Camille Henrot’s 2013 video piece “Grosse Fatigue” brings the weight of encyclopedic knowledge of human experience and demonstrates how the ever-increasing accessibility of information can overwhelm to the point of paralysis. Henrot suggests that those given the choice to do anything will simply do nothing. This meditation on the current mediascape and twenty-first-century image culture exacerbates how visual clutter, all classified, sorted and catalogued, can overwhelm the archivist to the point of exhaustion and futility.
The folly of the archivist—to know it all, to see it all—does not affect Chicago-based artist Jeremy Bolen. It seems this same approach to data, instead of overwhelming, calms the researcher, at least in their pursuit of alternative methods of documentation. In his exhibition “Casual Invisibility,” Jeremy Bolen continues with previously visited themes of scientific knowledge in relation to empirical observation, but for this work, the material source now includes glass plate negatives from the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.
The Yerkes Observatory’s archive of astrophysical data runs parallel to Bolen’s attempts to create a visual language for that which cannot be seen by the naked eye. His access to these materials informs his current body of work directly. Whereas Bolen uses sculpture to enliven field data research involving environmental slow-violence, the negatives from the Yerkes’ refracting telescope, the largest ever used for astronomical research, give a visual platform to that which no one had ever seen previously, in the gallery or otherwise.
During a residency with Latitude this past June, Bolen worked the plate-glass negatives amongst other materials and research from various scientific institutions in the Midwest into the hybrid objects now on display at Soccer Club Club. These pieces work best in reversing the plaque/artifact dynamic. Neither exclusively photographs nor archival objects, Bolen blends these items into a pleasing display of the formerly unnoticed.
The overlap and intersection, present amongst the sculptures and images for “Casual Invisibility,” adhere to the geometry of ninety-degree angles, and thus, operate as highly aestheticized spreadsheets. Contemporary in their abstraction and cleanliness, the works function as visual addenda to the titles in which they find themselves reclassified.
For instance, “Zion, Illinois Burial Film #5” sources buried infrared film from the former Zion Nuclear Power Station for the structural component of the piece. Wedged into one corner of the room, the print of this image, framed in black, leans against one of the mirrored walls of the former Polish sports bar, and also leans against a black and white landscape, mounted flat the leaning print obscures the full image from sight. This piece serves Bolen’s interests in phenomena and geological time while also incorporating the space to emphasize the reproducible nature of the data which goes unseen. Most admirably, Bolen boldly positions his own work within the same ephemeral state as the research in which he sources.
Jeremy Bolen’s “Casual Invisibility” shows through January 12 at Soccer Club Club, 2923 North Cicero, with a closing party 7pm-10pm on January 12, with a DJ set and musical performance by Good Fuck.
Nine black-and-white images of a mouth, printed in gelatin silver and mounted on matte-black archival board, hang in stoic repose against Document’s southern wall; nine sets of lips and nine mouths, unspeaking, each lit by an overlapping numeral respective of the order in which each print appears in the series. These nine semi-portraits, of indeterminate gender and identity, hang equidistance from each other and in uniform height. From here these images will undergo further manipulation through repetition. Behind the framed pieces, more mouths appear, edited and composed within a larger digital collage that when viewed from a distance resemble the iris and pupil. In this effort to layer the tools and methods of perception, Sara Greenberger Rafferty layers and teases the image screen to a hypnotic effect.
The Chicago native’s exhibition, “The Laughter,” sources the ephemera of pre-digital photography in service to a highly advanced, process-based post-digital printing practice. Discarded materials of commercial film photography, often used for light and color testing, sometimes in the form of slides, provide her materials for her collage and multimedia-based works. In her second solo exhibition with the gallery, instructional-based mediums such as slide film receive the treatment and consequential gravitas of the museum archive.
Best seen in “Red Hand,” Rafferty prints the image of a former slide onto acetate, paints this printed surface with acrylic polymer and mounts this work on plexiglass. Image aside, the tension contained within this process and these materials disrupts the formerly pristine surface. Textural imperfections contradict the delicate printing methods involved to make this body of work. The outstretched hand, palm up, ready to receive, now presents itself torn, warping the former tools of perspective and placing the image into conflict with itself.
The punchline lies within Rafferty’s less complicated treatment of her own cultural artifacts. Text and images pulled from her phone, selfies, text notes, and so on, make up the vinyl wall coverings that provide the backdrop for another exhibition piece in the same fashion as the nine semi-portraits. “Eye Test (University of Michigan Extension)” follows the process method of “Red Hand,” but instead repeats the ocular motif of an eyeball with a greater degree of abstraction. Rafferty’s maximalist display of digital clutter behind this piece, although seemingly personal, more closely mimics the cold inner workings of a hard drive or circuit board. This ever-growing network of digital communication, like the Kodak gray scales, provide information that is neither harmful nor unimportant.
Recent exhibitions by Rafferty have used more specific references to female comediennes such as Joan Rivers and Kathy Lee Griffin to address her concerns of sensory perception. “The Laughter” employs more overt symbolism to rework the value we place on photography’s history and our ability to preserve the tools and methods of the medium as it actively works against our own unmitigated physical perception. (Ryan Filchak)
Jason Dodge’s sculptural practice adjusts our material world to build moments of narrative, connection, and potentiality through the lens of natural phenomena. The collections of objects involved in Dodge’s practice do not so much stun the viewer into misunderstanding, but instead entice the viewer to engage in a limitless unraveling—what the artist calls the “inward spirals,” or “vortexes in singular things.” Since his first solo exhibition at Casey Kaplan in 1998, Dodge has brought attention back to the alchemical process of things, bringing a mystic contemplation to the otherwise banal and overlooked. In conjunction with his upcoming exhibition at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago, Ryan Filchak and Dodge discussed the artist’s methods toward exhibition design, his collaborations with poets, and working with curator Dieter Roelstraete.
