31 October 2014

Ghosts of Halloweens Past

In the spirit of Halloween, and in part because I didn't have time to generate a new costume this year, I thought it best to share some of my past Halloween costumes. I'm feeling all sorts of guilt about dropping the ball on crafting something spooktacular, but to prove I'm not always a complete slacker, here are some of the gems from my career as a staple and scissors DIY seamstress.

Not pictured: The year I went as Hurricane Sandy (just no), the year I dressed as a French person while studying abroad in Italy, and the year I dressed as my favorite waitress from Ed Debevic's.
In high school I thought it was a great idea to dress as Janine, the porn star adorning the cover of Blink-182's Enema of the State album cover. I wore this in school the entire day. This photo was taken in the locker room after gym class. Shoutout to my pal Tim Stedman who's creative genius had me dressing like a sexy nurse all the way back in high school.
I made a really cute princess, Mari made a really handsome ladybug, my mom was very good at costume making (thanks mom!!). Also, I'm pretty sure we were standing on a changing table. Ew.
The year I went as Bjork in the Swan dress. I made the entire skirt out of repurposed plastic bags. And I drew Bjork's tattoo on my arm in Sharpee. Despite my best efforts, almost nobody at my very liberal arts college got it.
I think I was a bride, I'm not even sure. And Mari was Rapunzel. That yarn braid had a wire in it that made it stand at a weird angle, I don't even know.
So this wasn't Halloween, but it should have been. Ben Scott threw a French themed party in college and I thought it best to show up dressed as Napoleon. Duh.
I'm the weirdo on the bottom right, with the blonde bangs outside of the giant afro. I think I was a disco hippie? Like I wore a tie dyed shirt with an afro and bellbottoms. This was deep into my obsession with 1960's culture and disco. I was a very eccentric 9 year old, I swear.
Last year Andrew and I dressed as Gallagher and his very adorable very smashed watermelon. I spent a week making his sledgehammer out of paper mache (so many layers of wet paper). And my dress was a whole other conundrum, but we were definitely hilarious, spot on conceptual, and probably definitely the cutest couple at the party.
And last, but certainly not least, is the year I dressed up as a Tamagotchi and won an online Halloween costume contest. Yeah, that was a thing in 2007. 

28 October 2014

So how's grad school??!!

Just over a year ago, I made the decision to apply to UIC's MUSE (Museum and Exhibition Studies) program. I'm just over halfway done with my first semester, and the question that friends and family have been asking me at a near constant is how am I liking school? It's kind of a strange thing to answer, especially since I'm still very much figuring things out - but I do have some thoughts.

Grad school is hard. Not in the way that undergrad was hard, there's something markedly different about the way things in my life are moving as a graduate student. I'm in class three days a week, for nine hours total. I  know it must sound like I have oceans of free time, but I'm also working at the gallery fifteen hours a week, and interning with an archival collection an additional three hours. I'm just a shift short of full-time job status in terms of my hours - but then we factor in commuting, attending openings and museum / networking events, and this little thing called homework. I'm busy at all hours of the day, and if I have a moment to stand still, I'm probably discreetly thinking about all of the reading and writing I should be doing.

The most boring picture of the copious amounts of homework I do
But to a certain extent, the stress and time management (those words!) are the extent of why this shift from worker bee to student bee has been so strangely difficult. I think I'm almost in a rhythm with my schedule, and have finally factored in the time I need to cook meals for myself and space for quiet time to read. Lately I've been making basic meals, though some days I long for a work schedule in which I leave the office to go on endless dates with way less cares in the world. I also know the reality of missing my "non-student life" - I was fairly miserable at my last job. I never fully came out and said it to my blog or my acquaintances but my closest friends and family knew how difficult it was for me at my previous job. While I might have had my evenings open, I was in a negative work environment 40+ hours a week, and on my free time, I was also stressed about work things. Notice a pattern? I stress always.

So where am I going with this? Grad school was the change I needed. It was a drastic break from a cycle of working a job on a career path (fundraising for the arts) that I wasn't even sure I'd wanted to be on. Working so close to the art, research, and curators at the Art Institute was painful because I wasn't an active participant in the kind of museum work I so desperately wanted to be a part of. This program is giving me the tools to be a critical, thoughtful, and above all, prepared art/museum worker capable of employment in a much different department than development - I am elated. 

