Monday, August 22, 2016

Wisconsin Photography 2016 opens Sunday in Racine

The show: Wisconsin Photography 2016

Sneak preview:

I am pleased and honored to report that five of my images were juried into this show. This is one of them. I shot it at the Lynden Sculpture Garden during my residency there last year. It involves no 'trick photography' or photoshop gimmickry. Straight photo. Feel free to ask me how I did it when you see me at the opening (or whenever!)

Awards Ceremony and Reception:
Sunday, August 28, 2:00 – 4:00 pm
Awards presentation 3:00 pm

Location: Racine Art Museum's Wustum campus
2519 Northwestern Ave, Racine, Wisconsin

Here is some info about the show from the RAM website:

"Wisconsin Photography is a statewide competition organized by RAM’s Wustum Museum since 1979. Thanks to the support of state photographers, the exhibition continues to introduce the museum’s visitors to a wide range of photographic media and artists’ viewpoints. This year's show features 102 pieces by 38 Wisconsin photographers and video artists.

"The museum received online submissions from all over the state. Of 886 pieces submitted by 91 artists, less than one-third of the artists were accepted into this year's show. The exhibition’s juror Karen Irvine selected the 101 images and one video for Wisconsin Photography 2016. Irvine is Curator and Associate Director at Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College in Chicago, Illinois."

Here is another of my images included in the show. This one is from a relatively new (and never before exhibited) series from the High Line in New York.

I hope you'll join me at the opening. Or, if you can't make it that day, check out the show, which will be on display through November 26. 

For more information about Wisconsin Photography 2016, go to the RAM website.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A “peculiar curiosity” lurks in the Lynden Sculpture Garden’s back woods


What if the remains of slave quarters were suddenly discovered hidden in the woods behind the smoothly contoured landscape and monumental artworks of the sculpture park? That’s just one of many questions that might be raised by “Eliza’s Peculiar Cabinet of Curiosities,” which can in fact be found in the backwoods of the property.

Because of its semi-hidden location and—from a distance—humble character, the temporary installation by Chicago artist Fo Wilson could easily be missed or even dismissed. That is, until you walk right up to it. That’s when it become totally engaging.

Because I was out of town at the time I missed the opening, which was back in June. I was glad to finally catch up with this new feature of the Garden. The fact that the piece was located “out back” on property is significant. After all, maintaining its “natural” environment for the education of its visitors and patrons is part of the Lynden Sculpture Garden mission.

A circular swath of meadow had to be cleared for the installation. While not unprecedented—David Robbins’ “Open-air Writing Desk” (detail above) also is located in the “wilderness” of the back section—it is sufficiently rare that it adds depth to a sculpture that has no lack of meaning or symbolism.

The cabin is intriguing enough in itself. Sections of wall are opened up to reveal the interior and a ladder to the sky emerges from the roof. The exterior stud walls double as shelving for some of the “curiosities” indicated in the title.

The inside is decorated with many more objects, artifacts and images. They are arranged carefully, with almost obsessive neatness. The references to slave quarters and slavery is overt. But there is so much more than that as well. Here are a few thing that caught my attention.

Make sure you mosey on over to the far corner of the cabin and look down into the pail that sits there, surrounded by turtle shells.

The ceiling is worth a glance upwards.

Don’t miss the tiny figure of Thomas Jefferson being ladled up for our amusement—or derision.

My favorite moment in the cabin was when I noticed this intensely hued caterpillar casually worming its way along a bookshelf. A reminder, if I needed one, that nature is more than a setting for an outdoor sculpture like this one.

A distinct but related body of work by Wilson is on display in the Lynden gallery. Wilson alters postcards that depict stereotypes of the “happy servant” with the stated intention of  “restoring their dignity.”

While I was there I couldn’t help but notice a few changes around the grounds since I was last there. (Disclosure: I was artist-in-residence in 2015.)

The Brementown Musicians have been outfitted with colorful new duds.

It was a pleasure to see Marta Pan’s “Floating Sculpture No. 3” back in the water. It was missing in action the whole year I spent in residence, being restored. It looks beautiful.