Ryan Filchak: In the past, you have cited a continual pursuit of new working methods for your exhibitions. How do you feel your approach towards your recent exhibition at Casey Kaplan, Jason Dodge: hand in hand with the handless, reinvents your thinking process towards the presentation of your work?
Jason Dodge: In my last several exhibitions, I thought about how much to touch something and how much not to—being a part of what we are doing as people moving around in the world, participating, and trying to understand, isolating some of the things that fall from us while we are living and trying to lend then force in rooms. I guess it is always evolving.
RF: The subjects you address in your work, regardless of how you much you as the artist may touch them, trace the infinitely complex possibilities of how objects change over time, and travel through space. Do you care to elaborate on the process of this selection, and why these themes of connection remain a high priority for you?
JD: I like how we (people) use things while we are alive—things made from the same atoms [as us], things that take up space and are our mirrors (cell phones, cars) and our embarrassment (islands of plastic in the Pacific, guns). We pass things, like jewels, on through our families and discard an unused packet of soy sauce after a takeaway meal. Things in the world are like words, they come as they are, and can be infinitely reimagined and ordered in ways that open new worlds and to reflect on our own. The same words can exist in a diary or a political speech, and I see the sculptural manipulation of those words as a platform where their meanings meet their possibilities.
RF: It is interesting you bring up the mutability of language. The title for hand in hand with the handless comes from the 2011 poem “Recurring Awakening” by Franz Wright, and although the works in the gallery contain neither titles nor text, poetry does play a key role in your practice. You treat everyday objects in the same way a writer or poet shapes words at their disposal. Do you find solace in this approach to endless possibility, or do your attempts to attach meaning to the limitless reality of personal experience overwhelm you?
JD: That is a nice question. I do not really know how to answer, because I do not feel like I place myself in the role of writer, as the object of personal experience, or as messenger of meaning. The question of where I exist in relation to the work constantly shifts. I feel most comfortable as a harbinger, or at least operating in real time, something like diving into the present—this is one of the reasons why I do not engage in specific meaning. I see myself engaging with the act of reading more than writing. Perhaps the things I use to make the work are like tools used to read, and that is why they are similar to words, as words are also tools to read. I do not think meaning belongs to me.
RF: Recently I read your lecture on sculpture, entitled “Subtractions,” and realized that asking about a potential shift in emotion—between the restful and the sublime—has more to do with the projections of my own reaction to your work. Through the exploration of our material reality, there is a transition that occurs from curiosity, to understanding, to connection. This trajectory works so profoundly within the viewer’s experience.
To continue this analogy of reader and writer, for your exhibition at the Neubauer Collegium in Chicago you will be working with curator Dieter Roelstraete. Have you worked with him in the past, and how would you describe a curator’s role in relation to your ideas of exhibition making?
JD: Dieter and I have had an ongoing conversation for the past decade at least, and I suspect that the project we will make in Chicago will connect to this. The poet Ishion Hutchinson will also be a part of the show and will be authoring a poem that is read within the exhibition, and is meant as a text for taking away. What is exciting to me about the Neubauer Collegium is that it is not only a chance to experiment, but for that experimentation to be used, debated, and discussed by the students at the University of Chicago. Hutchinson and I also have an intense ongoing conversation about imagination and working in our various ways. Several years ago, I published a volume of his poems, and it seems like a logical extension of our conversations to make something together again in a very different context.
RF: This role of publisher reiterates your perceived role as messenger—do you see these secondary interactions as a part of the work, or again, simply the message you intend to carry?
JD: The publishing comes from a place that one person’s work, i.e. myself, is not enough. I wanted to find a way to work with poets in a way that involved making something together, and in the case of fivehundred places, it is to make books of their poems. The books function as an attempt to introduce poetry in a way that anyone reading those poets can read them for themselves as opposed to through me. In the last years, I have limited what comes into my work, and essential to that is including other voices, not on my terms. In the case of Hutchinson’s work for the Neubauer, I asked him to write a poem for the exhibition that will be taken away— meaning that its frame begins with my work and ends without it. I also mentioned to him that the title of the poem would also be the title of the show, and that I would take no influence over that.
RF: Have you always sourced your titles from other poets?
JD: I have been trying to eliminate language from my work for a long time, step by step. Now I do not use language for my works. For the last two years I have mostly asked poets for titles, but the show at Kaplan this year was the line from Wright that I love so much.
RF: After speaking about this collaboration with poetry, I am now thinking about both Hand in Hand with the Handless and your ongoing installation A Permanently Open Window. Where one is a collection of material objects in a gallery, and the other is a manipulation of withstanding architecture.
JD: Yes—I have been thinking a lot about things that barely come in and out of focus, sometimes litter, cheap things, or things with the sort of blankness of utility because they can be tuned to something heartbreaking, destructive, lonely. I am also interested in how slight the touch is, like how a plastic bag might sit around for years, then used once to carry something from one place to another and discarded. There is a lot of potential in the cruelty of the use, and cruelty to the ecology of the planet. I want to explore these emotional notions from as close as possible. In Chicago, I have planned very little and am trying to engage with things that same sense—how much to touch something and how little to touch something.
Jason Dodge at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago runs through December 21, 2018.
His second show with Regards, Christopher Aque’s latest exhibition, titled “Idling,” showcases his multidisciplinary artistic process through intricate exhibition design and a continued personal narrative told through video, sculpture and photography.
