other [Gravy] issues

http://gravymagazine.com [gravy

Gravy number 12

Fall and Winter 2001, 2002

Adam Mikos, publisher
Janet Overby, editor


The Stray Show
December 2001
diverse opinions

Editor's Note: The following comments and reviews were lifted from the ListServ "OtherGroup" at topica.com, dated January and February, 2002. The unresolvable references deal with other content at the listserv. Word edited for obvious typos.

=== 4 Jan 2002, Pedro Velez writes: ===

Check out the pitiful report on the Stray Show by Victor Cassidy. Or as some might say: "a lovely little ditty by Victor Cassidy "

Yes, that's all Chicago always gets, a lovely little thing. Be it from James Yood, Alan Artner, Susan Snodgrass, or Victor Cassidy -- after all that work at The Stray Show, and all the crowds, and the amazing effort, and the amazing art. Fast Forward in Miami got like three different reports and all Chicago gets is the "lovely little ditty" ...Miami?

C'mon Chicago, you make them as powerful as you want them to be. I think it is obvious that these so called "critics" are not equipped to deal with contemporary art. So take them out, put on the pressure. Just keep in mind that you don't need them, we never have and the best thing of all... they don't give a shit. So stop being so grateful and let's start playing it like adults.

Pedro Velez

=== 5 Jan 2002 Alan Ravitz writes: ===


For what it's worth, I thought The Stray Show was very exciting. Every year I go to the navy pier show, which is OK, and I used to go to the grammercy shows, which I actually thought were really weak - the same stuff, the same look, at every gallery. The Stray Show was in a cool venue; the work was interesting and original. I was impressed. I enjoyed it more than the pier show, thought there was a much higher concentration of good and interesting art per square inch than at any show I've seen in a long time. And, best of all, everyone was decent and respectful to everyone else. The event had a good feeling about it. Congratulations to everyone involved. It's too bad there weren't more collectors and curators there.

Al Ravitz

=== 1 Feb 2002, Leonard Pants writes: ===

I am a little slow on the reply, but if Pedro is that interested in responses to The Stray Show, here is mine.

I don't know which of the spaces in the show ever referred to themselves as "ad-hoc," as they are all characterized as such on the card for the show. The connotations seem to fit in with the general opinion of the reigning art critics of the city rather than proponents of the emerging art scene. This immediately made me suspicious.

The show itself looked like ArtExpo Jr. However individual any of the galleries might be, they all whitewashed themselves and perhaps unconsciously molded into the status quo.

For some of those represented there, that is the goal. Bodybuilder knows what they are doing, Standard looked quite at home.

For others though, Stray was a great disappointment. In fact the more outrageous the reputation of the gallery the more house trained they appeared. An odd conundrum that honestly bothered me for weeks. Of course the opening party was a hit. When isn't a huge group show packed? Even terrible group shows are full of relatives, friends, parents, drunks, and the rest. Sometimes it is at off times that you can see what really defines a show. Let me tell you, Saturday afternoon was dismal at best.

A great space and a great idea, but just more of the same.


=== 2 Feb 2002 diego bobby writes: ===

Subject: Other Group Thinking out loud

It sounds as though you wanted to see the show get a little more Chicago (dirty) and a lot less international (clean white cubey). If not, perhaps you are merely pointing at the weak underbelly of anyone that becomes over-involved in the meandering politics that is Art on a day to day 'wake up and splash water on your face and do it again' basis. Either or, its all good.

I really think every one cleaned up real purty at Stray Show. It's not something I want to see every day. Or even as often as once a week. But occasionally it can be a pleasant surprise. Especially if it doesn't have the whiff of institutional or commercial stink. I think all of the spaces did an admiral job of meeting the deadlines and remaining as true to themselves as possible given the perimeters [sic] of the show and the spaces were confined to (kudos to Monique who ambitiously employed every inch of space she could {no sarcasm} ).

The Stray Show was, as you said, a group show, one with an appealing homogeneity to it as all good group shows must have. Then there was an even better hook, the disjointed hierarchy. Given that the emphasis was on the galleries and not on the art. Typically a group show has a theme at it's core. But the theme here was not the art at all or even the artists, for that matter. It wasn't really even a Chicago theme, as many galleries managed to show non-natives. It was a group theme show on the nature of the Chicago Gallery Spectacle. People turned out in droves on opening night to be a part of the spectacle. It was like someone emptied the rainbow of the 'see and be seen' crowd for a night, and sprinkled ample doses of other would-be hipsters, plus some artists, and a lot of beer. Mr. Blackman was the curator and the galleries worked their peculiar magic.

The Stray Show ultimately had little commercial value in the way that Art Chicago does. Some of the more "commercially sophisticated" spaces might have turned a trick or two, but it ultimately wasn't about that. It had more to do with aesthetic or the lack of. It was the first time and perhaps the last time you will see Bodybuilder in close enough proximity to Joymore to make some sense of the over all historical nature of this spectacle.

We are making art in a time when there aren't guilds and there aren't really schools of thought like the New York or academic schools. Instead we have new skool vs old skool; but does that mean anything? I think Stray Show offered a glimpse into that reality. Both in the sense of its presentation and in it's presenters' sense to show compelling work by groups of artists that can "fuck shit up." The art was generational in it's importance, yes. It dealt with a vast body of ideas and issues of formal concern and otherwise. But so vast was it's expanse that Victor Cassidy wrote off all of it as small and pop culture oriented. Now who's fault is that?

