Temporary Highs: A New Media Circus


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Curated by Lindsay Howard, the new media project Temporary Highs contains nine video pieces, and screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center. The video pieces are embedded with multiple visual perspectives and different social, emotional aspects. The various elements provided a large amount of information for the audience to process.

After the entire screening I was trying to figure out if there was a specific order or sequence exist among these videos: what kind of flow Lindsay Howard wanted to presented to us as a curator? However, I don’t feel like I have a clear answer for it. One thing I caught on was how the videos were screened from very personal and private contents, then gradually blew up to public and socially engaged reflections.

Personally I was not drawn by the first two or three pieces in the case of content. I thought they were too personal to ask the audience for reactions. But I do think it is very interesting to just consider this fact — that the new media art (specifically internet based) is very self-guided and filtered. Whoever understands would understand. There is no need of common sense or general understanding on internet, because this virtual platform is open for any connections to any individual. It could get as specific or even as subtle as possible. Although Lindsay mentioned in her talk that people’s “ability to connect with each other is becoming more and more superficial”, it is reasonable that we want this kind of irresponsible dimension to express and abreact.

The most powerful piece was definitely the last one —American Reflexxx, directed by Alli Coates and starring Signe Pierce. According to the introduction published on the website  (Links to an external site.)of this film, it is a short documentary that presents a terrifying journey of the actress Signe Pierce whose face was covered by a mirror-finish mask while walking through the tourist gathering commercial street in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. During the entire shooting process, the director (also the cameraman) did not communicate with the performer in a single word. All the actions and behaviors of the pedestrians in this film were real and were not interfered with acting element. It was extremely disturbing and almost outraged to see the revealing of this ugliness. The performer covered her face and made her identity anonymous triggered the mob to become recklessly curious. People kept questioning the performer’s gender, and without any eye contact and response they were stirred up to be even more excited. It was also scary but revealing to see that the kids and teenagers were actually the group of people who behaved the most brutally. Another reflection in my mind was also related to internet environment. Becoming faceless and anonymous means you could either be vulnerable or inhumane. This film was provoking, and makes me disgusted. However it was not a surprise to see how morality could easily collapse. This social experiment presented us a cruel reality as well as a cold fact.

It was quite interesting and worth thinking to actually watch these videos pieces in different formats on a theater-standard large screen in a totally dark space, and as a serious audience. Is new media artwork “site-specific” in a virtual way? I remember there were one of two pieces that was originally web-based, but breaking away from the internet and showing this video in a off-line situation makes me feel like there is something lost in the content. It is fairly strange for me to sit there still to watch these videos in an arranged order all the way through. The resolution, format, theme or even approach of each video are different. It was a lot to process.



The Arab City



…a multidisciplinary performance series featuring LGBTQ artists living with HIV and other chronic illnesses.


Is there difference between Whole Foods and Expo Chicago?

Once a week you have the need to walk a couple of blocks to go to a huge warehouse or cellar with high ceilings and a labyrinth of temporary aisles to look for the newest and best products, or in the case of Expo Chicago, once a year. In both cases, there are a lot of options: there are good deals, bad deals and things just about to expire. You can also find fancy women strutting around trying to acquire the freshest catch. There is no beginning or end; there are products, then food, 10-dollar water bottles, pastries, sandwiches and assistance with hipster haircuts. There are free samples, tiny drinks, and excruciatingly painful white lighting. On Saturday’s there is more people and also more kids.

In Expo Chicago the yoga pants become tight dresses and all new Nikes become uncomfortable heels. In both cases, if you are a mere mortal (not part of the economical enterprise) your participation in this experience is one of observation. One of the most fascinating things to watch is how the products are displayed. In Whole Foods there is an aisle that contains all kinds of nuts. They are curated in a huge shelf where they are classified and grouped depending first on the type of nut and then on the spice. In Expo, such specificity doesn’t exist. In opposition, every booth is its own salad bar in which you have to be able to discern what the good ingredients are.

In the middle of such impressively underwhelming array of products, in one of the white generic medium drywall booths, Pace Gallery brought two remarkable and noticeable Robert Rauschenberg collages. The simplicity and elegance of their simple wood framing made the fabric and paper pieces stand out in a sea of cheesy neon color frames and chrome furniture. I was like finding good French cheese in the cheddar section.

