Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Confession Sessions by Carrie MacQuaid

For the past several months Carrie MacQuaid has been wearing printed t-shirts, each listing a different 'guilty pleasure.' The plain grey or white shirts make statements in plain black text like, "I consistently prefer to watch E! news over any real news shows." MacQuaid describes a guilty pleasure as "something that is totally embarrassing but harms no one. It is something you get pleasure out of, but won't want to tell other people for fear of what they might think."

Why would someone want to make a confession like this in public? What stands to be gained or lost? Perhaps it is the possibility or bridging some gap between self and others, making oneself more human and accessible. Self effacement often does just that. Perhaps there is some assumption of superiority when we first meet people that needs to be undermined in order for friendships to be created. Maybe it's just easier to trust someone who makes fun of themself first.

Confessions, especially embarrassing ones, are accompanied by a heightened presumption of honesty. Why would someone lie and say that they love Disney's High School Musical, if they know people are likely to scoff? Why do we expect the truth in confessions?

Beyond this, what is it about our own desire to know about other people's guilty pleasures? Is it just voyeurism or something more?

You can follow Carrie MacQuaid's Confession Sessions at:

Cole Pierce: mixed cd's for everyone

Cole Pierce has been giving away mixed cd's since 2004. He collects music, burns a mix, decorates a case, and leaves small stacks in public.

There's something about creating a mix cd that is intensely personal, even romantic. It's the kind of thing a person usually does for a close friend, family member, or significant other. That someone would do this on a public scale is curious. In the moment when the mixed album is given away, something personal is shared. Taste is perhaps one of the most intimate ways to identify someone and giving someone a collection like this is a way of revealing that hidden identity. A person might be attracted to the idea of a free cd, but the opportunity to take home a piece of a stranger's life may be more compelling. Yet this is also a very anonymous gift. There is no special thread that pre-exists before the cd is given, or taken. It's still a curiousity as to whether the free mixed cd creates this bond or only further emphasizes its absence.

You can learn more about Cole Pierce, and his work on his website and blog:

Julie Rudder: artist as host

Julie Rudder is a fellow artist and (in the very near future) graduate of Northwestern. Julie has always been interested in a particular relationship between artist and viewer. Recently that relationship took the form of artist as host- radio host. Julie entered the Public Radio Talent Quest. You can listen to her entry using this link:

Julie has taken on the role of host before, often creating situations that frame social interaction. There's something very interesting about the idea of an artist as a host, even more so as a radio host. Hosts are often the ones in control of a given situation. They say where the party will be, when begins and ends, and who gets invited. The host is the center of the party, but somehow just off stage as well. Hosts are expected to be gracious and a good host is endlessly giving, bending over backwards for guests. The host's connection to power can also be seen when Julie takes on the role of a curator in projects like her upcoming show, The Addition, in which Julie will be presenting videos created by other artists in her garage. But what is it about the radio that's so appealing to her? Perhaps it is the way in which talk itself is the main topic. Yet somehow, when one listens to talk radio, the gentle, clear words offer a window into the soul. The radio doesn't allow the audience to be confused by images. Rather, audio is pumped out in stereo, as if to be as close as possible to an internal monologue.

You can read about Julie Rudder's work on her blog:

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


[placed] quarter on a train seat

[placed] permanent marker at a bus stop

[placed] tennis ball on a park bench

Placed is an ongoing project I conceptualized as a series of open ended gifts, left anonymously in public spaces. I've been leaving quarters on the train, permanent markers at bus stops, and tennis balls in the park. These are everyday objects left where they are likely to be found and their placement is documented casually, if at all. I've selected objects that would be enticing to most people. Not everyone stops to pick up a nickel or a dime, but few people will ignore a quarter. The objects can be used in a number of ways. In a sense, the quarter is the most open ended, but even a tennis ball or a permanent marker could be used with great variety. The objects are all valuable enough that they're worth picking up, perhaps even just a little bit exciting to find.

Placed is a project very much about not knowing. I enjoy wondering what happens after I've left each thing. I think about whether anyone will be drawn to pick an object up, but then also about how it might feel to find these things and what might become of them. I imagine someone feeling lucky when they find one of these, not in any profound way but in a slight, almost immeasurably small way. Spare change might just go in a pocket, lost in a sea of more change, but it might be consciously saved or spent. A tennis ball might be found by someone like a kid or a dogwalker and played with. A permanent marker might be used for graffiti or a handwritten note. These are just a few possibilities amongst a great many.

Placed began with the title "minute gestures." It consisted as the following text:

minute gestures

brief, anonymous interventions

9 quarters were left on 9 seats on the train

4 haiku's were written in 4 piles of melting snow

3 tennis balls were placed on 3 park benches

5 drawings were made on the beach

2 permanent markers were left at 2 bus stops

1 handwritten letter was slipped into a then unpurchased newspaper

Originally I had no intention of documenting this project. I saw it as existing mostly based on a promise. As an ongoing list, one would read phrases like "9 quarters were left on 9 seats on the train" and the rest would be left to the imagination. It was also designed as a machine to create ideas. I've been experimenting with photo documentation as a way to give just a little bit of illustration, to stregthen the bridge towards thinking about all the possibilities the project suggests. I've been avoiding polished documents, instead favoring the camera built into my cell phone, which is less obtrusive and keeps the project more spontaneous. I believe that the photographs themselves may create more unexpected possibilities as the project continues to unfold.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Sharon Hayes

Sharon Hayes, seen above in her piece, "The Interpreter Project" (four-channel video installation, 2001), is a performance artist who came to Northwestern as a visiting artist this past week.