Alan Artner and James Yood don't really get us, that's fine. Fred Camper is intrigued by us in the same way he's intrigued with a pretty movie. While Susan Snodgrass can afford better beer than Old Style. This is just dandy. They can't ask compelling questions about what we are doing anyway. Why? Because they aren't us. We are the artists that live here and are working here now. It's our responsibility to ask of ourselves what is happening and how we affect that.

Bitching is fine. everybody does it. But, (I think Danielle was getting at this) this is a community. Perhaps we need to own up to our responsibilities in it a little better. The galleries are trying to do what they can with the resources they have. The writers want something else. While the artists do as they should, they make the work. Point being I guess, rather than dwell on the Stray Show, let's look ahead and deal with Art Chicago and the other millions of tasks that need to be done.

By the way Pedro, you are pretty much a jack ass for not owning up to criticism the way that you shuffle it out. Danielle's critique may not have been to your liking but it was valid. To publicly air your laundry is not good. No matter how much you apologize (and I have never been one of Ken's photo friendly folk).

=== 2 Feb 2002, Jno writes: ===

On Fri, 1 Feb 2002, the reverent Leonard C. Pants wrote: "A great space and a great idea, but just more of the same."

I agree with 'diego bobby' too, it is about community (and YM parameter :) perimeter is where those galleries are at).

The first thought I had, on entering the show on Friday night, and seeing all the bright overhead lighting, was... "Oh my God, where is all this electricity coming from? Somebody must have bypassed the breaker box and is running this directly off the mains."

Or, Somebody knew what they were doing. This has remained my overall impression of The Stray Show: the logistics are identical to the regular Art Chicago: stacks of wall dividers, antenna beams for lights, lots of quartz, shitloads of extension cords. And BEW hanging out by the fusebox. But all of it strangely displaced, and in total absence of collectors, buyers, dealer to dealer deals, and an international representation -- with magazine-like people conversing in French and German on cell phones.

Has no-one besides the reverent Leonard C. Pants suggested that the wonderful efforts of Tom Blackman represent nothing less than a tantalizing introduction to the pleasures of exposition at a 'real' Art-Chicago come next spring? Wanna bet these newbee galleries will seriously consider a booth at the periphery of the next Expo?

You can take the example of Ten-in One, Beret, and Tough: they split the cost of a booth at the edges of Art-Chicago or Art-Expo for years, every Spring, but never sold jack-shit. But facts or logic will not stop anyone. Half of the alt-galleries will do the same: get a booth, split a booth. It is the way of the ninja-galleries: pay the entry fee, show the stuff.

At the same time Blackman has to be thanked for the gift of this art-picnic -- a gift, for the economics don't add up: even having all the galleries sign up for booth space next spring could not pay back the cost or effort of The Stray Show. I might be off base, but sponsorship of The Stray Show seemed like a much larger recognition of the alt-art scene in Chicago than I have seen in some years. Which is not to be neglected. OK, too bad about the lack of press.

The best part of this Stray Junior-Expo is to have artists showing their work, galleries playing or posturing at being 'real', and all the artists and viewers (never mind 'patrons') being able to see art stuff, the people involved, get the feel of different galleries, and talk with others. Is was an perimeter-art-community picnic. (TY, bobby)

I agree in what the honorable Leonard C. Pants proposes implicitly in his review: what should be written about is the context of this Jr-Expo venture -- not the 'art'. The art ain't worth discussion. It was all stock stuff, old hat, signature pieces, and all decontextualized from larger presentations and from the course of exhibitions by the artists. But overview shows always do that. Diego bobby is right: it was about galleries.

The problem with Pedro is that he really expects someone to dedicate time to what would be a contrived effort at making sense of an amalgam of art snippets - and to do this 'in the style and manner' of big 'critiques' of the big 'art magazines'. Get serious. I'll settle for gossip.


gravy magazine and art in chicago
Adam Mikos
interviewed by Janet Overby

Editor's Note: Adam Mikos is the publisher of Gravy Magazine, and has recently moved to LA; Janet Overby is the editor of Gravy Magazine. This is our last issue from Chicago, and we are taking this opportunity to expound on the Chicago art scene.

[Janet]: Why did you start Gravy magazine?

[Adam]: I started Gravy after a trip I took in 1997 through Australia and New Zealand. While there I visited cities like Melbourne, Sydney, and Auckland and I was amazed at how well organized the art communities were. I mean to say that the individual spaces were well put together (many had obtained public funding) and as an outsider it was very easy for me to find my way to and from other galleries. Also, there were so many young people involved and running their own spaces. Tons of energy and it showed in the work.

When I returned from the trip I noticed that for a city like Chicago which has three major art schools and thousands of artists, there was very little communication between artists in general. There was a lot of art going on, but nobody was really aware of anyone else, or of what other people were trying to get started, be it a gallery, a collective, or whatever. Even from neighborhood to neighborhood people were ignorant of what else was going on right next to them.

So Gravy started as an instrument to make artists aware of each other and aware of some of the other important things that were going on in the city. Of course there were other reasons for it, but they were minor in comparison. The main drive was just to get people to mix and get involved, even if only as spectators.

[Janet]: What did you envision this magazine to be at first? A regularly published hardcover edition? And where did you expect to get writers and advertisers? and where did the name "gravy" come from?

[Adam]: Until the idea actually started to crystallize in my mind I had no idea what the finished product would look like. Only after the questions "should I really do this?" and "how do I do this?" were answered did the visual questions come up. I have always been a fan of underground 'zines, so I knew it could be done for next to nothing while still tweaked enough that it didn't look straight out of a basement. The delusions of grandeur were never there.

[Janet]: That's funny. Wanna tell a little of how you got it printed, and distributed?