On the end of the aisles there is a section, the one that mimics the sample and wine section in whole foods. There you can find all the brands, schools and magazines promoting themselves as the best option and giving free samples, of a product that is exactly the same as the one in the opposite booth. This always proves unimpressive and a poor next door neighbor to the artist and guest talks. Because of this, the artists and curator talks, which are usually amazing names of the industry, become famous names presented in an undesirable situation. A huge crowd packed in a small space, always running out of time and with the smallest amount of sound equipment because who want to disturb the social interactions going on in the labyrinth of aisles outside. It is this way that a potentially amazing talk by artist Kerry James Marshall became a twin brother of a cooking class of a Gordon Ramsay in the courtyard of a supermarket.


Joyce Pensato show


Expo chicago

Expo Chicago took place in Navy Pier. The place was quite spacious, which took about good four hours to look around. Of course, there were many young first-timers, but there were also some works of “masters”, such as Wayne Thiebaud. So, the ensemble was interactive with each other that nothing looked better than the others’.

The space was big. However, each booth was big enough to place the works, but they were not big enough to present artists’ own unique personalities. Of course the fair is designed for a commercial purpose that guests are expected to buy the works of art, or at least to be advertised. Some of the busy divided rooms were pretty packed with art works cramped in together, and it was obvious the artists’ intention that he or she wanted to put as many works as possible. Another problem of the place was that there were no directions anywhere. So, the viewers were busy trying to figure out the ways.

Mounting and representing own art works are an important part of being an artist. There were some drawings or photographs that had problems with mounting them. The papers inside of frames were wiggly, and it was confusing if it was the artists’ intentions. However, nothing looked intentional to me. Also, some paintings were hung on walls, tilted. Proper ways of presenting works should have been considered more.

The atmosphere as a whole gave the impression of being in Costco. The spacious place with many people and works were up everywhere. The walls looked more like displays of merchandise. It gave the thought of, “what if they made the lightings better?”

Artists were enthusiastic. They would answer any questions you have about them and their works. A professor from school had her paintings at the fair, and she was busy giving her business cards. Maybe it was not fully successful in the aspect of commercial. However, communication of the artists and viewers, and between different artists seemed pretty successful.

Lastly, the event was enough to inspire young artists. It as a whole presented the definition on contemporary art. The trend changes fast, especially in artists’ world. It clearly showed what the current art world wants from its artists. Some were very innovative, experimental. On the contrast, there were some art works from who is already famous, and the works done a while ago, such as Wayne Thiebaud’s cakes, and it was very interesting to see how the current world is inspired by those works from the past, and how the two interact with each other as living the current world together.


Moholy-Nagy exhibition


         As I walked in to the exhibition, the ensemble of how the works are set, and the mood that is created by dreamy imageries amazed me. Lazlo Moholy-Nagy is one of the members of avant-garde artists from early 20th century. He was the most enthusiastic and innovative artist of the time who tried to see photography. His main theme in art throughout his life was to develop the power and the ability of light that creates shapes. He questioned and studied all sorts of different approaches in art, and connections between art and technology.

It was very clear that he lived during the Bauhaus movement, and he was into that form of art. What stood out the most was how he used straight lines and figures in all of his work. The negative spaces on canvases and papers showed his careful decisions that the negative spaces cleverly worked as making the work so much stronger. Also, how he controlled his works not to be overdone. Because Bauhaus was invented after Art deco, and Moholy-Nagy was into Bauhaus, he was clearly following the famous saying “less is more”. For example, “Circle Segments” proves his philosophy in usage of negative space, and controlling himself in making art. The simply painted two hemispheres in black and white, and the clean raw negative space shows how much he cared about materials chosen, and smart decisions in harmonizing the material and art, just like the philosophy of Bauhaus movement.

A little bit later in Moholy-Nagy’s life as an artist, he started to avoid looking at photography as a reappearance of light. Then he stopped using cameras as his main tool, but he drew with light on photographic papers, by actually putting objects then exposing the light. Therefore, Photogram, one of his signature approaches to art, started to flourish in his later works. Also, he invited transparent papers into his art making, and the ‘transparency’ became another main element. Many collages at the exhibition showed how he managed ‘transparency’ and ‘photography’, and put them together in the most effective ways.

The exhibition was set in a mazelike structure. A lady at the exhibition who was seating on a wheelchair said “I can’t take this anymore. It feels like I am lost in a maze, and everything is confusing!” The exhibition sometimes led us to step on a staircase, and stand on a certain spot to look at the work in eyelevel. While spending time in the exhibition, the biggest impression it gave was Moholy-nagy’s intensions not to discriminate or divide a genre.