The lawns are drier than I’ve seen them. We do need a little rain.

But the flowers are as spectacular as ever.

“Eliza’s Peculiar Cabinet of Curiosities” will remain on display at least through October 30, so you still have plenty of time to check it out. There have been several performances at the Garden in association with the installation. One final dance performance is scheduled for September 17. I’m putting it on my calendar. Hope you’ll join me there.

For more information go to the Lynden Sculpture Garden website.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum

Where might you expect to find the world’s largest collection of wood type? New York makes sense. Somewhere in Germany. But no, it’s in the small town of Two Rivers, WI at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum. Having studied typography and printed hand-made books on a letterpress in my college years, I’ve long been curious about the museum. I’ve passed by it numerous times driving to and from vacations in Door County. Until now, though, I’d never stopped in.

Coincidentally, my curiosity had been peaked on a recent trip to Detroit, of all places. There I happened upon a small working letterpress print shop that had a lovely decorated alphabet broadside (aka hand-printed art poster with text) for sale, which I purchased. It had been printed (as you can see) at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum in Two Rivers, WI. So, when I went to Door County recently I just had to finally stop there.

Platen printing press
There were maybe a dozen cars lined up against the front of the building, which fronts onto Hwy 42 right on the shore of Lake Michigan. Inside it was quiet, though. The staff was warm and welcoming. “Thank you for stopping,” was a refrain I heard several times with great sincerity. The museum is set up to be self-guided, presumably because it is a working museum and with infrequent visitors the staff has other work to do.

Linotype printer
But the young woman who took my $5 admission fee also graciously and unhurriedly led me through and introduced me to the collection. I asked why the museum is in Two Rivers. The collection originated in what had been the Hamilton Wood Type manufacturing and printing company located there.

Carriage saw and half-round timber to be cut into type
Although I was left to explore the place on my own, the occasional passing staff members were invariably friendly and asked if I had any questions. In addition to innumerable glass-fronted cases of wood type itself, there were displays showing the process of manufacturing wood type, including the machinery required, as well as a variety of printing presses.

For the uninitiated, wood type, along with more common metal type, is individual letterforms made out of wood (or metal) that are used in a printing press made for the purpose. Setting type involves placing each letter in sequence, along with punctuation and spacing —and it’s done backwards! It is a laborious endeavor that once was necessary in order to print any kind of text.

The museum has an entire wall that is a veritable relief sculpture composed of wood type samples of various, mostly enormous, sizes. A small portion of it is all captured in the photo above.

Posted casually on several walls throughout the building are displays of broadsides, artistic prints and posters.

In one corner of the huge building I found a group of students busily concentrating on printing projects. As was emphasized to me several times, this is a working museum. Part of that work is to offer classes and workshops. This group was from the Illinois Institute of Art.

Stephanie Carpenter, Assistant Director of the museum (above, left), paused her mentoring of them to explain to me what they were working on, printing sample alphabets from amongst the vast collection of type available from a wall of type trays.

There is also a more traditional gallery that displays rotating exhibitions of framed work. The current exhibit is from the Silver Buckle Press, which was recently acquired by the Hamilton Museum in an agreement with the University of Wisconsin libraries, its former owner. Silver Buckle Press also was a historical collection of printing equipment and printed materials operated as a working museum by the U. W. libraries in Madison, WI.

The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum is open Tuesday - Saturday, 10 - 5 pm and Sunday 1 - 5 pm in the summer.  Winter hours and more info on their website. I can testify that they will be happy to receive you if you stop to visit.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

"We Are Water" draws a diverse crowd to Bradford Beach to celebrate Milwaukee's waters

There was music, poetry, puppetry, art and invocations of the spirit on Bradford Beach last Sunday evening. It was the third in what has become an annual event called "We Are Water" organized by the Milwaukee Water Commons. Billed as a "celebration of Milwaukee's waters," the event has become a mini-arts festival as well as a meditation on the importance of water to Milwaukee and all life on earth.

Jahmes Finlayson and Dena Aronson got things going with some lively drumming... well as a ritual libation: reflections on water and life while pouring Lake Michigan water onto the sand.

