIC.

Announcing Fall 2017

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | August 29, 2017

Jim Trainor, still from The Pink Egg (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

We’re excited to announce the lineup for Conversations at the Edge’s Fall 2017 season!

Check out the full season details here.

AES+F, still from The Feast of Trimalchio, 2010. Image courtesy of the artists.

Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder. Image courtesy of the artists.

Alexandra Gerbaulet, still from SCHICHT (Shift), 2015. Image courtesy of the artist.

Ana Mendieta, still from Butterfly, 1975. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

Sondra Perry, still from Lineage for a Multiple-Monitor Workstation: Number One, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist.

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

CATE Fall 2017 Season

Posted by | Amy Beste | Posted on | August 24, 2017

Ana Mendieta, still from Butterfly, 1975. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

Conversations at the Edge’s fall 2017 season kicks off October 12!

Highlights include the live-action feature The Pink Egg by animator Jim Trainor; a new film performance by Sandra Gibson, Luis Recoder, and sound artist Brian Case; new work by German filmmaker Alex Gerbaulet, a selection of newly restored films by Ana Mendieta, a performance by multidisciplinary artist Sondra Perry, recent work by interdisciplinary artist and writer Coco Fusco and a program exploring contemporary 3D simulations, curated by Rachel Clarke, Claudia Hart, and Pat Reynolds. Stay tuned for full schedule details!


Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | April 20, 2017

We wrap up the Spring 2017 season this week with the work of Austrian performance and multi-media artist, VALIE EXPORT.

Born Waltraud Lehner, the artist rejected her family and ex-husband’s name in 1967, adopting the nom de guerre, VALIE EXPORT, from a popular brand of cigarettes. VALIE EXPORT’s work spans the realms of video, performance, cinema, installation, and interaction, expanding on a complex feminist critique of the social and political body, fusing the visceral and conceptual.

To accompany the screening of VALIE EXPORT’s work, we welcome some thoughts from School of the Art Institute of Chicago professor Mechtild Widrich. Widrich teaches art history, criticism, and theory and has written extensively on VALIE EXPORT in her book Performative Monuments: The Rematerialization of Public Art (Manchester University, Press, 2014.) which is excerpted below.

VALIE EXPORT, Visual Text: Finger Poem, 1973. Courtesy Sixpack Film.

It is 1968; political tensions run high, riots and social protest erupt in cities around the world. Women fight against discrimination and for equal pay. ‘There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say that there isn’t’, as Leonard Cohen put it in retrospect. Just then Austrian artist VALIE EXPORT steps on the Vienna art scene, a city whose Nazi past overshadowed any countercultural social ferment. The only woman among the founding members of the avant-garde Austrian Filmmakers Cooperative Film group, EXPORT takes a new surname from her favorite cigarette brand, capitalizes the whole, and fittingly stages actions with reference to the image of woman in advertising and Hollywood film.

Tap and Touch Cinema, 1968, is a “real chick flick”, she claims: standing in public with a wearable theatre stage framing her naked breasts, she invites passers-by to visit the cinema with their hands while an assistant times the transaction. Touch replaces the voyeuristic gaze, while those acting become objects of the gaze of those who watch.

A porous border between performance and photography, and between theatre and sex, is characteristic of the artist’s media-critical approach, for example in her photographic performance Action Pants: Genital Panic (1969) which was re-performed by Marina Abramovic at the Guggenheim Museum in 2005, but EXPORT is also the director of some of the most daring feminist films of the 1970s and ‘80s. Thinking about presence and mediation, body and object allowed EXPORT to expand her performances into media installations, photographic experiments with the environment, and even into memorials to commemorate the Holocaust.

VALIE EXPORT, Adjunct Dislocations (still), 1973. Courtesy of VALIE EXPORT.