Sharon Hayes is perhaps best known for a series of projects in which she becomes a sort of intermediary, a human conduit through which information is passed. In the project pictured above, she is listening to a recorded tour of the estate of Eleanor Roosevelt. As each word funnels into her she tries to restate the tour aloud.

Hayes' insertion of herself between source and viewer is reminiscent of a project by Dennis Oppenheim. In Oppenheim's conceptual art project, he asked his son to draw on his back while he mimmicked the movement through feel, creating a new drawing on a piece of paper in front of him. Oppenheim's drawing on paper is one generation removed and therefore a somewhat distorted version of the image marked on his back.

Viewers of Sharon Hayes' don't have access to her source material, which is pumped into her ears alone. Yet the distortion is apparent. She stammers and uses odd inflections. Her words are at times awkwardly paced, playing catch-up to her ears. However, some image of the source is projected through. One continues to stare back at Hayes, standing flatly in front of bland houses and imagine a tour guide, walking adeptly through the former home of Eleanor Roosevelt. There's a chair here and a painting there, each with some detailed narrative. This is a historical voice and in moments there is a pronounced consciousness that the tour guide herself is not unlike Hayes; a relay between sources.

Monday, May 14, 2007

It's All About Exchange

a review of Luis Maldonado’s exhibit, It's All About Things: Barter Days

Opening the door to Luis Madonado’s exhibit, It’s All About Things, reveals a sort of waiting room. There’s a reception desk, a television, and several chairs. But the door to the exhibit is made out of a plastic tarp stretched around a frame, the reception desk is made of plywood, and there’s no receptionist; Luis Maldonado is there himself.

Maldonado introduces himself to visitors and happily provides a guided tour of his own exhibition. One is a welcome guest here in a space lined from floor to ceiling with colorful paint, furniture, and objects. In the main room paintings are hung salon-style, with more collectible objects interspersed. There are several separate rooms, including a private room for people to view the paintings, an entertainment room complete with a television and videogames, and a room Maldonado where shows off his collection of objects that he has received from viewers.

At the heart of Maldonado’s exhibition is the exchange he has with viewers. Everyone is welcome to barter for one of his paintings. One can trade another artwork, an object, even a performance in order to take home one of his handmade creations. Amongst many things, Maldonado has received a handmade scarf, a chemistry paper, and house keys. Eventually, he’ll put all of these objects, as well as the stories that go along with them, on display as part of a separate exhibit.

The title of the show encourages people to engage in trades with Maldonado, but it might be deceiving; he seems most excited about the narrative that accompanies the objects. A scarf is interesting not because of it’s exquisite beauty, but instead because of how it was made, by whom, and the tale of the person who eventually brought it to It’s All About Things. The same goes for a plain metal house key, given to Maldonado with only the rough location of the home it will open. Here the narrative is created on the spot, and has the potential to go on; Maldonado isn’t certain he’ll try to track down the house and waltz in, but he’s thinking about it.

Maldonado imbues each of his own paintings with his personal stories, ideas, and visual language. However, these cute, energetic objects function almost more like candy that lures people into exchanging something of their own. Even so, it is rare for many gallery goers to expect to take any object from an exhibition home. There’s an almost overwhelming impulse to riffle through pockets, run home and return with something to give, or even dance on the spot. There are plenty of good stories for people to take back with their new possessions, like “I sang a song for this painting.”

In a small room where paintings are set aside for purchase, it becomes clear how much value Maldonado attaches to interaction with viewers. Even the smallest painting is priced at several hundred dollars.

Right now, Maldonado has created an atmosphere where exchange with viewers can flourish, manifesting itself in surprising ways. His project is like a living, breathing organism. Its growth depends a lot on the people who visit and feed it.

Luis Maldinado's "It's All About Things" was on display at Three Walls Gallery in Chicago, in February and March of 2007

An Open Space: Mess Hall

Mess Hall is self-described as “an experimental cultural center. It is a place where visual art, radical politics, creative urban planning, applied ecological design and other things intersect and inform each other. [Mess Hall] hosts exhibitions, discussions, film screenings, ‘brunchlucks’ (brunch + potluck), workshops, concerts, campaigns, meetings (both closed and open) and more” (

I've visited Mess Hall a number of times, but in response to my studies of relational aesthetics, and as my time as a graduate student wraps up, it seemed like a good opportunity to look at it with fresh eyes.

