Mushroom Thyme Gravy
Adapted from Food52
⅓ cup dried mushrooms
2 cups vegetable stock
3 tablespoons butter
1½ tablespoons shallot, minced
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons soy sauce
½ cup cream
1 tablespoon sherry
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
Salt & pepper
Bring vegetable stock to a boil. In a small bowl, pour the stock over the mushrooms. Let soak for 20 minutes.
Remove the mushrooms from the bowl, setting the stock aside. Thinly slice the mushrooms.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the shallot and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes until softened. Add the flour to the butter-shallot mixture, stirring constantly. Cook for 2 minutes.
Gradually add 1½ cups of the reserved stock (leaving the mushroom sediment out), stirring well to incorporate. Cook over medium heat until thickened.
Add the sliced mushrooms, soy sauce, cream, sherry, and thyme to the gravy. Cook for a few more minutes until heated through and thickened to desired consistency.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
1 pound fresh cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 pkg cherry Jello (0.3 oz)
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
½ cup chopped fine celery
1 can crushed pineapple (20 oz), drained
1 cup hot water (not boiling)
Grind or crush fresh berries with food processor, or my preference, I run them through a meat grinder. In a large bowl add sugar to crushed cranberries.
In a separate, smaller bowl, mix hot water and cherry Jello until dissolved.
Add Jello to cranberry-sugar mixture. Stir in pineapple, nuts, and celery.
Refrigerate (preferably in serving bowl) overnight.
1 small onion (sweeter is better in this case)
1 small head of cauliflower
1tbs olive oil (other veg oils will do just fine)
¼ to ½ cup stock (veg or chicken would be best)
Butter (salted, unsalted, veg spread . . . all will work)
Salt & pepper
Break down the cauliflower from the underside. Remove the large trunks first and cut them in halves. Once the branches are too small to divide split into parts roughly the size of the larger halves.
Chop one small onion, a ¼ inch chop is good. Heat a medium size cast iron or frying pan to medium high. Add olive oil and then onion. Stir frequently enough to avoid browning or sticking. Once the onion has a milky appearance, not quite transparent, add the cauliflower and turn the head down to medium, medium low-ish. The goal is to pan roast these slowly to develop caramelization. After you start to see some browning add a little stock at a time and let the cauliflower drink it up.
Once the cauliflower is cooked through and browned a bit, transfer to a food processor or blender. Add 1 tbs of butter/veg spread and puree the mess out of it. Add more butter or stock to reach the desired texture. Salt and pepper to taste.
Curry powder and peas add a lovely color
Alice’s Pecan Tarts
3 oz cream cheese
½ cup butter
1 cup flour
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
⅔ cup chopped pecans
24 pecan halves
Blend together pastry ingredients into dough. Form into log and cut into 24 pieces and shape into tarts in mini muffin tins.
Beat together batter ingredients and mix in the chopped nuts. Pour batter evenly onto unbaked pastry. Top with pecan halves.
Bake for 25 minutes in a 325°F oven.
Jerk Eye Gravy
1 tbs fats (vegetable based spreads, butter, drippings or lard all work well)
1 tbs flour
1 tbs stock
2 tbs of milk (coconut milk is really nice I think)
½ tsp (or more to taste Jerk Sauce (my knowledge of jerk sauce is not extensive by any means. Currently I’m using Uncle Joe’s, a local producer, but feel free to experiment.)
1 tsp coffee (the addition of coffee is probably not necessary, I like it. Consider it an option. Chicory may also be nice although I haven’t tried it.)
Step 1) Make these biscuits or cheat and buy a premade tube. You can substitute 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice per cup to nondairy milk to make a vegan buttermilk substitute.
Step 2) Make a gravy
In a cast iron or frying pan with a tall lip, heat and/or break down the fats at a medium high heat. Add all of the flour at once and whisk vigorously When mixture thins and starts to bubble, reduce heat to low, and cut back on the whisking. Cook until a warm toasty aroma develops. Add stock and milk 1 tbs at a time until mixed. Add Jerk Sauce, coffee, and salt and pepper to taste.
