Author Archives: mrubin42013

An Interview with Phil Peters

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MR: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

PP: I make sculptural/installation-based work that often references or makes use of the existing architecture of a space.  I am particularly interested in boundaries, thresholds and systems that are both visible and invisible within that space.  Sometimes I try to make work that doesn’t present itself at all such as the large window screens installed in the 7th floor windows of the Louis Sullivan building at Madison and State.  Other times I would like the work to be an abrupt interrupt that forces an immediate interaction with the viewer such as the barbed wire fence that cut a gallery exhibition in half.  Both are examples of control structures, and both are examples of a kind dislocated vernacular architecture.  I am interested in the differing levels of engagement we have with each piece and how we come into an awareness of the work and equally how we begin to forget.  I am often surprised by what behaviors are made implicit and explicit in the context of these structures.

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MR: What are some recent or upcoming projects you’re working on?

PP: I just finished installing the barbed wire fence piece for an exhibition in Bucktown with my collaborator David Rueter. Actually the work is both a fence and a point-to-point telephone system which references a specific period in American history when, due to the proliferation of barbed wire across the west, ranchers were able to turn their fences into telephone lines.  In 1902, Montana briefly became the best networked state in the whole union.  It’s a simple gesture, turning a fence line that divides into one that “connects,” but that spirit of ad hocism is really wonderful to me.  But the fact that these two landscape altering, culture shaping technologies were ever overlaid in such an improbable way is probably what is most intriguing to me.


MR: The referent point is so specific, how do you arrive at this particular aspect of the fence’s narrative as a generative place? Do you consider the work research based?

PP: It was a story that I had been aware of and it stands as an important step in the development of our contemporary communications network and so at the outset it seemed like a story worth retelling.  I wanted to re-constitute something of that moment.  I enjoy talking about the piece, and framing it within the artifice of a historic investigation.  In fact the whole piece resembles a natural history museum display or diorama.  Except the telephones are straight out of the 1990’s and more akin to what I remember of telephone communication rather than what an early 20th century rancher would have known.  However, you can’t really get to heart of the work without talking across the telephones.  You can still see the person at the other end of the room, but their voice is present in a way that defies distance.  It’s that feeling of walking down the street while talking on your cell phone and coming face to face with the person you’ve been speaking to.  It’s such a shock.  The system you’ve been a part of is suddenly made clear and pointless and immediately you want to get off the phone.  But there is that moment of novelty, of both seeing and hearing a person in a way that defies the normal boundaries of interaction.  Having someone’s voice delivered to you in this way is an incredibly intimate act.  In my research, and yes this project was born from the process of reading/researching these histories, I came across a very believable though unverified story about an early telephone user.  Through a process of what we now know to be ground-induction, telegraph operators inadvertently broadcast a recording of Sunday hymnals through the earth that were picked up miles away by a man who was idly listening to the white noise of his telephone line.  In that instant, he thought he was hearing music coming down from heaven.  He and his wife spent the rest of the evening straining to decipher the signal from noise.  It’s a quaint and slightly silly story, but understandable on some level in the recognition of the uncanny experience that telephones offer us.  So that is a long-winded way of saying, I find that it is the interface between the narrative and the experience of the work that is generative for me.


MR: What materials do you use in your work?  Is there a particular specificity to the relationship of your material construction and conceptual concerns?

PP: The materials are often dictated by the project at hand.  “The fence is a fence,” as someone once put it.  I think that this in itself is an important conceptual decision.  I will often research and find precedent for the “appropriate” material and building technique to use in a specific project such as special ordering “clear center-cut vertical-grain douglas fir” for the window screen frames.  That decision came out of a long conversation with a log cabin builder based out of Jackson Hole Wyoming.  There are times when I am specifically interested in transformation in the materiality of an object and the histories these materials carry with them.  The series of “flying” tent forms made from gold/silver mylar emergency blankets or the black and iridescent automobile paint used on the woodpile sculptures are examples of this.


MR: How so?

PP: Mylar’s material history backs up to the NASA space program and the outer most extreme examples of survival.  The reflection and conservation of energy and the fragility of environment.  The “emergency blanket’s” dual surfacing of silver and gold may also stand in for a old survivalists belief that silver and gold are the only true and dependable currencies in the world.  These surfaces are so reflective that when multiple sheet are hung together, their color values become indistinguishable as gold becomes silver, sliver becomes gold, and the metal laminate reflects back the colors and textures of the environment.  The car paint also reflects light into shimmering dirty-rainbows that emulates the experience of a fire while maintaining a material toxicity that is an interesting tension.  To me it comes from a world of say “car-camping,” to pick a kind of literal example, and our conflicted desires to be both autonomous and dependent on societal and technological systems.  It’s the Walden pond phenomenon where Thoreau wanted to both live in isolation, but have a cup of soup at his mother’s house every now and again.  That piece was paired with another digital fire where a video stream of a campfire was algorithmically processed into a technicolor amoeba like fire-form that was projected against an object or a wall in the room.  A cold, non-consuming, light projection that again emulated properties of fire.  These are all examples for me of material surfacing as artifice.  A fusion of technology and materiality.  Of idealism and practicality, but I want to couch that within a thought experiment around notions of survival.