Aque addresses both his own sexuality as well as “Queerness” and “Otherness” in a broader contemporary context by using the culture of cruising as a foundation of source material for his work. Although the exhibition text provides an explicit first-person narrative of Aque’s life, relationships and mindset, his sculptures and mixed-media documentation carry so little autobiographical content that their application reaches suspect levels of banality.
For instance, “Erasure (apart)” and “Erasure (together),” are two sets of motion-deactivated UV-C germicidal lamps. In “Erasure (together)” the lamps are mounted vertical and parallel to one another, whereas in “Erasure (apart)” the piece mounts the two lamps horizontally and on either side of the wall at the top of the staircase in the back of the gallery, causing the viewer to walk ostensibly through the work. Both sets of lamps first appear as found objects, but in truth, their seamless construction is a testament to Aque’s fabrication techniques and skilled ability to have his work blend into the gallery. While inconspicuous in an architectural context, these pieces do well to address and contribute to concepts of public sex, gay identity and queer futurity.
Each “Erasure” piece deactivates with human presence, never allowing the blue hue the pieces emit to occupy the same physical space as a visitor. Those familiar with the open-format gallery will also be met with two temporary walls which move the viewer forcibly through the exhibition. By tweaking space and light, the seemingly minimalist presentation takes on a layered complexity that emulates the navigation of a homosexual body in search of both potential connection and anonymity.
Aque’s voyeuristic exploration of desire within the confines of an oppressive culture takes on a heightened element of daring and commitment with the inclusion of his fourteen-minute video piece, also titled “Idling.” With a Super 8 camera, Aque voyeuristically filmed males lounging in Prospect Park from a distance. Each subject, unaware of Aque, can be seen sunbathing, but little else happens. The power of this piece comes in how Aque has edited the video to compensate for his circumstantially shaky hand. The frame of the Super 8 footage moves around, while the subject remains centered on the monitor.
Over five-hundred hours of editing went into achieving this result, and the monitor sits on a blue blanket typical of moving companies and art handlers. Not typical of these blankets is the hand-stitched pattern of white thread Aque has added to the work. Almost unnoticeable when watching the more enticing video, Aque’s admirable ability to infuse these sterile and utilitarian objects with his quiet, time-intensive “labors of love” relay the tremors of intensity involved with both the romantic and unresolved relationships forced to operate in obfuscation.
Christopher Aque’s “Idling” shows through April 21 at Regards, 2216 West Chicago.
In the Spring of 2016, Chicago-based artist Daniel G. Baird presented his first solo show with PATRON Gallery. The exhibition, entitled When, featured several ongoing series, showcasing Baird’s use of archaeological sites and remains to source the concepts and material for his sculptural practice, including two large-scale works titled When I and When II. An example of this particular series would be shown again this past Fall for the group exhibition presented by EXPO CHICAGO in September, entitled Singing Stones at the Roundhouse at the DuSable Museum of African American History, organized by the Palais de Tokyo.
Drawn to both their figurative associations and their actual formations, Baird combines the natural and the industrial to create a tension in his work that points towards an inevitable and infinite march of technological progress. During a visit to Baird’s studio, I posed a few questions about how working with these concepts of representation and layers of time have developed over the last couple of years. A transcription of the conversation is below, wherein we discuss his first major solo museum exhibition, the sublime, and of course, caves.
Ryan Filchak: You recently opened an exhibition at Michigan State University’s Broad Museum, entitled Field Station. Can you speak to this experience, and explain how your approach in this presentation shares a dialogue with your past work?
Daniel G. Baird: The exhibition at the Broad Museum was a timely opportunity for the present iteration of the work, and it allowed for a conversation across the institution’s various disciplines that I had not anticipated. Notably, the dialogue I had with the MSU Museum’s new Director and anthropologist, Mark Auslander, offered a unique perspective of museology and ideas around Early-Paleolithic shamanic expression, which has really stuck with me. The Fieldstation series—a term used to refer to an off-site laboratory to conduct research—lends itself perfectly to some recent developments in my practice, and I was very grateful to [Curator] Steven Bridges for his assistance and recognition of these threads. Leading up to the exhibition, I had been steadily producing a body of work that emerges from a particular cave-site in the Midwest. This location, by my persistent sourcing from it, has in a sense become my own ‘field station’ for the development of this body of work. The opportunity to conceive and produce a work for this exhibition series allowed me to critically reflect on the function this location had within the larger scope of my practice.
RF: For this exhibition, you presented new pieces that revisited a signature method of production—fragments of cave walls are rebuilt as a 1:1 models, then mounted and displayed on aluminum stands, and plastic hinges made with the help of 3D printing. Does the source material for the natural elements of this series come from a specific location?
DG.B: When I began producing the caveworks, I was interested in the idea of ‘cave-ness’ where the specificity of location was not all that important. I was drawn to the idea that a 1:1 replica of a cave-surface alluded to, and contained, all other subterranean spaces, while simultaneously referencing the believed source for all creative expression and external representations by humanity. My initial interest in acquiring these fragments was to display them within proportions of contemporary screens, establishing through this comparison an analogy to a historical lineage of representation. In terms of geological timescales, looking into an iPhone or television screen and gazing at the play of images by candlelight on cave walls are very recent phenomena.
RF: Aside from the screen dimensions you reference, have you added other elements of technology into your practice?
