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August 2000, 30 posts, 1098 lines


This was my first OtherGroup meeting, and I still don't really understand what this is, who most of you people are, or why I am here. Thanks to the EVL folks for the tour, though.

Heard a rumour that it was supposed to be a discussion forum, so here's this: After, some of ended up at a lame bar near the school. In retrospect, I wish we had drug along some evl believers. Most, or many, or at least some, of the people at the table (non-electronic artists, critics, curators, gallery management professionals - seven of us, some in multiple roles) seemed to share some similar opinions, which, in the event of any backlash, and especially since my account is muddled by my own musings (and some beer) I will take full responsibility for here, unless the rest of youse choose to own up.

Playing with tech, pushing it to places where there is no practical reason for it to go, is the essence of research. Play is good and product is irrelevant. Art is different than craft. Making a thing do something new, or something better, is good, but art is more akin to philosophy. I still don't undestand how the Cave is significantly different than Playstation on a projection TV. Maybe we, and evil, should have a field trip to Navy Pier's imax and that shuttle-ride thing and then have a conversation again.

The Oh Wow factor prevented us from asking more intersting questions, like why the professor whose name I didn't learn showed us vacation slides with a fun screen-saver interlude; why the other guy I don't know is willing to spend years of his life cyborgizing a drug bust story he hinted at, but didn't explicate; why the girl felt she had to replicate a game I remember playing with my niece and a happy litte dragon. Do tech folk hide behind the tech, the way I avoid thinking about serious life problems by cleaning the kitchen?

Am I being too hard on an infant technology? Does the real art have to wait until a new generation grows up with VR tech as a given? Or is there an analogy to music video - which for a short time was the most interesting visual culture, but soon devolved to garage bands with camcorders and a vocabulary of standard moves. (the other analogy would be performance art - once an improvised escape route for unfullfilled artist/performers, then an accepted art-school major, now dead).

Every time a movie crew clogs up my street I think: "Stories are good, but the way our culture does it is grossly inefficient. Money, equipment, special effects - they might be good for some micro-ecomnomy, but, personally, I'd rather just be told the story."



Michael -

Indeed you are treading far too heavily on new grass. After the effects most of us have seen in movies such as the Matrix and Titanic, there is an expectation that when you walk into a virtual reality piece you will not only be able to pet a fully 3-D photo-realistic Benji, you will be floored by entirely new manifestations of 'art'. Well, perhaps the tech (and also what is possible to create as one artist working alone in it) is not quite there yet - but who cares? From what you have written it does not seem that you really want to care about this either. However I think that you are missing the point that - while you may not have found the images and content you saw last night to be your aesthetic cup of tea - you still spent probably more time looking and analyzing the experience of a piece than most would in traditional art show. It is rare that singular artwork would keep seasoned artists/writers/dealers for more than time that. And while the visuals evidently did not keep you entranced in these virtual pieces - probably the thirst for being part of both a visual and physical experience that had been programmed by an artist, for you, did. How often do we get to make choices and direct the narrative flow of an art experience - aside from perhaps in some very unusual performance or theater piece? How often have you had a story bark at you and tell you to get down on your knees and put your hands against a wall, know if you've complied, and then change it's course because of your actions?

Of course there is going to be play involved in these works. There is play involved in the creation of any artwork. Yet, to go so far as saying, "Play is good and product is irrelevant" for 'tech folk' - you are not only seriously missing the point but also being just plain blockheaded. Frankly, it is easy to be so blinded by the context of these virtual pieces - as well as your own expectations - that you neglect to listen to these artists about the content of their works and also truly experience them. Next time,

I would advise you to put more effort into listening and experiencing and less into attempting to judge the 'brush' that those artists decide to use.

Yours truly, Sabrina Raaf


Virtual reality work will face similar challenges as photography, film and video have. I think Michael is correct -- it may not be accepted until the technology is more readily accessible.

We are trying to place VR in art historical contexts and in relation to our experiences -- this is difficult. Most of us relate it to video games and movies and other media that we are familiar with. Virtual reality work is too often relegated to the category of entertainment -- we think of DisneyQuest, Imax or other commercial venues. This stigma can be problematic -- however it can also be utilized by the artists to their advantage. Virtual Reality offers the opportunity for an immersive, interactive experience. This experience relies partially on the viewer -- you are expected to participate and what you get out of it depends in part on what you put into it. However, the wow factor -- the "what does it do?" should not overshadow the content of the work. In Todd's piece, he is sharing with us a personal experience of his. However, he does this without being too self-referential -- trying to create an experience that is more universal and can be related to by others. (It also includes political critique). Why has spent over a year of his life "cyborgizing" the story?

