Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Top 10 of 2015

Wow, it's kind of hard to believe that 2015 will reach its denouemont in just a few short weeks. It feels like yesterday that I created the Top 10 of 2014 list, but already another year has blown by and it's time to reflect on it. Although it seems like I barely accomplished anything, I know that I at least accomplished the task of seeing lots of art. Here's my countdown of the best things I saw:

10. "Wisconsin Supper Club" at Portrait Society Gallery, Milwaukee

This was a fun show for me to go and see, partly because I helped to organize it! Uniting almost thirty Milwaukee artists from different backgrounds was a great way to feel connected to the community.

9. "There's a Place: Photographs by J. Shimon and J. Lindemann" at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, West Bend

This was a bitter sweet show for everyone involved. Sweet because it was such a fantastic index of the broad output of Julie and Johnie's work over the last 35 years or so. Bitter because it was the last show that Julie would get to see before she passed away several months later.  

8." Current Tendencies IV" at the Haggerty Museum of Art, Milwaukee

I didn't like this show just because my boyfriend was in it, I swear. The staff at the Haggerty clearly put a lot of time and effort into creating a gesamstkunstwerk in which the conceptual premise of the show was perfectly reflected in the clever curation and placement of the works in the space. 

7. The Wisconsin Calendar

Forgive me if this one is a little egocentric. The highlight of the Wisconsin Calendar for me was not so much how great it looked when it was done (ha ha), but the experience of making a risky monetary investment into a product I created, and the gratification I felt when I actually made a profit!

6. The Wasteshed, Chicago

On a whim I traveled to Chicago to check out a store called the Wasteshed that sells "used" art supplies.  I found a small store with a big mission to sell art supplies at a highly discounted rate, a model that I now think every city in every state in the country should strive to emulate.

5. Art Start, Rhinelander  

I was thrilled when I discovered a small gallery and educational center in Rhinelander, an impoverished town in the northwoods just a half an hour away from my family's cabin that I have been visiting my whole life. 

4. Dr. Evermor's Forevertron, Sumter

It's kind of hard to believe I had never been to the Forevertron before this summer, considering it is one of the most famous Wisconsin art environments and is very close to other popular Wisconsin attractions such as the House on the Rock and Devil's Lake.

3. The Synchrotron Radiation Center, Stoughton

An art exhibition in a decomissioned research facility at UW Madison (on a spooky foggy night) (with food trucks). What could be cooler?

2. "Why Not Be In On It?" at Usable Space, Milwaukee

It's really hard to understand the panache of the work of Lucia Stern without seeing it in person. But once I saw her work over the summer at Usable Space, I was certain my friends Elisabeth and Neil had unearthed the greatest unknown Milwaukee artist of the last century.

1. Howard Finster's Paradise Garden, Summerville, Georgia

We traveled thirteen brutal hours through the garish landscape of billboards and fast food restaurants that comprises most of the southern half of the United States of America, but every grueling hour was worth it once we landed upon Howard Finster's Paradise Garden in Georgia. Finster's has been one of my "bucket list" items for a long time, so the experience was destined to be sacred for me no matter how cool the infamous art environment turned out to be in person. But I have to say it exceeded my expectations, from the friendly staff that managed the gardens, to the lovely night we spent in a cottage on the grounds with the entire property to ourselves. I will always look back on 2015 as the year I made it to paradise (without getting eaten by hill people). 

Super ready for 2016, y'all. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Between the Particles

Holy blog post, Batman!

Since I started this blog about three years ago, this is the longest writing hiatus I have ever taken. But I certainly have a few good reasons for it. Over the past month I have been working on the following:

1. Writing freelance for the Wisconsin Gazette (!)
2. Volunteering with United Way of Greater Milwaukee to help them write their blog (!)
3. Finishing up a volunteer project at the Portrait Society (!)
4. And, working a ton of hours at various day jobs, which is not exciting, but is inevitable during the holiday retail season

Yesterday, however, I finally had some time to do what I love to do best, which is look at weird art and write about it on here.