“It is said that, in 1969, VALIE EXPORT went into a cinema in Munich, wearing jeans with a triangular cut out aimed to reveal the pubic area. Once inside the auditorium, she walked slowly through the rows, with her ‘cunt and [the audience’s] nose on the same level’.  The intention of this ‘action’, the word EXPORT herself favours, was to confront the voyeuristic male moviegoer with a ‘real’ female body, instead of the mediated one that could be consumed clandestinely—thus anticipating and inverting Laura Mulvey’s famous 1975 feminist manifesto ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ by several years. ‘People in the back of the cinema got up and fled the situation, because they were afraid I would come up to them as well’, EXPORT stated in a recent interview, thereby confirming that the titular ‘panic’ had in fact taken place and stressing the presence of the real woman as pivotal to the audience reaction.” – Excerpt from Performative Monuments


Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | April 14, 2017

Due to unforeseen circumstances, VALIE EXPORT will not be able to join us as previously announced. Curator and Professor Bruce Jenkins will introduce the screening with an in-depth overview of the artist’s career. 

VALIE EXPORT, Adjunct Dislocations (still), 1973. Courtesy of VALIE EXPORT.

Among the most important artists of her generation, VALIE EXPORT has created a provocative and groundbreaking body of work that spans film, performance, and installation and interrogates many of the sociopolitical issues central to modern life—gender, surveillance, information, and political power. Rejecting her family and ex-husband’s name in 1967, she adopted her nom de guerre from a popular brand of cigarettes. The nature of this act has characterized much of her work, from the radical Tapp und Tastkino (Touch and Tap Cinema) (1968) in which she used the physicality of her body to confront social and media chauvinism to the analytical film Adjunct Dislocations (1973) which breaks down space and time to offer new possibilities for sensual representation of the world.

1968—2009, Austria/Germany, multiple formats, ca 75 min + discussion

VALIE EXPORT is a filmmaker and performance artist. She received a degree in textile design from the Technical School for Textile Industry in Vienna in 1964 and began her career expanding on the Viennese Actionist project with a complex feminist critique of the social and political body, fusing the visceral and conceptual. Her works are in the collections of the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; Reina Sofia, Madrid; MoMA, New York; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and have been exhibited around the world in museums, art spaces, and media festivals including the Venice Biennale; documenta, Kassel; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Shanghai Art Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art, Seoul; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Ars Electronica Center, Linz; and the Cannes, Montréal, Vancouver, San Francisco, Locarno, Hong Kong, Sydney, and New York Film Festivals. She has taught at the Academy of Visual Arts, Munich; the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; the San Francisco Art Institute; and the Kunsthochschule für Median in Cologne. She currently lives and works in Vienna.

On Wael Shawky

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | April 13, 2017

We are excited to screen Cabaret Crusades, Egyptian artist Wael Shawky’s three-part re-staging of the medieval upheaval between the Muslim and Christian worlds.

Born in Alexandria in 1971, Wael Shawky makes work that tackles notions of national, religious and artistic identity through film, performance and storytelling.

This week, we welcome School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduate student Sama Waly, whose essay reflects on how artists like Wael Shawky helped influence the development of the contemporary art in Egypt. 

Wael Shawky, Cabaret Crusades III: The Secrets of Karbala, 2015, HD Film, color, sound, English subtitles. © Wael Shawky; Courtesy Lisson Gallery.

I first met Wael Shawky in Alexandria in the summer of 2012, volunteering for The Cairo Seminar: The Seminar. Organized by Sarah Rifky — a dOCUMENTA13 ambassador that year — the seminar was an ambitious event featuring the scholars, artists, curators and philosophers Yasmine El Rashidi, Julie Mehretu, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Anjalika Sagar from the Otolith Group, and Anna Boghiguian, to name a few. It was meant to foster dialogue between Kassel and Alexandria following a trip that brought ten students from MASS Alexandria, an independent study program founded by Shawky and Rifky, to help install the exhibition in Kassel.


I’ve come to know Shawky’s work both as an artist and organizer. His work informs my personal exploration of the historic place of the artist (i.e. ‘al muthaqqaf’) within geopolitical narratives that dominate and define the Arab and Mediterranean regions. A place here could be understood as a mode of organization. I am interested in the ways in which institutions—and particularly those that experiment with the flexibility of the notion of an institution—organize internally.

