the zine soon to be formerly known as ...

F ing Good Art
Number Six
March 2 2001

Archived at

Welcoming our scattered academic brethren

Michelle Grabner
Ten in One Gallery
Project Room
526 W. 26th St. NYC

In her most recent show at the Ten in One Gallery in Chelsea, Grabner's minimalist index has been disrupted by the toxic materiality of the flocking wall drawing as it spawns in the corner, seeping its pastel hues like an artificial mould spreading into the space. The two lamda prints, titled Suburban Abstraction (Appleton, WI) are winter scenes where snow blankets the garage roofs, which are washed with a pastel rainbow. It is a cliched, iconic image so overused that it has obtained an empty meaning, far removed from its original narrative. Here it reads as a false promise, a set of rules and guidelines that never quite reach the pot of gold.

Drawing parallels to Alan McCollum's surrogates, these sites of suburban home life function as models, signifiers of mainstream parameters for comfort and security, yet devoid of human presence, the messy trappings of the everyday. In one of the photos a glimpse of the neighbor's yard and catalogue tree house encroaches on the model scene, and becomes a reminder (just in case you needed one) that any involvement with nature or privacy here is purely contrived. The wall drawing echoes the artificial toxicity of this scenario. Here is a society committed to the never-ending pursuit of security and prescribed success, yet continuously settling for a paradoxical version of the original goal.

What is so refreshing about Grabner's show is that it isn't a heavy critique of the pitfalls of suburban existence. Nor is it a superficial celebration of the packaged American dream. Instead, the show is a conceptual abstraction of a specific social model. The references to minimalism are smart, drawing attention to our visions of utopia while serving to highlight aesthetically subtle work. Her move away from painting, while still referencing its history, frees up preconceived ideas about the work we have seen in her past. On the drive back to Chicago from Wisconsin, the sun is setting and a pastel rainbow colors the fresh snow. It hides the artificial grid of land divided into plots for farming, and at Grabner's show in New York I am subtly reminded of it with a creeping nostalgia for the uniquely Midwestern feel of this familiar scene.

-- Shane Selzer

Haddeus Strode at TBA

I'm not impressed, interested, or engaged by the work of Thaddeus Strode at TBA. If Chris Johanson is derivative of Pettibone, then Strode seems derivative of Johanson, and like in video technology, each generation away from the original causes a degradation of the quality of image. The wrinkled scribblings tacked up and being passed off as drawing plus the sloppy texts splashed on the walls did not achieve any sort of retro-inspired challenge to the white cube.

Instead, the reverse was achieved where the integrity of the space's clean modernism efficiently mocked the amateurish attempt at installation. Regrettably, the white walls lent no more credibility to the work than the drippy words painted willy-nilly added interest to the harmless surfer-tinged narrative told throughout the series of watercolor drawings. Additionally, the three cast heads wearing wigs and resting on pillows atop very unconsidered pedestals in the middle of the room were far less engaging that my own perverted notions of what could be done with and to them. Whatever effort was exerted to produce this show was misdirected away from more professional aesthetics. I do not write here out of malice but with extreme disappointment. I am no longer enchanted by nonchalant installation techniques typified by the tacks and splatters so in tragically in abundance in this show.

-- Leah Finch

Mad Shak Dance Company
at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago
The Days of Pandora

Molly Shanahan, the artistic director of Mad Shak (, is a very smart articulate woman, as she proved after the performance of The Days of Pandora. She and the other dancers made themselves available to the audience for questions and comments about the choreographic and collaborative processes (which took them a year to complete) behind the creation of this evening length piece of modern dance movement.

There was little of the soft flowing unison dancy dance that annoys me after even small doses. The choreography in this piece had a certain edge and athleticism, requiring much commitment on the parts of the dancers to make them coherent and meaningful. The seven onstage met the challenge of the controlled jerking postures, rolling spines, gymnastic-like tumbling, and even the subtler movements similar to everyday gesture. In great evidence was the dedication of each performer to the choreography, each displaying full commitment to the full expression of the movement to the best of her or his body's ability.

The endurance of the performers is admirable as they moved without rest for 47 minutes. In this piece, very loosely based on the myth of Pandora, where hope and coherence emerge from chaos, the dancers bodies, were clothed in black lace costumes designed by Atalee Judy, and painted body decorations provided by Maja Radovanovich. They moved across the full space of the stage in solos, duets, trios, et cetera that broke off of larger compositions involving the entire company. Splinters of choreography caught the viewers' attention just before the rogue dancers were re-incorporated into the movement of the group.

Set to a simple and repetitive score of mostly trance-inducing samples and original composed melodies with a slight dance beat (a snippet of Led Zeppelin sneaks in too), the piece was largely abstract. It stayed open and never coalesced into a coherent narrative. While this is a challenging choreographic accomplishment, to create such a long piece without the structure of an underlying story, it did cause the drama of the piece never to rise into a satisfying climax or resulting denoument.