Visiting the Leather Archives & Museum, a space I'd never been to but have been thinking about greatly after my visit
And when I stress or whine about my homework, it's not as bad as I make it sound. It's a half-hearted whine, because the truth is, all I read and write about is museums. All we discuss in class is museum work. I'm learning to be a better writer and thinker, and my professors and advisor are pushing me harder than I've been pushed in years. I needed this, and I'm grateful everyday for it. 

So friends, when you ask me know grad school is, just know that it's going well, that I am hyperinvolved in what's happening in the Chicago museum/gallery world, that I've made friends, and that as I'm telling you how wonderful it is, I'm secretly thinking about an exhibition review I should be writing or a wall label that needs editing.

With love,

27 October 2014

On writing more

Lexie recently posted about wanting to write more, to utilize blogging as a platform for maintaining a writing practice. But also wanting to write about everything. Not wanting to compartmentalize her relationship, her job, her bits of consumption ;). And I find myself thinking the same exact thing. I want a blog that's full of me gushing about grad school things, the museum world, the weird things Andrew and I do on a regular basis (we are weirdos pretty much all of the time).

It such a strange thing to want a space where I can talk/type and get my thoughts and memories out. I've taken to saving my best writing for my Writing for Exhibitions class, go figure. And one thing I've really taken from that class is that writing must be a practice. Being a good writer is like working out, it involves exercising a muscle.

Lori Waxman (on the left), performing 60 WRD/MIN
On a recent visit to our class, Lori Waxman of the Chicago Tribune and SAIC spoke to us about an ongoing projected titled 60 words per minute, in which she wrote criticism for artists as a performance piece. At Documenta (13), she set up a booth with a computer (connected to a projector), and she wrote. Artists visited her with their selected portfolios, and in the span of 30 minutes, she analyzed their work, and wrote a critical review of their practice and oeuvre. While she wrote, the projector placed her words and process into a public domain, giving you a peek into her writing style and practice. Over the course of three months, she wrote some 250 reviews, all of which were published in the local paper. But what Lori told us was that this practice was no small feat. She wrote and wrote and wrote, working her muscle until it was strong and almost a little robotic. She gave back to the community she was temporarily a part of, serving up reviews and criticism for artists who simply wanted their work to be looked at.

I think of Lori's 60 words per minute project and I am both overwhelmed and inspired. Writing is hard. Writing takes time and energy. Finding the time and energy to write for myself, for my blog, for my classes, for my hobbies, for my internship - well, it's a lot. But never once do I finish writing something and feel as though it wasn't worth it. Writing is taxing but it's a way for me to express myself that has somehow become my predominant mode of expression. So often friends and family ask me if I'm still painting, if I'm still taking photos, and sometimes I just want to shout NO! For now writing is how I want to work things out. Writing is how I want to process my life and work through what's happening to me. It feels so good to have reached a point in my mid-life-era where I am confident in so many of my skills and abilities, but making the time for the big ones is the next challenge I want to embark upon. Emma is trying her darndest to keep painting and keep blogging, and I'm hoping to make some space for my words over here. Girl, you continue to inspire me!

Signing off with love and admiration for all of you writers and makers out there, Sandy.

24 October 2014

Roger Brown Study Collection

In truth, I'd never heard of the Roger Brown Study Collection until I started the museum studies program. I'd walked by the nondescript building before, even stopping to pose outside of it this summer not knowing that an eclectic collection of art, tchotchkes, and familial memorabilia were hidden within the brick structure.

Oh you know, just hanging out next to a secret museum
Having visited the museum on Tuesday, my mind keeps wandering back to the collection as well as the intention of the space itself. Roger Brown collected and displayed objects, ones that carried an aura that surpassed the convention of the hierarchical nature of the art world. Handmade Girl Scout projects are displayed on an equal plane next to Ray Yoshida, Richard Hull, and family keepsakes. Lumpy ceramic pots by sculptural novices are given the same spotlight as handcrafted Alabama baskets and a large collection of arts & crafts architectural models of churches.

Erasing the hierarchy of the art museum, the aura of the objects carry the weight of importance.
Like any museum, there were rules. Don't sit on the furniture and don't touch the objects. But if you wanted to take a peek inside of his medicine cabinet or a closer look at his genealogy case, just ask a glove-wearing museum worker and they'd be happy to open things up for you. Walk out to the garage, and take a seat in his Mustang, they don't mind. Because the house museum is still a home. It breathes and creaks as any other home does, despite that fact that it's not inhabited in the typical way a house is lived in.