Wael Shawky, Cabaret Crusades I: The Horror Show File, 2010, HD video, color, sound, English Subtitles, 31mins 49 seconds. © Wael Shawky; Courtesy Lisson Gallery.

During the Seminar, I spoke with students from MASS Alexandria, many of whom felt that Shawky’s program was a necessary alternative to the small number of state-funded and outdated art academies in Alexandria. MASS caters to a generation that came of age in the nineties and oughts, after Egypt had gone through significant social and political changes over the span of several decades.

To draw a simple sketch, this generation benefitted from the financial stability created by earlier generations who had made their living abroad in the oil-enriched gulf countries like Saudi Arabia (where Shawky spent many childhood years). Those who returned to Egypt became the backbone of an industry that totally transformed the sociopolitical milieu in major urban centers from a socialist Nasserist model to an American-backed open economy.

MASS Alexandria students participate in a Stone Tapes Workshop by Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Jens Maier-Rothe.

MASS Alexandria students plan an exhibition with guidance from guest curator Noura Al Khasawneh

As Shawky mentions in a recent lecture, their return also contributed to the rise of a Wahhabi Islamic mentality in the seventies, that transformed social relations among Egyptians. Within this historical backdrop, Shawky’s institutional model, like others of his generation, sought to fill some of the gaps left open by the new Egyptian neoliberal vision in relation to cultural affairs. A lack of state funding for the arts from the seventies onwards opened space for foreign funding, which arguably contributed to the birth of an “independent art scene” in downtown Cairo, in the late nineties.

MASS Alexandria, and projects such as CILAS, the Imaginary School Program at Beirut, Kurassat Al Cinema at Cimathèque, to name a few of the institutional projects that have come to exist in Egypt over the past few years, challenge traditional educational models through a democratic dissemination of knowledge despite the perils that cities such as Cairo and Alexandria present. These institutions spawn an intergenerational exchange of knowledge.

Since those late summer nights I spent assisting the dOCUMENTA13 team in Alexandria, I have come to see Shawky’s work as fostering important conversations both within Egypt and the world at large about history and society, while also facilitating and inspiring the next generations of Egyptian artists.

Wael Shawky, Cabaret Crusades II: The Path to Cairo, 2012, HD video, color, sound, English Subtitles, 60 mins. © Wael Shawky; Courtesy Lisson Gallery.

Wael Shawky, Cabaret Crusades II: The Path to Cairo, 2012, HD video, color, sound, English Subtitles, 60 mins. © Wael Shawky; Courtesy Lisson Gallery.

April 13 – Wael Shawky: Cabaret Crusades

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | April 7, 2017

Wael Shawky, still from Cabaret Crusades III: The Secrets of Karbala, 2015. © Wael Shawky; Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

The rich and provocative work of Egyptian artist Wael Shawky uses film and performance to explore the complexities of national, religious, and artistic identity. With the three-part Cabaret Crusades, he restages the medieval upheaval between Muslim and Christian worlds with a cast of exquisitely crafted marionettes and score derived from Shia lamentation criers and traditional Bahraini pearl fishing songs. Inspired by French-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf’s The Crusades Through Arab Eyes and based on historical accounts, Shawky meditates on religious doctrine while highlighting the secular motivations of the Crusades’ European and Arab fighters. The result is a work of major significance, one that blends film, theater, literature, history, and music, while also reflecting on the social and political landscape of the world today. In classical Arabic with English subtitles.

Shawky introduces and discusses the first two parts of the trilogy, Cabaret Crusades: The Horror Show Files (2010) and Cabaret Crusades: The Path to Cairo (2012) at 6:00 p.m. and introduces the third, Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala (2015) at 8:15 p.m.

Presented in collaboration with SAIC’s Visiting Artists Program, which presents an artist talk by Wael Shawky on Wednesday, April 12. See www.saic.edu/vap for details.

6:00 p.m.

Cabaret Crusades: The Horror Show Files
Cabaret Crusades: The Path to Cairo

The first two episodes of Wael Shawky’s epic trilogy begins with Pope Urban II’s call to establish Christian rule throughout the Holy Land in 1095 and ends just prior to the opening battles of the Second Crusade. Featuring antique wooden marionettes from the Lupi collection in Turin and contemporary ceramic marionettes produced in collaboration with puppeteers and ceramists from Italy and France. Shawky introduces the program and participates in a post-screening discussion. In classical Arabic with English subtitles.