Well, I assume that apart from the time of developing the content, that it took a hell of a long time to develop the piece due to the technology.

And, seeing that his final vision is to create an immersive, performative piece that surrounds the participant with different elements (VR, physical barriers, stimulatory straight jacket, performers) therefore submersing the person in an emotional and physical situation, I think that this medium (VR) was well chosen. Not to negate the power of an image or the written word, but there is room to explore sensory experience beyond this.

I also agree with Micael that the story is more important than the special effects -- but, done well, the "effects" add other elements to the story -- ones that enhance the participants' physical and emotional experience.

This is where the artist can play a major role - by creating content that surpasses the industry's use of the technology.



Michael (plus other non-believers),

First off, thank you all for coming last night. I understand that it is rare and difficult for critics/curators/gallerists/artists to come for a studio visit and spend so much time with individual works. I would like to say that I appreciate your patience, but I'm afraid that I may be misunderstood. I too can only speak for myself and my work, so please try not to assume I speak for all electronic artists or even all EVLers.

Michael, I find your comment about "playing with tech" unfortunate, yet predictable. As with all "acceptable" mediums, there will always be an exploration (or research as you call it) into the technical limits of that particular medium. All too often though, when a new medium such as photo or film or video is appropriated by artists, it is almost entirely disregarded by the art scene masses at first. Therefor, I can only assume that you, and most other critics, would want to see the VR product as irrelevant because it is too difficult for you to categorize and critique. Only until it becomes massively available & large accredited art institutions approve its inherent worth, will individual critics feel safe to develop a vocabulary to appropriately critique the actual work(not the medium itself) In the meantime, the artists themselves will continue to create and exhibit and discuss in private and limited audiences.

The fact that you didn't even learn any of our names, even though they were said many times, just means to me that you weren't really open to a new experience from the get-go. It was not the Ow Wow factor that prevented you from asking more interesting questions, it was your own Ow Shit response to having to deal with something that you weren't interested or prepared to deal with. The fact that half of the conversation was spent talking about Playstations, means that the majority of the group are just not familiar enough with electronic/interactive art to discuss the individual works on their own merits instead of desperately grasping for loosely related experiences.

Any one of us would have been more than happy to go into a detailed description and critique OF THE ACTUAL ART PIECES SHOWN. I actually did get a couple chances to speak to some of the people there briefly about my personal motivations in smaller groups, but unfortunately, you were not present. Maybe you were waiting for us to tell you why our work was so important to us, but that would've sounded equally inappropriate.

As is too common, I personally felt that we were stuck in the role of outsiders being interrogated for exploring a new medium. As if by choosing VR as our medium for these particular pieces(which is not the only medium that we work within), we were intentionally scorning all other mediums and people who associated themselves with them. I would be glad to speak with you individually if you are really interested. I feel that certain stories can not be fully expressed by traditional mediums. I sometimes feel that some ideas can never be fully expressed. but maybe, just maybe, there are also new ideas that this technology will allow us to communicate more efficiently which can precipitate not only new thought, but actual change. Artists, in my opinion, are expected to do whatever they can to create what is in their imagination.

I really am sorry that I need money and equipment and special effects to communicate my story, but oh well, welcome aboard.

Todd Margolis to- at


Man, I really missed out by not being there at the meeting. I think this discussion is very interesting, but since I don't know the specifics, I'll just say in an aside that you may want to read Brooks Hall's piece in the new Cakewalk, called *Human Husk: A Proposal*. It describes a hypothetical VR artwork that could serve as a universalizing human experience. Sorry about the plug, but it does fit in with this discussion.

-Steve Anderson Cakewalk Magazine


Re: Other Group evl meeting commentarygeesh Michael-

Looks like you pissed off some folks. I for one agree w/most of what you said and I am somewhat hesitant to respond b/c of the hyper defensive retaliation. I think an apology may be in order for the assumption that you and "we" are all technologically inept and/or ignorant.


Yeah there is a problem w/ that electro-tech stuff. most of it sucks just like ANY OTHER THING. Let me reiterate: sucks LIKE ANY OTHER THING. You got that, right? (re-read as necessary) Unless a "motivated party" uses whatever means to accomplish a goal instead of friggin around with that means and supposing that some mediums have "innate" content which is enough in and of itself, that party will not make anything of more than passing interest.