Nothing is off limits. And for good reason! Notice the little illustration on the second shelf next to the magnifying glass?
While it might strike a museumgoer as being a bit odd, this different approach to museum practice is at the core of Roger Brown's intention for the space. Inspired by the Artist's Museum he'd seen on a road trip in South Dakota in 1972, Brown wanted to create a space for his collection  grounding the Chicago Artist's Museum in his home and studio at 1926 N. Halsted. He curated the space creating unexpected dialogues between objects. Moments in his home/museum are evocative of the work he created, prone to whimsy, color, pattern, and a mish mosh of inspiration. 


In addition to the Roger Brown Study Collection being the site of an eclectic gatherings of objects, it's also a space for artistic practice and educational inquiry. Having donated the home to the School of the Art Institute in the late 1990's, the school has utilized the space in a variety of ways. Staging performance art inspired by the home, doing architectural historic preservation on various aspects of the building's structure, and recontextualizing pieces of the collection into meaningful ongoing exhibition practices are just a fraction of the ways the space continues to inspire engaging work across media and explorative practices.

Though Roger Brown passed away in 1997, his artful spirit and prolific mind continue to live on, through the life brought into the house on visits and in the artistic practices he continues to inspire and engage.


21 October 2014

Mickalene Thomas: I was born to do great things

Mickalene Thomas’ I was born to do great things is an unconventional portrait of Sandra Bush, the artist’s late mother and muse. The presentation at Kavi Gupta is split into two spaces. A traditional, white cube gallery containing vitrines and art-adorned walls is contrasted with a gallery space evocative of a 1970’s living room, with mismatched furniture, wood paneling, and linoleum tile. The show’s title is a quote from Thomas’ mother-muse. “I was born to do great things” speaks to Bush’s views of herself and brings to the forefront identity, a major theme of the exhibition. Though the sculptures and paintings are a visual reminder of her mother, a short documentary in the den gallery delves into Bush’s melancholic feelings of regret for not succeeding at a career in modeling, which is countered with pride in acting as her daughter’s muse.

Image c/o Kavi Gupta Gallery
In the main gallery, Thomas intersperses her mother’s artifacts – a tube of lipstick, Chinese dolls, jewelry – with works made by the artist that were inspired by her mother’s larger-than-life personality. These artifacts were collected from her mother’s home following her death in 2012, and act as a proxy for her maternal presence. Having been used by Bush to shape her identity, they come to exemplify her exquisite style and grace.
Image c/o Kavi Gupta Gallery
The most provocative works in the show were sculptures cast in bronze: a jacket, loose hanging sweater, a pair of jeans, a bra, and Crocs. In removing these items from her mother’s home and transforming them into bronze sculptures, Thomas is memorializing her mother in a format reserved for historical greats – a fitting tribute to a woman who continues to inspire an entire artistic practice.
Image c/o Kavi Gupta Gallery

07 October 2014

Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse: My Barbarian at Gallery 400

Motherhood and the anxieties associated with it are the core themes of Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse at Gallery 400. The exhibition highlights the work of My Barbarian, a collective comprised of Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alex Segade. The works in the show were accompanied by two live performances of an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s 1932 play, The Mother, in which a radicalized depiction of motherhood is explored.


From the moment I entered the industrial space of Gallery 400, I was confronted by the sharp triangular stage – a wooden construction jutting a sharp pointed angle directly at the entrance. This introduction to the show is arresting, the downward pointing triangular shape of the stage recalling the symbol of femininity and womanhood. This object is central to a show intent on understanding motherhood and redefining gender roles in the modern era.

Though the exhibition doesn’t have many works in it, it feels complete. Flanking the stage are works that directly relate to the performance. On the left are drawings made of oil stick on brown paper crudely depicting masks, set designs, and violent statements like “YOUR SON HAS BEEN SHOT.” Each drawing is clearly handmade. There is nothing mechanical about the art, though some of the drawings depict factories and laborers – giving humanity to the labor movement, a theme that is later called out in the performance of The Mother.


The opposing wall holds thirteen papier mâché masks used in My Barbarian’s performances. The masks are sculptural, evoking classical Greek theatre, each depicting a character performed by members of My Barbarian. Upon closer viewing, the papers used to plaster the masks are reproductions of 1930’s Russian newspapers, a reference to the era in which Brecht composed The Mother, a play framed by the Bolshevik Revolution.


In two smaller galleries are video installations, one of which plays My Barbarian’s performance of The Mother in a continuous loop. This video acts as a proxy for the actors throughout the show’s run, although two performances occurred mid-September. The performances rounded out the exhibition in its ability to activate the objects in the space and personified the themes of motherhood, revolution, labor, and artistic practice that each iteration of My Barbarian’s work explores.