I am wondering what it means to collect.
I meditate upon the tender memento mori of the photographer Anne Collier, who photographs her collections of books of photography, self-help tapes, and other lost and melancholic objects.
“To collect photographs is to collect the world,” Susan Sontag writes in her essay “On Photography.” A photograph in a book too, she notes, is an object to be collected.
Can you collect, I wonder, people too?
Anne Collier’s image of Marilyn Monroe from Bert Stern’s The Last Sitting, from her Woman With A Camera series (the name teasing in its anonymity). Marilyn, in a moment of playfulness, poses wearing black evening gloves and holding a Nikon camera suspended over her mouth. Looking away, her eyes crinkle in a smile. The camera obscures but does not mask what we are really looking at—the mythic face. What the camera performs here is a form of peekaboo, like the fan dance with the striped diaphanous scarf in those other Stern images, a clichéd and expected pose from a specific time period, as the title, gently wry, suggests. The camera isn’t active, posed like it’s actually looking back, taking pictures back at the photographer capturing her. As if to show the joke—she is the beautiful image here, this is not her point of view.
So who is the Woman with a Camera? The Woman with a Camera is Anne Collier. Her gaze is obsessive, sad, sensitive, droll. She’s not just looking, she’s looking at how others have looked (men, fellow photographers, all of us)—an affectionate and ironic distance, yet also with the intimacy of a collector, perhaps even a fan.
To look at this image of Marilyn Monroe is to mentally page through the rest of the book, with its somewhat morbid name—the fragility and pathos of those images—and then to linger on the biography, on Marilyn’s deep unhappiness and struggle, which she would ultimately not survive. How this photo shoot, commissioned by Vogue in 1962, was part of a major publicity effort after she was fired from 20th Century Fox, a year after being institutionalized at the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic. Six weeks after she posed for these photographs, taken during three boozy days in the Hotel Bel-Air, she would be dead of an overdose of barbiturates. The heaviness of all of this, the tragedy behind closed doors, seeps into these photographs, giving them the weight of a historical memory. Memento mori, from the Latin for: “remember you will die.”
And yet she performed such vitality. “You’re beautiful!” Bert Stern remembers saying to Marilyn upon first meeting her. “What a nice thing to say,” she replied, always rehearsed for the public. Upon seeing only accessories laid out on the bed, she quickly grasped his idea for the shoot, a series of nudes (not very high-concept). She was worried, initially, about revealing a surgical scar on her stomach, but after consulting with her companion/hairdresser, she went for it. Champagne. Flirting. She became Marilyn (a movement she could do, how she could disappear into a crowd, or be a lonely woman on a bridge, how aware she was of performing the persona). She transformed—for the camera—into the sex symbol. “Not bad for thirty-six,” she said, or something to this effect, as she emerged from the bathroom in one of the sheer scarves.
There is no real intimacy to the nude, yet Bert Stern captured something in these photographs, something, perhaps naked, unable to be replicated. He tried to replicate them, exactly, a few years ago, with tabloid star Lindsay Lohan, and although she possessed the tortured life, she noticeably lacked Marilyn’s talent for vulnerability, her expressive and haunting face. Performances cannot be repeated—not exactly.
The red Xs of the contact sheets that Bert Stern published in the book, where Marilyn crossed out the images she disliked (are these ones showing this wounded vulnerability, where the mask drops or is askew, where she reveals such loneliness and longing?) The red X. The gesture that performs her disappearance, that looks like a cross, her cross. The cover of The Last Sitting is exactly this—Marilyn crossed out, Marilyn already a ghost, Marilyn with her mouth open as if trying to say something.
Sontag: “Photographs state the innocence, the vulnerability of lives heading towards their own destruction, and this link between photograph and death haunts all photographs of people.”
The camera is objective. And yet one desires to be inside, to enter a subjectivity hinted at in fragments. What does it mean to imagine another’s life, the impossibility of accessing their perspective? What does it mean to never escape one’s image or mythic status, while still struggling with personhood?
For Sontag, a photograph was also a fragment. This essay composed of fragments. And by that, I mean photographs.