There's been a lot of good "electronic" art in the past 10 years, but ppl can only make good elec art if they can make good art. I think thats a good rule of thumb. Another good rule of thumb: most ppl in art school can't make good art.(which may or may not be why they are there in the first place)

As far as technical exploration goes, that ain't art, that's craft. It's like edward muybridge was when he worked on the pole-vaulting photos and such. Not useless, just not any more interesting than ....oh, I don't know...those photos were. The oh-Wow dynamic is big, but not anywhere near as big as it seems they'd like us to think. They seem to think that acronyms like VR and WWW (the world wide web, have you heard of it?) are out of our reach. Do they think that because one does not have the skills to build a good table that one can't use, recognize, or appreciate one?

I personally own a computer (it's true), and I use it a lot. I can type quickly and I know what a bezier curve is, I know what Boolean objects do in a 3-d modeling prog. There are many others who know this too. Even if we don't know what the hell Boolean means, We have seen Titanic,the Matrix, Twister, Terminator2, and that recent George Clooney film (Twistanic??). But Titanic (as much as I hate to admit it), had CONTENT. I mean, when Disney does it better, you sure as hell better have some content. (here I am referring to Disneyquest and NOT Titanic, which I am full aware was not a Disney film)


Ok, I know I've made some gross all-inclusive statements which deserve amendment, but let me just make a small point. These "works" may not be considered "art" by some, but it is NOT because they don't accept or understand a new medium.(and if they do, then they're just stupid) It is because they contain nothing of use besides VOCABULARY. Vocabulary alone does not make content...

example sentence #1: Sense You is up With milk a Arizona at ball Tuesday.

example Response #1: "Huh?"



Unfortunately, I was unable to come to the meeting at EVL. Michael, I'm not sure if you wanted your commentary to be taken seriously(it seemed kind of "flamey"), but I take art that employs technology pretty seriously and feel like responding to a couple of your comments.

I still don't undestand how the Cave is significantly different than Playstation on a projection TV.

I don't understand why this is an important concern. Why can't their be an artwork that is experienced through a projection TV? Is video art not art? We might as well ask if photography is still a relevant artistic medium. Do we really have to take so many steps backward? Regarding the "Playstation" component: does an art experience have to be passive to be poetic?

Do tech folk hide behind the tech, the way I avoid thinking about serious life problems by cleaning the kitchen?

Do you really clean your kitchen because you want to avoid serious problems, or do you clean your kitchen because it needs to be cleaned?



Derek -- pessimistic lately? "sucks like any other thing."??? Since you were not at the evl visit, I am assuming that you are talking about "electro-tech stuff" in general. It is true -- just as there are bad paintings etc., there are bad electronic art works. But, are you assuming that the work we saw on Tuesday was bad art because "most ppl in art school can't make good art." ? Without having seen it? hmmm

I think that the people who's art we saw on Tuesday -- their names were Todd, Brenda and Dan by the way -- would like us to talk about, think about, contemplate the CONTENT of their work and not just the TECHNOLOGY. Even if the technology does play an integral role in the work. The work could have been critiqued as we would any other work.

However, the discussion mainly revolved around the technology -- how does it work? can you do this? what's next? and video game references galore...

And you say "they" (whoever that is) want us to believe the wow factor is bigger than it is? I have been studying this issue for over two years now -- it is a MAJOR barrier for electronic art. As is the relationship to industry products/standards "we have seen Titanic, the Matrix, Twister..." Thank you for reiterating my point -- this is the type of thing VR (and other electronic work) is too often related to. This is problematic -- you think that people can easily understand VR work because they've seen the Titanic or because they've been to DisneyQuest? The problem is that they think those things are VR -- that it is entertainment, not art. Anyone can appreciate VR artwork, but that stigma is in the way. Someone please tell me if you have seen a virtual reality work in an ART institution or gallery in the USA.

p.s. -- acronyms are not out of our reach :), but much technology definitely is -- even, for some people, the Internet.



Nicely worded, Keri!

If anyone would like to learn more about electronic art history, I would suggest they check out []. The "Multimedia - From Wagner to Virtual Reality" project there is quite well organized and very comprehensive. Interestingly enough, Dan Sandin(one of the artists who showed his work to us on tuesday) is featured as one of the pioneers.


some ideas for topics:

audiences -- who do you want to reach and how are you going about it? how to use available vehicles. tools and hints...

professionalism -- how important is it? what are some of the rules and expectations?

Art & the political -- projects/exhibits in Chicago -- what's being done, how has it worked, what are the issues? speaker/panelist ideas for this: temporary services folks, Nato Thompson and other people who were involved with his CPI project, Steve Anderson or other In these times people....

other ideas?????



Of course I was not responding to the works at the evl labs. They could very well be brilliant. I was responding to the thread in general. and SUCKS LIKE ANY OTHER THING was referring to the possibility of SUCKING or the ratio of "SUCK" to "AOK" within art in general.