DG.B: Yes, in Spring 2017, I bought a 3-D scanner, typically used to replicate the facades of architecture, to the cave site that I had been sourcing the fragments from. I made a detailed scan of its interior—the desire to capture these walls in a digital format felt like a logical next step of bringing the cave-surface into the screen itself. It was only after I produced this precise model of the cave’s interior that the source changed for me, and became something very specific and important to the rest of the work. It acquired a sort of sacred provenance that I was very reluctant to acknowledge prior to this moment. The digital acquisition born of the process turned the form of the cave into a temporal object, capturing the form of the site at the precise moment when the scan was taken, similar to a photograph. I like to think of Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau in relation to this. The Merzbau was an immersive environment that Schwitters created in his Hanover home between 1923 and 1937—it was an artwork that was subject to perpetual modification and change. In 1933, photographs of the structure were taken, fixing the changing format that moment in time. These photographs were then used to approximate a reconstruction of the piece at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover.
The concept of preservation, and the desire to arrest objects from inevitable entropy, is an interest that I have had throughout all of my work. The Merzbau captured through those photographs presents the possibility for its future reconstruction anywhere, and at any time, in a similar way to how the 3-D scan of the cave can manifest itself both digitally and physically as the moment of when it was captured. Recently, I returned to the physical cave itself to produce some new work, and was delighted to find the ground near the entrance covered in ice stalagmites from the dripping ceiling, which are nonexistent in my precise virtual model from May of 2017.
RF: You have also mentioned that these works can be read in tandem with Robert Smithson’sNon-Site Theory. Could you explain how pieces from your When and Moment series expand on this idea?
DG.B: The Non-Site analogy is a way to think through how many of the things I reference and utilize in my work point elsewhere— whether it be to a different location by way of a direct 1:1 reference, such as the directly sourced cave-works of When, or an entirely different timescale by way of an object with a deep geologic history, as seen in the Moment series.
The works in Moment hinge on the established belief of tortoise mythologies, whereby these creatures contain the entirety of the world within their shells. I feel the tortoise shell mythology alludes to a desire for memory—of holding onto the past, which we all do in our various forms of recollection. I began to think of the tortoise in relation to the idea of epigenetic memory (the accumulation of an individual’s mental memory throughout their life) and epiphylogenetic memory (the inscription of memory onto objects). This led me to the analogy of how a tortoise, at the time of its death, captures within the confines of its shell the entirety of the world as it existed in that moment. For this work, I specifically sourced freshly excavated fossilized shells from roughly thirty million years ago, as a material fact to deep history. I see them as ‘photographically’ containing the world from where they came; as locks without keys to comprehending such a distant time and space.
RF: Moving away from those precise moments in past series, you have begun to manipulate your source material to a greater degree than before. How do you interpret the introduction of the artist’s hand into these cave reliefs when changing the surface through marks or sculpted surfaces that deviate from the original?
DG.B: In all of my work, the hand—and tactility in general—is an important element that connects to a base understanding of human touch in contrast to a lot of the presentation systems I have developed. My initial intent was to use the cave surfaces as a type of tabula rasa, where an infinite history of mark making could unfold, yet also work as references to sites that commonly hold a deep significance to the development of representation, tool-making, and consciousness. The technique used in the acquisition of the surfaces requires a very tactile engagement by pressing silicone into the wall surface to capture its detail. I sought to re-connect this tactility in the fabrication of the works by incorporating finger impressions onto the backside of the sculptures.
Adding an additional gesture to the actual surfaces of the works themselves had initially felt like too heavy of a move, and I feared it might bring the works into a type of didacticism. I have since relaxed in this apprehension, and have begun to introduce horizontal gestural lines by physically marking the surfaces of the walls, which connects to other interests in the sublime present in other bodies of work. Physical gestural modification to the actual structure of the cast surfaces is something I am actually working through at the moment.
RF: In addition to these gestures, with the inclusion of screens into your work, both through dimensions and through material, the viewer must also connect the origins of mark making with modern communication methods. Do you find it frustrating, rewarding, or something else entirely to simultaneously reference past and present through your work?
DG.B: The romantic notion of the sublime is something that I think about often. Traditionally, it is this overwhelming sensation of the crushing and awesome power that the experience of the natural environment can have on our consciousness. I like to graft this idea to technological objects, and the seemingly infinite possibilities contained in their development.
Astronauts speak of an experience of sublime wholeness when they exit Earth’s atmosphere and see the fragility of the “pale blue dot” when it is understood as an object and the sphere wherein all of history and meaning has unfolded. It is an experience termed the “Overview Effect.” In working with such timescales in my work, I am interested in alluding to this deep oneness and perspective of a continuum that far exceeds our limited comprehension.
Dressed incongruously in a camouflage hoodie and chrome shin protectors, Sasha Pharoah wheels a serving cart holding a live king crab through the busy dining room at Cai Fine Dining and Banquet in Chicago’s Chinatown. The co-founder of handcrafted weaponry company Rozliubit brings the still-wet crustacean to a table where Vic Mensa holds court with fellow Chicago rapper Valee, creative director Daniella Deluna, and Sua Yoo, Pharoah’s co-founder and creative partner. Sporting a shimmering monokini and bright yellow Mongolian lamb’s wool coat, Yoo languidly wields a 24-inch diamond studded katana sword at the dinner table like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
If the scene seems surreal, that’s the intended effect. Pharoah and Yoo aren’t guests at a particularly decadent dinner for Chicago’s rising hip-hop royalty. On this night, the restaurant is serving as a guerrilla soundstage where Mensa is hard at work shooting the music video for a forthcoming single. And as they did in the video for the rapper’s 2017 single “OMG (ft. Pusha T),” Rozliubit is contributing luxe, bejeweled blades and armor to Mensa’s visual identity.