[Adam]: The printing of Gravy was always an adventure. The first couple were pure D.I.Y, using every free photocopier we could find. It was sort of like a publishing spider plant; Dar and I would do a couple hundred, then friends would use their copies and run off another hundred, and on and on. Issue 2 introduced a fold into the issue, which was a big deal for us, and also two more pages. After that, each issue got bigger and involved a little more design innovation. By the third issue we had an independent graphic designer doing the layout.

By the fourth issue we were throwing events and parties to pay for the magazine to be printed in Sarasota, Florida. I was living in a huge loft at that time so we had room to do some large scale stuff. Dar came up with "Lucky 13" which was a raffle and a big success. Thirteen artists donated works that were raffled off that night. The artists included Blana Estela Lopez, Jno Cook, Chris Kerr, Ginny Woltzen, Yvette Kaiser-Smith, Anna Kunz, and Chris Ritter. Another issue was published with money from a party ("Joint Event") that was set up to promote some of Chicago's top new DJs who were coming up. We had Rude One, Kino, Mary Jane, Inbaum and JB, and they tore it up till about four in the morning.

There was a lot of other stuff we were doing that was free also, but it was the events that put the ink on the paper. For example, upstairs from the living space I was running the gallery "NextSpace." I would plan openings to coincide with these events to get as much stuff happening at once and also to ease my guilt about charging money for other things. Once the printed copies were finished, the fun started. There was a core of people that would fill their bags with stacks of the magazine and set out on a Friday night and hit every opening possible. Then the same on Saturday. It was almost like the movie Cannonball Run.

We had a couple stores carrying Gravy, like Quimbys who were very cool with us, but in the end it was the free stacks outside of galleries and cafe's which disappeared the quickest -- they always vanished within days.

[Janet]: To step back somewhat, what about the first issues?

[Adam]: My partner and editor in the beginning was a great friend, Darlene Kryza. We decided that the sooner we started physically doing the magazine the sooner we would find answers to all the gray areas. We -- maybe myself more than Darlene -- were not interested in advertising. Gravy was very, very low-tech in the beginning and cost next to nothing to produce.

[Janet]: So who paid for it?

[Adam]: It was still the events that paid for it. Well, for at least half of it... Most of the time... Some of the time.... Dar and I spent quite a lot of our own money on it. It was the the only recipe for success -- do as much as you can for free and then go to the cash machine. In a most satisfying change of events, somewhere around issue seven or eight I had businesses asking me when they could advertise in Gravy. I still had a hang-up about advertising in the magazine, so I decided to go with businesses where I knew the owners, or felt right about their reflection on me. Totally subjective. These were people, like Privata and The 5 Boroughs, who had decided to open their own places and were making it happen. I could support that and was proud to. And thankfully they felt the same way.

In all honesty, it wasn't really of the caliber for paid advertising, anyway! We didn't care though. We knew it would be in the future, but at first we didn't concern ourselves with it. Our approach to finding more writers was similar to finding advertisers; if you are doing it they will come. Writers are a keen sort though. I'll leave it at that.

[Janet]: How do you mean "keen?"

[Adam]: Hmmm, how to describe writers... To use an example from the magazine, I had an easier time dealing with a homeless man doing a review of a Sol LeWitt show than most art writers/critics in four years of publishing.

We even extended the possibility of writing under assumed names to the writers, in case they were more comfortable that way. But in the end, most artists and writers are quite lazy and soon realize that in order to substantiate their opinions they would have to take the time to learn about someone else and their ideas. It takes an honesty to write what you think and believe in it enough that you would publish it. This includes fulfilling a responsibility to the work that they are reviewing -- taking the time and effort to gain some knowledge before running your mouths off.

Also we were urging artists to write about art, even though this practice runs contrary to artworld thinking. But in my mind, who better to write about art than artists? Expecting only Critics to write about current art, is like expecting Historians to write about current affairs.

But, to get back to our start-up: One thing we were careful not do was to look further than we could reach at the moment. Everyone wanted full color, lots of photos, etc. But it just wasn't in the cards for Gravy. It would take much more work before we started sending issues to a printer, getting copyright waivers and that kind of thing. I was really only interested in a text-based magazine from the beginning. Just criticism and critique. As far as frequency, we did our best to hold to a one issue per month schedule.

[Janet]: How long did that last?

[Adam]: I think it lasted maybe three months!! Doesn't sound like that long, but we both had full time jobs and later as I was going to school part time for a Masters, there just were not enough hours in the day. From there it went to publishing every other month. Another problem we ran into was that there just wasn't that much going on to write about. We were concerned mainly with the underground and at that time there were only a handful of spaces and a few independent projects. Law Office would occasionally fill their house with work, a place called the Attic was doing stuff in Humboldt Park. We strayed into the pieces of the mainstream, but we didn't want that to outweigh the coverage for independent work.

Anyway, there is no great story behind the name. Darlene came up with it. Initially I didn't like it very much, but since Gravy was operating as a cooperative effort and we would argue like drunken Germans at a soccer match when certain ideas were questioned, I just went with it.

[Janet]: So did Gravy change the art scene in Chicago?

[Adam]:Oddly enough, I think Gravy did cause a change in the status quo of the Chicago art scene. So much of the art process evolves through criticism. In reference to Gravy, call it peer review.

And we were not alone. Since we started publishing in 1998 we've see 10x10 and FGA/DOG spring up (and disappear in some cases). I'm not exactly sure of the timing, but Cakewalk also started at the same time or soon after, and have since stopped publishing. In 1998 the New Art Examiner had yet to come back to its senses, and certainly took notice that Gravy was getting more attention than them. Also the beginning and demise of the Chicago Art Critics Association newsletter was lapped by Gravy publication. The once shinning light of Michael Bulka's "Midnight Rants" also began around the same time and ended during the Gravy years. These things lend a lot of credence to the dedication of those of us who were working to make Gravy happen.