Todd, I hope that CONTENT is the concern of the artist always. However I think the general indifference to "electronic art" in the "art world" has little (but possibly an eensy-smidgen) to do with not knowing what to do with it or how to interpret it and more to do with it's usual lack of content. So where does this perceived lack of CONTENT come from? it is, after all, a common compliant.

Now I know this may seem prejudicial, but the fact is not that the "viewer's" vocabulary must be expanded but the artist who must communicate fluently. If there is nothing but exploration or "play" as Michael puts it, the only interested parties will be the artist and the others who are "playing"(and rightly so). Also, even if there is CONTENT to be had, the artist must present it in such a way in which the viewer will interpret it appropriately. I would suggest the above as reasons for this common complaint.


on a side note:

It seems to me that there is no need to label oneself an "electronic artist". Doesn't this only function to separate oneself from the "community"? what is the motivation to implicitly state a separation?

I would question my intent, if I labeled myself such. It may be a conversation starter, but a good artist is a good artist, period. <----- .::Derek Fansler::.

PS: Don't forget to come to SUITABLE Friday night from 7-12 for Team Lump's show, "YES YES YES YES YES" (keri there are 5 yesses, not 4 :) I have no idea why, ask team lump. Free Beer for the first few hours!

PPS: sorry 'bout the plug.


Derek -

I personally can't agree with you more when you said, "It seems to me that there is no need to label oneself an "electronic artist". I think that to call one's self by a label or category can eventually limit the artist them self from thinking that they are capable of even ENGAGING in other art forms. Unfortunately the reality is that more than half of the time you tell someone you are an artist - the natural response is, "Oh, what kind?"

So, either we fall into the quick label response or we have to do a drawn out explanation of all the fields of art we've engaged in. And, quick is quick - and sometimes preferable.

Personally I'm taken aback when someone calls me a 'woman artist'. Not, that I unhappy with being a woman or that I think that people mean bad
- but I just find it oddly invasive and wholly unnecessary. But alas, the EVL'ers do work with electronics - and much less often with paint or traditional sculptural materials. So, er, 'electronic artist' is perhaps the most appropriate category. I think Todd should be faulted for calling himself 'electronic artist' just as much as another artist should be faulted for calling themselves a 'painter' or a 'video artist.' It's not a matter of 'trying to isolating themselves from 'the community'. It's just a matter of falling into the pitfalls of feeling it might be more socially efficient and accepted.

IF a moratorium on labels were possible, I would be overjoyed.

S. Raaf


We could just call ourselves "the artist," but then we'd all have to dress [] cooler, bust out " Let's Go Crazy [] ," and be down [] with MP3's.

But, hey, who doesn't aspire [] to [] that [] ?

Rob. cypher-3L333T-mechatronik-tinkerer-man-artist [] and class clown Dogwood Elementary 1984.


I too agree that we should not be labeled as purely "electronic artists". if you read the rest of the email that i said that in, i even mentioned that we specifically chose to use VR for those particular pieces & that we don't always limit ourselves to this medium. Although I think everyone else knew what I meant, what I probably should have said was "people who make art utilizing technology". But if we're just playing with words here Derek, why don't we just drop the term artist all together? With the vast amounts of specialization that people must focus in today, how can you not use some general terms to comunicate easier?

I also agree that the artist should be as communicative as possible. But, this does make me question the roles of the critics & writers & gallerists & curators. If they are not some sort of "medium" between the artist and the viewer, what are they really there for? Is it purely a business position to help market & promote the artwork? I do feel that there is some shared responsibility here to all of those people here on this list to make an effort to learn whatever vocabulary may be necessary to understand not only the technology, but the actual artists & work & movements in this field.

Maybe I'm being too outspoken & offensive & i truelly hope that noone feels afraid to speak their mind, but we have brought this issue to light & i feel i must be as honest as possible.

As for all of derek's talk about CONTENT, it seems silly and PLAYFULL to talk about this in such sweeping generalizations. Maybe if we were speaking about an individual artist or piece of work or movement, we could actually come to a better understanding without just rambling...



In his last commentary, Todd Margolis said:

Todd, you make a painful point, indeed. I know, from my own small readings in your field, that there is discussion about the demise of the critic and the gallery because, if art is delivered freely and directly to viewers through a medium such as the Internet, there's really no need for such bothersome "intermediaries."

I can only speak for critics (and certainly not all), but critics are never supposed to be promoters (promoting is what gallerists do). The ironic offshoot of a critics' job, however, is that certain art gets promoted and other art doesn't--that is, certain art gets noticed, other art gets ignored. There is ongoing discussion in the Chicago Art Critics Association about what constitutes ethical conduct for a critic--should critics ever accept gifts from artists, should critics ever get a "deal" in buying art from galleries, should critics ever write about their artist friends (and therefore be biased), etc.? Of course, critics often wear different hats--someone writing a catalog essay has a much different role in analyzing an artist than the same person writing a critical review in an art magazine.