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MR: Is there a common thread that runs through the work?

PP: I think there are themes of architecture and environment that cut across most of the work that I do.  One might also say that I have a preoccupation with the American west.

MR: Does your personal biography play a particular role in the work?

PP: It is in there.  I have lived most of my adult life in major cities including New York, Paris, and Chicago, but it’s the summers I spent mending fences in Wyoming that seem to keep coming back to me.  I hope that biography can serve as a resource rather then the reason.

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MR: How does being in Chicago affect your practice?

PP: Conceptually Chicago has turned out to be a really interesting place for me to work.  It’s position historically and economically within the development of the nation is always interesting.  On the more practical level, I have found that there are a number of opportunities to make and show work within the city.  It’s always a mixed bag, but I’m trying to make the most out of cheap rent and a studio with views of the city skyline.

Review – Shomei Tomatsu: Island Life, The Art Institute of Chicago



Currently on view in the modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, is a relatively comprehensive sampling of photographs from the Japanese artist Shomei Tomatsu.  The work is the artist’s first exhibition since his death last December, and his first museum solo exhibition in the United States in nearly ten years.  Not being particularly familiar with postwar Japanese photography, let alone Tomatsu himself, the work delivers a particular insight to its relative time and place.

The show is organized in a single room that seems to aim at guiding the viewer around its perimeter, hugging the wall at every turn.  Upon entering the space, there is a single free standing wall that partitions off  a particularly beautiful set of eight chromogenic prints from the late 1980s titled: Plastics, Kujukuri Beach, Chiba, 1988-99.  The images depict an indexical account of detritus discovered and catalogued in the black sands of the titled location.  The grouping seems to set the tone for the show, in terms of the visual narrative surrounding seascapes and a larger postwar Japan.

The majority of imagery in the show is a hodgepodge of oceanic landscapes and quotidian life.  Each of the images in the show is interwoven with a set of wall texts that attempt to enable the viewer to engage with meaning making through read and visual juxtapositions.  The images are hung in a traditional horizontal format at times, and in larger clustered groupings at others, but always accompanied by a selected quotation that sits adjacent.  The effort seems earnest, but ultimately head over heals romantic.  While this approach may simply speak to the artistic time in which the image were taken, it actually works in opposition to the visual experience of the imagery.  When I was in the exhibition I watched as each viewer hopped from wall text to wall text, with little more than a glance at each photograph.  This is actually nothing new to hear, nor see, but its still none the less surprising to see this curatorial approach in play.

It remains unclear how much of the wall text and the stipulations around its display was Tomatsu’s doing, but never the less, it provides for an overly wrought romantic experience that simply supersedes the photographic imagery.  Which is ultimately a shame, as the images have an interesting quietness to them, and sincerely do not need flowery prose shouted over them.

Shomei Tomatsu is on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through January 5th, 2014.

Shomei Tomatsu at AIC


Stopped in to see Shomei Tomatsu: Island Life at the AIC a few days ago and couldn’t help but take note with my hypothetical curatorial self –> text wins.

You can continue to read your way through the show until January 5th.

Janine Antoni Speaks at SAIC


Last night in the Columbus Auditorium at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Janine Antoni was present to discuss her work and answer a few questions.  The artist needed little introduction to a crowd, who is no doubt, highly familiar with some of her more canonical work.  Although it was a first, for myself at least, to hear her speak in person – which as it turns out, was pretty great.

The lecture essentially ran through her present slides on Luhring Augustine’s website, and was delivered in the delicate tonality that much of her work projects.  Aside from a few terrible questions from the audience, it was relatively  interesting all around.

The lecture was organized by the Graduate Painting and Drawing Dept at SAIC.

Max Kozloff at The AIC


I recently dropped into the Max Kozloff show at the AIC to see the prolific writer’s own stab at art making.  The renowned writer, critic and previous executive editor of Artforum, became increasingly involved with the field of photography towards the late 1970s. The show delivers some eighty photographic works that help give shape to the critic’s early interests as a writer and thinker, and then moves into Kozloff’s personal attempts at image making.

Prior to the exhibition, I was well aware of Kozloff’s writing and folklore, but had never seen his photographs in the flesh.  The work, mildly interesting at times, seems to clearly reflect the familiar critic-turned-artist trajectory.  Which in turn, seems to speak to the show’s success, in a way.  The simple and logical layout, really does provide the viewer with a clear understanding of his developmental interests and steady march towards the camera.  There’s even a ‘reading room’ that separates a room full of work he’s written about and the designated space for his own imagery.