I recall hearing something about a new publication called The Bridge, or A Bridge, or something like. I haven't heard of it since then, but it shows that idea of writing and publishing our own work and ideas still grows in the hearts of some of us.

It is easy to lie to ourselves as artists, that this painting is good, or this sculpture took a lot of work. But put in front of a group of other artists and they will be able to see through the smoke and artspeak. Up until Gravy starting dismissing crap artwork in the city -- and beyond -- people may have seen crap for being crap, but would have never opened their mouths to that effect.

Speaking for myself, Chicago's art game of galleries and reviews was not impressive enough for me to "toe the party line." If some big gallery's show of their artists blows, someone has to say it. For example, there was a show a few years ago that took the lofty title of "Chicago Art Scene." It was full of very ordinary artwork so Gravy retitled it for review, "Chicago Art Scheme." [See Gravy 4]

I think much has happened in Chicago due to Gravy. Other groups of artists have formed, many new spaces have formed and are showing work. Most importantly, new spaces that had opened years ago are still open today -- Butcher Shop, Dogmatic, Joymore, ATrack, NFA, Standard.

Granted this is not all because of the magazine, but the general base of knowledge in Chicago is larger and more people are involved in the scene, or at least aware of it. Other mags have started, and there is so much more communication between artists, writers, critics, galleries now than there was four years ago when Gravy started.

[Janet]:Do you really know that Gravy made a difference, or is it that you yourself just got deeper into the Chicago art scene as a result of the magazine?

[Adam]:First of all, the Chicago art scene, the inside or the outside of it, is remarkably stubborn. If anyone ever does make a difference, it isn't noticed or acknowledged for years. Then quickly forgotten.

Secondly, I'm sure both things happened. When Darlene and I started publishing Gravy I think a lot of people thought, "Hey look at this piece of shit! I bet we could put together something better." Of course, they were wrong, and the magazine sparked something in a lot of people's heads.

A similar reaction happened when I was running TinyLittleSpace and also NextSpace Gallery. TinyLittleSpace was an installation art "gallery." I ran it in 1996/97, out of my Humboldt Park apartment. NextSpace was also a gallery space, which I ran in Fulton Market, around 1999/00 . It was more of a proper space, which was run out of an empty room in my loft building which I sort of squatted in - until the landlord padlocked the space.

Artists would come and see what was happening and leave energized, feeling that they wanted to get something going. That's the kind of physical difference we made. Again, not to say that these things were completely responsible, but they were a big part of a multi-faceted catalyst that started expanding a few years ago.

Thirdly, I know that the Gravy magazine website logged over 99,000 hits last year (2001). That tells me that we made -- and are currently making -- a difference.

I was recently on line and out of boredom I did a search of my name on Yahoo. A whole list of things came up, some of which I knew about, but there was a whole list I had no idea about. I searched for Gravy next. Same thing.

I looked a little deeper and found that for years people had been lifting reviews from the magazine and putting them on their websites! They were even misrepresenting them, as I found out with a Henry Darger review I personally wrote for Gravy 10. There were all kinds of links to the website.

A little more digging turned up artists who listing reviews from Gravy on their resumes. I was shocked and honored at the same time. But it showed me that although some of Chicago's art criticism bigwigs wagged their fingers at us, Chicago's community as a whole respected us for what we were doing.

[Janet]:What is the biggest hurdle to be overcome for Chicago's art scene to improve?

[Adam]:That's a good question. And one that seems obvious, but not enough people in Chicago ask themselves. Now that I am outside of the equation there are a few things that are clearer to me.

Those artists, gallery owners, critics, etc, who are in it for the long haul need to direct their energy at higher goals. Many of them have succeeded in establishing and maintaining their businesses and reputations. Now they find themselves stalled and this is where the squabbling starts.

Everyone wants to get ahead, but don't know exactly what "ahead" means. Currently, this appears to most in the form of participation in the "Art Chicago" show. While this is a lofty goal, my experience with the subject leads me to believe that Art Chicago is way beyond the reach of any of these people. I don't mean that in a negative way at all. But it is only the most obvious platform to which these artists can aspire to.

When I think of ways to change and improve the life and reputation of Chicago's artists (I mean to include gallery owners, critics, and the rest under this), the first idea that comes to mind is the Chicago Cultural Center.

The Cultural Center is the heart of almost all arts funding in the city. Not to mention a huge name in public works. Up till now many of the galleries and spaces reported on in Gravy, and currently making an impact on the art scene in Chicago are very small entities with little or no connection or pedigree. That doesn't make a difference to most, but as I said, this is about the long haul.

And for the benefit of the long haul, Chicago artists need to start getting involved in the workings of the Cultural Center. As I see it, very little will ever happen which will mean anything to anyone, while the current staff is in place there.

Anyone familiar with the Nascar project they would readily agree. I became familiar with it last year and was literally doubled over in pain while watching the program that was reporting it. Thousands and thousands of public dollars, hundreds and hundreds of man hours, all in pursuit of "bringing Nascar fans into Chicago to see art." I thought, "you gotta be kidding me." The brilliant idea was to have a Chicago artist design a paint scheme for an Indy car, have the car painted, then use it as a pace car. "Who gives a shit," I thought.