I heard about a show through an acquaintance at a place called the Synchrotron Radiation Center in Stoughton, WI. If you're thinking that this sounds like an atypical place to hold an art exhibition, you are right. If you are also thinking that you have no idea what this means, then you are thinking the same thing as a lot of people, so don't worry.

To the best of my knowledge, from 1986 until recently, the Radiation Center was used as a research lab for the UW-Madison Science Department and scientists from around the world to study light sources such as infrared, ultraviolet, and soft X-ray light. Some of this research contributed to the study of cancer and alzheimer's. The center housed a state-of-the art, infrared "beamline" called the "InfraRed ENvironmental Imaging Beamline" (IRENI) that was a giant system of magnets used to bend light particles.

Notice how I am speaking in the past-tense. According to a few articles, the center was closed in 2014 due to a lack of funding for scientific programs in the UW schools, which unfortunately mirrors a nationwide trend of divestment in technology and science.

The exhibition was organized by Kristof Wickman and Evan Gruzis, two professors in the UW-Madison art department, as a part of a group called Condensed Matter Community. According to Gruzis, when they heard the Radiation Center was closing, they seized the opportunity to collaborate with the science department, and by jumping through some bureaucratic loopholes, managed to pull it off. They chose artists based on their capacity to blend the lines between science and art, technology and aesthetics, and light and illusion.

On the night of the opening, the various levels of amalgamation created an intentional dilemma: The attendees of the exhibition had to use maps to navigate the space, an absolute necessity considering that many people, myself included, were not sure exactly what was "art" and what was a remnant or relic of the decomissioned factory.

Some of the most memorable pieces were Come.2,  a giant spotlight in the parking lot by Paul Druecke, which cut a guiding beam of light into the foggy sky, Untitled, a glowing disc by Michelle Grabner, smartly situated on a garish gold and orange background, and Untitled, Curtain, an iredescent, hanging tapestry by Jose Lerma that forced the viewer to chase an elusive, glowing beam of light around the canvas.

The backdrop for these pieces was the spooky, disjointed remains of arcane labels and objects; heirlooms of a golden age of science: "Do not run into with forklift." Something called an "Aladdin Electron Gun." Diagrams of the research floor's original layout. Chalkboards etched with indecipherable drawings. Mysterious caverns that glowed orange. These elements were readily understood by the scientists in attendance, many of them former users of the lab, while the artists, conversely, contemplated the connection between the art works and the space.

In this exhibition, the union of two seemingly "unrelated" topics revealed that they really aren't that different at all. The goal was to host two underdogs under one roof in a sort of grim funeral for the appreciation of art, science, and technology in education. Milwaukee, in fact, will see one of its UW galleries close within the next year, also due to a lack of funding, with barely a finger lifted to save it. This is no different than the closing of Radiation Center: Milwaukee's art students will now lack an easily accessible place to study art with guided educational supervision, which will ultimately contribute to the decline of the department as a whole.

Gruzis and Wickman also used this exhibition as an opportunity to create a dialogue about "spaces" to exhibit art. On the one side, it's cool to show art in a decomissioned particle accelerator. In this context, the art was enhanced by its surroundings, and vice versa. In no way should artists be discouraged from seeking out these nontraditional spaces. But should we really have to jump through so many hoops just to show some damn art? Shouldn't we just be able to have spaces for art without having to fight for them? It seems it is becoming a trend for artists to seize every discarded space deemed obsolete by society in order to show their work.

Similarly, science will also have to fight a battle if its research centers continue to close their doors within the educational system. Science, if at all possible, may be even more disadvantaged than art in this context, since science can't just plop itself down in the middle of the street and say, "Hey it's okay, it's just science." Science can be dangerous, and it needs specialized equipment and spaces - spaces like the Synchrotron Radiation Center - to conduct important research that is vital to our lives.

The goal for  us now- as scientists, artists, or whatevers- is to unite somewhere between the particles of our flayed interests; to put our differences aside and remember that we all need to fight the democratic fight for education, our one common denominator.