04 September 2015

Working Out an Old Muscle, and Some Things I Learned Recently

So I finally had business cards made. Feeling very official.

Enough of my pals have approached me asking about the crickets (and cicadas) on my blog to push me into stretching out my old writing muscle. Also, I had business cards made which link to my blog, so I should probably have things on said blog when people navigate to it, right? Right.

It's funny how in my head I can become if I don't write, and then the guilt and stress around not writing becomes compounded and conflated with the in-my-head thing that's already happening. I tell myself "Just finish that article, just go to that opening, you should also be painting, and what about free time, and that other project you signed on for?" and it all becomes so much that I can hardly focus or give the proper amount of energy or effort all of my wonderful obligations. Meditation and yoga are on my docket of habits to explore to help with the brain clutter and thought confetti (TM), and learning to say no to some wonderful opportunities is also on my to-do list. If I clear out some room, and say no to some things, I'll have space to say yes to others.

Case in point, I was offered the opportunity to continue working at my beloved Gallery 400 this semester in a different role. I thought about it, then declined. A job, a paying job, in the arts, at an institution I love. I declined a job at this wonderful place because I was holding out for something else. A little tiny zygote of any idea, that fermented a little bit over the summer, and is taking shape this week. No contracts have been signed, some higher ups are meeting today to discuss, but if all goes well I will have another job in the arts working with a completely different community, continuing my love of public programming! More on that as soon after the ink has dried.

But what I learned from this experience was immensely important. For starters, it's okay to decline opportunities. Though I would have enjoyed working at my beloved gallery this year, I wanted to stretch my wings and try working in an area even more aligned with what I'm studying and hoping to turn into a career. Additionally, I learned that sometimes you just have to be patient. I sent countless emails, bit many a nail, and had only a few minor freak outs over not knowing what my employment situation would be for this semester. But I waited, I set a meeting the first week of school. And then another meeting. Things are coming together. And finally, I learned that it's important to be true to yourself. To follow your instinct. To know when an inkling of an idea is good enough to fight for it. To fight for yourself, to fight for the people who might also benefit from the creation of a new position, and to fight for those who will no doubt benefit from your labor.

To review, the following things are vital and I'm still learning about how to implement them:

  • It's okay to say no to opportunities, to drinks, to on-campus programs, and off-campus programs, etc. Especially if you have a game plan for what comes after the no is said.
  • Being patient is hard very hard, but crucial. Sometimes, it's the best you can do. Time is your friend. Patience is a virtue, yada yada.
  • Trust your instinct. Follow your gut, or in my case, my Guttman.
  • Yoga is actually really calming for me. More yoga. please.

On a final note, I'm working on a big project this year, which I'd mentioned previously here. It is also very much in a zygote fermentation stage, in utero if you will. And rather than keep the world in the dark about it, I thought it could be a fun (added) project to blog about the experience as it's happening. Maybe a play-by-play of my discoveries, challenges, productive meetings, etc. I'll be working out my writing and research muscles, so bear with me!

05 August 2015

Expanded Moments: Post 3

Video taken by Sandy Guttman on Clark and Diversey at the Chicago Pride Parade, just two days after the Supreme Court passed a bill for marriage equality. This video has no sound.

01 August 2015

So, I co-curated an exhibition

At a gallery I deeply admire. That's right! Goal accomplished!

The last year has been a complete whirlwind with so many firsts.

  • First time writing a wall label. 
  • First time hanging a wall label. 
  • First time writing a press release. 
  • First time giving a tour of campus. 
  • First time giving a gallery tour. 
  • First time moderating an artist's talk. 
  • First time working an exhibition opening (which there have been many more of). 
  • First time curating a show. 
  • First time being interviewed about said exhibition for a local arts publication.

While I have been journaling with much more regularity than blogging (sorry fans!), I thought now would be a ripe time to take stock of just how magical things are for me. I'm working at two galleries: Gallery 400 and Aspect/Ratio, both located on Peoria Street. I've been at Gallery 400 for nearly a year, and have grown to love this place dearly. Between doing curatorial research, researching and writing wall labels, writing and giving tours to community members, and helping to facilitate a whole slew of incredible programming - this place has come to feel like my home away from home.