Fragment: Marilyn reading James Joyce’s Ulysses outdoors wearing a striped bathing suit. She often insisted on being photographed with a book (a desire to direct her publicity, perhaps, away from the image of the dumb blonde). This reminds me of the press photo of a young Louise Brooks on set, shiny in black and white, reading Kierkegaard.
Some English professor once called a method of skipping around while reading Ulysses “The Marilyn Monroe method,” as she had confessed to not finishing it, and mostly enjoying Molly Bloom’s monologue. The Marilyn Monroe method: I employ it too. I skip around. I flip. I drift.
The MCA Design, Publishing, and New Media department enjoys any excuse to collaborate with outside artists and illustrators we admire. During our planning for the David Bowie Is exhibition, we were curious to know which phase of Bowie’s ever-changing career had been influential to others. We approached a few artists and asked them to contribute. Subject-wise, we left it open to their interpretation. We simply wanted the illustrations to be reflective of the energy captured by the exhibition. These illustrations would take the form of tattoos—an homage to Bowie’s own, ever-changing body art. Below are the final tattoos, as well as a few outtakes, in action.
Illustration and gif by Cari Vander Yacht
Illustration by Derek Erdman
Illustration by Michael Worful
I start everything with an image to keep me on track. It’s also the way I think, in images. I decided on the image of a space traveler. One common thread among all of my work, no matter who the character is at any time, is a new origin story. We don’t know much about space, so it’s a great opportunity to inject the nonlinear into performance personas. The image sets the tone. Next, I started planning out the flow of the performance. Short and sweet, a duration of about 30–40 minutes.
We’ll be speaking in Bowie lyrics, so I needed to print them off and design them for a score book that we’ll all read from. I don’t expect everyone to remember the lyrics. He has such a huge catalog, right? And I’ve chosen songs that maybe some people won’t know. There will be one performer who will sing one of my favorites, “Subterraneans,” from the Low album. The lyrics were written using the cut-up technique, something Bowie borrowed from Burroughs.
I’ve created a set of tarot cards that use words that rhyme with the original lyrics to prompt the performer to sing intermittently throughout the performance. In between these somewhat theatrical spoken lyric performances, there will be live art making prompted by actions inspired by the Oblique Strategies cards (originally created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt) which were used during the production of Bowie’s Berlin triptych.
I’ve created a set of strategies with prompts to modify behavior and body language called “Loving the Alien: Other Orthographic Projections.” The strategies will be interpreted by the performers, most of whom are artists and friends. And of course, it’s my piece, which means there will be media—lots of media. I’m shooting video and writing programs for sound and video control.
As always, there will be fabrication, sound, video, movement (the Lab dancers are on board again!), and writing. Wonderful. A really fun part of performance, for me, is making the media which supports the live work.
In the fall of 2011, Chicago-based artist Joseph Ravens—founder/director of Defibrillator Gallery—asked me to join him, then-graduate student Giana Gambino, and Chicago-based artist Julie Laffin in establishing a performance art festival in Chicago. At the time, performance art remained somewhat under-recognized within the greater arts ecology of the city. So Ravens, Gambino, Laffin, and I set out to create a more visible platform for groundbreaking performance work. That idea spawned the Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival.
Highlighted below are a selection of artists who I think reflect the uncategorizable nature of performance art practices. While some of these works may be disturbing to some (and, frankly, that is part of their conceptual conceit, as they engage with difficult subject matter), others explore how movement, play, and the somatic experience (i.e. the experience of and through the body) open up new and different paths for the production of knowledge and subjective understanding.
Chicago-based artist Michal Samama’s performance took place inside the context of the gallery and involved only a plastic woven bag, the clothes she wore that day, and her body. As the title subtly implies, the underlying tone of the piece was antagonistic. The bag is one that is often used by immigrants and migrants, and its presence offered insight into the social classification of the performer. Samama entered the space nude with the bag balanced precariously atop her head. For the next 30 minutes, she moved deliberately throughout the space, drawing attention to and exploring the relationship of the bag to her body—whether as an oppressive weight, or an object of affection. To complete the performance, the artist unzipped the bag, took out its contents (her clothes) and dressed—slowly, methodically—in front of the audience. Samama is highly regarded for her work with the body, investigating its physical qualities and limitations. In this performance the body also became an object, along with and akin to the bag, raising questions about the objectification of the body—specifically the female body—and its (de)valuation in a capitalist, global society.