And I think it's true that certain critics who have had the chance to know and be friends with a certain group of artists might be in a privileged--and more insightful--position to write about them. I personally feel that critics need to stay away from any remuneration (personal or monetary) that seduces them from what their honestly-acquired instincts tell them about the art.

But the new technology that Todd and the people at EVL are developing will point up even more clearly what I think is the real and most lasting role that critics will have--and have always had--as old art systems break down or evolve. That is, critics are simply part of the "talking community" that surrounds the making of art. They are not intermediaries, and they certainly aren't "explainers." Artists can explain for themselves. The best criticism (and I'm not talking about art journalism here) is literary; it offers another layer of poetic insight to the energy field around art work. And it compounds, expands and transmits culture. Good examples are: Emile Zola, Roger Fry and Rainer Maria Rilke (especially).

The critic Barry Schwabsky, whom you've probably read in the New Art Examiner, has said that his wife, who is an artist, frequently complains that the only reason he writes about art is "to have something to hang his poetry on." I'm not sure that's something to complain about. I think that pretty well sums it up.

If anyone else has any other opinions, I'd be curious to hear them.

Polly Ullrich


a few quick responses to some things brought up by todd and polly somewhat away from the discussion of the evl thing.

it is misguided to assume that the extent of an artists ability to communicate somehow makes the work of the gallerist, critic, curator, or any other cultural worker, obsolete (or should even bring it into question)[paragraph 2 of friday email]. it is also equally misguided to assume that gallerists are merely salesmen with clean well-lit showrooms. by making such assumptions you say that as an artist you shuffle out your wowing creative wares and leave it to the gallerists curators and critics to sort them out.

the art mechanism has never worked that way. an artists ability to have knowledge of context and to communicate or direct is at the heart of any artists practice and has nothing to do with the job of gallerists, curators, and critics - there job comes later.

you can absolutely quote me on this: The internet will not usher in some demise of the critic and the gallery because, if art is delivered freely and directly to viewers through it there's really no need for such bothersome "intermediaries."

A. the majority art lovers still would prefer the experience of standing in front of a barnett newman or walking amidst a colossal serra than a reproduction at 72 dots per inch over the internet.

B. just because the internet is free doesnt mean that all of the sudden the number of people who appreciate art in the world is going to skyrocket - 90% of art venues are free and accommodate people who own or dont own computers equally. not to mention, most serious collectors dont buy over the internet .

surely the chicago art critics association can find more immediately pertinent topics for ongoing discussions.

as far as what constitutes ethical conduct for a critic... write about good work. at this point, all other musing seems a little self-indulgent , dont you agree?


lucas ajemian


Dear group:

I don't think it is self indulgent to work out ethical codes of conduct for one's profession, art criticism being a profession, as is running a gallery, being an artist, etc., a profession. It seems to be just the opposite to me. And, just to be perfectly clear (in case my last email wasn't), the Chicago Art Critics Association is NOT talking about what's happening to art sales on the Internet, or anything to do with the Internet or electronic art in general. What I did say was that there was an on-going discussion among its members about what constitutes ethical behavior on the part of art critics since there are many slippery areas of conflict of interest in the field--this is an essential part of participating in a professional community. It seems to me, at least, that this is a laudable activity (to work out what is ethical behavior), not something that is self-indulgent. Because it's not always obvious what is ethical or unethical, and people have different standards in this regard. And since there are a number of critics on this email list, it seems of interest. And the stakes are high, too, when one artist's show gets covered, and another's doesn't. As anyone who participates for any length of time in the art world can probably see, just "writing about good art" (as Lucas proposed) doesn't really cover a myriad of situations that can arise as art is made, exhibited, talked about, and sold--although it is a good place to start.

My point in bringing this up was that the role of critics, gallerists and curators was not simply a "business position" to "help promote and market" artwork (as Todd was asking), but that there were other, overriding functions that these parts of the art world perform in transmitting culture that go beyond buying and selling--and that would still need to be addressed whether or not the technology of art making changes. And figuring out what those roles are--as the technology changes around us--is not self-indulgent, either.

Also, to go back a little further to the EVL discussion, it seems obvious to me that critics, gallerists and curators have to come to terms with electronic art, in a way that hasn't yet been done. There has to be more than just a Bill Viola show at the Art Institute. I agree with Derek that, basically, electronic and digital art can be truly bad in the same way that any other kind of art can be--and that, despite its technological status, it should be held to the same standards as the rest of the art made now.