The Mother takes place in 1917 Russia, and portrays a mother, Mrs. Vlassova, in relationship to her rebel son Pavel. The action of the play occurs on the triangular stage and the masks become physical aids in storytelling. Gaines, Gordon, and Segado wear neutral off-white work clothes including coveralls, caps, and work boots. Though they appear to match, each of their costumes is distinct - their individuality is highlighted. The story takes place in a series of locations including the kitchen of Mrs. Vlassova, the factory where Pavel works, a prison, a teacher’s home, and sites of protest outside of the factory. The drawings are activated during the performance, projected onto the wall behind the stage to set the scene for each location.


The performance was punctuated by songs from the original play set to musical arrangements by Gaines. Employing theatrical tactics, My Barbarian exploits musical styles, dance, and inflections in the actors’ voices and bodies to tell the story of Mrs. Vlassova’s place in the revolution. Tied solely to the domestic space of her home, she is introduced to the revolution through her son Pavel who works in a factory. Pavel’s desire to fight for better wages involves his mother giving both her emotional and physical support. She aids the revolution through her words and her actions, eventually leaving her home to complete covert operations for the revolutionary effort, visit her son in prison, and even join in the violent protest marches.

The success of the performance lies in the liberties My Barbarian took with their interpretation of the original. The performers play multiple characters in the story. Each takes a turn at playing the mother. Even the audience has a chance to perform the mother through call and response at the end of the performance. In this way My Barbarian suggests that all people have a “maternal instinct” and the place a mother may have in stirring revolution. Revolutions don’t emerge from thin air – they are birthed, weaned, and grown. Through neutralizing costumes, the use of masks, and simplistic use of set design, My Barbarian is able to tell the story of revolution while simultaneously remarking upon the importance of the mother in nurturing social justice.

03 October 2014

Gallery Girl

Howdy y'all! It's hard to believe that I am in week six of grad school! Not to mention I've been working my little tail off at Gallery 400 and they've asked if I'd be interested in continuing my glamorous curatorial internship (my words, not theirs). In short, I said yes! Which means all of you Chicago friends should come visit me at work, as in please attend all of our wonderful programming. I'm talking lectures, events, openings, film screenings, performances. You name it, we are probably doing it in some capacity.

In working at the gallery the last few weeks I've learned an immeasurable amount of "stuff." I know, stuff isn't the most descriptive or flowery of words, but there are so many different roles and tasks within the space that my duties change any given day. My first full day of work was the opening for Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse - an exhibition of the work from My Barbarian collective.

These are the labels I was tasked with installing
When I arrived at work the morning of the opening there was a flurry of activity. Masks needed to be hung, wall labels needed to be trimmed and affixed to the wall, video files needed to be compressed and installed on media players, and lights needed to be installed. My first daunting task was hanging labels, and the amount of precision it took was a lesson in futility. I am now a whiz with a leveler.


The night of the opening was a smashing success, though there was a moment of panic when our bartender arrived an hour late! An opening without wine, can you feel me sweating as I type this? Malik Gaines of My Barbarian performed a medley of songs from the group's adaptation of The Mother, filling the entire room with music. It was such a wonderful experience working an art opening in which I was a gallery employee and not just a critical visitor!! There was a moment when I looked around the room mid-performance and saw the general sense of happiness everyone felt listening to Gaines sing.

Pinch me.

Some other projects I've been working on include:

  • Completing a final proof of the didactic material for our current show
  • Turning the equipment on and off to open and close the gallery (getting turnt if you will)
  • Making sure the projectors are straight (lordy lord this is also an exercise in patience)
  • Researching artists for our upcoming show (stay tuned!!)
  • Researching and writing wall text (!!!) for the Visibility Machines exhibition coming in January
  • Finding contact information for the artists we are interested in working with
  • Requesting submissions of work from the the MFA/BFA students for our Lobby Competition
All in all, working here has been such a hands on experience. I'm learning an insane amount whether it's through the hands on nitty gritty, or the research I'm doing on diverse contemporary artists. Plus the amount of exhibitions we put on annually means I'll be able to see some of my projects through over the course of the next year. In fact... we have an opening on October 31 for a show I am helping to put together, and you should consider coming!! Also, I'll be facilitating a screening of Art21 on November 5, which you should also put on your calendar. 

To steal a line from Almost Famous, it's all happening.