Cuban artist Carlos Martiel’s performance also addressed the movement of bodies, though in a much more direct and politically charged way. His work focused on the suffering, both physical and psychological, that immigrants often face. For the piece, he invited Chicago-area immigrants to donate blood, temporarily transforming the gallery into a blood bank on the night before the launch of the festival. Martiel chose blood as his medium in part because it is an extremely affective material, one that most people have a strong aversion to, in spite of its vital importance. On the opening night, Martiel created a tableau vivant, lying naked on the floor of the gallery in a pool of the collected blood, his body flexed and tense, trembling. It was a difficult sight to take in—the experience raw and challenging to the viewer—but deeply moving nonetheless, especially to those who donated their blood and felt a sense of shared experience, of political and social status, with their fellow participants.
Founded by Guillermo Gómez Peña and Roberto Sifuentes, among others, La Pocha Nostra comprises an ever-evolving roster of artists. The performance for RP14 was at times pedagogical in nature, at times carnivalesque, and focused on creating images for mass consumption and distribution. To this end, Peña would halt the performance and invite audience members to take photos and upload them to social media sites, calling on them to “send these images all over the . . . world.” Throughout the performance, Peña also gave instructions to the other performers—Roberto Sifuentes and Erica Mott—along with the audience members, all the while developing a kind of meta-critique of the live performance as it unfolded in real time. At various moments there was a skinned goat draped across the back of a performer; the likeness of a Madonna covered in roses with milk pouring down her bosom; a boxing match; and a prop gun offered to audience members to pose with, held to Peña’s body and head. Ultimately, the piece created a critical space around which all things performance were thrown into question, and in which moments of profanity mixed with references to the sacred.
The work of Alastair MacLennan—a member of the notorious avant-garde performance collective Black Market International—was meditative in nature, engaged as it was in unknown rituality. He embarked on a process that was very much experimental, improvised and momentary. Whereas La Pocha Nostra dissected performance through a series of loosely choreographed gestures, MacLennan created an impression of genuine, unscripted openness. The artist requested a seemingly random series of objects—fresh fish heads, an orange, a green apple, two buckets of water, ticker tape, a bundle of sticks, and so forth—which he arranged in a turnabout down the block from the gallery. As audience members gathered around him, he removed his shoes and blindfolded himself, relying entirely on his other senses to enact an open-ended process, punctuated at times with specific actions, like the pouring of a bucket of water containing fish heads and fruit over his head. A number of random passersby also encountered the piece, intrigued or bewildered by MacLennan’s actions. Perhaps they assumed the rest of the audience members understood what was happening. In fact, none of us did. But to be there in the moment, to be aware of one’s own physical and mental experience in that moment and nothing more, was precisely the point.
This is but a snapshot of the different performances and events that make up Rapid Pulse. I personally have found the experience of working on the festival to be transformative and eye-opening. For many years I was somewhat dismissive of performance art myself, but I understand now that this was due to my own lack of understanding and willingness to engage. Now I am acutely aware of how my experiences with Rapid Pulse have begun to color the many other artistic initiatives I am involved in. In fact, many of the exhibitions I organize for the MCA involve performative aspects and are geared towards open-ended inquiry, improvisation, and the acceptance of the unknown. It has been rewarding, if not also liberating, to push myself beyond my own comfort zone and move into this other realm of artistic activity, for it is exactly these kinds of experiences—deeply affective and challenging as they are—that become all the more formative as one pushes onward, blindfolded and barefoot though we may be.
Can’t make it to tonight’s program? Preview some of the films featured below or catch the festival this weekend at Nightingale Cinema.