But I don't think that addresses the impact of the very medium (the technology) itself on the meaning of the work--is the medium the message, to a certain extent? I think probably so, although how it is needs to be developed for a general art audience by those who are working with it closely.

There's no doubt that a Barnett Newman or a Richard Serra can best be experienced in the physical world, rather than on the Internet. But is that true of art photography, for example, which doesn't rely so closely on tactile qualities? Questions about materiality and the orientation of the body in perception are all raised by EVL. Many thanks to Todd and Dan Sandin for welcoming us into the EVL lab.

Polly Ullrich


Leah, Polly, and Othergroup -

Just wanted to say thanks for the excellent commentary. I know it takes a lot of time to write such intelligent, well thought out, carefully worded 'editorials'. I'm enjoying reading them even if I don't always have a direct reaction. I hope that such quality will be maintained on this list.



Hello Out There,

Due to a prior commitment, I was unable to attend the CACA panel discussion on Tuesday night re: the purpose of criticism. Is there one of you who attended that can give me a run down of the high lights? I'm curious as to what the purpose of criticism is perceived to be by CACA.

Thanks for your help.




I attended the CACA meeting last night. There were no surprises. The meeting really never touched on the purpose of criticism. The panelist each spoke briefly about how they write their reviews and why. One hears Michael Wienstein portray himself as friend of the artist. An outsider to the rest of the critics. Ann Wiens commented on how the critics really should pass judgment in their reviews. She went on further to discuss the two versions of a review. One, that is written for a non art publication, New City, as opposed to something along the lines of New Art Examiner. Kathryn Hixson talked about her work. She presented her role as a critic as an informer.

She spoke of pride as an intellect. Fred Camper talked of his methods. Using a great deal of biographical information, visiting the art venue numerous times, helping the artist with his intent. By the way, he said that if the work had pictures of flowers and other earth friendly stuff as opposed to TV culture, he would start to like it better. FYI. Poor John Brunetti got to speak last. (After the first couple of panelists, most of what was said was rehashing.) He spoke of the truth. Of finding bits of the truth in reviews and articles. A few of the critics discussed, very briefly, the role that they would like their reviews to do. A gift to the artist from Michael.

Kathryn spoke of drawing people into the spaces to witness the work for themselves. Fred talked of helping the artist to understand his work. John's question to the audience, one that I have heard from him before. Do reviews actually help sales? Yes, yes, yes as I have told him before they do help to draw people into the space by provided a sense of validity and worth to that work. An entertaining debate (using term loosely) broke out between Michael and Kathryn. Michael claims at first that he can be an empty vessel when he enters a gallery to view artwork. Which was changed to both Fred and himself trying to be empty vessels. It appeared to me that Michael was trying to create a rift between the feelers (Fred and Michael) and the intellects (Ann, Kathryn, John). Although I see them as all the same. Just different methods to achieve the end result.

I'm probably not the best person to give a run down of this meeting, I'm not a writer or a critic. I will say a few things. I think that all the critics disappointed me by not really going beyond the surface of the discussion. The were a few insights into the personalities of the critics and some of the responses to the questions from the audiences were well answered. Criteria for judgments were discussed. Everyone wants to be moved or spoken to by the artwork. Although there was some talk about materials used properly (unless the intent was to be made poorly) the critics seemed to focus a great deal more on intent.

One interesting note, Michael Weinstein will walk up to 15 miles to view 75% of the photography shows in the city. WOW, I am honestly impressed. Oh, in case you were wondering about the critics role in Chicago, the audience was asked to keep the talks positive and not to gripe about the currents scene.

Hopefully, someone else also attended the meeting to fill in the many holes I have left out. Hey, thanks to Keri and Todd (it's working) for setting up this email list and to Bulka for putting a spark under everyone's ass to start the EVL debate.

David Roman


If the EVL artists wanted a critique then they should have asked for it during the "discussion" segment of our visit rather than fielding questions about the history, progress, and current boundaries of the medium alone.

That being said - it has been very exciting to observe the exchange that was and is taking place via email. I think this is a great way for the group to operate productively as a forum for communication, research, and debate.


As artists feel it necessary to create their own opportunities rather than rely on those created by others, what are the advantages and disadvantages of the artist taking on multiple roles? What are the ethics involved? Example - Is it appropriate to curate and participate in the same show?


Who decides? What is the equation? When and how does the price go up? Can the price go down? etc.

Are these topics the group is interested in? I am willing to put together multiple speakers on each topic from among and outside the group and perhaps hold them in conjunction with a related tour of some kind. Feel free to offer suggestions. I also would like to hear from the artists regarding their interests in topics.