Aspect/Ratio... where to begin? I've been crushing on this gallery since I first visited in 2013 for Guy Ben-Ner's exhibition featuring Soundtrack, culling it's soundtrack entirely from War of the Worlds (the Tom Cruise remake). I met Jefferson Godard, the director, and became an overnight fan of the gallery which is the only gallery sapce in Chicago devoted entirely to new media. Over the course of the summer I've helped strategize for the future of the gallery (we're going to be in TWO art fairs this fall and winter), organized a fantastic studio visit with the photographer Nick Albertson, done countless research on the artists we represent, and co-curated a show with Jeroen Nelemans. To say it's been amazing has been an understatement! Being able to have the space to explore, grow, ask questions, curate, and learn how the commercial side of the art world functions has been such a dream come true. From first coming to the gallery two years ago to having leaving a mark within the history of the gallery is something I will always we amazed at. It just goes to show, it never hurts to ask or offer your skills to something you love and admire.

As the summer is wrapping up (how is it August?!), I wanted to share with you my sheer gratitude for having been able to be a part of these incredible art spaces. I've grown an immense amount in the last year, if it weren't for both of these galleries opening themselves up to me, I might not be where I am today! And now for the photographic documentation of these two dream-jobs :)

From the show Uncommon Commonalities (currently on view at Aspect/Ratio), co-curated by myself and Jeroen Nelemans.
Left: Rashayla Marie Brown, Wig Karma (2015), Center: Einat Amir, Boi (2004), Right: Glen FogelCall me and we can buy love together #46, #47, #45 (slut triptych) (2009)
Left: Rashayla Marie Brown, Wig Karma (2015), Right: Glen FogelCall me and we can buy love together #46, #47, #45 (slut triptych) (2009)
Left: Glen FogelCall me and we can buy love together #46, #47, #45 (slut triptych) (2009), Right: DesirĂ©e Holman, Not Cliff (Conduits of Fantasy) 1 (2007-2009)

My favorite moment in Guy Ben-Ner's  iconic Moby Dick (2000)

Nick Albertson talking about his latest work in his Chicago studio
The artist Amanda Williams giving an artist talk to Marwen students in her installation Color(ed) Theory: In the Darkness that Pervades Us, these Beacons will be Colored to Guide Us (2015)

These are some of the comments we've received from exhibition visitors! Part of my job has been to strategize community engagement - the comment cards have been super eye opening!

From the organic dye workshop along the 606 in Humboldt Park, hosted in collaboration with Marianne Fairbanks.

Exploring wholeness and wellness during our outdoor yoga workshop organized in collaboration with Black Girl in Om.
A moment during FULTONIA's Mycelia Performance, titled Requiem for Alvenia
A climatic moment in Kirsten Leenaars' performance titled the Imaginary Center of Perception
An impassioned African dance performance during This Stops Today: Creative Expressions on Police Accountability, Anti-Violence, and Community Safety
Marianne Fairbanks' solar dyeing installation in the Reading Room at Gallery 400

26 June 2015

Expanded Moments: Post 2

Jackson highway bridge, looking southward at the Circle Interchange construction.

24 June 2015

Expanded Moments: Post 1

As part of my shiny new role at Gallery 400, I'm helping to launch and facilitate a community engagement project titled Expanded Moments. Inspired by Jan Tichy's Changing Chicago exhibition and Expanded Moment project, we are inviting everyone and anyone to take a moment to stop, reflect, and film the city landscape in flux. How does this relate to the gallery? Our current exhibition After Today considers the ways in which Chicago has changed and is continuing to change at a rapid rate. Exploring issues like gentrification, the housing market, violence, police presence, mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex, and the stratification of race and class, our exhibition has us wondering what will tomorrow look like after today?

To get the ball rolling on creating our Expanded Moment video snapshots of the city, I'm going to be posting some of my own videos taken from around the city. From the few short films I've already shot, I've found the process to be meditative and reflective. Taking a moment out of my busy commute and hectic life to pause and view the city through the framed lens of a camera has shifted the way in which I view this city space I occupy.

Interested in participating? Here's a wonderful instructional video created by the Art Assignment explaining how the video should be framed and shot. Upload to Youtube or Vimeo, then email me or the gallery a link to your video. We'll be uploading them to our exhibition Tumblr and sharing on Facebook.

sandyguttman(at)gmail(dot)com or gallery400(at)uic(dot)edu

The above video was taken during the busy lunchtime rush in downtown Chicago. It's a view of the Chicago River taken from the Jackson Street bridge.

