Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review: Roger Hiorns @ Art Institute of Chicago

May 6, 2010: On the roof of the Art Institute's Modern Wing, two jet engines lie naked under the sky.

Roger Hiorns @ Art Institute of Chicago

Thirty-one years earlier, May 25, 1979, one jet engine separated from the wing of American Airlines Flight 191 on take-off from O'Hare International Airport.  271 people (258 passengers and 13 crew) were killed as that McDonnell Douglas DC-10 exploded into the ground.  After the crash, in 1981, Chicago punk band Effigies released the Flight 191-inspired track "Bodybag" via Ruthless Records, committing what remains the deadliest single plane event in the United States to local music lore.

Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas in 1997.  Though blame for the 1979 disaster was attributed to maintenance and not engineering, McDonnell Douglas never fully recovered from the negative publicity which followed the event.

On May 10, 2001, having been offered multimillion-dollar incentives by Illinois politicians including former Governor and now federal inmate George Ryan, Boeing announced its intention to relocate from Seattle to Chicago, as opposed to Denver or Dallas.  Several months later in the 2001 calendar year, on September 11, four Boeing aircraft (United Airlines' Flights 93 and 175 in addition to American Airlines' Flights 11 and 77) figured prominently in the most memorable act of terrorism on domestic soil.

The history, above, is truncated but necessary.  Creative works which are said to depend--principally--upon choice and placement must be considered in relation to the time and place of their exhibition.

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Here and now, for the piece "Untitled (Alliance)" British artist Roger Hiorns (born 1975) has chosen two Pratt and Whitney TF33 P9 turbofans and, in company with the Art Institute of Chicago's Frances and Thomas Dittmer Chair and Curator of Contemporary Art, James Rondeau, had them placed atop the third floor (rooftop) Bluhm Family Terrace.  Major funding for the exhibition was provided by Boeing.

Roger Hiorns @ Art Institute of Chicago

Note: The variable components (engines) of Hiorns' installation never crossed the threshold and entered the "white cube" space of the museum's galleries.  That's important; that's problematic.  The downtown architecture of Chicago forms a mighty backdrop against which all (unveiled) exhibitions on the Terrace are forced to act.  Visually, Hiorns' composition amounts to little more than a juxtaposition of airplane parts and high-rise buildings.  And for anyone with an understanding of current affairs and/or regional history that sight is likely to be upsetting.  Did Hiorns (Rondeau) intend to cause such an upset, thereby provoking a reaction from the audience?  Did Boeing, in its capacity as a corporate sponsor, knowingly fund and (at least potentially) strengthen the association between itself and such tragedy?  Or, was Hiorns' piece imagined (and pitched) to include only the engines?

Roger Hiorns @ Art Institute of Chicago

In a formal sense, in its present location, the experience of Hiorns' 2010 Chicago piece is framed by elements of functional design and not "artworks" per se.  Nothing here was crafted by the artist; nothing here was crafted but for a "real" need.  The two jet engines present as being identical: in shape they're frustums of attenuated ovoids, circular in cross-section, systemic complexity nearly organic in appearance.  In contradistinction, the city's skyline takes the form of a greater sculptural work consisting of high-rise, largely rectilinear and Modern, buildings, whose carefully ordered facades of glass, stone and steel are intact.

Hiorns' attention to surface treatments has been notable, e.g., "Seizure" from 2008, wherein a London residence was filled with a chemical solution which precipitated a layer of blue crystal throughout the interior--later drained and made available for view.  Here, in what seems to be a contrary maneuver, the two jet engines of "Untitled (Alliance)" have had their aluminum skins mostly flayed.  Too, a wall-mounted plaque, and a press release, want the audience to know that, "Effexor, Citalopram, and Mannitol, three pharmaceuticals used to treat trauma and depression," have been put into the engines, and left in place.  Yet within their opaque, metallic containers the medicines remain inaccessible to either hand or eye; one has to trust the plaque.

Forcing the (attentive) viewer to consider the relationship between the state of trust and the act of verification might well have been one of the artist's aims.  Hiorns claims to have chosen engines from a plane which contributed to the U.S. military effort via intelligence gathering missions.  But, again, that knowledge is not available to the general public (or press) but for consultation with the plaque or the release.

Why then not say that the real "artwork" is the text which accompanies the objects and not the objects themselves?  "Untitled (Alliance)" is, after all, a conceptual piece.  And it's not only through the collection of information that regimes sustain their power--but it's also by means of the careful dissemination of information that regimes sustain their power.  Has Hiorns (Rondeau) wittingly or unwittingly played the role of the propagandist?  How ought we (audience) to act in order to verify the story which has been told to us?