Iain Muirhead


Just a very gentle reminder: "The Purpose of Criticism" was not a CACA-sponsored event, but rather part of the Absolut Vision program brought about by the Chicago Art Dealers Association. There were four CACA critics invited by Carol Ehlers, who moderated: Ann Wiens, Kathryn Hixson, John Brunetti and Fred Camper. Michael Weinstein is not a member of CACA. (I think Carol asked Fred to help find critics to do it). I'm not sure why I'm reiterating this, except perhaps a reflexive impulse to say that CACA doesn't sponsor every single event about criticism in this city. And also, hopefully obviously, that you don't have to be a critic or writer to comment perceptively and lucidly about issues involving criticism.

Polly Ullrich


Polly Ullrich wrote:

This in mind, and also taking note of certain issues arising in the email discussions, perhaps we as "The Group" should have our own meeting to discuss the purpose of criticism--ethics, praise, gripes, and all. I think it would be interesting to hear the perspectives of the non-critics about how they do or do not rely on the critical press.

I often think there is a great disconnect between the different facets of Chicago art life. Lines of distance, miscommunication, and even politics creep up between curators, galleriests, critics, and artists. We seem at times to be adversaries rather than compatriots, and I wonder why. Do any of you agree? Is there a way for us to discuss this and discover areas of overlapping interest or hybridity?

Speaking of hybridity, I am interested in exploring NFA Space's concerns about the composite identities many of us in the group have, and how we negotiate them. What are the conflicts of interest, ethics, advantages, etc. of our multiple roles?

Thank you, David Roman, for the Absolute Vision panel discussion notes. Thank you, Sabrina Raaf, for the VAP schedule.

Leah Finch


Something FUN!!!

Adam, Greetings.

We re-met at Beret's last show. Donald McGhie and I (aka Chester & the Sheriff) are posing as an upstart "Sell, Sell Sell" anything company. We have rented office desks and cubicles, created multiples, hired 20+ office workers and performers, paparazzi photographers, and an added bonus - Greene E (the environmental Elvis) will be singing tunes in full 70s regalia at the opening on:

Sunday, August 27th from 4-6pm. Hyde Park Art Center 5307 South Hyde Park Blvd. phone - 773.324.5520 web - []

Please forward to whoever you think may find this "Tomfoolery" enticing.

Hope you can make it. Please forward a mailing adress when you have a spare moment. See you, Thanks.

Chester (aka Alamo & Costello)


I think that it's possible, and interesting, to hold multiple roles within the art community. There's always conflicts of interest in a small art world like Chicago, but how that works out depends more on the person involved than on the various roles they assume.

Right now I'm acting both as an artist and as an art critic. Personally, I think it's great that I can use my role as critic to help other artists get exposure. It would be silly to review my own work or to review the work of my best friend, but other than that, I think everyone is fair game. I really don't have much to gain (if anything, I have more to lose), but I like to have a voice in the ongoing conversation about contemporary art.

Why not? In fact, I think more artists should write about art or curate art exhibits. It just makes sense. Doesn't it? I mean, who else is as invested in art than artists? And isn't it more interesting to have a floating identity than to always assume a fixed role?



I, myself, happen to agree on this point... I just stumbled onto an art mag this month called LOLA magazine out of Canada. LOLA does what I think is, so far, the most effective way to critique a show.

Shotgun Reviews.

A Shotgun review means you've got from 20 - 200 words to state what you think about a show. This keeps the 50 cent words and footnotes to a minimun but also regulates the "It sucked." critiques. Some pretty heavy-duty critics contribute and also people who couldn't complete a paint-by-number.

Their website [] is pretty lacking but the mag itself is pretty full on.

Power critiquing at it's best is embodied by Slashdot [] The only world more opinionated, self-congratulatory, and passionate than the art world is the computer world. Slashdot seems to have found a method to empower these traits and create an insanely active community out of them.

Here any user can post whatever article or website they find interesting (Slashdot itself is a Linux/Open Souce/cool gizmo themed site.) Chief Moderators then post the articles they like the most for review. Then everybody and their cousin pitch in what they think about it. Those who post comments get moderated.

If the comments are insightful and informative the comments get moderated up. If they are flames etc. they get moderated down. All users can set their moderation threshold so they can choose to swamp through say all 3000 comments or can set their threshold higher and just read "the cream of the crop" (whatevers been moderated up to say a 3 or a 5.)

Those posters who constantly post good messages gain good "karma" points and then themselves can become moderators. A pool of moderation accounts are also doled out randomly as a counterbalance. When you log on you just might be given moderation rights. Here the role of the critic is chief moderator of a community made up of people who choose to either participate in agreement or disagreement on Linux/Open Sour.