Live Art: Manual Cinema—The Electric Stage


Review: MCA Talk on the topic of New Mythologies for the Future with Prof. Nora Taylor

On Oct. 25th, 2016, I went to an art discussion at the Museum of Contemporary Art on the topic of New Mythologies for the Future. Nora Taylor, Alsdorf Professor of South and Southeast Asian Art History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Ivy Wilson, associate professor of English and faculty affiliate in Asian American Studies at Northwestern University participated in the discussion with Naomi Beckwith, curator for the exhibition The Propeller Group. 

The Propeller Group is an artist group based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Two of the group members, Matt Lucero and Tuan Andrew Nguyen, have studied and lived in the United States of America. Including the third member, Phunam, the Propeller Group produces artworks in multiple art mediums including paintings, fabrics, sculptures, media productions. Since the establishment in 2006, The Propeller Group has attracted attentions from the public from both commercial video works and fine arts. The exhibition The Propeller Group at the MCA collects a wide range of types of works by the artists from the past five years and the videos are the highlights of the entire exhibition.

The discussion of the New Mythologies for the Future featured some interesting questions that are related to the exhibition and the artists. The discussion started with an explanation of the works and the intention of the exhibition which is to show viewers in the US the perspectives of Vietnamese artists. Because of the Vietnamese War, two countries, especially Vietnam have gone through traumatic experiences and gradually move towards the start of a post-war situation. Artists from Vietnam frequently face the problem of unable to make art freely due to the government control. The Propeller Group, artists who have a greater degree of freedom in art making in the US, touches on some sentimental and taboo topics in their commercial works and tries to inject a new possibility in Vietnamese art circles.



The Propeller Group, still from The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music, 2014. © The Propeller Group Courtesy of James Cohan, New York

Chicago EXPO (Review #1)

Being invited to Chicago EXPO 2016, I had the honor of previewing the show and was able to gain a

first-hand experience before being influenced by others pinions. For someone who has limited experiences visiting art fairs, I’d make myself a fool if I write this review by comparing the pros and cons about Chicago EXPO. However, I’d still like to describe my experiences about this most-popular art fair in Chicago, and maybe my fresh eyes can capture a subtle sense in this overwhelming art festival.

I visited the exhibition twice; once before it was open to the public and another time with the crowd. Even though the preview was only open to limited people, I was still overwhelmed by the size of the venue and the number of booths in there.

For the preview, the majority of the people were either invited by the event or taken as a plus-one. For my understanding, these people were mostly collectors and artists, and the venue purposely invited them before the opening because they would have a better environment for conversations with the

dealers and a higher chance opening their check books. As a plus-one, I understood that I wasn’t one

of the elites but I purposely dressed up and purchased a glass of wine that was too pricy for a 6 oz cup.

While paying close attention on my posture and surrounding, I tried my best to focus on the works in

front of me like I was in a museum, but I soon realized that my effort was naive: I was either surprised by the price on the wall, or I was distracted by the dealers questions about if I had any questions. My effort to reading the works soon became glancing, and even when my brain started consciously refuse processing all of the exciting visualizations, my eyes were quickly attracted by the next interesting thing. I realized: going to an art fair is no less tiring than running a marathon.

For both of my visits, I paid a close attention on galleries from China and I spent more time analyzing

the works at these booths. The names of famous galleries like PACE, Pearl Lam and Red Brick have attracted my eyes, but their works told a different story. When visiting galleries from or related to China, I care more about the presentation than the quality of the works. Pace Gallery, for example,

chose most of their artworks by western artists, including Sol Lewitt and Rauschenberg. While

understanding their market strategy, I definitely would like to see more works done by artists from China. In occasions like Chicago EXPO, galleries should consider the importance of demonstrating and advocating arts that’s not in the center of the western context. I understand that the purpose of art fairs are always money-driven so that international galleries should alway put the primary market first. But I also believe that shedding more lights on foreign artists is essential for establishing an international context.

If I have to pick ONE thing that I absolutely hated in Chicago EXPO, I’d choose the SAIC booth without hesitation. It was absolutely not necessary to make the booth a curatorial space since it looked nothing more than an expensive garage. The chosen artworks were created by SAIC students graduated from last semester, and their talents and creativity were bluntly used for advertising the school. While I was pleased to see that just-graduated students were able to present their works in such important venue, I was much more angry at the fact that the school showed no effort to advocate for them. To a point, I was too shamed to say that I was a student

from SAIC because neither the works nor the curatorial statement demonstrated SAIC students

really talents. Alter spending over 10 minutes of inner-meditation, I finally drew a conclusion that was comforting enough for me to calm down: as long as “Chicago EXPO” holds a weight on an impressive cover letter, who cares what really happened in the show? As long as the price was good, even schools like SAIC would be bending towards the dollars, right?