Roger Hiorns
May 1–September 19, 2010
Art Institute of Chicago
Modern Wing, Monroe Street entrance
Bluhm Family Terrace, Third Floor

Roger Hiorns,

Roger Hiorns and James Rondeau in conversation,

First draft, May 10, 2010, in Newcity:

Second draft, August 31, 2010, at this location.

- Paul Germanos

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Review: Harvey Moon & Xiao Tse @ Studio 1020

Harvey Moon's drawing machine hangs precariously.  From time-to-time its stylus drops briefly but precipitously: each jerking motion appearing to threaten the device's connection to the gallery wall.

Harvey Moon @ Studio 1020

The whole affair is an informal tangle of common-looking parts, strung out to resemble a grandfather clock, controlled by a telephone, for the purpose of operating a tattoo gun.  The 24x36 (?) paper attached to the gallery wall, upon which a drawing is--slowly--being formed by the jerking stylus, is almost beside the point.  Moon's chief artistry seems to lie in the creation of the thing (machine) which creates what was formerly known as art, viz. a drawing.

Harvey Moon @ Studio 1020

Meanwhile, on an opposing wall, Xiao Tse's photographic prints are sustained by the steady glow of lightbox backlight.  Tse's display shares a nominally "DIY aesthetic" with Moon's machine, as the re-purposed construction materials used by Tse are exposed to view, easily identifiable by the visitor.  Curiously, Tse's chosen imagery is normally considered to be background rather than subject; and he's caused it (imagery) to be segmented, with white space left between individual units in a series.

Xiao Tse @ Studio 1020

While it's possible to count the number of aperture blades visible in Tse's lens' bokeh, or study the quality of Moon's machine's drawings, the meaning to be found in the exhibition (in toto) seems to stem from the peculiar manifestation of technology in the gallery space.  In form and in spirit, Rob Ray's Deadtech is recalled from the not-too-distant past; and the Antena of Miguel Cortez is remembered from the present day.

Xiao Tse @ Studio 1020

The activity of Moon and Tse might be taken to indicate that it is possible to modestly harness science in the service of art; but, too, that indication might have more to do with the moderate nature of Moon and Tse than with the relationship they've (indirectly) proposed.  Moon's machine in particular is infinitely scalable; the effect of the singular, rickety prototype ought not to be taken as the end towards which the machine might be made to progress.  It's possible, for example, to imagine a large room filled with many similar mechanical artisans--each ticking away at the likeness of some predetermined form.  Is the thought unappealing?

It seems good, now especially, to consider wherein the artistic act might be lost or found.  Harvey Moon and Xiao Tse, taken together, do much to provoke such consideration.  Though they seem not to have planned to exhibit their works together, their works are resonant--and timely.

Harvey Moon & Xiao Tse
"Mad Love"
Closing: Thursday, August 19, 2010
The Studio at 1020
1020 N. Marshfield
Chicago, IL

Harvey Moon,

Xiao Tse,

- Paul Germanos

Monday, August 23, 2010

Review: Annie Heckman & Lorien Jordan @ Swimming Pool Project Space

9:00 PM, August 21, 2010: Immediate access to Swimming Pool Project Space is limited to a tiny, white vestibule located at the base of a short staircase which leads into the gallery. The vestibule is a new and temporary enclosure; a heavy, black curtain serves to partition it from what is ordinarily a single, medium-sized room.

The little, white space contains a little, white stool. And upon that stool sits a white, video monitor. A still penguin lying atop an ice floe is shown at the center of the monitor's screen: white, winter background swirling around him. A narrator's somber voice projects outward from the device as he reads aloud a letter, terminating: "...there is a density to your presence that is completely gone from the atmosphere."

Annie Heckman @ Swimming Pool Project Space

Passing through the vestibule, moving quite literally behind the veil, there is darkness. By means of the same heavy, black curtain, in addition to black-painted walls, another new space has been created--contrary to that which exists in the vestibule. Over time the darkness is, gradually, illuminated by the purple hue of black light LEDs. Objects, formerly unidentifiable, begin to glow. The new scene seems to be a surreal, cold water, seafloor montage, with urchins, jellyfish, and ice surrounding  the same motionless penguin featured in the vestibule's video presentation. But there is no narrator's voice to be heard; the heavy curtain causes the darkness to be nearly silent.