Slashcode, the code written to facilitate all of this is open source (source code is free, application is free). A slashsite for art is dying to happen. Maybe I should get on it. Something to think about anyway...




As artists feel it necessary to create their own opportunities rather than rely on those created by others, what are the advantages and disadvantages of the artist taking on multiple roles? What are the ethics involved?

Example - Is it appropriate to curate and participate in the same show? Iain and The Group,

This sounds like a good subject. But here is a question. Do you think that perhaps the reason why we take on multiple roles is not because there aren't enough curators, writers, galleries etc... but because the majority of the existing ones sort of, um, suck.

But like I said when this group began, We can't be making art, showing it in our own galleries and then writing about it. Maybe we need to critique the way we do each of these roles ...come up with boundaries and rules of presenting art and critiquing it. A manifesto perhaps, a revolution of sorts... This way we get over the talk and get something done. as the saying goes, less talk more sex...


Artist curators have the opportunity to realize ideas or more fully explore the possiblities of other media through the selection and combination of the works of others. It has been my experience that rather than compromising the position of the artist, curatorial practice can inform the artist's own work. Good curating is also very close to artistic practice in its balancing act of driving home a point and relieving these ideas with unexpected possibilities.

The point of concern arises when an artist is curating an exhibition which includes the artist's own work. I'm not discounting the possiblity that such an exhibition could "work". Yet, it is important in an art system to have an outside/third party analysis. The most effective or interesting art is, after all, not a monologue but a part of a larger debate.


I once heard senior curator Robert Storr (of MOMA fame) speak. Many might not know, but Robert Storr is also an artist. And, he said very frankly that he thought it was impossible to be a fabulous artist, curator and writer all in one. He said if you really want to succeed, you had to pick one and just go for it. He also mentioned he had never heard of anyone be all things and also be respected in each of those areas.

Well, being an artist and also an independent curator myself, my initial reaction was one of deep discouragement. A few minutes later, my second reaction was that Storr was probably a lame-ass artist or at least a failed one and that is why he said that. But, still that comment has continued to bother me for years. I just hate limitations. And, after more years of more art making and curating, I'm starting to formulate an acceptable interpretation of his comment. Some might disagree with me, but I now think the tough reality is that it may be impossible to have the time to work in and be really strong and respected in all those roles. It is not that the capacity isn't there - but the time to do it all just does not exist. Or, well, it may exist very temporarily (sacrificing all sleep) - but not over the long haul.

When one is starting their career, more often it is impossible to afford to be, say, just an artist or just a writer. You've got to play different roles in order to survive. And, if you've got the talent and stamina to write, curate, and/or even run your own gallery (incredible stamina for that one) - why not stay close to what is most fascinating to you: art? (It may be wiser to make more money in the corporate realm - but most of us are a *little* too anti-authoritarian for that.) And, whether they need to financially or not, I think it would be great if every emerging artist, curator and critic could be REQUIRED to work and play in all the roles so they gain perspective on them. Such perspective is invaluable - at least, it has been to me.

But, in the end, my conclusion is that you have to make some hard choices about what you want to achieve in life. Juggling two or three careers is financially necessary for most of us and also very informative.... But, at some point you have to recognize that even though you might have the talent to have a 'successful' career ('success' as personally defined) in each, more likely you will never have the time to do so.... So, the biggest challenge is to constantly judge how to distribute your time/energy so that you give yourself the best chance to 'succeed' in that one career you identify with the most deeply.

S. Raaf


Just for sake of argument, I find in impossible to discount any "intellectual ties". We are all a product of our surroundings. One can say I choose to ignore them, but they still exist. I find that arranging or viewing shows that do not have some unifying piece (materials, ideas, themes) to be all over the place and quite distracting to view. I don't find parameters to be limiting, but as a boundary to flourish in. While I agree that a heavy handed show can be annoying, especially if you don't agree with the curator.

However, to be unaware of the language you speak in is quite naive. Our minds constantly are looking for ways to compare and to identify objects if only to understand them in the context of who are. Use the age old example; you see an object at a distant and you are sure it looks like ________ (noun, mad libs time). As you get closer to the object you realize it is _______ (noun). Why does this happen? The same reason that people cannot help but "curate" shows.

The same reason people write manifestos or reviews. People want to place things in neat little categories and label things. To be apart of a group or society at large. There are the paradoxes of going too far. Order lends itself to chaos and chaos into order. blah, blah, blah..........I think as long as one has time, it can be enriching to jump the borders between artist/gallerist/curators/critics. Oh and by the way Kristen, I thought sex was one of the few benefits of being an artiste (you have to say that with a french accent).