The earlier video featured Yoo and model Angel Harrold in the backseat of a Bentley convertible in Swarovski-studded hockey masks and lingerie, with Yoo brandishing a snow-white katana like a pinup bodyguard. The new shoot is more Blade Runner kitsch, but Pharoah and Yoo’s styling and weaponry lends the video a vicious sensuality that you might call Rozliubit’s hallmark.
Pharoah and Yoo became weapons dealers in 2015, building an inventory of meticulously crafted blades and delicate BDSM armor that they sell to Rozliubit’s international clientele. “What we define as a weapon is pretty open. For example, we’ve talked about working with boxing gloves before, which is both a weapon and a piece of armor,” Yoo says. Themes of glamour, danger, and playful detachment run through their work. The name Rozliubit comes from the Russian term razbliuto, which translates as “the sentimental feeling you have for someone you once loved but no longer do.”
The self-proclaimed “maids of honor and guardians of virtue” control every aspect of their production process, mutually collaborating on designs and prototypes and splitting their profits equally. They cast and carve their intricate knife hilts by hand, incorporating embellishments like Swarovski gemstones bought at auction and vintage crucifix parts. Pharoah and Yoo affix the custom handles to prefabricated knife blades sourced from suppliers, making each piece completely unique.
The language and craftsmanship behind the Rozliubit brand draws on Greek mythology, classical architecture, BDSM, and kawaii culture to achieve a dark and enticing aesthetic. “Hinting at danger and being aggressive is interesting for us, and when people find out the weapons are made by two girls, it adds to this,” Pharaoh says.
Not afraid of corrupting the “sacred,” Rozliubit also satirizes the links between commerce, religion, and sexuality. Their “maids of heaven and guardians of virtue” tagline is an explicit reference to this connection. “We both kind of agree that religion is an amusingly obvious scam and that a lot of it is basically just a cover for kinks and controlling sexuality,” Pharoah adds.
To push the uniqueness of their brand even further, Rozliubit is moving away from limited runs and one-off designs to a singularly commission-based operation. “We’re not catering to any existing product base, and commissions allow us to step further outside of the space of an internet brand,” says Pharaoh. Rozliubit recently completed a custom dagger for drag queen Katya Zamolodchikova, a former contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Raceand current star of The Trixie & Katya Showon VICELAND. Zamolodchikova collaborated with Pharoah and Yoo to design a grotesque knife with eyeballs covering the hilt and a blood red blade, the first time Rozliubit has introduced color to their blade palette.
Based on the success of their partnerships with Mensa and Zamolodchikova, artistic collaborations are quickly becoming the cornerstone of Rozliubit’s business model. It’s a creative existence that suits Pharoah and Yoo’s enterprising, experimental nature.
Back in Chinatown, the Rozliubit co-founders exit Cai Fine Dining and Banquet into below-freezing temperatures. For the next scene in Mensa’s video, a white Ferrari waits parked outside the same Chinatown strip mall. Neon lights running the length of the building read “Yin Wall City,” and mixed with the snow, they cast a warm red haze over the parking lot. Though it’s late, and cold, and Yoo is scantily clad in her glittering costume, she and Pharoah appear relaxed. Rozliubit is well on its way to manifesting realities of its own design.
Between 1996 and 2001, for five memorable if not bizarre years, a minor professional ice hockey team called The Kentucky Thoroughblades used the town of Lexington as their base of operations. The first team of its kind, the Thoroughblades played their homes games at Rupp Arena, giving fans from the state a chance to see a live sporting event in the same venue as the widely beloved college basketball team, the Kentucky Wildcats. As an American Hockey League affiliate of the San Jose Sharks, the team positioned these pioneer players one step away from the NHL. The Thoroughblades franchise utilized a burgeoning presence of amateur hockey in the south and community-based marketing to achieve a distinct cultural import for the bluegrass. In a state known and shaped by basketball, fans were not only able to attend Thoroughblades events at a much reduced ticket price from that of a National Championship winning Wildcats team (which they achieved in both 1996 and 1998), but they were able to experience a new sport first hand and the spectacle that came with it.
Former Throughblades owner Ron Degregorio and others knew that to engage a potentially skeptical and unfamiliar fan base in central Kentucky, the incoming organization would have to make the games appeal in an entertaining and exciting in ways that did not rely on the sport itself. In 1995, while construction began on the facilities to give the team a rink on which to play inside Rupp, a year long marketing campaign was launched to build interest before the first home game. In part due to the veracity of the campaign and the low cost of media for the relatively modest population of the market, the news spread fast and wide. In addition to regionally appealing taglines like “Hockey with Horsepower,” the franchise used slogans on billboards and in newspaper ads like “Try out Hockey at the Rupp,” shamelessly acknowledging the low level of familiarity with the sport in their potential fan base. However, a surprising ground swell of interest appeared when the franchise held a name-the-team contest, the first of many such marketing activities. Shockingly, over 5,000 people participated. By asking for these submissions the organization made their first mark on the community by asking them to take ownership and get involved by cleverly choosing to run with a name that signaled a less than serious attitude.
This same attitude was be reflected in the team’s brash logo design. Contracted by McKinley Griffen Design and Advertising of Wilton, New York; the team’s logo depicted a brawny, anthropomorphic, pale grey horse wearing hockey gloves, ice skates, and hockey pants. The teals, purples and aquamarine colors used by the San Jose Sharks were also used by the Thoroughblades, who adopted this same color palette for team jerseys and all other merchandise. Both teams also used a triangle to frame the mascots in their logos, but instead of biting a hockey stick in half like the shark of San Jose, “Lucky” holds a hockey stick in his hand and is drawn shirtless with a toothy grin, flowing mane and tattooed chest.