Joshua Mosley, Jeu de Paume, 2014
Joung Yumi, Love Games, 2013
Hoji Tsuchiya, Black Long Skirt, 2010
In Wade Davis’s audio-lecture series, The Wayfinders, Davis recounts Nainoa Thompson’s first solo voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1980 on the Hōkūle’a, a handmade re-creation of a double-hull, ancient Polynesian voyaging canoe. In making this journey, Thompson became the first contemporary native Hawaiian to successfully travel thousands of nautical miles without instruments, using only the traditional Polynesian art of navigation taught to him by the last living Micronesian master navigator, Mau Piailug.
Thompson’s story is very dramatic. After almost a month at sea, Thompson and his crew faced days and nights of relentlessly overcast skies, hiding the stars and sun. Sitting in silent meditation, tracking every piece of data to sustain a mental picture of the ship’s dead-reckoning across the open sea—including waves, winds, birds, fish, clouds, and the often obscured sun and stars—Thompson felt his thread of focus unravel, and realized that the Hōkūle’a might be lost at sea. But before fear overcame him, he remembered a simple teaching that master navigator Mau Piailug repeated often: Remember that everything you need is on board the ancient canoe.
Through their work, Mau Piailug and Thompson reclaimed the legacy of ancient Polynesian navigation and its historical role in populating the vast archipelago of Polynesia—catalyzing the final undoing of the historical theory of accidental drift from Peru associated with National Geographic hero Thor Heyerdahl and his famous journey on the Kon-Tiki raft.
I was struck by the profound existential themes of Thompson’s journey. Open-sea navigation, guided only by one’s knowledge and senses, seems impossible to me, and yet Thompson overcomes this impossibility. The vastness of the sea overwhelms the tiny canoe and its crew, but they move through this vastness to pinpoint the culture they are seeking on a distant island. They make the connection to that culture through the power of ancient seafaring wisdom. The crew of the canoe faces imminent death and despair, but they have the resources within them to face both success and failure.
My performance Wayfinders is not about Nainoa Thompson’s journey. Instead, it uses the themes within his story as a point of inspiration. My interpretation branched into roughly three areas: the evolving technology of navigation (now including ubiquitous GPS carried on almost all of our persons); the role of navigation in evolution, including the theory that the evolutionary purpose of “consciousness” is to mobilize and navigate an organism; and the cultural shifts of how we relate to space and place, particularly today, when technology so thoroughly mediates our relationships with people, places, and things.
In a series of workshops, including one conducted at the MCA, the performers, designers, and I created pieces of performance around musical sketches. When confronted with a creative obstacle, we reminded ourselves that everything we needed was with us, in the theater. In this way, the work became about the meta-narrative of a set of people cocreating their own reality and their own journey. This idea led to the notion of an isolated spaceship—inspired by Thompson’s description of the voyaging canoe as “the spaceship of the ancestors”—in which technology comes to mediate consciousness itself, allowing a kind of virtual world in which place, trajectory, and identity are all fluid constructs that the passengers can actively imagine into being.
Very quickly I realized we were in the territory of science fiction. A chance re-viewing of the original Matrix film led me to the writer William Gibson, who coined the term “cyberspace” in his Sprawl trilogy and predicted the notions of “the matrix,” virtual reality, and even the World Wide Web. I found a synchronicity of thought between the ideas we devised in workshop and the narrative threads of Gibson’s writing, particularly how his books discuss the notion of living entirely virtually, even after the death of the body.
Thinking about the degree to which we relinquish our privacy to benefit from an increasingly connected existence, I began paying attention to how social media is transforming our relationship to death and loss. Online profiles of deceased friends and family take on an active life of their own. Reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead, I found a connection between its description of the stages of death and our own contemporary surrendering of our personal boundaries. Wayfinders imagines a kind of convergence of William Gibson’s vision of a virtual afterlife with the Buddhist belief in the last, most subtle mind as the final boundary before a oneness with all things.
Wayfinders occurs in a highly meta, non-linear, imaginary state of consciousness. In many ways, the creation of this work has coincided with my own personal journey—an attempt to align words, music, and stage picture to an existential question: “Where am I?”