True Skool entertained the crowd with a rap about water.

Three young artists with Still Waters Collective gave an impassioned spoken word performance.

Off to the side of the beach members of Exfabula set up a roving interview station and recorded water stories told to them by volunteers from the audience.

Margaret Ann Noodin, faculty member at UWM, gave everyone a lesson in Ojibwe... member of the Overpass Light Brigade, with help from the audience, spelled out Ojibwe words for water and water-related terms. Jiibigiig means "at the beach," or "along the shore."

Puppeteers got into the act with LED-illuminated figures of a heron and several accurately depicted species of fish native to Wisconsin waters. Mookiibii means "emerge from the water."

The event culminated in an audience-participation creation of a peace sign with lighted cups of water, directed by artist-in-residence Melanie Ariens.

This is the short version of the story. To see many more photos of the event go to my Flickr album.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

“There is No Nature”—A thesis by Milwaukee artist Peter Beck


The provocative title seems perfectly rational after hearing MFA thesis graduate Peter Beck talk about the Anthropocene era and the significance of human interference on the natural processes that sustain life on earth. The once commonly held view of nature as separate from humankind and distinguishable from the human-designed material world has been disintegrating for some time now. But there is not yet wide public acceptance of the notion that we have entered an era in which human influence on every aspect of what used to be called nature is so profound that we can no longer tease them apart.

One role of the artist is to be an agent of change, to herald if not affect what is happening all around us. An artist can help disrupt conventional understanding and point to new ways of perceiving the world. In the case of this work by Beck, on display recently at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Sullivan Galleries, the implications of humanity’s impact on nature can be visualized.

Tool No. 1, Subject/Object Confusion
Like a dog chasing its tail—then catching and biting it—an ax fashioned from a long, supple limb is bent so that it splits itself in half.

Tool No. 2
The missing spade end of a spanking new shovel reveals the “natural” source from which it is fabricated. The raw, unfinished wood of the stump no longer suggests nature but violence.

There is No Nature
A more subtle but ultimately more profound metaphor is created in the titular piece. For “There is No Nature” Beck painstakingly deconstructed and then remanufactured a tree limb. Suspended from the ceiling with cables, its gracefully arching form mimics “reality.” But because it is literally disconnected from its original context it more closely resembles a prosthetic human limb than one growing from a tree trunk.

In the new reality suggested by this sculpture we can envision a world in which “artificial nature” is not a contradiction but ordinary. It is a world of robotics, genetic manipulation, wildlife management, and climate change.

How to Archive Family Photographs
The exhibit is rounded out with a contrasting piece called “How to Archive Family Photographs." A delicate and faded photo extracted from a family album has been ensconced in an artfully crafted wooden tray embedded in a wall-mounted pedestal.

Although Beck borrowed rather than created this photograph, it connects the sculptures to his earlier work. Peter and I became acquainted when he was hired to replace me at Marquette after I quit teaching. When he invited me to see his thesis exhibit I had expected to see photography, with which I was familiar. His foray into sculpture was a refreshing surprise. I was particularly struck by the meticulous and superb craftsmanship of the work.

There is No Nature (detail)
We discussed craftsmanship. It’s something I personally value but, Peter told me, can be met with skepticism in academic circles--and even sometimes in the art world at large. (Coincidentally, in the July 17, 2016 issue of the New York Times Magazine, Chuck Close was quoted on the subject: "The dirtiest word in art is the c-word. I can't even say 'craft' without feeling dirty.") 

Peter described contrasting reactions among his fellow students. His precision and woodworking skills elicited admiration, but he also found himself defending not only his thesis but also those very skills with buttresses of theory and concept. Rather than being onerous, he said he found it rewarding to do so. The rigorous program and stimulating interactions with faculty and other students, along with diversity, he told me, were among the reasons he chose to pursue his MFA at the School of the Art Institute.

Like the people in the yellowing photograph in its neat wooden tray, we are all captives of a continually evolving culture, insects in the amber of history. Today, though, that history is increasingly being directed, if not completely controlled, by our own species. In more ways than one, nature is what we make of it.