Under the Lense: A year of Art in Wicker Park - 2010



Audrey being drawn by the machine

In part one, I shall discuss one of the untold secrets in Wicker Park: The Studio, a gallery on Marshfield run by Clare Molek and Erin Florence that opened in 2009. Over this past year they have exhibited a number of exciting and thought provoking artists. Johalla Projects is an energetic gallery space on Milwaukee Avenue that exhibits the good, the bad and the ugly. Then in part two of 'Under the Lense' I will discuss the work of the "masters" of the district, whose poetic and masterful lines should not be ignored. Plus, I will give you a glimpse into national artistic happenings stemming from our beloved village: Wicker Park, Bucktown.


Close up of Audrey

At the Studio from July to August, the artist Harvey Moon created computer programmed automata sculptures that produce larger than life-size portraits of iconic figures in history. These robotic mechanisms are alive imprinting portraits of icons like Audrey Hepburn in front of our eyes. In essence, behaving like a printer but working over a long period of time to produce these meticulous drawings. The machine has been a recurrent symbol of death in art, being alive, yet depicting the absence of

This Moon piece was not created with the machine.

life. Moon's mechanisms imprint the icons of the past in repetition, but they are drawn using the sense of touch. Drawing is a tactile, sensual act, yet the act is often removed from the viewer when one experiences the artwork. Moon's action drawings remove the eye to replace it with touch heightening and connecting us with the sensual experience of drawing. Iriguay discusses this in relation to Rebecca Horn's automata:

"More than any other sense the eye objectifies and it masters
It sets a distance and maintains a distance
In our culture the predominance of the look over the smell, taste, touch and hearing
Has brought about an impoverishment in human relations."

By Luce Iriguay from Rebecca Horn: The Glance of Infinity, edited by Carl Haelein,1997.

This sense of distance was demonstrated in an exhibition at Johalla Projects in the October aptly entitled Forever Rotten. An oiled American flag that looked like it had been used to polish the motorcycle opposite was nailed to the wall. A bike helmet with the swastika symbol and a metal welded SS symbol were positioned incongruously on top of the flag. Opposite this wall piece was a motorcycle where a woman was to strip off topless, reiterating a thousand photographs reproduced in the playboy magazine.

Is this art? The gallery was full of men, I was one a two woman at the exhibition. In a search to meet the artist, I was finally introduced to him outside on the pavement. Prior to our introduction, he hooked a beer can under his boot and flipped it into the air on the narrow sidewalk outside Johalla Projects with people eating two feet away. I inquired about his reasoning behind the flag artwork. Why are you placing Nazi symbols on the American Flag? "I'm free to do whatever ever I want." "Okay, but what were you trying to convey?" "I just thought it would be cool to put those objects together." All I wanted to deduce from any of my conversations that night was the concept and reason for the work.

I can create the reason for you here and now. But here in lies the problem: when an artist creates an artwork using loaded symbolism should they take responsibility for what they have created? Should they be able to discuss the meanings they are expressing? My answer to this question is "yes."

Art is a about creating a dialogue in a public space and hopefully, the artwork generates thought-provoking discussions in a public sphere. Art and culture have the capacity to transform society through the public discourse. In producing the artwork the artist should be able to engage in those discussions surrounding the ideas they are producing otherwise the dialogue becomes a full-stop and no ideas are explored in the public realm. If artists choose not to engage, they are creating a vacuum and placing a plug on public discourse that is imperative for society and for cultural development. There is a need for artists to take ownership of what they are creating and to be able to communicate this clearly.

When an artist's response is "I have the freedom to do what I like," then one wonders where the freedom ends? We are facing this very problem at the moment with Sarah Palin's comments or maybe the artwork was for-telling the future of Sarah Palin's comments and its impact on American Society? Maybe the artist was trying to make a comment on America becoming a fascistic society? This is why Europe brought in a law after the Second World War censoring the "incitement of hatred." Various politicians over the years have been censored from public forums on the far left and right alike. This act was to ensure that fascism did not occur in Europe again.

In this exhibition the commentary on the American State was on one side and pornography was enacted on the other. This takes me back to Iriguay's quote exploring how the eye objectifies and maintains a distance. I was one of two women at the event and in my presence became an object of objectification at the event. I was abhorred that I was subjected to this straight up pornographic event. No reasoning, no explanation, no engagement with any ideas, no warning.

There is a whole debate about how female sexuality is sensual and the male sexuality is voyeuristic. In contemporary society we are constantly subjected to the desires of male sexuality to the negation of female sexuality. If both were being depicted or analyzed to create debate, that would be art. Instead we were subjected to the re-establishment of the current social order. That night I was subjected to a landscape of impoverished minds in an art gallery.



Art doesn't have to fit against the social grain

Dear author, There is nothing wrong with something that re-enforces social norms. That might not even be the reason why the art was created. Freedom exists in art so long as it does not cause harm to anyone and evokes something from the artist or viewer.

Thanks for letting us know.

Thanks for letting us know. Any further updates on this planned in future? Steve www.purelyhydroponic.com

cool to be cruel

Unless the creator is trying to be cagey, perhaps "I just thought it would be cool to put those objects together” is all this person really knows about his creation in which case a review of it's content is meaningless unless one is solely interested in the views of the critic who is left with nothing more then her intellect, her psyche and the unmoored object itself. And actually this gets to a core dilemma in the relationship between creator and observer: the idea that who the artist is and the circumstances behind a particular work now seems to be secondary (if relevant at all) to the person observing the work. As pornographic and/or trite as this work seems (I haven’t seen it) it could very well have massive appeal to those who could care less about any true content, to those whose driving force is “cool”, that meaningless term that when applied correctly ensures a steady income: art, 0; artifact, 1.

Under the Lense; Forever Rotten

This is a very pertinent and well written critique by Carron. These issues need to be discussed and confronted in the public domain. To be free to do what you want you must take the responsibility to deal with and understand the consequences.

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