I invite you to come and experience the world of Wayfinders at MCA Chicago.
Janet Wolski, Assistant to the Director: “American Horror Story: Freakshow has got nothing on us!”
Joel-Peter Witkin, Feast of the Fools, Mexico City, 1990
Leah Singsank, Assistant Registrar: “I discovered this artist through a friend from grad school—a photo specialist interested in post-mortem photography. We ended up fast friends because I, too, have a penchant for the bizarre, though for me, the bizarre was more firmly rooted in cabinets of curiosity and 18th-century phantasmagoria.
Long story short, this friendship led to my introduction to the work of Joel-Peter Witkin. This guy is just bizonkers. For me, his work is the intersection of a 1920s traveling circus and a mad-man’s cabinet of curiosity. When I look at his works, I am transported to a tiny room in the back of an immaculate Victorian house. Past the silver. Past the stuffed, much beloved hunting dog. Past the creepy family portrait of a long-dead, little-loved aunt. Past the library. Behind the heavy wooden door. Here I find a room bursting with photographs of dismembered and reattached people. Photographs haphazardly hanging from the walls by nails next to others delicately framed, or laying stacked one on top of the other, waiting patiently to be catalogued like the others . . . you see it too, right? Or, maybe I just have watched too much TV during my formative years.”
Hiba Ali, Visitor Services Associate: “When I first saw Ivan Albright’s Into the World There Came A Soul Called Ida (1929–30) I was in high school. To this day, I remember the haunting image that was etched into my memory. The painting is meant as a reminder that life is impermanent. It also reminds us that dramatic lighting can completely change the way one is perceived. When we look at each other in the daytime we don’t see the shadows under and around our skin, these blotches that Albright outwardly depicts. Ida Rogers—the woman portrayed in this painting—looks into the mirror, recalling her beauty. She prompts us to think about the weight of time, its effects on the body, and the impermanence of life.”
Abraham Ritchie, Social Media Manager: “‘An encounter with [Katharina’s Fritsch’s] imagery, whether a single sculpture such as Monk or group of assembled objects, can be startling and disturbing.’ This description of Monk by the Art Institute was proved absolutely true when I first experienced the life-size, all-black artwork in the mid-2000s. Cleverly installed at the time on a plinth by the bottom of a staircase in the back of the Morton Wing, the closed-eyed monk silently stood to startle any unguarded visitor descending into the gallery—I think I jumped about a foot into the air when I turned and saw it.
Also, for anyone that saw Stephen King’s IT when they were too young, Bruce Nauman’s Clown Torture needs no theoretical explanation for the reaction it provokes in nearly everyone and its excruciating affect on the body. It is not, contrary to the recommendation given by one guard years ago, an artwork for kids.” (Joseph Goins also nominated this work via Facebook.)
Ruth Suttie Gauss, via Facebook: “Janitor at the Milwaukee Art Museum was so realistic, it would really bother me to be in the same space with him!”
National Veterans Art Museum, via Facebook: “Derek Brunen’s Plot, six hours of a man digging his own grave—quite chilling!”
Molly Fitzharris, via Facebook: “Tony Oursler pops up in my nightmares quite a bit”
When I began my Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellowship in February 2012, one of the first projects I proposed emerged directly from the work that the MCA’s Library and Archives staff had been doing to organize, archive, and digitize materials related to the museum’s exhibition history. The project I’ve been working on is collaborative at its core, and illustrates the close connection between curatorial work and the various archival projects taking place in the MCA Library and Archives.
Currently unnamed (I refer to it as plainly the “MCA Exhibition History Project”), this collaborative effort will make the MCA’s exhibition history prior to 2000 available in a dynamic format on the museum’s website. In anticipation of the museum’s 50th anniversary in 2017, I’ve been working closely with the Library and Archives staff, as well as a couple of curatorial interns, to compile a comprehensive list of the museum’s exhibitions, write exhibition descriptions, and locate photographic documentation in the museum’s archives.