For the 1996/1997 season, Rupp Arena averaged 7,741 fans per game, and in the second year of the team, attendance reached a higher average of 7,847 fans per game. These numbers seem low, and in comparison to the average attendance of a University of Kentucky basketball home game (23,000 fans per game, the largest in the country), they were drops in the bucket. And yet, if you were to talk to anyone who attended those games, and I will now confess as a young buck from Versailles, KY, I did, the stories and memories from this era recall a unique and peculiar fanaticism. For one I believe this has to do with how naive impressions of hockey were made manifest for us Kentuckians with the Thoroughblades. Unlike basketball, hockey meant fights, and there were many. If you search the T’Blades on youtube today, on the first page you will get one newscast from WLEX promoting a special “White Out” night and ten fights. I highly recommend the “AHL: Kentucky Thoroughblades vs Hershey Bears Brawl” wherein the T’Blades goalie comes out from the goal to check a player into the boards behind the net of the rival team with all the speed and power that comes with traveling the length of the ice. In addition to the seemingly constant locker boxing, goals were signaled by alarms and sirens, not the silky swish of a net, or the clang of a rim. And on top of this high speed, high octane, full contact sport, the Thoroughblades were providing in game entertainment to match. Frequently seen during a home game were three man slingshots for t-shirts, hot dogs shot from CO2 cannons, and the antics of the beloved “Bud Light Crew.” Part Mad Max, part 90s’ candy raver, the “Bud Light Crew” were there to facilitate crowd involvement, sliding across the ice on knee pads in between periods. Pucks were tossed over the glass by players during pre game shootarounds for the kids to chase after, and a roving camera would look for fans dancing in the stands to show on the arena’s big screens throughout the games. Other highlights having nothing to do with goals, offense, defense, or the on-the-fly player substitutions include the moments when the crowd watched the national anthem performer step like a newborn foal onto the ice, releasing a collective breath of relief and disappointment once they found solid footing at the microphone.
And of course, this rosy nostalgia comes from being a kid myself during these years, watching the T’Blades first hand fight the Hershey Bears, bump gloves and toss pucks. Now, looking back on the team’s residence in Lexington, and the waning attendance after year two, one can track the ways fans welcomed an unfamiliar cultural presence south of the Mason-Dixon enthusiastically, and just as quickly shied away. Despite deeper playoff runs, and two division championship wins, fan support declined conversely to the team’s individual success. Wins proved irrelevant, and contrary to the town’s basketball team, the Thoroughblades had no legacy to maintain, no storied history and were a pressure release for the community’s typical “defend the crown” stance on sports.
Additionally, the initial marketing push to gain support for the team proved so successful that the organization could not sustain increasing financial demands from both Rupp Arena and San Jose. The home opening game set an AHL attendance record with 17,503 fans and this momentum would never repeat itself. At the end of the fifth season a sale took place, and the Thoroughblades left Lexington for Cleveland to become the Barons. Lexington tried their hand at another amateur hockey team in 2002 with the “Men O’ War,” but this team lasted only one season and again Rupp was without a hockey presence. Aside from the University of Kentucky college hockey team, this remains true today.
Whether Hockey failed in the bluegrass, or the Thoroughblades failed in Lexington, the team’s impact on central Kentucky has a more complicated story than a brief stint of downtown family fun. High caliber hockey was played in Rupp Arena, and the team saw the largest amount of interest during the same three years that the University of Kentucky Wildcats hung two championship banners. As with any AHL team, the Thoroughblades matched both older goons on the downswing of their career and younger future NHL players, like Dan Boyle, Scott Hannan and Zdeno Chara. For this reason I feel that the team provided simultaneously an introduction to the sport for young fans like myself, and a dose of absurdity for others. In retrospect my memories remain fond, if not surreal; but above all, I now recognize what it meant for parents like mine, working and living on a modest income, to have the opportunity to bring their kids to the most important building in the bluegrass. Seated underneath the banners, we had access to the hallowed halls of Kentucky basketball through the roundabout purchase of a ticket to watch hockey, and maybe even learn what “icing” meant. I never did.
The author would like to thank Lee Douthat, who when asked about the team said, “God, I hated the Hershey Bears. The Thoroughblades were the best 5 years of my life.” Additional thanks to Austin Luttrell, William Kyle Goebel, Charlie Brown’s and those six pitchers of White Russians.
Ryan Filchak is an arts writer, editor and educator based in Chicago. When not covering contemporary artists and their exhibitions, he can be found supporting (most) sports teams from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Go Cats.
Born in Hengelo, a small town in the Netherlands, artist Louis Reith (b. 1983) sources printed material and typographic forms to achieve a sharp, stylized approach to collage. A graduate of the Academy for Art and Industry in Enschede, Reith’s crisp compositions balance the mechanical and the natural, the figurative and the abstract that address the unique relationship between architecture and nature. Reith’s latest exhibition, Sto and and o at Loom Gallery in Milan, has brought this relationship into physical space, with the application of soil on to his built wood panels, and the placement of this same soil underneath these pieces.
In addition to his studio practice, Reith is a member of the Dutch Independent Art Book Publishers, co-organizes an annual graphic arts festival in Antwerp called Grafixx, and runs the publishing platform Jordskred. I asked Louis to speak with me about his latest exhibition and how he sees his work progressing in the coming year. Below is a transcript of our exchange, which touches upon the personal influences on his exhibitions, making album artwork for minimal synth musicians, and his recent move to Zetten.
Ryan Filchak: You recently had your first solo exhibition Sto and and o with Loom Gallery in Milan. Can you speak on this experience and how this show might inform your upcoming exhibition in January at the Charlotte Fogh Gallery, Denmark?