2010—12, Egypt/Italy/France, HD video, ca 90 min + discussion

Wael Shawky in person

8:15 p.m. 

Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala

The concluding episode of Wael Shawky’s trilogy combines the fifth-century Battle of Karbala—the origin of the schism between Shiite and Sunni Muslims—with events of the Second and Third Crusades, concluding with the destruction of Constantinople by Venetian Crusaders in 1204. The wars’ atrocities are heightened by hand-blown Murano glass marionettes in the shape of half-human, half-animal beings. Shawky introduces the program. In classical Arabic with English subtitles.

2015, Italy/Egypt, HD video, 120 min

Wael Shawky in person

Wael Shawky frames contemporary culture through the lens of historical tradition and vice versa. In recent works, he has staged epic recreations of the medieval clashes between Muslims and Christians in his trilogy Cabaret Crusades (2010—15) and worked with child actors to recount poetic myths, paying homage, rather than mere lip service, to the important narratives of yesteryear in Al Araba Al Madfuna (2012—16). Recent solo exhibitions include Castello di Rivoli, Turin; Fondazione Merz, Turin; Lisson Gallery Milan; Kunsthaus Bregenz; Fondazione Merz, Zürich; MATHAF, Doha; MoMA PS1, New York; K20 Düsseldorf; Serpentine Galleries, London; KW Contemporary Art Institute, Berlin; Nottingham Contemporary; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Delfina Foundation, London; and Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto. He has participated in the 14th Istanbul Biennial; Sharjah Biennial 11; documenta 13; 9th Gwangju Biennale; SITE Santa Fe Biennial; 9th Istanbul Biennial, and the 50th Venice Biennale. Recent awards include the inaugural Mario Merz Prize; Award for Filmic Oeuvre created by Louis Vuitton and Kino der Kunst; Abraaj Capital Art Prize; Schering Foundation Art Award; as well as the International Commissioning Grant and an award from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. In 2010, Shawky founded the educational space MASS Alexandria. He currently lives and works in Alexandria, Egypt.

On Melika Bass

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | April 5, 2017

Melika Bass, still from The Latest Sun is Sinking Fast, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

This week, we are excited to present Devotional Animals, a screening of recent and evolving work by Chicago filmmaker (and SAIC faculty) Melika Bass. Taking an expansive and episodic approach to her films, Bass composes abstract narratives that unfold slowly to explore complicated characters, relationships, and themes.

To accompany the program, we are excerpting an essay by Karsten Lund on Bass’s ongoing film project, The Latest Sun is Sinking Fast, written on the occasion of its exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center in the spring of 2015.

The Latest Sun is Sinking Fast

Karsten Lund

In four short films, projected simultaneously in the exhibition space, Melika Bass offers four portraits of sorts. Each film centers on a single character during an extended contemplative moment: a man sits by himself in the passenger seat of his car, listening to recordings of a sermon. Another man works in his wood shop and then writes a homily of his own, speaking it aloud. In a third film, a young woman cleans herself in a church bathroom before singing a hymn at the front of an empty sanctuary. This same young woman appears in the last enigmatic film, too, crouching under a bush and washing her hands at the riverside.

Not simply portraits, these films, more precisely, are invitations to quietly observe these three people when they are unguarded and alone. Perhaps it would be better to call the films character studies instead, with the close attention that implies. Nobody gets to observe someone else in this kind of state: unaware, introspective, left entirely to one’s thoughts and habituated gestures. At least not in private, and not for long. Perhaps prompted by the characters’ own apparent religious beliefs and the ecclesiastical settings of the films, one might even go so far as to say that only God gets to observe moments like these. The medium of film here gives the viewer a kind of divine power—all-seeing but unseen by the subject. In this case the vantage point isn’t high overhead, looking down from the heavens, as one might expect; no, it is close, intimate, as if standing nearby.

Download the complete essay here.

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