For a historian and researcher like myself, the museum’s exhibition files and ephemeral material are a real treasure trove. There are few things more exciting than working with primary materials and original documents, and the MCA’s exhibition records often contain notes and correspondence that complicate the more straightforward narratives published in exhibition catalogues.
When I was working on my PhD, I spent a lot of time doing primary research at a variety of film and museum archives including MoMA, the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, and Anthology Film Archives in New York. I was always thrilled to locate audio or moving image documentation of the artists I was writing about. Hearing an artist speak about their work to an audience, answer questions during an informal chat with curators, or introduce a screening all provide invaluable insights into their work, influences, and thinking at the time of the recording. I was incredibly excited to discover that the MCA has a long history of interviewing exhibiting artists, and that many of these tapes have survived and are now housed in the archive.
Because I have a background in film archiving and preservation, one of my concurrent and connected projects has been to gradually start digitizing these artist interviews, most of which were mastered onto ¾” Umatic tape, a videotape stock that is rapidly deteriorating. The interviews—with artists including Nam June Paik, Sol LeWitt, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Jeff Koons, Alice Aycock, and Max Neuhaus, among many others—are fascinating portraits and documents of the MCA’s early exhibitions. When the project is completed, these digitized interviews will be made available to researchers and integrated into the MCA’s online exhibition history. Check back for future blog posts containing excerpts from some of these video interviews!
With the hope of locating more documentation of the museum’s early history, the Library and Archives staff and I made a few trips to the MCA Warehouse last spring. (For more information on the visits and discoveries made there, read page 13 of the MCA Magazine online PDF.) We were specifically looking for two cases of audio cassette tapes that contained artist interviews and recordings from performances and lectures in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as 16mm film footage that we heard included documentation of the MCA’s earliest exhibitions. We were incredibly excited to find both the audio cassettes and the 16mm film, and quickly started the process of inventorying the collections and preparing them for digitization.
The weekend following our discovery, I spent a day inspecting and making very minor repairs to the film reel, which was covered in dirt and dust.
It was clear that the reel was a composite of many films spliced together—some of the footage included title sequences and soundtracks, some appeared to be documentation of exhibitions both in the installation process and on view, and others were creative responses to the exhibitions (one really remarkable example of this is a single-frame animation sequence created using the individual panels of Warhol’s famous Flowers piece ).
Mary Richardson, the MCA’s Library Director, and I were able to determine that David H. Katzive, the museum’s first curator, shot almost all of the footage on the composite reel. Katzive was not only a talented curator, but a very astute filmmaker. Some of the footage was fairly straightforward documentation of early exhibitions (dating from 1967–1970), but the reel also contained two complete films that Katzive made and distributed through Chicago’s Center Cinema Coop: Christo–Wrap In–Wrap Out, which documents Christo’s legendary 1969 wrapping of the MCA, and Concrete Traffic by Wolf Vostell, which captures the process of creating Vostell’s concrete sculpture in 1970. The reel also includes a short film made by Jerry Aronson and Howard Sturges that documents the participatory art exhibition Options, which was on view in the fall of 1968. In addition to these completed films, the reel contains documentation of the museum’s earliest exhibitions including 1967’s Pictures to Read/Poetry to be Seen; 1968’s Made with Paper, George Segal: Twelve Human Situations, Robert Whitman: Four Cinema Pieces, and Tom Wesselman: The Great American Nude; 1969’s Art by Telephone; and 1970’s Andy Warhol Retrospective.
Our archiving and preservation of the film consisted of multiple stages, and has taken eight months to complete. First, I inspected the film on a rewind bench to identify the content as best as possible.
This was followed by a gentle cleaning and minor repairs made to torn perforations and old splices.
After this initial work was completed, we had a quick telecine made of the entire reel, which allowed us to see a low-quality transfer of the film. I can’t even begin to explain how excited I was to see everything that the reel, almost an hour in length, contained. Because I spent years working at the Chicago Film Archives with unique 16mm film material, specifically amateur and home movies, I knew that the film reel was not only irreplaceable (it is the only extant copy), but that it was essential to quickly make plans to preserve both the original film and make access copies available to researchers.