Louis Reith: Sto and and o came about after an extremely difficult and sad time. My wife (artist Martine Johanna) and I both lost our mothers and a dear friend in a very short period of time. My mother had pancreatic cancer and was sick for more than half a year before she passed away at the age of 55. Lood Stof, my solo at Mini Galerie in Amsterdam earlier this year represented my way of dealing with this impending loss. These works are made from book pages printed with black and white wooden vases, plates and bowls, where cut-out beams and dots either balance or break the composition. It is like a game between the ponderousness of death (Lood means lead in Dutch) and the lightness and transient of being (Stof means dust). We closed the exhibition with the release of a book, not only as a catalog but also as an extension of the show in which the works are enigmatically linked to my mother’s battle against her illness.
For Sto and and o—an abstraction of the word stoandando, Italian for I’m going —I have tried to put my rigid idiom into a state of motion, as a metaphor for moving on. The different compositions push you in certain directions. It shows a conversation between my soil paintings on wood and collages. Since I cut the wooden boards and construct the panels myself, I created different layers and depths in the panels for the first time, making them look more like wall sculptures than just paintings.
For my forthcoming exhibition at Charlotte Fogh Gallery, I am further developing this sense of motion, or freedom if you like, in my work. I have been too much focused on constantly measuring and calculating to get things perfect. I think it is time to loosen up a bit. In addition, I am exploring the possibilities for using color again after working in black and white for many years.
RF: Before we get into new work, I would like to talk more Sto and and o. The material used for the collage pieces in that show were found-books, sourced by your “personal interest into color, form, theme and balance.” Could you speak more on how you gather these materials and how that process works?
LR: I used to go to flea markets and thrift stores to collect my books, but lately I have been more into browsing archives and the obscure corners of the internet to find my books. Which is also tricky, since I am most likely unable to judge the books on color. My friend and artist Matthew Allen recently sent me a piece of text about Japanese paper that made me realize again how important “color” is in my work;
“Paper, I understand, was invented by the Chinese; but Western paper is to us no more than something to be used, while the texture of Chinese and Japanese paper gives us a certain feeling of warmth, of calm and repose. Even the same white could as well be one colour for Western paper and another for our own. Western paper turns away the light, while our paper seems to take it in, …”
That is exactly what I am looking for in the printed materials for my collages. The printing must be mat at least, the black preferably the blackest ever. I think it is this warmth in paper and print, this sense of depth, that might make you wonder if it actually is printed. It has this kind of hand-made quality to it that really interests me.
I also prefer spaciousness to mask or make full use of the pages’ subject. I like to add or alter as less as possible to show as much of the original image in its new context.
RF: Sto and and o brought your collage work and large-scale wood sculptures into conversation with one another through the use of similar forms in each series. Through these references to visual language, book design and typography continue to feature prominently in your practice. Do you see yourself working towards a larger goal in placing these influences into a gallery context?
LR: It is a way of working that I handle more often; examine a composition into different mediums. The wooden panels move freely in space, where the collages show the same compositions but framed. I do not tend to create new images with my collages but rather use the printed settings and the layout of books as a location for existing or non-existing objects.
Perhaps it is more clear to me, but I hope—despite the cryptic aspect in my work—to convey some sort of narrative within an exhibition. Although I am also pleased when my pieces work separately from each other. But I certainly make my work with the idea of a bigger whole, as a sort of archive, with different phases and events in my life as a common thread. I’m not very theoretical, I’m more of a visual thinker, but I really enjoy linking theories by others to my work. A collector from San Francisco once told me my drawings on discolored book pages reminded him of pieces of an archive from the future, pages from a book yet to be written, a statement that has been very decisive for my work through the years.
RF: Speaking of your standalone pieces, your album artwork for the latest album ‘Strand’ by Bellows, the Italian electro-acoustic composers Giuseppe Lelasi and Nicola Ratti, also uses negative space, and found-book cutouts for the cover composition. Do you approach your work for an album cover differently than the work you make for an exhibition, or do you see these products simply as a continuation and extension of this same process?
LR: First of all, it was an honor to collaborate with Shelter Press. I have been following their work for almost a decade, back in the Kaugummi days. During the making of my Décor zine in 2016, they already suggested that there might be a second project; a record sleeve. Shelter Press is known for their high quality and well-produced records so I was into it immediately.
What I find so interesting about a project like this—in which I basically lend out my work for an album cover—are the unexpected choices of the designer, in this case Bartolomé Sanson, the man behind Shelter Press. It was very refreshing to me how he used the white. Especially the collages for the inner sleeve got a completely new dimension. It really changes your view on my work, at least mine. Initially they wanted a different design. Nicola and Giuseppe were fond of several pieces from my Archiv series from 2015, but I preferred something new. Bartolomé agreed and eventually came with the three diptychs. The way he merged the white in the images with the white space, the cover—as a physical object—almost seems like an architectural thing in itself.
RF: You recently moved your studio from Amsterdam to a more secluded, country setting outside of the city in a small town called Zetten. Has this change in location had an impact on your studio practice, or do you feel yourself unaffected by geography in terms of your life and work?
LR: To be honest it is a little early to say at this point but both Martine and I do feel a sense of freedom when it comes to our studio practice. We survived some quite tragic events last year and though we’re far from stress-free, moving out of Amsterdam, living closer to our family and being surrounded by nature feels absolutely liberating. The Netherlands is a ridiculously small country compared to the States, so geographically you could say we still live in Amsterdam. But it definitely feels like a big change. Yesterday evening in the studio Martine and I had a chat on how much we have done with the need of proving ourselves. And now it is time for a little fun. Not too much though, I also support continuity and embrace melancholy.