19 June 2015

In the Absence of My Body

How fitting is it that my most recent post was titled "In Absence of a Body" demarcating a growing absence of my so-called body from this here blog? Interestingly enough, what has consumed me these past few months are my interests in bodies, able-bodiedness, and the manifestation of disability in cultural space. I've also increasingly become a bit of a homebody, but that thought is entirely tangential to my point.

The last four months have been transformational, informational, and affirmational. It feels as though my head was like a door, the creaky jamb cracked open, and like furniture moving into a new space, piece by piece new information found a place in this funny brain of mine. When I set out to become a graduate student of Museum and Exhibition Studies, I came with plenty of ideas about myself, museums, and the world I live in. 2014 into 2015 has been a spectacularly strange year. One full of violence, one that has me reeling from the news reel, wishing to turn off the Twitter feed if only for a day. How many more deaths from police brutality must we stomach? Why in 2015 do we have a Black Lives Matter movement when we should have always valued black lives? Why are businesses still running on the labor of unpaid and underpaid workers? Why are women still paid differently than men, and why are we still debating universal health care? All of these questions and more circle around me in the galleries I work in, in the classes I take, in the conversations with my colleagues and cohort, in the way we talk about Chicago, and the direction this country is moving in. There are no easy answers, but plenty of work to do.

This past year has left me overwhelmed but resilient. If anything, my graduate program has given me the tools to ask meaningful questions of the world around me, to be conscious of what irks me, and question (often systematically) what is causing the symptoms of discomfort, anger, and sadness. All lives matter. All bodies matter. This is not a manifesto, it is just how I feel.

In terms of where this leaves me within my field of research, I've landed on quite a wonderful lily pad. Having been visited by the disability rights activist and performer, Carrie Sandahl, in two of my core classes, her words on the experience of disability struck me to my core. She spoke of the theatre environment being unwelcoming toward her body, how the dark narrow backstage areas were difficult to navigate, and the roles she was often cast into used her body and her disability in ways that she felt uncomfortable with. She could play a person with a disability (often a secondary character whose disability forwards the plot in some way) or an elderly person (often male, as the theatre world is full of male characters). She seldom played the leading role, as she navigated the already gendered, ableist, competitive theatre environment. She spoke truths to my class not only about her place within the theatre, but also her body in museum spaces. That sometimes she chooses to use a wheelchair in museums fosters a completely different experience for her as a visitor. Labels are hung too high to read, and if she's with a friend who is pushing her wheelchair, often they push too quickly before she can read both the label and the object she is looking at. Glares are difficult. Often, pedestals are also set too high. Elevators and ramps, though required by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990), are often marginalized to the sides of spaces, hard to find, and take more time to use. Moving through museum spaces is anything but fluid.

A blind visitor to Spain's Prado Museum runs his fingers across a 3-D copy of the Mona Lisa, painted by an apprentice to Leonardo da Vinci. image and caption via NPR
What these stories left me with was an unsettling urge to do something. I enrolled in a disability studies class, and wound up conducting research on what museums have done in the past, and what museums are doing today to be more accessible spaces for visitors with all sorts of abilities. The Prado in Spain has an exhibition made up entirely of paintings that visitors can touch. Three-dimensional sculptural paintings of beloved works from the museum's permanent collection, hung on the walls for visitors with both vision impairment and varying sighted abilities to experience not with their eyes but with the tips of their fingers. Very few museums have anything like this - and I don't fault them. This project is experimental, and expensive (at $7,000 a pop), though I will say these paintings offer an optimistic step in the right direction.

Noel King conducting an ASL tour in front of Seurat's Grand Jatte

The Art Institute of Chicago is currently offering monthly tours open to the public conducted entirely in ASL (American Sign Language), with the accompaniment of an interpreter. This new program has become a widely attended form of museum engagement, offering another form of communicating information about favorites from the collection. As more and more museums begin to implement alternative modes of experiencing and interpreting their collections, we will move closer to a more inclusive universalist society. Nothing will ever be perfect, but rather than seeing differing abilities as a "problem to be solved" we should always consider that everyone on this wonderful planet deserves the right to move through space in a way that is intuitive and comfortable for themselves. Regardless of the color of their skin, their gender, their sexuality, or the type of body they inhabit, each human should feel comfortable in public space. An idealist thought, but one worth fighting, protesting, and working toward.