Finally, I should mention Bodybuilder and Sportsman. At the time Gravy and NFA and Standard and others were starting out, it was B&S that everyone went to for openings. They were like the cool friends of your older brother. They should be mentioned as a model for everyone that came after them.

dealing with stupid people
Jno Cook
interviewed by Nicole Radja

Editor's Note: Nicole Radja is a photographer and designer at New City. This interview was originally to be published in a magazine which never got off the ground -- which will explain some obscure references below.

[Nicole]: Jno, what project are you currently working on?

[Jno]: Putting together three wind-chimes and an oscillating fan, complete with electret mikes, an amplifier, and big speakers. It will be "viewer interactive," because a viewer could step in front of the fan and modulate the sound. To be called "Composition for Three Wind Chimes."

And I'm rebuilding three Macs into flower pots, with pictures on the front panel, where the monitors were, of typical Mac dweebs staring at their Macs -- from the original 1980s Mac User Manual.

I don't know why they are always staring. Either in awe, or in total perplexity. I'm going to call it, "Ode to Stupid People."

[Nicole]: I'll stop making that face when I use my computer. Is there a connection between idiocy, technology, and religion?

[Jno]: That.. Uh, what? Did I say anything about religion? One of my kids concluded that most people are of good will, but stupid. I agree; or thoughtless. But most people don't bother to think, or have nothing but second hand opinions.

Artist are by and large a refreshing break from that. But when it comes to computers or the internet, they tend to act just as intolerably stupid as the rest of the population. People -- and artists -- think that when they have learned some application program, they "know computers." It is like claiming that you can drive a car when you have learned to find stations on a car radio.

If you were really impressed in school by the gleaming boxes where you learned pixel pushing, you will end up buying a Mac, the computer of academia. I like to think of it as the computer for stupid people, but maybe that is too harsh -- Larry Wall, the author of Perl, says Macs make people stupid. That is probably more correct. A Mac is like Cadillac with the hood welded shut. In fact, on the earlier Macs the company used to glue shut the case, and used some sort of torque screw which no-one had a blade for. The "tool" to open up a Mac could, of course, be obtained from the Apple Company, for about $40. I made one.

Apple's pathological toaster attitude, plus their penchant for cutesy names, has polarized people into Mac lovers and Mac haters. The Unix community has mostly dismissed them. Might as well. Look at the new "Mac X" OS: they will claim it as all theirs, and the True Believers in MacLand will see it as another "Mac Innovation," probably to be called a "Mac-o-vation," but it is in fact the Unix BSD release from 1989. Plus the NextStep files they inherited. Am I losing you? [ed: see notes on BSD, below]

This has nothing to do with religion. I don't care about religion. You can have whatever religion you want to have. Religion is just a leftover from Neolithic times; it explains nothing today.

[Nicole]: I asked about religion because the theme is our new pantheon issue, Jno. All that techie talk sure sounded religious to me, by god! Charming is done on a Mac, does that make us stupid too? (wait, don't answer that) Are there any artists today who use computers in a smart way? who uses them in a dumb way?

[Jno]: Eduardo Kac had two conversing computers (Oh, God, they were Macs), a few years ago. It's about the only thing smart that I have seen in years. Two classic Mac monitors were set on chairs at a table, and talked to each other via a null-modem. Each was programmed to sort-of respond to the sentence structure of the other. Sometimes it made sense, sometimes it just went over the edge. [Ed: See "Recent Computer Art in Chicago" Artpaper, October 1992.]

Innovative as it was, I had seen better programs operating on BBS's, where you were fooled into believing for a good 20 minutes that you were corresponding with a live person -- until some glitch made you aware that mostly the dialogue of the other party was just reflecting elements from your last statement. The same term (reflection) is used in psychological interviewing techniques, and works as well.

I think -- to get back to the subject at hand -- that most artists have no sense of what computers are about, what the scope of the field at large is, or how to insinuate themselves into a milieu where they are outsiders.

The truth of this surfaced when "computer" jokes started to show up in the comics of the Tribune -- maybe 8 years ago. Mostly they were jokes only a Mac techie would understand. It took them a few years to realize that very few of their reading audience had ever seen a Mac, so that the Command-French-Fry-Something key combination (used to reboot a Mac box) meant nothing. Only Foxtrot, by the way, has managed over the years to keep these computer jokes alive and do it accurately. His i-Fruit jokes are often hilarious.

I saw an invitation for a similarly titled computer-graphics art exhibition at school a few years ago, that is, something like "Command-French-Fry-Etc," which demonstrated again the continued insularity of the academic art community.

Jokes, like irony, implies mental activity: it is about a field of knowledge and your relationship to it -- it is about thought. It is a statement, at any rate, which reflects as much of your understanding -- and the good reasons to pass this on to others -- as an aesthetic statement does.

To make a joke assumes that you know enough about what you are joking about to actually make it funny. The joke, the reflection, the thinking, is about computers. But the fact is, for Mac users there is nothing else outside of their Mac world. There seems to be no recognition that there are ten or twenty times as many IBM/PC users as there are Mac users, and while there are 10,000 Mac application programs, there are 60,000 IBM/PC programs. Ah, and never mind that there are a 100,000 Unix applications. Like, nobody has ever heard of Unix anyway.

And while I am at it, all the pixel shit that we have had to endure over the years is just been astoundingly boring. To quote Brian Reffin Smith, in Leonardo [1989], "Computer art is the most conservative, dull, un-innovative art form of the 1980s." That was 10 years ago, and it is still largely true.

There is a history of computer graphics, but very little deals with pushing pixels around in some commercially available application program. Instructors at school used to constantly show me their latest "art" -- inevitable consisting of some Mac application program, like "Director" or something else cutesy, which I had used and forgotten on a PC ten years earlier. They paid good money for the program, too. The output doesn't excite me. What is much more exciting is the work that went into the application program.