Ryan Filchak is an arts writer, editor and educator based in Chicago. Originally from Lexington, Kentucky, Filchak studied English at Transylvania University, and would later receive his Master’s in Art History and Visual Studies from the University of Kentucky. He currently works as the Publishing Director of the Chicago artist-run space LVL3 and contributes regularly to Newcity. He also believes the Old Fashioned to have originated in the South, despite citing no supporting evidence for this claim.
The author would like to thank Louis for taking the time to talk with him about his work, his upcoming exhibition, his home, and his adoration for jet black ink on paper. Not previously mentioned, Louis recommended he listen to the song “Doe de Waddy Waddy” by Samantha, and for this he is forever grateful.
Large graphite drawings hang on the four walls of this spacious South Loop gallery. Although seemingly abstract in composition, these five pieces use the symbols of John Robert Gregg’s method of shorthand for their varying, overlapping and bisecting shapes of black, brown and grey. Each set of forms, drawn on paper and mounted on wood, represent the elliptical marks used to dictate expressions of laughter, and the titles of each of these five drawings (“Hardy Har Har!” “He He!” “Ha!” “Ho Ho!” and “Hm Hm!”) reiterate this. Comprising one half of Tony Lewis’ “Howling,” these works reference humor, while the rest evoke fear.
Those familiar with Lewis’ work will recognize the floor drawings that make up the three towering piles of paper in the center of the gallery. Once used as floor covering in his 2015 exhibition “Pall,” these same drawings, as if pulled up by a god hand, ascend above human scale to create a silent yet prescient feeling of terror with their imposing heaviness and history. Although these sculptures are not titled, their forms, like the paintings, reference a particular image not immediately legible upon first encounter. Lewis refers directly to Francisco Goya’s aquatint etching “Here Comes the Bogeyman” (1799), wherein a Spanish mother invokes the folkloric monster coco to frighten her two children into obedience. From Goya’s famous and influential “Los Caprichos” series, the image ridicules the stand-in of superstition for education. The Bogeyman figure’s appearance contains no traditional human qualities aside from scale, and in this context provides Lewis with a figure he can build using his preferred medium and materials to presumably reflect similar themes.
His third exhibition with Shane Campbell, “Howling” reaffirms Lewis’ ability to make profound commentary with graphite and pencil that far exceeds familiar capacities of works on paper. For example, the untitled drawings, now molded into the semblance of figure and flesh, speak in their own language to remind us to laugh but also to lock our doors. The drawings on the wall read as laughter, but also as hysterics. In the past, Lewis has addressed issues of authorship, race and class, but now without immediate text-based sources, he uses broader, more ethereal themes that echo these familiar concepts. Important to remember is that Goya’s piece is a critique on social control through fear, and Lewis proves with paper that these totems are insubstantial in the service of terror. Minimal in presentation, “Howling” uses complex source materials to produce a noise of the highest decibels echoing the shouting down of political protest with authoritarian intimidation. However, Lewis does not disparage but instead works to empower the viewer with this reality. Made manifest through material synonymous with erasure, one hopes that the laughter in the space acts as a protest, and will ultimately sound out louder than the speech of scarecrows. (Ryan Filchak)
Tony Lewis’ “Howling” shows through October 21 at Shane Campbell Gallery, 2021 South Wabash.
Alone, freestanding sculptural work sits like a small black volcano on a white pedestal in the middle of the gallery. Surrounding this piece, fifteen wall-mounted works hang scattershot around the centralized “Palazzo.” These acrylic-on-aluminum sculptures vary in size, color and composition, and together these new works by Chicago-based artist Robert Burnier comprise his latest exhibition at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, “So That Justice Should Be Tyrant.”
Known for his “anti-maquette” process, Burnier’s approach to minimalist sculpture begins with computer-drafted images, or as he calls them “initial conditions,” from which he will shape the material into a physical reality based on their virtual origins. To know this, however, beguiles the effortless way these packed structures occupy space. The smaller works, folded and crumpled in on themselves do not signify simplicity of concept, but instead an endless possibility of language through the rules of production and transformation Burnier employs. For example, larger works such as “Predella” and “Maestà” move away from the more compact, rectangular and square shapes of Burnier’s past work, allowing for the negative spaces to contribute to the landscape of the sculpture, where the voids of material are just as important as the lines made by the folds in the aluminum.
This literal expansion of form indicates an evolution in Burnier’s sculptural concepts and their possible futures. By titling the works with words from L.L. Zamenhof’s utopian language of Esperanto, this use of text in the exhibition makes an additional effort to humble Burnier’s process and reduce the individual artist’s hand in service of these concepts. Through explicit acknowledgment that “nothing, comes from nothing,” this stance relinquishes the human hand of the sculptor to the machine, and a palette “sourced from municipal colors and historically celebrated public works of art,” give themselves to a larger governing body. Burnier’s greatest accomplishment in this exhibition is how well he defines the terms in which he works. As a result, despite his humble attempts to ground his process, the work occupies the space with an undeniable poise and bravado that belies their unassuming construction.
Extending these concepts further, Burnier has selected a group of paintings and works on paper by five Chicago-based artists for the second room of the gallery to run concurrently with his solo show. Mika Horibuchi, David Leggett, Erin Washington, Caleb Yono and Orkideh Torabi make up the “Council” of artists whose prying, introspective styles speak in a contributing and contradictory approach to the minimal visual language of Burnier. (Ryan Filchak)
Robert Burnier’s “So That Justice Should be Tyrant” shows through June 17 at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, 835 West Washington.