In all the work is slow, but the exhibition does effectively map out an important historical career through many of it’s iterations.

Max Kozloff: Critic and Photographer runs through January 5, 2014 at the AIC.



Chicago Contingent in the 2014 Whitney Biennial



The artist list for the 2014 Whitney Biennial was recently released, and it’s home to an exciting group of Chicago’s own:

Dawoud Bey
Elijah Burgher
Joseph Grigely
Philip Hanson
Doug Ischar
Carol Jackson
Tony Lewis
taisha paggett
Public Collectors
Steve Reinke with Jessie Mott
Valerie Snobeck and Catherine Sullivan
Tony Tasset
Pedro Vélez
Molly Zuckerman-Hartung

A warm congratulations to all!

A complete list of the 2014 artists can be found HERE


Charles Ray Speaks at U of Chicago


Last week I had the opportunity to see Charles Ray speak about his work at the University of Chicago.  The invitational lecture was intimate in setting and instructional in contextualizing the sculptor’s work.  Ray began his talk by framing his interests around personally significant sculptors and objects throughout history that carry great weight within his practice.  Specifically around a series of objects that help define, as Ray puts it, a sculptural “embedment” in space. More specifically, Ray’s involvement with the cavity.

The talk then dived into some of the more familiar facets of his sculptural practice and even some of the less curatorialy favorable ink work.  It was my first time hearing the sculptor speak in person, and as an individual who finds great importance in these particular objects, the discussion was even richer than I had anticipated.

Next up is Robert Morris, speaking tomorrow night at 7PM



Station to Station

Station to Station is a multi city “happening” from New York to San Francisco

Station to Station

September 6 – 28, 2013



  • Mavis Staples
  • No Age
  • Theaster Gates’ Black Monks of Mississippi
  • Thurston Moore & John Moloney/Caught on Tape
  • White Mystery
  • and others…

Nomadic Sculptures

  • Kenneth Anger
  • Urs Fischer
  • Liz Glynn
  • Carsten Höller
  • Ernesto Neto

Art Works

  • Doug Aitken
  • Kathryn Andrews
  • Thomas Demand
  • Meschac Gaba
  • Lawrence Weiner
  • and others…

Moving Images

  • Doug Aitken
  • Francis Alӱs
  • Allora & Calzadilla
  • Kenneth Anger
  • Dara Birnbaum
  • Kate Casanova
  • Bruce Conner
  • Cheryl Donegan
  • Fischli & Weiss
  • William Forsythe
  • Yayoi Kusama
  • Nam June Paik
  • Raymond Pettibon
  • Nicolas Provost
  • Kelly Sears
  • Stephen Shore
  • Roman Signer
  • Ryan Trecartin
  • John Whitney
  • John Whitney Jr.
  • and others…

Printed Matter

  • Doug Aitken
  • Taylor Ruth Baldwin
  • Yto Barrada
  • Abraham Cruzvillegas
  • Sam Durant
  • Urs Fischer
  • Karen Kilimnik
  • Catherine Opie
  • Jack Pierson
  • Raymond Pettibon
  • Ed Ruscha
  • Josh Smith
  • Ryan Trecartin
  • and others…

A full list of the event’s participants can be found HERE

Doug Aitken is primarily known for his text framed images and large scale visualizations, or even perhaps is musical home in LA, but he also has a thing for organizing neo-happenings. His latest venture, Station to Station, is a multi-city tour that carts a fluctuating group of high profile artists, musicians and foodies from New York to San Francisco on a train, stopping at cities along the way for performances, screenings and music.

Last night, the train pulled into Chicago for it’s due stop. My girlfriend and I had read about the endeavor, it’s expansive and impressive list of participants, and were having trouble wrapping our heads around how the event was to actually take shape. So, like any logical decision made by poor artists in graduate school, we decided to cough up the $25 and go see for ourselves.

What we found, at it’s core, was a cue from festival culture, essentially tailoring a musical experience for people like me who want to see the work, without the 19 year olds and glow sticks. The traveling installation works by Ernesto Neto, Urs Fischer, and Liz Glynn were arranged in a three tent format, one for each artist, and housed a series of music videos in each. I stood in Urs Fischer’s white-on-white carpeted and mirrored disco ball bedroom, while Ariel Pink played an acoustic set on his back for a crowd and a very expensive camera.

Though the work wasn’t all that trite, there was an excellent and palpable live performance by a couple of bull whipping cowboys, an incredible set by Black Monks of Mississippi, and a trip down Art History lane with a few classic videos to buff between sets.

All in all the the night was fun and tipsy, but proved to be more social than anything else. Although, if anything can be said, it is inspiring to see the willingness of so many talents trying to pull together and actually do something, whether Levi’s is paying the tab or not.

Images of the Chicago event can be found here. Next stop Minneapolis.