Years ago Judson Rosebush, I think also in Leonardo, said, "The only art is in the program." I agree, although it is hard to locate, and even more difficult to demonstrate. Computer art is about computers and the human interactions it invokes, it ain't about pixels.

I spoofed the whole "Director" mentality in an exhibition in 1996, by running movies as rotoscoped images, hand drawn and color filled, fifty of them, displayed by a program operated in DOS on a EGA monitor for 20 seconds -- that is 2 1/2 images per second on a 386 box (while playing music in the background). No Windows, no RAM, no fast graphics card, no application program, no sound card either. Such programs had been available as DOS Shareware since the mid 80's.

The point was not about the image files. The point was about the waste of resources used in most applications by my contemporaries, their inane excitement about stuff that had been available for decades, and as a comment on all the boring slide-shows I have had to endure. So the "computer art" here was about computers and the artists who style themselves "computer artists," it was not about image content.

The actual source film loop for the image files (four seconds of 16mm film) was recently shown in Santa Monica (and reviewed in The LA Times and the LA Weekly). That exhibition, where the material was 16mm film, was about the images.

OK, back to the topic. A pantheon is a group of gods, it is not religion. So who are the gods of the 21st Century, I ask you?

[Nicole]: We are attempting to create a New Pantheon made of people which we deem notable to be praised in our 21st century. You were chosen as one of these -- which is why the interview.

I think you are restating, in a way, "bete du peintre" -- DuChamp's stupid as a painter legacy. I've always equated your work with his.

In the last project you mention, is your attack on the "frivolous misuse of technology" by those who "waste resources" well ... do these professors get it? Or are they just missing the joke for lack of knowledge? Do you profess these ideas in the classroom? - if you don't want to get into the banality of academia, I understand.

Then, is computer programming the only vitality in the 21st century art world? Or should artists of other genres of art stay the hell away from computers, a medium they know nothing about and show no attempt to learn?

And where can readers get a good look at your work? Any shows coming up or info you'd like us to post?

[Jno]: Ok, one at a time: Thanks for the DuChamp comparison. I like his stuff too, and especially his attitude.

No, they don't get it. Perhaps it doesn't matter. What they call "computer art" isn't art about computers, or even art dealing with computers, but it is computer generated images and slide shows. It is completely in line with an education in Graphic Design, but has nothing to do with art.

But art holds a special status in academia. It is something which is strived for; instructors get all delighted if students start to look like you are doing art, rather than just another implementation of the mechanics of presentation for some project.

And by some secret agreement among faculty, the "art" goal is how a lot of courses are taught. There are reasons for this, but they are not simple and not easily verbalized. Some of it deals with just the vicarious experience which art affords. As an instructor it is much more delightful to look at students' expressions of personal concerns and experiences, than another "neato" package design.

But to a more reasoned approach: If you consider art to be defined as a critique of representation, then the striving for art in academia starts making sense. Because, in order for a student to understand a technique well enough to be able to stand outside of it, and offer a critique which goes to the core of the subject, she will need to have achieved a level of knowledge which exceeds all of what could be understood about a technique or method of representation. Then you can sit back (as an instructor) and feel you have done some teaching.

Next: "is computer programming the only vitality in the 21st century art world?"

Of course not. It is just a venture into a field which is inexorably engulfing us. And if computers are part of life, then they are fodder for art-making. If computers now offer forms for representation -- taken in the really broad sense, that is, to include texts, images, and data -- then they are subject to the modernist tenet that the method of representation should be investigated.

What makes modernism interesting is that there is no agreement on what constitutes the radical, the root of a means of representation. Look at Joyce's "Ulysses" -- for he switches the definition of what the roots of literature are, chapter by chapter for twenty chapters. At one point he mimics every major literary form and author of the past, in historical order -- as if to say that the roots of literature are based in the literature of the past.

In another chapter he works from the supposition that story telling and literature proceeds from a modern common form, the newspaper. The chapter is entirely written in headlines and newspaper style. In the last chapter he turns to unordered thought -- stream of consciousness -- as the root of storytelling, to build a chapter on Molly's fleeting thoughts and desires, and drops all punctuation in the process.

In the visual arts much the same happens, except that artists tend to think slower than writers, so that it takes a lifetime to develop a single concept of where the roots of painting, sculpture, or whatnot are to be found, and then apply that in a critique of the current state of painting, sculpture, or whatnot.

Very few artists working today have experienced a lifetime of inundation in the output from computers. So don't expect any radical critiques soon. I have seen others estimate that we need to wait at least another 25 years before we are going to see anything meaningful.

That is not to say that a whole computer culture does not already exist. In fact it does exist. Most of the current dialogue can be found on the UseNet, under comp.culture, for one.

Another place you might start looking is in an excellent historical compendium called the "On-Line Jargon file" found at [http://www.ccil.org/jargon/jargon.htm].

From The Jargon File: "BSD /B-S-D/ n."

[abbreviation for `Berkeley Software Distribution'] a family of Unix versions for the DEC VAX and PDP-11 developed by Bill Joy and others at "Berzerkeley" [UC Berkeley] starting around 1977, incorporating paged virtual memory, TCP/IP networking enhancements, and many other features. The BSD versions (4.1, 4.2, and 4.3) and the commercial versions derived from them (SunOS, ULTRIX, and Mt. Xinu) held the technical lead in the Unix world until AT&T's successful standardization efforts after about 1986; descendants including Free/Open/NetBSD, BSD/OS and MacOS X are still widely popular.