The momentum of the piece plateaued early on, making the performance less of an emotional adventure than it could have been, and caused a bit of numbness in the viewer to the actions unfolding onstage. In the end, one was left with a favorable impression of dedicated movers asking the audience to map their own meaning onto the abstraction of the choreography.

NEXT Dance Festival 2001

The NEXT Dance Festival 2001, presenting two programs (of which I only saw one) held over two weekends this February at the Athaneum Theater, was leaps and bounds better than Dance Chicago! (commonly referred to as Shite Fest) held at the same location in November. Though both are curated, the choreographic style across this program was tighter and more professional.

Puzzlingly, some ballet managed to sneak into this modern dance venue courtesy of The Moose Project. This Freudian return of the repressed, called A New Path, did not provide any innovation or an opportunity for growth on the part of the dance scene, but instead offered a moment of confused boredom on the part of at least one viewer. More confusion occurred as The 58 Group presented Imprint. I wondered at the white capes and body-disguising costumes the dancers wore as they ran around, nearly missing the jazz musicians roaming the stage, in an investigation of momentum that seemed twenty five years too late. The piece Landtslayt by Same Planet Different World was a solidly composed trio of overlapping movements that circled the three women into interesting images of truncated and fulfilled gesture.

The Dance COLEctive presented Tell It by Heart, a very touching and romantic duet danced by Margi Cole, the company's artistic director, and Douglas Woods. This piece was simple, elegantly phrased, and full of poignant longing. Less impressive was the the Dance COLEctive's piece Blossom on Bone presented at the end of the evening's program which consisted of five women moving far too slow for the insistent techno beat of the sound score.

Justin Jones played with and in his underwear in Per Mutations, a piece choreographed by Robin Lakes that was amusing for the length of only one of the three chapters of the piece. Susan Hoffman participated in the vigorous trio time/fragments/remains she choreographed to the free jazz score provided by Dave Pavkovik and Jason Adasiewicz. And Atalee Judy flipped and thrashed, drenched in stage blood, in Logotype 00, a dance of a death scene inspired by the German film Run, Lola, Run.

The most provocative piece of the evening's program was provided by Breakbone Dance Company, ( Logotype 01, a duet co-choreographed by Atalee Judy and Robbie Cook, was an examination of mental illness through violently athletic movements that had less to do with dance than highly dramatic expressions of the raw physicality of their bodies. Garbed at times in straight jackets and at other times almost nothing at all, the two dancers, both shaved bald, worked in tandem with a scorching hard-core score constructed by Ms. Judy. At times seeming like accessories, they had to struggle to upstage the powerfully graphic video of themselves slamming about in an unidentified basement which was projected behind them. Eventually their powerful bodies dominated the attention of the audience as the energetic choreography stilled into deeply affecting images of profound vulnerability. Departing from mainstream ideas of modern dance, this piece marked a significant, and in my opinion more interesting, effort toward exploring movement as tool in a grander scheme of multi-media artistic theatrical production.

-- Leah Finch

A Room with the Walls Blasted to Shreds and Falling
Jennifer Reeder

Unlike the beginning of David Lynch's Blue Velvet where a family man has a heart attack while watering his suburban lawn and below we find ants battling like mad in a blood-strewn frenzy, Jennifer Reeder prefers the Zen of suburbia's tranquil restlessness. Here, we open with a bug struggling to get off its back. Ah, desperation. But from here on out, the struggle gets softer, softer, and gone.

A teenage girl whom we have viewed make an extremely uneventful long walk along a mailbox strewn sidewalk, eventually lays on her bed staring sadly at her ceiling. She taps her belly to a techno song and we can only imagine her sadness is quiet and oblique; a depressing haiku in the suburbs is occurring and I imagine it is as thin as the long shots that continue to transpire. Another woman waits patiently for traffic.

The continual movement of cars appears to be juxtaposed to the sauntering malaise of her inter-suburban pedestrian stroll. In one of my favorite shots, a car blinks its flashers as it sits stranded in the left lane of a busy freeway. Maybe this is the morning commute and the breakdown in the midst of the hubbub seems typical, banal and even, dumb.

There is a sense of melancholic solitude: the quiet desperation of the suburbs that haunts the placid tree riddled yards of this video. In the midst of frantic swimming, soccer, commuting, airports and construction, the agony of desperation is eeking out. Or is it eeking out at all?

Of course, the brazen title "A Room with the Walls Blasted to Shreds and Falling" is meant to remind us of exactly this lack. The long shots and vapid encounters are meant to augment our seething frustrations. But what of this? Jennifer Reeder seems to be pointing toward the tender agony in suburban life. It is a theme very akin to the dreadfully morose lyrics of 1990 Nirvana that she has expressed interest in. She quite capably leads the charge of many emerging American artists who want to revel in the vapid gaze of Nintendo playing children.