My pal Tori exploring the Touch Gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago. It's one of the only dedicated spaces to works you can touch. All of the objects are busts, and all but one of them are of Western subjects made by Western artists.
So where does this leave me? A project I'm currently in the very tentative planning stages for is an audio tour. I would like to write, research, and record an audio tour for visitors with vision impairment for an institution here in Chicago. I won't announce which one just yet, as this is all very tentative, but I will say it's a place that I consider to be home. They do not currently have an audio tour created for this specific audience, and I'd like to help them out with that. Over the course of the next few months, I intend on researching what makes a good audio tour, going on a whole bunch of different audio tours around the city, and figuring out the language and voice necessary to write an audio tour that is accessible to anyone listening. This is going to be a huge project, but it's one tiny thing I know I can do to make the museum community a more inclusive space.

So there you have it. My long absence was worth something, at least I think so. I needed some time to read, write, stretch myself out, and let these ideas ferment into what I believe is a wonderful kombucha of ideas. Oh goodness, that metaphor! Let's move beyond kombucha and say this is a fine wine, shall we?

22 February 2015

In the Absence of A Body

Visiting Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perara after hours in the gallery was an entirely different experience than attending the gallery as an ordinary visitor. The chattering cacophony and buzzing hum of the opening night had surpassed. All of the lights, except for the ones in Diaz-Perara's room were off. The only sounds were the occasionally hum of the train passing by and the rhythmic thump of a single microphone softly banging against the drywall. I wasn't here to view the video installation or take in the work in the larger gallery, I came because it was dinnertime.

Dinner tonight: homemade chili and cornbread, with a tangerine

When I first heard that Diaz-Perara would be living in a 2.5 by 10 foot crawlspace in the Chicago Artists Coalition, my first questions were natural, if not a bit nosy. How will he eat? How will he relieve himself? What will he do? I didn't ask why. The "why" was deeply imbedded in who Diaz-Perara is. A Cuban-born artist recently emigrated from Havana, his life has been painted by absence. His father moved to the United States when he was a boy, and with communication being both limited and expensive in Cuba, the absence was profound. In 2011, he met Cara Lewis, an artist and gallerist living in the US. They began a relationship marked by absences, structured by distance, with various barriers of communication, and the kind of longing that lends itself to not knowing when you will see a loved one again. When he moved to the US this summer, Diaz-Perara embarked on another absence - the absence of his mother, his friends, and his country.

In the Absence of a Body makes tangible the action of absence. Though he is just on the other side of a thin white wall, he is not embodied. You can however feel his presence. His silence speaks volumes. His shadows and quiet breathing, footsteps and fingers on the wall, a hand through the movable vent that reaches out for the sustenance brought to him.

Lewis talking to Diaz-Perara while he eats his dinner

Though absence plays deeply into the provocative nature of this work, what runs deepest for me is the birth of a community and the human ability to adapt and soldier on with just the basics - Cuban values that one might not consider in this country. My questions about how he will eat, what he will do, and how he will care for himself come both out of curiosity and a sort of ignorance of what it is to live with less. What he is doing is difficult to define, there is a meditative state to the performance, but mirroring the isolation and meditation is the community that has gathered around Diaz-Perara. On a daily basis, Lewis brings him meals. She speaks to him through the wall, gives him little updates, tells him about her day. If she asks him a question, he might thump against the wall giving a response for her to intuit. Jefferson Godard has been visiting him with regularity as well, bring an energy and levity in the space that is entertaining and nourishing. Godard speaks in rapid-fire Spanish, singing, telling jokes, and leaning against the wall to let Diaz-Perara know he is there. Others like myself have brought him meals, which we lay before the vent anticipating the hand of his reaching out. A simple action that is profound and warming.

We stayed in the gallery while he ate, sometimes talking to him, sometimes talking to each other while he listened. It wasn't just the sustenance of food we were serving, but the sustenance of chatter, camaraderie, and love that nourish those unspoken parts of ourselves. My chili and cornbread received a thumbs up, and some energetic taps on the wall.

In the Absence of Body (and Diaz-Perara) will be on display until Thursday, February 26 at the Chicago Artists Coalition. Lewis and Diaz-Perara have collaborated on other projects which manifest the distance they endure while acknowledging the social and political barriers between Cuban and the U.S. You can view their projects here.