[Eduardo Kac and Alba]

Eduardo Kac's Bunny Magic
by Mohamet Ben-Abdul

Magician, mad scientist, and avant garde artist Eduardo Kac pulled another trick from his hat last year, a bio-engineered bunny named Alba which glows in the dark...

Using the facilities of the French artist and curator Louis Bec, and two scientists, Louis-Marie Houdebine and Patrick Prunnet, of the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, France, Eduardo managed to add genes of some phosphorescent jellyfish to the embryo that was Alba some time ago, and produced a glow-in-the dark rabbit. All for the sake of art.

Some quoted sources..

Eduardo Kac:

As a transgenic artist, I am not interested in the creation of genetic objects, but on the invention of transgenic social subjects. In other words, what is important is the completely integrated process of creating the bunny, bringing her to society at large, and providing her with a loving, caring, and nurturing environment in which she can grow safe and healthy.

My answer is to make a concerted effort to remain truly open to the participant's choices and behaviors, to give up a substantial portion of control over the experience of the work, to accept the experience as-it-happens as a transformative field of possibilities, to learn from it, to grow with it, to be transformed along the way.

...and with it the fear of banalization and abuse of genetic engineering. This fear is legitimate, historically grounded, and must be addressed. Contributing to the problem, companies often employ empty rhetorical strategies to persuade the public, thus failing to engage in a serious debate that acknowledges both the problems and benefits of the technology.

This is where art can also be of great social value. Since the domain of art is symbolic even when intervening directly in a given context, art can contribute to reveal the cultural implications of the revolution underway and offer different ways of thinking about and with biotechnology.

By others:

Alba is a white albino rabbit. She only glows if exposed to regular blue light. She does not glow spontaneously.

Eduardo Kac Eduardo Kac is an artist and writer who investigates the philosophical and political dimensions of communications processes. Equally concerned with the aesthetic and the social aspects of verbal and non-verbal interaction, Kac examines linguistic systems, dialogic exchanges and interspecies communications.

Kac's pieces, which often link virtual and physical spaces, propose alternative ways of understanding the cultural implications of communication processes. Internationally known in the '80s as a pioneer of holopoetry and telepresence art, in the '90s Kac created the new categories of biotelematics (art in which a biological process is intrinsically connected to digital networks) and transgenic art (art based on the use of genetic engineering techniques to create unique living beings)


The news appeared first in the Boston Globe (September 17, 2000) later in 2000 was covered by Peter Jennings on ABC.

There has been endless discussions on the ethical aspects of this art trick, but I, for one, look forward to the day when I will turn on my car headlights and see bunnies flitting away which will keep bounding about as ghosts in the dark when I turn the lights off again. This will certainly reduce the road kill on country roads, to the detriment of the opossum population, but then, coyotes will be able to hunt at night.

Of course we don't know what genes were traded for the glow in the dark propensity; these rabbits might have sharp teeth, or no liver. And we don't really know what has been accomplished. Perhaps we are being subjected to some art hat-trick.

Let's consider the possibilities:

Heraclitus suggested that,

"Either things seem and are;
or they seem to be, yet are not;
or they seem not to be, yet are;
or they seem not, and are not."

So let's ask, "Might not all rabbits glow in the dark?" That could very well be. We may not be aware of it, nor Kac. Then the art trick is no trick at all.

Or perhaps Kac is being fooled with an afterimage of a rabbit after he turns off the lights, and genuinely believes that he has created a glow-in-the-dark bunny.

Then again, it is quite possible that Alba does not glow in the dark; we are just being told so, and we believe what we are told about Alba glowing in the dark. This would serve Kac's purposes just as well. Who is to know any better.

I, for one, have no objections to the situational ethics of producing green-glowing bunnies. The gene has been used for years as a marker, and is apparently harmless (barring the possibility of Alba's excessively sharp teeth). Nor do I object to this type of experiment on a larger scale. I think those who would object feel that we cannot guide God's slow hand in the rearrangement of molecules over the course of billions of years. But this is a teleological viewpoint which contradicts the tenets of the doctrine of Evolution: the fact that evolution is a random undirected process. It serves no purpose at all; we are here by luck, not by design.

In fact the earth has been a cauldron of genetic change, as seen by the life forms we have today. Kac's bunny is going to make little difference. More harm has been done by importing plant and animal species from other continents. More harm has been done by importing selenium extracting plants from the East Coast to Wyoming, where large tracts of land are now poisoned to all animals.

Alba is not the issue at all. Kac's art is not about bunnies, it is about attempting to engage in a dialogue, and, I suspect, one perhaps as self serving and reductive as, "The more publicity, the better." Kac is an entrancing talker. On the other hand -- to continue on to Heraclitus' fourth hypothesis -- art isn't about dialogue, or social issues, or political positions anymore. Two decades of such misguided "art" has demonstrated this. Then what is Kac doing? Well, he is selling bunny posters.

At Julia Friedman Gallery, to be shown May 2002:

"Eduardo Kac, GFP Bunny," described as..

A series of photographs and videos on the theme of the Alba global scandal will be the centerpiece of the show, including Le Monde (front page), The Chicago Tribune (full page), The Boston Globe (front page), San Francisco Chronicle (front page), Der Spiegel (full page), and ABC News - World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. A series of "GFP Bunny-Paris Intervention" posters posted by Kac all over Paris (that have shown in New York, Germany and Seattle) will also be included.

... Still in December, Kac also engaged the public directly through a series of lectures (Sorbonne, Ecole Normale Superior, Ecole Superior des Beaux Arts, Forum des Images) and through face- to-face conversations on the street sparked by the public's interest. Kac also held several private meetings with French intellectuals. In total, Kac reached approximately 1.5 million people (about half of the population of Paris).