Walking down Glenwood Avenue, I can see a rack of clothes on the sidewalk. For a moment it's like seeing a thrift store which has spilled its contents onto the street. The metal rack is full of used shirts and pants, neatly hung. A few people are sorting through them, clearly deciding if they're interested in anything. Of course, they aren’t exactly ‘shopping.’ In the corner of Mess Hall’s large glass storefront window there's a sign. Haphazardly placed and written with black permanent marker on a scrap of brown cardboard, the sign reads: “Yep, it’s all FREE!”

Inside there's a loose cluster of people, sitting down and talking. For a second I think maybe I’ll interrupt if I just walk inside and join them. But I know better. I quietly take a seat just inside the door.

The room itself is a plain box. The walls are cheerfully painted. The floors are bare. The kitchen is in plain sight, as no partition divides the space. There’s a bulletin board near the entrance, as well as a rack of literature. Across the room I can see a makeshift set of shelves, constructed out of old coolers, the type that one might take to a soccer game or the beach, each screwed to the wall. The people are all sitting on plastic folding Ikea chairs. These are the only things that appear to have been purchased new for Mess Hall, but they still fit in. There is no dust in Mess Hall, but it isn’t an immaculately clean space either. Everything has the feeling of impermanence, as if all these things are meant to be shuffled around the space.

I’ve just missed a performance, the remnants of which are draped across the middle of the room. There are two tables, one turned on its side, and several chairs, all literally connected by interwoven threads. Balls of yarn wrap around furniture legs and create a sort of web.

An artist is sitting in front of the group, taking questions. She’s talking about her performance, her history in New York, how she feels about Chicago, current politics, and feminist history. It’s a dialogue between her and the audience that at first feels just like Northwestern’s own visiting artist lectures (at least the Q&A session) that I'm so familiar with. But there’s no academic pressure. Everyone is laid back. It is Sunday afternoon. People come and go throughout. At one point a woman stops in to donate clothes for the ‘free’ pile out front. Eventually the focused discussion disintegrates.

I’ve been recognized, and find myself in a discussion with Sara Black, a U of C grad who taught beginning sculpture at NU last fall. Sara is a performance artist, with a practice of her own, but she also works with a group called Material Exchange. She tells me about how welcoming and receptive Chicago is for collaborative, experimental projects like Material Exchange. Material Exchange is responsible for a variety of service based projects in which, “waste materials such as exhibition or theatre by-products” are remade by designers or design students into working objects, which are then donated to charitable organizations. She tells me that they have several events slated for the fall, and how they receive numerous invitations throughout the city.

On my way out, I run into Salem, who is a founder and organizer at Mess Hall, but also works with the collaborative artist group, Temporary Services (who also visited NU earlier this year). Mess Hall is essentially a project founded by Temporary Services. In their best known project, Temporary Services inserted 150 books created by artists or others into the Harold Washington Library Center here in Chicago. According to wikipedia, “The critical place of the public, generally dismissed in modernist and post-modernist art, is central to [the work of Temporary Services] which aims at creating projects that undermine conventional politics of art.”

Salem tells me about next weeks upcoming event at Mess Hall. The online billing is as follows:

Saturday, May 19, 200712:00p-6:00p 60 wrd/min art critic: BRIEF, SERIOUS REVIEWS GUARANTEED TO ALL ARTISTS ON A FIRST-COME, FIRST-SERVED BASIS. (with Lori Waxman & Ron Song)The short review is at once a challenge, an insult, a record, and a piece of advertising. Its purpose is debatable and arguably quite different for the various parties involved: the writer gets a tear sheet, a couple of bucks, and some editorial gratification; the reader, in the best case scenario, gets a succinct, opinionated description of a body of work they probably did not see in person; and the artist gets published recognition and an entry for their bibliography. But think, for a moment, of the artist who has never been reviewed. Do you need a review to get a show? You need a show to get a review.

Installed in the storefront of Mess Hall, an experimental culture center in Rogers Park, Chicago, critic Lori Waxman and receptionist Ron Song will receive artists in need of reviews between the hours of noon and six p.m. on Saturday, May 19, and Sunday, May 20. Reviews will be scheduled and written in twenty minute increments between those hours only. Reviews will be signed, published, and ready for pick-up within the time frame of the performance.

Does this sound like fun? It does to me.

References & additional reading:

Wang, Dan S. Mess Hall: What it is (after the first year)

Wang, Dan S. Practice in critical times: a conversation with Gregory Sholette, Stephanie Smith, Temporary Services, and Jacqueline Terrassa. Art Journal. Summer, 2003.

Anya Liftig’s “Woven Room”

Hart, Hugh. Artists Build on a Canvas of Dirt, Weeds. Los Angeles Times. April 23, 2005

Waxman, Michael. Eye Exam: Group Dynamics. New City Chicago.

Waxman, Lori. 60 WRD/min Art Critic. The Believer. February, 2007.


I've started this blog as a space for discussion, reviews, and announcements. The main topic will most often be art and visual culture at large, but many issues will likely spill out from there. Of course, this is a flexible space and likely to change as it grows.

If you'd like to learn more about me, there's additional information on my website:

Thank you,