Annie Heckman @ Swimming Pool Project Space

Proceeding forward, a third component of the exhibition is revealed: Upon gray walls, under glass, colored drawings illustrate interactions between Nature and Man, or Nature and some artifice of Man. Penguins figure prominently in many of the scenes.

Annie Heckman was responsible for the first two rooms, Lorien Jordan for the third. What did they mean to do? And, were they successful?

Annie Heckman @ Swimming Pool Project Space

Historically it might have been appropriate to determine how nearly the artists approximated the likeness of a subject, e.g., the penguin. But, here it seems good to consider the function of the penguin--as an avatar.

From the penguin's point of view the cosmos is divided between two radically different (but necessary) environments: the bright world of the shore, and dark world of the ocean. Within the synthetic reality of Heckman's installation the movement of the human spectator is made to neatly parallel the penguin's cycle of life. Too, Jordan's drawings suggest an ambivalence regarding human identity--consciousness--in an environment that might otherwise be characterized by an ineluctable modality.

Between the blackness and the whiteness the black and white bird goes: back and forth. Does it choose? Or is it too but little more than a spectator: being led from one place to another according to the designs of something other than itself. With disarmingly modest means, Heckman and Jordan have conceptually broached (the eternal) questions of free will, human nature and death.

Annie Heckman & Lorien Jordan
"Love Letters to Antarctica"
Opening: 7pm - 10pm, August 21, 2010
Artist talk by Annie Heckman: 2pm - 4pm, August 22, 2010
Gallery hours: Tuesdays and Sundays from 1pm - 5pm
Swimming Pool Project Space
2858 W. Montrose,
Chicago, IL 60618

Annie Heckman,

Lorien Jordan,

- Paul Germanos

Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: Lora Fosberg @ Linda Warren Gallery

In September 2009, at the opening of Chicago's current exhibition season, the presentation of Robyn O'Neil at Tony Wight Gallery and Davis/Langlois at Monique Meloche Gallery suggested a renewed interest in manual competence as evidenced in a traditional process, viz. drawing.  And, whether their subjects tended to be landscape (O'Neil) or portrait (Davis/Langlois) it's noteworthy that said artists offered their renderings as informed by some personally-constructed mythology: O'Neil's scenes were actually surreal; Davis/Langlois provided a fictional setting in which they cast real characters.

The (re)appearance of such craft might have been regarded as auspicious, or ominous, but it proved to be neither: indicating no trend in the near-term.  The careful hand of the artist--upon papers of like scale and number--did not return till 10 months had passed.

Carol Jackson at Swimming Pool Project Space, as well as Tony Fitzpatrick and Scott Nadeau at Studio 1020, among others, did present "well-drawn" two-dimensional objects of art.  But, compared to O'Neil and Davis/Langlois, they did so on a smaller scale, or with a smaller number of pieces, or outside of a conceptual framework of their own creation.

Maybe more closely related to the subject of this review was Jason Middlebrook's May 2010 solo show at Monique Meloche Gallery in which he (Middlebrook) reinforced a thematic concern for the management and allocation of natural resources by means of connecting large-scale, representational drawings to a site-specific installation.  But Middlebrook's drawing was only ancillary to his three-dimensional work.

That much (above) has been written NOT for the purpose of dismissing the aforementioned artists or spaces--but rather as a remembrance and acknowledgment of them.  Too, it seems good to provide context.  In this year, Lora Fosberg should be connected to: Robyn O'Neil, Robert Davis and Michael Langlois, Carol Jackson, Tony Fitzpatrick, and Jason Middlebrook at least.

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Within Lora Fosberg's graphic narratives the elements of text and image were expected to diverge: one having grown at the expense of the other.

Lora Fosberg @ Linda Warren

Whether beginning with Zoroaster, the simple dichotomy is a pattern too familiar in the history of the West.  So that even late in so-called Modernity (Friedrich Nietzsche to Camille Paglia at least) it's been possible for cultural observers to borrow from Greek antiquity the motifs of the Apollonian and Dionysian: identifying two contemporary tendencies in opposition to one another, usually as part of an analysis by contrast.

For a critic to want to "read" a visual artist as pointing, compass-like, in a particular direction, seems natural--as any theorist's claim to prowess stems from an ability to offer the insight or framework which allows experience to be structured in such a way that meaning is the result.

In Fosberg's case, acknowledging both the duality which does exist and also the temptation to draw out incongruities, what's actually happened across her oeuvre is something else altogether: she has, surprisingly, managed to sustain the (relatively) equal development of two distinct avenues of expression.

Whether united in a single composition, both (her text and image) have continued to recall one another as a result of a common palette and her hand drawn line.  There's no gloss.  There's little vivid color.  Everything looks as though it was produced by the same person, with care, over time--maybe even some time ago.