Joel Meyerowitz
My Rockies
AIC gallery 109

A beautiful gallery to consider such an ugly event. Go and see this and decide for yourself.

-- AM

How much is that theorist in the window?
Tea and with Sarah Wild and Larry Lee
at joymore - through November 19

So I'm just out and about on my merry trickster path and before the literary magazine release party where else to go but an art opening? I had no idea what to expect. The cryptic images on the postcard, some liquid poured into some vessels of indeterminate scale, made me speculate that the artists were performance ceramicists, that perhaps I would witness a slimy-palmed throwing of a heaving wet clay column wobbling towards its transformation to a pot. Or maybe it was participatory performance piece, where all would be assembled to consume mystery beverages from innocuous containers, and attempt to identify and rank them, whether flat RC is more popular among gallery-goers than stale Guinness. Or photographers, with abstract images of beverage service? I discovered that the artists are not ceramicists, and that the image is indeed a video still from one of many pieces that I will attempt to wrap my scrawny pea brain around.

Someone chopped up the furniture and left it on the floor, but what I'm really drawn to is the bunny with its eye gouged out. It's cute. Sarah did a great job. I'm a provincial ananchronist with a weakness for craft and aesthetics, so if you're going to do things like take a decorative fuzzy bunny (more of the ornamental than stuffed animal variety - this is important - Mike Kelly does stuffed animals) and pluck out one of its eyes, then extend a tube of goo from the hole, flattening the acrylic band to a ribbon that becomes a decorative bow, all glistening apricot pastel, on top of plaid-wrapped package -- do it well. It is a winsome pairing of the sentimental and the macabre, apparently titled "Thank you."

"Thank you for what?" I wonder, gnawing on some foccacia nabbed from the reception table. "Is the rabbit saying 'Thank you?' Is the gift the 'Thank you?' What's wrapped up in the pretty paper? Not just a blank piece of cardboard, surely. It must be inscribed with some fantastic secret. What is it?" Ah, the inscrutability of contemporary art. It engages as it teases, but on one level I pine for the heroic didacticism of the bronze gods littering the boulevards and fountains of Europe. I impose narrative on all, and perhaps the twisted ambiguity of much current work presents too many challenges, or alternately strikes me as glib and easy, a self-referent joke for an 'in' crowd. "Ooh, kinky" or "Eew, gross." There is a certain insouciant charm to a maimed cuddly creature, like the puppy with its eyes gouged out, the hollows connected by a drooping loop of foam decorated by a lavender blossom, and although I find the work ultimately likable, it inspires the thought that I have so frequently in galleries: why should I care?

Answer: why not? It's diversionary, it's fun, there's doubtless an entire scope and layer of references that I'm just too underread in French theorists to 'get,' and what the hell else would I be doing anyway? Going to a sports bar? And this leads me to another question that I find myself considering at art openings with some frequency: "My what a diverse, cosmopolitan, and interesting-looking crowd. Would any of you gentlemen happen to be heterosexual?"

Larry Lee is responsible for the sliced furniture. At first I was completely indifferent to this work, but he is such a charming individual that I appreciated it, or tolerated it, much more after our conversation. Reference 'Art School Confidential' by Daniel Clowes in "Eightball": "A gift of the gab always helps." When the work was explained to me, it became much more enjoyable. Minimalist panels of vertical bands in ugly colors became charming once I was informed that they represented preserved and BBQ pork. This also makes the work a commentary on ethnicity and identity, although I can't help but recall an aside once muttered by an instructor at a group critique: "I've always wondered what minimalists do with their time."

In his spare time, Mr. Lee reads poetry, among other things. As a wordmonger, he wins my sympathy with this admission. Apparently he has read Li Young Lee's poem, "Cleaving," that inspired the sliced table. I resist informing him that 'cleave' is the only word in the English language that is its own antonym - a cleaver (something doubtless found in a Chinese butcher shop) vs. one's tongue cleaving to the roof of one's mouth. My tongue should cleave to the roof of my mouth more often, and I can't help but consider my poetry an affliction that I should circumspectly keep to myself.

I spend much time in front of the tea service video (a-ha! The image on the card! And chock-full-of cultural references, to boot!) transcribing some great British obscenities. "Cack" and "twazza" expand my vocabulary. The plain cups - one chipped - become increasingly lipstick-smudged throughout the ritual. No humans are included, just the implied cosmetic wearing sippers, and the alternating panels of naughty words. "Sarah kept spouting Lacan at me!" Lee protested during our chat. I watch beige liquid stream from the teapot. Again, I do not have the academic credentials to play, but can appreciate the lyrical cadence of words such as: "frigging cat shagging git of a twat faced dick splashing ball of cack."

I wouldn't want to live with any of the pieces, with the possible exception of the mutilated pets, but that doubtless is not among the artists' priorities. Mr. Lee is not creating paintings to match my couch: he's sawing up that couch, or quartering the end tables. I conceptually construct my corollary pieces - perhaps a cuckoo clock with an ax embedded in it? Or the performance piece/installation about the family, obligation, and bourgeois values as manifested in the couch/loveseat set that my mother gave me. I absolutely had to get slipcovers for the dark green floral upholstery, it's too high-quality to get rid of, but is bulky and inappropriate to my current way of life, so much so that I resent it every time I have to move. This is the sort of enjoyable mental play and limbic limbering that conceptual work inspires, so as long as I'm free-associating for free cheese, I'll keep coming back to see what those wacky art folk are up to.

-- Erika Mikkalo

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