Would one call this pop social realism? It is a theme running through much contemporary art and in this sense, Jennifer Reeder does it quite well. But if you are like me, you're not particularly interested in the terribly boring agony of suburbia. You don't find it redeeming nor compelling to gaze in Bill Viola fashion at the reality of gated communities. It is obvious that Reeder finds solace in this hushed form of disquietude, but for me, I find it rather typical. The sad sad life of boring white suburbia isn't anything new and it isn't interesting. Her commentary just barely rises above the din of traffic that she finds so frenetic and that type of subtlety is more complicit than critical.

-- Nato Thompson

Transitional Hue,
824 W. Sunnyside #3

Not only was the poppy-seed cake juicy, but the art in Brandon Aguilar and William Mungall's apartment was infinitely saucier than the you've-got-to-be-pulling-my-leg juvenilia seen earlier that evening at TBA. And like most apartment shows, it was more about the owners' (good) taste than any curatorial master plan, which is just fine.

The bathroom installation, a hysterical AIDS announcement, complete with a digital sock puppet rhapsodizing about ass fucking, by Murray McKay, Liz Riley-Green, Yoshie Suzuki and Mayumi Lake, proves that pedagogy and camp go well with condoms. Lake's Poo-Chi Series, armpits that do double work as underage crotches, was as convincing and titillating as the last time I saw it.

Less exciting work -- Amber Reyes's pseudo-naive portrait paintings, David Teplica's redundant photo experiment was embarrassingly overshadowed by the trenchant, side-splitting videos Lon Strickland used as his portfolio to get into Columbia College. Using a cast of his mostly male, frighteningly-typical high school peers, Strickland parlayed melodramatic narratives about near-death carpool capers and zombie-inducing school lunches through '80s music clips, inspiring, amongst other brilliant bits, a choreographed Thriller moment.

Aguilar's own paintings, with which the apartment is overly saturated, are edible and paint-loving and mostly gorgeous, especially Bouquet Diptych. Also included are effective nostalgia pieces by Chris Patch, Rene Esparza, and an unknown artist, whose Alice in Wonderland Paint-By-Numbers recalls moments of childhood fantasy and the stress of trying not to go outside the lines.

-- Lori Waxman

Chris Johanson
at Bodybuilder and Sportsman / Vedanta

The work of San Francisco-based Chris Johanson at Bodybuilder & Sportsman and Vedanta was a competent derviation of Raymond Pettibon, perhaps even painfully so.

The exhibition was a matter of walking through and finding which goofily drawn balloon head struck my sense of humor best, but in the end I was not especially moved to either dislike or admiration.

These days, I am not so intrigued by the work of a self-taught artist simply based on the fact of a lack of expensive training. Contemporary popular culture, especially that of the skateboarding and graffiti scene, is so over saturated with its own art semiology and colorful graphic design related to product advertisement, film, video games, and comic books that no one with a pair of eyes can really call himself truly untrained in the arts.

I think Johanson's never going to art school is the only reason Finster is mentioned in the official gallery press for this artist. Johanson lacks the religious mania which makes Finster so peculiar. Instead Johanson's work is marked by a particularly out-moded paradigm of environmental and societal doom characteristic of the ironic pessimistic inversion suffered by many an idealist having a shitty day.

Perhaps this world view is not so outmoded as it is regional, which explains why I, raised on the east coast, always feel disconnected and alien when I'm on the west coast. In defense of the show, the work was harmless and charming in a dark sort of way, and made me wish I had had the luck to find one of the drawings blowing across the street on a random bit of anonymous litter.

-- Leah Finch

The Suburban
244 Lake St, Oak Park

In accordance with Grabner and Killiam's interest in working social models, the Suburban is showing N55, a collaborative art group working out of Copenhagen.

The piece shown, titled Land, is a part of an ongoing project in which donated land is staked with a claim containing a manual defining the property, and sighting individuals rights regarding its public use. The clearly utopian ideals behind this work are not only realistically problematic, they are downright absurd.

Obviously I am suspicious of idealistic 1960's rhetoric that places unwarranted faith in the common goals of "the group" over the individual. However, in no way does N55 need to obtain their ultimate goals for the piece to be successful on a micro level. Although galleries have proved to be an inappropriate site for social/political change to effectively take place, they can be excellent vehicles for the presentation of alternate social scenarios.

Land presents a controlled way for us to think about ownership, property and individual freedoms. I am not sure that N55 fully realizes the shifts in dynamics which happens when Land is brought to the US, but I think they are correct in putting these ideas out there and then releasing control, allowing issues to fluctuate according to the context.

-- Shane Selzer

Our Reccomendations

You've heard that River North is over. Now, once you've toured West Loop Gate, splurge on cab fare to see some of this fresh stuff.


SMALL PRINT: Assembled and distributed as a service to you, by a collection of artist/critic/curators including: Michael Bulka, Pedro Velez, Julia Marsh, Leah Finch, Shane Selzer, Lori Waxman, Tulip Inthefield.

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