Having written that, the successful synthesis which culminates in Fosberg's exhibition, "You Can’t Fall Off The Floor," isn't explained by the warm tone or matte patina seeming to cover the art.

Fosberg does well because her practice has evolved to treat words and pictures as modular, graphic units--rather than as parts of a fixed composition.  As goes the pithy quote painted on paper, so goes the tree trunk print.  Here, it's important to pay attention to method.

Lora Fosberg @ Linda Warren

Two years ago the size of a finished piece was determined aforehand by the size of the paper upon which she began to work.  Then, while continuing to draw on the same (small) scale, her pieces grew in size as multiple papers (serving to ground individual drawings) were collaged upon panels.  Now, those panels are found set beside each other.  Or, those panels are discarded altogether--and paper is collaged directly upon wall surfaces.

Fosberg has become heavily engaged in the acts of building and layering, albeit working closely to the vertical surface of the wall.  She's flirting with low relief sculpture and (fiber art) textiles, and is no longer bound by the page.  Pieces run on as long as she pleases.  As a result, much of her work is now infinitely scalable.

That feminine aspect of the Dionysian which was manifest in the maenads--chaotic, sexual, immoderate, even violent beings--is visible upon close inspection of some of Fosberg's pieces.  And that's where she seems to be at her strongest: glancing, oblique, abstract, her subtext quietly revealing an enigmatic challenge contrary to Man's effort to understand, to control, Nature.

Lora Fosberg @ Linda Warren

Lora Fosberg
"You Can’t Fall Off The Floor"
June 25 - August 21, 2010
Tues–Sat, 11-5 PM
Linda Warren Gallery
1052 West Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607-1207

Lora Fosberg,

- Paul Germanos

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Review: Erik Wenzel @ DOVA temporary

Again and again, Erik Wenzel broke a beverage bottle's tamper-evident seal and watched as a plastic ring fell free from the cap.  Marketing schemes demanded that such plastic rings differ from one another in color, size and texture; modern methods of mass production ensured uniformity within any given brand. Intrigued by the regularity of the objects as much as by their formal variation, Wenzel considered the sculptural potential of things commonly discarded--ultimately choosing to collect them.

Erik Wenzel @ DOVA Temporary

"If I had assistants, I'd force them to drink the brands I hated," said Wenzel.

Lacking assistants, Wenzel counted upon the plastic rings left in the wake of his own more-or-less pleasant cap-twisting: each one being a reminder of that moment in time corresponding to his personal consumption. Then, in his solo exhibition "New 'N' Lonelier Laze" at The University of Chicago's DOVA Temporary gallery space, Wenzel played out his accumulation through the site-specific installation of "Rings."

As he took possession of the DOVA white cube, Wenzel forestalled rehabilitation of the environment: preserving, if not the former art, the former artist's modification of the space. Where Wenzel found a nail hole in the gallery wall, he randomly selected and then hung one of his own plastic rings.  In short, the evidence of the previous show's removal determined the pattern of the current show's placement.

The resulting piece takes the form of a curious system of notation: points of intersection between personal and communal, choice and fate, intake and output, etc., being mapped. "Rings" culminates in an abstract, postminimal composition of found elements. Visually, it's interesting; it's even pretty.

Red ring, yellow ring, blue ring: What does it mean?

While it might be possible to describe "Rings" as a form of institutional critique--each bright circle calling to attention a flaw (nail hole) which he found within (literally) a structure of the Academy--Wenzel doesn't seem to want to bring it all down. Rather he aims to interact with, and preserve, the overarching framework within which he's free to exercise his vision.

With a BFA from SAIC, an MFA from UC, personal blog, documentary photography on-line, critical writing in various places, and a presence in the local apartment gallery scene, Wenzel does have a legitimate involvement in many different art-related endeavors, i.e., he's organically developed what is now called a "practice."

But his practice isn't social practice. Enigmatic and provocative, Wenzel engages--visually--not only with his environment but too with any kindred spirits willing to take the time and look carefully at what's hidden in plain sight. Is Chicago still looking?

Erik Wenzel @ DOVA Temporary

Erik Wenzel
"New 'N' Lonlier Laze"
June 25 - July 24, 2010
DOVA Temporary
5228 South Harper Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60615

Erik Wenzel,

First Draft, July 11, 2010, not published in Newcity,

Second Draft, August 15, 2010, published in Chicago Art Review,

Third Draft, August 18, 2010, at this location.

- Paul Germanos